Kaiser describes this as ""a story of how churchmen tried to use old anathemas on birth control (and by extension, on all the so-called sexual sins) in order to maintain a power that was under assault."" Specifically, he attempts to reconstruct the internal workings of the then-secret Pontifical Commission on Population, Family and Birth (1963-1966), originally appointed by Pope John XXIII to provide expert international advice on the volatile issue of birth control. Pope Paul VI, John's successor, enlarged the commission but with the 1968 publication of his encyclical, ""Humanae Vitae,"" rejected its final recommendations, which called for a modification of the Church's traditional opposition to contraception. Kaiser, who covered the Second Vatican Council for Time, draws upon extensive personal interviews with key commission participants as well as copies of the commission's proceeding to relate the intriguing story of how the group reached its controversial conclusions. Of equal importance is Kaiser's account of the role played by archconservative Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani and his associates in the genesis of the unpopular encyclical. The author also provides a summary of world reaction to the encyclical which condemned all forms of artificial contraception as ""intrinsically evil."" A final chapter discusses the continuing reaffirmation of this doctrine by Pope John Paul II. The book is flawed somewhat by Kaiser's decidedly liberal bias and his ethnic prejudice: he refers to Paul VI as ""an ayatollah who would brook no other opinion than his own."" Or this on John Paul II: "". . .this pope has the decided limitations of his own culture and of his own nation. They are understandable enough: had he spent his life in Cincinnati and Chicago instead of Krakow and Rome, he might think more like Phil Donahue than St. Stanislaw Kostka. But the pope is a Pole."" Kaiser need not resort to this to make his point. His recounting of the events, political dynamics, theological issues, and personalities that finally produced ""Humanae Vitae"" are a far more telling indictment of the obsessions that haunt the Church establishment. Kaiser raises a number of fundamental questions about the exercise and abuse of authority within the Church's institutions. In particular, the unfortunate consequences of the collective myth of papal infallibility are painstakingly detailed.