Home » Pope and Pill

Pope and Pill

Excerpts from Leo Pyle (ed.), Pope & Pill:

More Documentation on the Birth Regulation Debate (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1968).

2. Criticism and Change: A Developing Theology

[p. 8] The article which provoked an official reaction on the part of the English bishops in 1964 was written by Archbishop Roberts, S.J. The central theme of Archbishop Roberts’ article, which was written in reply to Rev W. P. Wylie in Ramparts (2, 4, 1964), is that of authority: the recent debate (pages 179-206) has centred on this more and more. Archbishop Roberts’ article, which is reprinted here, first appeared in Search.

Archbishop Roberts’ Statement

From ‘Search’, April 1964

Yes, the magazine was sent to me the other day, probably by the author of this particular article on the ‘Case for Contracep­tion—An Anglican’s Challenge to Catholics’. It looks as though the challenge was meant for me, as I am the only person men­tioned in it. After the writer had referred to the objections made by Catholics to artificial contraception on the ground of reason, he added ‘this is a very delicate matter and I would not mention it at all save for the fact that it has importance far beyond this particular question of birth control. Archbishop Roberts in his fascinating book Black Popes concedes that the reason which prompted the Lambeth bishops to give their qualified approval to contraception have force. But he then says that over and above what human reason would find out there are the com­mands of an infallible Church. The Church knows better than we do, and that’s that. So must the argument end.’

That is substantially what I wrote ten years ago, and since [p.9] then have lectured in a good number of universities and often enough to doctors. I have on those occasions admitted that I personally cannot follow what is called the ethical argument. It does not seem to me to be conclusive. If I were not a Catholic, I would accept the position taken by the Lambeth Conference, namely that there are cases where conscientious thought by the parties concerned would entitle people to practise contraception. How you can destroy the position by reason alone is not clear to me.

In effect then I am challenged on the question of authority by this Anglican theologian. Mr Wylie adds: ‘Any ecclesiastically conscious Christian would agree with this, as a general principle, and would be loyal to the commands and teaching of his Church. On the other hand, those who are not members of the Roman Church are not bound by what that Church says. They can, I think, presume to ask just where in this matter we are to find the infallible voice of the Church? Is it in the universal consent of all the Catholic Bishops of the world? That would, indeed, be impressive if one knew that all those bishops had gravely considered the matter with full knowledge, of all the facts and of all the issues involved. For example, it could be taken as certain that in the Middle Ages the unanimous voices of the bishops of the Catholic world would have taught that the earth was the centre of the universe. They accepted the know­ledge of the times. But fortunately the Church was wiser and made no infallible statement on the matter.’

The challenge, then, for me personally is one that concerns the authority of the Church. It’s a practical matter, since I have already taken part in two sessions of the Vatican Council. I look forward to a third session where, it is expected, this question will be raised.  If I was speaking to the Council, I would frankly say as follows. The world is now allowed to know what the Council is doing and saying; it even learnt of the condemnation of the Holy Office by Cardinal Frings. It might be very much surprised at 2,500 bishops of the Roman obedience claiming to condemn contraception on grounds of pure reason, while the Protestants of the world, represented by some sixty observers, are in near agreement, if not actually so, on the solution given by the Lambeth Conference, namely that one cannot take the view, on grounds of reason alone, that contraception is always intrinsically wrong.

Now, I would not hesitate to say before bishops, as I have said before Catholics and doctors, that the reasons given do not convince me. Integrity and truth require me to say that. [10] Therefore, I can only fall back on the Church’s authority. But to some extent I have the same difficulty as the man who makes the challenge—about committing myself to the view that the Church has condemned irrevocably all who consider that the good of society requires some other form of birth control than absten­tion or the safe period.

Let us not forget the ghastly dilemma of conscience to our English Catholic ancestors when St Pius V, after glorifying secular power as of truly divine origin, deposed Queen Eliza­beth I and released her subjects from all allegiance to her. Is there not a danger today of enthroning human reason in theory and deposing it in practice?

If anyone thinks this comparison exaggerated, he has had happier experience with the troubled conscience than mine.

Where authority is concerned, have we absolute certainty that this matter of contraception is not liable to the same changes as happened in the case of usury? The attitude of any modern confessor to lending money at interest is totally different from what obtained about 400 years ago. Economists have taught us things about money that were not then realized. The same may be true of the laws of ‘nature’. Quite certainly St Francis Xavier and people of his time maintained that outside the Church there is no salvation, using the word ‘Church’ in a sense as different as possible from that of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.

That change grew inevitably out of our greater knowledge of history, of the age of the human race, the size of the earth, etc.

There is, again, the question of war. If it is a question simply of using arguments from reason, I have no answer personally to the many people who ask me to reconcile the Church’s severity concerning the ‘natural law’ in marriage and the attitude which nearly all bishops accept concerning the lives of millions threatened by our nuclear weapons, not to mention their descendants through fall-out. I see very little consistency in that particular matter.

A hundred years ago, concerning Scripture, most theologians seemed to take very much the same attitude to verbal inspiration as Muslims take towards the Koran, where every word of Mahomet’s revelation is to be accepted as divinely inspired.

Anyone who knows the history of the Sacraments, especially of the Eucharist and Penance, realizes that there are enormous differences in the interpretations of today as compared with past centuries.

[11] The concept of slavery has changed immensely. It is only a hundred years ago since half the people of the United States were prepared to die in defence of slavery.

Only a few months ago, the Fathers of the Vatican Council were given statements on freedom of conscience which I personally find extremely difficult to reconcile with the Syllabus of Pope Pius IX. Political changes and the progress of civiliza­tion have made inevitable an attitude very different from that of a century ago.

Above all, I find it hard to reconcile the present attitude to every single individual use of the organ of sex with the develop­ment of Catholic doctrine and moral theology in the use of the organ of speech. Following Aristotle, St Augustine said that any disaccord between your word and your thought was immoral, precisely because your tongue was the organ given for the expression of truth. He takes the example of a man chased by gangsters and taking refuge in your house; you hide him; but you may not tell the gangsters that he has gone out and that if they run they may catch him. You must be prepared to let him be killed and, if necessary, die yourself rather than tell a lie. This view prevailed for a very long time precisely because the teaching was that every use of the tongue required complete correspondence between thought and word.

It seems that the Roman theologian still applies exactly the same principle to the organ of sex. Most Protestants today have applied the same kind of argument to the organ of sex which we Catholics apply now to the organ of speech, namely that you must take into account the whole purpose of nature. The end of marriage is not to have as many children as physically possible, but to have as many as can be brought to lead happy and useful lives. A typical case: an Indian lives in a mud hut with his wife and several children, too poor to be able to afford any light and forced to be with his wife every night for twelve hours in the dark and having nothing else at all but her love.

The Catholic missionary gives him the alternatives—complete abstention or the ‘safe period’. His village birth-control clinic says the government has spent huge sums on ‘safe period’ methods only to be convinced they are doubtfully safe, certainly impracticable for India. So the doctor offers free sterilization with the reminder that another pregnancy will either leave his six children motherless, or if mother and child survive, add another stomach to eight already swollen with hunger. The Protestant missionary suggests that nature did not give sex organs only for the production of children, but also, even [12] independently, for the expression of married love.(1) He offers a contraceptive not as an ideal solution but as a lesser evil than sterilization, than abortion, than the hunger of his children, than the death of his wife or the death of their married life.

It is that advice which we Catholics must condemn as ‘un­natural’. Those of us who can’t see why or how to convict of crime the millions who see contraception as a right or duty in marriage—we certainly may and must press for the accep­tance by the General Council of the ‘challenge’ to justify by reason our own challenge to the world made in the name of reason.

(1) ‘The Fathers generally thought that sexual intercourse was only tolerated even between marrried couples for th sake of procreation’. (Search, Feb. 1964,p. 392); cf.  Two in one Flesh, by Dr. Messenger; ‘The Man – Woman Relationship’, in Christian thought by Sherwyn Bailey.

[p. 15] The Contraceptive Pill [by Tom Brogan; Mary Brogan; Monica Lawlor; Paul Black]

The advent of the contraceptive pill poses new theological and medical problems which cannot be considered entirely on their own. It is not possible to appeal to the traditional teaching of the Church in past centuries because the situation is new v and could not be said to have been foreseen by those who were discussing, say, onanism. The whole question of birth control and contraception must be viewed together before we can decide the merits of any particular method. The present position of the Roman Catholic Church is unsatisfactory and in urgent need of review. The basis of the Church’s teaching is not scriptural but derives from theory of natural law that is essentially philosophical and speculative. It may be amusing to have theologians writing to chide the Guardian for its misunderstanding of ‘natural law’ but it is far from amusing to consider that for many educated, practising, good people within the Church the [16] Guardian leader makes better sense than the theologians’ objection.

Nowhere is there so large a gap between the professional theologians and the vast majority of the Church members (the laity) as in the morality of sex and marriage: if any moral theologian is tempted to dismiss the following pages as crudely lacking his familiar distinctions, it might be well for him to reflect on the fact that the faith delivered by our Lord to his Church is meant to be the common property of all its members.


Apart from four days in the menstrual cycle the normal woman is infertile. The prediction and avoidance of the fertile time by basal temperature recording is the basis of the rhythm method of birth control, but this method is only certain if couples restrict their relations to the last few days of each monthly cycle. However, the intention here is to avoid preg­nancy and the Church accepts this method as licit. But all other methods of birth control have the same intention and to many the arguments which support rhythm but condemn other methods seem to be pure casuistry.

Natural Law

The argument from natural law suggests that mechanical and chemical methods of contraception interfere with the nature of the sexual act and hence are objectionable; these words are recited by many but understood by few. Indeed, many argue that the whole of civilized life is an interference with nature, e.g. in the case of a mother with inadequate lactation, to bottle-feed a baby is to interfere with nature, but the baby would die if nature were not frustrated.

The argument is often pre-judged by applying the label ‘contraceptive act’. Thus use of one’s knowledge, perhaps by the collection of quite sophisticated physiological data to predict ovulation and so avoid conception is labelled ‘not contraceptive’ and ‘co-operation with nature’, but use of the pill to prevent ovulation is labelled ‘contraceptive’. The intention may be the same in both cases so the distinction must lie in the act itself. But in a sense it is only the intention which makes the taking of the ovulation-preventing pill into a contraceptive (and therefore immoral) act; if it were taken for any other purpose it would not be immoral because it would not be a contraceptive act. There is a real difficulty here in delimiting an act—where in the succession of events do we draw a line and say those on this side are ‘the act itself’ and in the area of ‘means’, and those on the other side [17] the ‘consequences’ and in the area of ‘ends’? Many Catholics find the distinctions in this argument unreal and niggling; it is as if a doctor prescribed to one patient a rigid diet from which certain categories of food were excluded whereas to another he were to prescribe medicine—who would take seriously an attempt to argue that there is a fundamental difference between the two treatments? They could both be said to be an interference with nature and could both be justified because they tend to a more perfect functioning of the person as a whole.

A more scriptural view of natural law is the Pauline concept of those moral principles self-evident even to non-Christians ‘who have not the law but do by nature those things that are of the law’ and ‘who show the work of the law written in their hearts’. (Rom. 2:14, 15.) But it is not a self-evident truth to non- Christians (or even to Christians) that all forms of interference with the sexual act are wrong, whereas infanticide for example is universally considered wrong.

For those few who see meaning in natural law the objection of interference with the act cannot be applied to the contraceptive pill as no such interference occurs. Is there any sense in which it could be said that the pill is against natural law? Gratuitous interference with natural functions is generally regarded in medical practice as unethical. It can be argued that the pill gratuitously if temporarily interferes with the functional state of the sexual organs. However even this argument is not entirely satisfactory as the interference may not be entirely gratuitous; t it may be undertaken for the good purpose of preserving a marriage. Another argument that could be advanced is that the pill disorganizes the essential metabolism of the body. In this respect it is viewed with disfavour by many as it is precisely for this reason that the pill may be medically hazardous. There is, however, a real possibility of developing a drug which by means other than the suppression of ovulation would stabilize the time of ovulation and thus render the infertile phases of the monthly menstrual cycle of natural and unvarying length and 100′ per cent secure. (There is an urgent and widespread need for developing such a drug, and this should not be too difficult if under­taken by the pharmaceutical houses or existing centres of medical research.)

Sacramental nature of the sexual act

The central act of Christian marriage, the one which in fact consummates it as a sacrament, is the joining of the partners in sexual union. The argument could be put forward that the use of [18] mechanical and chemical devices in such an act is unfitting to its sacramental nature: this is meaningful to Christians. Moreover, although a sacramental view of the act is not held by non-Christians, they fully understand the deficiencies of the con­ventional means of contraception in aesthetic and psychological terms, and respect that for a Christian sexual union in marriage has a ‘religious significance’.

Marriage as a whole

If it is accepted that the desirability of some methods of birth control cannot be decided in the abstract by reference to acts in isolation, then attention must be paid to the consequences in marriage as a whole. For the spacing of children in a relatively prosperous family where an extra pregnancy may at worst result in some relative neglect of the needs of the other children, chronic fatigue for the mother, and some anxiety for the father, for aesthetic considerations and the general wish to interfere as little as possible with the human dignity of the sexual partners the rhythm method may seem the desirable method of birth control, though even here it may be virtually useless in the face of an irregular menstrual cycle. Yet on the other hand, we have also to consider cases in which the health of the mother is such that pregnancy is virtually a death sentence, and here even the low degree of risk involved in the rhythm method is too high for a responsible couple to risk. Medically the remedies are sterilization, the contraceptive pill, or total sexual abstinence since even mechanical methods of birth control have their failures. All three of the methods mentioned have their hazards; physically they are lowest in sexual abstinence where psycho­logically they are highest.

The recommendation of total sexual abstinence as an effective birth control method can carry little weight against the con­sideration that by inhibiting the spontaneous expression of love and affection it may weaken the marriage at its roots, or incline towards a breakdown of the marriage at anything beyond a superficial level. Indeed, since such abstinence must involve co­operation of a high order if co-habitation of any kind is to con­tinue; people to whom further pregnancies may prove fatal may find that they have no choice but to separate from an un­cooperative or demanding partner or to connive at unfaithful­ness or promiscuity. Where economic conditions are disastrously bad, housing grossly overcrowded and even a degree of mutual love and respect extant, it is not surprising that people should regard mechanical contraception, abortion, or even total [19]  sterilization preferable to the severance of marriage ties. To recommend total sexual abstinence to wealthy, well-housed people who have a wide range of interests and occupations may not seem on the surface so preposterous as it does to recommend it to persons living in the closest physical confinement, poorly or inadequately fed, with little or no heating, acute shortage of bedding and virtually no ‘distractions’. Yet more of the world’s population lives in the latter conditions than the former.

What can be rescued from the idea of ‘natural law’ is the reality that people are closest to the way they ‘should’ be when they suffer little distress of mind and body and they function as a harmonious whole; the natural expression of sexual love is part of that integrity which can only be sacrificed where the whole person can be seen to benefit by such sacrifice. To deal with acts rather than persons is to be misled into a tangle of niggling distinctions. But once we consider persons then it seems clear that if the intention not to have a child is held for good motives then the means are similarly rendered good. The end does not justify the means, but the means are here qualified by a good intention and rendered good.


From the Catholic point of view two considerations are para­mount. The first is the central importance of sexual love to marriage: too often it appears that this is seen merely as a bonus which can readily be dispensed with, whereas in fact the act of sexual love must be seen as a true ‘sacrifice’—a giving of the partners to one another in love. Once the principle has been admitted, as it has been readily enough in recent years, that sexual love in marriage is good and proper even when preg­nancy is deliberately avoided then we must commit ourselves to a view of sexuality which is positive, not negative. We shall then see by contrast the significance of that personal suffering and possible loss of integrity which the present teaching of the Church imposes on its members. These people are not the lax, lazy and selfish, but those who are fully obedient to the Church, find its teaching meaningless and even wrong, although they accept the disciplinary jurisdiction; they are not as few as is sometimes supposed, but many and increasing year by year. Is it not time that the teaching itself was reconsidered?

The second point at issue is that the Church should not present to the world a teaching on birth control which will bring her into disrepute through appearing to be complex, evasive ‘ and full of distinctions so fine that no one but a professional [20] theologian can make any sense out of them. The end result of a teaching, the rationale of which cannot be generally under­stood, is a legalistic mentality, while the juggling with the fine edges of conscience will be publicly judged as hypocrisy. Whatever the teaching of the Church on birth control it should be simple, logical, humane and supportive of human dignity and integrity, and manifestly so. It should also be such that it does not bring in its train evils greater than those it seeks to suppress. It is a scandal to the world that there should be Catholics who have undergone voluntary sterilization because they ‘only need confess it once’ rather than use mechanical and chemical contraceptives, and be refused absolution because ‘they intend to go on’. Equally people who avoid contraceptives and then resort to abortion are not as infrequent as might be imagined. Such moral chaos may just be the ‘wickedness of human nature’ but it could equally be the result of a teaching which is neither clear, coercive nor rational.

Tom Brogan; Mary Brogan; Monica Lawlor; Paul Black

Rosemary Haughton is, of course, very well known as a theologian, and she has written a lot on the subject of marriage. The following is an excerpt from a pamphlet ‘Giving in on Birth Control? , which presents, in a very accessible way, an account of the way many theologians—as represented by the Papal Com­mission (see p. 257)—seemed to be moving. It is an interesting reflection on the climate in the couple of years before Humanae Vitae that this was published with an Imprimatur.

The whole birth control question depends on what you think marriage is for. And what marriage is for depends on what you think human life is for. So to get our ideas straight about marriage we have to ask, first, what is the purpose of human life?

Everything in creation is God’s work, but only man knows that it is. The work of man is to let all creation, including himself, show more and more clearly that it is creation, that is, God’s word about himself. People have always been doing this, though they didn’t always realize that that was what they were doing.

Human beings must learn to use themselves and all creation in order to make life more and more an act of praise to God. When their lives are made truly better in some way, that means they are becoming more like God, by whose life they live. So when people make tools, or grow things, or build or plan their [21] own lives in society, they are doing these things as part of God’s plan for the world. And that plan is, ultimately, the perfection of created life in the fullness of God’s Kingdom, the life of the resurrection which Christ, our brother, made possible for us. We are helping this to happen whenever we act sensibly and lovingly, to make life better for ourselves or other people.

But, of course, it’s not always clear what is a sensible or loving way of living. We can use created things (including ourselves) selfishly and destructively, too. (You can take a bottle of wine and use it to celebrate, to enjoy good company. Or you can get drunk, and cut someone with the bottle.) So Christ came, when God’s People were ready for him, to bring to all men the salvation that Israel had waited for. And so that we might gladly and surely enter his Kingdom he gave us a light by which we can see clearly what is truly human behaviour that makes us more like God, and what is dead-end behaviour, that shuts us in with our own fears and hatreds. His message of love and hope, the good news of eternal life, gives us a standard by which we can judge the value of our actions. Are they leading to God’s Kingdom, or away from it? Are we forming creation

The Church Christ founded has the responsibility of seeing that God’s people always have this light to see by, this standard by which to form their consciences. In trying to do this the Church must not only listen to Christ’s teaching, but also to the ideas and hopes and worries of the people who need that teach­ing, both those who are already Christians, and those who are still waiting for the good news. Otherwise the world, that needs Christ so much, will not hear his message because it will not appear to have anything to do with real life. The second Vatican Council really happened because Pope John realized this danger that the Church could seem to be ‘talking to herself’ in a lan­guage no one could understand. And the marvellous Constitution on the Church in the Modern World says over and over again that Catholics must appreciate the achievements and dis­coveries of the modern world, and realize how the Holy Spirit works in all mankind—not only in the Church—to bring in the Kingdom of God.

So when Catholics think about marriage it is right that they should look for the work of the Spirit in the new ways of under­standing marriage and sex that have developed in the last half- century. Not all of these new ideas are good, of course, but Christians are people who have received God’s Spirit of wisdom, precisely so that we can judge what is of God and what [22] is not. So we can happily study new ideas, judging and appre­ciating them in the light of the teaching of the Church about love and life. In Christ we learn to know what human life is for, so we can also see what marriage is for—now.

The interesting thing is that when we look at modern ideas on marriage in the light of Christ’s teaching we can see that many of them, at least as ideas—not always in actual practice—are much nearer to the Christian ideal than some of the older attitudes.

For instance, most people now think that married couples should enter marriage in love and continue in love with each other, and that it is this love that makes the marriage a real life and not a mere legal formality. This has always been the teach­ing of the Church, as we can see in St Paul’s letters, but for centuries Christians didn’t behave as if it were. Forced marriages were common, and most people would have thought it ridiculous to consider the couple’s preferences—especially the girl’s. Of course there were many happy and loving marriages. A surpris­ing number of people discovered each other afterwards just as now they expect to discover each other in courtship before marriage. But theologians continued until quite recently to talk about marriage as a matter of duties and rights (mostly the wife’s duties and the husband’s rights). It was a big break­through when the Vatican Council described marriage as ‘a community of love’. This change has itself come about mainly because of ordinary, secular thinking about marriage. After all, Catholics are ordinary, secular people, sharing their lives with their non-Catholic neighbours, so this should not surprise us.

And part of this new thinking about love as the meaning of Christian marriage has been concerned with the question of controlling conception. If sex in marriage is not only for the sake of producing babies but also to express and foster love, then it seems natural to feel that loving sexual intercourse has a goodness of its own, regardless of whether a child is born as a result. The clearest case here is of those couples unable to have children. And, if you grant that, it seems sensible to do whatever is necessary to prevent conception at times when the couple need and want loving intercourse, but have good reasons for not wanting another baby. This is the view that more and more Catholics (as well as other Christians and the huge majority of non-Christians) hold. This view is certainly different from what Catholics have held in the past. How did this huge change of opinion come about? There is no doubt of the change, even [23] though people disagree about how far this change can be allowed to go.

Christian ideas about what marriage is for begin in the Old Testament. God was preparing a people who would be capable of grasping the revelation of love in Christ. The Jews were a small nation among huge, rich and powerful ones. But their ideas about marriage were startlingly different from those of their neighbours. In the pagan nations there was a worship of sex as a divine power, combined with the complete subjection of women, who were no more than slaves in relation to their husbands. A marriage was purely a legal convenience; loyalty and love had no place. The Jews’ social customs were similar to those of other nations, naturally enough, and women were certainly subject and restricted in many ways. But we can see from the Genesis story that the Jews came to think of marriage as a partnership between equals. It was ordered by God, and blessed with the promise of children (the famous ‘Increase and multiply’ bit is a promise, not a command!).

Later, the prophets compared the tender love of a man for his wife to the love of God for Israel—even when she was faithless. They could not have used this comparison unless people were accustomed to seeing marriages that were tender and loving. Marriage was a covenant, a mutual self-giving, like the mutual * self-giving of Israel and her God, in the Covenant that made them God’s People. It was always clear that children were the chief blessing of God on a good marriage, barrenness was a sign of God’s wrath. Marriage, then, was for the sake of chil­dren, but (in theory, at least) the children were the result of a loving relationship. …

Those who expect a change in the Church’s teaching expect a real change, because they think that modern knowledge has added such a lot to our understanding of sex and love that we really can’t go on thinking about them in ways that satisfied our forefathers.

In the light of modern knowledge sex can no longer be seen as a mere biological coupling between man and woman, in other words it can no longer be thought of as merely sex.

Modern research into the nature of the human person sug­gests that sex in marriage is a way of expressing and deepening a truly Christian love. But a truly Christian love goes beyond the boundaries of the particular family. Our responsibilities, our op­portunities of loving effectively, are much wider than that. The life of a partner of Christ cannot be a closed-in affair. It must be expansive, like Christ’s was. So a Christian family does not exist [24] just for the parents, or even for the children as well, but also for the society in which it lives, and for the whole of humanity.

