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Pope Paul VI

In an editorial in the Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano a Catholic feminist writer has noted that the popularity of artificial birth control is dipping among French women. Lucetta Scaraffia, a professor of history at La Sapienza University and a critic of the sexual revolution, wrote that the “confidence of women in a sexual freedom obtained by putting at risk their own health,” is “beginning to crack.”

Young women, she said, no longer accept “uncritically the contraception propaganda” that puts the “accumulation of profits into the hands of companies that do not much care about their well-being.”

The comment comes in response to an article in Le Monde that highlighted the increase in the use of what they called “natural methods,” including “the rhythm method,” among women. Scaraffia speculates that the news could herald a “rehabilitation” of the “reviled” 1968 papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, where the Pope Paul VI warned against the harms of artificial birth control. The article does not specifically name the Billings Natural Family Planning or Naprotechnology methods of fertility regulation, but does refer readers to a Catholic website.  

Le Monde reported on a study by INED-INSERM taken last May that found a significant increase in interest from young women in “natural contraception,” and decrease of enthusiasm for the Pill. “Natural methods are now chosen by 9.5% of women,” an increase of 3.4 percentage points since 2010, the paper noted. Women’s reasons included “environmental” concerns, worries about the medical effects of artificial hormones, and allergies to latex condoms.

“Between 2010 and 2013, among 15-49 year olds, the pill fell 9 points (from 50% to 41%),” Le Monde reports. “In [those aged] 20-44 years, periodic abstinence (rhythm method, for example) in 2013 was the option taken by 3.8% of women,” an increase of 0.5 percent.

One young woman called “Flora” told Le Monde, “I told my doctor that I was going to calculate my ovulation cycles. He told me it was risky.”

“I would not have done this ten years ago. But I'm at a point in my life where if I got pregnant, I would keep the baby.”

In L’Osservatore Romano, Lucetta Scaraffia, says it is “surprising,” however, that Le Monde failed to mention “the safest and most effective natural method of fertility regulation, that is, the Billings method,” which has been “tested successfully for decades in many countries, including Communist China.” 

“Strange that feminists have never noticed that there was this method that seems to make all their wishes come true. But the fault of insufficient spread of this discovery is to be charged to the Church: there are few priests who know it.”

“Thus losing a great opportunity to rehabilitate Catholic morality on procreation, one of the strongest points of friction with the modernization, in a time when the much ballyhooed chemical contraception is entering crisis,” Scaraffia wrote.

Le Monde, however, did mention the development of “sophisticated devices to estimate the time of ovulation” and cited “Catholic websites advocating temporary abstinence,” including the site that says, “It means keeping intact, with every sexual union, our ability to give life.”

Pope Paul VI’s 1968 document Humanae Vitae was among the most vilified of the Catholic Church’s teaching documents of the 20th century. Written as the sexual revolution began to gain momentum through the broad availability of hormonal contraceptives, Pope Paul VI insisted the trend would tend to degrade the dignity of women and men, motherhood, sex, and the stability of the family, leading “to conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality.”

“Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law,” the pope wrote.

“Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”

The document reiterated the basis of the Church’s teaching as the “inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.” This reality, he called the “result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman.”

Read Pope Paul’s encyclical Humanae Vitae here