7 Rejected Teachings of Humanae Vitae

Humanae Vitae has become a flag that conservative Catholics wave, as an empty symbol of their conservatism. For they do not accept its teaching. Not really. They ignore or radically reinterpret whatever teachings it contains that they dislike. Here is what Humanae Vitae actually teaches:

1. Contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral.

This teaching is often rejected by Catholics in practice. Most Catholic married couples use or have used contraception. Many single Catholics are sexually active and also use contraception. And many priests tell their parishioners, even in the confessional, that they can follow their own conscience in deciding whether to use contraception.

All these acts contradict the teaching that contraception is intrinsically evil. Every intrinsically evil act is always wrong, regardless of the intention or circumstances. No Catholic should claim that his conscience permits him to commit an act that the Church teaches is always immoral.

Many conservative Catholics will say that contraception is intrinsically evil. But then they have many different excuses to permit contraception and non-procreative sexual acts in various cases.

2. Contraception is wrong because it deprives sexual intercourse of its procreative finality.

Contraception is not only wrong within marriage. It is not only wrong because it harms the marital meaning of conjugal relations. Contraception is wrong because the deliberately chosen act is ordered to prevent procreation. Contraception is wrong because it is anti-life, because it thwarts the procreative meaning of sexual intercourse.

Humanae Vitae: “Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means. Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one, or that such intercourse would merge with procreative acts of past and future to form a single entity, and so be qualified by exactly the same moral goodness as these.”

Humanae Vitae condemns the direct and intrinsically evil acts of abortion, sterilization, and contraception. Each is immoral regardless of marital state. Contraception is defined by Humanae Vitae based on the natural ordering of sexual intercourse toward procreation, and the inherent ordering of any act of contraception to thwart that natural end. When contraception is used in sexual acts outside of marriage, the knowingly chosen act of contraception is in itself a sin, just as the knowingly chosen act of extra-marital sex is in itself a sin.

Some conservative Catholics are teaching and promoting a new heresy: the claim that Humanae Vitae only condemns the use of contraception within marriage. They speak as if contraception is not intrinsically evil outside of marriage, or as if the Church has no teaching on the morality of contraception outside of marriage. Such claims are contrary to the clear and definitive teaching of the Church on contraception as an intrinsically evil act.

3. It is the moral object, not the intended end, which makes contraception intrinsically evil.

All intrinsically evil acts are intentionally chosen, that is, they are deliberately chosen. That is why Humanae Vitae uses the language “specifically intended to prevent procreation” and “deliberately contraceptive”. But the assertion that contraception is wrong as an end or as a means implies that contraception cannot be justified by a good intended end. It implies that contraception is wrong regardless of whether the intended end is to contracept, or some other purpose. Intrinsically evil acts are immoral due to a bad moral object, not a bad intention.

Most Catholics who write about Humanae Vitae have no idea what a moral object is. They could not properly explain the three fonts of morality. They do not understand that contraception is immoral due to the deprivation of the procreative meaning in the object of the deliberately chosen act. Some go so far as to claim that contraception is only immoral when the couple has a contraceptive intention.

4. Abortifacient contraception is not justified by a medical purpose.

When a couple choose to use abortifacient contraception for a medical purpose and choose to remain sexually active while using it, they sin gravely. The abortifacient action of the pill results in the deaths of their own prenatal children. The medical benefit they seek could be obtained without those deaths by refraining from sex while taking the medication. The deliberate knowing choice to have sexual intercourse while using an abortifacient is therefore unjustifiable, based on the circumstances. The good of treating a medical disorder is outweighed by the deaths of one’s own prenatal children.

In addition, abortion is intrinsically evil, and is therefore not justified by a good intended end or purpose, not even a medical purpose. The use of abortifacients is not justified by the claim that the deaths of the prenatals are an unintended side effect. Unintended refers to the first font. Side effect refers to the third font. Without determining the moral object of the second font, one cannot say that an act is moral. An act with unintended bad consequences may still be immoral, if the act is intrinsically evil. In addition, bad consequences weigh in the third font, even when they are unintended.

Euthanasia is not justified by the medical purpose of relieving all suffering. Direct abortion is not justified by the medical purpose of saving the mother’s life. Masturbation is not justified by the medical purpose of obtaining a specimen for diagnosis of a disease or of infertility. Therefore, the use of an abortifacient, while sexually active, is not justified by the desire to have marital relations, nor by the medical benefits of the pill.

Humanae Vitae 15 does not apply to intrinsically evil acts.

“15. On the other hand, the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever.”

The phrase “directly intended” refers to the second font of the moral object. The “motive”, then, is the first font of the intended end, which motivates the act. As long as an act is not intrinsically evil (second font), a medical intervention may be moral. For example, a hysterectomy is moral when medically necessary, despite the subsequent loss of the procreative finality. However, no intended end or motivation, not even a medical purpose, can justify the use of abortifacients while sexually active, because the object in this case is evil. And this is proven by the fact that the medical benefit can be obtained without the deaths of prenatals by merely refraining from sexual acts. Therefore, those deaths are not an unavoidable side effect.

The justification of abortifacient contraception, while remaining sexually active, is one of the gravest and most harmful rejections of Humanae Vitae. It results in the deaths of many innocent prenatals, by Catholic spouses who have simply chosen to value sex over the lives of their own unborn children.

