Isolated quotations in the Press, according to a Westminster statement, have led some who did not see the David Frost programme last Friday to think that Cardinal Heenan told Catholics to ignore the Encyclical and follow their consciences. The Cardinal, in fact, said that Catholics have a duty to inform their consciences. At the same time he recalled the hierarchy's Statement regarding the primacy of conscience and his own Pastoral Letter urging husbands and wives not to abstain from the sacraments because of difficulties over contraception. We print below extracts from the broadcast.
Frost: If the Pope had decided that the pill or some method of birth control other than what's said to be natural was allowable within the context of the faith. if that decision, which for some time after the report of the Council seemed possible, if he had made that decision would you, would your conscience have been able to accept it?
Cardinal: Of course. My conscience would have been able to accept anything that the Pope, after all that consideration, after all that study, after all that consultation, had decided was right, because it would not have been a complete reversal. That wouldn't have been possible. You can't reverse the moral law.
But if there had been some development of it — since you are talking about the pill. I presume we're going to stay on this for some time — if you are talking about the pill it is not altogether dear. and this is not a theological question. it's not altogether clear that the pill is strictly a contraceptive. This is for chemists, for doctors to decide. And so therefore it would have been quite possible with some kind of pill that the development would have been according to the natural rhythms and it might not necessarily have been what the present pills are,
think in the main. a contraceptive.
Frost: Bur if he had come out in favour of the pills as they now ex;ivi, you would have been able to accept this?
Cardinal: I would have been very very surprised. I'd have been very very surprised indeed if the Pope could have decided that artificial contraception was right. I would have been very surprised.
Frost: Were you then very surprised that the report to him of the sixty people in the Council [Commission] and so on did recommend that? Were you surprised by that too?
Cardinal: Well I was obviously not surprised by that because I was the Vice-President of the Commission.
Frost: But were you _surprised that that was the way the opinion went though, if you were — would you have
been surprised if the Pope had accepted it?
Cardinal: I was not surprised that many thought that it would be all right because after all most of them were not theologians. There were demographers, there were doctors, there were all sorts of people there who were not theologians. I would have been surprised if there'd been any sort of unanimity among the Bishops on that Commission.
Frost: Were the Bishops not as in favour as the overall crass section of 60 then?
Cardinal: Oh, no.
Frost: How were they divided roughly?
Cardinal: It's very difficult to say how they were divided because the Bishops there were not considered for their individual merits so to speak, they were considered for what they represented. Thus for example you had Cardinal Gracias representing the whole of India, you had another Cardinal representing the Far East. the Philippines and so on. You had another Archbishop representing Latin America. Well when you've said that you've said a great part of the Church.
Frost: We know what the majority was—figures quoted are sixty to eighty per cent, of the sixty people. But now you are saying of the Bishops that were serving, the figure was not sixty to eighty per cent.
Cardinal: No — you see the Frost: What roughly. less than fifty per cent?
Cardinal: Less than fifty per cent in favour?
Frost: By the Bishops, yes, would you say?
Cardinal: Remember, it was a secret ballot—the final decisions were made by the Bishops alone and this was by secret ballot and I don't remember the exact voting. I think probably the majority were for the change. Or rather suggesting that change might be considered.
There's been a good deal of misunderstanding about this Papal Commission and it's been frequently said that the Pope had notright not to accept the findings of this — of the majority of this Commission. Now you know you've got to consider the Papal Commission as you would consider a Royal Commission in this country. And a Commission is there to give advice, to make recommendations. A Commission doesn't have the ultimate responsibility.
Frost: It's a dangerous parallel—a Commission is usually appointed in this country in order to delay action being taken.
Cardinal: Well yes, sometimes as a result of a Royal Commission it's decided that no action should be taken. Sometimes despite the findings of a Commission the Government or the Prime Minister who has ultimate responsibility can say. "Well, yes, I know that's how you feel, but if you knew what I knew, if you had the final responsibility you wouldn't say that." And nobody on the Commission, and this is most important. nobody on the Commission thought that this Commission would make the decision. It was to present a view to the Pope.
Frost: Do You think the Pope, a Pope, would ever change the situation so that some means of artificial conception is made acceptable? Do you think that will ever happen? Cardinal: I believe that in measurable time, five or ten years, everybody will accept what the Pope has said. I believe that. You see ...
Frost: No but you—sorrywhat do you mean?
Cardinal: I'll explain what I mean exactly.
Frost: What on earth do you mean?
Cardinal: I'll explain exactly what I mean. The whole scientific trend is towards the use of natural rhythms for birth control, for family planning. When you consider what has happened, this is not a new problem as you know. This is older than Christianity, the problem of birth control. And they've used throughout history various methods of contraception. And taking them in the order which is least desirable and more remote from nature Infanticide was the first. That was quite common in the old days and not so tong ago in the Far East, they exposed babies, particularly female babies, abandoned them, and in other parts of the world too; infanticide is not acceptable in the West, nor has it ever been.
