Pontifical Gregorian University Hosts Series of Talks to Take New Look at Humanae Vitae

Organizers say the aim is to take a new and broad look at the encyclical “in the context of a time of change” and because difficulties have become “more complex.”

The Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome is hosting a series of talks from October until May aimed at considering the “transformations, needs and hopes” of the family 50 years after Humanae Vitae.

The presentations, organized by the Jesuit university’s faculty of social sciences and department of moral theology, are being billed as the “first interdisciplinary” study to mark the 50th anniversary since the promulgation of Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical.

News of the events comes 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 an opportunity to revise and weaken the Church’s teaching on the issue.

The university introduces the talks by saying that the Second Vatican Council preceded the “great social change” of 1968 which “proposed” that the Church “evaluate the present, scrutinizing the ‘signs of the times,’ and looking for solutions in friendship with all intellectual and social expressions of good will.”

The organizers say the presentations, which began Thursday and will run until the end of May, therefore want to “look at the reality of the family, considering its transformations, needs and hopes, in harmonious respect of all the parties that comprise the family.”   

Blessed Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical re-affirmed the Church’s prohibition of artificial contraception as “intrinsically wrong,” approved natural family planning methods, and upheld the Church’s teaching on conjugal love and responsible parenthood.

Nine afternoons of talks entitled “The Journey of the Family, 50 Years Since Humanae Vitae,” will include speakers such as theologian Father Maurizio Chiodi who will talk on “Re-reading Humanae Vitae (1968) from Amoris Laetitia (2016),” and Argentine Jesuit Father Miguel Yanez, one of the chief organizers of the talks, who on Thursday introduced the year's series, with the talk entitled “1968-2018: Complexity of an Appraisal.”

“Above all, we want to reflect theologically on the situation of the family today,” Father Yanez told the Register Oct. 19. “Just as we know Amoris Laetitia deals with problems in the context of a time of change, so there are points in Humanae Vitae that we must think about in light of the new situation, in light of the magisterium of Pope Francis.”

Father Yanez, who teaches theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University and is a close friend of Pope Francis, said contraception is not the basis of Humanae Vitae, and there are “many problems” that have emerged over the past 50 years.


Problems Have Become "More Complex"

“The problems have increased, become more complex, and therefore we don’t want the problems to remain but to overcome them,” he said.  The Argentine Jesuit professor will also speak on the theme: “Couple and family relationships: disenchantment, resistance and hopes.”

In May 2015, Father Yanez took part in the “secret synod” at the Gregorian, during which a number of theologians sought to sway the synod on the family to accept same-sex unions, dispense with the term “intrinsically evil,” and introduce a controversial “theology of love.” 

Father Chiodi, meanwhile, is notable for having attempted in the past to justify contraception, using arguments that critics say are condemned in Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor. A theology professor at the Settentrionale University of Italy in Milan, the Italian priest was recently appointed a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

Earlier this year, Father Chiodi and Father Yanez also took part in the presentation at the Gregorian of a new book entitled Amoris Laetitia: A Turning Point for Moral Theology, edited by Stephan Goertz and Caroline Witting, in which it is argued that Amoris Laetitia represents a paradigm shift for all moral theology and especially in interpreting Humanae Vitae.

“Not only Amoris Laetitia, but also Evangelii Gaudium (Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation that is a kind of mission statement for his pontificate], speaks of the processes, speaks of lives of the people of God, who find it impossible to look for God, to live the Gospel, in line with the magisterium,” Father Yanez said Oct. 19. “So we are trying to find a position in continuity with the teaching of Paul VI and also the bishops’ conferences’ pronouncements on the encyclical.”

Speaking to the Register after giving his talk on Thursday on “1968-2018: Complexity of an Appraisal,” Father Giuseppe Bonfrate said it was important to follow the example of the Pope who asked pastors to have “understanding and mercy, to consider the difficulties of some people.” Father Bonfrate, who teaches dogmatic theology at the Gregorian, said it’s not possible to “take the same position for every person.”

He said there is a need for a change in the moral paradigm, adding that the magisterium is dynamic, not static and set for a certain time, and that the Church’s teaching “evolves.” He did not think that contraception was the major reason for the crisis in the family today, but rather he put it down to a “loss of consideration of the value of sacredness of a marital union.”

Father Bonfrate added that regarding Humanae Vitae, it is important to have a “formed conscience to have the capacity to discern” rather than “indoctrinating the person.” Amoris Laetitia, he said, “makes this point very clearly,” making this concept of forming conscience an element of discernment. “Before, this hadn’t been so developed in the magisterium,” he said, while stressing this connection is “not a rupture but a development of doctrine.”


1960's "Changed Many Things"

In comments to La Stampa about the upcoming talks, another speaker, Emilia Palladino, a professor of social sciences at the Gregorian, said “it seems interesting, departing from Humanae Vitae, to reflect on changes in couples and families over the past fifty years.” 

She added that the past half century has been crucial to Italian, European and world history following sexual revolution of the 1960s which “changed many things.” For this reason, she said the two faculties wanted to “deepen the reality of the family today, taking our departure from Humanae Vitae.”

She added that the encyclical “unjustly passed into history” based solely on being anti-contraception, but said it also deals with many other areas such as “social policies for families, new families in an environment where there are immigrants, demographic changes.”

Humanae Vitae will therefore be the starting point of “meaning and content that we intend to develop in the light of the last fifty years,” she said.

Other themes, each to be discussed by two or more speakers, include “The advent of biotechnology and control over life;” “The family between demographic changes and development models;” “The new multiculturalism: migration, cultural islands, generational conflicts;” “Social policies for the family: An Appraisal;” and “Gender in couples.”

Palladino said the course is "primarily aimed at students but is open to all: laity, people engaged in parish ministry but, more generally, all those who are interested in the subject, life, that affects everyone.”

Earlier this year, the Vatican quietly created a four-member commission with the Pope’s approval, in order to “promote a comprehensive and authoritative study” of the Humanae Vitae to coincide with the anniversary. The commission coordinator, Msgr. Gilfredo Marengo, played down its influence, saying its purpose is simply to carry out a “work of historical-critical investigation,” reconstructing the “whole process of composing the encyclical.”

Critics, however, believe it is a means to soften the encyclical’s teaching on contraception by taking a revisionist view of history.

Asked if he believed the conferences might influence the Church and her magisterium, Father Yanez said such a prediction would be “pretentious.”

“Obviously we want to serve the Church with our reflections,” he told the Register, adding that above all, he wished to help students to understand the talks would be “in continuity with other initiatives that follow the magisterium of the Church which, at the moment, are focused on marriage and the family.”