As the Roman Catholic Church marked the 50th anniversary of the major Humanae Vitae encyclical, which prohibited the use of condoms and contraceptives, a worldwide survey from a Catholic pro-choice group found that large majorities of Catholics disagree with the ban.
Catholics for Choice revealed last week statistics from a survey it carried out on people who identify as Catholic, asking them whether they agree or disagree with Pope Paul VI's document that said using such birth control methods is morally wrong.
As many as 91 percent of Catholics in Ireland said that they disagree with the ban, while only six percent said that they agree. In the United States, 67 percent were opposed to such a ban, while 17 percent agreed with it.
In other major Catholic countries, the results were a bit more split, but still majorities expressed their disagreement with the stance.
In Kenya, Colombia, and the Philippines, 58, 56 and 52 percent, respectively, of people said that they disagree with the prohibition of condoms and contraceptive pills.
In Ireland, which in May voted to legalize abortion in a national referendum, the survey was carried out on 970 residents, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.
In the U.S., 1,000 Catholics completed the interview, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.
The 50th anniversary of the Humanae Vitae was marked on Wednesday, with church leaders, such as Bishop of Arlington Michael F. Burbidge, insisting that it "confirmed the beauty of the Church's teaching on married love and the transmission of life."
"The wisdom of 'Humanae Vitae' still rings true in our time and reminds us that marriage lived according to God's plan brings happiness and fruitfulness to the couple and their relationship," Burbidge wrote in The Arlington Catholic Herald in June.
"Since the time it was published, the warnings contained within Humanae Vitae have been realized to a devastating and tragic degree as the negative societal consequences and disregard of the life-giving and love-giving aspects of marriage continue," he added.
Still, the bishop argued that "the truths of Humanae Vitae are eternal."
"Its practical approach to intimate love, marriage, and the dignity of the human person can transform society and the Church, drawing all people closer to God through a proper understanding of how he made us to share life and love in the sacred bond of marriage," he continued.
Pope Paul VI wrote in his encyclical that "Married love particularly reveals its true nature and nobility when we realize that it takes its origin from God, who 'is love,' the Father 'from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.'"
Regarding sex, he wrote: "The sexual activity, in which husband and wife are intimately and chastely united with one another, through which human life is transmitted, is, as the recent Council recalled, 'noble and worthy.' It does not, moreover, cease to be legitimate even when, for reasons independent of their will, it is foreseen to be infertile. For its natural adaptation to the expression and strengthening of the union of husband and wife is not thereby suppressed.
"The fact is, as experience shows, that new life is not the result of each and every act of sexual intercourse. God has wisely ordered laws of nature and the incidence of fertility in such a way that successive births are already naturally spaced through the inherent operation of these laws. 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."
On birth control, the former pope declared that "the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children."
He also condemned "direct sterilization" as well as "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."
Predicting the consequences of using artificial birth control methods, he stressed that "a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection."
Overall, it would open the way for "marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards," he warned.
Father Jeffrey F. Kirby, parish priest of Our Lady of Grace Parish in Indian Land, South Carolina, argued in Crux earlier this week that the point of Humanae Vitae is not to call out the evils of birth control or to repress sexuality.
"While the document's points are often ill-presented, they are, nonetheless, rightly and beautifully grounded on the gift of life. This doctrine flourishes upon the basic premise that life is a mystery to be lived, and not a problem to be solved. As a gift, life makes the most sense and is closer to God when it is shared in love," Kirby argued.