Pontifical Life Academy Touts Contraception

News: World News
by Jules Gomes  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  December 14, 2022   

Top moral theologian claims Humanae Vitae is reformable, not infallible

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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Pontifical Academy for Life is seeking to legitimize contraception and pave the way for a potential encyclical from Pope Francis that will reverse the anti-contraceptive teaching of Humanae Vitae.

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The Usurers by Quentin Matsys, Galleria Doria Pamphilj

On Tuesday, the PAL Twitter account posted an interview with the academy's moral theologian, Fr. Maurizio Chiodi, stating that "Humanae Vitae, like any encyclical, including Veritatis Splendor, is an authoritative document, but with no claim to infallibility." 

Chiodi, who is also a professor of bioethics at the John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences, stresses that both Humanae Vitae and its predecessor Casti Connubii are "in the realm of doctrina reformabilis (reformable doctrine)."

Infallibility Challenged

While Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae (1968) declared "sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive" as "something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order," Pope Pius XI's Casti Connubii (1930) condemned contraception as "intrinsically evil."

Chiodi argues that the "vast majority" of theologians insist that "the authoritative teaching of an encyclical does not belong to the infallible magisterium," even though "a number of theologians were quick to claim that the teaching of Humanae Vitae was infallible." 

Chiodi offers warmed-over fallacies and misstatements that have been looked at and refuted a hundred times over.

"This does not legitimize hastily substituting one's own idea with the teaching of the magisterium, claiming for oneself an infallibility denied to the magisterium," the bioethics professor clarifies, "but it does open up theological discussion, within the Church, and even the possibility of dissent, both for the individual believer and the theologian."

But distinguished ethicist Dr. Michael Pakaluk told Church Militant that "[t]he teaching that artificial contraception is inherently wrong has been taught without exception by Catholic authorities throughout all centuries of the Church. It certainly is infallible and irreformable."


 

"All of the teachings of the ordinary magisterium in faith and morals are infallible and irreformable," Dr. Pakaluk, professor of ethics and social philosophy at the Catholic University of America, clarified.

Asked if Pope Francis has the authority to change the doctrine of his predecessors, Chiodi explains how new developments in theology would "allow us to go one step further." This "does not contradict Humanae Vitae, but adopts its spirit, without taking a norm literally."

Magisterium Overturns Usury, Death Penalty

"The magisterium itself, throughout history, has known several reforms without disruption, and even some 'discontinuity,' but always in the fundamental continuity of reference to the Gospel," the moral theologian contends. 

"Sometimes, on individual ethical issues, there can be a variety of opinions, when we talk about doctrina reformabilis. This happened recently with the death penalty and the 'just war' or in the past with lending at interest, etc.," Chiodi explains. 

Be it three hundred percent, thirty or even three, the soul of the usurer hangs in balance.

In 2018, Pope Francis formally changed the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty, calling capital punishment "an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person" and deeming it "inadmissible" in all cases.

The new version of the Catechism, in section 2267, also commits the Church to work "with determination" to abolish the death penalty worldwide. The Catechism acknowledges that the death penalty "was long considered an appropriate response" to certain crimes. 

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Medieval execution scene – from the British Library

However, in a 2017 essay on the death penalty, Catholic theologian Edward Feser writes that "neither scripture nor tradition could justify a reversal of the Church's millennia-old teaching on capital punishment" and "even a pope who tried to reverse the traditional teaching would simply be committing a doctrinal error." 

Scholars have similarly debated if the prohibition of lending money on interest — no matter how small — which was defined for centuries by the Magisterium as a "mortal sin" based on the consensus of Scripture and the Fathers, has been reversed by the Magisterium. 

"Be it three hundred percent, thirty or even three, the soul of the usurer hangs in balance; even a one percent desire for gain put salvation at risk," writes Brenda Llewellyn Ihssen in the anthology Reading Patristic Texts for Social Ethics

Citing the "moral dilemmas" of usury and capital punishment, Chiodi argues that in "situations in which the difference between good and evil is not so clear-cut — there were many conflicting and even contradictory opinions among moralists from 1500 to 1700." 

Amoris Laetitia

Chiodi agrees that "contraception is considered an intrinsically evil act, along with many others, as can be read in the long list in Veritatis Splendor 80," but argues for "a more comprehensive, circumstantial evaluation" which "cannot be simply limited to the 'legal' status of norms."

"A similar argument could be made for what is implied in the pastoral practice introduced by Amoris Laetitia," the 2016 apostolic exhortation issued by Pope Francis "according to which the sexual relationship between the divorced and remarried is not necessarily adulterous," Chiodi observes.

Neither scripture nor tradition could justify a reversal of the Church's millennia-old teaching on capital punishment.

In clarifying the Church's position on contraception, Dr. Pakaluk explains that "the first Christian leaders to suggest that — in certain limited circumstances only, and for married couples only — artificial contraception might be licit, were the Anglican bishops in the 1930 Lambeth Council." 

"Since that time Anglicanism has imploded in blind confusion and division, becoming by now almost fully secularized," Pakaluk notes. "It's hard to know whether Catholic clerics who think that the Catholic Church should follow the same path a century later are more stupid, more foolish, or more wicked."
 
"Chiodi offers warmed-over fallacies and misstatements that have been looked at and refuted a hundred times over," the ethicist warns. 

Endorsing Homosexuality

Chiodi, whom Pope Francis had appointed an ordinary member of the Pontifical Academy for Life in 2017, has argued elsewhere that it would be an act of "responsibility" to use artificial contraception where "natural methods are impossible or unfeasible."

Commenting on homosexual couples in 2019, Chiodi said that it is impossible to give pre-packaged answers "as if all the practical answers could be immediately deduced from an anthropological theory."

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Fr. Maurizio Chiodi

Chiodi argued that "under certain conditions, a homosexual couple's relationship is, for that subject, the most fruitful way to live good relationships," especially if "a stable relationship is the only way to avoid sexual wandering or other forms of humiliating and degrading erotic relationships."

The interview with Chiodi was conducted by Fabrizio Mastrofini, media manager at the Pontifical Academy for Life. 

Reflecting on the interview, Andrea Grillo, professor of sacramental theology at the Pontifical Atheneum of Saint Anselm, dismisses "the question of infallibility for every proposition of Christian doctrine" as "an exaggerated form of ecclesial thought and identity." 

Grillo also criticizes "one of the most contested passages of Humanae Vitae where the exercise of responsible paternity is restricted to the use of so-called natural methods." 

"The man who procreates can be saved in his actions only to the extent that he remains an animal, marked by natural rhythms and determined by this structure that he has not chosen," Grillo writes. "For this reason, it is difficult to morally justify the difference between natural methods and artificial methods."

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