Today is the 51st anniversary of Pope Saint Paul VI’s landmark encyclical, Humanae vitae.
Papal interviews are dangerous business for the clear teaching of faith and morals, even for conveying matters of prudential judgment. Let’s be clear: papal interviews, books written by popes and theologians are not magisterial teaching nor are they covered by the grace of infallibility. The method of ensuring truth is communicated is sometime conveyed by saying what it is not; we say it is a negative gift in the sense because infallibility keeps the Roman Pontiff from teaching error on matters of faith and morals. Infallibility, moreover, is attached to the Office of the Roman Pontiff, not to the person of the office. Seen from the perspective of a gift, of a grace, infallibility is conceived as a protective gift, not a creative one; it does not introduce new revelation or new teaching. Hence, interviews are not binding nor can they change the teaching of the Church. The news media picked up on a statement made by Pope Francis on Thursday, February 18, 2016, on the plane as he was going back to Rome where an off-the-cuff remark with regard to the use of a condom could be used to prevent the Zika virus that is a tremendous problem for pregnant women.
The current papacy is at times a bit too casual in communicating the faith because the aftermath causes great confusion in an era that gives too much credence to the print and cyber media. Just because news outlets carry “something” the pope said doesn’t mean it is true, accurate or faithful to the teaching of the Catholic Church. But the media does carry the fact that the pope is suggesting that the use of condoms to protect from the AIDS virus or the Zika virus, it does not mean that one should follow his suggestion, or think Church teaching has changed. Nonetheless, even the Catholic media gets the doctrine of the faith wrong: we need to use our reason, friends.
When we are unclear or too causal in what we say about delicate and complex moral issues, especially on matters of sexual morality, we cause harm and possible scandal. Knee-jerk reactions from so-called traditional Catholics are unhelpful, too. We do not need unprocessed opinions of people who shout: heretic at every moment an opinion from a pope is tweeted. There is such a thing as objective Truth. As Blessed John Henry Newman said, I did not leave my mind at the door. I am sure no pope, bishop, priest, deacon, sister or lay person would deliberately lead the sheep away from Jesus who is “The Way, the truth, and the Life.”
According to Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the spokesman, Pope Francis spoke of “the possibility of taking recourse to contraception or condoms in cases of emergency or special situations. He is not saying that this possibility is accepted without discernment, indeed, he said clearly that it can be considered in cases of special urgency.”
A reasonable set of questions surface: who decides cases of emergency, what are cases of special urgency, for how long, with what impact, who is charged with discerning, what is required of the faithful?
In 2010 Pope Benedict XVI raised similar concerns when he made a comments on condoms in his book, The Light of the World. You may recall that His Holiness “spoke about the use of condoms in the case of risk of contagion by AIDS.” The journalists went to town and asserted points that the pope did not say or intend. As a result, the Holy See’s office on faith and morals stepped in to clarify. The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith said, “A number of erroneous interpretations have emerged” that have “caused confusion concerning the position of the Catholic Church regarding certain questions of sexual morality. The idea that anyone could deduce from the words of Benedict XVI that it is somehow legitimate, in certain situations, to use condoms to avoid an unwanted pregnancy is completely arbitrary and is in no way justified either by his words or in his thought.” The CDF further reminded us: “An action which is objectively evil, even if a lesser evil, can never be licitly willed.”
Let me reiterate: interviews given by the hierarchy, like the one given by Pope Francis on the use of contraception, cannot change Church doctrine. The 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, Blessed Pope Paul VI taught that the Church’s long-standing and definitive teaching that artificial contraception (e.g., condom use) is “intrinsically wrong.”
And for the record, it is held by reasonable and well-formed theologians that Pope Paul VI never said the nuns in the Congo could use contraception to protect themselves against rape. There has been a very significant error on the part of the media and certain theologians of aligning the Pope with teaching something contrary to the faith. According to Dominican Father Brian Mullady, “Pope Paul VI never taught that nuns threatened with rape could use contraception. This was an anonymous opinion stated by some member of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith which went viral at the time. It was never a formal teaching of any Pope but caused much discussion among moralists and is the only example of anyone recommending such an action.” YET, by the Pope’s silence on the issue he may have altered the practice and teaching of the Church in favor of a less than accurate and pastoral datum. UPDATE: You may want to read John Allen’s piece on this matter at CRUX.
