What really happened with the birth control commission

Germain Grisez, professor emeritus of philosophy and moral theology at Mount St. Mary’s College in Maryland, has released some documents that few in the Church have seen before.

According to the Catholic News Agency, Grisez wants to set the record straight about the 1963-1966 commission about birth control which took place before the encyclical Humane Vitae was released:

“The idea of what happened with the commission has been shaped by people who were pro-contraception.” said Grisez… “It’s their account of what happened, that has been circulated over the years.”

Grisez was assistant to commission member Fr. John Ford and says that there are numerous misunderstandings about the commission that date back to 1967, the year before Pope Paul VI wrote Humanae Vitae.

During that year, a number of commission documents containing pro-contraception arguments were leaked to the public and the press. The move led to the popular misconception of the Pope “overruling” a commission, although the commission had no authority to make decisions.

Those who supported the traditional teaching, like Fr. Ford, could have responded in kind with their own document leaks. But they chose not to do so at the time, considering themselves bound to keep the commission’s work private and wait for the Pope to speak authoritatively.

According to Grisez, this one-sided perspective on the commission’s work made it appear that Pope Paul had simply disregarded the majority report.

But the new documents shows that the Pope took both sides of the issue seriously, and gave advocates of artificial contraception every chance to make their case.

Grisez says the pope was very interested in the arguments being made for new methods of contraception, but the commission was never intended to be public nor to have any teaching authority. The pope became convinced the pill was wrong, but the leaks had already paved the way for a poor reception of his encyclical.

Grisez hopes that releasing the documents may help undo some of this damage and provide more understanding about what actually happened:

“If that were better understood,” he noted, “I think a lot of the resentment surrounding ‘Humanae Vitae’ could be dissolved.”

Read the whole story here.

Zoe Romanowsky


Zoe Romanowsky is writer, consultant, and coach. Her articles have appeared in "Catholic Digest," "Faith & Family," "National Catholic Register," "Our Sunday Visitor," "Urbanite," "Baltimore Eats," and Godspy.com. Zo

  • bill bannon

    was way more complicated than that. There are books on that time period in Catholic college libraries. That generation was using rythmn….not the more accurate present NFP and many laity who wanted change and wrote into the Commission via one couple were people who from rythmn had more children than Grisez’s four or Weigel’s three. Some had 5 and 6 with moderate income….wink….without Weigel’s book income…..Weigel being very vocal on this issue.
    They were also the generation who in 1954 had an actual ex cathedra encyclical on the Assumption while they were in Catholic school and were told a hundred times by nuns and brothers how different an ex cathedra encyclical is….it is infallible for sure….no maybe’s and because of very specific wording that was then absent in Humanae Vitae. Well….zoom over to 1968 and Msgr. Lambrushini at the Vatican oress conference introduces Humanae Vitae to the press and he twice states that it is not infallible….that was broadcast on every TV news show in the Western Hemisphere…and Pope Paul VI in subsequent days made no statement that Lambrushini spoke on his own as Ermenigildo Lio opined in Europe at the time. Lambrushini’s comment was further confirmed by the Vatican overruling a D.C. Bishop who subsequently punished theologians for dissenting. The Vatican had him rescind the punishment (Weigel lamented) and require only that they sign that it was authentic Church teaching which they did because such does not always connote infallibility. Later theologians more influential than Grisez and Ford…ie Rahner and Haring from Europe….dissented from HV publically and no subsequent Pope punished either for that.
    Grisez and Ford personally believe the issue is infallible as universal ordinary magisterium….Rahner and Haring maintained that it was not and Rahner’s job for years was discerning such levels of authority as editor of the Enchiridion Symbolorum. Why would very knowledgeable theologians dissent on its being universal? That takes a lot of reading but briefly, only about ten Popes out of 265 have ever written expounding on the subject….virtually no married person wrote on it until Von Hildebrand in the 20 century….and no one knew what actually takes place within sex scientifically til the 19th century….and if a celibate clergy dissented on such things between 1253 AD and 1816 AD and wrote anything of a dissenting nature, technically…technically (less so as time went on) they could face an involuntary barbeque with themselves being the hamburger. Ergo the Tradition’s quality was a question for Rahner and Haring but not for Grisez and Ford and Lio in Europe.