If we look at sex from this standpoint, we no longer see the sexual act as an isolated action. Instead it is an important way in which the husband and wife act in a loving and responsible way towards their children and society as a whole.

People who look at sex like this think that there may be many occasions when the wife’s health, or the good of the family as a whole, or of society as a whole, make contraception the more responsible and loving way of action. This kind of action wouldn’t, in their view, be selfish. On the contrary it would be a sign of a wider and more responsible love of the parents for each other, for their children, and for their fellow me*i.

Obviously, this is a real change in attitude. But it is not a change in the proclamation of the good news of Christ. For the good news of God’s new Covenant with us is that our relation­ship with God is one of love, not fear, of freedom, not law. It is in that kind of way that Christ lives with us and is active in us. So married love, which at its best is just like that—practical, responsible and unselfish—is one of the places where his presence amongst us can be most felt by us and most clearly shown to others. So a deeper understanding of marriage that brings out those qualities more fully can only serve to make married love a still more wonderful expression of life in Christ. It can bring home to us what life with Christ can mean both now and in its fulfilment in his Kingdom.

3. A Personalist Theology: Gaudium et Spes

Chapter 3. “A Personalist Theology”, pp. 27ff.

The fruit of the Council’s deliberations on the question of marriage is to be found in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes). Although the problem of birth control was taken out of the topics for debate at the Council, so that the Papal Commission could make a far- ranging study of the problem, the subject inevitably arose. Gaudium et Spes represents a most important breakthrough in the theology of marriage: the structure of its statement is personalist; there is no talk of primary and secondary ends. The statement was not, however, reached without considerable debate and tension. The first few extracts are from the more significant interventions during the Council debates.

The first four extracts are from the debate in October 1964.

 Cardinal Browne of the Curia:

I asked to speak not to teach but to bear witness to traditional doctrine. I will restrict myself to what is certain, which is that the primary end of marriage is procreation and education. The second end is the mutual aid of the partners and the relief of concupiscence.

But it will be asked, what of conjugal love? We are not forgetting this. However, it is in order to distinguish between conjugal love in friendship and conjugal love in covetousness (we might point out that these two expressions are practically equivalent to what are called

The love of friendship must come first; the second is not forbidden but we must understand that if we are not careful in the normal course of events it will lead to egoism . . . Conjugal love will be love if its acts are in conformity with the purpose willed by God.

Cardinal Leger, Archbishop of Montreal:

… There are those who fear any renewal in the theology of marriage as though it necessarily had its origin in an oppor­tunism that ought to be condemned: those who would see us as looking for accommodating solutions to satisfy popular demand. A renewal of the theology of marriage, if stimulated, and rightly, by the anxieties of Christian people, originates in [28] fact with the theologians from a more complete analysis of the problems, as well as of what are in short quite recent discoveries in biology, psychology and sociology. The final aim of this renewal is nothing other than to nurture the sanctity of marriage in a deepening of the plan of God.

Many theologians think that the difficulties that are met today in expounding the doctrine of marriage are rooted in an unsatisfactory exposition of the ends of this institution. A certain pessimistic and negative attitude towards human love has prevailed which can be attributed neither to Scripture not to tradition but to philosophies of the past centuries, and which has obscured the importance and the legitimacy of conjugal love in marriage.

The authors of the present schema have wanted to renew the doctrine of the ends of marriage. They have taken care to emphasize the mutual love and help of husband and wife. We also notice with satisfaction that they have avoided the complex of problems which introduces an opposition between a primary and a secondary end of marriage.

However, although this schema has started off on the right foot, it is still not an adequate reply to present difficulties and has only gone half-way to answering them: it fails to present conjugal love and mutual help as an end of marriage and it in no way tackles the problem of the end of expressions of love in marriage.

This is why I would like to make some observations on ways of talking about the ends of marriage.

(1) The schema expresses itself fairly well on fecundity as an end of marriage. It suitably recalls that fecundity should be regulated by prudence and generosity. It would be good, nevertheless, if this duty towards fecundity should be attached less to each act than to the state of marriage itself. It would please me also if the special dignity of parenthood were better expressed. Parenthood is in effect a participation in creation at its greatest: there is something of eternity in it, since it gives birth to a person who will himself see eternity.

(2) It is absolutely imperative to propose human conjugal love—and I mean human love, where both body and soul are involved—as an end in itself of marriage, as something which is good in itself and which has its needs and laws of its own. The schema remains too hesitant on this point. It is not much use if the schema avoids the term ‘secondary end’ but can only present love as being at the service of fecundity. In such an important matter, the clear principles should be stated. Otherwise, this [29] fear with regard to conjugal love which has paralysed our theology for such a long time might persist. Conjugal love is good and holy in itself and should be accepted by Christians, without any false fear, together with its needs and the laws proper to it. Isn’t this mutual help and love the very things which husband and wife solemnly swear they will give each other at the time of their marriage? And unless love is declared as an end of marriage, the tie which binds husband and wife together cannot be correctly understood. The partners of a marriage consider each other not as simple procreators, but as people loved for their own sakes.

(3) It is not enough, however, firmly to establish the doctrine which looks at marriage as a state. Unless the end of the actions themselves are touched upon, in their most general principles, the difficulties which worry married couples and parish priests cannot be solved, a profound and adequate renewal of the casuistry of marriage can

It must be affirmed that the intimate union of husband and wife has an end in love as well. And this end is the finis opens, legitimate in itself, even if it is not directed towards procreation. By this affirmation, moreover, the Council will be doing nothing other than confirming by law the principles and practice which the Church has approved of, as we know, for many centuries. For centuries, in fact, the union of husband and wife has been considered legitimate even when procreation has been recog­nized as being impossible.

Even if it does not imply anything new, the declaration of principle which I propose would be of no small importance in better determining the morality of different cases.

By way of conclusion: May this Council, without fear and without reticence, clearly proclaim the two ends of marriage as equally good and holy. Once this has been established, moralists, doctors, psychologists and other experts will be much better able to determine in particular cases the duties both of fecundity and of love.

‘The Tablet’, 7 November 1964

 Cardinal Suenens, Archbishop of Malines-Brussels:

The commission will have to examine whether the classical doctrine, especially that of the manuals, takes, sufficient account of the new insights of modem science. We have made some progress since Aristotle, and we have discovered the complexity of the reality where what is biological interferes with what is psychological and the conscious with the subconscious. New [30] possibilities are constantly being discovered in man in his power to direct the course of nature. Hence there arises a deeper awareness of the unity of man, both in his being as an embodied spirit and in the dynamisms of all his life, a unity that is as it were the heart of Thomist anthropology: there follows equally a more exact estimation of his rational power over the world entrusted to him. Who does not see that thus we are perhaps being led to further inquiries on the question of what is according to or against nature?  We shall follow the progress of science.

I beg you, my brothers: let us avoid a new Galileo case. One is enough for the Church.

It will pertain to the commission to integrate new elements into the total vision and to submit its conclusions to the supreme magisterium.

And I hope it will not be said that by this new synthesis we are giving way to what is called situation ethics. It is fitting that the exposition of doctrine, which is unchangeable in its principles, should take account of contingent factors that are in evolution in the course of history. That is what was done by the Popes who successively wrote Rerum Novarum, Quadragesimo Anno and Mater et Magistra in order to express with greater precision the same principles in terms of a new age.

Venerable brothers, we do not have the right to keep silent. Let us not be afraid of tackling the study of these problems. It is a question of the salvation of souls, of our families as well as of the world. Let us listen to the Holy Ghost, at the same time accepting integrally every fragment of truth that He suggests to us, recalling the words of the Lord: ‘The truth’—both natural and supernatural, total and vital truth — ‘will make you free.’

‘The Tablet’, 7 November 1964

 Patriarch Maximos IV Sayegh of Antioch:

Frankly, ought not the official positions of the Church on this matter to be revised in the light of modern science, both theological and medical, psychological and sociological?

In marriage, the blossoming out of the personality and his or her integration into God’s creative plan form a whole. The end of marriage ought therefore not to be dissected into a primary end and a secondary end. This consideration opens the horizon on to new perspectives concerning the morality of conjugal behaviour considered in its totality.

And moreover are we not in the right to ask ourselves if certain official positions are not to be attributed to out-dated [31] conceptions and perhaps also to a psychosis of celibates who are strangers to this sector of life? Are we not, without wishing it, burdened by that Manichaean conception of man and of the world for which the work of the flesh, vitiated in itself, is only tolerated in view of the child?

Is the external biological correctness of actions the sole criterion of morality here, independently of the life of the couple, its moral climate as a marriage and as a family, and the weighty imperatives of prudence, the fundamental rule of all our human activity? …

Further, does it not come under the ecumenical aspect of this Council to begin a dialogue on this subject with the other Christian Churches, and even with thinkers of other religions? Why turn in on ourselves? Are we not faced with a problem that is common to the whole of mankind? Ought not the Church to open herself to the world both Christian and non-Christian? Is she not the leaven that must make the dough rise? Furthermore, it is necessary that, in this field as in all the other fields that interest mankind, she should reach positive results giving peace of conscience.

Far be it from me to minimize the delicacy and the gravity of the subject, as well as possible abuses; but here as elsewhere is it not the duty of the Church to educate the moral sense of her children, to train them to a moral, personal and communal responsibility that is profoundly mature in Christ, rather than to envelop them in a network of prescriptions and commandments and to ask them purely and simply to conform to this with their eyes shut? Let us ourselves open our eyes and be practical. Let us see things as they are and not as we would wish them to be. Otherwise we run the danger of talking in a wilderness. It is thus a question of the future of the Church’s mission in the world.

‘The Tablet’, 7 November 1964

The following two speeches were made on 30 September 1965.

 Cardinal C. Colombo, Archbishop of Milan, speaking for 32 Italian bishops:

We can accept the schema’s fully human and personalist perspective without any reservation. However, we cannot accept anything that vitiates conjugal relations. The schema should eliminate any equivocation about this . . . We need not seek the justification of this moral law in the fact that the physical integrity of the conjugal act constitutes a moral value [32] in itself, but rather in the fact that the physical perfection of the relation is an intrinsic and inseparable element of the will to love one another and procreate.

 Bishop De Roo of Victoria, Canada:

The manner in which world attention is focused presently on the Church’s study of family problems is a charismatic note of our times. It offers a unique opportunity for a positive promo­tion of conjugal sanctity, to the lasting benefit of the whole people of God. The whole Christian people must contribute to the solution of the grave problems that affect conjugal love. Married life is the vocation of the vast majority of Christians. And the mind of the faithful (sensus fidelium) has a special function not only in matters of doctrine or belief but in matters of Christian morals or practice as well.

The following statement reflects the thinking of a number of Canadian couples whom I consulted on the matter of conjugal love. These Christian couples expect the Vatican Council to recognize their proper gifts and the special characteristics of their vocation. They want encouragement and help to move with enthusiasm towards deeper conjugal life in this age of Church renewal. To this end should we not courageously set aside too great a preoccupation with the pitfalls of married love and. its ever possible abuses? Should we not insist rather on the positive vision of the riches of human love and the heights it can reach through grace?

Our present schema (number 62) has succeeded only partially in this regard. It contains some rich doctrine and values which the married people will certainly appreciate. However, by listen­ing to the aspirations of modern Christian spouses we can realize that many elements in the text will disappoint them deeply. Christian spouses know that their conjugal union cannot be really understood unless a central truth of prime importance is clearly recognized. This is that marital intimacy gives rise to a unique communion by the partners of their complete lives and persons.

Classical doctrine states that marriage is intended for pro­creation. Let us not forget, however, that procreation requires that the parents be the authors of more than physical life. They must also be a source of love for the entire family, a fountain which must never run dry. This is impossible without unfailing generosity in every aspect of their lives. Such generosity is not acquired once and for all. It must be renewed and nourished daily as circumstances vary and needs arise.

[33] Constant expression of affection and dedication is like a sacrament of the married vocation because it both signifies and nourishes this vocation. The very quality of married love is dependent on this daily renewal. We ignore reality if we consider merely one or the other gesture of conjugal love apart from the whole of a daily family life. For the expressions of love proper to conjugal life fit into a total complex outside of which they lose their full and true meaning. Physical attraction alone fails to define married love; pleasure alone cannot describe its bounds. Christian marriage is also a vocation to seek perfection as a team and should not be set in any other context.

Married couples tell us that conjugal love is a spiritual experience of the most profound kind. It gives them their deepest insight into their own being, into what they mean to each other, into their mutual communion in unbreakable union. Through this love they grasp as in a synthesis the mysterious purpose of their life as one, as well as the bonds that link them to God the creator. In an almost tangible way they commune in God’s love and through their activity as spouses they see intuitively that God is the source of life and happiness. Faith tells them that through the marriage sacrament, through the creative gestures and the liturgical life of the family, they collaborate with the word of God drawing the whole world to His Father by His Incarnation. They provide the new members who increase the Body of Christ. They become instruments for the redemption of humanity and for the progress of the universe.

God’s unique creative and redemptive plan calls for the transformation of the material and spiritual world by linking humanity to God in Christ. And it is from the conjugal intimacy of the Christian home that Christ today first finds this humanity He has come to redeem. The creative function of conjugal love spreads its influence beyond the home as well. In union with other couples, spouses who fully serve their family build the total temporal community where men may achieve their proper destiny. The family founded on true conjugal love is a witness to society and a leaven through which joy and happiness are spread.

We should not hesitate to recognize also the healing value of marital intimacy. Husband and wife find it is often indispensable when spirits are dejected, when a partner labours under some extreme difficulty, when home life has lost the serenity so necessary for the children’s welfare. For when we speak of conjugal union, not only the parents are involved but the chil­dren as well. Christian conjugal love overflows into the children [34] and all those associated with the home. Pastoral experience knows this for a fact.

These are but some of the reasons why spouses must never abstain from constant development of authentic conjugal love and its practice. Arbitrary norms drawn from external considerations have little value in this domain.

In view of the above we see how our pastoral concern for the perfection of conjugal love serves not only the Church but the whole of human society. Not for a moment would we think of minimizing the need for precise legislation by the Church on this gravest of matters. But this vital framework of laws must not inhibit the full development of Christian married love in all its dimensions. And we must promote and emphasize positively the unique redemptive values of Christian conjugal love.

This Council will promote the redemption of all humanity by speaking frankly of the positive values of conjugal love. Never has the world so needed to recognize the divine plan whereby man is associated with divine creative love and thus discovers his true dignity. ‘God created man in his image. In the image of God he created him. Male and female he created them. Then God blessed them and said to them, Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it . . .’ (Gen. 1:27-8.) Revised in the light of the above remarks, this statement on conjugal love would be welcomed with enthusiasm and gratitude by the Christian couples of the world. The growing number of family organizations and the rising currents of conjugal spirituality which we joyfully hail today could find the inspiration and the guidance they ardently desire in this doctrine. Would not such teaching lead to a greater appreciation of authentic conjugal love in the life and thought of the entire Church?

‘The Tablet’, 16 October 1965


[p. 41] The article by Fr Baum, O.S.A., which follows, provides a useful and illuminating gloss on the Constitution; the letters from the Secretariat of State to which he refers are given in full in the article by Fathers Ford and Lynch on p. 66. Fr Baum concludes that because of the doubt as to whether there is a morally significant difference between natural and artificial methods of avoiding con­ception, the norms which the Pope would promulgate (i.e. Humanae Vitae) would not be binding under all circumstances but would rather be an indispensable guide for Christians. Some of the reactions to Humanae Vitae make a similar point (see, for example, Fr Coventry’s letter on p. 199, and the letter by Fathers McCabe and Hibbert on pp. 207-8: this is clearly a very important contribution to the debate on authority (cf. pp. 179 ff.).

 Birth Control—What Happened?

Gregory Baum, ‘Commonweal’, 24 December 1965

The occurrences in the theological commission on 26 and 27 November were the cause of considerable consternation among the Council Fathers. They soon made headlines. Since the incident has been reported at great length in the Press, though perhaps not always with precision, I should like to give a detailed account of the important matter.

Chapter 1 of Schema 13, Part 2, deals with marriage. After debate on the Council floor during two sessions, the final text stands as an extraordinary statement of Christian doctrine. In the first place, the present chapter transcends the old position according to which marriage must be understood in terms of its primary and secondary ends. The chapter teaches that the ends of marriage are the communion between two persons in love and the procreation and education of children. These ends are mutually related to one another so that they cannot be placed in a hierarchical order. The growing intensity of conjugal love makes married people better parents and the magnificent gift of children ties husband and wife more closely to one another. The chapter on marriage, therefore, no longer speaks of primary and secondary ends of marriage.

The chapter on marriage, moreover, speaks of marriage in personal terms. There is an attempt to avoid all that smacks of biology. Marriage is a covenant relationship between man and woman constituting a permanent community of life and love. The chapter explains that the objective moral criteria for sexual intercourse in married life must be based on the dignity of the human person and the human integrity of the act expressing the mutual surrender of two people in love. [42] The criteria of morality are not biological, but human and personal.

What is not stated in the chapter is whether, in all cir­cumstances, the conjugal act ceases to express this mutual surrender whenever conception is mechanically prevented. While the chapter clearly teaches responsible parenthood, it does not deal with the question of the means for limiting the family. This has been the wish of Pope Paul VI. The subject was only alluded to in the Council hall; it was not discussed. The theological commission did not study the issue at all. The official report (relatio), introducing the document to the Council, ex­plained that this question was reserved for study in the papal commission appointed for this purpose.

The present chapter had been accepted by an ample majority in a general congregation of the Council. There were a good number of modi. But since their number was less than a third of the total votes, the chapter had been substantially approved. According to the statutes of the Council, modifications intro­ducing substantial change could now no longer be accepted. It was, therefore, a cause of great consternation to the members of the theological commission when, on 26 November, a letter was read to them from the Secretary of State, Cardinal Cicognani, proposing in the name of the highest authority four modi which intended to introduce into the chapter, at this final stage, (1) the doctrinal position of the primary and secondary end of marriage, and (2) the prohibition of contraception in the terms of Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Casti Connubii. The first change would have been a substantial modification of the approved text; and the second would have made the Council take a position on a subject which had not been discussed on the floor or studied in the commission.

The theological commission was not present in full strength on that day, Because of the recess of the Council, several Fathers, including the outspoken Cardinals Koenig, Seper and Silvas, were not present. Cardinals Browne and Cento, present at the meeting, suggested that the commission accept the modi from reverence for the Holy Father. At a moment of great psychological tension, Cardinal Leger got up and insisted that this was a serious matter indeed: he did not see how the com­mission could modify a text approved by the Council on such a crucial issue. The discussion was eventually postponed to the next day.

The whole incident immediately got into the ecclesiastical newspaper, L’Avvenire d’Italia. Everyone in Rome knew about [43] it. No one, of course, denied that as universal teacher the Pope had the right to state his position to the Church with supreme authority. Yet it would have been irregular for the conciliar commission to insert this position into an approved text and make the Council say what it had not intended to say. One must seriously doubt whether the Pope really stood behind the letter from the Secretariat of State.

The same afternoon the auditors, the laymen present at the meeting, sent a special letter to Pope Paul expressing their grave concern over the sudden manner in which the teaching on marriage was to be inserted into the conciliar text.

At the meeting on the next day, several members of the commission intended to ask that the proposed modi, going against the substance of the text, not be accepted. Before they could speak another letter was read, again from the Secretariat of State, insisting that the modi had to be accepted; their spirit had to be followed, the wording could be adapted. This second letter was not understood in the same way by all the Fathers present. Some believed that this letter was stronger than the previous one, leaving them no choice at all. Others, on the contrary, felt that the second letter offered a way out of the difficulty without losing face: it insisted only that the spirit be followed, allowing the bishops to modify the wording.

In a situation of altogether unusual strain, the Fathers pro­ceeded with courage and determination. They refused to alter the substance of the approved text. The praise of Archbishop Dearden of Detroit and Abbot Butler of Downside was on the lips of everyone for many days.

The whole issue is so important that I shall give an account of the modi proposed by the Secretariat of State and of their modification by the commission. I might add that all this was public the following day. The mimeographed sheets with the modi from the Secretariat of State got into the hands of the Press. I received my copy, the original sheet distributed at the commission, from a Protestant journalist!

The first modus of the Secretariat of State (actually number 2 on the list) tried to insert into the text the traditional distinction between primary and secondary ends of marriage. The second sentence of the section on the fecundity of marriage, stated that conjugal love and the whole of family life ‘also’ (etiam) had the purpose of making married people willing collaborators with God in procreation. The modus of the Secretariat of State demanded that ‘also’ be suppressed. This would have made the sentence say that conjugal love was a secondary end of marriage, [44] subordinate to the procreation of children. To stress this, the modus demanded that a new sentence be added: ‘Filii sunt praestantissimum matrimonii donum et ad ipsorum parentium bonum maxime conferunt’ In English: Children are the most precious gift of God (or—-a most precious gift of God) contribut­ing very much to the good of the parents themselves. After the suppression of ‘also’, this sentence, beautiful and true in itself, would have been interpreted as a support of the distinction between primary and secondary ends.

Realizing that this modi intended to change one of the main points of the whole chapter on marriage, the chapter approved by the general congregation, the theological commission could not accept it. They left out the word ‘etiam’; but in its place they put ‘non posthabitis aliis matrimonii finibus’ (without relegating the other ends of marriage). This makes it clear that the stress, in this section, on the fecundity with which God blesses a marriage, does not put the other ends of marriage into second place. Once this was made clear, the beautiful sentence on children as God’s most precious gift could remain. In the new context, it will not be interpreted as advocating the preference of one end of marriage over the others.

The other modi sent by the Secretariat of State attempted to introduce the ban on contraception contained in Pius XI’s ‘Casti Connubii’.

At the very beginning of the chapter, a sentence described the ills by which marriage is threatened in our days: polygamy, divorce, etc. One modus demanded that the words ‘artes anticonceptionales’ (artificial contraception) be inserted here, with a reference to Casti Connubii in the footnotes. ‘Artes anti­conceptionales’ are the very words used in the condemnation of contraception in this encyclical. The theological commission did not feel free to introduce a crucial issue into the conciliar text, which had not been discussed by the Council. Prior to this, the commission had explained to the Council Fathers that this question was tp remain open in the text. On this basis the vote had been taken. The commission therefore changed ‘artes anticonceptionales. to ‘usus illicitus contra generation‘ (illicit practice against generation) without any reference to Casti Connubii What are licit and what illicit practices remain open.

The next modus intended to modify a sentence stating that Catholics must not use methods of birth limitation which are proscribed by the magisterium. The modus demanded instead the words: ‘which have been proscribed and will be proscribed by the magisterium’ (improbatae sunt vel improbentur—the last [45] verb is an unusual future, the usual form being improbabuntur). The modus demanded that after ‘have been proscribed’ a reference be introduced in the footnotes to Casti Connubii and to Pius XII’s speech to the obstetricians. This modus, therefore, clearly intended to reaffirm the teaching of Casti Connubii, con­firmed in Pius XII’s speech, and therefore to close an issue which the chapter had intended to leave open.

The commission did not adopt the past and future of the verb; it retained the present tense, ‘which are proscribed’ (improbantur), and in the footnotes referred to Casti Connubii, to the speech of Pius XII, and to Pope Paul Vi’s allocution to the cardinals in 1964 announcing the creation of a papal com­mission studying the whole matter. The conciliar commission, therefore, placed Casti Connubii in the context of the develop­ment in the Church.