THE answer to the Zika virus spreading: do not have sex. No EVER dies from not having sexual intercourse. This stance, I believe, is reasonable and consistent with divine revelation and the consistent teaching of the Church matters of sex, life and human flourishing. The dignity of the person, the respect for the other, the notion and reality of self-gift in sexual intercourse in marriage what Jesus taught and lived and died for. Condom use to stop the spread of the virus is not good advice; neither is it good science.
So, as Catholics, we hold to the fact there is the grace of infallibility which only covers ex cathedra pronouncements on faith and moral, not interviews.
Today is the 45th anniversary of the Servant of God Father Pedro Arrupe’s letter to the Society of Jesus on the Servant of God Pope Paul VI’s teaching, Humanae vitae. This is the first time I’ve seen this letter and it portrays the Jesuit’s in a different light, one that is unexpected and consistent with what we know to be the mind of Saint Ignatius and the Church. Without a doubt, Father Arrupe wrote a beautiful letter, too bad it was buried for so long.
Epistula A.R.P.N. Generalis ad omnem Societatem occasione Litterarum Encyclicarum “Humanae vitae.” Acta Romana Societatis Iesu. Vol. XV, Fasc. II, anno 1968
Dear Fathers and Brothers, Pax Christi
We are all aware of the response given to the most recent encyclical of Pope Paul VI, Humanae vitae, about the problems raised by the question of contraception. While manycompletely accept the teaching of the encyclical, a number of the clergy, religious and laity violently reject it in a way that no one in the Society can think of sharing. Yet, because the opposition to the encyclical has become widespread in some places, I wish to delay no longer before calling to mind once more our duty as Jesuits. With regard to the successor of Peter, the only response for us is an attitude of obedience which is at once loving, firm, open and truly creative. I do not say that this is necessarily painless and easy.
In fact, on various grounds and because of particular competence, some of us may experience certain reservations and difficulties. A sincere desire to be truly loyal does not rule out problems, as the Pope himself says. A teaching such as the one he presents merits assent not simply because of the reasons he offers, but also, and above all, because of the charism which enables him to present it. Guided by the authentic word of the Pope- a word that need not be infallible to be highly respected – every Jesuit owes it to himself, by reason of his vocation, to do everything possible to penetrate, and to help others penetrate, into the thought which may not have been his own previously; however, as he goes beyond the evidence available to him personally, he finds or will find a solid foundation for it.
To obey, therefore, is not to stop thinking, to parrot the encyclical word for word in a servile manner. On the contrary, it is to commit oneself to study it as profoundly as possible so as to discover for one self and to show others the meaning of an intervention judged necessary by the Holy Father.
Once we have correctly grasped the meaning of the encyclical, let us not remain passive. Let us not be afraid to rectify our teaching, if need be, while at the same time explaining why we are doing so. Let us develop our teaching as profoundly as possible rather than restrict it. Let is strive for a better pastoral theology of the family and of the young people. We must not forget that our present world, for all its amazing scientific conquests, is sadly lacking a true sense of God and is in danger of deceiving itself completely. We must see what is demanded of us as Jesuits. Let us collaborate with others in centers of the basic research on man, where the specific data of Christian revelation can be brought together with the genuine achievements of the human sciences and thus achieve the happy results that can be legitimately anticipated. In all this work of sympathy, intelligence, and love, let us always be enlightened by the Gospel and by the living tradition of the Church. Let us never abandon the papal teaching we have just received. Rather, we must continually seek to integrate it into an ever-widening anthropology. The present crisis makes clear this urgent need.
