Papal Commission Chair: ‘No Need to Update’ Humanae Vitae

by Stephen Wynne  •  •  May 25, 2018   

Fr. Gilfredo Marengo says 'intelligent pastoral plan' needed instead

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VATICAN CITY ( - The chair of a papal commission studying Humanae Vitae assures "there is no need to update it."

On Wednesday, Fr. Gilfredo Marengo of the Pontifical Theological Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome, told Catholic News Agency, "Humanae Vitae is an authoritative document of the Catholic Church, and it is part of the tradition. We are called to welcome it as it is and to apply it with an intelligent pastoral plan."

In his study of Humanae Vitae, Marengo noted that "one of the biggest knots" in drafting the encyclical was the tension "between doctrine and pastoral issues."

This tension, he noted, is on the rise, but "the question cannot be solved by imagining a new doctrine or a new pastoral activity, but by going beyond the polarization," he added.

Father Marengo did not specify what "going beyond the polarization" would entail, but his assurance that "there is no need to update" the encyclical seems to reaffirm Church teaching on contraception.

For the past year, faithful Catholics have been nervously watching developments in Rome, where a push to reinterpret Humanae Vitae is gathering steam.

Abp. Vincenzo Paglia, head of the Pontifical Academy for Life

Conflicting accounts from the Vatican itself over the very existence of the papal commission stretch back to May 2017, when 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."

Tosatti's report was met with silence from the Holy See. Weeks later, Abp. Paglia publicly denied the commission's existence.

"There's no commission," he insisted. "That's all been made up."

But in July, a different story emerged. In an interview with Vatican Radio, Fr. Marengo confirmed he was heading a Humanae Vitae "research group." His confirmation was followed by a slew of developments worrying to faithful Catholics.

Though faithful may find Fr. Marengo's verbal support of Humanae Vitae encouraging, a host of Vatican insiders remain committed to shifting — one way or another — Church teaching on contraception.

In December 2017, 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 University 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."

Fr. Maurizio Chiodi

A deeper focus on responsible parenting suggests that either natural family planning or artificial contraception could be chosen, depending on the situation.

On Jan. 27, Abp. 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 bishops' conference.

During the discussion, Paglia pointed to Humanae Vitae and asserted 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 the encyclical, 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."

Though faithful may find Fr. Marengo's verbal support of Humanae Vitae encouraging, a host of Vatican insiders remain committed to shifting — one way or another — Church teaching on contraception.

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