Now, next, sterilisation or rather abortion, is the next method. And incidentally where contraception is the highest abortion is the highest too, even in our Own times.
Then sterilisation, intrauterine devices, condoms, sheaths, caps, jellies, all the rest come next. Then the pill. Now I believe the reason why people took to the pill and have taken the pill is because that is the most natural thing. It doesn't seem to interfere with the natural way of intercourse. And I'm quite sure that is the reason why the pill has become so popular.
I believe that in these days when we can transplant hearts and we can fly to the moon, it should be possible for the doctors, the scientists, to discover a very easy way of knowing precisely what is a safe period. I would guess, but it's only a guess, I would guess that within measurable time — five or six years — they will discover a simple way 'of deciding whether there's any danger of pregnancy so that for certain, more or less for certain, a woman will know and a husband will know, that apart from five days when abstinence will be called for, then intercourse can take place without the likelihood of conception taking place. There's a great deal of research going on.
Frost: But now the thing is that when we reach a stage where the safe period is safe won't we then offend, to quote the Pope, against his phrase "each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life"?
Cardinal: No. Once a safe period is safe, provided the intercourse is natural, provided nothing is put to prevent birth. then it's open to life. After all . . .
Frost: Yes, but if you've just said it isn't open to life . .
Cardinal: It is open to life.
Frost: It's a very linguistic or semantic point—
Cardinal: I don't think it, no, I don't .
Frost: I mean if you say "look. we can be absolutely safe, we can't conceive a baby tonight." Then you're saying it is not open to life surely . . .
Cardinal: It is open to life because . . .
Frost: And then again it isn't. I mean there seems to be very little division you see, between the thermometer or
whatever, that will make that method safe, totally hundred per cent safe—and the coil or loop or the diaphragm. In each case you are excluding the possibility of life and in each case you need an artificial aid one way or another to make sure it's safe.
Cardinal: You don't need an artificial aid. I'm not suggesting that you need an artificial aid to discover these safe periods. After all . . .
Frost: Only calendars. and diagrams and graphs and thermometers and . .
Cardinal: No, no. Now that's the difficulty at the moment. Whether it's the calendars . . .
Cardinal: Yes, the calendar method or the temperature chart, that is as it is at the moment and that is why the Pope in the Encyclical urged the doctors and scientists to use their research. 1l1 give you an example. There's one Catholic
Louva ine — where they're working on this and they've got a very large grant from the Ford Foundation and it is their expectation that they will discover—this is what they're working on now—a simple saliva test, as simple as that. No complitations. You see, when you say about a thing not being open to life if conception is not going to take place, you might just as well think of millions of people who are beyond child bearing years. No one's going to say that they shouldn't have inter
course. that they're because they're not in fact fertile, not going to produce children — therefore they're performing an act which is not open to life. It is open to life but in fact there will be no children born simply becatise, not for any reason for which they're responsible — but simply because nature has ceased to function there.
Frost: Yes. but the reason that this couple who've got this completely safe period will not conceive is because they have made a conscious decision to have intercourse on those days. And to take the case, for instance that someone was quoting the other day, of someone who'd had seven miscarriages and a still birth.
Frost: Which is horrendous. Now in that situation you've got to be able to tell the person you're absolutely safe— you can't tell them you've got 98 chances out of 100 that iA be all right.
Cardinal: That is . .
Frost: You've got to tell them it's totally all right. You've got to tell them your marriage act is in no way open to the transmission of life. You've got -to positively say that.
Cardinal: Well that's what the Pope says in his Encyclical, that it's the duty of scientists, and he said particularly Catholic scientists, because they're the only people he could use authority with — to make this — to use their knowledge and investigations, researches, so that the safe period should be really safe.
Frost: But now in the interim, if we're searching for a time which we agree is at least five or six years away .
Cardinal: Well I don't know, but I mean . . .
Frost: But anyway. if we're searching for that time wizen there will be a truly safe period, what are we to do in the interim. I mean what advice are we ut give in the interim—I mean surely in the interim something should be done to help people who are in this terrible quandary.
Frost: Given that—you've just admitted that the safe
period is at the moment not safe.
Cardinal: It's not safe for certain people, it's safe for some.
Frost: Yes. but I mean one Catholic doctor has worked out that there are 20 unwanted pregnancies in 100 women who would .
Cardinal: Yes — but in some — for many it's not so.
