Honesty in the Church
Yesterday at least one metropolitan
paper ran a full-page advertisement (paid for by the Human Life Foundation)
which commemorated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the papal encyclical
vitae. In this encyclical Pope Paul VI declared that the only birth-control
methods acceptable to the Catholic Church are abstinence and the rhythm
method. He explained that "... in any use whatever of marriage, there must
be no impairment of its natural capacity to procreate human life."
We regret that we cannot agree with the Human Life Foundation's description of the anniversary as "a celebration of conjugal love." On the contrary the criticism and condemnation of Humanae vitae over the past 25 years force us to conclude that the encyclical generated serious doubts about the wisdom of the Church as a guide in matters of faith and morals.
Furthermore the way Humanae vitae was drafted raises the issue of honesty. We recall that in 1962, Pope John XXIII set up the Pontifical Commission on the Family, which had among its tasks a study of the Church's position on birth control. After Pope John died in 1963, Pope Paul VI enlarged the commission until its membership reached 68 and appointed a great number of consultants to advise and monitor the progress of the commission.
David A. Yallop, in the book In God's Name, reports that the commission in essence "advised the pope that consensus had been reached by an overwhelming majority of its members (64 to 4), as well as by theologians, legal experts, historians, sociologists, doctors, obstetricians, and married couples, that a change in the Catholic Church's stand on artificial birth control was both possible and advisable."
The commission's report was submitted in mid-1966 to a smaller group of cardinals and bishops. Yallop says that eight voted in favor of recommending the report to the pope, six voted against, and six abstained.
The commission report was opposed by Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, secretary of the Supreme Congregation of the Holy Office, Yallop continues. The cardinal persuaded the four dissenting members of the commission to write a separate dissenting report -- which was given to the pope along with the commission report. By this time most of the commission members had returned to their respective countries and were unaware of the existence of the dissenting minority report.
Throughout 1967 and early 1968, Cardinal Ottaviani and other church officials who opposed any change in the Church's position on contraception exerted pressure on Pope Paul VI, Yallop reports. The pope decided that he would make the final decision. He retired to Castel Gandolfo, the pope's summer residence and drafted the encyclical.
Humanae vitae was the result. In effect the pope ignored the advice of the commission which had been set up (and which he had expanded) to advise him on the issue of birth control.
It is this history of Humanae vitae -- which the Human Life Foundation seems to be unaware of -- that raises the issue of honesty within the Church.
The larger issue of honesty is even more salient today.
Since most Catholics will agree that abortion is murder, Catholics who support Humanae vitae propose a questionable "domino theory" of contraception -- that acceptance of any artificial means of contraception will sooner or later lead to abortion. Hence every artificial means of contraception should be banned.
The domino theory of contraception ignores the basic question the faithful ask. It is the question implied by the comment of obstetrician Dante Hellegers, a member of the ignored pontifical commission, "I cannot believe that salvation is based on contraception by temperature and damnation is based on rubber."