  • Brian Pessaro
  • Patricia

    When “The Theology of the Body” is taught properly in high schools, along with the letters and encyclicals of the Popes, esp. Humanae Vitae, and used for instruction in Pre Cana classes,the faithful will be properly instructed on the call to holiness of the “Sacrament of Matrimony”, there is hope for change. We all need to make Holy Hours of Reparation for the sins against Life, esp. in the Sacrament of Matrimony. I am preaching to myself first. Married for 43 yrs. and have sins against life in my past. smilies/kiss.gifsmilies/kiss.gif

  • Mary

    As someone who stumbled upon NFP at the suggestion of a friend, I think what is most persuasive on the artificial contraception issue is the actual, real-time damage that contraception can do to women. Read the New York Magazine article “Waking Up From the Pill” (http://nymag.com/news/features/69789/) and you’ll get a sense of what I mean. Most women have no idea the Pill is an abortifacient (actually, it’s not a contraceptive at all, since it prevents implantation, not conception), as are a host of other chemical methods of limiting fertility. Plus, the environmental effects of the Pill in the world’s water system are pretty scary…read Mother Nature Network’s “Birth Control Pill Endangers Fish Populations” article. The author notes that, “When I asked 25 of my female college friends if they knew that the birth control pill could have negative effects on the environment, only three said yes. Most of them answered, ‘No, I had no idea!'” As with many issues of moral importance on which the Church guides us, the natural law tends to prove itself over time. It’s really too the whole contraception-as-empowerment nonesense came at many women’s expense.

  • bill bannon

    click on your document link and then click on Grisez and colleagues up above. Pan down on the Grisez biography to the bottom several paragraphs.
    Grisez’ people are quite honest that Grisez…widowed….is now in a permanent separation from his second wife…but there is no permanent separation in Catholicism unless you both agree that one is entering a religious order otherwise you are to be working on getting back together….here….not in heaven. Oy…..words fail me…..

  • Jesurgislac

    The conclusion that devout Catholics in Poland came to was that since use of contraception and having an abortion were both mortal sins, but abortion was a mortal sin that was committed once in a while and could be confessed and repented for and absolved, whereas contraception was a mortal sin that the sinner had to go on and on committing without any repentance or absolution, it was better to not use contraception and have abortions when, of course, unwanted pregnancies resulted.

    What I have not seen the Catholic Church face squarely up to is: most Catholic women are not so devout they have decided it is better to have to have abortions than to use contraception. They’d rather prevent abortions and go on the Pill/use condoms. This puts them at fundamental contradiction with the Church: it appears to be driving Catholics away from confession in droves.

    At what point does the Church do a Galileo and admit: we were wrong? It is better for women to avoid abortions, it is better for men to avoid accidentally impregnating a woman who will then have an abortion (and better to avoid spreading STDs). Grassroots Catholics have come quietly to that commonsense, obvious conclusion: prevention of disease and prevention of abortion are good things. When will the Church be able to acknowledge this too?

  • bill bannon

    define “devout” in your first sentence….don’t bother…it’s a rhetorical request.

  • bill bannon

    according to this link has almost relatively few abortions due to pro life activism and a strict law….if true these figures mean that Jesu….you have been on a quixotic mission….they are the reverse of what you have been saying for a week now:


    to the feminist claim that many abortions are gotten outside Poland, Johnston has a balanced conclusion at the end of this link which is to say that all told….Poland’s 1993 restrictive law did decrease abortions to 1/ 10 th. of what it had been in the 1980’s if you include foreign abortions…..


  • Jesurgislac

    Poland according to this link has almost relatively few abortions due to pro life activism and a strict law…

    But a report in 2003 estimates that though the official figures for legal abortions are far lower, the Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning estimates that the real number of abortions in Poland amounts to 80,000-200,000 each year.

    You can force women to have illegal abortions. You cannot make them “not need” abortions except by provision of contraception.

    Like Ireland, you mean? Irish women have been going to the UK to have abortions since 1967, a fact known to the Irish governments: they simply outsource Irish abortions at cost to their citizens. Especially since Poland joined the EU and it became unlawful to restrict travel to neighboring countries, many Poles either have an illegal abortion inside the country or (if they can afford it) go to a neighboring country with less restrictive abortion laws. (Nowicka W, The effects of the 1993 anti-abortion law in Poland, Entre Nous, 1996)

    Neither pro-life activism nor a strict law has ever been shown to be effective in reducing the abortion rate. Enforcement of the law means more illegal abortions and more outsourced abortions in countries where it’s legal.

    Hence my query: will the Catholic Church ever accept that it’s better to prevent abortion than to condemn contraception?

  • bill bannon

    which fools no one by now because you do it in almost every post….you fleetingly treat the issue and quickly introduce a new issue or ten….a new.nation in this case… in order to bury the other poster’s point by distraction which technique is used by magicians worldwide.
    Your Polish pro-abortion society’s figures of 80,000 to 200,000 real abortions per year not only differ with Johnstone’s 10,600 per year but they are a ridiculous range tolerance within themselves. If the IRS asked you how much you make and you said 80K or maybe 200K a year, you would be in orange clothing shortly thereafter.

