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Sunday, March 16, 2014

"Those who cannot remember the past ..."

There's talk of the changes Pope Francis envisions, given the Vatican Survey on the topic of sexual morality and the upcoming synod on the family. Yet Francis has also been quoted as saying that be believes there need be no change in what's taught in Humanae Vitae.

When people opine how far we've come with Francis on the issue of sexual morality, I think they forget history .... that most of the bishops at Vatican II were for ditching the church's teaching on birth control, that the Vatican's own Commission on Birth Control advised the same thing, and that hundreds of theologians and many bishops conferences around the world dissented when the pope ignored all this and wrote Humanae Vitae. We haven't taken a big step forward with Francis and his survey/synod ... we're at best marching in place.

First, here's a bit about V2 and contraception from John O'Malley's book, What Happened at Vatican II, and below that a bit from a US Catholic article on the Birth Control Commission, and below that a bit from an article in America magazine on Humanae Vitae and those who dissented ...


[...] 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 Commisions's debate on this subject from a 1995 US Catholic article by Robert McClory - 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."


And here's an excerpt from a 1993 article at America magazine, 'Humanae Vitae' 25 Years Later ...

[...] 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." .......


I'm not sure what the pope hopes for from his idea that ...

Paul VI himself, towards the end, recommended that confessors show great kindness and attention to specific situations. .... The question is not that of changing doctrine [against contraception], but to go into the depths, and ensuring that pastoral [efforts] take into account people’s situations, and that, which it is possible for people to do.

I think I can guarantee that this will not bring boatloads of Catholic back to confession .... most Catholics who use contraception do not believe it is wrong to do so, so there's nothing to confess. Catholics will simply go on as they have, ignoring the church teaching on this subject, and nothing will have changed.


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