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Last Updated: Friday, 10 October, 2003, 09:19 GMT 10:19 UK
The Humanae Vitae
Pope Paul VI
Pope Paul VI issued the Humanae Vitae
Humanae Vitae was the most controversial of seven encyclicals published by Pope Paul VI.

The uncompromising position on birth control in the 1968 encyclical led to protests around the Catholic world.

It came as a surprise because the Church was becoming more liberal since the historic Vatican II council.

It had for example, taken the radical step of ending the use of Latin as the sole language for celebrating Mass - allowing priests to address the congregation in their mother tongues for the first time.

However Pope Paul VI refused to budge an inch on the issue of birth control, even though he lived through the era of the pill and there was strong support in the Vatican for sweeping changes.


At the time, many members of the Pontifical Commission, had argued it was time for the Church to face the realities of the modern world.

They said that with the increasing emancipation of women and the introduction of safe contraceptives the time had come for the Church to change its position.

However, a minority disagreed and published their own report advocating Church policy remain unaltered.

No change
Pope John Paul II
The encyclical was reaffirmed by Pope John Paul II

One of those who helped with the consultation on the document was the newly appointed Cardinal Karol Wojtyla - later to become Pope John Paul II.

But it was the minority who won the battle, and Humanae Vitae was finally adopted by the Catholic Church in 1968, after a lengthy deliberation by Pope Paul VI.

It was also the last encyclical that Pope Paul VI ever issued.

The rule has stood ever since, with no sign of change from the Vatican. In fact in 1995 Pope John Paul II reaffirmed support for Pope Paul's view on birth control.

His views in his encyclical, Evangelium Vitae: the Gospel of Life, echoed the principles in the original Humanae Vitae document.

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