The fourth modus proposed by the Secretariat of State con­cerned a sentence which stated that there can be no true con­tradiction between the divine laws of transmitting life and of expressing conjugal love. The clause to be added was: ‘but in overcoming these difficulties it is required that the spouses sincerely practise conjugal chastity.’ (Sed ad difficultates super- andas omnino requiri ut coniuges castitatem coniugalem sincero animo colant.) Because of the way the expression ‘conjugal chastity’ sounds to Catholic ears, the impression was given that in a situation of apparent conflict, the only solution for married people is to abstain from sexual union. This question, however, the Council intended to leave open. The commission changed the proposed modus to : ‘always preserving the virtue of chastity’ (salva semper virtute castitatis), thereby recalling that the entire sexual life in marriage is strengthened and perfected through the virtue of chastity.

Thanks to courageous bishops, the Council document retains its original meaning. Pope Paul accepted these modifications of the commission without hesitation. It is likely that the Pope did not realize the force with which the Secretariat of State would propose the modi to the Fathers of the conciliar commission. Since the Pope’s own commission, at their last meeting in March, had expressed itself through a majority vote on not repeating the position of Casti Connubii, it is improbable that the Pope now intended to insert this position into the Council document. It is known, on the other hand, that members of the Curia desire to have the papal commission dissolved since their position on doctrinal continuity disallows changes in natural morality.

It is quite clear that in the difficult question of whether there [p 46] is a morally significant difference between natural and artificial means of avoiding conception, there is a real doubt in the Catholic Church: the Council Fathers, including cardinals, are not in agreement on the issue, nor are the Christian people, nor Catholic theologians, nor the papal commission. Since the con­science of the Church is so deeply divided on this issue and since the solution is in no way contained in divine revelation, the authoritative norms which the Pope himself, as universal teacher, will propose in due time, shall not be a definitive interpretation of divine law, binding under all circumstances, but rather offer an indispensable and precious guide for the Christian conscience.

 4. When is a Doubt not a Doubt?

[p. 68]

1965: Pope Paul and Vatican II

. . . This text [para. 51 of Gaudium et Spes—L.P.] certainly does not detract or depart in any way from the traditional teach­ing of the Church, and we maintain that these two sentences in their very wording, in their context, in their history, and as officially explained to the Council Fathers by the Theological Commission’s reports, and even apart from footnote 14, deal with contraception and prohibit it. If they do not prohibit con­traception, what meaning do they have? It is our contention, furthermore, that the second of these sentences, taken together with its footnote reference (n. 14) to Paul VI’s statement of 23 June.

. . . Two weeks before the close of Vatican II, while the section on marriage in the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World was still undergoing final revision, Cardinal Cicognani, Vatican Secretary of State, by mandate of Paul VI addressed a letter to Cardinal Ottaviani as head of the Theo­logical Commission whose function it was to prepare the emended text for the approval of Pope and Council. Dated 23 November 1965, and communicated to the Commission the following day, the letter read as follows:

From the Vatican Palace

23 November 1965

Most Eminent and Most Reverend Lord:

In willing fulfilment of my office, I announce to you that the August Pontiff desires that you, by reason of the office and authority which are yours, inform the Commission which, after considering the modi for Schema XIII, is deliberating about its rewriting, that there are certain points which must of necessity be corrected in the text which is to be proposed to the General Session of the Ecumenical Council, Vatican II, with regard to [69] the section which treats ‘of promoting the dignity of marriage and the family’.

For in the treatment of this section, mention must be made in the first place of the main points of the doctrine which up to this time has been declared by the Supreme Magisterium of the Church, especially the explicit mention of the Encyclical Letter of Pius XI which begins with the words ‘Casti connubii\ and of the address of Pius XII to the midwives; it is to be kept in mind especially that the chief points of that doctrine must be con­sidered as still valid. The matter is all the more serious and dangerous seeing that in some quarters a certain opinion seems to be gaining ground rather widely: to wit, that these pro­nouncements of the Supreme Pontiffs are already obsolete and therefore can be ignored.

Secondly, it is absolutely necessary that the methods and instruments of rendering conception ineffectual—that is to say, the contraceptive methods which are dealt with in the Encyclical Letter ‘Casti connubii‘—be openly rejected; for in this matter, admitting doubts, keeping silence, or insinuating opinions that the necessity of such methods is perhaps to be admitted, can bring about the gravest dangers to the general opinion.

Furthermore, it is most fitting that the aforesaid text speak clearly about the fostering of conjugal chastity, and about the proper manner of using marriage for the sake of human dignity and in accordance with divine law.

On a page which is attached to this letter some ‘modi’ are indicated which it seems should be introduced into the text.

In communicating these matters to you, I gladly avail myself of the opportunity of professing myself with all due reverence,

Your Eminence’s most devoted servant,

[signed] H. J. Card. Cicognani

Secretariate of State of His Holiness


After strong pressures had been brought to bear on Paul VI both from within and from without the Council, this letter was followed on 25 November by a second letter which read:

Secretariate of State of His Holiness

The matters which were communicated in the letter dated the 24th of this month [the actual date was the 23rd] to His Eminence Alfred Card. Ottaviani and which concern the chapter ‘On fostering the dignity of marriage and the family’ of Schema XIII of the Ecumenical Vatican Council II, should be con­sidered as the counsels [consilia] of the Supreme Pontiff in this [70] matter of such great importance. With regard to the manner of expression, however, they do not contain anything definitive, and therefore need not necessarily be adopted word for word.

The Commission can, therefore, propose other formulations also, which, however, should take account of these counsels and satisfy the desires of His Holiness. These new formulations will be carefully weighed by the Holy Father, and can indeed be approved, if they appear to him to agree with his mind.

25 November 1965.

As a result of these two letters the text of the then current schema was modified and strengthened in some respects, but not nearly so much as the Pontiff had asked in the first of the letters, to which his four amendments were attached. For instance, the explicit page reference to Casti Connubii’s con­demnation of contraception was added in note 14. But the phrase artes anticonceptionales’ which he had asked to have inserted in note 47 (second paragraph, first sentence, along with polygamy and divorce) as a deformation of the dignity of the institution of marriage, was reformulated as ‘illicit practices against generation’ and classified with egoism and hedonism as a profanation of nuptial love in the second part of the same sentence.

The Papal Statement of 29 October 1966

The October 1966 papal statement on birth control is clear in some respects and obscure in others. As far as we can see the following points are expressed without any ambiguity:

  1. ‘The thought and the norm of the Church [on the question of birth regulation] are not changed; they are those in effect in the traditional teaching of the Church.’
  2. Vatican Council II has not dealt with ‘the Catholic doctrine on this topic’ in such a way ‘as to change its substantial terms’.
  3. ‘The norm taught until now by the Church, completed by the wise instructions of the Council, calls for faithful and generous observance. . . .’
  4. This norm ‘is constituted best and most sacred for every­body by the authority of the law of God, rather than by Our authority.’
  5. This norm ‘cannot be considered as not binding, as if the magisterium of the Church were now in a state of doubt. . .

It seems to us that this last statement, as it stands, is a clear and explicit rejection at least of the position of those theologians who now justify the practice of contraception by arguing that [p 71] the magisterium is in a state of doubt on the matter and that probability may therefore be invoked in favour of moral free­dom in this regard. We recognize the difficulty of explaining with precision the, language used, and we are especially aware of the further difficulties raised when the statement is taken in conjunction with the subsequent admission that the magisterium is in a state of study and reflection. But what is obscure in it does not nullify what is clear. To call the statement mendacious, as Charles Davis did, is insulting; to call it a meaningless use of language or a merely verbal denial of the existence of magisterial doubt does not do justice to the text nor to its author.

[p. 77]

Second Address to the Magisterium of the Church on the subject of Family Problems, May 1966

In addressing themselves once again to the Hierarchy of the Church, the signatories of this document, deeply grateful for the sympathetic reception given to the previous Address to the Council, would like to examine more in detail some concrete aspects of the philosophical and scientific problems treated therein, such as they present themselves at the present moment.

[p 78] The Second Vatican Council has recently formulated a doc­trine of marriage that has shown itself capable of integrating the eternal values of Christianity with various contemporary in­sights, such as a consciousness of the dignity of the whole man in his unity of body and soul and an understanding of marriage as a community of persons called to a responsible fecundity.

The successful assimilation of these elements shows too that the Church has developed a more detached attitude to certain past formulations which do not belong to the essential heritage of Christianity. We are thinking of, among others, the dualist concept of man, which led to a sort of pessimism in its considera­tion of the body; of a rather cosmological view of the natural law, which gives biological structures a directly determining role in human action; and of an excessively socio-juridical view of marriage, which fails to do justice to all the requirements of the personal element.

This historically important doctrinal development cannot fail to create an impact in the pastoral field. Some influences, how­ever, are making themselves felt which threaten to undermine all prudent progress and to bring about disastrous consequences.

We therefore feel it our duty to express our apprehension and to recall the seriousness of the problems.

Human fecundity today poses very real problems which a large part of the Catholic community has not yet sufficiently appreciated. For some twenty years many areas of the world have been experiencing a ‘population explosion’, a phenomenon which often occurs in the initial phase of technical development. Human fecundity is potentially very high since it is destined to guarantee survival in the most unfavourable conditions. It can give rise to an excessive level of effective reproduction as soon as chances of survival for both infants and adults increase thanks to human intervention, particularly in the field of medicine. Scientists and experts in various disciplines, however much they may differ on the question of appreciating the possi­bilities of developments in the production and the distribution of goods, are virtually in agreement in recognizing that if the human race were not to apply some restriction to its power of biological fecundity, it would, in a relatively near future, endanger essential human values. Hence, many nations are finding themselves faced with the relatively new and often urgent task of regulating fecundity. The realization of this task, however, is chiefly conditioned by the existence of appropriate motivations within the various societies. Moreover, it seems that the possibilities of applying various techniques depend upon [p.79] the intellectual and psychological dispositions of the indivi­duals. Methods of control, for example, based on continence, seem to be particularly unsuitable as remedies for the great demographical problems.

At a more advanced stage in the technical development, the situation appears in a different light. Under these conditions, some regulation of fecundity is generally carried out under the influence of sociological motivations, many of which are based upon positive human values. Such worthwhile developments, for example, as the lengthening of the time of education, the social advancement of women, the high material requirements for upholding human dignity in a given social context, require great efforts on the part of parents if they are to prepare their children decently for life.

Consequently, the great majority of married couples are forced, often to their regret, to practise some form of birth control during the greater part of their married life. The un­certainty of the methods of periodic continence in a high pro­portion of cases renders them, from a merely technical point of view, inadequate as the sole solution to the problem of fecundity control.

Control of fecundity is compatible with a very positive atti­tude towards life. The use of contraception is not necessarily inspired by hedonistic motivations. The gap, which has opened up throughout the world between the human race’s potential for effective reproduction and its more limited possibilities of fulfilment, poses real and even agonizing problems. No con­siderations can eliminate the fact that for a number of nations, as for innumerable well-intentioned married couples, an effective and practical regulation of fecundity is not only a necessity but an immediate du

The Church cannot take the responsibility before history of minimizing one of the main problems which humanity must face, let alone of constituting an obstacle to general research into real solutions: humanity expects a positive moral contribu­tion from one of the great spiritual forces of the world.

The basis of any authentically Christian ethic is respect and love for the human person, gifted with the powers of freedom and reason, created in the image of the living God.

This principle, a foundation for the dialogue with the world today, was unequivocally put forward by the Council as the basis of its doctrine on marriage; it implies man’s effective responsibility in the preservation and active realization of various human values, those of corporality included.

[p 80] The various aspects of the problem of fecundity, such as the moral judgement to be made on the physiological integrity of the different factors of reproduction, must be properly appre­ciated in the light of this principle. What is the significance of this physiological integrity in the sum total of the values of married life, made up as it is of conjugal unity and responsible fecundity? The Council, in referring to personal values and in underlining their transcendent dimensions, does not submit these values to a permanent or an unconditioned conformity with the biological order. In fact, in present conditions, it is no longer possible to consider the total preservation of this biological order as a sine qua non condition of human integrity.

It is true that certain pastoral directives have in the past been expressed in exact terms. These directives, however, belong to their particular historical contexts and should be understood as having been inspired by a then contemporaneous interpretation of the natural law which is now recognized as deficient. The theological concept on which these directives were based, that of a God who is master and owner of the body, requires a delicately nuanced interpretation if it is not to smack of anthropomor­phism and to imply a dualist philosophy of man. Furthermore, the legitimacy of various important interventions in human biological processes, which is gradually being recognized, such as the transplantation of organs for serious reasons, indicates that the notion of respect due to biological integrity is not as absolute as not to be subordinated to the principle of the good of the human person, seen in all its aspects.

Certain recent theological tendencies which try to deduce from a certain philosophy of man an obligation for man of submitting unconditionally to his biological structures in general, or especially in sexual matters, should be treated with caution, to say the least. Reservations are also necessary when considering certain theological trends which, by turning psycho­logical opinions, however valid, into absolute moral law and by failing to distinguish adequately the various disciplines, lead to a new determinism equally opposed to personalism.

There are also various objective facts which prevent one from making the biological integrity of human functions an absolute condition of morality.

In the first place this question must be seen in the total context of a universal human problem. The doctrine of the Council itself is based, not on a pre-existing order implying a priori norms, but on the values of the human person. One cannot here neglect human experience; convictions in these matters,[p81] pro­gressively acquired by various human and Christian communi­ties, must therefore be taken seriously into account.

Furthermore, from the medical and scientific points of view, the thesis which would grant absolute primacy to physiological integrity is debatable. Such a position restricts medical practice to limits which many specialists judge in good conscience to be contrary to the real good of the person.

Finally, we should take into account the significance of the fact that a very large number of fervent and generous Catholic married couples, placed in the situation of having to choose an attitude which will best safeguard the multiple objectives of their marriage, including the global integrity of their conjugal life, decide in conscience and for objective reasons that mere physiological integrity does not constitute an essential pre­requisite governing the truly human character of each conjugal act.

It is thus indisputable that today we are faced with an open question which the principle of ‘possessio juris’ cannot invalid­ate. This is why we feel such anxiety in the face of a tendency to suggest that the problem should be solved on the disciplinary and pastoral level simply by maintaining the old directives, which for several objective reasons, are today doubtful. Such a solution would entail, for the Church, the grave risk of losing its moral authority as a result of a fatal cleavage between ecclesiastical teaching and the deep insights of today’s world.

This brief analysis of some major aspects of these problems suggests certain conclusions which we would like to express.

The great moral problems relative to human fecundity are situated on a level which is not that of regulating techniques.

Techniques alone are not sufficient to resolve either demographic problems or the difficulties of individual couples. Both nations and individuals require moral motivations to guide them in the exercise of their fecundity and to give a meaning to their choices. The need for such motivations is being felt more and more both where the phenomenon is one of under popula­tion and where nations are threatened with overpopulation and in view of the never finished task of humanizing sexuality. This presents the Church with a specific task. There is, in fact, no other spiritual power which could, with greater authority, invite couples to that responsible exercise of their fecundity which would reflect a generous concern for the common good in their concrete social situations. The Catholic doctrine of marriage as formulated by the Council, based as it is on the respect due to the human person, offers married couples a noble ideal, allowing [82] them to show themselves faithful to their vocation in their own times. Still insufficiently understood, the Conciliar teaching needs to be presented with clarity and free from all equivocation, particularly, from that sort of interpretation which would tend to rely upon a physicalist conception of the natural law. By making such a message heard and by basing it upon the great principles which are hers to safeguard, the Church would make her uniquely positive and irreplaceable contribution to solving one of the great problems of the present day.

More concrete moral problems remain, but they are to be judged in the light of an experience and of values which are universally human. For an adequate reply to be given to the questions which will continue to be asked in the vast field of fecundity and the family, it is of primary importance that normal conditions for study should be established and that the research undertaken benefit ‘from a spirit of confidence and an attitude of openness’ to quote the wish already expressed in the Address to the Council. We ask therefore that a place be found, within the framework of doctrinal unity indicated by the Council, for an acceptance of the diversity of attitudes con­cerning these questions which is bound to exist at present and does no more than reflect the varying appreciations of the significance of new scientific and philosophic developments in a time of transition.

Furthermore, it is becoming more and more obvious that in these matters it is impossible to lay down or maintain moral directives which are too particularized on the technical or physical levels without provoking a major crisis of conscience and endangering the permanency and eminent dignity of the Christian message.

Finally, it seems that an open invitation to common research, far from constituting a danger to religious unity, could in fact safeguard the cohesion of the Catholic world in dialogue and open the way to that future synthesis hoped for by all.

Consequently, we hope that the Magisterium will show confi­dence in the spiritual maturity of the Catholic community. Each member of the People of God has the right and even the duty to contribute to this research to the extent of his ability. The signatories of this address have been guided by the desire to make their modest contribution to this task and it is with respect that they offer this document to the consideration of the Catholic Hierarchy.

The most significant statement that we have had about the [83] working of the papal commission has been given by Dr John Marshall in a recent article in The Times. It is interesting to compare his account, and testimonies of the commission reports (see Appendix) with this from Cardinal Ottaviani, the president of the episcopal commission, suggesting that the teaching could not be changed in virtue of its origins in the natural law—even though the natural law concept is discredited by the commission.

Extract from interview with Cardinal Ottaviani in ‘Le Ore’

Asked by Le Ore if he foresaw an end to the entire work of the commission, he said: 4We suggest to the Pontiff what are the results of our studies. I do not know if the Holy Father in every respect will wish to or can accept the conclusions of our studies. In this way it depends ultimately on him who is the teacher and who must speak the last word.’ Speed was desirable because of the present confusion: ‘There is born a disparity on the means of regulation even from the moral point of view of the adminis­tration of the sacraments.’ Asked the majority view on the pill, Cardinal Ottaviani said the members of the original commission were not in agreement, and therefore he could not indicate a tendency. But one could not depart from ‘the teachings given by Popes Pius XI and Pius XII because they are founded on natural law.’

‘The Tablet’, 23 April 1966

Papal Commission’s theological doubts by Dr John Marshall ‘The Times’, 3 August 1968

Now that the Pope has spoken, and the majority and minority reports of his commission on birth control have appeared, it is desirable in the interests of historical accuracy, that some facts about the work of the commission be set down.

Already, there are suggestions that the commission’s guidance was confused and divided. Divided it was, as the existence of majority and minority reports indicate. Indeed, complete unanimity on so complex a question would have raised serious doubts about the membership. But it is important to appreciate the real nature of the division.

The six original members, of which I was one, first met in 1963, and it is interesting to reflect that the task proposed to them was to give guidance to the Holy See on the ever growing demographic problem. The need of a clear exposition of the Church’s theological position which could be grasped and appre­ciated by men of good will, whatever their own belief, rapidly became apparent. Accordingly, the commission was expanded [84] to 18 by the addition of theologians representing the various tendencies in theological thought. The third and fourth sessions followed quickly in April and June, 1964, and I well remember a significant occasion on which one member, who was persistent in his probing to find the basis of the Church’s position, was told ‘but you are raising questions of fundamental theology’. At that stage, I would estimate that 16 of the 18 members, whatever their internal doubts, had not sufficiently formulated their ideas as seriously to challenge the traditional teaching.

Nevertheless, the report which emerged made it clear that considerable doubt existed, and it was about this time that the Pope declared in an allocution that the traditional norm should remain until such time as in conscience he felt bound to change it. Such a statement in relation to a matter concerning natural law was startling, to say the least. The situation was met by a further increase in the size of the commission to the number of 64, including two bishops. It met in March, 1965, to make a more extensive study of the question in all its aspects, emerging with a report which revealed only too clearly that there was serious doubt about the basis of the Church’s teaching.

So the fifth and last session was convened, 15 cardinals and bishops being added to the group. The commission remained in continuous session from mid-April to June 1965, and, though a slow evolution had clearly been taking place since the meetings of 1964, the point of crisis was probably reached for many around 23 April, when the four theologians of the minority group acknowledged they could not demonstrate the intrinsic evil of contraception on the basis of natural law and so rested their case on Authority and the fear of possible consequences of change both to Authority and to sexual morality.

For me this was certainly the crisis point in a slow and painful evolution, for if the Church held that contraception was intrinsically evil because it was contrary to natural law, it seemed that able and sincere theologians who earnestly believed in the evil of contraception and had worked hard at the problem should be able to demonstrate this with some degree of convic­tion. This difficulty is clearly reflected in the Papal encyclical, for although it is asserted that contraception is contrary to the natural law, no theological argument is proposed to support this view. The reason for its absence is that none has been forth­coming. The assertion that it is not given to man to separate the procreative and unitive aspects of the single act of intercourse is simply made without any proof being offered.

The commission had come a long way and though there was [85] division about the evil of contraception, it seemed that none was prepared to rest his case on natural law. Of course, other aspects such as tradition in the Catholic theology of marriage, the nature of our sexuality and the role of Authority were studied extensively, but the majority view expressed in the final report concluded that the question was open, whereas the minority turned to Authority to assert the traditional teaching. The final report was conveyed to His Holiness by Cardinal Dofpner, one of the two vice-presidents of the commission, and it is believed that subsequently the minority group supplied a further report in amplification of their view, but there ended the story of the papal commission—the story of a painful, often agoniz­ing, evolution in thought. History will tell us whether a similar painful evolution also takes place in the whole Church of which the commission was a reflection.

The reports of the papal commission reflect quite clearly the change in understanding of which Dr Marshall speaks. There are two points which are worth underlining, however. The first is the question of the status of the minority report. In his article on the Authority of the Church (p. 187), Cardinal Heenan, who was, of course, a pro-president of the episcopal commission, along with Cardinal Dopfner, states that this report never was a minority report in the sense that this is normally understood: the priests who signed apparently sent their views privately to the Pope.

The second point concerns the subject of the minority report. As Dr Marshall comments, the minority turned to authority to assert the traditional teaching. That appears to be its only possible justification. As the American theologian John Courtney Murray put it:

For the minority . . . the issue is not birth control but cer­tainty. Those of the minority view are still classicists in search of certainty, raising an issue of authority relative to certainty. They transferred the problem of birth control from moral grounds . . . not arguing about birth control at all… to argue about certainty and the authority of the Church. These are two different problems . . . related but to be distinguished.

‘Catholic Chronicle’, 5 May 1967 [still p. 85]

II: The Constant Doctrine

 1. Rome has Spoken: General Reactions

[p. 105] From ‘The Times’

. . . All reasonable men will sympathize with the Pope’s dilemma but sympathy or even loyalty to the Pope must not blind one’s judgement to the theological barrenness of the encyclical, to its lack of reality, and its imprudence. To call upon public authorities in our contemporary pluralist society to place a ban on contraception shows a divorce from the facts of the contemporary world which is both incredible and alarming.

In fact, the encyclical is an attempt to turn the clock back. Brutally and blandly it brushes aside the whole development of Catholic thought on birth control which has taken place since the calling of the Council. It reaffirms as a fact a natural law position which has been rejected by many of the best minds in the Church and gives no justification for doing so. It ignores the fact that once freedom of discussion was gained within the Church the traditional position was exposed as riddled with contradictions and unproved assumptions. In an attempt to escape from the rigours of its own logic it suggests that Catholics [106] can always have recourse to the confessional. Is it seriously suggested that Catholics using contraceptives should go to confession, be absolved and then immediately return to the use of contraceptives? Such a situation far from strengthening the respect for spiritual authority would radically undermine it. Catholics today do not require compassion in the confessional as suggested by the Bishop of Leeds but freedom and responsi­bility.

The ultimate point that the encyclical establishes is that the centralized system of Church government in which one man takes a decision on a moral and social issue which can affect the lives and happiness of millions is inappropriate to the stage of development which the Church has reached today. Collegiality must be turned from a theory to a fact. The laity must be associated at every level with the government of the Church. Had the voice of the married laity been heeded on the contraception issue the encyclical in its present form would never have been issued. If it leads to the establishment in the future of a genuine system of shared counselling and responsibility, then this sad encyclical may even have done some good.

