Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

How the Pill Explodes the Mythology of Vatican II

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Feb 08, 2011

I realized today something I should have realized a long time ago, something that makes it easy to explode the myth that the decline in Catholic faith and life since the 1960's is directly attributable to the Second Vatican Council. That myth can be debunked in many ways, but perhaps most tellingly with just two words: The Pill.

As artifical means of birth control became increasingly common throughout the 20th century, the development of an oral contraceptive was frantically sought by many, including Margaret Sanger in the United States. In the 1950's, a researcher working with Planned Parenthood funding was instrumental in developing a hormone-based pill to prevent conception. This was approved by the FDA in 1957 for treatment of severe menstrual disorders. Over the next two years, millions of women mysteriously developed such disorders so that they could have “the Pill” prescribed for contraceptive use. By 1960, the FDA approved the Pill for long-term use by healthy women for the sole purpose of preventing conception. The same process was going on in Europe.

The growth in popularity of the Pill was so rapid throughout the affluent, secularized West (this was true even in Catholic circles, so please, let us entertain no illusions about the pre-Vatican II Catholic laity), that it was taken up equally rapidly as a kind of cause celebre by Catholic moral theologians who had already largely slipped free of a proper Catholic understanding of the natural law. I’ve said again and again that Modernism had deeply affected the Catholic academy long before the Council, including the formation of priests and bishops, and that this rot emerged into the open in the 1960’s only because it became culturally fashionable at that time to be frank about dissent from traditional Catholic teachings. The treatment of the contraception question is one of many examples of this phenomenon.

As I indicated a few days ago in my review of the new historical materials posted on Germain Grisez’ web site detailing the battle against contraception, Pope Paul VI was aware of the challenge of widespread contraception even before the Council, when he was still a cardinal, but when he became Pope after the Council opened, he thought that the Council itself would be an unwieldy forum for addressing it. That’s why he chose to have a commission study it and, ultimately, to issue an encyclical on the subject (Humane Vitae).

It is, I think, self-evident that the premier moral crisis of the modern West is a crisis of sexual morality, and that this crisis is particularly tied to easy, pre-meditated, long-term, effective contraception, which has so thoroughly undermined the connection between sex and reproduction. This is as true within the Catholic Church as elsewhere in society. Thus sexual issues are the number one source and motive for dissent, just as they are the number one source and motive for the general desire to secularize Catholicism and render it compatible with worldly values.

All of this began before the Second Vatican Council. All of this developed rapidly independently of the Council. The Council caused none of it; in fact the reality is quite the reverse. It was the growing secularization of the theologians and other leaders within the Church, all strongly influenced by the trends in the surrounding culture, which caused them to seize upon the work of the Council and twist it to their own purposes. This strong secular cultural agenda led directly to a deformed implementation of the Council throughout the West.

I don’t mean to argue that the only factors at work were sexual, but it is inescapably true that the problem of so-called “sexual liberation” is at the center of the crisis of Western culture and, along with it, Catholic culture in the Western world. It is important to get a basic grasp of cause and effect in these matters. So let me say once again to anyone who will listen: We must stop blaming the Second Vatican Council for the Catholic problems which have manifested themselves in the West over the past fifty years. The seeds of these immense problems were sown both elsewhere and earlier.

The Second Vatican Council did not undermine either the Church or the culture. It was rather the deteriorating culture that undermined the Church, and with it the effort to implement the renewal outlined by the Council. For the Council necessarily operated under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Western culture, while seemingly a greater and a stronger thing, sadly had no such guarantee.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - Feb. 17, 2011 1:23 PM ET USA

    While I agree that the Council didn't undermine the culture, I'm not so sure that it didn't undermine the Church. Of course it didn't do so intentionally, but its tone and timing were questionable. What did the Church need from a Council in the 1960's? Whatever it was, the wreckage of the last half-century testifies that Vatican II was not it.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Feb. 14, 2011 12:35 PM ET USA

    Perhaps exaggerations have been made, and modernism etc. did have established roots long before Vat.II (Pascendi 1907). Most commentators (pro and con) agree that there is nothing quite like VII in the entire conciliar history of the Church. Nonetheless, the unnatural and immoral separation of sex and procreation is certainly paramount. Marriage reflects that unselfish love of Christ for His Church. The selfishness and vanity so pervasive today is an echo of Lucifer's selfish defiance.

  • Posted by: Joseph Paul - Feb. 12, 2011 1:58 AM ET USA

    No bill7458, declining belief in the Real Presence is directly linkable to Contraception. As Fr John Hardon wrote in an article in The Catholic Faith magazine of Dec/Nov 1998: “Consequently, those who persist in their defense of contraception deprive themselves of the divine graces which are reserved to bona fide members of the Roman Catholic Church.” Divine grace enables us to believe in the Real Presence. Without it the former faithful walk away. The connection is straight forward.

