The Freedom Found in Humanae Vitae

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, an encyclical written by Pope Paul VI on the transmission of human life. This document clarifies the Catholic Church’s teaching on married love, responsible parenthood, and contraception. Many consider Humanae Vitae to be prophetic, as the harm that Pope Paul VI warned would come from the widespread use of contraception have only increased over the last 50 years.

And while many see the Church’s teaching in Humanae Vitae as a restriction, the basis of this teaching is to promote freedom in family life. Father Robert Gahl stopped by A Closer Look™ and explained how couples can find freedom in Humanae Vitae and the Church’s teaching on human life. Fr. Gahl said:

“Pope Francis established a historical commission in order to study the drafting of Humanae Vitae, and it’s already lead to some really interesting conclusions. And some people interpret trying to understand what happened 50 years ago when the document was drafted as Pope Francis wanting to water down the meaning of the encyclical and to somehow reconfigure it into his own terminology. But I think that’s really mistaken.

What Pope Francis wants is that the message of Pope Paul VI really arrive to people in the pews. Unfortunately, so many Catholics today don’t accept the teaching, and they think that it’s fine to use contraception. And he wants to help awaken their conscience to the fullness of the truth, so that their moral conscience can be formed by the truth that we find in Christ Jesus.

So he looks back at how the document was drafted. And it’s fascinating. One of the things that came out was that there was a prior draft that even had a different title that Paul VI was ready to sign. But then Paul VI was convinced to pull it back and redraft it, and relied quite a bit on the counsel from Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who of course became Pope John Paul II, the pope of the family.

It became a much richer document, much deeper, and more appreciative of the true experience of family life, not simply saying you can’t use contraceptives, contraceptives are bad. Of course saying that, but also appreciating more deeply the experience of virtue that is involved in Natural Family Planning, or whatever the technical method that the couple uses.

By doing so together they can experience the virtue of holy purity, and cooperate along with God’s plan by exercising their personal freedom. Only they can decide in good conscience what are grave reasons, what are serious reasons involved in order to put off a pregnancy for now, by avoiding having marital intimate relations for a period when they suspect that it might lead to a child.

But they can do so, and it’s a way of exercising respect for God’s plan and nature and living in the hands of His providence – and intelligently so, and therefore exercising their freedom.

And that was expressed much more richly by Paul VI on account of his going back to the drafting table within the process. And so, Pope Francis wanting to study that historically isn’t muddying the waters or confusing things, but rather shedding more light on the thought of Paul VI, who will be canonized this October by Pope Francis.”

Listen to the full conversation with Father Gahl below:

A Closer Look airs weekdays at 6:00 p.m. Eastern/3:00 p.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio® and the Relevant Radio App.


Stephanie Foley serves as a Digital Media Producer at Relevant Radio®. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she studied journalism, and she has worked in Catholic radio for 12 years. Stephanie is a wife, a mother of three boys, and in her free time she enjoys reading, running, and really good coffee. You can find more of Stephanie’s writing at and on the free Relevant Radio mobile app.