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Humanae vitae: 50 years on

· The editorial ·

The Encyclical Humanae vitae marked a great innovation in the life of the Church: it was the first time that a papal document was taken up and commented on by the world press with such attention and with so critical a spirit – anticipations and predictions even leaked in the months before its publication. It was the first time too that the Pope was the subject of cartoons and above all that the Catholic world split publicly, including the clergy, in its reception of the document. But it was also the first time that some women raised their voices to comment on the Encyclical in a different way than men, although feminism as such had not yet been fully established.

Giovanni Segantini, “The Evil Mothers” (detail, 1894)

Indeed it was the first time that a document was received by women in a manner different from men – at least to a certain extent – and in addition there was a difference between the West and the Third World. While the advanced countries were obsessed by the “demographic time bomb” and women were beginning to see their liberation in the contraceptive pill, in the southern parts of the world demographic control was being presented in the far from liberal guise of forced sterilizations. Here Humanae vitae was accepted as an anti-colonial document of liberation, a help for women to claim freedom over their own bodies.

Such a text could not but be controversial and in many aspects misunderstood. Today, when research into natural methods of birth control has taken many steps forward, as Elena Giacchi explains, we see it with different eyes, close to those of the young women with an ecological mindset who refuse the pill for health reasons, as in the journalistic inquiry of Marie-Lucile Kubacki, while the times of terror of another son which pervade the book by the English writer David Lodge, recounted by Elena Buia Rutt, now seem distant.

Monique Baujard looks back – for good and for bad – at the disastrous reception of the Encyclical, which no one else has had the courage to do publicly and which condemned it to being ignored in the Catholic world, while María Luisa Aspe Armella gives an account of the way it is reflected today in Latin America.

Fifty years: an anniversary to be remembered courageously and celebrated with attention, especially by women. (lucetta scaraffia)




St. Peter’s Square

Feb. 22, 2020