Norman St John-Stevas

From ‘The Times’

Catholics are bidden to follow the teachings of the Pope’s latest encyclical not as an act of submission to the Church, but as obedient servants of the natural law. The encyclical must, by its very nature, be directed to all Christians of whatever confession. The fact—often restated—that the majority of non- Catholics do not deduce this absolute prohibition of artificial contraception from their reading of the natural law has apparently not been taken into account. The opinions of the millions of non-Christians, who must be supposed to be equally concerned, has similarly received no recognition.

The question of birth control was deliberately taken out of the hands of the Fathers of the Church assembled at the Second Vatican Council. It would seem probable from views expressed by a majority of bishops from the European mainland, from the underdeveloped nations, and from the Americas, that the previous teaching on this subject would have been reversed had the bishops been allowed to arrive at a free decision.

It would accordingly appear to be incumbent on the bishops, as representatives as well as teachers of the faithful, to approach the successor of St Peter in the spirit of St Paul, if the taunt of ‘infallible guide to muddle and misery’ is not to adhere and make [107] wretched the lives of so many of my co-religionists during the reign of the present pontiff.

Simon Manley

 [p. 110]

The following two pieces are complementary: both condemn the statement, and both are concerned about the disastrous effects of creating guilt-feelings. They are also both concerned with the future, and see the need for conflict within the church to bring about the necessary changes.

From ‘The Guardian’

 As an Anglican priest who understands a little about theology and psychology, I would be grateful for the hospitality of your columns to state my views on the Pope’s recent encyclical.

  1. It seems as if it expresses the views of a group of conserva­tive celibates in the Vatican, some at least of whom, simply by the law of averages, are likely by inclination to be homosexual.
  2. It will arouse pathological guilt of the most damaging kind in thousands of educated Roman Catholic couples who are courageously following their own consciences in this matter. There is a rational guilt which is healthy, but unconscious guilt about doing what you consciously believe to be right is one of the most destructive forces which people can experience.
  3. Unless halted, the population explosion, as well as causing millions to live at starvation level or below, is going in the end to lead to nuclear war. The Vatican has been a powerful political influence for peace. That role it can no longer play with any conviction. If people are fighting for a piece of bread it is farcical preaching peace at them if you are yourself responsible for there being too many people for too little food.
  4. The Pope’s defence of his encyclical that it brings married [111] love more into line with Christ’s love for the Church is religious rubbish. The Biblical image of Israel’s being Jehovah’s bride, which St Paul took up when he called the Church the bride of Christ, is concerned with intercourse, not with procreation. It is the intercourse which provides the analogy. Hence God knows Israel and Israel knows God and what ‘to know’ means in the Biblical sense every schoolboy knows in the ordinary sense.

We must hope and pray that the Pope will reverse his decision or still more that there will be a revolution in the Roman corridors of power. Until then, the Roman Church looks like being destructive to the wellbeing of mankind both in body and in soul.

Rev H. A. Williams

Rebellion from Within, ‘The Guardian’, 2 August 1968

Undoubtedly a long-term effect of the Pope’s encyclical will be to weaken respect for his moral authority and for the teach­ing of the Roman Catholic Church. When the shock has worn off and emancipated Catholics throughout the world resume their responsible married life, there will remain the scars of a new wound inflicted on the Church by her leaders. Encyclicals come and go—and Popes, too—and the Church law on con­traception can be abrogated as easily as the State law on prescription charges. But it cannot be quietly buried and forgotten like the legislation of Pope John on preserving the Latin language.

Apart from affecting the lives of millions of Catholics, this encyclical throws into dramatic relief the fundamental deficien­cies of the Church’s moral teaching. Firstly, a medieval concept of man as a biological thing, whose life is a series of discon­nected actions, each of which determines his moral status. From this it follows that the Pope has rejected arguments based on the moral unity of married life as a whole. Secondly, a God- oriented morality which makes absolute laws and timeless precepts, as if man were a motor-car kept in trim by following the invariable rules of the manufacturer. Thus the Pope is insensitive to changing society and the relativity of moral behaviour.

The world may appreciate his sincerity and admire the courage which could withstand the pressure of current opinion. But for many Catholics at least, this latest pronouncement from the chair of Peter is painfully reminiscent of the prohibition on usury and the condemnation of Galileo.

[112] Educated Catholics will suffer no setback in the rhythm of their married lives, but what of the mass of the ‘simple faithful’, as they are called, who give to the Pope a divine authority on any subject of his choosing and look to the Church for their conscience? They are left to choose between Church, i.e. salva­tion (with the safe period thrown in as a concession to weakness) and contraception, which effectually cuts them off from the sacraments.

Some people may argue that this is not necessarily so, that Catholics nowadays are taught to follow their consciences. But what on earth does this magic formula mean to people who have lived their lives like moral children, trained from the cradle to squeeze their behaviour into patterns defined by external authority, to conform or else?

Many times one has heard as a priest: ‘I know it’s a sin, Father, but I don’t feel I’m doing wrong.’ They ‘know it’s a sin’ because they know the Church forbids it. ‘Conscience’ for them means the awareness of what the Church has said. The conse­quence of this—if they are honest and regard the sacraments as meaningful—is that they live their lives in a state of guilt, a psychological state actively encouraged by the Church to under­pin her authority.

The bishops of this country have shown little inclination to inculcate a more mature attitude into their flocks. One can only hope that those priests who are personally convinced of the stunting effect of the Church’s moral teaching—and they are legion—will have the courage to say so in public; to teach their people the difference between law and doctrine; to impress upon them that the doctrine in this encyclical is not infallibly binding on their faith; and that the law in this encyclical is of the same nature as any other law of the Church and should therefore be obeyed unless there is a proportionately grave reason to put it aside. And it is the individual Catholic who must judge this, not anyone else.

This sounds like a call to rebellion. Perhaps it is, but it is a rebellion from within the Church which springs from concern for the burdens placed on her members by remote and uncom­prehending authorities. This encyclical may yet prove to have been the last straw of intransigence which broke the back of Catholic compliance and paved the way for true reform.

William McSweeney

[p. 114]

A wide and easy road towards infidelity and the general lowering of morality?

From ‘The Times’

As a Roman Catholic doctor who has been concerned for many years with marital problems and was a member of the Papal Commission on Birth Control I feel compelled to dis­sociate myself from the statement in the papal encyclical that artificial birth control opens a wide and easy road towards conjugal infidelity and general lowering of morality and may cause men to consider their wives as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment. This allegation was frequently made in former times but, despite the widespread and long-standing practice of contraception, there is no scientific evidence to sup­port this sociological assertion made in the encyclical.

The assertion, moreover, casts a gratuitous slur, which I greatly regret, on the countless responsible married people who practise contraception and whose family life is an example to all.

Dr John Marshall

From ‘The Times’

 May I support Dr John Marshall in his letter in dissociating himself from the statement in the papal encyclical that contra­ception may cause men to consider their wives merely as instruments of their pleasure. It would appear to be assumed from this and other statements in the encyclical that the male partner in the conjugal act seeks merely to assuage his sexual [p 115] appetite and that the practice of contraceptives would greatly encourage such an attitude. Nowhere does it appear to be recognized that both man and wife are equal partners in the conjugal act.

Surely it is time that the Catholic Church recognizes the mutuality of feeling and its expression by man and wife in their conjugality, and removes the slur they have gratuitously cast upon the man alone in the implication of his lustfulness.

Alan James

From ‘The Times’

May I be permitted, as a non-Roman Catholic and only dubious Christian, to pay a tribute to the Pope’s noble statement on birth control. Obviously his words are not going to be heeded by large numbers of his co-religionists, who are clearly resolved to join in the pursuit of happiness, American-style—a Gadarene slide which will infallibly take them, as it has the rest of us, towards acceptance of easy divorce, promiscuity and abortion. None the less, I do not doubt that in the history books, when our squalid moral decline is recounted, with the final breakdown in law and order that must follow (for without a moral order there can be no social, political or any other order), the Pope’s courageous and just, though I fear in the event largely ineffectual, stand will be accorded the respect and admiration it deserves.

Malcolm Muggeridge

From ‘The Guardian’

Mr Muggeridge seems to assume, like the Pope, that those who approve the thoughtfully considered use of contraception in marriage are automatically in favour of a high degree of moral laxity.

Does it not occur to him that millions of married couples who practise contraception are as sickened as he is by the so-called permissive society and all that it stands for? Because we seek to space or limit our families in order to be better able to do what we think is our duty by them, it does not necessarily follow that we are also adulterous, lustful or have an unworthy idea of the right uses of sex.

Surely it is not the use of contraception but the misuse of sex itself (with or without contraception) which may be responsible for Mr Muggeridge’s sad predictions being fulfilled. If he really wishes to protest about the false position which sex has undoubtedly assumed in modern society, let him direct [116] his attentions to those advertising men who exploit sex directly or indirectly to sell their goods, not all of the rubber variety.

These are the people who daily bombard us with false ideas about sex and they are more deserving of his wrath than struggling mothers and fathers trying to do what they believe is good for their families and for society as a whole.

Marie Freeborough

The morality of the encyclical

From the ‘New Statesman’

 If a man can be shown to have been responsible for wrecking thousands of marriages, sexually tormenting countless numbers of simple-minded people, starving millions of young children, forcing others to be born in circumstances of such poverty and disease that life is a misery, and destroying the health of count­less more over-burdened mothers, any moral civilization would indict that man as the arch criminal of our day. Instead, a flam of hypocritical argument about doctrine and dogma blind us to the simple fact that such is an accurate description of the Pope.

Vincent Brome

Instruments of selfish enjoyment

From ‘The Guardian’

I am not Roman Catholic, but having been happily married for thirteen years with four fine children I feel I know something about the marriage bond. I have used both pill and cap in order to be able to give my husband the love and comfort we both need so desperately from each other. That an intelligent member of my own sex should think that I may be a plaything or a mere instrument of pleasure I find extraordinary and very upsetting.

I feel very sorry for women who do not enjoy married love, but surely those of us who do, and have no idea what ‘marital ennui’ means, should not doubt our right to love and comfort our husbands as often as possible without being accused of giving our sexual appetites free rein.

Angela Dawson

From ‘The Times’

By implying that the use of modern contraceptives makes woman open to abuse by man purely for pleasure and leads to ‘loss of respect for women’, the Pope in his lack of knowledge of [p 117]  women like St Paul before him, has really reduced women to the status, of the animal female, which one is sure he did not intend to do. Does he not understand that the use of sophisticated birth control allows women for the first time their proper role of contributing partnership in the sexual act without the fear of unwanted pregnancy or the anguish and danger of legal (or illegal) abortion? Given this new respect and participation in adult decision-making, which scientists will improve as time goes on, women can for the first time resist, not succumb to, the danger of their use only for the pleasure of man, and make in the process a far greater contribution to family life, her actions more balanced by the lack of pre-menstrual tension and the knowledge that the numbers of her family lie within joint decision of husband and wife as equal partners.

Women all over the world, whether Roman Catholic or (like myself) of other Churches must be appalled that in 1968 the Pope can attempt to deny us full, quiet, dignified and fearless participation in the God-given act of male and female unity. Let us hope that members of the Roman Catholic Church will utterly reject this edict.

Pamela Martin

From ‘The Times’

As a Catholic I feel hopeful about the Humanae Vitae encyclical, for it is a decisive step on the road to our church’s renewal. The Pope’s absolute authority on something which is not part of the Ten Commandments, the Gospels or the Creed is once again being questioned and Christ’s promised guidance of the Church is becoming manifest in its increasingly vocal members, both clerical and lay.

To many of us, various points in the encyclical are untenable. Having conceded that there should be a ‘reasonable limitation’ of births, then why should such a notoriously unreliable, and in many cases non-existent method be recommended? When it is further conceded that it is hoped medical science will find a means (a pill?) for making the ‘safe’ period ‘safer’, then any \ distinction between this interference with nature and any other; is purely pedantic.

As for the dignity and status of woman referred to, where is this when she begins to dread her own function of becoming a mother? How can parents have a ‘deeper and more efficacious influence on the education of their offspring’ when they are sapped and overburdened by sheer number? One longs rather for an underlining of the sanctity and seriousness of marriage [118] today. One wishes that abortion and adultery, so distastefully linked to contraception in the encyclical, were more loudly condemned.

But though there will be much suffering by those who decide to follow the Pope’s advice, and much smug satisfaction by those whom the ‘rhythm method’ suits, the ultimate hope is that the very ferment caused and all its side-effects is part of the wholly good Risorgimento begun by Pope John.

Emily Martin

From the ‘Catholic Herald’

I would like to let you know my experience as an ordinary Catholic woman trying to follow the Church’s teaching on birth control.

After having two babies soon after each other my husband and I practised the safe period carefully but unsuccessfully, and we continued to have more babies. Our sixth child was born when the eldest was only eight, and he was epileptic and severely mentally handicapped.

We knew we really mustn’t have any more babies and were even more careful with the safe period. I kept a record of all my relevant dates and when I became pregnant again I just couldn’t believe it.

I spent nine weary months caring for our handicapped child and the five other little ones. I was terrified that the new baby would also be mentally defective.

Fortunately, the seventh child was quite normal, but now my husband said this really must be the end of our family; it was no use putting any more faith in the safe period. He said he was going to use contraceptives in future; that it was his decision, his sin, and I could go to Communion with a clear conscience.

I agreed, imagining myself going to the altar rails like a martyr suffering contraception. But I found it wasn’t the terrible deed I had thought, in fact I saw nothing objectionable in it—quite the reverse. I felt better than I had for years—the sword which had been hanging over my head had gone. I began to live instead of just exist.

But now, instead of suffering it as I had imagined, I condoned it and I couldn’t with conscience go to Holy Communion. I began to dread going to Church. I sat at the back with the other people not going to Communion. I felt like an outsider in my own Church and used to ask myself ‘what are you doing here?’

One prayer helped me at this time as I sat longing to go to the altar rails—the prayer from the Novena: ‘Since I cannot now[p 119] receive Thee Lord sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace Thee as being already there and unite myself only to Thee. Never let me be separated from Thee.’

A young curate then moved into our parish and he allowed me to follow my own conscience in the matter and once again I was able to receive the Sacraments. But with the Pope’s ruling I don’t know what is going to happen.

I would also like to comment on the safe period. Priests and bishops advocate its use, but in my humble opinion it is degrading, and even if it works it is an absolute farce. It really is too much to expect a young couple deeply in love and attracted to each other to sleep together for weeks at a time and keep their feelings under control.

And how could anyone expect a man who works away from home for lengths of time, returning home with burning love for his wife, to contain his feelings for another ten days?

Catholic Mother

From the ‘Catholic Herald’

I thought now theologians agreed that procreation was not the primary function of the sex act but, because we are not animals, it was equally, if not primarily, the expression of married love. I also thought that theologians had not been able to explain the natural law as applied to man because of our intelligence (we are constantly bending nature to our will), and that therefore the natural law argument against contraceptives was without foundation.

As the fifty-three-year-old mother of seven children I feel I have a fairly good perspective. (The first four have then- birthdays in the same month—planned by rhythm). I am con­vinced that the proper use of contraceptives far from turning women into ‘chattels’ would prevent strained relations between husband and wife and free them from a morbid pre-occupation with safe periods etc. (which makes a woman feel undignified and like a chattel).

A wife would not be in fear of showing her husband tenderness and love and his reactions would become more balanced. They would manage their family with calm intelligence and their chil­dren would not be affected by the frustrations of their parents.

The wife would in fact exchange her torment of fear-and-love- and-inability-to-cope, for the dignity of knowing that she and her husband, with God’s help, were in control of the situation. I know non-Catholic Christian families such as this.

Doreen Evered

[121] From the ‘Catholic Herald’

I am becoming increasingly perturbed by the terms ‘progressive Catholics’ and ‘educated Catholics’ used whenever our opinions on spiritual matters are sought. By inference one supposes that to disagree with the views of our more vocal laity is to be un-progressive and uneducated, which is scarcely the democratic approach to Church affairs at which we are supposed to be aiming.

I regret to say that I can see the likelihood of the emergence of a body of Catholics who wish to take part in making far- reaching decisions in the Church which will be binding upon others, while they are unwilling to obey the highest authority in the Church. Such an attitude brought about the Reformation, first denying the supremacy of the Pope, and ending by denying the Real Presence.

H. M. Woodhouse

From ‘The Guardian’

 We listened with feelings of incredulity and betrayal to the statements of Bishop Casey on BBC-2 on the day of the con­traception pronouncement. He seemed to accept with equani­mity the prospect of thousands of Catholics abandoning the Sacraments and the Church because they have been put in bad conscience over a matter which is not one of Christian faith.

It is scandalous that a shepherd of the flock of Christ can calmly speak of ‘the parting of the ways’ as if he were almost relieved to see a large number of his flock drift away in bewilderment and despair. It is also a shocking misuse of scripture to draw a parallel between this situation and that of the abandoning of Christ by many who had followed him until his hard sayings about the Eucharist.

[P. 122] That was a revelation of the Word of God concerning the truths of faith, whereas this is admitted by all not to have the status of an infallible pronouncement. It cannot, therefore, of its nature, be a parting of the ways between those who accept Christ and those who do not. And it ought not to be accepted as a criterion for dividing those who shall be admitted to the presence of Christ in the Sacraments from those who shall not.

We write in a personal capacity, not as representatives of our Order.

Albert Ruston, O.P.; Alban Weston, O.P.;

Robert Eccles, O.P.; Jerome Kemble, O.P.

[p123] The Case for the Encyclical, by Bishop Gordon Wheeler, from the ‘Spectator’, 2 August 1968

Roma locuta est: causa finita est. The Augustinian phrase seems hardly true today when the idea of the ‘open Church’ calls for constant dialogue and investigation. Rome has spoken: but the matter is by no means concluded; for the thirty-seven pages of the Encyclical ‘On the Regulation of Birth’ will be scrutinized and debated for a long time by Catholics and non- Catholics alike. Such a consideration is indeed invited by Pope Paul himself especially in those paragraphs which apply to the scientific and medical field.

[p124]I find two main reactions to the encyclical. In the first place there is tremendous relief that an answer has been given: in the second place, an almost overwhelming disappointment that it takes the form it does.

My comment on these reactions would be as follows. In the  first place it is important to realize that the pronouncement is a  universal one: the Pope is speaking to all his people and not justj to any one section. He cannot, in view of his mission, particularize. The vast number of those he addresses will, I believe, accept both his reasoning and his authority. The people of India, for example, so noted for their realization of human dignity, will applaud his rulings. For them, the projects of the planners in this respect have become a common joke.

A great dichotomy has arisen between the sophisticated world and those still in contact with the soil in a great many respects. And as I see it, we are only achieving the ‘classless’ society by substituting the new class of a technological intelligentsia, whose reactions are by no means the same as ‘the rest’.

I do not pretend to know the answer to this. But the situation is one which recalls Newman and ‘The Arians of the Fourth Century’. There it is clear that it was the ordinary people and not the soi-disant intellectuals who represented the consensus fidelium and preserved the integrity of Christianity. And the same thing can happen today. It may be a humbling thought : but humility has constantly proved itself a virtue.

In the second place I find myself compassionate in a deep degree for those who are disappointed. I have always felt, how­ever, that in a sense they have been the victims of an articulate group who have led them to believe that the Church could change her teaching on a matter concerning which the magisterium has expressed itself in a fairly indubitable way. I know that it has been one of their pleas that the circumstances of the population explosion, world want, the emergence of woman, the concept of conjugal love and all the other developments and factors of twentieth-century society, should give a new back­ground to the exploration of the problem.

In fact this plea has been answered (though not, of course, as some of them had hoped). A large section of the encyclical delineates these factors and relates the solution precisely to them. In so doing, it is in line not only with the encyclicals ‘Mater et Magistra’ and ‘Pacem in Terris’ of Pope John, together with ‘Ecclesiam Suam’ and ‘Progressio Populorum’ of Pope Paul, but also with the decree of Vatican II on ‘The Church in the World of Today’.

It is quite wrong to imagine that Pope Paul has gone back on the thought of Vatican II. The Council said explicitly: ‘Sons of the Church may not undertake methods of regulating procrea­tion which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church in its unfolding of the Divine law.’ He has ‘gone back’, however, on some of the unofficial thinking which emerged in the post-conciliar period and which, though legiti­mate in the line of speculation, had no magisterial sanction.

I do not subscribe to the view that the encyclical is either arrogant or lacking in compassion. No Pope could have shown himself more aware of an ardent compassion than Pope Paul who has been preoccupied in an unmeasurable degree with the problems and the sufferings of our time. Nor do I find it more ‘harsh’ than its predecessors. Such reactions will scarcely bear the test of time. They are of course understandable in the immediate situation. The encyclical is objective and realistic: two qualities especially necessary at the present time. But they are based on almost endless consultation and prayer.

The fact is that the commission of experts, called to advise the Pope, reached a stalemate from his viewpoint. This it was which made the long delay. He had to give a guide and a lead to all his people on a problem of universal dimensions. He had to prescind from all idea of ‘progressive’ and ‘conservative’, and indeed rose above them. He had, in the last instance, to rely on that vocation of chief pastor which his people ascribe to him, following as they believe on the mandate of Christ Himself.

I am convinced that in time to come, the Catholic world, the whole Christian world (because, of course, there are ecumenical consequences), and other men of good will, will come to realize both the validity and efficacy of what the Pope has done. It is not only Catholics who regard the propagation of artificial birth control as undesirable: there are sociologists, economists and psychologists of other religions or no religion who think the same. There are others also who see the dangers of a totalitarian state infringing the liberty of the individual by compelling contraceptive legislation. The status of woman could be de­graded rather than enhanced by the same token. And the ulti­mate answer to the population and economic questions is more surely to be found in the righting of the misdistribution of wealth, the coordinating of productivity, and the universal establishing of adequate remuneration, family allowances, housing, health services and the like. These great desiderata and indeed potentialities are easily overlooked by those who would try to find an easy way out injurious to the true nature of man.

[p126] For the believer, man is a spiritual being. His destiny is an immortal one. To those who hold such beliefs, the newest encyclical is a pointer to the right development of man. This is no merely negative document. It prescribes a positive approach to the ills of our day. It presents also a challenge to the scientific and medical world, which if rightly accepted can enormously assist by its exploration (e.g. into the non-fertile cycle) the development of man’s dominion of nature.

Roma locuta est. I doubt if in this matter we can ever complete the quotation. For the Catholic however, who prizes the guidance of his Church, a clear lead has been given. For the rest, time alone can tell.

A reply: Norman St John-Stevas, from the ‘Spectator’, 9 August 1968

The Bishop of Leeds in defending Pope Paul’s encyclical in these columns last week was his usual moderate and temperate self, and although strongly disagreeing with what he writes, I hope in that at any rate to emulate him. In this situation it is essential that all Catholics and indeed others should speak out strongly and clearly. But emotional and inflammatory language hinders rather than helps.

The first point that Bishop Wheeler makes is that there is a division in attitude between the ‘soi-disant intellectuals’, amongst whom I imagine I am included, who reject the en­cyclical, and ordinary Catholics who welcome it. That is a statement of opinion not of fact and I can only say that it is contrary to my experience.

The Bishop then goes on to say that he feels compassionate ‘in a deep degree’ for those who are disappointed. What Catholic married couples are demanding is not sympathy or compassion but liberty and responsibility. They wish to order their own sexual lives, in accordance with Christian principles of course, but not according to detailed rules of ‘natural law’ laid down by fiat from above. What in fact they are saying to the Pope, to the bishops, to the celibate priests, is to put it brutally frankly—‘mind your own business: this is our affair not yours.’ Now at an earlier stage in the development of the Church it may have been right for the clergy to exercise a supervision over the intimacies of married life but it is not so today. We are dealing with modern not medieval man.

