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Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I've noticed there's a post at Women in Theology on the merits of the theology behind Natural Family Planning.

I think that the church's stance on artificial birth control is wrong-headed and it's interesting that most of those at the Second Vatican Council as well as those on the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control shared my viewpoint (The commission produced a report in 1966, proposing that artificial birth control was not intrinsically evil and that Catholic couples should be allowed to decide for themselves about the methods to be employed.)

However, Paul VI rejected the Pontifical Commission's recommendations and went instead with the minority report, as expressed in his 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae.

Many did dissent from his view, as mentioned in a 1993 article, 'Humanae Vitae' 25 Years Later, in America magazine. Here's an excerpt ...


[...] When Humanae Vitae first appeared it caused a furor. My yellow and crumbling copy of the National Catholic Reporter for August 7, 1968, carries the headline: "Pau1 Issues Contraceptive Ban: Debate Flares on His Authority." Tom Burns, then the editor of the London Tablet, has said the encyclical was "the greatest challenge that came my way." Burns opposed the encyclical. He surmised that "never in the 150 years of the paper’s existence has an editor of The Tablet been presented with a problem of conscience and policy so grave as that which confronted me with the publication of Humanae Vitae."

With that sentence Burns probably summarized the anguish of many bishops, priests, theologians and lay people around the world. Episcopal conferences began issuing pastoral letters on the encyclical. These ran the gamut from celebration to qualification. For instance, the Belgian bishops stated: "Someone, however, who is competent in the matter under consideration and capable of forming a personal and well-founded judgment--which necessarily presupposes a sufficient amount of knowledge--may, after a serious examination before God, come to other conclusions on certain points. In such a case he has the right to follow his conviction provided that he remains sincerely disposed to continue his inquiry." Of those who arrived at conclusions differ­ent from Humanae Vitae, the Scandinavian bishops stat­ed: "No one should, therefore, on account of such diverg­ing opinions alone, be regarded as an inferior Catholic." The Canadian bishops made a similar statement: ’These Catholics should not be considered, or consider them­selves, shut off from the body of the faithful."

Charles Curran composed a statement critical of the ecclesiology and methodology of Humanae Vitae. The statement concluded 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 value and sacredness of marriage." This statement was eventually signed by over 600 theologians and other academics, including well-known theologians such as Bernard Haring, David Tracy, Richard McBrien, Walter Burghardt, Raymond Collins, Roland Murphy and Bernard McGinn. A group of European theologians met in Amsterdam on Sept. 18-­19, 1968, and issued a dissenting statement. The signato­ries included some of the best known theologians in Europe: J. M. Aubert, A. Auer, T. Beemer, F. Bockle, W. Bulst, P. Fransen, J. Groot, P. Huizing, L. Janssens, R. van Kessel, W. Klijn, F. Klostermann, E. McDonagh, C. Robert, P. Schoonenberg, M. de Wachter.

These were heady days indeed. Overnight, dissent became a front-burner issue. Any number of episcopal conferences mentioned its possibili­ty and legitimacy. The American bishops in their pastoral letter, "Human Life in Our Day" (Nov. 15, 1968), even laid out the norms for licit dissent. Expression of dissent is in order "only if the reasons are serious and well founded, if the manner of the dissent does not question or impugn the teaching authority of the Church and is such as not to give scandal." Paul VI himself, in a letter to the Congress of German Catholics (Aug. 30, 1968), stated: "May the lively debate aroused by our encyclical lead to a better knowledge of God’s will." .......


Today, it's estimated that 90% of Catholics support the use of artificial contraception, and that up to 90% of Catholic women use artificial contraception.


Blogger Deacon Denny said...

I'd say those statistics are pretty accurate. To even ask questions about the topic -- that there might be something to discuss -- causes people to question your ability to reason. It's pretty much a closed subject for most.

4:30 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Denny,

The only person at church who ever mentioned this sujec to me was my sponser in the RCIA group. She had diabetes and her doctor urged her not to have more children, so she used birth control, but she felt very guilty about it.

5:43 PM  

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