Natural Family Planning, St. John Paul II and Humanae Vitae

Pope John Paul II and Humanae Vitae, 1987-1988

Excerpts from J.F.Kippley, Sex and the Marriage Covenant: A Basis for Morality (Ignatius, 2005, Chapter 7.  References are in the endnotes of Chapter 7.)

5 June 1987: The Pope addressed the participants in a study conference on responsible procreation and made several very strong statements about the certainty and truth of the teaching reaffirmed by Humanae Vitae including this:  “The Church’s teaching on contraception does not belong to the category of matter open to free discussion among theologians. Teaching the contrary amounts to leading the moral consciences of spouses into error.31
                …A grave responsibility derives from this: those who place themselves in open conflict with the law of God, authentically taught by the Church, guide spouses along a false path. The Church’s teaching on contraception does not belong to the category of matter open to free discussion among theologians. Teaching the contrary amounts to leading the moral consciences of spouses into error.”46 (Boldface emphasis added.)

16 September 1987: While making a tour of the United States, John Paul II addressed the bishops of the United States in Los Angeles. Referring to reports that large numbers of Catholics do not adhere to the sexuality teaching of the Church and yet appear to receive the sacraments, the Pope said,  “It is sometimes claimed that dissent from the Magisterium is totally compatible with being a “good Catholic” and poses no obstacle to the reception of the sacraments. This is a grave error that challenges the teaching office of the Bishops of the United States and elsewhere.”32

14 March 1988: To participants in the Fourth International Conference for the Family of Europe and Africa, the Holy Father repeated the previous teaching. First, he noted that the “doctrine expounded in the encyclical Humanae Vitae thus constitutes the necessary defense of the dignity and truth of conjugal love.” Second, he said that “It is first of all married couples themselves who are responsible for their conjugal love, in the sense that they are called to live it in its entire truth.” Third, he continued, the Church helps them: “The Church assists them in this task, enlightening their consciences and assuring them, with the sacraments, of the strength necessary for the will to choose good and avoid evil.”

However, he continued, “there are problems.  Still, I cannot pass over in silence the fact that many today do not aid married couples in this grave responsibility of theirs, but rather place significant obstacles in their path . . .  This can also come about, with truly grave and destructive consequences, when the doctrine taught by the Encyclical is called into question, as has sometimes happened, even on the part of some theologians and pastors of souls. This attitude, in fact, can instill doubt with regard to a teaching which for the Church is certain; in this way it clouds the perception of a truth which cannot be questioned. This is not a sign of ‘pastoral understanding,’ but of misunderstanding the true good of persons. Truth cannot be measured by majority opinion.”33

On Monday, 24 October 1988, the Holy Father addressed the bishops from the U. S. ecclesiastical provinces of Cincinnati and Detroit.  “As we commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the “prophetic” Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Paul VI, we see ever more clearly today how relevant and positive it is.  In a world that often reduces sex to the pursuit of pleasure, and in some cases to domination, the Church has a special mission to place sex in the context of conjugal love and of generous and responsible openness to parenthood.”

On Monday, 7 November 1988, the Holy Father addressed a meeting of the Bishop Presidents of the Commissions for the Family of the Episcopal Conferences throughout the world; the meeting was organized by the Pontifical Council for the Family to mark the twentieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae. After noting that “it is extremely urgent to revive awareness of conjugal love as a gift,” the Pope concluded his talk by placing Humanae Vitae in the context of the well-being of the family and society.  “The future of a more human society as well, because it is inspired and sustained by a civilization of love and life, depends largely on the moral and spiritual ‘quality’ of marriage and the family, and depends on their ‘holiness.’
This is the supreme end of the Church’s pastoral action for which we bishops have the primary responsibility. The twentieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae reproposes this end to all of us with the same apostolic urgency of Paul VI who concluded his Encyclical by addressing his brothers in the episcopate with these words: “We implore you to give a lead to your priests who assist you in the sacred ministry, and to the faithful of your dioceses, and to devote yourselves with all zeal and without delay to safeguarding the holiness of marriage, the better to guide married life to its full human and Christian perfection. Look upon this mission as the most important work and responsibility committed to you at the present time” (Humanae Vitae, n.30).”35

Five days later, on Saturday, 12 November 1988, Pope John Paul II addressed about 400 theologians at the Second International Congress on Moral Theology in Rome celebrating the twentieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae.  “It [the teaching of H.V.] is not, in fact, a doctrine invented by man: it was stamped on the very nature of the human person by God the Creator’s hand and confirmed by Him in Revelation. Calling it into question, therefore, is equivalent to refusing God Himself the obedience of our intelligence.36  It is equivalent to preferring the dim light of our reason to the light of divine Wisdom, thereby falling into the darkness of error and resulting in the undermining of other fundamental principles of Christian doctrine (n.3).”51

Then the Holy Father proceeded to teach that it is wrong to make an appeal to conscience as a way to escape the obligation to form your conscience according to the truth taught by Christ through the teaching office of His Church:   “During these years, following the contestation about Humanae Vitae, the Christian doctrine on moral conscience itself has been questioned by accepting the idea of creative conscience of the moral norm. In this way, that bond of obedience to the holy will of the Creator, in which the very dignity of man consists, is radically broken. Conscience, in fact, is the ‘place’ where man is illuminated by a light which does not come to him from his created and always fallible reason, but from the very Wisdom of the Word in whom all things were created. ‘Conscience’, as Vatican II again admirably states, “is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths” (Gaudium et Spes, 16).

From this some consequences are drawn which are to be stressed.

“Since the Magisterium of the Church was created by Christ the Lord to enlighten conscience, then to appeal to that conscience precisely to contest the truth of what is taught by the Magisterium implies rejection of the Catholic concept both of the Magisterium and moral conscience. To speak about the inviolable dignity of conscience without further specification runs the risk of grave errors. There is a great difference between the person who falls into error after having used all the means at his or her disposal in the search for truth, and the situation of one who, either through simple acquiescence to the majority opinion, often deliberately created by the powers of the world, or through negligence, takes little pains to discover the truth. The clear teaching of Vatican II reminds us of this: ‘Yet it often happens that conscience goes astray through ignorance which it is unable to avoid, without thereby losing its dignity. This cannot be said of the man who takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin’” (ibid.).
“The Church’s Magisterium is among the means which Christ’s redeeming love has provided to avoid this danger of error. In His name it has a real teaching authority. Therefore, it cannot be said that the faithful have embarked on a diligent search for truth if they do not take into account what the Magisterium teaches, or if, by putting it on the same level as any other source of knowledge, one makes oneself judge, or if in doubt, one follows one’s own opinion or that of theologians, preferring it to the sure teaching of the Magisterium (n.4).”52

John Paul II then reaffirmed the teaching of “no exceptions” that he had made five years earlier:  “Closely connected with the theme of moral conscience is the theme of the binding force of the moral norm taught by Humanae Vitae.

By describing the contraceptive act as intrinsically illicit, Paul VI meant to teach that the moral norm is such that it does not admit exceptions. No personal or social circumstances could ever, can now, or will ever, render such an act lawful in itself. The existence of particular norms regarding man’s way of acting in the world, which are endowed with a binding force that excludes always and in whatever situation the possibility of exceptions, is a constant teaching of Tradition and of the Church’s Magisterium which cannot be called in question by the Catholic theologian (n. 5).”53

JFK: To be concluded tomorrow.

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