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In Defense of Humanae Vitae
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Bellarmine School of Theology
The reaction to the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Pope Paul VI was not surprising. Non-Catholic commentators like the editors of the New York Times simply stated that the Pope was reaffirming the prohibition against birth control (July 30, 1968). They were expecting the doctrine to be re-affirmed and said so in covering the publication of the encyclical.
Catholic reaction was also not surprising. Those who had been urging the Church to liberalize its stand on contraception were now either angry or disappointed. Those who had been saying that this doctrine cannot be changed were heartened at this restatement of the Churchs perennial teaching.
Yet something new has happened. It was predicted three years ago when certain moralists were openly questioning the Catholic teaching on contraception. Would they have the strength of faith to accept a papal declaration repeating what the Church has always believed: that direct interference with the process of generation is forbidden by the moral law? Recent events indicate that otherwise respected Catholic priests and teachers are failing in this strength and are unwilling (or unable) to extricate themselves from the logic of their situation.
Since the Sovereign Pontiff published Humanae Vitae every news medium in the country has carried statements by a variety of Catholic spokesmen supporting or condemning the papal teaching. Among these statements the most weighty was the one issued on July 30 in Washington, D.C., and signed by eighty-seven theologians, protesting the papal declaration and seeking widespread support throughout the country.
What follows is an analysis of this statement. Superficially it may seem to have been drawn up in a hurry a few days after the encyclical was published. Actually it represents the concerted thinking of all the critics of the Churchs authority in the past four years. A careful reading of the document shows that it synthesizes everything of any consequence said in opposition to Catholic teaching on birth control in modern times.
Our analysis will be given in the same order in which the protest statement is written. Each item will be numbered and identified; then the pertinent quotation and reply.
1. Encyclical Not Infallible. The encyclical is not infallible teaching. History shows that a number of statements of similar or even greater authoritative weight have subsequently been proved inadequate or even erroneous. Past authoritative statements on religious liberty, interest-taking, the right of silence, and the ends of marriage have all been corrected at a later date.
The ideas behind these statements betray confused thinking. A myth has developed in some Catholic circles which claims that only solemnly defined teaching is infallible, or that the Church cannot teach infallibly on matters dealing with the moral order, or in issues affecting natural law. None of these is true.
Most of what the Church believes to be true has never been solemnly defined. According to the famous axiom of Vincent of Lerins, we must be extremely concerned to hold what has been believed everywhere, always and by all. Applying this norm to the Churchs teaching on contraception, the verdict of Catholic history is uniform. Since the first clear mention of contraception in Christian writing in the third century, when the Church condemned it, the explicit teaching of Catholicism has been the same. Jerome and Augustine, Caesarius and Martin, Albert and Aquinas, Sixtus V and Charles Borromeo, Alphonsus Liguori and Bishop Kenrick, Pius XI and Pius XII all typify the unbroken tradition on the subject. No pronouncement of Rome and no teacher approved by Rome has ever taught, Contraception is good. Even men like John Noonan who would like to see the doctrine changed, admit The teaching on contraception is clear and apparently fixed forever (John T. Noonan, Contraception, New York, 1967, p. xix).
At the outset should be stated what Catholicism commonly holds, that the Churchs hierarchy, in communion with Rome, can teach infallibly even apart from an ecumenical council. The II Vatican Council makes the point emphatically clear.
Although individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they nevertheless proclaim Christs doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held (Constitution on the Church, 25).
That contraception belongs to the area of morals is beyond question; that the Catholic hierarchy, under the pope; has proscribed contraception for over a thousand years is also unquestionable. Is it conceivable that the successors of the apostles would have been allowed by the Holy Spirit to mislead the Church for more than a millennium on the morality of one of the most sacred of human relationships?
It is gratuitous to compare such things as interest-taking with the solemn duties of marriage. It is also unwarranted to say that because circumstances required a change in church legislation on religious liberty, the Churchs teaching on the principles of religious liberty has also changed. It is false to assert that Catholic teaching on the ends of marriage has been corrected. If anything, the II Vatican Council was more explicit than ever on the procreative love that should obtain between husband and wife.