Frost: And for 25 per cent it was psychologically undesirable and so on. Now 1 mean, so now we've got to the situation where the safe period is as you said, definitely not safe. so what about all those people who are married. who 'mist make love, and who can't trust the safe period? What's your advice to them?
Cardinal: Well let's first of all say this. Would it be right for us to say whether to Catholics or to anybody else, "Rely on the pill." You see, there's been a good deal of silence about the dangers of the pill. If 1 may mention the other channel, the BBC — when they had their programme on drugs there was enormous pressure brought to bear . . because there's a lot of money in pills.
Frost: I know, bin there was just three minutes in that programme, and we followed that up the next night with twenty minutes on the subject which put it in perspective.
Frost: There is certainly a danger in certain circumstances mid 'thrombotic conditions and .s.tz On.
Cardinal: I'm thinking of more than thrombosis.
Frost: But I know this is part of your answer Cardinal: This is not part of my answer, this is something most important that the public should know. Did you see the statement by Dr. Edith Summerskill this morning? You've just come back from America, perhaps you missed it. Well, in the British Medical Journal for tomorrow there is a letter from Edith Summerskill begging the Government to stop the use of pills because of the dangers. She says that the hazards are so great that the young women of the whole world are in some jeopardy.
Frost: But in order not to alarm people at home. I think that if they feel there are any symptoms that worry them they should go to their doctor, but that the evidence for danger is much. much, much. much less than the dangers from pregnancy for instance, so let us put it in perspective because 1 . . .
Cardinal: That is what .
Frost: . . . don't want us to he scary to people at home. Let me rephrase my que.vtion to get you off the hook so we
don't . .
Cardinal: Off the hook? I'm not on a hook.
Frost: No, I save you from a twenty-minute lecture on the pill. Let me put the question another way. All right then you don't—I'm not saying you have to advise the pill, hut what since you said the safe period isn't safe, and we have this couple who want to make love because they're married and know that a pregnancy would he disastrous because of a stillbirth or because of a former cancer of the breast, for whatever reason, what do you say to those people? The safe period—you know you've got to say is not safe. What should they do?
Cardinal: Now, let's first of • all talk about the safe period. I agree with you, completely. That it would be dishonest, it would be impertinent for a person who is not concerned, who is not the father or mother of the family to say, "Now look here, use the safe period. it may not work but use it artyhow," becavae as you say a
pregnancy might occur and the mother might die. And then they could turn round to the priest and say—"And you told us to do this."
Therefore it's quite clear that it's not for the priest to say use the safe period or not. Now, when the Encyclical was published there was understandably a tremendous distress among many people and the Pope himself said that he well understood what a disappointment this would be. Now what has not, I think, yet been sufficiently realised is this — this Encyclical deals with the principles of moral life in marriage.
The Pope does not at any point say that this is wrong or that is wrong in individual cases. The pastoral care of the people in other words is to be left to their spiritual advisers, to their Bishops, to their priests, and every conference of Bishops in the world, following the Encyclical, has given an explanation — a pastoral explanation of the Encyclical.
And • in various ways with different emphasis every hier archy has said for example the English hierarchy expression was — nothing in this Encyclical interferes with the primacy of conscience. that a person's conscience and utter, ultimate, decision depends upon himself.
Frost: Or in other words, if the Catholic couple takes the decision on serious grounds of conscience to use a contraceptive, then the Church will not interfere with that.
Cardinal: The teaching of the Church is very clear. That a man is bound to follow his conscience and this is true even if his conscience is in error, but this is a basic teaching of the Church, that every man, the Pope, you, 1, everyone, must follow conscience.
Now it's the duty of a Catholic to inform his conscience. But it could happen easily, particularly after this long period of dispute and doubt, it could happen that a couple might say conscientiously, "I'm quite sure that this is the right thing for me to do." And if that can be said conscientiously, this is what I must do, then of course they must follow their conscience. There is no dispute about this.
Frost: They must.
Cardinal: They must follow their conscience.
Frost: And if they go to their priest and say that they're doing precisely that.
Cardinal: Yes Frost: What should the priest say in this . . .
Cardinal: "God bless you." If they're really following their conscience then in the sight of God, which is all that matters — the priest, the Bishop, the Pope doesn't matter compared with God. Every person is really dealing with All-nighty God.
Frost: But if a person is really following hItts conscience and using some form of contraceptive and goes to the priest and says so. then the priest should say, "God bless you" and not refuse him the sacraments.
Cardinal: Of course not, of course not. If you — perhaps You don't know, but in the pastoral letter I wrote immediately after the Encyclical was published, I insisted on this. I said don't let this prevent you from receiving the sacraments
Frost: Yes I do. I read that. I read that but you've never never said it as clearly or as forthrightly as you did then. Thank you Cardinal: I didn't have Mr. Frost to help me to express myself.