Not only has the attitude of the laity changed but a variety of new factors has come into play since the traditional scholastic teaching on birth control was formulated. Amongst these the bishop cites ‘the population explosion, world want, the emer­gence of woman, the concept of conjugal love’ and these he says form the basis of a plea for change. All that is true, but then he goes on to say that ‘the plea has been answered’ by the encycli­cal. That unfortunately is not the case. The plea has not been ‘answered’ in any intelligible form, it has simply been brushed aside. The scholastic position without any explanation or justi­fication or argument is flatly re-stated, namely that every sexual act must remain open to the transmission of life, that man must govern his sexual life not by freedom and intelligence but by submission to biological rhythms, and that these rhythms are the immutable laws of God. No argument is advanced against the very considerable and influential body of theological opinion, both clerical and lay, which has developed since freedom of discussion on this issue was gained at the Vatican Council, and which holds that the sexual act must not be considered in isolation but is only metaphysically meaningful when related to the whole context of human, spiritual and family relationships that exist between husband and wife, and that spouses are free to direct and modify sexual acts towards a generous and reasonable fruitfulness. The arguments of reason are met not with counter-arguments but with an assertion of authority.

Bishop Wheeler then goes on to say that the encyclical is neither arrogant nor lacking in compassion. I concur, but where I part company with him is where he states that it is ‘objective and realistic’. It is certainly not objective, packed as it is with assertions such as the fear expressed that contraception will lead man to use woman ‘as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment’; far from being ‘realistic’ it is so unrealistic as at times to border on the comic or absurd. The assumption behind the encyclical is that the average married couple sit down at night to discuss whether they will- perform ‘the act’ with the intention of pro­ducing a child. Even I as a bachelor know that that is not so. The sex life of married people is a reflection of their emotional life; it is capable of being so raised up that it becomes a trans­cendental experience and shares in and reflects the life of God. It is a good in itself and does not require procreative justifica­tion.

From this glorious union of two people a child may well spring and embody the fruit of their love but the justification of the union is not the child but the love. To exclude children from marriage is wrong, but so is the assertion that every sexual relationship in marriage, save for the anomalous ‘safe period’, [p128] must be directed to producing them. The Church quite rightly seeks to erect a framework for married couples and she and the Pope are right to stress the value of life and fruitfulness and childbearing, but to state it in terms more reminiscent of canon law than of love is in the strict sense of the word shocking. That is why Mrs Rosemary Haughton, the most significant Catholic theologian writing on marriage in England today, rightly described the encyclical as ‘a nightmare’. Behind it lurks a false idea of sex and the rejection of the body and human love- making which has plagued the Church over the centuries and from which at last it seemed as if we were getting away.

A further point of total lack of reality lies in its male-orientated approach to sex. This comes out most clearly in the statement contained in the encyclical and repeated by Bishop Wheeler that the status of women could be degraded by contraception. Many will think just the opposite could come about and that it is endless childbearing that keeps women in subjection. Further­more, has it not occurred to the authors of the encyclical that women enjoy sex as well as men? If it had they could hardly have included the sentence about the danger of ‘using her as an instrument of pleasure’.

No reasonable person could possibly have expected the Pope suddenly to turn round and bless contraceptives, but what they could and did expect was a restatement of the Catholic prin­ciples of marriage in terms of contemporary realities together with the conferring of a reasonable freedom of choice. The tragedy of the situation is that the Catholic Church, which has so much to give the world in positive teaching about love, marriage and sexuality, has been driven into a contraceptive cul-de-sac with the Pope leading the way. Bishop Wheeler calls this ‘a clear lead’; it is certainly that, but it is a lead into a dead end.

What, then, happens now? The duty of the laity is to reject this encyclical not because there is no good in it, which there is, but because it is inadequate and out of tune with contemporary man. The basis of authority in the Church needs to be broadened so that the bishops and the laity are given and are seen to be given a real part in the decisions taken by the Vatican. The structure of the Church needs to be profoundly modified. I had not seen that clearly until the publication of this encyclical, but I see it now. The paradox is that this manifesto of the traditional seems destined to bring about a revolution.

2 Understanding or Reflex?
Editorial Comments

[p.129] Editorial comments were almost all critical of the encyclical. Perhaps because leading articles are written under some pressure they tend only to seize on one or two points: however, one looks in vain in the leading dailies for any appreciation of the positive teaching of the encyclical. It would be a terrible irony if the effect of Humanae Vitae was to hold back the theology of marriage. Leading articles from one or two leading newspapers and journals are followed by reactions from the Catholic and Christian press.

Pope Paul on contraception, ‘The Guardian, 30 July 1968

Sixty years ago, the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops appealed for an unconditional condemnation of all artificial methods of family limitation, and in its encyclical letter referred with ‘repugnance’ to ‘an evil which jeopardises the purity of home life’. The decision was reversed 22 years later. Reason and history alike suggest that the same will eventually happen to the proscription of birth control which the Pope published yesterday—or that if the proscription is maintained it will be because in the intervening period the Vatican’s views have ceased to carry practical weight in human affairs. Why then is it necessary to call Pope Paul’s long-meditated encyclical one of the most fateful blunders of modern times?

There are two main reasons. The first is its failure to see that even with eternity waiting in the wings, theology has to be practised against a backdrop of historical time. What was an ecclesiastical side-issue in 1908 looks very different today. At the beginning of this century the population of the world was approximately 1,600 million. When the Lambeth Conference changed its mind in 1930 it was 2,070 million. At the last count it was 3,356 million. In 1980 it will be an estimated 4,300 million, and the explosive increase, as everyone knows, will for the most part be in those countries least able to support it.

It will naturally be objected by moralists, theologians, and possibly Mr Malcolm Muggeridge, that this question of scale is a utilitarian irrelevance: if an act is wrong (or right) for a single individual it is wrong (or right) for a million. This is the argu­ment which has enabled people to see the hydrogen bomb as the logical and inevitable successor to the longbow, and Auschwitz [p130] as not a whit worse than the massacre of the Albigensians. However, this notion that moral decisions are unaffected either by historical development or by the scale on which their effects operate is not shared by ordinary people. It is also a notion which has at least once already been quietly dropped by Catholic theologians. Six hundred years ago, when lending money at interest was a private matter between a noble and his money­lender, the Church forbade it on the grounds that it was contrary to natural law. As soon as it became obvious that the taking of interest was essential to an economic system which promoted the general good of the whole community, the Church changed its mind.

The second main count against the Pope’s encyclical is that it seeks to commend to all reasonable men (not merely to Catholics) a conclusion reached by unreasonable means, and thereby brings all Christian thought, whether Catholic or not, into contempt. The problem about contraception did not arise because the Popes or the Councils of the Church had, like the 1908 Lambeth Conference, forbidden it to the faithful as a matter of discipline. It arose because the Church’s philosophers and theologians saw ‘artificial’ contraception as ‘unnatural’. Just as (according to Augustine) lying was always wrong be­cause the tongue was given by God for uttering truth, so the sexual organs were given for procreation rather than pleasure, and any frustration of this intention inherent in the act must always and necessarily be immoral, whether the individual concerned is a starving Hindu peasant or a rich Catholic starlet.

The contradictions posed to the modern mind by this way of doing morality are familiar. It was on these grounds that Archbishop Roberts and many other bishops from many parts of the world pressed the Vatican Council to reopen the question. Their situation is now far more miserable than it was initially. Then, it was possible for progressive Catholics to think that the mind of the (celibate) hierarchy, and of the Pope himself, had never been properly addressed to the dilemma in which an outmoded style of reasoning put Catholic doctors, psycholo­gists, sociologists, and demographers. Now the Pope—and not a stupid Pope either—has considered these experts’ diagnosis of the human condition, re-stated it forcibly in his encyclical, only to reject it with an appeal, not to argument, but to the magister- ium, backed up with some home-baked prophecy about the effect of contraceptives on married life. It is indeed foreseeable, as the Pope writes, that ‘these teachings will not be easily accepted by everyone’. There is no encouragement for anyone but a Catholic to take them seriously.

Catholics themselves will make up their own minds, where they are rich or educated, and have their minds made up for them, where they are not. The difference is significant. It has already been demonstrated on social survey that between a half and two-thirds of Catholics in advanced countries neither agree with nor adhere to their Church’s teaching on contraception, and the protracted period of dither in the Vatican has further encouraged priests to throw the decision open to individual choice. Is it to be supposed that intelligent and devout people, having been offered the chance of working out for themselves a new ‘humanization’ of their Christian marriages, will return obediently to the old alternative of separate beds or annual pregnancy? Arid and muddled as is the understanding of matrimony outlined this week by the British Humanist Associa­tion, it is more inviting than Pope Paul’s. A humanist marriage on those terms, might not be much of a success, but at least it offers an escape from failure.

Ecumenically, of course, the encyclical is a total disaster. Pope Paul, in his statements and travels, has done more than any of his predecessors to convey a new vision of his communion as a reconciling force in the world, and almost as much as Pope John to bring separated Christians together. But the trench which divides the policies of the Vatican from those of, say, India, and the theology of the Vatican from that of Canterbury, has now been deepened again. The sincerity of the Pope’s trenchwork is unquestioned. Nor were his alternative options easy: if the cap, the pill, and the loop had suddenly been legiti­mized, numerous sacrificially obedient Catholics in many countries would have been distressed. But that would have been a tragedy only of this time and those places. The ill effects, personal and social, of the decision which the Pope has actually taken are likely to be permanent and universal. The birth control question called for the vision and understanding of a Holy Father. It has evoked the reflex responses of a Bishop of Rome.

Morals and Birth Control, ‘The Times’, 30 July 1968

The question of birth control was removed from the purview of the Second Vatican Council by Pope John XXIII and referred to a pontifical commission. His successor having enlarged the commission and received its divided report reserved the question to himself. Had the council been permitted [p132] to review it, or had it been committed to the episcopal college as refurbished since the council, the answer would probably have been different from the stark restatement of the traditional prohibitions contained in the Pope’s encyclical Humanae Vitae. The reformism and humanism of the Vatican Council survives only in the encyclical’s statement of the problems. In his answers to them the Pope stands pat on the deliverances of his pre­decessors.

Against the prevalence of overpopulation as a contributory cause of miserable living standards if not of famine; against a much more comprehensive understanding by theologians, Roman Catholic as well as others, of human sexuality; and against the non-conforming practice of many Catholics and the troubled consciences of many more, the Pope has reaffirmed the Roman rigour. By Catholics who feel that the spirit of aggiornamento which got loose at the Vatican Council is beginning to erode the fabric of the faith, and who feel robbed of many of the old certainties, the Pope’s uncompromising attitude will be greeted with relief. But quite as many of them, at least in countries of plural religion, and many more Christians belonging to other Churches, will think his pronouncement as injudicious and ultimately ineffectual as Pio Nono’s Syllabus of Errors.

The Pope’s predicament can be appreciated. Although the doctrine of papal infallibility is not strictly speaking involved in papal condemnations of contraception, the magisterium or teaching authority of the Church is. For many years the Church has been explicit and fierce in its condemnation, and it has laid a heavy burden on married couples. An acknowledgement that it had been wrong all along, that what it had pronounced to be intrinsically evil has after all licit uses, would have risked putting in question among its members its authority on other moral questions. Some relaxation, however, some delegation of decision to individual consciences, could have been managed without undermining the magisterium.

But the magisterium is placed under strain no less by the Pope’s immobility. The fundamental moral objection advanced against contraception is that it is contrary to the natural law. ‘The conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begett­ing of children’, Pius XI wrote, and those who deliberately frustrate its natural effect and purpose ‘sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically evil’.

This interpretation of natural law and the rather primitive understanding of human sexuality which it presupposes increasingly strike educated Catholics as dubious, and insufficient warrant for condemning practices which are widely endorsed by other Christians and morally reflective persons. In conscience they believe the traditional teaching to be wrong. By founding the question in natural law the Church classes it as amenable to. reason. The reasons it adduces for its conclusions must there­fore be convincing independently of the authority claimed for them. It has become more and more difficult to concede that they are.

The endorsement with qualifications of the ‘safe period’ or rhythm method of birth control further confuses the position, for it appears to admit that sexual intercourse may be licitly practised otherwise than for the procreation of children. Nor is the traditional teaching really reinforced by Pope Paul’s rehearsal of the social and even political dangers accompanying the general use of contraceptives. The dangers are real enough, but they are of a kind that is associated with the misuse of morally neutral practices and techniques. They do not go to show that contraception is intrinsically evil, which alone could sustain the absoluteness of the papal prohibition.

So although the Pope has avoided the risk to his authority inherent in a change of position on so controversial a question, he courts the risk of failing to carry conviction and conformity in important sections of his Church, clerical as well as lay. He has also left in being a large impediment to the alleviation of the misery in which a great part of mankind lives, for positive measures of birth control are an essential contribution to its ultimate relief.

This leading article from the ‘Economist’ had the doubtful privilege of incurring the wrath of Osservatore Romano.

What World?, the ‘Economist’, 3 August 1968

Pope Paul’s encyclical on birth control can only be described as a tragedy for the world and a disaster for the Roman Catholic Church. It is a tragedy for the world because it will increase the unhappiness of obedient segments of Catholic womanhood (whose status the encyclical at one point affects to protect, but with whose real problems this male body of the Curia has once again shown itself sadly out of touch); and because it will raise great new difficulties in many developing countries.

It may be that the world as a whole can afford for some time yet its present average rate of population increase at 2 per cent a year, even though this will double world population in 35 [p134] years. But it is quite certain that some developing countries cannot afford their present population explosions; not so much because of the resulting pressure upon food supplies, but because of the resulting pressure from swelling cohorts of the young on the scarcest and most vital resource of any developing country, which is education.

In Latin America, which the Pope ironically is due to visit later this month, where Roman Catholics are in the over­whelming majority, the average rate of population increase is 3 per cent a year. Most of these countries now have too many potential schoolchildren per adult, let alone too many school- children per potential teacher. The leaders of opinion there, both clerical and lay, had begun to accept the need for national policies to reduce population growth. They will find themselves gravely impeded from now on. Even in the majority of develop­ing countries which are not Catholic, the poor will have to pay for this papal failure. The concerted efforts of the richer countries to promote family planning through the medium of the United Nations and other agencies will now have further serious obstacles to overcome, because some rich Catholic countries will feel that they cannot support them.

Within the Roman Catholic Church itself the Pope has pro­voked a major and continuing crisis which may spread to the whole course of renewal and modernization which has been taking place since the Vatican Council. Because of the division within his Church, the Pope could not give a blanket approval to contraception, any more than he could be expected to flout the majority report of his own birth control commission. What was reasonable to anticipate was a moderate and balanced restatement of Catholic general principles on marriage and childbearing, leaving it to individual Catholic theologians, scientists and doctors to work out in practice their application in the changed conditions of the modern world. What was totally unexpected and imprudent was the rigorous restatement, without modification or qualification of any kind, of the old scholastic position that contraception is intrinsically evil, contrary both to the law of God and nature of man, and, as the Pope puts it, ‘unworthy of the human person’.

Pope Paul’s theological justification for this is the flat state­ment that in marriage every sexual act ‘must remain open to the transmission of life’, and is therefore incapable morally of being modified in any way on human initiative. Such a view has behind it some traditional Roman Catholic teaching, although the tradition is neither as long nor as dogmatic as some people suppose. Among many Christians outside the Roman Catholic Church a dominant attitude will be one of dismay. For an Italian bachelor to claim to be the voice of God when talking of matters of human sexuality will appear to many low church­men as the most literal possible manifestation of the sin against the Holy Ghost. Among higher churchmen, there have hitherto been some non-Catholics who have appreciated the value of Roman Catholic witness on the preciousness of life and fecun­dity. The encyclical’s detailed and rigid demands can only destroy this witness.

Why, then, has the Pope taken the stand he has? It has to be suspected that one factor is that he desires to preserve the prestige and authority of the Roman See. If so, he has made a grave error of judgement in the means chosen to achieve this end. Like Sir Anthony Eden on his succession to Sir Winston Churchill, he has had to endure unfavourable comparisons with his predecessor Pope John. He has been accused of weakness and vacillation, and has evidently determined to show that he is a man of strength. Like Sir Anthony at Suez, he has chosen the wrong issue to demonstrate his resolution.

Far from cementing the authority of the Holy See—which, in an organization as vast and disparate as the Roman Catholic Church, must always rest on a broad base—he has identified the Vatican with the reactionary right wing of the Curia. He has consolidated that wing behind the papal throne. The price he has paid is not only the alienation of the left, but the loss of confidence of the centre. This is as much a calamity for a spiritual as for a political leader, internationally as well as among his faithful. The new position of moral prestige to which Pope John raised the papacy in the world has been largely dissipated. This is a high price to pay for a diktat which will be ignored by the vast majority of educated lay Catholics, which will drive individuals from his Church, and which wifi cause acute agony to the clergy who are expected to enforce it. The Pope himself has abdicated from a position in which he was reverenced and venerated as the father of all, to become the spokesman of a faction.

What is likely to happen now? Although it will become the focus of bitter controversy, the encyclical within days of its issue is intellectually deader than the Dodo. It has been rejected, in public or in private, by the most sensitive and most refined minds in the Catholic Church. It should also have convinced all but the most triumphalist that the structure of a medieval monarchy is entirely unsuitable to that church in the modern [p136] world. This encyclical is not the fruit of papal infallibility, but papal isolation. And if it be argued that all this criticism is an unacceptable and ignorant intrusion into the world of theology, then the answer must be that His Holiness has this week made a most uninstructed foray into the no doubt lesser world of sociology and economics.

The Way Ahead, ‘The Irish Times’, 31 July 1968

The implications of Pope Paul’s latest encyclical for the ecumenical movement are underlined by the statement issued yesterday on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury. There is more to this than just a vague expression of regret.

On the level of theological discussion, the encyclical will immediately introduce an air of unreality into conversations that had been showing promising signs of development. On the level of practical living, the growing cooperation in pre- and post-marital education and assistance which had been one of the most gratifying aspects of the new way of thinking will be seriously affected, if not actually brought stuttering to a halt. And the tragedy of couples involved in mixed marriages is too obvious—and too painful—to go into in detail.

Within the Catholic Church itself, the future is as yet un­certain. It is clear that many people will feel that this, for them, is the end of the road. It is equally probable, however— especially in the new climate engendered since the end of the Vatican Council—that a large number of Catholics will feel it their duty to oppose this teaching, but to remain in their own communion v/hile doing so.

They will do so in all probability not just to defend their own or their neighbour’s right to use contraceptives, but to make their Church into a different kind of Church—more true, they hope, to its original essence. The fact that Pope Paul’s encyclical is ultimately based neither on reason nor on Scripture provides us with an important clue: the deepest debate is not about morality, but about authority.

It is in this context that the ecumenical horizon is less dim. If events like these promote a continuing re-examination of the nature and role of the Papacy in modern Christendom, their negative quality can become a positive one. Nobody pretends, on the other hand, that the way will be other than long, bitter and tinged with chaos.

Crisis in the Church, ‘Tablet’, 3 August 1968

Gaudium et Spes, the famous pastoral constitution of Vatican II, is more frequently cited than any other authoritative docu­ment in the Pope’s encyclical on birth control, Humartae Vitae. We must honestly confess that neither joy nor hope can we derive from the encyclical itself. It is not necessarily a criticism. This nation, in an hour of trial, was once offered ‘blood, sweat and tears’ as the only prospect in waging war ; there is not a chapter in spiritual writing from the Epistles onwards that does not offer the same for the final victory over the forces of evil. All this is accepted and endured by convinced Christians the world over. In their trials, indeed, they could find their exemplar in Pope Paul himself: his mortified, self-spending life is totally dedicated to the service of God and mankind. Every call, then, in his encyclical for a deepening of dedication in married life will be understood and welcomed.

To many married people, however, there is a betrayal of their dedication precisely in indiscriminate childbearing on the one hand or the alternative of calendar-spaced love-making or total abstinence on the other. These alternatives are more repugnant to a human couple in love than artificial devices; they are less natural in the sense of being less consonant with their continuing close relationship.

Christian couples today are, if anything, ahead of their fore­bears in realizing the unique sacramental nature of marriage, the devotion and discipline that goes with it, the joy and fulfilment it brings through parenthood. None of this teaching, which forms part of the encyclical, will be lost on them and it bears repetition to a world where these values and standards are discounted.

Responsible parenthood is the keynote of Christian marriage. It has been interpreted over the last few years to include the limiting of families to a size in keeping with the health, means and general circumstances of the parents. That there should be limitation of this kind nobody denies and in fact this encyclical endorses the idea. How the limitation should be effected is the question.

Before the encyclical, it had come to be widely accepted among Catholics that the obvious rational way to reconcile the needs of married love and responsible procreation was by way of contraception. Papal authority only went so far as to say that so-called ‘natural’ contraception—i.e., the use of the safe period—was legitimate, and stigmatized every other method as unnatural and therefore forbidden.

What was natural, and what was not, then came under scrutiny; the use of one artifice or another became increasingly [p138]  widespread among Catholics. These practices were at first tolerated and later expounded and defended by theologians and experts of repute, who in fact formed the large majority of the Pope’s Commission. The purposes of marriage were seen to be safeguarded by the intelligent and conscious use of artificial means, as are so many other aspects and purposes of life.

‘Such questions,’ says the encyclical, ‘required from the teaching authority of the Church a newer and deeper reflection upon the principles of the moral teaching on marriage: a teaching founded on the natural law, illuminated and enriched by divine Revelation.’

Two questions must inevitably be asked: where is the new and deeper reflection? What evidence is adduced to support by divine Revelation the teaching of the natural law? It is a matter of observation that the whole notion of the natural law is now widely rejected. It is rejected more often than not because its upholders all too often seem to suggest that they believe in a certain fixed, unchanging pattern of conduct as imposed on man from above, a pattern which he must accept whether he likes it or not, whether he sees the point of it or not. But in fact the natural law is not imposed in this way. It is discovered by man’s use of his own reason, since it is the law of his own fulfil­ment. As Gaudium et Spes itself puts it: ‘A true contradiction cannot exist between the divine law pertaining to the trans­mission of life and those pertaining to the fostering of authentic conjugal love.’ It is indeed difficult not to sympathize with those who have found, by sad experience, that ‘authentic conjugal love’ has not in fact been fostered by attempts to observe the ‘divine law’ as expounded by the Church. They have come to the conclusion that the divine law is discovered through their honest attempts to live a fully human, mutually responsive, dedicated conjugal life.

It must be seen as difficult for the candid mind to accept the apparent casuistry which justifies the use of rhythm whilst rejecting the use of chemical or mechanical means even though, as the encyclical says, ‘in both cases the married couples are at one in the positive intention of avoiding children … seeking the certainty that offspring will not arise’. People can hardly be blamed for seeing as sophistical this permission for the use of the infertile period side by side with the assertion that ‘each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life’. This last view, taken in its rigour in the past, has resulted in the limitation of intercourse to occasions when conception was genuinely possible. The move away from this extreme rigorism to the toleration (indeed at times the positive en­couragement) of the use of the infertile period has been part of that on-going development in the Church’s teaching which during the last few years has been clearly passing to a new stage.

The very setting up of the Commission on the subject, the findings of a majority of its members, the known sympathy expressed both by bishops and priests, the difficulties and witness of married people bound by the former discipline—all these seemed to be paving the way for a new and deeper reflection on the principle of the Church’s moral teaching on marriage. It was beginning to enable Catholics to play their part in demo­graphic studies and social efforts of all kinds. It showed the way to reconciliation with the vast bulk of non-Catholic Christians who do not share the Catholic conception of the place of natural law.

All of this developing situation has now been set at nought. The known views of such senior Cardinals as those of Vienna, Utrecht and Malines, of many bishops throughout the world, of the Papal Commission, of moral theologians of the highest repute from such widely differing schools as those of the Gregorianum in Rome and Maynooth in Ireland, of the laity as expressed at the Lay Congress in Rome last year, have been put down as of no account.