2. Ecclesiology and Methodology of Paul VI Erroneous. We take exception to the ecclesiology implied and the methodology used by Paul VI in the writing and promulgation of the document; they are incompatible with the Churchs authentic self-awareness as expressed in and suggested by the acts of the Second Vatican Council.
Ever since the Council closed, writers like Hans King and Gregory Baum have been dinning into peoples ears the theory of a Church that does not recognize an ultimate teaching authority vested in the college of bishops under the Roman Pontiff. Present-day critics of Paul VI have bought this theory and made it their own. Nothing in the formal teaching of the Council, apart from what may be suggested by the acts of the Council, give ground for supposing that such a Church (minus the magisterium) is the institution that convened in ecumenical session under John XXIII and Paul VI.
3. Church Wrongly Identified with the Hierarchy. The encyclical consistently assumes that the Church is identical with the hierarchical office.
This is a favorite approach in argument: charge the opposition with your own premises and protect yourself from rebuttal. When Pope Paul is accused of identifying the Church with the hierarchy, the charge is so preposterous it stings by its very harshness. Actually those who make this accusation are the ones who make the sweeping identification, The Church is the whole people of God, in which the hierarchy do not possess divine authority to teach and to pass judgment on the faithful.
For over four centuries there has been a form of Christianity which claims just that: God has not established a visible magisterium authorized to direct the consciences of men in the creedal and moral order. This is the essence of Protestantism. It is also the adopted position of a growing number of self-appointed leaders among Catholic priests and laity.
When Pope Paul is said to identify the Church with the hierarchical office, the indictment is false. What he does assume, and he would not be pope unless he assumed it, is that no one who claims to be Catholic can refuse obedience to the hierarchy in matters of such gravity as contraception and remain a living member of the Church.
4. Witness of the Laity is Ignored. No real importance is afforded the witness of the life of the Church in its totality.
People can witness to many things. Some Catholics have been witnessing to their independence of the Churchs teaching in the morals of marriage, as seen from the numbers who remarry after a previous sacramental marriage. Some Catholics have similarly witnessed to their independence by practicing contraception. But not everyone who calls himself a Catholic is a true one, and not every witness by a nominal Catholic is a witness to true Catholicism.
5. The Voice of Catholic Married People is Ignored. The special witness of many Catholic couples is neglected.
The same insistence on witness without discriminating its value. There are Catholic couples, caught in the web of modern secularism, who are sure that contraception is permissible. They have been strengthened in their attitude by priests who condone the practice and speculate in its defense.
But to imply that most Catholic couples think this way or that married people in the Church prefer contraception is irresponsible. One of the main sources of the current turmoil is precisely here. Arm-chair theologians who have little vital contact with the cross-section of American Catholics have reasoned themselves into believing that the sophisticated critics they hear are representative of the Church at large.
Yet numbers are not the question. No matter how many Catholic couples might practice contraception, this does not make it right no more than the mass defection of a beleaguered Catholic laity in Reformation England made their action right. Thomas More was canonized because he remained loyal to the Church when all around him thousands were pressured into rejection of Rome.
Anyone familiar with the lives of Catholic couples knows how many want to witness to their faith by accepting from God the children He sends them in spite of the philosophy of ease which militates against them.
6. Harm to the Ecumenical Movement. It (the encyclical) fails to acknowledge the witness of the separated Christian Churches and Ecclesial Communities.
No doubt many Protestants and others practice contraception, and their witness is contrary to the principles of Catholic teaching on marital morality. But by the same token their witness to marital instability, since they believe in divorce and remarriage, should be consulted in any position the Church assumes with respect to monogamy.
