The Catholic Church
The Catholic Church in the 20th Century underwent tremendous change, most significantly as a result of the Second Vatican Council. This Council created an atmosphere of reform within the leading theologians and the hierarchy of the Church. Consequently, when Pope Paul VI released his encyclical Humanae Vitae, to many of the reformers it seemed to contradict the sentiment of the Council.
At the same time, though, there was a movement afoot to radically change the power structure of the Church. Led by the same liberal theologians who took offense to the pro-life policies laid out in Humanae Vitae, the aim was to transition the Church from an authoritarian power structure to a more democratic model. Humanae Vitae, and the indignation it caused was the catalyst for the reform movement to come to the fore.
In response to the revolution, a counter-revolution formed. This consisted of conservative forces within the Church, led by the Pope himself. The counter-revolutionaries sought to prove through the multiple infallible councils of the Church’s history that the Church must be authoritarian. In their defense, they most often drew upon the Petrine Primacy, Vatican I, and Vatican II.
These crowning moment of the counter-revolutionaries came with the election of Pope John Paul II. With his election, came a hard time for the revolution. Under a strong, authoritarian Pope who upheld the pro-life position, the reform movement stalled. However, the damage was done. While the Church maintained the authority of the Church, to the laity, this authority had disappeared. Consequently, the general public ceased to acknowledge the teaching power of the Pope.
Humanae Vitae and the Consequential Revolution over Papal Authority within the Catholic Church
“Many believe that in 1917 [the Virgin Mary’s] apparition at Fatima, Portugal, foretold the end of the world. Jacinta, one of the three children… at Fatima, once said, ‘I… saw the Holy Father in a very large house, kneeling before a table with his face in his hands. He was crying. Many people were in front of the house; some were throwing stones, while others were cursing him and using foul language.’” (McInerny 17-18)
This image is very symbolic of the attempt to overthrow the teaching authority of the Pope taking place in the Catholic Church following the historic release of Humanae Vitae, an important papal encyclical following the religious revolution known as Vatican II. Unremarkable for its content, which simply reaffirmed the current Church views on contraceptive use, the response to Humanae Vitae has been shocking. The controversy over Humanae Vitae revealed a schism between liberal and conservative elements in the Church. This rift included the Church’s view of birth control, but on a deeper level was about the right of the Pope to dictate the official Church teaching without following the dictates of the laity, bishops, cardinals, or theologians. ...