Even as far back as the 1970s, leading Roman Catholics had pronounced Pope Paul VI’s Humanae vitae a “dead letter.” Truth, however, has a way of burying its undertakers—and Fate, if not Divine Providence itself, has an ingenious capacity for dramatizing Truth’s triumphant return.

n July 29, 1998, exactly 30 years after the appearance of the famous document restating the Church’s opposition to contraception, the timeless message of the “birth-control encyclical” reappeared on the front page of the Globe and Mail. The article concerned questions about whether the near-universal rejection of Humanae vitae has led to a frightful erosion of moral values.

The same topic was also deemed newsworthy by the Montreal Gazette, the Winnipeg Free Press, theWoodstock Sentinel, the Lethbridge Herald, and Ottawa’s Citizen and Sunday Sun. The radio media also found the topic worth reporting.

What precipitated the recent media attention is a statement issued by Bishop Roman Danylak, and published in the July-August issue of Catholic Insight magazine.

The administrator of the Ukrainian Catholic eparchy of Toronto (who has since taken on a posting in Rome) called on his fellow Canadian bishops to affirm Humanae vitae, and to retract their own controversial policy on the matter.


The bishops’ 1968 “Winnipeg Statement,” while affirming the Church’s teaching in general, was widely interpreted as allowing contraception in certain circumstances. Critics argue it has led to the notion that an individual’s conscience can be a source of truth—an idea strongly opposed to Catholic doctrine. Conscience, just like a mirror, may reflect the truth, but it cannot create it.

Fr. John Courtney Murray, who had an important hand in writing the Declaration on Religious Freedom Bishop Roman Danylakof the Second Vatican Council, stated that treating conscience as a source of truth is a perilous error. Indeed, if reality is not the basis of determining what is right and what is wrong, then conscience can turn any wrong—even abortion and euthanasia—into a right.

In speaking of the Winnipeg Statement, international natural family planning (NFP) authority John Kippley has said, “A more misleading statement would be hard to imagine.”

While traditional Catholics in Canada have been calling for the retraction of the Winnipeg Statement for years, Bishop Danylak’s action marks the first time a concerted, public effort has been made to address the problem. It is also the first time a bishop has admitted frankly that the policy has created a great deal of confusion in the Church.

Officials with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops say they will consider discussing Bishop Danylak’s proposal at their fall plenary meeting, but that it is unlikely there will be room on the agenda for it.

Apart from Bishop Danylak’s dramatic stand, there is another reason why the anniversary of Humanae vitae has received a lot of coverage in the media lately: the issue is not only of interest to Catholics. Author John Ralston Saul, hardly a friend of the Vatican, stated five years ago that “the birth-control pill produced a 25-year-long holiday from reality.”

And it seems society is now beginning to survey the aftermath of that extended vacation.

David Reardon, director of the Elliot Institute of Social Sciences Research, has stated that the inconveniences, costs, risks, and failures of artificial birth control will continue to become more apparent, and that it is surely “inevitable that one day NFP will be socially embraced—if only for the practical health reasons. At that point, Humanae vitae will finally be recognized as the prophetic work it really is, and people will begin to better appreciate the wisdom of natural law.”