Underlying this attitude in some Catholic circles is an ambiguity about what the Church is. Quite apart from the fact that Catholicism believes in ecclesiastical authority and Protestantism does not; not everyone who calls himself a Christian is professing all that Christ wants His followers to believe and do. If ever the day came when the principles and conduct of any Christian denomination became normative in the Catholic Church, that would be the end of Catholicism. The Catholic Church is normative for them, not the other way around. Most of them do not believe in the priesthood; are we then to remove the sacrament of orders ? Most of them do not believe in the Real Presence; are we to follow suit? Most of them do not believe that marriage is a sacrament, are we to do the same? Many of them do not believe that Mary is a virgin, that grace can be resisted, that celibacy is pleasing to God. They deny the Mass is a sacrifice for the remission of sins; they claim that no human being is authorized to reconcile sinners with God. Are we to cease being Catholics because they (in good faith) insist on remaining Protestants?
Anyone who deals intimately with Protestants, and especially with their leaders, can testify that we lose respect in their eyes when we barter our heritage in order to appear more acceptable to them. The last kind of Catholic they look up to is the one whose integrity is stained by disloyalty to his own Church.
7. Insensitivity to People of Good Will. It (the encyclical) is insensitive to the witness of many men of good will.
Again the myth of witness by those who are not Catholic and not expected to witness to anything except what they are which is not professed members of the Roman Catholic Church.
There may certainly be men of good will who sincerely believe that contraception is not immoral. But they are not those who witness to their opinion by advertising in two full pages of Time magazine (April 28, 1967) under the huge title that: Catholic Bishops Assail Birth Control as Millions Face Starvation. Below the caption was an empty bowl held outstretched by a hand labeled Hunger. If this is good will, then words have lost their meaning and anyone who assaults the religious convictions of his neighbor is a champion of human freedom!
Years of incessant propaganda by forces hostile to all that Catholic Christianity stands for have had their effect. Victims of this barrage of criticism are in positions of influence within the Catholic Church. They are now trying to convince their fellow-Catholics and offended if someone tells them they have been brainwashed.
8. Encyclical Ignores Modern Science. It (the encyclical) pays insufficient attention to the ethical import of modern science.
The natural sciences have given the modern world such mastery over the forces of nature as the world has never known before. What scientists who remain faithful to their own premises do not claim is that they (as scientists) have a right to pass judgment on the ethical import of physics, chemistry or electronics.
Since when has the Church abdicated its role of teacher of nations and expected to listen to what scientists may say about the ethical import of their trade? Scientists are encouraged to explore the secrets of nature and offer their discoveries for the use of mankind. They are not expected to teach people the moral and religious principles by which these discoveries are to be used.
As a matter of fact, true scientists are happy to listen to the Churchs judgment in moral matters and baffled when they see supposedly Catholic teachers opposing the doctrines of their own Church.
How different the tone of specialists in population research who, though not Catholics, acknowledge the wisdom of Pope Pauls statement on the solution of population problems. The latest issue of the Population Reference Bureau is devoted exclusively to a favorable report on Populorum Progressio. Following are sample quotations.
This recent encyclical from Pope Paul displays a truly broad and penetrating concern for demographic trends.
The spirit of this message is one with which reasonable people around the world can feel at home. As it reveals quite clearly, the Roman Catholic Church is now directing the concern of its followers to the population problem It is unfair to indict Roman Catholicism for encouraging oversized families or for promoting high birth rates (Population Profile, Washington, July 1968, p. 7).
Literature on population trends published under scientific auspices shows that researchers who are not Catholic have been better disposed towards the Churchs teaching on contraception than many Catholics. One reason being that those who criticize the Church for paying insufficient attention to modern science are unfamiliar with science and speak from emotional bias that colors their judgment.
9. Narrow Concept of Papal Authority. The encyclical betrays a narrow positivistic notion of papal authority, as illustrated by the rejection of the majority view presented by the Commission established to consider the question, as well as by the rejection of the conclusions of a large part of the international Catholic theological community.
First of all there is no apodictic knowledge as to what was the majority view of the Commission appointed by the pope. What is certain is that someone connected with the Commission was unfaithful to his oath and released certain information to the press. All the evidence indicates that one motive was to pressure the pope into conforming with those who favored contraception.
More serious is the demand that the pope listen to the international Catholic theological community.
