From the Vatican, July 19, 1968 Segreteria di Stato di Sua Santita
To the Presidents of Episcopal Conferences To Local Ordinaries
When directing me to transmit to Your Excellency the enclosed document, publication of which is imminent, His Holiness strongly recommended that I draw your attention to its importance, and to the necessity of a concerted effort on the part of the entire Catholic Episcopate, in order that the doctrine it contains be explained with care in full to the Christian people, and in order that it be courageously put into practice by all as, thanks be to God, it already is by many.
As you are aware, this is one of the most delicate questions of Catholic morals; it has been the object of numerous studies and controversies in recent years; and a reply in this matter was eagerly expected from the Sovereign Pontiff.
During all the period of preparation of this document, the Holy Father unceasingly kept in mind the mute imploration He felt was raised to Him by so many of His children, charged with families, and also by so many men of good will, desirous of a conjugal life conformed to the divine will. He felt acutely and painfully the conditions of life, lodging and work experienced by so many married couples in our day, and the difficult problems which the transmission of life consequently poses for them.
Yet it seemed more and more clear to Him every day that the greatest service He could render in this domain to Christendom and to all mankind was to re-propose in all its purity, with due consideration for recent scientific discoveries and the social evolution of our era, and the increasing appeal for “responsible parenthood”, the constant teaching of the Church, for, seeking only the true good of man and of the family, she gives the problem in question its only true and profound solution.
The Holy Father knows full well the bitterness that this reply may cause many married persons who were expecting a different solution for their difficulties. It is precisely the solicitude for those souls in anguish, and the ardent desire to bring them light and solace, which caused the great delay in giving this reply. Mindful of the grave consequences entailed by a decision of this nature, the Common Father wished to study the entire question for Himself and in detail. For a long time He reflected, with respectful consideration, upon the results of the studies and discussions of the Commission charged with examining the various aspects of the problem; for a long time, He prayed. He consulted numerous wise and learned members of the Episcopate, of the clergy, of the laity; and all of this took months and even years.
And now He turns to His Brothers, the Bishops of the Catholic world, asking them to stand beside Him more firmly than ever in this circumstance, and to help Him present this delicate point of the Church’s teaching to the Christian people, to explain and justify its profound reasons. The Pope counts upon the attachment of His Brothers in the Episcopate to the Chair of Peter, upon their love for the Church, upon their concern for the true good of souls.
He knows, as they do, the ideas and the practices existing in modern society in this regard, and He is fully aware of the efforts which will be needed to secure an evolution of thought on this point. He knows what sacrifices – sometimes heroic sacrifices – are entailed by the application of Catholic principles in conjugal morals. His desire would be that the Bishops, priests, Christian homes engaged in the various Catholic movements and organizations, should become in joyful docility the apostles of the teaching of their Holy Mother the Church, and succeed in finding the persuasive accents to make it acceptable.
May they strive to present this teaching in its true light, that is, to show its positive and beneficent aspect. What the Church wishes above all is to help Christian husbands and wives to perfect one another, to purify their love, to taste the happiness of a married life lived in the sight of God and in complete respect for His law.
They must be helped to understand all the spiritual enrichment represented by the effort of renunciation which is asked of them; they must be shown what a precious element it is in conjugal and social life, especially in times like ours which are invaded by hedonism, that great obstacle in the fulfillment of the evangelical ideal.
They must then be persuaded that it is possible, with the help of God – Who never exposes man to trials superior to his strength, to progress in chastity just as in the other virtues; and that possible failings, even if repeated, must not lead them to be discouraged, but much rather stimulate them to a methodical and loving effort towards self-mastery, and to more assiduous and confident recourse to the Sacraments.
Finally, it is necessary that both in the confessional and in the pulpit, in the press and by other means of social communication, every necessary pastoral effort be made that no ambiguity exists among the faithful or in public opinion concerning the Church’s position in this serious matter. Faithful to the mandate she received to teach all nations, she puts her trust in Him who guides her, Whose will she is humbly confident of interpreting faithfully. She has no doubt that future generations will appreciate fully the importance and benefit of the service she renders to married couples, to the family, to all society, by defending this point of her doctrine without weakness.
Thus fulfilling the mission with which the Sovereign Pontiff has charged me, I assure Your Excellency of my prayers for your pastoral ministry, and remain with sentiments of high regard
Devotedly yours in Christ,
A.G. Card. Cicognani (Amleto Giovanni Cardinal Cicognani)