In so fulfilling our mission as Jesuits, which is to make the thought of the Church understood and loved, we can help the laity, who themselves have much to bring to the problems touched on in the encyclical, and who rely on us for a deep understanding of their points of view. [“atque nostram expectant cooperationem pro intimiore penetratione magisterii Pauli VI.”]
You understand well that it is the spirit of the Constitutions which inspires me as I write these words. For, as the Constitutions tell us in substance, each member of the Society must remember that his personal manner of serving God is realized through a faithful obedience to the Roman pontiff. That is why I am certain that today too, the Society is able to show itself worthy of four centuries of complete fidelity to the Holy See.
It certainly cannot be said that the Second Vatican Council has changed all this. The Council itself speaks formally of “this religious submission of will and of mind,” which “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 and the judgments made by him sincerely adhered to according to his manifest mind and will” (Lumen Gentium, n.25).
Nor can it be said that the Pope was speaking of matters that do not involve our faith, since the essence of his teaching directly concerns the human and divine dignity of man and of love. In the enormous crisis of growth which envelops the whole world, the Pope himself has been what the entire Church must be, and Vatican II affirmed, “both a sign and a safeguard of the transcendence of the human person” (Gaudium et Spes, n.76). For this reason the service we as Jesuits owe to the Holy Father and to the Church is at the same time a service we owe to humanity itself.
In my awareness of our obvious duty as Jesuits I could say much more, particularly at this time which seems to me crucial for the Church. Difficult times are times made for the Society, not to seek its own glory, but to show its fidelity. This is why I am certain that all of you will understand my words. As for those for whom the encyclical presents personal problems of conscience, I wish to assure them that for that very reason I am keeping them in my affection and prayers.
May St. Ignatius help each of us to become, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, more Ignatian than ever. May he obtain for us the understanding that our legitimate desire to be totally present to this world demands of us an ever-increasing fidelity in the service of the Church, the Spouse of Christ and the Mother of all mankind.
I commend myself to the prayers of all of you.
Rome, 15 August 1968.
Most devotedly in Christ,
Praep. Gen. Soc. Iesu.
[This English translation was transcribed by Fr. Joseph Carola, S.J., from the article “Father Arrupe: ‘Think with the church’,” which appeared in the National Catholic Reporter, September 18th, 1968, p. 7]
The Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard L. Müller, addressed the Pontifical Academy of Life on 22 February 2013. It was the annual meeting in Rome. Müller’s talk didn’t shatter too many windows by unearthing new problems, nor did it break new ground in the Church’s teaching. Müller gives a brief assessment of the situation and that we have gone off the tracks in some ways. He does, however, shed light on the fact that we need to take more seriously our moral and faith formation and to put in the time doing the hard work to know the issues and how to respond to them according the parameters of the Catholic Faith. Too often we are afraid to do the hard work. And that’s the ministry of the Prefect: to illumine and offer a corrective. Archbishop Müller did challenge, to a degree, the theological professorial establishment, even if the talk may be seen a bit anemic.
Human dignity is not respected: people are treated as objects and the “virtual reality“ encourages us to see people as objects to be manipulated. While many will challenge this idea, there is no doubt that fear of living and a rejection of true happiness in this life drives us postmoderns to euthanize the self (think of the recent suicide pack of deaf twins), or the growing selection of the desired sex and traits of babies (girls aren’t wanted in this country either) or the marginalization of the elderly and mentally challenged. Members of our society kill children because the are are seen as threats to freedom, to our lifestyle, or position in society. I don’t think it is an overstatement to quote Pope John Paul II who said we live in a culture of death. Think of Newtown and Aurora, think of many cities were abortion, murder, rape, poverty, unemployment, homelessness, isolation and thievery are rampant. And sex is rarely seen as a beautiful event shared between a married couple and that we relate to one another within the family unit.
Today we recognize that Roe v. Wade is 40 years old and c. 55 million lives have been lost.
Merely remembering is not enough. We all need to work for a culture of love, a culture of life. Prayer is essential, but the Holy Spirit requires that His grace be extroverted. Contemplation and action….