Numbers are irrelevant, because there is no way of telling how many theologians actually favored contraception before the publication of Humanae Vitae. The trend away from common acceptance of the Churchs centuries-old doctrine began only as recently as 1963, and can be traced to a handful of writers in Belgium and Holland. Among others, Canon Janssens of Louvain argued in favor of oral contraceptives as long as they are used in the service of a justified birth regulation (Ephemerides Theologicae Louvanienses, 1963, p. 787). It should be added that Janssens, who was one of the architects of current contraceptive permissiveness, had a naïve notion of what happens when progestogenes are taken to prevent conception. Medical science is still debating as to just what happens; but Janssens in 1963 told his readers in precise terms what occurs in the womans body and on this basis he defended the use of oral contraceptive hormones.
As in the case of population problems, where demographers are well disposed to the Churchs answer to overpopulation (without contraception), so here medical specialists are more cautious about the effects of anovulents on the human body than some Catholic writers are about the morality of contraceptives. We shall review this strange contrast when dealing with the evil consequences of artificial birth control.
But the real issue is not a question of science. It is a matter of faith. To say that the encyclical betrays a narrow and positivistic notion of papal authority is to betray a narrow and positivistic notion of the Catholic Church. The genius of Catholicism is the wisdom of its divine Founder reflected in the fact that He did not leave the faith and moral principles of the Gospel to the tender mercy of scholars. He did not come to give the world a philosophy but to teach the way of salvation. During His stay on earth, He never argued or syllogized, and never appealed to mere human reason. His Church cannot do more and should not do less. Those who are willing to believe are promised eternal life; those who do not believe are excluded from salvation if they reject what God has enlightened them to recognize is true.
When these latter-day Gnostics, like their counterparts in the second and third century, appeal to the conclusions of a large part of the international Catholic theological community, they are talking to the wrong audience. The Church is not a theological society but a community of believers; it is not an academy of philosophers but the gathering under Divine Providence of the people of God.
10. Inadequate Concept of the Natural Law. They (ethical conclusions in the encyclical) are based on an inadequate concept of natural law: the multiple forms of natural law theory are ignored and the fact that competent philosophers come to different conclusions on this very question are ignored.
It is unpardonable to say that the papal declaration ignored the multiple forms of natural law or those philosophers who came to different conclusions on contraception. It was precisely to distinguish among these multiple (and often contradictory) moral law theories and to sift among the different (and divergent) conclusions of philosophers that Catholics looked to the Sovereign Pontiff for unambiguous guidance.
Underlying the discomfort with being told definitely what the Church teaches on contraception is a deeper attitude of mind than meets the eye. It is nothing less than skepticism about mans ability ever to know anything with complete certainty. Outside the Church uncertainty about even a similar trend has been growing inside the Church, which is now urged to include among its members and not exclude as doubters people who are willing to accept some of the Churchs teaching but not all of it for example, not the Catholic principles on contraception. A contemporary theologian makes this statement.
Many people feel that they are rejected by the Church if they do not believe, or if they do not believe everything, even if their doubt is a serious matter, is taken in good faith, and is an absolute necessity to their religious stance. They do not realize that they can share in the Christian body and benefit from its movement (Oliver A. Rabut, Faith and Doubt, New York, 1967, p. 114).
Given this attitude, it is not surprising that the pope should be charged with ignoring the multiple forms of natural law theory. He scandalizes those who are quite willing to remain skeptical about the morality of such issues as contraception. So far from ignoring the conflicting forms of natural law theory, the Church is painfully aware of them. Conscious of his mission to teach the people of God in times of doubt and uncertainty, the pope declared that contraception is morally wrong. He did so, not in virtue of any theory of ethics but in the exercise of his prerogative as Vicar of Christ. To have remained silent any longer, he felt, would have been to fail in his duty of teaching the Christian world in one of the gravest crises of its moral history.
11. No Conclusive Proof from the Natural Law. Even the minority report of the papal commission noted grave difficulty in attempting to present conclusive proof of the immorality of artificial contraception based on natural law.
