Page 5, 1st December 1978

1st December 1978
Page 5
Page 5, 1st December 1978 — New Pope saw beyond Humanae Vitae

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New Pope saw beyond Humanae Vitae

ASKED in late August about the kind of Pope we needed, Frank Sheed prophesied rather closely: "Cardinal Wyszynski would be good: he has dealt so long and so successfully with the Communist world. Confrontation with the Communist world is going to continue to be important ...

"The biggest issue facing the next Pope will be sex. There used to be a common teaching and a common un derstanding among Catholics, but now people go their own way: for the first time ever Catholics don't believe in a common teaching."

What we got on October 16 was a younger Wyszynski, who had been a member of the Papal Commission reporting on "Marriage and the Family" in the lead up to Humanae Vitae of July, 1968, the Pope's encyclical on birth control.

I am impressed by the passion and the utter conviction with which both sides of the contraception debate state their case, and challenge all-corners to contradict it; and the enormously broadcast and persistent concern shown by people searching for final principles by which to fashion their lives.

For myself I have steadfastly sat on the fence for all of a decade, despite some buffeting from both sides and indeed Catholic Herald letters over the years, and especially over the last weeks, have reflected the same animus. Well, much as I admire both sides for their faith and its championship, I still cannot see either answer as so finally cogent that it should steam-roller the other. Audi afteram partem (hear the other side) as St Pius X was fond of saying.

My general conviction lies not with Plato, that there are absolute ideals which have their perfection in Heaven and must be imposed on earth (with the language of "intrinsically evil / good"); but with Aristotle, who held that, perfection on earth is t' compromise between idealism and realism.

Every ideal is necessarily interpretable in the light of time / place / person / pressures; none is wholly beyond the effect of human exigency. I would add that the most thoughtful of the Bishop's Conferences are of the same mind, as I shall show.

Sitting still upon the fence, I may best illuminate the debate on Hermanae Vitae by a selective chronology, drawing in the new Pope where I can. Surprisingly, we may begin with a Polish book (edition Znak): its second edition published in 1962 has a rewritten fourth chapter on "Justice Towards the Creator" dealing with monogamy and indissolubility in marriage, procreation and continence, mystical and physical viginity, and vocation to paternity and maternity. in the French edition Amour et Responstabilite (Paris 1965) it was written by Karol Wojtyla, then Professor of Ethics at Krakow, who had just been made Auxiliary Bishop (in his thirties).

The main feature of his ethics was man and his proper responsibilities; and these insights he brought to the Vatican Council, whose October 2964 debates on the Schema Gaudium et Spas led to a radical review of marriage as "a community of love" which perfected its life in parenthood. Old premises were reversed, offspring being properly viewed as the evidence of an established love-community.

Amour et Responsabilite: Etude de Morale Sexuelle. The Archbishop's aim was to show that the natural force of In tendance sexuelle is set in the context of person. Sex education must therefore transcend biology and rise to the personal level, where lies love and responsibility: there alone is true healing and true teaching.

Knowledge of bio-physiological processes is vital, but insufficient: for every person's vocation, natural and supernatural, is love.

Set in four chapters, the sturcture is this:

1. Interpretation of the sexual tendency; to play, to use, to love, to religion.

2. Analysis of person and love; to concupiscence, to goodwill and reciprocity.

3. Personal chastity; false forms and true, due pudeur, shame absorbed by love, continence.

4. Justice towards the Creator; in marriage and its indissoluble commitments, in vocation to virginity, paternity and maternity.

Annex: Problems of conjugal rapport; problems of birth regulation; the morals of La psychotherapeutique sexuelle.

In his wisdom, Pope Paul VI reserved to himself, from the Council Fathers, the study of birth control, mixed marriages and clerical celibacy. As to the first, he inherited a Papal Commission established by Pope John in 1963, and to this Commission's fah session in April, 1966, were called 16 cardinals and bishops, including the Archbishop of Krakow (not surprisingly).

