It was the Year of the Pill. Rarely has a single event so predominated the year’s religious news as Pope Paul’s birth-control encyclical, and subsequent ferment in the Catholic Church.

It was the good old days of Vatican II turned bad, with front-page stories on Catholicism abounding. First, the reaffirmation of church teaching against any “artificial” contraception. Then the waffling reactions by several national hierarchies, culminating in the (apparently) conservative support’ from the most powerful group of bishops, the Americans.

Internally, this issue was the occasion, if not the cause, for dissent on a wide range of Catholic concerns: papal authority, church authority in general, the role of individual conscience in disagreement with that authority, discipline and “due process” for accused priests, and—in general—the limits of free speech and thought in Catholicism.

Externally, the Catholic stand had stunning consequences for the population curves of the next generation. For whatever the extent of disobedience among sophisticated Catholics in educated and affluent nations, the church teaching has great force in nations where population is potentially more dangerous. But even in the United States the conservative weekly newspaper Twin Circle was able to lead a December edition with an article arguing not only that there is no population explosion but that a growth in world population will aid world prosperity.

The murder of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., during the Memphis garbagemen’s strike was a second major event. And unlike many deaths it both symbolized and set off a complex series of social forces. Weeks before the murder the Kerner Commission had indicted U. S. society for white racism. Weeks after, King’s ...

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