Contraception, then & now


In his article “On Good Authority? Jacques Maritain & ‘Humanae Vitae’” (March 23), Bernard Doering writes that “differences among the council fathers were so profound that agreement proved impossible,” and so the question of birth control was not decided at the Second Vatican Council (1962–65). While differences undoubtedly existed among the council fathers, the question of birth control as such was not actually discussed in the aula during the council when the time for debate indicated that it should have been. I was present as a peritus at the concluding session of the council. On the day when the birth-control debate was slated to begin, Archbishop Pericle Felici (in charge of day-to-day affairs at the council) read a letter from Pope Paul VI to the conciliar assembly requesting that birth control not be discussed, as the pope was reserving the issue to himself. The council fathers applauded.

Later that day, at a press conference conducted by a small number of U.S. bishops, a religion-affairs correspondent (I think he wrote for Time magazine) asked: “Why did you bishops applaud today when the pope took one of the most important issues facing the council out of your hands?” The bishops present were nonplussed and no satisfactory reason was given. Who...

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