“Humanae Vitae.” So It Was Born, and Woe To the One Who Touches It

“Humanae Vitae.” So It Was Born, and Woe To the One Who Touches It

Sandro Magister – 7/18/18

The campaign that is underway to demolish “Humanae Vitae” – the 1968 encyclical of Paul VI that said no to artificial contraceptives – has in recent days met with an unexpected obstacle in a book that reconstructs the genesis of that text, thanks to access, for the first time, to the secret documents concerning it, personally authorized by Pope Francis:

> Gilfredo Marengo, “La nascita di un’enciclica. ‘Humanae vitae’ alla luce degli archivi vaticani”, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Città del Vaticano, 2018.

The obstacle is all the more serious in that the proponents of a “paradigm shift,” meaning a liberalization of contraceptives – from Cardinal Walter Kasper to the theologian Maurizio Chiodi, author of the now-famous conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University that fired the starting gun for the campaign, with the apparent approval of Pope Francis – were expecting from this very book not an obstacle, but a further boost for their ideas.

The author of the book, in fact, was the coordinator of a study group set up more than a year ago at the Vatican precisely in the climate of a revision of “Humanae Vitae.” In addition to Marengo, the members were the theologian Pierangelo Sequeri, appointed by the pope as head of the John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences, Angelo Maffeis of the Paul VI Institute in Brescia, and the historian Philippe Chenaux of the Pontifical Lateran University.

The proponents of “surpassing” the teaching of “Humanae Vitae” hailed the institution of the study group with great approval, seeing that it had been organized by one of them, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, very close to Pope Francis, president of the pontifical academy for life and grand chancellor of the John Paul II institute. Last March 8 the newspaper of the Italian episcopal conference, “Avvenire” – it too in lockstep with the innovators – had gone so far as to prognosticate “surprising results from the studies authorized by the pontifical academy for life,” concerning the genesis and therefore also the interpretation in more liberal terms of “Humanae Vitae.”

Meanwhile, however, a first disappointment for the innovators came on May 9 from the most authoritative member of the study group, Sequeri, who in a scholarly conference on “Humanae Vitae” at the Catholic University of Milan reiterated as “unjustifiable the practice that procures and imposes artificial sterilization on the conjugal act”:

> Surprise. Among the Francis Men Is One Who Is Defending “Humanae Vitae”

But now, after the release of Marengo’s book, disappointment has turned to consternation. Because with the power of the facts the book contradicts the ideas most dear to the proponents of the change.

It is enough to read, in fact, just the summary of the book presented by Andrea Tornielli on Vatican Insider – not a dubious source, given its proximity to Pope Francis – to understand how there has been a substantial failure of the stratagem of exhibiting among the secret papers for the preparation of the encyclical of Paul VI a few pretexts for scaling back the teaching.

For example, it is true that Paul VI had the future cardinals Jacques-Paul Martin and Paul Poupard, at the time officials of the secretariat of state, rewrite the first draft of the encyclical, which had been written by the theologian of the pontifical household, himself a future cardinal, Mario Luigi Ciappi. But in both drafts the doctrinal contents turn out to be the same, albeit formulated differently. And even the second draft did not satisfy Paul VI, so much so that he adjusted it again to remove what seemed like ambiguities to him, with rewritings of his own or of his trusted theologian, the Milanese Carlo Colombo.

Likewise, it is disproven by the facts that Paul VI overlooked, in preparing the encyclical, the demands of synodality and collegiality, so vaunted today – paradoxically – precisely during one of the the most monocratic pontificates in history.

In 1967, the year before the publication, Paul VI asked the roughly two hundred synod fathers meeting in Rome for the first ordinary assembly of the synod of bishops to communicate their opinions to him in a confidential manner. 26 of them responded to him with views that are presented in the book, and among those who spoke out for the ‘no’ were a future pope and saint, Karol Wojtyla, and the highly popular American bishop Fulton Sheen, with a great flair for preaching, he too on his way to the honors of the altar. Wojtyla, at the time the archbishop of Krakow, in those notes that he sent to Paul VI foreshadowed the expansion of the teaching of “Humanae Vitae” to which he would later give rise.

Among those in favor of allowing contraceptives were a few cardinals and bishops of the first rank in the progressive camp, from Suenens to Döpfner to Léger. And even on the substantial study commission set up by John XXIII and then bolstered by his successor, those in favor were more numerous than those against. But Marengo’s book confirms the fact that Paul VI “evaluated very attentively” their positions as well, and rejected them – as he afterward wrote in the prologue to the encyclical – only because he had recognized in them “criteria for a solution to this question which were at variance with the moral doctrine on marriage constantly taught by the magisterium of the Church.”

In other words, one gathers from the book that Paul VI, far from being hesitant and doubtful right to the end, exercised “by virtue of the mandate entrusted to Us by Christ” precisely that “discernment” which is so exalted today and which, in that same year of 1968, led him to solemnly reconfirm the fundamental truths of the Catholic faith against the widespread doubts, with the public proclamation of that which he called the “Credo of the People of God.”

As is known, “Humanae Vitae” was immediately subjected to a massive barrage of opposition, even on the part of important sectors of the hierarchy. But Paul VI never backed down. On the contrary, he always maintained that it was one of the highest points of his mission as successor of Peter. In his last public homily, for the feast of Saints Peter and Paul in 1978, in taking stock of his pontificate indicated his most significant acts precisely in “Humanae Vitae” and in the “Credo of the People of God.”

For the proponents of a revision of “Humanae Vitae” there now remains nothing to do but insist – as they are doing – that its teaching is “neither infallible nor irreformable,” as was in effect stated at the time of its publication by a leading theologian of the Pontifical Lateran University, Ferdinando Lambruschini, who according to the current narratives spoke out in this sense at the direct request of the pope.

The fact is, however, that immediately after those statements Lambruschini was removed from his teaching position, appointed archbishop of Perugia and replaced, at the Lateran, by a moral theologian of extreme rigor, Ermenegildo Lio.

Not to mention that, put this way, the question seems a bit off the mark, since “Humanae Vitae” contains no proclamation of a dogma of faith, and therefore does not present itself as “definitional magisterium” but rather as “definitive magisterium,” meaning the reaffirmation of a constant teaching in the history of the Church, as solemnly reiterated by a successor of Paul VI, John Paul II, in a memorable address for the twentieth anniversary of the encyclical:

> “Humanae Vitae” Under Siege. But It Will Have To Go Over Wojtyla and Caffarra’s Dead Bodies

Facebook
Twitter
Google+
http://angelqueen.org/2018/07/18/humanae-vitae-so-it-was-born-and-woe-to-the-one-who-touches-it/
Get AQ Email Updates
AQ RSS Feed

Leave a Reply