It will be taken by some as a magnificent gesture of defiance of the ways of the modern world infiltrating the Church—a voice crying in the wilderness. Affection and respect for the lonely figure of Paul VI almost impel this response.

What happens, we might ask, if his voice is not heeded? Where is the seat of authority, the voice of Peter? These are real and urgent questions, no less anguished than those which must now come from people who hardly know what to do in the voice of this apparently absolute prohibition put upon the spontaneity of their love-making.

To both it must be said that there is no finality in the search for God’s truth. The Pope’s weighty words take now a dominant place in a great debate. He makes his appeal to reason and the natural law: it is the prerogative of every man to do the same: the debate will continue.

The Pope appeals to former encyclicals, above all to Casti Connubii. They have been under increasing scrutiny with the passing years and so it is not surprising that his own is already coming under the same fire—intensified by modern pressures. This will raise, inevitably, questions as to the status of encycli­cals, their authority and binding force. Whether they will be [p140] devalued or endorsed we cannot predict. A new chapter in the relationship of the Pope with his bishops and with the faithful at large has now opened on a sombre note. There will be doubt and dismay about the Church herself amongst her more reflective members, a new bravado in some sectors: a mutual mistrust.

Loyalty to the faith and to the whole principle of authority now consists in this: to speak out about this disillusion of ours, not to be silenced by fear. We who are of the household and can think of no other have the right to question, complain and protest, when conscience impels. We. have the right and we have the duty—out of love for the brethren. Quis nos separabit?

The Teacher of Mankind, ‘The Universe’, 2 August 1968

The Catholic Church was founded to teach men the nature of their destiny, and the means by which they can achieve their salvation. For nearly two thousand years she has so taught mankind.

Very often what she has had to teach them, that the purpose of human life is sanctification, not possessions, or power, or pleasure, has gone counter to the grain, has been found hard to accept, has been derided as against the spirit of the age.

But it is precisely because the spirit of the age can so easily and so often be misleading, that the revelation has been en­trusted not to a book like the Mohammedan Koran, but to an institution, the living Church, and the Holy See at its head.

The clear ruling of Pope Paul that methods of rubber or mechanical interference with the generative process are wrong, was widely expected. After all, for over a century now, ever since the development of contraceptives in the last century, the judgement of the Church has been emphatic against them.

Until a generation ago, the witness of Protestant Christianity was equally clear and emphatic.

Before this encyclical was issued, the present Pope has several times reminded the faithful that the discipline of the Church remained in force.

The law had not been abandoned or changed because the Holy See, in its solicitude, had set up a commission in order to listen to all the representations that anyone might wish to make.

No one should reproach the Pope for the time he has taken before issuing this encyclical. The time taken is a measure of the carefulness with which all the considerations have been weighed, and the text of the encyclical makes this abundantly clear.

There have been plausible arguments that a marriage should be seen in its totality : so that if the large permanent intention of the parties is good, it is that intention which should be looked to rather than particular actions looked at separately.

The Pope cannot accept this, because a human life consists of a succession of individual actions, and each must be good in itself.

The encyclical shows a great concern for all those, particularly the young married couples, upon whom the Church’s teaching imposes a burden of sacrifice, though it is one which earlier generations have managed to carry.

They carried it in times when there was far less in the way of social services or children’s allowances to alleviate the burden.

As with the Christian teaching about marriage and its indissolubility, there can always be very hard cases, to be met with compassion.

But the principles upon which the Church formulates her judgement of what is, or is not, morally right or morally wrong cannot be determined by the hard cases.

The Church has always to be true to her mission, which is the sanctification of souls. What she has to teach cannot always be welcome or acceptable to those who start from purely humanist assumptions. It remains true all the same.

This has beep very clear in the reception given in the national press, the radio and television to the encyclical by indignant Humanists, who have to be reminded that the Church is not viewing any part of human life from their standpoint, and that her whole reason for being is to teach men what they would never, as Humanists, be able to understand.

A hundred years ago when Pius IX issued his Syllabus of Errors, against the naturalist assumptions of the nineteenth century, the English newspapers declared that the Roman Catholic Church was finished through her blind refusal to accept modern progress.

A hundred years later, when Victorian rationalism and optimism have been tragically falsified in the succeeding century, the teaching authority of the Church can be seen, not to have been weakened but strengthened, by her refusal to yield to the secular dogmas of the last century.

So it is today, when Pope Paul VI has once again shown the world that, like his predecessors, he is conscious of his unique position among mankind.

While he will listen to everybody, arid seek to help everybody, it remains his imperative duty to teach men what they must do [p142] to achieve the salvation for which they were made, and which the Church was founded to enable them to attain.

Not the last Word, ‘Catholic Herald’, 2 August 1968

Whatever the Pope’s decision on birth control, he was bound to be wrong in somebody’s eyes. The polarisation of views appears on this page in comments by Archbishop Murphy and Mr. St John Stevas. There is no disguising the crisis of conscience that Humanae Vitae has prompted.

But one thing is plain. The answers will come from open and honest discussion in the body of the Church, not from recriminations, and certainly not by supppressing criticism. Perhaps the Vatican Council was too unwieldy a body to handle this complex subject, but last year’s Synod of Bishops was not. It is a great pity that the bishops concerned did not grasp their collegiality in both hands and insist on including birth control in their agenda.

Encyclicals do not purport to be infallible. They are not irreformable. Obviously, the exercise of even the non-infallible magisterium carries great weight. The problem is: just how much weight?

Often in the past the real force of a papal statement has become apparent only after it has been tested by argument and experience in the day-to-day life of the Church and the lives of its members. Some excellent ones (like Rerum Novarum, denounced by some Bishops as Marxist) were ultimately vindicated. Others were tactfully consigned to history.

The theology of authority in the Church is developing. It is now an urgent task to clarify the meaning of the ‘ordinary’ but infallible magisterium, as well as the standing and force of non-infallible teaching. At present, nobody really knows.

It may thus be fair to say that Humanae vitae is not the last word. Does it, meanwhile, bind us in conscience? Suppose that some of the world’s Bishops indicate disssent. Would this imply that the question is still in a state of sufficient doubt to leave the individual conscience free?

It has been sugested that this is the true position even now. For what has changed, apart from matters of stress? The Pope has said before what he says this week. Some bishops are known to be perplexed. Many theologians over the years have dissented. Some confessors leave the issue to the penitent’s own judgment. how far does the solemnity of an encyclical change all this?

Frankly, we do not know. Mgr Lambruschini’s statement that the encyclical does bind the faithful is true prima facie but in the light of modern theology would seem to be open to question. Perhaps it will take another synod, or even a Council, to answer these questions definitively.

Meanwhile, it has at least been noted that the Pope has hurled no anathemas, nor does his statement explicily seek to bar the Catholic who uses contraceptives from the sacraments. On the contrary, he urges constant recourse to confession.

We write under the pressure of the anguished moment. We fear that many Catholics will be unable in conscience to accept the encyclical. We would also be less than honest if we did not say that we also find it unconvincing because it does not meet in detail the closely reasoned arguments of the papal commission, and does not appear to take account of the conscientious experience of so many of the faithful.

But it would also be less than honest not to examine the other side of the coin. It is wrong to disregard the considerable numbr of Catholics, well enough schooled and not well off, who agree with the Pope. It is also naive to say that he cares more  for authority than truth. He could fall back on many theologians who have shown that a development in this difficult doctrine need not repudiate tradition.

Many people outside the Church, while rejecting the absolute ban, sympathize with the Pope’s ideals for married love and sexual integrity. His concern is to say that sex is not a toy, and that to lay hands on the procreative process is to lay hands on life itself.

The problem arises when he says that, while the act can be perfomed at a time when its procreative purpose cannot be fulfilled, it is wrong when performed in a way or under conditions that suggest a positive rejection of that objective. For him, this diminishes the persons involved and their married relationship.

Now this is not the experience of all married couple, and they argue that the ill effects feared by the Pope can be produced by the rythym method. The papal commission accepted the ideas enshrined in the Church’s tradition, but viewed the sexual act in the context of marriage as a whole, not in isolation.

In this dimension, it was argued, the end of procreation is not rejected by a single act performed in contraceptive conditions, given that the marriage as a whole is directed, in the parties’ overall intention, to fecundity. The contraceptive element rejected by tradition should be discerned in the motive rather [p144] than the means, and these could be left to the individual conscience, guided by considerations of human dignity.

For Pope Paul, this is simply an effort to justify means by ends. Here he is speaking in philosophical terms, asserting that the Church’s mandate extends to interpretation of the natural law. But some theologians regard it as restricted to interpreting revelation. Certainly the Church may say that a given reasoned position contradicts revelation. But where is the proof of that in this case?

Another way of looking at this problem is to say the Church can unerringly proclaim certain general moral norms. But these primary norms are applied to particular cases through ‘secon­dary precepts’ which are not included in the infallible guarantee. They are open to modification as society develops. What is true for the child may be untrue for the adult, and society is growing. Hence a development in moral teaching is not perforce a repudiation of the Church’s tradition.

There is no doubt that we are in a crisis of conscience and authority. But no crisis is solved by our running away from the centre of the storm. There is still much thinking to be done.

The Encyclical, ‘National Catholic Reporter’, 7 August 1968

A nun in Washington D.C. gave N.C.R. a bit of help last week by letting one of our stringers use the photocopying machine in her office. Offered payment, she declined. ‘I’ll just pray that you won’t be too hard on the Pope,’ she said.

This is the same Pope who wrote The Progress of Peoples, who came to the UN in New York and pleaded for an end of war, who visited Palestine and India, welcomed an Anglican primate and an Orthodox patriarch to the Vatican, tried to end the war in Vietnam, is giving strong help to the people of Biafra. Nobody wants to be hard on him. Everybody knows the birth control decision was terribly difficult for him, and that he was as conscientious about it as he could be.

From other sources, other advice. Don’t over-react. We’ll try not to. Read the encyclical with sympathy; find the values the Pope is defending. The values are there; one must honour them to understand what the Pope is saying.

The encyclical affirms the sacredness of human life, an ulti­mate among good things. It rightly extends this sacredness to the act of love which begets life. It rightly assumes that when people use contraceptives in their love-making, a moral question is posed. Even the unobtrusive pill works a basic change in a fundamental human encounter. By the choice and initiative of the partners, their coupling no longer has anything to do with having children. Is this change good, bad or neutral? That is a good question. No one can evaluate the Pope’s letter who does not acknowledge its validity, the need for an answer.

Finally, there is something to be said on behalf of the encycli­cal’s approach to the job of giving an answer. Most of us live most of our lives by a morality of consequences, so that we readily understand the standard defence of contraception which says the pill (for example) is available, solves serious problems, hurts nobody and therefore is moral. But contraception could be wrong and yet having some good effects—as did the bombing of Hiroshima. Not all the effects of human actions can be observed or measured—how will a sociologist weigh an obvious easing of anxiety in some couples against a subtle growth of selfishness and pleasure-seeking in others? Again: the psychological benefits of contraception are vividly experienced, but if there is a purpose built into marital relations which is mutilated by contraception, this effect need not reach the level of conscious­ness to be real. And such a mutilation of sex and marriage, if that is what it is, eventually will affect the whole tone of civiliza­tion, whether or not the result can be readily traced to the cause.

The way the Pope argues the question follows an ancient and intellectually respectable tradition. It rises above statistics and relies upon analysis; it tries to reach the meaning of the act of love. Such an approach is necessarily abstract, therefore un­congenial to the pragmatic modern mind; a factor that must be kept in mind in weighing its persuasiveness. For many Catholics, another and more powerfully negative factor is the unwelcome conclusion the argument reaches; that too is a factor that should be discounted. For, as practically every theologian who has expressed a view on the encyclical has stressed, it is part of the meaning of being a Catholic that one gives respectful and close attention to the teaching of the Pope. That includes trying to understand the mode and form of the argument so as to grasp whatever force it may have, and it includes a willingness to subordinate self-interest and to purge oneself of bias.

And yet, as many of these same theologians have also said in one phrasing or another, the Catholic understanding of obedience to the Pope does not require anyone to do violence to his own mind. Self-administered brain-washing is not a Catholic exercise. The Catholic honestly concerned to form his conscience rightly in this matter should give due weight to the authority of the Pope, should give fair consideration to the power of his presentation; but if for serious reasons he then [p146] finds himself unable to assent to this teaching he is not bound to accept it either intellectually or in practice. And, since the teaching is not presented as infallible, his withholding of assent does not make him less a Catholic, either in his own estimation or in the ‘external forum’.

The example of the theologians suggests also that silent non­concurrence is not the only option; that, in fact, there can be an obligation to be vocal. That has always been the case, but— especially in the interval between the First and Second Vatican Councils—we haven’t heard much about episodes in Catholic history or elements of Catholic teaching having to do with the duty of responsible dissent.

In the present instance, despite what was said earlier, we believe such dissent is called for. Several commentators have said that the encyclical creates a crisis of credibility for the papacy. It also creates a crisis of collegiality for the Church.

The source of both crises is the content of the encyclical, together with the mode of its preparation and the context within which it is published. This is not merely a matter of a predictably unpopular ruling. The unprecedented critical reaction the en­cyclical has engendered will of course be blamed on hedonism among the laity and intellectual pride among the theologians; but it should not be. No doubt some of the protesters are over­sexed and some are snobs, but that does not account for the number, force or quality of the criticisms.

The reason for the reaction is rather that the birth control issue poses a serious question and the encyclical does not give a serious answer. Even if it is read sympathetically, with all the caveats outlined above kept carefully in mind, it falls very far short of justifying the teaching it attempts to convey.

Catholic teaching on contraception affects the lives of millions of married Catholics everywhere. It influences the population policies of governments and of the United Nations, as well as the personal decisions of hundreds of thousands of couples in countries which desperately need to curb their population growth to prevent economic stagnation, malnutrition and starvation. Finally, this encyclical purports to express the mind of Catholicism on sex in marriage; by failing to present a respectable rationale for the stand it takes, it imposes an im­possible burden on Catholic teachers and confessors and creates a formidable new obstacle to theological exchange with other Churches.

These of course are mere declarations; some analysis in support is called for.

Ultimately, the entire weight of the encyclical rests on a single assertion, to the effect that there exists an ‘inseparable connection, willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own initia­tive, between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning’ (par. 12). This is not a ridiculous statement; it is a serious attempt to state the meaning of sexuality in marriage, and there are competent philosophers who consider it a profound insight. But, as Father Richard McCormick points out, the principle is already familiar to theologians, many of whom find it ‘extremely difficult to sustain’. Obviously, in the ordinary course of things there is a connection between the unitive and procreative meanings of intercourse, between making love and making babies. But is the connection inseparable? How do we know that it is inseparable? On what basis is it asserted that separating the two functions of the marital act, by means of contraception, is evil?

These are not only permissible but required questions, ques­tions of a kind that a rational human being ought to ask about any statement proposed to him as a guide of moral conduct. The encyclical does not answer them. It offers several variant formulations of the same basic proposition; but no proof is given, no solid indication is made of the line of reasoning which leads to this conclusion, no scriptural texts are cited in its support. There are hints, but no more (pars. 11, 12, 13) of arguments drawn from human biological structures and from the procreative character of marriage, or from a convergence of the two. But the argument from bodily arrangements was discarded long ago as mechanistic; the structure of the body does not of itself reveal the proper use of the body. The ‘pro­creation is primary’ view of marriage was abandoned at Vatican II.

As in every other defence of the traditional teaching, the attempt to justify the rhythm method while condemning contra­ception makes for problems. The encyclical says that marital acts during the infertile period are lawful, though no child can be conceived, because the wife’s cycle occurs independently of the partners’ wills—these acts, then, ‘remain ordained towards expressing and consolidating’ the union of the partners. Every marriage act ‘must remain open to the transmission of life’; acts taking place during the infertile period are said to be thus ‘open’ and they do not violate the ‘inseparable connection’ as would acts of contraceptive intercourse, which require purpose­ful initiative. Inserting a diaphragm to insure infertility is [p148] against God’s will. Observing a calendar or a thermometer to take advantage of natural fertility is acceptable.

It is not legitimate to reject this argument solely on the ground that one does not understand it. But it seems strange that so important a moral principle would be so difficult to grasp, and that it would receive so little corroboration from the experience of married persons.

On the more fundamental point, that contraception is evil because it breaks an unbreakable link, the only real corrobora­tion the encyclical provides is an appeal to authority: ‘This is what the church has always taught.’ Paragraph 6 indicates that members of the majority group in the papal birth control com­mission were mistaken if they thought their mission was to re­examine and reinterpret the church’s traditional stand; their report recommending a change was found’ unsatisfactory precisely because it suggested new criteria for solutions to the birth control question, criteria differing from ‘the moral teaching on marriage proposed with constant firmness by the teaching authority of the church.’

The reason all this is crucially important is that the encyclical makes no pretence of finding authority in God’s revelation for stating that contraception is against God’s will. The teaching is founded on natural law, the encyclical says. To discover the natural law requires the use of reason, to explain and defend it requires the presentation of arguments drawn from reason. But to say that contraception is sinful because it separates what is inseparable is not powerfully persuasive; it says little more than: Contraception is wrong because what it-does is bad. Pope Paul is surely mistaken when he expresses a belief that ‘the men of our day are peculiarly capable of seizing the deeply reasonable and human character’ of the encyclical’s guiding principle. If that were the case the Roman Catholic church would not be virtually alone among major religious bodies in rejecting contraception as evil. In fact the men of our day find the teaching incomprehensible—and rather sad. We are gifted with a natural law doctrine that has a touch of the esoteric about it, an insight that can be achieved for the most part only by Catholics, and most easily by Catholic celibates of a certain age. As Father Haring notes, some of them find the teaching so clear and vital that they can enforce it against mothers on their return from mental hospitals to which they have been driven by too many pregnancies too closely grouped.

The focus of these comments, it should be noted, is not on the issue itself—is contraception good or bad?—but on the key reasons offered by the encyclical for saying it is bad. The aim here is not to prove that artificial birth control is good, but only to weigh whether the encyclical makes a reasonable case for calling it evil, for telling Catholics that it is sinful. We conclude that it does not make such a case. Many readers will believe the conclusion was foreordained; we hope they will address them­selves to the arguments rather than to personalities.

The crisis of credibility is occasioned by the sheer inadequacy of the encyclical, coupled with the gravity of the issue, the amount of time, effort and expertise given to preparation, and the encyclical’s internal self-bolstering statements requiring the internal and external assent of theologians and pastors.

It is already evident that a very considerable number of the church’s professional class will not be able to give him this assent. For the Pope, who has already suffered greatly under the cross of this decision, such a response will impose sheer agony. For the church, the crisis of credibility can well be the occasion of a great purification.

The nature of the purification is suggested by the contrast between the statements issued by Msgr Austin Vaughan, president of the American Catholic Theological society, and Dr Germain Grisez of Georgetown, on the one hand, and, on the other, those drawn up by such men as Fathers Bernard Haring and Richard McCormick and the Washington group led by Father Charles Curran.

Dr Grisez said that to be a Catholic is to be a papist, and a papist cannot say ‘Rome has spoken but the cause goes on’. Msgr Vaughan wrote: ‘Every man must follow his conscience, but a Catholic accepts the guidance of the Church as an obliga­tory way of forming his conscience.’

In contrast, Father McCormick: ‘ . . (L)oyalty to the magisterium cannot be defined in terms merely of theological acquiescence. Indeed the theologian sees this as potentially the ultimate form of disloyalty. Reverence and respect for the magisterium allow for and demand criticism, even dissent, when this is done charitably and responsibly.’

The Curran group : ‘It is common teaching in the Church that Catholics may dissent from authoritative, non-infallible teachings of the magisterium when sufficient reasons for so doing exist.’ In our judgement the Vaughan-Grisez approach reflects a sort of Byzantine ideal of total submission which has always been around in the Church but became exaggerated after Vatican I. But the McCormick-Curran emphasis is not a recent, post-Vatican II arrival—it too has always been around; it [150] could be supported out of Thomas Aquinas. Statements by the magisterium have always inflated the ‘ordinary teaching authority’, making its interim pronouncements in effect all but indistinguishable from the central dogmas of the faith. And there have usually been some theologians or even bishops to reassert the rights of conscience, scholarship and common sense.

In the American Church the Byzantine approach once held most of the high ground; it has been losing sway of late but still grips a great portion of the laity and a considerable number of priests. The Humanae Vitae incident will favour recovery of greater freedom, especially among lay people. The cost of the process will be determined by the bishops. If they are rigorous in enforcing compliance with the encyclical, firing or silencing pastors and professors, the cost will be high. They will do it if they continue to identify the Church with the Pope, if they feel they have to rally around even when he acts anti-collegially and arbitrarily.

The purification will be less painful if the bishops understand that loyalty to the Church and to Christ may occasionally call on them to criticize the Pope and even to resist him; if they understand that theologians like McCormick got their ideas about personal conscience not out of the secularist, decadent modern Zeitgeist but from the gospel; if they understand that the Church will never be truly collegial unless they throw their own weight around a bit and let their priests do the same.

If that happens, the crisis of collegiality will be solved along with the crisis of credibility. On the other hand, we could be seeing a much smaller Church pretty soon, with a lot of the best people in it gone to other pastures or underground.

Out of the Wreckage, ‘New Christian’, 8 August 1968

There is little point in adding to the comprehensive criticism which has, from almost every quarter, been levelled at the Pope’s disastrous encyclical. After ten days of continuous bombard­ment the time has come to consider what might be saved from the wreckage.

Two inter-related matters cry out for immediate action if the Roman Catholic Church is to survive as a credible expression of the Christian gospel. First comes the cruel dilemma in which Catholics who are unable to accept the Pope’s reasoning and conclusions now find themselves, and this is swiftly followed by the basic theological issue which lies at the heart of the crisis. Here it is necessary to emphasize that Christians of other com­munions cannot watch the salvage operation simply as dis­interested spectators for the encyclical raises issues which remain to be resolved in nearly every part of the Church.

What then is the line of action to be pursued by the Catholic who is utterly convinced that the Pope’s ruling is wrong? He has little choice. He must disregard the ruling in so far as it relates to his own conduct and do everything possible to assist the Church in its task of formulating new proposals which are nearer the mind of Christ and therefore better able to serve the needs of * humanity. In short, he must as an individual, and in company with his fellow Catholics, do all in his power to expose the in­adequacy of the encyclical and point to a more excellent way.

This will not be easy for the layman; it may call for heart­breaking sacrifice from the priest. Some of those who have been called as ‘shepherds’ will accuse him of disloyalty and suggest that he is placing private opinion before the mind of the Church. Others will accuse him of compromising with the worldliness of the present age and thus betraying his Lord. But none of these charges can relieve a man of the duty to follow the leadings of his own conscience. Christian obedience demands much more than strict observance of ecclesiastical regulations and, though a conscientious man will think many times before rejecting the advice of the leaders of the Christian community, there is in the present circumstances a clear case for opposing both the en­cyclical and the bishops’ pastoral letters which have followed it. In taking this costly step the Catholic will be fortified by the companionship of Christians, past and present, whose consciences have led them in a similar direction. He may also find it helpful to reflect upon the fact that when Peter made a mistake about the extremely serious matter of the conditions under which Gentiles were to be admitted to the Christian fellowship, Paul ‘opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned’ (Galatians 2 v 11). ,

Beyond the proximate issue facing the individual Catholic there is, however, a vast theological question which has been lurking about for some time and which can be dodged no longer by those who are concerned with the continuing expression of the Christian revelation: what is the nature and character of the Church? Pope Paul’s apparent lack of insight and sensitivity must not become a scapegoat for a fundamental weakness in the life of the Catholic Church as a whole. It is now necessary to ask by what canon of Christian community life an individual leader is entitled to make a statement lacking that consensus fidelium which alone can give it authenticity. Furthermore, it must be asked what fault in the Church’s institutional life is [p152] revealed by the fact that a single pronouncement by one man can throw the whole community into disarray.

