An inventory of the Joseph F. Byron Humanae Vitae Controversy Collection at The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives
Joseph F. Byron was born in Albany, NY, in 1924. He attended parochial schools and Siena College for two years. After serving as an infantryman in World War II, he attended the seminary of Theological College in Washington in 1946 and was ordained in 1953 as a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington. He was associate pastor at St. Anthony Parish from 1953 to 1955, and associate pastor of St. Jane de Chantal Parish in Bethesda, MD from 1955 to 1962. In 1962 he was named associate pastor of St. Joseph Parish and in 1963 director of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine and moved to a residence at Little Flower Parish in Bethesda. He was chaplain at Xavierian College in Silver Spring, MD from 1965 to 1967 and also served as a chaplain at the Newman Center, serving Catholic students attending American University. In 1968 Byron was made pastor of St. James Parish in Mount Rainier, MD.
Following Vatican II (1962-1965), Byron was encouraged by anticipated liturgical changes to experiment with the liturgy and incorporated guitar music and "dialogue homilies" into his liturgies at the Newman Center at American University. These changes were considered inappropriate by Archbishop (and soon Cardinal) O'Boyle and were feared to cause confusion among the faithful. But there were greater issues coming out from Vatican II and its interpretation that brought Byron and other area priests into conflict with O'Boyle. Following the promulgation of Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae, on July 26, 1968, Byron was among 40 signers of the Statement of Conscience, which expressed concern over issues surrounding artificial birth control. Some signers disagreed with the encyclical's upholding of the Catholic Church's condemnation of the practice. Others, though agreeing with its conclusions, differed on how to deal with the issue pastorally, particularly as it affected confession and reception of the sacraments. As a result of the Statement of Conscience, Byron and the other signers were suspended from priestly ministry to varying degrees by Cardinal O'Boyle.
Byron was one of 19 priests who disputed their suspension and he undertook to have their case brought before the Church judicially. Byron was given permission by mandates signed by the other priests to act in their names, and with the advocacy of an association of American priests called the National Federation of Priests' Councils, and its Committee of Concerned Canon Lawyers (CCCL), he eventually petitioned Pope Paul VI after it was determined that neither the Washington nor Cleveland Tribunal could arbitrate the case. Paul VI gave the Congregation for the Clergy the task of hearing the case and rendering a decision. After drawing together information from interviews with the priests and meeting with proxies (including Byron) and representatives of O'Boyle, the Congregation reached a decision based on their findings. It was determined that O'Boyle had followed the requirements of the Code of Canon Law, and the priests' representatives were able to clarify their position on the authority of the magisterium, conscience, and pastoral practice in a statement that was acceptable by them and the Congregation. Eventually the priests who still sought to resume their duties, by endorsing the findings, were able to do so.
In 1972 Byron was made the founding pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Gaithersburg, MD. In 1976 he was asked to write an article about the case of the Washington 19 and it was published in the theology journal Consilium in 1977. He was appointed pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Potomac, MD, in 1988, and retired in 1992 due to the effects of Alzheimer's disease. He died September 29, 1997, at the age of 73 and was survived by two brothers, William E. Byron of Albany, NY, and J. Paul Byron, a priest of Raleigh, NC.
The Joseph F. Byron Humanae Vitae Controversy Collection contains 1.5 linear feet of records focused on the Humanae Vitae Controversy in the Archdiocese of Washington, 1969-1971. The collection is composed of correspondence, meeting minutes, news releases, newspaper clippings, documents related to an article about the case published by Byron in 1977, and reports. The collection is divided into three series.
Series 1, Correspondence and Related Materials, 1969-1971, is subdivided into a Chronological sub-series spanning 1969-1971, and a Congregation for the Clergy sub-series spanning 1970-1971. Series 2 contains three reports: (1) Petition to Pope Paul VI with accompanying material submitted in 1970, (2) Supplementary material submitted to the Congregation for the Clergy in 1971, and (3) Interviews with the Washington 19 from 1971. Series 3 is a Publication file for 'The Case of the Washington 19', an article by Byron published in the Consilium International Journal of Theology in 1977.
