* Published in, among other places. The National Catholic Reporter, for August 7, 1968, on information supplied by Father Daniel Maguire of The Catholic University of America
The following is the text of a statement by Catholic theologians disagreeing with Pope Paul’s encyclical banning artificial birth control: Within two months over 600 Catholic theologians and philosophers had signed it.
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 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 on 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.