Humanae Vitae Confusae

Humanae Vitae Confusae: Father Leo Walsh and “Humanae Vitae Confusae”
by Msgr. Vincent Foy

In the September 2008 issue of “Bioethics Matters” is an article entitled “Humanae Vitae Confusae” by Father Leo Walsh, C.S.B.. It is written for the 40th Anniversary of the publication of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae Vitae” of July 25, 1968. Father Walsh, professor emeritus of moral theology of the University of St. Michael’s College Faculty of Theology, is a member of the staff of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute. The article is well named. It succeeds in hiding the encyclical in a smog of questions and doubts. It considers Humanae Vitae from the aspect of problem rather than solution. A Confusing LabelWe are told that the teaching of Humanae Vitae is very weighty teaching, but not infallible. This opinion of Father Walsh is gratuitously asserted. There are other opinions. Some have argued that the doctrine against contraception has been infallibly proclaimed. Notable in this regard is the monumental work of Father Ermengildo Lio, reportedly one of the authors of Humanae Vitae: “Humanae Vitae e Infallibilita.” He believes that the language of Humanae Vitae, invoking the authority of Christ meant that the Pope made a solemn definition of Church doctrine. Pope John Paul II expressed thanks for this book, which has been defended by others, e.g. Father Brian Harrison. Many believe that, whether the doctrine of Humanae Vitae has been infallibly defined, it is infallibly taught. Perhaps the best presentation of this conclusion in English is “The Teaching of Humanae Vitae: A Defence,” by John C. Ford, S.J.; Germain Grisez; Joseph Boyle, John Finnis and William E. May (Ignatius Press, 1988). What is relevant is that the teaching of the Church against contraception bound the consciences of Catholics in past centuries regardless of the absence of modern insights. It binds today regardless of any particular theological label, whether it is infallibly defined, infallibly taught or authoritatively proclaimed by the ordinary magisterium. It binds because it is given to us by Peter’s successor with Christ’s authority (cf. Humanae Vitae, n. 6). What is the duty of theologians on this matter? They are to give the example of loyal assent both internal and external to the Magisterium’s teaching in the areas of both dogma and morality (cf. the encyclical Veritatis Splendor, n. 110).

In evaluating the article by Father Leo Walsh C.S.B. it is good to recall the words of Pope John Paul II, which leave no room for confusion. Speaking of the Church’s teaching against contraception he said: “It is not, in fact, a doctrine invented by man; it was stamped in the very nature of the human person by God the creator’s hand and confirmed by Him in revelation. Calling it into question, therefore, is equivalent to refusing God Himself the obedience of our intelligence” (Nov. 12, 1988). Perhaps more relevant still are the words of Pope Paul VI to priests: “Your first task – especially in the case of those who teach moral theology – is to explain the Church’s teaching on marriage without ambiguity” (Humanae Vitae n.25).

The Disconnect

As Father Walsh points out, there is a large disconnect between Church teaching on artificial birth control and the practice of Catholic couples. According to one survey, conducted by MacLeans magazine in 1993, 91% of Catholics approve of contraception. It is not likely that the statistics are any better today. Father Walsh also points out that there are far reaching consequences of this disconnect. Why do so many Catholic couples act contrary to Church teaching? Fr. Walsh says there are different reasons. He proposes three:

1. “It may be that a couple has considered the whole question, has studied prayerfully the whole question, has studied prayerfully the teaching of the Church, has read theological opinion on the matter, and has come to the conclusion that the teaching is either wrong or incomplete.” In all my pastoral experience I never met such a couple, and, if they do exist, they are very rare. They do not help explain the 90% disconnect.

2. “It may be that a couple has tried to live by the teaching but has found that they do not have the moral strength to do so.” Such a couple apparently accepts the Church’s teaching, but do not use adequate means of grace. If so they are in sin. They do not explain the 90% disconnect.

3. “It may be that a couple has not thought much about the matter at all. It is taken for granted that nowadays couples practise birth control. It is not a matter of morality.” This may be for some a cause of disconnect, but it is a remote cause, not a proximate one and does not explain the disconnect. The reason for the disconnect is not only that Church teaching was not generally taught, but that the teaching was undermined by silence, error and dissent. There was a massive betrayal of the Church, Pope and Catholics. Here we list only part of that betrayal in Canada.

Before the encyclical Humanae Vitae of 1968

1. In 1964 the errors of Father Louis Janssens of Belgium, Fr. Schillebeeckx of Holland, and others spread like an Aids virus through academic circles of many countries, including Canada.

2. A book was published by Herder and Herder in 1964 called “Contraception and Holiness”. It presented itself as a “balanced and perceptive declaration of Christian dissent.” Among the contributors were three professors of St. Michael’s College in Toronto: Gregory Baum, O.S.A., Stanley Kutz, C.S.B., and Leslie Dewart.