Correspondence and Related Materials contains three sub-series: Sub-series 1.1: Chronological Files, 1969-1971, documents the activity of Byron and other Washington, D.C. priests in response to the teaching concerning artificial contraception maintained by Paul VI in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae. The documents begin their coverage in 1969 -- after the Statement of Conscience had been signed by 40 priests and those who had not retracted their statement were suspended of their priestly faculties by Cardinal O'Boyle -- and continue to the decision made by the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome in 1971. The files document dialogue among Cardinal O'Boyle, Byron and the other 18 dissenting priests making up the Washington 19: Luke Caimi, John E. Corrigan, Carl F. Dianda, Eamon Dignan, Hugo Richard Duhn, John L. Fenlon, Thomas Gavigan, SJ, W. Paul Hill, Robert W. Hovda, Shane MacCarthy, Raymond Machesney, John J. McGarraghy, Horace B. McKenna, SJ, Paul Norton, Joseph O'Connell, George Pavloff, Gerald Sigler, and Henry Slevin. In addition to correspondence, the series includes the mandates signed by the priests giving Byron permission to represent them, as well as meeting notes, reports, and press releases of the National Federation of Priests' Councils (NFPC) and the Committee of Concerned Canon Lawyers (CCCL), the committee formed by the NFPC to advocate for and assist the priests' case. Newspaper clippings from the NFPC paper 'Priests USA' and others are also included.(Note: For correspondence concerning the controversy at its beginnings in 1968, see the Petition and accompanying documentation contained in Series 2, Reports.)
Sub-series 1.2: The Congregation for the Clergy Files, 1970-1971, document the process of examination and decision by the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome after a petition was made directly to Pope Paul VI by Byron. Correspondence, drafts of statements clarifying the priests' position and transcripts of interviews with the priests as part of the process are included in this group. (Note: A complete set of interview transcripts are contained in Series 2, Reports.)
Sub-series 1.3 contains index cards with contact information for the original 40 priests who signed the Statement of Conscience and includes as a subset the Washington 19. The cards also include notes by Byron on the priests' status, such as "suspended", "on leave," "resigned," "laicized," or "married."
Series 2 Reports contains (1) Petition to Pope Paul VI (copy), containing Byron's petition to Pope Paul VI with accompanying material pertinent to the case -- mandates authorizing Byron to act as Procurator for the 19, an outline of the judicial process in the Washington and Cleveland Tribunals, chronology of events and documents, and case summaries of the litigants, (2) Supplementary material submitted to the Congregation for the Clergy in 1970, and (3) Interviews with the Washington 19 from 1971 that took place as the initial stage of the judicial process undertaken by the Congregation for the Clergy.
Series 3 contains a publication file with typed correspondence to staff and editor, handwritten edits, first draft and revisions, and final copy for an article published as 'The Case of the Washington Nineteen: A Search for Justice', in 1977 in Concilium International Journal of Theology.
The Joseph F. Byron Humanae Vitae Controversy Collection consists of three series:
Series 3: Publication file for article 'The Case of the Washington Nineteen' in Concilium International Journal of Theology, 1976-1977
Restrictions on Access
There are no access restrictions for this collection.
The collection was donated to the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives in 2005 by Paul Byron, brother of Joseph Byron.
Processing completed in 2010 by Glynnis La Garde. EAD markup completed in 2010 by Glynnis La Garde.
The original order was generally intact. In the initial survey of the collection, it was evident that the majority of it consisted of files of correspondence with other materials interfiled. This material became the first series, with no alteration needed to be made except to place them accurately in chronological order. Because there was a file among these labeled 'Congregation for the Clergy', the series was arranged into two sub-series, Chronological and Congregation for the Clergy. Three reports which were found together were made into a second series, and files on the publication of an article for Concilium were made into a third series.
At the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives:
Shane MacCarthy Humanae Vitae Controversy Collection
This record series is indexed under the following controlled access subject terms.
Byron, Joseph F.
O'Boyle, Patrick, 1896-1987
Paul VI, Pope, 1897-1978
Archdiocese of Washington
Association of Washington Priests
Catholic Church. Congregatio pro Clericis
Committee of Concerned Canon Lawyers (CCCL)
National Federation of Priests' Councils (NFPC)
Administrative law (Canon law)
Artificial birth control
Humanae Vitae controversy
MacGregor, Morris. Steadfast in the Faith: The Life of Patrick Cardinal O'Boyle. The Catholic University of America Press: Washington, DC 2006.
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