Vatican Announces Sainthood for Pope Who Banned Contraception

The Vatican has announced in a statement this week that Pope Paul VI will be canonized in Rome next October with Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was killed in 1980 while celebrating Mass.

Paul VI was pope from 1963 to 1978 and oversaw the close of the Second Vatican Council, which introduced sweeping changes in the church, including the introduction of the use of local languages in the liturgy and a rapprochement between Catholics and other religions, notably the Jews.

The pope’s most controversial move during his tumultuous, 15-year pontificate was the publication of the 1968 encyclical letter titled Humanae Vitae (“On Human Life”), which confirmed the church’s longstanding teaching regarding the immorality of the use of contraceptives to avoid pregnancy. Many inside and outside the church had expected Paul to overturn traditional teaching on contraception, along with the majority of the members of a special commission Paul had set up to study the question.

As Paul himself noted:

Within the commission itself, there was not complete agreement concerning the moral norms to be proposed, and … certain approaches and criteria for a solution to this question had emerged which were at variance with the moral doctrine on marriage constantly taught by the magisterium of the Church.

Pope Francis has significantly chosen the year 2018—the fiftieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae—for the canonization of Pope Paul VI. Francis has often voiced his personal esteem for Paul VI and has held up Humanae Vitae as a critically important document for today’s world.

In his 2016 letter, Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”), Francis cited Humanae Vitae four times, praising the way that Paul had “brought out the intrinsic bond between conjugal love and the generation of life.”

The teaching of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae “ought to be taken up anew,” Francis wrote, “in order to counter a mentality that is often hostile to life.”

Pope John Paul II spent the first five years of his 27-year papacy explaining the theology underlying Humanae Vitae in a series of weekly addresses in what he described as a “theology of the body.” As Michael Waldstein has written, “One of the main goals of the theology of the body is the defense of Paul VI’s prophetic encyclical Humanae Vitae.”

Ten years ago, in a conference commemorating Humanae Vitae’s 40th anniversary, Pope Benedict XVI referred to the encyclical as “crucial for humanity’s future,” declaring that it constituted on the part of Paul VI “a significant show of courage in reasserting the continuity of the Church’s doctrine and tradition.”

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin reportedly said Tuesday that the canonization ceremony of Paul VI and Oscar Romero will take place in late October following a meeting of the Synod of Bishops.

Pope Francis beatified Paul VI in 2014 after a first miracle was attributed to his intercession. In early February, a Vatican commission consisting of theologians and doctors approved a second miracle attributed to him by a unanimous vote.

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