As noted above, the terms majority and minority reports of the papal commission on contraception are misleading. As Socrates pointed out centuries ago, where moral principles are concerned the majority cannot be trusted to decide between good and evil. Only the rightly-disposed mind has the power to recognize moral goodness and distinguish it from moral evil.
Certitude on any question is not easy when the problem is complicated. It becomes doubly hard to reach when emotions are aroused and personalities clash. It may be next to impossible to obtain when, as in the case of contraception, a whole culture becomes saturated with ideas that run counter to Christian morals and asceticism.
Who ever claimed that the Churchs wisdom in directing mans destiny depended on the prevailing philosophy or was conditioned by the conclusive proof available to naked reason for accepting the norms of religious and moral living ? Could the Church even profess to be Christs appointed teacher of nations if it lacked the guidance of the Holy Spirit to decide between conflicting theories in the moral order ?
Some of the popes critics, however, may be willing to admit the Churchs ability so to decide but they deny that the present encyclical was such a decision. Different types can be distinguished among these critics.
Some insist that the pope has no power, nor for that matter even the Church in ecumenical council, to interpret and legislate anything in the moral order which does not formally belong to revelation. In other words, judgment on such matters such as contraception. Pope Paul VI took direct issue with these subversives by stating unequivocally that, No believer will wish to deny that the teaching authority of the Church is competent to interpret even the natural moral law (Humanae Vitae, I, 4). If the Church did not have this right from its founder, it would lack an essential element of operation to direct people in their pilgrimage through life.
Others may admit the pope can also decide in matters pertaining to the natural law, but say that Humanae Vitae was not such a decision-making document. Their objection was anticipated by the pontiff in a way that should leave no doubt in any but the most unresponsive mind. So clear and strong is the popes assertion at this point that it may be considered an exercise of the fullness of apostolic authority, apart from the fact that contraception has always been condemned by the Church as contrary to the will of God. The solemnity of the words could hardly be more explicit. After explaining that Jesus Christ entrusted to Peter and to the apostles the divine authority to teach all nations His commandments, Pope Paul affirmed that the Church has always provided coherent teaching concerning both the nature of marriage and the correct use of conjugal rights and duties. Since contraception had lately become such a controversial issue, he appointed a commission and instituted elaborate studies on the subject. Then the crucial statement:
Having attentively sifted the documentation laid before us, after mature reflection and assiduous prayer, we now intend, by virtue of the mandate entrusted to us by Christ, to give our reply to these grave questions (Ibid., I, 6).
If someone wishes to cavil about this being an infallible declaration, he should recall that the Church can teach just as infallibly by its universal magisterium as by solemn definition. If he still balks, let him at least have no doubt that the pope intended Humanae Vitae to resolve any doubts about the Churchs intention to bind under obedience the consciences of the faithful in one of the most serious areas of human conduct.
12. Encyclical too Biological. Other defects (in the encyclical) include over-emphasis on the biological aspects of conjugal relations as ethically normative.
This accusation can only have been made on a superficial reading of the document. If there is anything the pope does not stress it is the biology of marital relations. It seems ironical that critics who want the Church to remove restrictions on biological mating should charge the Church with being preoccupied with sex. Perhaps the criticism is autobiographical in revealing a cast of mind that sees biology where theology is concerned.
No intelligent Catholic writer, and assuredly not the pope would claim that the biological aspects of marital relationships are (of themselves) ethically normative. They become normative, however, from the character of the persons involved, i.e., husband and wife and not any two persons; from the purpose they have in having intercourse, i.e., to express their love between themselves and beyond themselves to the new life which this love makes possible; from the purpose that God has in encouraging them to have intercourse, i.e., to enter their covenant by creating (as He sees fit) a new soul to infuse into the body which husband and wife provide by their conjugal relationship.
13. Excessive Stress on Sex in the Encyclical. (There is) undue stress on sexual acts and on the faculty of sex viewed in itself apart from the person and the couple.