3. At the third session of Vatican II on Oct. 29, 1964, Cardinal Leger of Montreal advocated that fecundity should be a duty pertaining to the state of matrimony as a whole rather than the individual act.

4. Gregory Baum was a catalyst of dissent in Canada and elsewhere, through interviews, tapes and articles. An interview with Gregory Baum was printed in the Toronto Globe and Mail for April 9, 1966. It was entitled “Catholics May Use Contraceptives Now.”

5. In some dioceses, such as Toronto, London, Ottawa and Sault Ste. Marie, confessional norms were given contrary to Church teaching.

After Humanae Vitae

1. After Humanae Vitae was published on July 24, 1968, Canadian papers contained scores of comments, most of them derogatory. Fr. Edward Sheridan, S.J., said: “It [Humanae Vitae] did not necessarily demand absolute obedience”. Gregory Baum said Catholics had the right to dissent.

2. In support of a group of dissenters based at St. Michael’s College, Toronto, Fr. Walter Principe, C.S.B., professor and writer for the Canadian Bishops, said: “For some Catholics the proper conduct of their family life can mean using other forms of birth control than the rhythm method” (Toronto Globe and Mail. Aug. 6, 1968).

3. On a CBC coast to coast television program on Aug. 18, 1968, Father Edward Sheridan S.J., Father Robert Crooker C.S.B., and Father Walter Principe C.S.B., attacked the encyclical.

4. In August 1968, Archbishop Plourde of Ottawa issued a pastoral statement. He said individuals have the right to “reach a judgement different from that of the Holy Father.”

5. Early in Sept., 1968 I spoke on the encyclical at a Serra Club meeting. I was cross-questioned with evident hostility by two priest-professors of St. Michael’s College.

6. Pressure groups sprang up calling for “freedom of conscience”. Among them were the Western Canadian Conference of Priests, the Catholic Physicians Guild of Manitoba, Catholics in Dialogue, the Canadian Institute of Theology and 58 “intellectuals” of St. Francis Xavier University.7. Fifteen directors of the departments at the CCCB signed a statement calling for a “Vatican II Approach.” They said that a large number of Canadian priests were agonizing “in acute crisis of conscience.” I never met one such priest.

The Winnipeg Statement and After The Canadian bishops met at Winnipeg in September of 1968. In the name of the Holy Father in August 1968, Cardinal Cicognani, Secretary of State, had asked them to stand firm with the Holy Father in his presentation of Church teaching in Humanae Vitae. Instead, they issued a disastrous commentary called the Winnipeg Statement. They said that in some circumstances Catholic couples could be safely assured that “whoever chooses that course which seems right to him does so in good conscience” (n. 26).

A fair assessment of the Winnipeg Statement was given by Dale Francis of the U.S. newspaper Twin Circle on Oct. 29, 1968: “The practical consequence has been that it has been interpreted as virtually negating the Pope’s proscription of contraceptives.” Thousands of Catholic couples have justified their use of contraceptives by referring to the Winnipeg Statement:

1. The Winnipeg Statement was carried around the world by many vehicles e.g. Time magazine, The Tablet, America, Commonweal and Catholic Mind. Bishop Bushwell of Pueblo cited the Canadian Bishops to support his thesis “Dissent Not Disloyalty” (Commonweal, Nov. 15, 1968).

2. Education was quickly infected. Two of the seven priests dismissed from St. John Vianney Seminary in Buffalo for dissent from Humanae Vitae were welcomed into St. Augustine’s Seminary in Toronto.

3. Douglas Roche, who was with the Western Catholic Reporter at the time of the Winnipeg meeting. He wrote a book entitled “The Catholic Revolution”. In the second edition, 1969, he quoted from the Winnipeg Statement to show “How dissent and loyalty can co-exist within Catholicism.” In truth, dissent is an act of profound disloyalty.

4. Perhaps the most damaging of all texts was “Christ Among Us” by Father Anthony Wilhelm, C.S.P.. I have seen stacks of this text in Canadian Catholics rectories. By the time Cardinal Ratzinger asked Bishop Gerety of Newark to withdraw his Imprimatur on Feb. 28, 1984, 1,500,000 copies had been sold throughout the world. From the time of its second edition, over 300,000 copies quoted the Winnipeg statement to support dissent from Humanae Vitae.

5. Other texts carried the life and soul-destroying Winnipeg message, e.g. “Married in the Lord” by Father Michael Prieur, “New Hope for Divorced Catholics” by Father Barry Brunsman, “Catholics Ask” by Father O’Shea, and the marriage preparation course “Mosaic”, published by Novalis.

6. In 1980 the CCCB published a working paper on Marriage and Family. It gave us 190 pages of a general plan to promote Faith “In and Through the Family”. There is no mention of Humanae Vitae. It depends largely on theological opinion, often dissenting, e.g. Schillebeeckx, Rahner, Fuchs, Boff, and others. The text confirms the Winnipeg Statement by recommending marriage preparation courses which confirm it e.g. “Mosaic” and “Good News for Married Love.”

