Edward Pentin began reporting on the Pope and the Vatican with Vatican Radio before moving on to become the Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Register. He has also reported on the Holy See and the Catholic Church for a number of other publications including Newsweek, Newsmax, Zenit, The Catholic Herald, and The Holy Land Review, a Franciscan publication specializing in the Church and the Middle East. Edward is the author of “The Rigging of a Vatican Synod? An Investigation into Alleged Manipulation at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family”, published by Ignatius Press. Follow him on Twitter @edwardpentin
As predicted last year, moves are underway to push the idea that what some see as a “new moral paradigm” in Amoris Laetitia — to give Holy Communion to some living in irregular unions — could be applied to Humanae Vitae to allow contraception in certain cases.
The latest example of this comes from a newly appointed member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Professor Maurizio Chiodi, who delivered a lecture last month saying there are “circumstances — I refer to Amoris Laetitia, Chapter 8 — that precisely for the sake of responsibility, require contraception.”
The lecture, entitled “Re-reading Humanae Vitae (1968) in light of Amoris Laetitia (2016),” was the latest in a series of talks at the Pontifical Gregorian University to mark the 50th anniversary of Blessed Paul VI’s landmark encyclical, which upheld the Church’s ban on use of artificial contraception.
LifeSite news’ Diane Montagna has the full story, publishing excerpts of Father Chiodi's remarks and providing the complete context of his talk. The Italian Catholic daily La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana has also published details of the talk in Italian.
Humanae Vitae is believed by its proponents to have been prophetic, as it foresaw that widespread use of contraception would lead to a breakdown of the family, and a greater dehumanization of society.
But Father Chiodi, a professor of moral theology at the Northern University of Italy in Milan, clearly argued for contraceptive use, saying that in some cases where “natural methods are impossible or unfeasible,” it would be an act of “responsibility” to use artificial contraception.
He partly grounded his argument in the fact that the “urgency of this issue [contraceptive use]” seems “gradually to be diminishing” to the extent that many pastors don’t talk about it any more, which is also why he believes it’s hardly mentioned in Amoris Laetitia, nor explicitly referred to as “intrinsically evil.”
He believes that artificial contraception “could be recognized as an act of responsibility that is carried out, not in order to radically reject the gift of a child, but because in those situations responsibility calls the couple and the family to other forms of welcome and hospitality.”
What he drew from Amoris Laetitia was the “objective relevance of extenuating circumstances and subjective responsibility of the conscience” and “the constitutive relationship between norm and discernment.”
The Italian theologian, one of a number of dissenters of Humanae Vitae to be made members of the Pontifical Academy for Life last year, insisted “it’s not a matter of abolishing the norm” that banned contraceptive use but rather “of demonstrating its meaning and truth."
His comments come as evidence suggests that those opposed to the teachings on contraception in Humanae Vitae — some of whom today hold positions of influence and enjoy support from the highest ranks of the Church — are viewing the upcoming anniversary as a unique opportunity to revise and soften the Church’s teaching on the issue — their goal for the past 50 years since its publication.
In an Oct. 28 talk in Rome last year on Humanae Vitae, Franciscan Father Serafino Lanzetta critiqued the kinds of arguments used by Father Chiodi, ones that “disregard an ethic on the law or the norm to make reference to an ethic of the person or of love or of responsibility.” He also highlighted the kind of “persuasive language” used by Father Chiodi and others, which is “intended to obtain support for a new beginning while at the same time demonstrating continuity.”
However, others — such as the head of a papally approved four-member committee currently looking into the Vatican’s historical archives — insist that nothing is underway to contradict the encyclical. Msgr. Gilfredo Marengo said the committee’s work is simply aimed at promoting “a comprehensive and authoritative study” of Humanae Vitae — a “work of historical-critical investigation” to coincide with this year’s anniversary.
But Blessed Paul VI’s reaffirmation of the ban on contraception (he called it “intrinsically wrong” at a time when much of the world had accepted contraceptive use), is “abundantly clear” teaching, said a moral theologian quoted in the LifeSite article.
The theologian cited teachings from Pius XI, Blessed Paul VI, St. John Paul II, and Catholic moral tradition to show the Church has always taught that the use of contraceptives is “an intrinsic evil” — in other words, “a moral evil that never becomes good no matter what circumstances may exist.”
Others note that the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 1756) states that it is “an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context” and that “one may not do evil so that good may result from it.”
Writing in La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana, Lorenzo Bertocchi points out that Father Chiodi's emphasis on subjective responsibility and the objective situation is the same as what Professor Rocco Buttiglione has said is useful in resolving the Amoris Laetitia debate of allowing "divorced and remarried" or cohabiting Catholics to receive the Eucharist.
Dominican Father Ezra Sullivan, professor of moral theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, and others have noted similarities in this debate with the Lambeth Conference of 1930, when Anglican bishops passed Resolution 15 to allow contraceptive use only on clear “moral” grounds but not for “motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.” The resolution stated:
“Where there is a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, the method must be decided on Christian principles. The primary and obvious method is complete abstinence from intercourse (as far as may be necessary) in a life of discipleship and self-control lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, in those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles. The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception-control for motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.”
Father Sullivan, who said the thinking of Father Chiodi and others “is in line” with the Anglicans’ resolution, pointed out that the Anglican bishops at that time “famously declared that married couples may use contraceptives, albeit only when they ‘clearly felt’ it was a ‘moral obligation.’” Couples, he added, “were to avoid all ‘motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience,’ of course.”
But he said this “defiance of traditional orthopraxy” was also an “attack on orthodoxy, for every principled change of practice necessarily entails a change in principles.”
“Essentially, Anglican bishops taught that feelings can determine morality, and that a graven image can adequately substitute for Catholic Tradition,” he added.
Soon after the Lambeth resolution, the floodgates were opened to widespread contraceptive use, separating the unitive and dimensions of marital love and precipitating today’s hyper-sexualized culture characterized by high abortion rates and same-sex “marriage.”
The Anglican communion, torn apart by issues of sexuality in recent years, has never recovered but instead has been racked by widening divisions ever since.