Up to ten years ago this was a favorite criticism of non-Catholic writers who opposed the Catholic teaching on contraception. It has now become the stock-in-trade of nominal Catholics who challenge the Churchs insistence on subordinating passion to reason and reason to the word of God.
In more prosaic terms, the argument states that intercourse should be allowed a married couple even when they use contraceptives, in order to foster their mutual love and to provide for their individual well-being.
Neither the Church in the past nor the present encyclical questions the value of intercourse to advance both needs mutual affection and personal fulfillment. On the contrary, both benefits are highlighted in Humanae Vitae. Why the criticism, then? The reason is that neither value is an absolute. Husband and wife may use conjugal relations to their hearts content provided these relations are morally good, i.e., not contraceptive. The critics of the pope may not be willing to admit it, but for them intercourse becomes an absolute. Whether natural or unnatural, i.e., whether moral or contraceptive, intercourse is to be encouraged as long as mutual love and personal fulfillment are assured.
The encyclical questions the worth of such mutual love or personal fulfillment, when sought contrary to the will of God that conjugal relations should not be contraceptive. To call this undue stress on sexual acts is an abuse of language and reveals a subtle form of hedonism that is no less crude for being hidden behind a façade of language.
14. Static View of the World. (There is) a static world-view which downplays the historical and evolutionary character of humanity in its finite existence, as described in Vatican IIs Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.
Whatever the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World teaches, it does not say that moral relativism has suddenly replaced the moral absolutes for which the Church has become the Church of the Martyrs through the centuries of its bloody history.
The words are common enough, dynamic and evolutionary instead of passive and stationary to describe the Church of the future. Properly understood they have a deep meaning for those who believe the Church is a living organism that grows and develops through the workings of the Holy Spirit who animates the Mystical Body.
But this is a far cry from appealing to the Churchs dynamism in support of a new morality that seeks emancipation from the rabbinical proliferation of ecclesiastical legislation and for an ethics of creative freedom.
Several premises underlie this new morality, as expounded by some Catholic moralists and publicly defended by writers who signed the protest against Pope Paul VI.
Mans sinfulness is reinterpreted to mean the situation into which he is born and which in profound ways shapes his development. One corollary of this concept of original sin is to work towards reshaping the situations in which man finds himself (housing, economics, standard of living) and less concern for reforming man from within to cope with his concupiscence and pride. In this context, the stress should be on things outside of man and certainly not on laws for the internal guidance of his intellect and will.
It is now being affirmed that the New Testament knows no laws, but only the one law of love. Instead of a static legalism that tries to make people conform to a prefabricated norm of morality, the Church of the future could well dispense with legislation and concentrate on making Christians simply love one another.
Against this background it is only logical to see Humanae Vitae as intrusion or, more accurately, as an anachronism. With so many seminal thinkers opting for communal Pelagianism and against what they call authoritarianism, the publication of document like this one appears to be arrogant effrontery. Is it possible, they ask, for the pope to be so far removed from the times as actually to expect people to buy his antiquated theology? Contemporary authors who still profess to be Catholics are unsparing in their language against the Vicar of Christ.
15. Baseless Assumptions on the Bad Effects of Contraception. (The encyclical makes) unfounded assumptions about the evil consequences of methods of artificial birth control.
No single passage in the protest statement more clearly reveals the emotionalism of its signers than the denial of evil consequences following on the practice of contraception. The pope singled out only three, sexual promiscuity, marital infidelity, and government interference in human liberty. Experience bears out all three dangers and no one familiar with marital counseling for the first two or political history for the third will question the relationship between contraception and the evils which the pope identified.
How could anyone with normal experience, for example, deny that young people feel more free to indulge in premarital sex activity because they are protected from pregnancy by contraceptive medication and devices? The Kinsey Report from Indiana University, to mention only one, shows beyond doubt that sex activity among the unmarried is markedly increased as contraception is more widely practiced. Marital infidelity and government interference with liberty are also acknowledged by the very proponents of contraception, even when they do not use terms like infidelity or interference.
