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Private Conscience and Ecclesiological Certitude: The Humanae Vitae Dilemma in Bruce Marshall’s The Bishop

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Abstract Humanae Vitae, the encyclical of 1968 in which Pope Paul VI reconfirmed the Catholic Church’s traditional stance against artificial means of contraception, engendered heated debates among moral theologians and lay people in many countries. It also disaffected many members of that confession. Some of the most revealing accounts of the discord in the United Kingdom are in imaginative literature. The present article analyses one of these works, Bruce Marshall’s novel of 1970, The Bishop, contextually against the backdrop of the discord in English Catholic circles. It is argued that Marshall, himself a convert to Catholicism and a loyal if sometimes critical member of the Church of Rome, too optimistically predicted a reform of the position taken in Humanae Vitae.

Affiliations: 1: North-West University Potchefstroom Campus, Private Bag X6001, Potchefstroom 2520 Republic of South Africa, Email:, URL:; 2: North-West University Potchefstroom Campus, Private Bag X6001, Potchefstroom 2520 Republic of South Africa


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