ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - Recent activity in Rome is feeding fears the Vatican may be preparing to shift its position on artificial contraception.
In an interview with news agency Kathpress last week, Msgr. Alejandro Cifres, chief archivist for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, confirmed that a papal commission is reviewing Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical reaffirming the Church's teaching on contraception.
The admission contradicts earlier Vatican denials that such a commission exists.
In May 2017, Italian journalist Marco Tosatti broke the story that Pope Francis, in collaboration with Pontifical Academy for Life head Abp. Vincenzo Paglia, was "about to appoint — or [may] even have already formed — a secret committee to examine and possibly study changes to the Church's position on contraception," as set forth in Humanae Vitae.
After weeks of silence, the Vatican denied the commission's existence.
"There's no commission, that's all been made up," Paglia insisted.
In July, a different story emerged. Vatican Radio released an interview with Fr. Gilfredo Marengo, a professor of theological anthropology at the St. John Paul II Institute in Rome — and allegedly, the leader of the rumored secret commission.
Responding to questions about the panel, Fr. Marengo confirmed he was heading a Humane Vitae "research group." Still, he suggested, it had "nothing to do with 'reforming the encyclical.'"
But now, Kathpress reports, new developments — "a lecture at the Pontifical Gregorian University, articles in the daily newspaper of the Italian bishops and papal research in the archive of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith" — are causing consternation.
In December, Fr. Maurizio Chiodi, one of Pope Francis' star theologians, gave a lecture at the Pontifical Gregorian University outlining a "new interpretive paradigm" for Humanae Vitae that seemed to green-light birth control.
Chiodi, professor of moral theology at the Theological Faculty of Northern Italy — and a newly-appointed member of the Pontifical Academy for Life — asked rhetorically whether "natural methods could/should be the only form of responsible parenting."
Putting the focus on responsible parenting and childcare, Kathpress notes, indicates different means — natural family planning (NFP) or artificial contraception — "could be chosen in different situations."
Other cracks are starting to appear.
On January 27, Paglia — who has welcomed a pro-abortion academic into the Pontifical Academy for Life and honored Paul Ehrlich, the father of the population control movement with a speaking platform — gave an interview with Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian Episcopal Conference.
During the discussion, Paglia pointed to Humanae Vitae asserting that the Church must undertake "further exploration on the front of responsibility in procreation" because "the norms are there to enliven human beings, not to operate robots," and therefore, "they require a process of evaluation that must take into account the whole of the concrete circumstances and of the relations in which the person finds himself."
The next day, Avvenire, published a sympathetic report on Chiodi's proposal to "rewrite Humanae Vitae from Amoris Laetitia:"
In this perspective, the theologian's reflection is to be understood as a proposal that is intended to represent the development of a tradition. And a tradition, in order to be alive and to continue to speak to the women and men of our time, must not be fossilized but rendered dynamic, which means to be in keeping with a society that is changing. Father Chiodi has the courage to define the problem that is raised by some theologians and experts on pastoral practice. Are natural methods really to be understood as the only means possible for family planning?
Summarizing Chiodi's reinterpretation of Humanae Vitae, Avvenire declared, "If there are situations in which natural methods are impossible or impracticable, other ways must be found, because responsible procreation cannot ignore what technology has to offer."
Italian journalist and Vaticanista Sandro Magister writes, "The ideas Chiodi presents in his conference, in fact, are not hypothetical but affirmative. There are circumstances, he maintains that not only allow but 'require' other methods, not natural, for birth control."
Magister notes other signs of trouble. Even before Chiodi's address, Bp. Luigi Bettazzi, a Vatican II veteran, told Avvenire that half a century after Humanae Vitae "the time has come to rethink the question," as "it is not the doctrines that change, but it is we ourselves with the passing of the years, who are able to understand their meaning better and better, interpreting them in the light of the signs of the times."
It remains unclear what Pope Francis thinks about such calls for an evolutionary theology. But Magister is not optimistic.
It is "all too clear," he writes, "that the revisitation of the tumultuous path of that encyclical's preparation — in which already back then the circles in favor of artificial contraception were stronger and more pressing than those against, espoused by Paul VI — can only benefit the paradigm shift that is underway."