The sad truth is, of course, that contemporary Catholicism is finding it desperately difficult to struggle free from the mon­archical structure which it inherited from sixteenth century abso­lutism. This is not altogether surprising. Historical trends are not easily changed and the movement from an elitist to a fully corporate society has rarely, if ever, been achieved without a bloody revolution. But this is the task which now faces the Catholic Church and it remains to be seen whether violence can be avoided. Certainly the decrees of Vatican II can be regarded as no more than tentative first steps—the crucial Constitution of the Church was in relation to the need essentially conserva­tive—and the events of the past few days have shown clearly how little they have influenced the basic structure of the Church.

On the other hand, the fierce opposition to the encyclical and to the system which gave it birth is a significant pointer to the size of the forces which are massing in support of change. Similar forces are needed in every other part of the Christian Church where freedom from the papal pyramid has led only to the creation of other power pyramids in which the corporate character of the Christian community is almost equally denied. This suggests again that the major theological issues of the day can only be considered adequately in an ecumenical context.

And the aim of all this? Simply that the Church may become a more adequate embodiment of the gospel and a clearer sign of the Kingdom. This means a society in which fear is replaced by trust, hatred by love, strife by peace, disorder by self-control; above all a society in which men and women find through the service of Christ perfect freedom and the realization of their full humanity. Seen against this background, the importance of the present salvage operation cannot be exaggerated.

3 One and Universal:
Some Foreign Reactions

World reaction was like the British reaction writ large. The encyclical found plenty of supporters; it also found plenty of critics. We print here only one or two significant reactions from abroad. Hans Küng’s reaction, as given below from a broadcast made in Switzerland, was fairly typical of that of many theolo­gians.

On the Question of Birth Regulation A Word of Help, by Hans Küng

  1. This encyclical is an authentic, that is, an official statement of the Pope after long reflection. It would be illusory to think it might be withdrawn or corrected in the foreseeable future.
  2. It is a fallible This is admitted also in Rome.
  3. To the surprise of Rome, it has come up against the unanimous rejection of world-publicity outside the Catholic Church and has simultaneously led the Catholic Church into the most serious internal crisis of recent decades. Many in our Church—bishops, theologians, priests, men and women—are shaking their heads, are in doubt, perplexed: some openly and publicly oppose it. The Pope found himself compelled to defend his encyclical as soon as it had appeared and in some countries the bishops’ conferences are meeting to find a solu­tion.

Here—at this difficult time for the Catholic Church, when we are dependent too on the understanding and aid of Protestant Christians—we shall attempt to give a word of help. What is to be done? How will it continue?

First of all: it will continue. The Catholic Church, her re­newal, ecumenical understanding, will continue. Do not be misled here, do not give up hope. We shall survive the crisis, as we have already survived many crises, and in fact—if I understand the situation rightly—even profit by it: the decisive argument for the Pope was that he felt bound by the official teaching, given out as definitive, of his predecessors and of the episcopate of the first half of the century. This will lead our Church to a critical overhauling of her ideas of authority, magisterium, doctrinal formulations, dogma, and particularly of infallibility. Will not the Church’s infallibility in future have [p154] to be seen in the light of Scripture not so much in particular propositions or doctrines, as in the assurance of faith that the Church will be preserved—indeed, will be constantly renewed— by the spirit of God in spite of all errors, throughout all errors of popes, bishops, theologians, priests, men and women? These and similar questions we shall now have to ask, together with Protestant Christians, for whom, with the doctrinal contradic­tions in their own camp, the same questions must likewise be raised in another perspective. And this will be very useful in bringing us together.

Things will go on then. And what have we to do? Three things:

  1. We shall take seriously and respect the conscientious decision of the Pope.
  2. We shall consider and loyally discuss his arguments. We shall not therefore suppress but express our misgivings, in order to help ourselves and the Church to reach clarity: and at the same time we shall not indulge in mutual condemnation, but try to understand one another.
  3. Those among us who after serious, mature reflection alone, with wife or husband, before God, come to the conclu­sion that, for the sake of maintaining their love and of the continuance and happiness of their marriage, they must act in a way differently from what the encyclical lays down: those are bound in accordance with traditional teaching, even of the popes, also to follow their conscience. They will therefore not accuse themselves of sin when they have acted in good faith. But, calmly and secure in their conviction, they will share in the life of the Church and of her sacraments. They may certainly rely on the understanding of their priests.

The emergence of our Church from the crisis in a new matur­ity and responsibility will therefore depend on each one of us. And this is just what will help, not only our own Church, but all Churches.

(English translation to be published shortly in Hans Küng: ‘Truthfulness: The future of the Church’, Sheed& Ward, London)

In America a statement was issued on behalf of the bishops of the United States endorsing the encyclical and uniting with Pope Paul.

‘in calling upon our priests and people to receive with sin­cerity what he has taught, to study it carefully, and to form their consciences in its light’.

The president of the American Catholic Theological society, Mgr Austin Vaughan, concluded that the teaching called for acceptance,

‘Acceptance of a faith that is Catholic and Apostolic means accepting this explicitation of the faith that the magisterium has proposed. To reject it means to reject what the magister­ium is and represents. I don’t think it possible that what has been laid down in this document could be anything else than what the Holy Spirit, who guides our use of our resources with his providence, wants and expects of us Catholics, at this moment in the plan of salvation, apart from what direc­tion the course of that plan might take in the future. If it were, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, promised to the magisterium, according to the Constitution on the Church, would be an illusion.’

Fr Bernard Haring, the moral theologian who now lectures in America, commented:

‘… We appeal to the Pope urgently to use all the resources of collegiality in order to come to a broader consensus which is worked out by the whole Christian community. This will surely strengthen his authority and bring solutions which can be worked out especially in view of the poor and un­educated.’

Also in America a group of 87 theologians, led by Fr Charles Curran, issued the following statement:

As Roman Catholic theologians we respectfully acknowledge a distinct role of hierarchical magisterium (teaching authority) in the Church of Christ. At the same time Christian tradition assigns theologians the special responsibility of evaluating and interpreting pronouncements of the magisterium in the light of the total theological data operative in each question or state­ment. We offer these initial comments on Pope Paul Vi’s encyclical on the regulation of birth.

The encyclical is not an infallible teaching. History shows that a number of statements of similar or even greater authori­tative weight have subsequently been proven inadequate or even erroneous. Past authoritative statements on religious liberty, interest-taking, the right to silence, and the ends of marriage have all been corrected at a later date.

Many positive values concerning marriage are expressed in Paul Vi’s encyclical. However, we take exception to the ecclesiology implied and the methodology used by Paul VI [p156] in the writing and promulgation of the document: they are incompatible with the Church’s authentic self-awareness as expressed in and suggested by the acts of the Second Vatican Council itself. The encyclical consistently assumes that the Church is identical with the hierarchical office. No real im­portance is afforded the witness of the life of the Church in its totality; the special witness of many Catholic couples is neglected; it fails to acknowledge the witness of the separated Christian Churches and Ecclesial Communities; it is insensitive to the witness of many men of good will; it pays insufficient attention to the ethical import of modern science. Furthermore, the encyclical betrays a narrow and 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.

Likewise, we take exception to some of the specific ethical conclusions contained in the encyclical. They 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 qn this very question is disregarded. 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.

Other defects include: over-emphasis on the biological aspects of conjugal relations as ethically normative; undue stress on sexual acts and on the faculty of sex viewed in itself apart from the person and the couple; a static world-view which downplays the historical and evolutionary character of humanity in its finite existence, as described in Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World; unfounded assumptions about ‘the evil consequences of methods of artificial birth control’; indifference to Vatican II’s assertion that prolonged sexual abstinence may cause ‘faithfulness to be imperilled and its quality of fruitfulness to be ruined’; an almost total disregard for the dignity of millions of human beings brought into the world without the slightest possibility of being fed and educated decently.

In actual fact, the encyclical demonstrates no development over the teaching of Pius XI’s Casti Connubii whose conclusions have been called into question for grave and serious reasons. These reasons, given a muffled voice at Vatican II, have not been adequately handled by the mere repetition of past teaching.

It is common teaching in the Church that Catholics may dissent from authoritative, non-infallible teachings of the magisterium when sufficient reasons for so doing exist.

Therefore, 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.

It is our conviction also that true commitment to the mystery of Christ and the Church requires a candid statement of mind at this time by all Catholic theologians.

The Dutch Bishops issued a preliminary statement, and promised extensive consultations with theologians and experts.

Some Thoughts on the Encyclical Humanae Vitae

‘In this critical hour we realize that many Catholics are feeling uneasy. Many people feel disappointed by the papal encyclical, particularly by the declaration on contraceptives. These Catholics are being tested in their faith that the Church is the work of God in human appearance in the midst of us.

‘At this juncture we, your bishops, will address to you some provisional words that you might use for your sermons of next Sunday. The consequences of the encyclical have a world-wide importance, and only after a lengthy and deep reflection can one measure its scope.

‘You will understand that your bishops will be able to offer you the guidance you need only after serious consultation, together with theologians and other experts. This guidance will undoubtedly be offered you; but probably that will take some time.

‘A Catholic owes respect to the authority and the word of the Pope. The individual conscience cannot ignore such an authori­tative declaration as this encyclical. For that matter, many factors that determine the individual conscience with regard to the conjugal act are already clear: for example, mutual love, relations in the family and social circumstances.

‘We Catholics believe in papal infallibility. Though this Encyclical is no infallible dogmatic declaration, it is still a strong plea for the dignity of life and an appeal for responsibility in sexuality and marriage that is of very great importance in our society.

‘May the discussion about this encyclical contribute to a [p158] clearer appreciation and functioning of authority inside the Church. ‘Let us pray in these days for our Holy Father and for each other.’

‘The Tablet’, 10 August 1968

In response to this letter from the Dutch hierarchy an influential group of theologians issued this statement on 10 August.

Statement of Dutch Theologians

We the undersigned, teachers in the theological faculty and interfaculty centre of Nijmegen, and in the theological colleges of Amsterdam, Eindoven, Heerlen, Tilburg and Utrecht, wish to thank you sincefely for your letter of 31 July. Where it is often made so difficult for you by secret channels we feel obliged to express publicly our adherence to that pastoral statement in which you showed the way to many orthodox catholics.

In particular, your desire for ‘a purer functioning of authority in the Church’ struck a chord in our hearts. We are grateful to you, that, as pastors in Christ’s Church, you have not bound us with a plea of authority, but have pointed to the essential human values that are at issue in this discussion. For our part, we think that the method of exercising authority of which Humanae Vitae is a symptom does a disservice to the evangelical task of the pastoral office, of giving leadership to the People of God. It has once again become clear, in the period since Vatican II, that general human questions can only be clarified by consultation with the other Christian Churches, who share with us a concern for the one gospel, and with all those who in conscience care equally for human dignity. Our loyalty to the Church we wish to serve obliges us to write this letter to you. In the further ‘reflection and consultation’ for which you have asked, we shall naturally give our whole-hearted cooperation.

We hope that the thoughts within your letter will find an echo among your colleagues in the world episcopate, the Bishop of Rome first of all; we shall work for this-end in our own way by seeking the support of our colleagues in other countries in the fields of theological and philosophical study.

Thanking you for your truly ecclesial statement.

( Unofficial translation)

The Belgian Bishops’ Statement

An authorized translation of the statement issued after the special meeting of the Belgian Bishops’ Conference held, under the chairmanship of Cardinal Suenens, Archbishop of Malines, to discuss the encyclical, Humanae Vitae.

  1. The Meaning of the encyclical

After long study, prayer and reflection, Pope Paul VI made public on 25 July, 1968 the encyclical Humanae Vitae. In it he speaks about a current and deeply human problem, namely, respect for human life and marriage. Of course we welcome the Holy Father’s letter with filial respect just as he has written it and with the meaning he has given to it.

We insistently call upon the faithful and all men of good will to read the encyclical in its entirety and to reflect upon the deep meaning of this important document. We also ask that they dedicate their efforts, both individually and collec­tively, to an exact understanding of its doctrine. Rarely has a document of the teaching authority of the Church aroused such a lively interest and, in regard to certain points, such a difference of opinion as the encyclical Humanae Vitae. This difference of opinion is to be found among Catholics as well as among all people throughout the world. In the opinion of a certain num­ber, the encyclical seems to have a purely negative approach, which rules out artificial methods of birth control.

As a matter of fact, the subject treated in the Holy Father’s letter is much more comprehensive and much more positive. It gives us an integral vision of man in regard to marriage and the family, and emphasizes two aspects which are positive and essential: conjugal love and responsible parenthood. In the words of the Pope himself, ‘It is basically a defence of the value of human life.’ {Statement to the Episcopal Conference of Latin America, 24 August 1968). The Encyclical emphasizes the highest human value which all men must understand and respect, and which the Christian will consider in the sight of God, his Creator and Redeemer.

If we go to the heart of this doctrine, we see that its basic affirmation is that the union of the spouses and procreation are two inseparable aspects. The essential elements of a Christian marriage are none other than a truly human and harmonious conjugal love and its orientation towards fecundity.

Marriage is an area of human life where the true nobility of man is involved. For marriage is a total union of two persons joined together by a mutual and irrevocable gift of themselves. For Christians this union is a sacrament which is at one and the same time a consecration to Christ and a source of fidelity. [p160] This union tends to a truly ‘human’ fecundity,- that is to say a fecundity considered from the personalistic point of view, which takes into account psychological, economic, medical, demographic, and social conditions. All these factors must be placed in the framework of an ethic which has a religious foun­dation. In keeping with this ethic, which assumes respect for the person, the individual conscience must observe the general norms which man discovers in the analysis of his own human existence. For the understanding of these general norms, the believer also recognizes the value of the light which he receives from Revelation interpreted by the teaching authority of the Church.

It would be most regrettable if the readers of the encyclical were to neglect these fundamental considerations and to give their attention solely to that part of the document which dis­approves of certain methods of birth control while recognizing the lawfulness of necessary therapeutic methods and, for serious reasons, recourse to the infertile periods.

This disapproval by the supreme authority of the Church constitutes a rule of conduct for the Catholic conscience, and no one is authorized to dispute that its character is in itself obligatory.

At the same time these directives do not dispense your bishops, acting together with their priests, from fulfilling their pastoral duties (cf. Gaudium et Spes, n. 43, par. 2; Humanae Vitae, n. 28), particularly with regard to those faithful who are deeply distressed by certain demands of the encyclical.

  1. Doctrinal significance of the encyclical and Pastoral Orienta­tions

Your bishops are profoundly aware of the difficulties which many of the faithful are experiencing. These faithful are asking themselves to what extent they are bound to accept and observe the directives given by the Pope.

This difficulty is of a general nature and is an occasion to apply the principles which govern the interpretation of docu­ments of the teaching authority of the Church in matters con­cerning faith and morals. We recall briefly the traditional doctrine on this point (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 25).

  1. First, every doctrinal declaration of the Church including those which relate to the application of the doctrine of the gospel to moral behaviour, should be received with the respect and the spirit of docility which the teaching authority estab­lished by Christ can legitimately demand. Without such an attitude of openness in reading the encyclical, the Christian will not be able to come to a clear understanding of the docu­ment.
  2. When the Pope speaks ex cathedra or when the bishops in union with him agree to teach authentically that a doctrine concerning faith and morals binds in an absolute manner, then they express infallibly the doctrine of Christ. We must adhere to such a definition with the obedience of faith (Lumen Gentium, n. 25 B).
  3. If we do not find ourselves considering a statement which is infallible and therefore unchangeable—generally an encyclical is not infallible and furthermore Humanae Vitae does not claim to be such—we are not bound to an unconditional and absolute adherence such as is demanded for a dogmatic definition.

Even in the case, however, where the Pope (or the College of Bishops in union with him) does not use the fullness of his teaching power, the doctrines which he teaches, in virtue of the power entrusted to him, demand in principle on the part of the faithful, strengthened by a spirit of faith, a religious sub­mission of will and of mind (Lumen Gentium n. 25 A). This adherence does not depend so much on the arguments proposed in the statement as on the religious motivation to which the teaching authority, sacramentally instituted in the Church, appeals.

  1. Someone, however, who is competent in the matter under consideration and capable of forming a personal and well- founded judgement—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.1

Even in this case, he must maintain sincerely his adherence to Christ and to his Church and respectfully acknowledge the importance of the supreme teaching authority of the Church as the conciliar document Lumen Gentium enjoins (n. 25 A). He must also beware of compromising the common good and the salvation of his brothers by creating an unhealthy unrest or, a fortiori, by questioning the very principle of authority.

  1. Finally in dealing with the concrete application of certain directives of the moral order, it can happen that because of

(1A similar doctrine, which we find also in St Thomas Aquinas (Ia, Ilae, q. 19, a. 5) inspires the concilar Declaration on Religious Freedom (Sign. Hum, nos. 2 & 3.)

[p162] particular circumstances which appear to them as conflicts of duties, some of the faithful sincerely believe that it is impossible for them to conform to these directives. In this case, the Church asks them to seek loyally the mode of acting which will permit them to adapt their conduct to the given norms. If they do not succeed at first, they should not consider that because of this they are separated from God’s love.

We are aware that in such circumstances there are a number of relevant elements which wise pastoral direction cannot neglect.

  1. We note that the Pope does not object, from a moral point of view, to a reasonable use of periodic abstinence. In a number of cases, this method gives married couples an oppor­tunity to fulfil their mission of responsible parenthood and can contribute to the harmonious enrichment of family life. Let us again note that the teaching of the encyclical does not forbid the use of legitimate therapeutic means.
  2. We must note also that certain arguments proposed in the official declaration, whether those relating to principles or those showing the consequences of contraceptive practices, do not have the same convincing character for everyone. We cannot assume for this fact, however, that those who do not see the convincing value of these reasons are acting out of selfish or hedonistic motives.
  3. We must recognize, according to the traditional teaching, that the ultimate practical norm of action is conscience which has been duly enlightened by all the factors presented in Gaudium et Spes (n. 50, par. 2; n. 51, par. 3). Furthermore, we must recognize that the ultimate decision on the timeli­ness of the transmission of new life rests with the parents themselves and they must make this decision in the sight of God.
  4. Without presuming to dictate the law to public authorities or wishing to judge her fellow Christians and non-believers, the Church believes that it is her duty to enlighten consciences in regard to family life and demographic problems. She claims, on the other hand, real freedom for all her sons to live according to their Christian conviction.
  5. The Church realizes that, no matter what the state of life of the individual may be, the living of an authentic Christian life is exacting, and that, without the grace of Christ, we of ourselves would be totally unable to live it. It is necessary for all of us, then, to have recourse to self-discipline, to prayer, and to the Sacraments, asking of our Heavenly Father in humility and trust: ‘Your will be done . . . forgive us our trespasses.’

The Holy Father, inspired by his concern to preserve the ultimate values of human life and conjugal love, has spoken in this letter to the faithful and to all men. He foresaw that this letter would^cause serious repercussions and it posed for him an agonizing problem of conscience.

Your bishops join with him in his appeal concerning the sacredness of human life, the happiness and enrichment and development of conjugal love between spouses, and their sincere and enlightened generosity in the transmission of human life. They are convinced that the acceptance of these values, in the spirit of the gospel, and with the courage of sacrifice, which must be a part of every Christian life, will result in spiritual growth and human enrichment. They ask the faithful, above all our Christian families, to sustain one another by their prayers and by mutual help in every way possible. They also ask them to respect the consciences of one another in a spirit of charity and mutual understanding.

With the Holy Father, they invite all those who are capable of cooperating in psychological and scientific research, as well as in other fields, to redouble their efforts to find, for the acute and pressing problems of mankind in process of development, solutions which will harmonize and respect all human and Christian values.

Malines, 30 August 1968

4. The Christian Witness: Ecumenical Reactions

[p164] As a number of newspapers pointed out in their editorial comments, the papal statement has serious ecumenical implica­tions. Although the immediate effects are likely to be grim, the future could be much brighter if the encyclical provokes a serious rethinking both of the role of authority within the church and also the meaning of the moral authority of the church. As the Dutch theologians point out above (p. 158) decisions of this sort ought to be reached in an ecumenical context anyway. We print here two reactions from other churches in Britain.

 Resolution Passed by the Lambeth Conference, 6 August 1968

This Conference has taken note of the papal encyclical letter Humanae Vitae recently issued by His Holiness Pope Paul VI. The Conference records its appreciation of the Pope’s deep concern for the institution of marriage and the integrity of marriage life.

Nevertheless, the Conference finds itself unable to agree with the Pope’s conclusion that all methods of conception control other than abstinence from sexual intercourse or its confine­ment to the periods of infecundity are contrary to the ‘order established by God’. It reaffirms the finds of the Lambeth Conference of 1958 contained in resolutions 112, 113 and 115 which are as follows:

‘112. The Conference records its profound conviction that the idea of the human family is rooted in the Godhead and that consequently all problems of sex relations, the procreation of children, and the organization of family life must be related, consciously and directly, to the creative, redemptive and sancti­fying power of God.’

‘113. The Conference affirms that marriage is a vocation to holiness, through which men and women may share in the love and creative purpose of God. The sins of self-indulgence and sensuality, born of selfishness and a refusal to accept marriage as a divine vocation, destroy its true nature and depth and the right fullness and balance of the relationship between men and women. Christians need always to remem­ber that sexual love is not an end in itself nor a means to self-gratification, and that self-discipline and restraint are [p 165]  essential conditions of the responsible freedom of marriage and family planning.’

‘115. The Conference believes that the responsibility for deciding upon the number and frequency of children has been laid by God upon the consciences of parents everywhere: that this planning, in such ways as are mutually acceptable to hus­band and wife in Christian conscience, is a right and important factor in Christian family life and should be the result of positive choice before God. Such responsible parenthood, built on obedience to all the duties of marriage, requires a wise stewardship of the resources and abilities of the family as well as a thoughtful consideration of the varying population needs and problems of society and the claims of future genera­tions.’

The Conference commends the report of Committee 5 of the Lambeth Conference 1958 together with the study called ‘The Family in Contemporary Society’, which formed the basis of its work of that Committee, to the attention of all men of good will for further study in the light of the continuing socio­logical and scientific developments of the past decade.

Statement of the Christian Citizenship Department of the Methodist Church:

The Christian Citizenship Department of the Methodist Church is profoundly disappointed by the conclusions of the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae. We would emphasize that we do not share the too hasty judgment that Pope Paul has been unduly hard or unsympathetic in his analysis of a very difficult problem. The full text of the encyclical makes clear its compassionate nature. But we are convinced that the founda­tion of the theological argument is dubious.

Pope Paul has carefully examined the view that ‘the finality of procreation pertains to the ensemble of conjugal life, rather than to its single acts’; and has rejected it. He has returned to the simple doctrine that the procreation of children is the prim­ary purpose of marriage. In our opinion, this is the source of his fundamental error.

The Declaration of the 1961 Methodist Conference on ‘Parenthood and Family Planning’ begins with the sentence: ‘In the Christian view, parenthood is one of the two chief ends of marriage.’ The encyclical, with all its sympathetic apprecia­tion of personal marital problems and of the harsh global problems of over-population, is dominated by the argument that parenthood is the sole end.

[p 166] It may be well to recall the argument of the 1961 Declaration: ‘The Methodist Church believes that there are other permis­sible ways (than continence) of preventing conception. Pro­vided that the means employed are acceptable to both husband and wife, and that, on the best evidence available, they do neither physical nor emotional harm, there is no moral dis­tinction between the practice of continence and the use of estimated periods of infertility, or of artificial barriers to the meeting of sperm and ovum, or, indeed, of drugs which would, if made effective and safe, inhibit or control ovulation in a calculable way. The Conference declares that for Christian people the determining issues are moral and spiritual.