5. The deprivation of the procreative meaning by the use of contraception harms, but does not extinguish, the unitive and marital meanings.

Humanae Vitae teaches that contraception separates the unitive and procreative meanings (Humanae Vitae 12). This teaching implies that, when a couple uses contraception, the unitive meaning is still present. Thus, the procreative and unitive meanings are present when no contraception is used, and the unitive meaning is present without the procreative meaning when contraception is chosen.

Humanae Vitae 13: “Hence to use this divine gift while depriving it, even if only partially, of its meaning and purpose, is equally repugnant to the nature of man and of woman, and is consequently in opposition to the plan of God and His holy will.”

Many conservative teachers claim that contraception extinguishes the marital and unitive meanings, along with the procreative meaning. This is a grave error which is contradicted by the correct interpretation of Humanae Vitae. The use of contraception only partially deprives natural marital relations of its meaning and purpose, since the marital and unitive meanings remain.

6. Formal cooperation with the intrinsically evil act of contraception occurs when one spouse uses contraception and the other spouse knowingly consents to sexual intercourse.

May a wife participate in sexual relations with her husband who is using a condom? The Magisterium has answered this question. No, she would be participating in an intrinsically evil act (Denz. 2795). The same is true when the wife is the one using a barrier method of contraception. The husband then sins if he has relations with her. And if the wife is using abortifacient contraception, the act is even more gravely immoral, as it is the sin of abortion as well as the sin of contraception.

Many conservative Catholics approve of this participation in intrinsically evil acts by one spouse, when the other is contracepting or using an abortifacient. This is a grave error condemned by Humanae Vitae in so far as that document teaches that these acts of contraception and abortion are intrinsically evil.

7. Humanae Vitae implies a condemnation of unnatural sexual acts in marriage.

“The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.” [Humanae Vitae 11]

Humanae Vitae 3 uses the phrasing: “each single act”. This implies that unnatural sexual acts, which are inherently non-unitive and non-procreative, are not moral to use, even in marriage. And these intrinsically evil acts are not justified by the purpose of foreplay, nor by being done about the same time as an act of natural marital relations open to life. For intrinsically evil acts are never moral, regardless of intention (i.e. the purpose) or circumstances. Each sexual act must be marital, unitive, and procreative. A set of acts cannot be grouped together, such that some non-unitive and non-procreative unnatural acts would be justified by being done about the same time as a moral act of natural marital relations.

“Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one, or that such intercourse would merge with procreative acts of past and future to form a single entity, and so be qualified by exactly the same moral goodness as these.”

The Magisterium rejects the common claim that a set of acts can be grouped together, such that only some of the acts need to be procreative. This implies a rejection of the idea that unnatural sexual acts can be used in marriage, as long as they are accompanied by an act of natural marital relations open to life. It implies a rejection of the idea that all the acts of one session in the marital bedroom “form a single entity” or a single act, and therefore only one of these acts needs to be procreative. The Magisterium has rejected that claim, and yet it is popular with conservatives today.

The approval of unnatural sexual acts in marriage is a grave error which conservatives have accepted and taught, while pretending to support Humanae Vitae.


As the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae approaches, 25 July 2018, conservatives are falsely claiming that they alone have retained the true meaning of Humanae Vitae. In fact, they have distorted and ignored the teaching of Humanae Vitae so much so that very little of what the holy Pontiff taught has survived. The true teachings of Humanae Vitae have gradually been chipped away and replaced by a new set of false teachings, promoted by conservatives on the basis of a false claim that their radical reinterpretation is the true meaning of the document.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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3 Responses to 7 Rejected Teachings of Humanae Vitae

  1. Tom Mazanec says:

    Direct abortion is not justified by the medical purpose of saving the mother’s life.

    So a mother with an ectopic pregnancy must die with her child?

    • Ron Conte says:

      In my opinion, the medical disorder of an ectopic pregnancy is that the prenatal is in the wrong location. So removing the prenatal from that location directly treats the disorder and is therefore not direct abortion.

  2. John Platts says:

    Casti Connubii teaches the following regarding the use of contraception during sexual acts: “Since, therefore, openly departing from the uninterrupted Christian tradition some recently have judged it possible solemnly to declare another doctrine regarding this question, the Catholic Church, to whom God has entrusted the defense of the integrity and purity of morals, standing erect in the midst of the moral ruin which surrounds her, in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain, raises her voice in token of her divine ambassadorship and through Our mouth proclaims anew: 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 offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin” (n. 56).

    With respect to #1, the Catholic Church had already taught that contracepted sexual acts are intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral back when some priests were dissenting against this teaching in the 1960’s. As such, the priests who thought that the Catholic Church would change its teaching against contraception in the 1960’s were promoting a heresy since the Catholic Church’s teaching against contraception was already infallible back then, and Humanae Vitae was written in response to this heresy.

    While Humanae Vitae would correctly uphold the Catholic Church’s infallible teaching against contracepted sexual acts, many Catholics did continue to reject the Catholic Church’s teaching against contraception after the publication of Humanae Vitae, and there are still many Catholics today who reject the Catholic Church’s teaching against contraception.

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