As a culture becomes less Christian certain standards of morality are changed in the direction of sanctioning what the Christian ethic has always forbidden. Extra-marital sex activity and polygamy (simultaneous or successive) are typical areas of ethical conflict between Christianity and secularity. Parallel with this is the tendency for the state to shape the mores of a secular culture and for the Church to do so in a Christian culture.
There we have the basis for dismissing the popes concern about the effects of contraception. His concern is dismissed because the evils he fears are not taken seriously by some spokesmen for Catholic morality.
16. Indifference to the Effects of Prolonged Sexual Abstinence. The encyclical betrays indifference to Vatican IIs assertion that prolonged sexual abstinence may cause faithfulness to be imperiled and its quality of fruitfulness to be ruined.
As happened elsewhere in this anti-papal statement, the Vatican Council is quoted or paraphrased to support what the conciliar text does not contain. In full context, the passage reads:
This council realizes that certain modern conditions often keep couples from arranging their married lives harmoniously, and that they find themselves in circumstances where at least temporarily the size of their families should not be increased. As a result, the faithful exercise of love and the full intimacy of their lives is hard to maintain.
But where the intimacy of married life is broken off, its faithfulness can sometimes be imperiled and its quality of fruitfulness ruined, for then the upbringing of the children and the courage to accept new ones are both endangered.
To these problems there are those who presume to offer dishonorable solutions. Indeed, they do not recoil from the taking of life. But the Church issues the reminder that a true contradiction cannot exist between the divine laws pertaining to the transmission of life and those pertaining to the fostering of authentic conjugal love (De Ecclesia in Mundo Huius Temporis; II, 51).
Nothing which Pope Paul VI declared in Humanae Vitae contradicts the foregoing position of the II Vatican Council. Everything he said confirms and supports it. What the drafters of the protest failed to include is the rest of the conciliar doctrine: that the problem is real but that dishonorable solutions are excluded. The popes anguish over certain modern conditions which prevent normal conjugal living is no less than that of his critics. To accuse him of indifference is cruel. The difference between him and them is that they are willing to apply dishonorable solutions, whereas he refuses to do so and trusts to Gods light and strength to help married people resolve the dilemma while stressing that the heart of the problem is these modern conditions. Change them and be as militant as possible in demanding from the leaders of society a release from the intolerable situation that pressures couples to compromising with their conscience. But do not, he insists, evade the problem by twisting the conscience to conform to conditions. This may sound like clever theology but it is really social cowardice.
17. Disregard for Human Dignity. (The pope reveals) an almost total disregard for the welfare and dignity of millions of human beings. By implication his critics have a deep regard for people. So they sit in judgment on the one whom the Church tells them is their judge.
It is strange to hear Christians urging the practice of contraception as the indispensable means of solving the population problem when those who are not Christian often think otherwise. One of the main targets of concern is India with a bulging population. Writing about contraception to solve this countrys problems Mahatma Gandhi was unequivocal.
Contraceptives are an insult to womanhood. (The worse harm of a contraceptive philosophy) lies in its rejection of the old ideal and substitution of one which, if carried out, must spell the moral and physical extinction of the human race. Contraceptives of a kind there were before and there will be hereafter, but the use of them was formerly regarded as sinful. It was reserved for our generation to glorify vice by calling it virtue.
Millions in this world eat for the satisfaction of the palate; similarly millions of husbands and wives indulge in the sex act for their carnal satisfaction and will continue to do so and pay the inexorable penalty in the shape of numberless ills with which nature visits all violations of its order (Mahatma Gandhi, Harijan, June 5, 1937; May 5, 1946; March 28, 1951.)
The same for countries like Latin America or the rising tide of people in Africa or the Negro in America. Statements published by the leaders of those countries or ethnic groups not only show little sympathy with contraceptives but violent reaction against the efforts of prosperous nations to protect their own interests by reducing the birth rate of the rest of the world. A recent news report from South America, issued for the Negro press in the United States, is typical of the attitude of those whom white Americans in the United States are trying to save from starvation by means of contraception.
