What Happened at Vatican II
There's a post at US News's religion and politics blog - As White House Readies Abortion Plan, Packaging Emerges as Major Issue - about religious groups (including the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops) objecting to the support of contraception. This made me think of my latest book from the library, What Happened at Vatican II by Georgetown U Jesuit John O'Malley.
The first thing I did was turn to the index and look up "birth control" :) Here's a little from the book .....
Casti Connubbi was a long and wide-ranging encyclical [of Pius XI] that dealt with a number of issues connected with marriage .... What caused the encyclical to become one of the most cited even today is the relatively short but pointed and absolute condemnation of birth control. (p. 82)
Article 21 of chapter 4 was titled "The Dignity of Marriage and the Family". It was an explosive subject. The text did three things that roused the ire of council fathers like Ruffini, Ottaviani, and Browne. First, it avoided using the textbook terms "primary" and "secondary" ends of marriage, in which the primary end was the procreation of children and the secondary end was a remedy for concupiscence and the mutual help of the spouses. The document instead spoke at length about the holiness and the goodness of the love that bound the spouses; only then did it mention children as the fulfillment of that love. Second, it made the consciences of the spouses the deciding factor for the number of children they should have. Finally, it did not explicitly reaffirm a condemnation of birth control ....
Beneath the surface of the whole discussion of article 21 seethed the question of birth control, made more urgent by "the pill". The previous year John Rock, a Catholic physician who participated in the creation of an oral contraceptive, had published his widely reviewed book The Time Has Come, in which he advocated a change in approach by the churches, especially the Catholic Church ....
In discreet and indiscreet ways the bishops kept bringing it up, usually with at least an insinuation that the time had come for a change in the teaching. Thus spoke, for instance, Leger [Emile Leger, Archbishop of Montreal], Alfrink [Bernardus Johannes Alfrink, Archbishop of Utrecht], Joseph Reuss [bishop, Mainz, Germany] (speaking for 145 fathers "from various countries and parts of the world"), and Rudolf Staverman of Sukarnapura, Indonesia, who expressly argued that marriage had evolved like every historical reality and therefore the church could not just repeat old formulas - the way this schema spoke of marriage was, on the contrary, "healthy and liberating".
Saigh [Patriarch Maximos IV Saigh] was as usual boldly outspoken and direct. He began "I call your attention today ... to birth control." It is a pressing problem that the council must confront. For the faithful it is a sad and agonizing issue, for there is a cleavage between the official teaching of the church and the contrary practice in most families. Moreover, the population explosion in certain parts of the world is condemning hundreds of millions of human beings to misery without hope. The council must find a solution. It must ask whether God really wants this depressing and unnatural impasse: "Let me speak frankly: do not the official positions of the church in this matter require revision in the light of modern research - theological, medical, psychological, sociological?"
It was Suenens' [Leo Jozef Suenens, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel] speech, however, that caused a sensation .... First he more than intimated that a change might be in order. We have learned a few things, he said, since Aristotle and Augustine. He invoked development of doctrine and called attention to the population explosion. He injected a dramatic note into his presentation with the statement, "I plead with you, brothers. We must avoid another 'Galileo case'. One is enough for the church." Second, at the very end he called on Paul VI to make public the names of the members of the Papal Commission [Pontifical Commission on Birth Control]. That way, he said, the members will receive the most copious information on the subject, and the whole people of God will be represented ... When he finished, applause broke out ..... (pp. 236-38)
There was something both funny and touching in another account of the Commissions's debate on this subject, that I saw in an article online (Detour: the Commission on Birth Control). Here's a bit of it .....
Bishop [Carlo] Colombo, alarmed by what seemed Gracias's defection from the conservative camp, interrupted the cardinal. If the Church backtracks on contraception, he warned his colleagues, they "would endanger the very indefectability of the Church, the teacher of truth in these things" which pertain to pertain to salvation. Wouldn't this mean the gates of hell had in some way prevailed against the Church?"
[Spanish Jesuit Father Marcelino] Zalba could not agree more. "What then," he asked, "with the millions we have sent to hell if these norms were not valid?"
Patty Crowley [a married Catholic from Chicago] could not restrain herself. "Father Zalba," she interjected, "do you really believe God has carried out all your orders?"
A momentary stunned silence followed, then some chuckles at this intrusion of common sense in these austere deliberations. Patty seized the moment and spoke further.
"On behalf of women in general, I plead that the male Church carefully consider the plight of at least one half of its members, who are the real bearers of these burdens. Couples are generous. Christian couples want to have children. It is the very fruit of their love for each other. What is needed is to rid ourselves of this negative outlook on psychological and spiritual values. Couples can be trusted. They will accept the progress of change, and they will have increased confidence in the Church as she helps them grow in love and demonstrates her trust and confidence in them."
As we know, however, the Pope insisted on a rejection of contraception, despite the findings of the council and the commission. It's just weird that all these years later, a subject that was so hotly contested back then, not just by lay people but also by bishops of the church, is still causing problems with us moving forward.