As to the Council, Pope Paul made a "wait and see" address to the cardinals in June, 1964, enlarging his Papal Commission to 50 members at the end of that year for its fourth session.

Gaudium et Spes, in its final state, had to remain inconclusive, studiedely steering clear of birth control.

The Commission's fifth session of May-June, 1966, at the critical sessions (from which the Archbishop of Krakow was sadly absent) produced a "minority report" of four Jesuit theologians advocating no change in the Church's traditional teaching (undiscussed in plenary session); and the so called "majority report" showing the limits of classical doctrine and showing modern moral criteria regarding human intervention in conception. An early version was leaked to the public.

Of the 15 votes cast (the 16th being that of the Archbishop of Krakow, alas for our understanding of his mind today), Pro President Cardinal Dopfner and eight voted in favour, with three doubtful -so only Cardinal Ottaviani of the Holy Office; Bishop Colombo, the Pope's personal theologian, and Bishop Morris of Cashel (Ireland) voted against it.

Humanae Vitae, seeming to set aside the advice of some 50 Commission experts and the main weight of the Commission bishops, was promulgated on July 29, 1968, advocating a traditional teaching that set a high ideal with little room, for cornpromise.

Their followed the compromise from those who have the task of ruling the local Churches, the national hierarchies: they essentially used two related sets of arguments to modify the teaching of the encyclical "conflict of duties" and "conflict of evils", both familiar to moral theologians down the ages. They are part of the weaponry, may I say, of Aristotelians who reconcile ideals with reality.

The Belgium and German bishops were the first to utter, on August 30, invoking freedom of personal conscience. The Canadian bishops followed suit, but later seemed to regret it, issuing a tighter interpretation of conscience. The Irish bishops referred to Gaudium et Spes. Sections 50-51.

The Scandinavian bishops said: "Not even the Church can dispense from conscience and the bearing of responsibility." The French bishops declared: "Contraception is always a disorder, but this disorder is not always sinful . .. when one faces a choice of duties ... find which is the greater duty.

"The married couple will decide for themselves after reflecting together with all the care that the grandeur of their conjugal vocation requires." The Dutch bishops, at their January, 1969, Pastoral Council, voted that the renewal of the ban on artificial contraception was "not convincing on the basis of the arguments given".

They went on to declare: "Discussions about the way marriage is lived have not been closed; all activities in pastoral work and spiritual health are to be continued taking this into account." This amounted to a massive modification of Humananae Vitae by the critically thinking Church.

Catholic spouses who did not follwo it to the letter were left to decide themselves whether they were imperfect (requiring Confession), or in an imperfect situation (which did not require the sacrament). Of the principle, the great Karl Rahner wrote: "A conflict of conscience must not ligfhtly be assumed to be that between a hard law and a comfortable life: there will be not a few cases of a conflict -real or apparent -ol serious duties."

Pope Paul himself mollified the strictness of Humanae Vitae at his presentation audience on July 31, calling it incomplete; the encyclical itself spoke at its outset of "new problems" provoked by "recent evolution in human society"; and it spoke thus: "Sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater, or in order to promote a greater good." (This is nothing to do with doing evil that good may come, of course.)

When the Washington priests rebelled in favour of American bishops' statement that circumstances might make "inculpable" or "subjectively defensible" objectively evil human acts, the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy upheld them against their cardinal, and that presumably with papal backing.

We should now return to Amour et Responsibilite. After Human Vitae the Cardinal of Archbishop of Krakow published a revised edition supporting the encyclical, which was translated into several languages. Further, he wrote a valuable article for COsservatore Romano, drawing out the most far-seeing parts of the encyclical stressing the phrase "a communion of persons", and responsible parenthood as presupposing "an integral vision of man and his vocation" greater than is contained in such categories as biology, psychology, demography, sociology.

That integral vision, he maintained, is protected by the norms set out in Humanae Vitae, which "express profound solicitude to preserve man from the danger of altering his most fundamental values". Fully supporting the encyclical, he already saw beyond it; and that should fill us with hope.

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