    Now we have a cul de sac here. Our source says 10.6K abortions per year in Poland including foreign and your source says 80K to 200K abortions. That means Jesurgislac that there is no contact point between you and us….zero….nada. Your point is based on figures that we don’t accept and vice versa….you don’t accept ours. Poland with our figures refutes all the typing you have wasted for a week of your life.
    Poland’s law means that if all nations acted like Poland, millions of women would have babies all over the world…. instead of killing them so they could explore their future as a novelist or a ballerina.

    Poland with our figures means you owe the world….a Galileo moment yourself. And our figures mean you just wasted one week unless abortion is a cover issue through which you seek negative attention which is better than no attention at all if one is lonely. If that is the case, go straight to the best Friend instead of to people….because He is waiting for exactly you…even if few others are waiting for exactly you. No one you know was scourged for your sake….except Him. His lungs and heart caved in slowly on the cross and painfully for you in three hours that seemed like three hundred years….and He would have done it if you were the only person left on earth.
    I love ya…but you’re wasting precious time here perhaps covering a sin instead of owning the sin as yours. If you had an abortion, you can talk past it for decades….until it catches up with you….then when the chatter no longer works, call out to the only Person who was scourged for you….He sees you as precious no matter what you did but He requires change on that day when you call out.
    Old Testament…..”Cry unto Me and I will hear thee and I will show thee great things and sure things which thou hast not known.”
    But you have to cry out in this case.

  • Jesurgislac

    …far more than 50,000 women a year would die in illegal abortions.

  • Kathryn

    Survival of the fitness then isn’t it Jesurg? Smart people (aka “the fittest”) don’t try to kill off their progeny. The people who do die, don’t have any more children and become an example to others that having an abortion is not such a smart idea.

    Harsh isn’t it? But reality is usually pretty harsh.

    Ultimately, contraception and abortion become self-limiting–people of that mentality have fewer children, which they not infrequently abort. Pro-lifers have more (generally) and tend to do a reasonable job passing of the pro-life mentality.

  • Holly in Nebraska

    There is another alternative to either contraception or abortion: have a baby.

    There seems to be an assumption that having baby is not an option. Why? Why are women taking the “lesser of two evils” when there is a good in all this–a baby? Why do some Catholic women think that they get to choose not the have baby, and that the Church had better give them an alternative or they will choose one of their own, even if it is a mortal sin? (BTW, they did give them an alternative.) What modern movement told women that babies ruin your life and your plans and make you a slave, and only having a career outside the home and not being weighed down with children and will make you truly happy? One guess…

  • JohnofAustria

    With the passing of Dr. Bernard Nathanson, we should all go back to his book: Aborting America, wherein he outlined his NARAL colleagues’ successful blueprint to legalize abortion in America. Make up statistics, especially about the number of illegal abortions taking place, hardships of women traveling to have abortions elsewhere, etc. Nice try, but we’ve heard it all before.

  • Tina

    because its author should have been executed at Nuremburg for funding Nazi Catholic death camps of Christian “heretics” in Croatia to “fight abortion” by BELLY DICING PREGNANT Serbs. That childbirth causes divorce-causing bladder and bowel incontinence in 50% of all mothers, multiple organ failures, breast and face cancers, and sepsis limb amputations to name a few complications, denial of contraception is unchristian MATRICIDE.

  • Kevin in Texas

    Tina, I am continually astounded by the depths of your sheer ignorance of basic facts. Humanae Vitae was written in 1968, approximately 25 years after Nazi death camps. Not that I’m granting any of the nonsense you have spewed validity, but I just wanted to point out the most glaring illogic upon a cursory reading of your post.

    Imagine how much a little reading and study could offer you, Tina…it seems clear you don’t do any of it at all, at least not from reputable, objective sources grounded in science (on the contraception issue in another thread) or history (on this thread.)

  • Tina

    YOUR ignorance of history — although our Nazi/CIA-controlled media is largely to blame: Cardinal Montini, Pius XII’s undersecretary of state and future Paul VI, deliberately funded Nazi Croatian Ante Pavelich’s crusade to expel, exterminate or force convert all non-Catholics in Croatia during WWII. Italian newpapers reported on Pavelich’s gruesome atrocities, yet Montini insisted on funding him. Later, Montini and some of his staff ran the infamous Nazi Vatican ratlines that smuggled 100,000 Nazis to the Americas. The Alperin v. Vatican Bank web site has many articles on a law suit by survivors, and Catholic attorney John Loftus, a former Justice Dept. Nazi hunter, has documented much of this by declassifying State Dept. and Army Intelligence reports in several books.

    Your insults only show your ignorance and poor reading skills. I hope you google these media-ignored scandals. Wouldn’t you rather know the truth and not embarrass yourself by honoring Nazi collaborator Paul VI?? Author John Loftus has been making the radio interview rounds, so this topic will eventually go viral. I’m just the messenger.