Hunger in Latin America is the result of the crimes of capitalists, imperialists and monopolists, and not of overpopulation, said Miguel Cardoso (labor union leader in Venezuela). The imperialists are trying to castrate us and take over our land, he declared, referring to United States efforts to push sterilization, abortion and other birth control methods south of the border (Report from the Pan-African Press, Chicago, December 29, 1967).
The Marxist implications of this reaction are obvious to anyone who knows Latin America. It is no coincidence that Soviet countries regularly point to American contraceptive propaganda as proof of American indifference to the real problems of overcrowded countries. For years now, in the United Nations, The Communist bloc has steadily maintained that Neo-Malthusian efforts to reduce the population or to restrict its growth are unscientific and reactionary (Center for International Economic Growth, Washington, 1962, p. 41).
So far from showing disregard for human dignity and human needs in overpopulated countries, the Churchs position on birth control respects the dignity of men and women by not treating them inhumanly. Pope Paul like Pope John before him pleads with prosperous countries like America to help other nations live decently, rather than to help them destroy themselves irrationally.
18. Catholics Should Dissent from Teachings of the Magisterium. It is common teaching in the Church that Catholics may dissent from authoritative, non-infallible teachings of the magisterium when sufficient reasons for doing so exist.
The burden of proof for the Churchs teaching against contraception being non-infallible lies with those who oppose the Church. Since the Churchs universal magisterium can be co-equal with defined doctrine as a source of infallibility; and since the Catholic teaching against contraception has been uniform over the centuries; and since Pope Paul in Humanae Vitae expressly declared that he is speaking by virtue of the mandate entrusted to us by Christ; and since the Church cannot be expected to err in a matter of such grave consequence to the whole world all the evidence indicates that the Churchs traditional doctrine on artificial birth control is irreversible.
There are not only not sufficient reasons for claiming otherwise, but overwhelming reasons for believing that this is indeed infallible teaching.
Moreover, Christian justice (not to say charity) ought to have protected the protesters from creating havoc among the faithful by taking issue with the Bishop of Rome. Obedience to Christs Vicar, loyalty to the Church, concern for Christs faithful, and that humility of spirit which experience teaches is the hallmark of true wisdom ought to have restrained those who composed the indictment of Pope Paul VI.
19. Catholics at Liberty to Ignore the Church to Follow their Conscience. As Roman Catholic theologians, conscious of our duty and our limitations, we conclude that spouses may responsibly decide according to their conscience that artificial contraception in some circumstances is permissible and indeed necessary to preserve and foster the values and sacredness of marriage."
This concluding sentence spells chaos in American Catholicism if carried into effect. It repudiates every principle of Catholic faith and practice, and subverts the essence of the Church as a religious society.
If the Catholic faithful cannot trust the Sovereign Pontiff to tell them what is right and what is wrong on questions of such importance as marital morality, then they cannot trust the Church to teach them anything.
Conscience is not a mental construct but a living reality. For a Catholic it is the human mind, enlightened by faith, passing judgment on moral matters. To divorce his mind from the light of faith is to split a Catholic into two one part reasoning and other part believing. The result would be what some theologians are producing, a schizophrenic personality that struggles to make sense on moral issues when faith teaches one thing and the mind (operating alone) thinks something else.
For a Catholic, the conscience is not only to be enlightened by faith but taught by those means of enlightenment which Christ gave to His Church for teaching the faith. Among these means the magisterium is paramount, and not only the magisterium when proclaiming solemn definitions. To think or act otherwise is to undermine the Church and destroy the Churchs unity. It is also the sure way of creating conflict within families between husband and wife and conflict within persons whose Catholic impulses tell them to obey the pope and whose instincts (aroused by the popes critics) urge them to disobey.
The logical consequence of opposing the Vicar of Christ is to cut oneself off from the Church of which he is the visible head. If those who signed the protest still call themselves Roman Catholics, they cannot long remain such unless they change their minds. If they do not see their way clear to retracting what they wrote against the successor of St. Peter, they might at least leave in peace those who are willing to accept Christs promise that upon this rock I will build my Church.
Copyright © 2004 Inter Mirifica
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