‘It is important that the biblical and theological ground of the foregoing judgment should be understood. In the biblical revelation the relational and the procreative functions of sex are equally rooted in the creative purpose of God, and neither is subordinated to the other. Objections to any method of conception-control which directly hinders the possibility of procreation usually proceed from a failure to recognize this fact. . . . It is important to recognize that continence may frustrate the relational ends of marriage. Contraception, on the other hand, can assist both the relational and the procreative ends of marriage by promoting marital harmony and enabling parents to space their children.’

Many moral theologians of the Roman Catholic Church have advocated this view. It is not a concession to the ‘liberalis­ing relaxations’ of a ‘permissive society’. It is, in our judgment, a clear and theologically sound exposition of the nature of Christian marriage.

This letter and the following one express a pessimistic view of the possible effects of the encyclical; Mgr Reynolds’ advice isn’t very different after all from the advice to form one’s conscience in a particular way.

From ‘The Tablet’

I wonder if it is realized just what an ecumenical bombshell Mgr. Anthony Reynolds dropped in his letter last week. He advised priests who ‘cannot give intellectual assent’ to the encyclical to have a good conscience in promulgating its teaching because they are ‘the official spokesmen of the Pope and their bishop’.

It is admitted on all sides that this encyclical is not an ex cathedra infallible statement. There can therefore quite properly [p 167] be many Roman Catholics, both priests and laity, who con­scientiously believe it to be wrong or mistaken. Yet priests who believe this are nevertheless to hand out teaching and advice which they know perfectly well will be the cause of untold misery and harm, and to have a good conscience in doing so, on the grounds that the teaching is not theirs but the Pope’s. Talk about passing the buck! But since the encyclical is not an infallible statement, this means that even outside the proper limits of infallibility, the individual priest’s conscience is being handed over to the Pope. Where is that freedom of con­science so loudly trumpeted after Vatican II?

It is going to be hard enough to get Christian reunion with a Church which demands assent to the dogma of papal infalli­bility in the extremely carefully-defined limits of Vatican I. But scarcely anyone will want to put their heads into the noose of a Church wherein the fallible opinions and convictions of its head are given preference over a man’s own conscience, so that, at the bidding of that head, he can serenely give teaching which he knows is at best doubtful, and at worst false.

Surely someone will reply to Mgr. Reynolds and inform the rest of the world that he is mistaken. Otherwise any prayer for reunion will become a hypocritical farce; as schism, separation and defection become only more and more justifiable.

Rev. William Wylie

From ‘The Times’

Your leading article (August 10) seems to imply that you think that contraception has now been sufficiently discussed in your columns. In the correspondence about the papal encycli­cal, however, there has not yet been adequate discussion of the bearing of that document upon ecumenical considerations. I should be grateful if you would allow me to comment on these.

As soon as the encyclical appeared there were Roman Catholic denials of its infallibility, but also claims that it is none the less authoritative. If reunion with Rome is ever to be seriously envisaged by Anglicans and others, further clarifica­tion is needed.

First, who decides whether a papal pronouncement is in­fallible or not? One Roman view is that only the Pope himself can decide this, which seems to be the logical implication of the infallibility decree of Vatican I. This, however, raises the further question: How does the Pope inform the world that a particular papal pronouncement is infallible? I cannot recall any instance in which this has been done in set terms. Is it permissible to [p 168] regard as fallible a papal pronouncement which has not been declared by a Pope in set terms to be infallible?

If, on the other hand, the decision whether a particular papal pronouncement is infallible or not rests elsewhere than with the Pope, who has this power of decision; and how is it exercised? The Roman Church has never issued a list of the papal pronouncements that it claims are infallible, so Anglicans and others do not know to what reunion with Rome would commit them in this respect. Infallibility, if it exists, is useless unless it can be certainly known when it has been exercised.

Secondly, the question of the extent of the authority of a non-infallible papal pronouncement needs to be defined. Roman Catholics themselves are uncertain about this. Some regard Humanae Vitae as binding upon the consciences of all Roman Catholics. Others treat it as merely giving weighty guidance which may, for what the individual himself believes to be good reasons, be set aside with a clear conscience. Pope Pius XI pronounced artificial contraception to be always a grave sin. Paul VI did not quite do this. Does his pronounce­ment modify that of his predecessor?

Thirdly, does the magisterium rest in the last resort solely with the Pope? Vatican II spoke about the collegiality of the bishops and there were Anglicans who supposed that this qualified the papal claim to infallibility. But as you point out, Vatican II made it clear that the bishops cannot make doctrinal definitions without the agreement of the Pope, whereas Vatican I asserted that the Pope can make them without the agreement of the bishops. Even apart from infallibility, however, it appears that any exercise of collegiality requires papal consent. Vatican II was engaged in the study of birth control, with a view to pronouncing upon it and Pope John XXIII had appointed a commission to help with this study.

Pope Paul VI by arbitrary action removed the subject from the purview of the council, and having enlarged the commission appointed by Pope John, set aside the majority view of the commission and made his own pronouncement. No Roman Catholic seem6 to have questioned his right to do this. Does this mean that reunion with Rome would require Anglicans and others to accept this view of the nature and exercise of the magisterium?

Archbishop Edwin Morris

5. The College of Bishops: Pastoral Symphony

[p 169] What happened to collegiality? One of the most disturbing features of the episcopal response in England and Wales (and Ireland) was the way in which individual bishops laid down, and if necessary took steps to enforce, their own interpretation of the demands of the encyclical The pastoral situation created by this —even if this is only a temporary affair—is outrageous. Four of the pastorals issued by the bishops of England and Wales are given below, together with some responses to them.

Cardinal Heenan, Archbishop of Westminster

My dear Brethren in Christ,

Press, radio and television have already brought you the news that the Pope has given his promised guidance on the morality of artificial contraception. He realized that his words would be a disappointment to many. He foresaw that they would create bitterness in those who had expected a different solution to this delicate problem. We have been told of his anguish during recent months. His reluctance to give pain partly explains his long delay in issuing a statement. He had to speak according to his conscience even though his decision might be unpopular.

‘To tell the truth,’ the Pope says, ‘the Church is not surprised to be made, like her divine Founder, a “sign of contradiction” (Lk. 11:34).’ Even to please some of his own flock the Holy Father could not alter what he sees to be the moral law. He was in conscience bound to speak, as he says, ‘by virtue of the mandate entrusted to Us by Christ’.

Nobody can complain that the Holy Father has made his decision without due preparation. The complaint on the con­trary, is that he has waited too long. Nor can it be said that he sought no advice. Bishops and priests, scientists and doctors, husbands and wives were all consulted. Not only members of his commission but clergy and faithful from all over the world sent their views to the Pope. He studied them all. That is another reason why his reply did not come sooner. But some are now saying that the Pope had no right to dissent from the opinion of the majority of the members of his commission. This is a question which deserves an answer.

[p170] On this I can speak with some authority because I was pro- President of the final commission which reported to the Pope. No member of the commission thought that we could resolve the problem by a majority vote. We were asked to sift evidence and present the Pope with our findings. It was always under­stood that the decision must be by him alone as Christ’s Vicar. The law of God cannot be decided by a majority vote. We in this country have reason to know that a majority of men and women of good will need not necessarily make right judgments on ethical questions. A solid majority in Parliament recently approved the so-called social clause in the Abortion Bill by which the perfectly healthy child in the womb of a perfectly healthy mother can be legally destroyed. No Church but ours opposed this legislation.

The Pope has given his decision. While accepting it, we look forward to further pastoral guidance on the whole question of Christian family life. Medical science, according to some doc­tors, is on the point of providing a secure basis for the regula­tion of birth founded on the observance of natural rhythms. In this way, the Pope says, scientists will demonstrate the truth of the Church’s teaching in the Vatican Council that ‘a true contradiction cannot exist between the divine laws regarding the transmission of life and the fostering of conjugal love’ (Gaudium et Spes, no. 51).

Meanwhile the Church has compassion on the many for whom this ruling will bring hardship. Those who have become accustomed to using methods which are unlawful may not be able all at once to resist temptation. They must not despair. Above all they must not abstain from the sacraments. However often they fail they must ask God’s grace to find the strength to obey his law. May God grant us all the wisdom and humility to accept the guidance of the head of the Church on earth.

May God bless every family in the diocese and lead each priest to guide his people with gentleness.

Not guilty

From ‘The Tablet’

Cardinal Heenan’s pastoral letter on birth control has probably softened the blow for many sincere Catholics, but it does not change the situation.

I made my mind up on the subject of birth control three years ago and it is unlikely that my position will change sub­stantially. If I follow Cardinal Heenan’s advice and participate in the sacraments I will make a tacit admission of guilt, when [p 171] I do not believe myself to be guilty: if I go to confession and do not mention birth control I am, equally, a liar.

I believe that contraception is good and necessary and that the Pope’s pronouncement, though sincere, is tragically mistaken. I do not want to leave the Church which gave me my first knowledge of God and Jesus, but I do not accept the condi­tions of membership laid down by those in authority, indeed I question much of the authority they claim.

There are many people in the Church who are in the same position and our duty is to say what we believe to be the truth, without leaving the Church. The Church is not a tennis club, but the communion of the followers of Jesus, searching for truth.

(Mrs) Mary F. Hollingworth

Bishop Cashman, Bishop of Arundel and Brighton

My dear Brethren in Christ,

Cardinal Newman said that ten thousand difficulties do not make a doubt. The Holy Father, in his recent encyclical Humanae Vitae has faced up to the innumerable difficulties in the matter of artificial birth control with intense compassion, and his letter no longer leaves the church in doubt.

It is a cause for sadness to see the amount of abuse, bitter criticism and antagonism directed against our Holy Father the Pope in the last couple of weeks. As Catholics we accept the Pope as chief shepherd of the church. In the Second Vatican Council the Bishops of the church declared ‘for in virtue of this office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole church, the Roman Pontiff has both supreme and universal power over the church, and he can always exercise this power freely’. (Constitution on the Church, Section 22.) Later when the Bishops are describing their office as teachers in matters of faith and morals they point out that the faithful should accept their teaching with a religious assent of soul. Then they go on to say ‘this religious submission of will and mind must be shown in a special way to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra. That is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence. The judgements made by him are sincerely adhered to according to his manifest mind and will’. (Constitution on the Church, Section 25.) We must not forget that when the Pope speaks in such solemn circumstances he does so guided by the Holy Spirit.

While it is more than obvious that there has been a con­siderable amount of opposition to the Pope’s teaching [p. 172] even from Catholics, it cannot be laid down as an absolute rule that a sign of the truth of Christian teaching is that it should always win general and popular acceptance. Here we need only reflect on a situation which confronted Our Lord himself. ‘Many of his followers said “This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?” Jesus was aware that his followers were complaining about it and said “Does this upset you?” After this many of His disciples left Him and stopped going with Him. Then Jesus said to the Twelve, “What about you, do you want to go away too?” Simon Peter answered, “Lord who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe.”’ (John 6, 60-68.)

Naturally I share the Holy Father’s compassion for the many to whom the letter will come as a disappointment and the source of great difficulties. You will have gathered from the teaching that any interference relating to the act of intercourse before, during or after it takes place or the use of chemical or mechani­cal contraceptive devices are, as hitherto, forbidden. The use of therapeutic measures which may have an indirect contraceptive consequence are none the less lawful.

It is in the context of these considerations that we stress the need for the clergy and faithful of the Diocese to accept loyally the teaching of the Pope on artificial birth control. All the Pope has said is not new, since it is a re-affirmation of the explicit teaching of his predecessors. It may be unexpected for many but this is because they have been too swayed by the considerable pressure of opinion that the church’s teaching on artificial birth control should be changed. In fact, one should not be surprised that there has been no change. When one recalls the words of Our Lord about the sexual union in mar­riage ‘the two become one body. They are no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide’. (Matthew 19, 5-6.) The sexual union, in which the two partners according to Christ become one body, is part of the divinely designed union of marriage and should have applied to it the words ‘man must not divide’. The partners of a marriage, therefore, have been given no authority or right to alter radically the essential structure of the sexual union.

However, condemnation of artificial birth control is not a condemnation of those who in temptation, or through worry and other difficulties, fail the moral law in this regard. For those couples who are struggling to keep God’s law in their married life, the help of the Sacraments is always available. The Sacra­ments [p 173] are not meant to be signs of perfect holiness already achieved. They are there to aid us in our fight against all sin, and the sin of artificial birth prevention is not excluded. Married couples, therefore, provided they have the goodwill, in the course of time, to keep perfectly God’s law in their marriage, should use the Sacraments as much as possible.

To those who find in the encyclical practical and intellectual difficulties I am convinced that any rash judgement or action would be disastrous not only to themselves but in its reaction upon others. I would suggest that such people who wish to serve God and the church would benefit far more from fervent prayer and meditation humbly made before God than all the Pastoral Letters or polemics in the world.

‘Christ did not come to condemn but to save. In his dealing with men he showed patience and goodness. He was firm against evil but merciful towards individuals.’ May we all, both priests and people, follow this Divine example.

This encyclical, by the Archbishop of Southwark, led to the suspension of Fr Paul Weir, on his refusal to toe the party line. One trusts that all those false and devious advisers will blush and repent at ever having misled the simple faithful.

 Archbishop Cowderoy, Archbishop of Southwark

My dear Fathers and my dear Friends and People,

On July 31st I wrote to the Holy Father assuring him of our love and gratitude, our loyalty and obedience: and now, in these troubled days, I think it wise to send you, the members of my Flock, a message of comfort and encouragement.

The encyclical of the Holy Father repeats and emphasizes what has been the constant teaching of the Church in the deli­cate matter of sexual intercourse. When it is performed in a right and proper manner, a manner which is natural, sexual intercourse between married persons is good and praiseworthy. It fosters and increases mutual love. It is the means by which children are conceived and the family is formed. In these days we hear a lot about the danger of over-population. People also talk about the problem of real poverty or of dangerous physical and mental conditions which might be aggravated by ah increase, or too rapid an increase, in the numbers of the family. The Holy Father faces this in his encyclical when, in paragraph 10 on ‘responsible parenthood’, he deals with those cases where parents decide ‘for grave motives and with due respect for the moral law, to avoid for the time being, or even for an [p174] indeterminate period, a new birth’. The Pope is far from saying that parents may be quite reckless in having as many children as they possibly can. He agrees indeed that it is sometimes good and prudent to space out births in a family, but he does say quite plainly that there are certain means, artificial means, to use which is gravely wrong. In saying this, the Pope merely repeats Catholic teaching, and everyone knows this. It is true that the discovery of the contraceptive pill provides a new form of artificial frustration of birth. To that extent the teaching of the encyclical adds a new but accidental element to the tradi­tional prohibition, for it follows from what His Holiness has laid down that the pill, used simply and directly and only as a contraceptive, is just as much forbidden as the mechanical devices which usually go by the name of contraceptives. It is important to emphasize that in the teaching of the Pope in the general lines of the encyclical there is nothing which has not been taught and believed in the Church in the past.

What it all comes to is simply this: that we may not do a bad thing for a good or useful purpose. The use of contracep­tives is forbidden as very wrong. For serious and just motives the use of the period of temporary sterility, known as the safe period, is not wrong and, of course, husband and wife by free and mutual consent, may agree for a time to abstain from the marriage act. It cannot be denied that this calls for chaste nobility and strength of will fortified by the grace of God. It is equally true that over many years, numbers of good Catholic married people have so regulated their families and never broken the law of God in so doing.

As was to be expected, the encyclical of the Holy Father has raised a storm of dissension and anger among some persons who are outside the Church. It is not surprising that those without any religion at all should bitterly attack the Pope for his defence of chaste wedlock. The whole tenor of his fatherly, spiritual and truly compassionate letter is indeed very different from the ideas and actions of a materialistic, permissive, humanist society. There have also been non-Catholic Christian leaders who have attacked the papal teaching on marriage. One wonders whether in the long run their acceptance of the way of the world will either enhance the respect in which they would like to be held or confirm what authority they may be deemed to possess when they speak. All this opposition was to be expected, but it is good to know, and we are grateful for it, that there have been non-Catholic Christians and others who have applauded the wisdom and courage of the encyclical.

[p175] There have also been a number of Catholics, including priests, who have publicly dissociated themselves from what the Holy Father teaches and have even attacked him in a spirit of bitterness and want of reverence and in some cases with a surprising lack of maturity. When we read what they write, or hear and see them on radio and television it does not shake our faith or lessen our obedient reverence towards the Vicar of Jesus Christ, but it does make us very sad. We cannot but pity those concerned, but they are certainly giving comfort and exultation to the enemies of the Church. This is an added reason why we must boldly and unwaveringly profess our own loving obedience to the Voice of Peter.

Some of our poor, simple people have been misled by dis­obedient priests, who did not heed the command of the Holy Father that the traditional rules must be followed until and unless he made a change. They, like other priests, were told not to confuse their people with the specious argument that the law was in doubt, when the Pope said it was not in doubt. In spite of this they have disobediently broken silence and it is not to be wondered at that simple people having been given the impression that a change was coming and, especially, that the pill would be allowed, are now very disappointed. We can sympathise with them. But their bitterness would be better directed to these false and devious advisers who gave them unfounded hope, and not to the Holy Father who has never held out any hope that he was about to alter the traditional teaching of the Church.

I rejoice to believe that in the midst of the storm which is now raging, the great bulk of our faithful priests and lay people is standing firm, glad that Peter has spoken once again and made clear a path which was getting obscured by the mists arising from words and opinions without authority. Every individual act of disobedience and rebellion must grieve you to the heart, as it does me, but let us all, priests and people, now stand together, taking courage from one another in our determination never to falter from the truth, never to fall into disobedience to the Holy Father. This is all the more to our credit when we ponder on the encircling gloom.

We know very well that for many Catholic husbands and wives the moral teaching of the Church, now as in the past, may call for a self-sacrifice which can be heroic. The Christian Faith does sometimes call for heroism. Just as the martyrs, faced with death, could not lawfully or sinlessly deny Christ although it would save their lives and restore them perhaps to [p 176] their families and children, so in other ways all must die to the world in order to live to Christ, ‘Who though He was the Son of God learnt obedience by the things which He suffered’.

My dear Fathers, my dear People, this present crisis is not just a matter of the pill or contraception. It is a crisis of autho­rity and of obedience to authority. There are some who are now saying that what the Pope has taught is not infallible. It is true that papal pronouncements are sometimes studied by skilled theologians in order that a precise theological term or label may be attached to them. But when the Pope by his supreme authority makes a statement or gives an order, the ordinary, normal Catholic, cleric or lay, does not start inquiring whether it is infallible or not, with a sort of implication that if it is not infallible he need not take any notice of it! He carries out unhesitatingly the directions or even the wishes of the Holy Father, and a good Catholic is proud and happy to do this.

Some of our Catholic publicists, hailed by the inaccuracy of the pundits of press and radio as ‘leading Catholics’, have actually queried the right of one man alone—that is, the Pope— finally to lay down the law in a matter of this kind. They suggest that all the Bishops should now be consulted, or even all the members of the Church. These are the sort of people who suggest that the Pope is only the mouthpiece of the Church. He is much more. As the Successor of St Peter he has a special, personal grace to be the Shepherd and Teacher of all Christ­ians. And when we say ‘all Christians’ we include the Bishops of the Church among those who are taught and led by the Vicar of Christ. St Peter was told by Our Lord to confirm his brethren, the apostles, in the Faith. So the Successor of St Peter confirms his brethren, the Bishops, the successors of the apostles, in the Faith. Thank God when he does so.

In the spirit of Pope Paul, I commend to you all to have a sympathetic and kind attitude towards those who face difficulty in their married lives, and above all to avoid rash judgement about them and their families. We know and accept the prin­ciples laid down by the Pope, but generally we know absolutely nothing about the personal intimate married lives of other people, and it is certainly not for us to judge them.

Pray to Mary, the pure and holy Mother of Jesus, the Mother of His Holy Church, that She may intercede for us all: for the Pope, for the Bishops, for the Priests, for all the People of God and especially for all husbands and wives and for all our families.

[p 177] Archbishop Morphy, Archbishop of Cardiff

My Dear Children in Christ,

Make no mistake about this encyclical. There may be a contemporary clamour, drowning the quiet relief of many, and the heroic acceptance of the disappointed, but when the history of these days comes to be written, this encyclical will be hailed as the Magna Carta, not merely of all women but of all men and all children.

In the furious modern attack on the natural law, which has threatened to sweep away all our moorings, we have waited with trepidation for one cable to hold, knowing that if it went, it would involve not merely the family, but all the People of God. Why did we ever doubt? Why couldn’t we have had more trust? But who can blame us, when others of greater erudition and theological learning than we possessed seemed to falter. If this encyclical has proved anything, it has proved in these matters of interpreting the natural law that all honesty, all compassion, all erudition, all theological acumen is of little account. Numbers, majorities, reputations, nothing is suf­ficient in these delicate matters of interpreting the natural law. We need the Holy Ghost, and we need him badly. In our lack of faith, we, both crew and passengers, thought him asleep.

For many months now, the Holy Father, like Christ with the Canaanite woman, has appeared as the least compassionate of mortals. Whilst many other apostles appeared to have the monopoly of concern and authentic compassion, urging the Pope to do something for the woman, listen to her or at least send her away, and not insult her, the Pope has appeared to be dilatory, hesitating, turning his back on the problem, refusing to be rushed and even, apparently, rude and rejectful of his advisory commission. But in the end, like Christ with the Canaanite woman, it is the Pope who is the compassionate one, who elevates her above all the women of Israel.

We were not waiting for a mere encyclical on the Pill, a mere interpretation of the natural law. We were waiting for a new Magna Carta for the whole family, restoring it to its former dignity of love and sacrifice and proving to many troubled souls that God is still in his heaven and ‘all is right with the world … . .’

The Pope has refused to bow to the compassionate plea of those who in a sincere desire to strip woman of her anxieties would strip her of all dignity and status and reduce her to a mere chattel of her lord. He has refused to offer contraceptives to man as a cheap way of controlling his instincts and avoiding [p.178] his responsibilities. Let the husband himself be responsible to his wife and by reasonable self-control remove her anxieties.

In so doing he will be assisting the whole family. It is precisely where mother and father are practising self-restraint and self- denial that a mysterious authority and influence over the chil­dren is acquired. The parents who can do nothing with their children are frequently the parents who can do nothing with themselves. They have looked at the cost of mastery, found it too high a price to pay and chosen the artificial remedy. Who knows but that the price of this remedy might eventually prove the more- costly of the two. …

Perhaps with all the contrasting positions we have all been taking up on this matter, it might be better to conclude that the          Holy Ghost knows a thing or two and leave it to him. Certainly I let no man say, ‘I told you so.’ He could never have been so l emphatically certain in such a delicate matter. And, even more certainly, now that the Holy Father has spoken, let no man be so rash and foolish as to disobey or lead others to disobey  …

Magna Carta

From ‘The Tablet’

In his Pastoral Letter (reproduced in your issue of 10 August), Archbishop Murphy of Cardiff twice compares Humanae Vitae with Magna Carta. I am no historian, but it seems to me that this is an unfortunate though fascinating analogy.

Magna Carta was forced upon an authoritarian temporal ruler by a group of dissident subjects, including Archbishop Stephen Langton of Canterbury: it is felt in some quarters that Humanae Vitae has been imposed by an authoritarian spiritual ruler upon a group of dissident subjects, including at least one English archbishop.

The Charter represented the beginnings of a movement from totalitarianism towards democracy and constitutional govern­ment: it is at least arguable that the encyclical indicates a reversal of the trend, inspired by the Vatican Council, towards a more democratic structure in the government of the Church.

Magna Carta enunciated principles of personal liberty: Humanae Vitae could be considered to restrict freedom of conscience.

It is also interesting to recall that Pope Innocent III declared the Great Charter null and void.

F. J. Wearden