7. In response to the synod on the Family, the CCCB published a Working Paper “Responsible Procreation”, in 1983. It refers to Familaris Consortio only once. It follows the syncretic approach of quoting from dissenting theologians e.g. Curran, Rahner,Shannon, Herring, as well as some orthodox sources. It creates an impression of uncertainty and confusion. It criticises that attitude which would make of the prohibition of contraception “a sort of article of faith in dogma so that there is an end to all discussion and private or public questioning.” In conclusion, it says “To state that it is possible for everyone to carry out this law (against contraception) would risk creating in the faithful a feeling of despair and guilt” (p.52).

8. Articles appeared in Catholic periodicals spreading the moral relativism of the Winnipeg Statement. Examples are: Humanae Vitae – Une question ouverte” (L’Eglise Canadienne, 11, 12, 1980) and “Aids, Condoms, and the Church” by Fr. Bela Somfai, S.J. (Compass, November, 1987).

9. While Humanae Vitae was attacked and more and more Catholics were contracepting, shepherds and pulpits were silent. Confessionals were deserted. Much more could be added. I think one need look no further for the reason for the disconnect between Catholic teaching and Catholic practise – Catholic teaching was not taught. Because of the new defective catechism series, Come to the Father, Catholics did not have a solid foundation for their faith.

Conscience

In the treatment of conscience there is much that is confused and confusing in “Humanae Vitae Confusae”. We are told that Canada’s bishops, from their first response to Humanae Vitae, rightly recognised the primacy of conscience. In fact, in their Winnipeg Statement of 1968 the Canadian Bishops wrongly affirmed the primacy of the subjective conscience, the root error of Protestantism. They said that in some circumstances couples could use those means of contraception which seemed right to them. Vatican II was careful to avoid the error of the primacy of the subjective conscience. Cardinal Felici explained how an attempt to avoid the subjective primacy of conscience was made in the evolution of the text of Vatican II. The expression “conscience to be enlightened by the divine law” was replaced by the more precise “conscience to be conformed to the divine law” (L’Osservatore Romano, Oct. 29, 1968, p.6). We read in Vatican II: “When there is a question of harmonizing conjugal love with the responsible transmission of life, the moral; aspect of any procedure – must be determined by objective standards – relying on this principle, 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” (Vatican II, The Church in the Modern World, n. 50). “Conscience ought to be conformed to the law of God in light of the teaching authority of the Church” (ibid.). Father Walsh tells us that a good conscience can be in error. If it is in error it is not a good conscience. Conscience is not a source of truth. As Msgr. Cormac Burke has said, truth is independent of conscience but conscience is not independent of truth. A good conscience is informed and then conformed. Otherwise the conscience is deformed, with the consequences inherent in objective evil. A great theologian of the last century wrote: “It is nonsense for a Catholic to set up in opposition to the authority of the Encyclical (Humanae Vitae) the authority of his own personal conscience” (Cardinal P. Journet, “The Light of the Encyclical”, L’Osservatore Romano, Oct. 10, 1968, p. 10). It is nonsense, but still repeated, with disastrous results. Father Walsh recognises this when he says “Where erroneous conscience is widespread harm is widespread.” That is the situation today. Confusion by hypothesis A considerable part of the article is about hypothetical suppositions. We are told of the negative effects if there is no intrinsic connection between the unitive and generative dimension of the act of intercourse. Some of these is that the claim that extra-marital relations (fornication and adultery) and homosexual genital expression are immoral cannot be easily maintained. There could be no argument from authority or from intrinsic reasons. Other consequences are detailed. Other hypothetical questions are asked e.g. “Is the Church correct?” and “Might it be that the Church is indeed wrong about sexuality generally?” More questions are raised. It is difficult to justify the raising of such hypothetical matters when the questions have already been answered by the Church with the authority of Christ. That was precisely the reason for Humanae Vitae. As the Pope said “We now intend by virtue of the mandate extended to us by Christ, to give our reply to these grave questions” (Humane Vitae n.6).

End note

In evaluating the article by Father Leo Walsh C.S.B. it is good to recall the words of Pope John Paul II, which leave no room for confusion. Speaking of the Church’s teaching against contraception he said: “It is not, in fact, a doctrine invented by man; it was stamped in the very nature of the human person by God the creator’s hand and confirmed by Him in revelation. Calling it into question, therefore, is equivalent to refusing God Himself the obedience of our intelligence” (Nov. 12, 1988). Perhaps more relevant still are the words of Pope Paul VI to priests: “Your first task – especially in the case of those who teach moral theology – is to explain the Church’s teaching on marriage without ambiguity” (Humanae Vitae n.25).

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