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Head of Vatican commission says contraception is ‘intrinsically wrong’

Pope Paul VI in St Peter's Square. The pontiff released Humanae Vitae 50 years ago next week (Getty)

The leader of a Vatican study commission on Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae has said that contraception is “intrinsically wrong”.

Humanae Vitae’s 50th anniversary falls next week, on July 25. Although the Vatican has not yet announced plans to mark the anniversary, it has allowed a study group to access the Vatican archives.

Mgr Gilfredo Marengo, the co-ordinator of the commission, discussed some of his findings in May in a talk at the Maryvale Institute in Birmingham.

During a question-and-answer session, Mgr Marengo was asked about the Church’s teaching, famously reaffirmed in Humanae Vitae, that the use of artificial contraception is intrinsically wrong.

Mgr Marengo replied: “It is the teaching,” adding that “the language and the presentation” of the doctrine are also important.

There had been speculation that the commission would challenge Humanae Vitae’s teaching. One prominent defender of contraception, Fr Maurizio Chiodi, was appointed last year to the Vatican’s pro-life academy.

Mgr Marengo had himself criticised some defences of Humanae Vitae as “too abstract”, and his colleague Mgr Pierangelo Sequeri has written an introduction to a book which argued for a “paradigm shift” in understanding the encyclical.

But at Maryvale, Mgr Marengo said: “We know very well that to use artificial contraception is intrinsically wrong.” He also stressed that the teaching can only be fully understood within the “landscape of the Gospel”.

Mgr Marengo’s new book outlines the results of his archival research. He reveals that Pope Paul tried to consult widely, asking 200 bishops for their views on birth control. Only 25 replied, among them Venerable Fulton Sheen and the future St John Paul II, who both urged a reaffirmation of Church teaching.

Pope Pius XI had declared in 1930 that it was part of the Church’s “divine ambassadorship” to reaffirm that “any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offence against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin”.

But by the 1960s, the success of the birth control movement, and the advent of the contraceptive pill, led to calls for a change in Church teaching. Paul VI considered the question for five years before issuing Humanae Vitae.