Thursday, January 10, 2008

If the Church was so sure about contraception, why a study commission?

MSgr. George Kelly--a member of Paul VI's Commission for the Study of Problems of Population, Family and Birth--decribed the events of the commission and decisions leading up to Paul VI's Encyclical on the regulation of birth, Humanae Vitae: 1963, when the commission was born, the doctrine [against contraception] was taught at true and recognized as such by Catholics.... If the Catholic Church was so sure of its teaching, why a study commission?


...Pope Pius XII saw no problem in using steroids for medical purposes, i.e., to treat pathological conditions. A long Catholic tradition justified such choices. But the pill also involved gray areas, many of which scientists had not fully explored....

By 1963...Pope John XXIII responded by nominating six experts, three scientists and three theologians, to study the pill, its usefulness and its possibly morally correct usage. Although Pius XII has clearly rejected it when used directly as a sterilizing agent, studying its medical mystery seemed a sensible thing to to.... The six experts eventually disagreed...faced with a deadlocked commission, Paul VI on his ascendancy reinstituted and enlarged it...during the commission's meeting, when Paul was asked by member John Ford, S.J., "Are you ready to say that Casti Connubii can be changed?", the Pope answered a vehement "No."....

The new papal body was basically an enlarged "pill committee"--struggling to understand whether and under what circumstances steroids could be used in good conscience, even if the indirect effect would be the prevention of conception. [Fr. John Ford] was [unconcerned] about a Catholic statement from the Commission on "responsible parenthood," about which he himself had written many times....

...[John T. Noonan's] research...established Pius XI's solemn statement in Casti Connubii as the capstone of the universal teaching of the Church from the beginning.

We were further assured by the research of the French Jesuit Stanislaus de Lestapis, whose Family Planning and Modern Problems: A Catholic Analysis demonstrated how from Malthus to Marx, from England to India, from wealth to poverty, the direct link between contraception, sterilization, and abortion was inexorable....

There were other assurances. Jesuits Marcellino Zalba, as early as 1951, and John Ford, by 1963, considered the Church's position to be infallibly true.... The only open question was the morality of using the pill....

... the text of Gaudium et Spes (no. 51) as finally approved by the [Vatican II] Council Fathers read:
"In questions of birth regulation, the Sons of the Church, faithful to these principles, are forbidden to use methods disapproved by the teaching authority of the Church in it interpretation of Divine Law."
Paul VI...directed that a footnote be added in the appropriate place to the text of Gaudium et Spes.... The Pope...[placed] three references in that Footnote 14--all condemnations of contraception: one reference to a 1964 allocution of his own [note: which stated that Pius XII's norms were to be "validly retained" ("ritenersi valide") until the pope felt obliged in conscience to modify them], and one each to Pius XI's Casti Connubii (1930) and Pius XII's famous Address to Italian Midwives (1951). The mind of Paul VI could not have been clearer.

Yet, even as the final printing of the last draft of Gaudium et Spes went into production on the early morning of December 3, 1965, three days before the Council's end, while the assembled bishops waited to see what they were to vote on, someone discovered during the printing process that Paul VI's references to the condemnation of contraception by Pius XI and Pius XII had been omitted...the presses were stopped and the error corrected.... The formulation of Catholic doctrine was open to restatement, even amplification, but not correction or denial.
[MSgr. George A. Kelly, Keeping the Church Catholic with John Paul II, (Ignatius Press, 1990), pp. 30-42]
The point of the commission was not to revoke a doctrine already declared irrevocable by Pius XII. Cardinal Cicognani explicitly told MSgr. George Kelly before the commission met that no change in doctrine was possible. (Kelly, ibid., p. 36). However, once open discussion began within the Commission, the scientists were not sure how the pill worked or what its long-range effects might be and the theologians were unsure of its use in regulating monthly cycles. (Kelly, ibid., p. 38). Consequently, those with an agenda to revoke the constant teaching of the Church dominated the discussion.

Thanks be to God for Paul VI, who never intending to revoke Catholic doctrine, studied the commission's split decision not with the eyes of a politician, but with the eyes of the successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ, holding fast to what has been taught everywhere, always, and by all faithful Catholics, but perhaps is considered unpopular in the world.

Paul VI would later affirm:
“The teaching Church does not invent her doctrines; she is a witness, a custodian, an interpreter, a transmitter. As regards the truth of Christian marriage, she can be called conservative, uncompromising. To those who would urge her to make her faith easier, more in keeping with the tastes of the changing mentality of the times, she answers with the apostles, we cannot do so." (Paul VI, General Audience, 12 Jan 1972)
God bless,