  • Posted by: Jeff Mirus - Feb. 11, 2011 10:43 AM ET USA

    Thanks, Joseph Paul. I've edited that sentence and made it complex enough to avoid giving the wrong impression of the chronology!

  • Posted by: Joseph Paul - Feb. 11, 2011 3:48 AM ET USA

    Just one small correction. You state that "Pope Paul VI was aware of the challenge of widespread contraception even before the Council, but he thought that the Council itself would be an unwieldy forum for addressing it." Paul VI wasn't Pope before the Council. He became Pope once the Council was in progress, that is, 1963.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 10, 2011 7:23 PM ET USA

    Yo, Gaby, Got no problem with the docs of V2, none whatsoever. On the other hand, TO ME the Novus Ordo, is an abysmal abomination. And yo, Dr. Jeff, looks like you still got your work cut out for you as you try to show that events don't happen in a vacuum, there must be a beginning. The episcopal revolt after V2 could not have happened unless the seeds for it had been planted many moons beforehand.

  • Posted by: billG - Feb. 10, 2011 11:26 AM ET USA

    Declining belief in the Real Presence is not linkable to "The Pill" except by a very creative imagination. Far more credible from a cause and effect standpoint are Communion standing, Communion in the hand, Communion from "Extraordinary Ministers", vanished tabernacles, gutted prayers, eliminated gestures (signs of the Cross, genuflections), and on and on. Thanks to Paul VI and Annabale Bugnini, the average Catholic receives liturgical pabulum by design once a week. Alas, too thin for many.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 10, 2011 10:01 AM ET USA

    "Rot begets rot" but the documents of VII are clearly NOT rot -they are uniformly wonderful. Those priests & bishops who had already fallen prey to the secular culture clearly did NOT have the dominant hand in the council. All they could do was corrupt the interpretation of said documents in accord with their secular mentality. The Novus Ordo came from the good guys not the bad guys; it is objectively good. But it too was corrupted & twisted by disidents to serve secular mentality.

  • Posted by: rfwilliams2938 - Feb. 10, 2011 8:08 AM ET USA

    Decline of the Catholic faith? Dr. Jeff, you've done a good job exposing Satan's latest and very effective stealth attack methodology. But let's not pretend that "Catholic faith", pre-Vatican II was pure and holy. Every age had it's "rot" that took time to be exposed and then the Devil moves on to his next trick.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 09, 2011 6:00 PM ET USA

    This is one of the most intelligent short discussions of the problem of the legacy of the Vatican Council that I have read for a long time! The Council coincided with a significant change in social mores, which I describe as the "spirit of Mick Jagger", which justified attacks on social restraint and repression in the name of liberation. The Church has responded with difficulty to this challenge because many members remain influenced by it. The real problem is the World not the Church!

  • Posted by: - Feb. 09, 2011 10:58 AM ET USA

    It would be good for you to analyze the pedagogical efficacy of the products of V2. Was the sheer amount of ideas and points to be made done in a way that was able to be assimilated properly by the Church? Did the documents teach clearly enough to make it difficult to be misued? I believe the blame that V2 usually gets can be squarely laid at the failure of the Council to teach in a proper manner. The underlying content, of course, is fine. The manner, however, was abysmal.

  • Posted by: JimKcda - Feb. 08, 2011 11:55 PM ET USA

    Somewhat true, but the pill was first Rx by Catholic doctors & "approved" by priests as a way to "regulate the woman's cycle" so that she could better practice "rhythm." No one suspected it was an abortifacient. It was supposed to be just an improved rhythm method. That's how it was sold by doctors and priests. It's too easy to place blame on innocent young 1950's Catholics whose average marriage age was 20, education was 12th grade and sex-ed was from nuns & priests.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 08, 2011 8:57 PM ET USA

    OK, Dr. Jeff, you've convinced me, and it only took you 4 years of me reading your stuff for you to do it. Let me send this big attaboy your way. BUT do you not see that it makes it even more problematic for you to point out the "rot" that infested the Church at the episcopal level, the rot that set itself up in opposition to traditional catholic virtues, and yet you salute another "gift" from that rot, which is the "gift" of the Novus Ordo. Rot always begets rot, does it not?

  • Posted by: - Feb. 08, 2011 7:06 PM ET USA

    All the more reason that the council should have taken a more doctrinal approach, rather than the pastoral approach it took. Now we need the Holy Father to issue a syllabus of errors, as per the request of Bishop Anthanasius Schneider recently called for. Another possible action would be to root out the heretics in Holy Mother Church, by reinstituting the Inquisition.