Before his death on Sept. 6, Cardinal Carlo Caffarra had privately expressed similar grave concerns about the commission. Like others, he believed the opening of the archives was a ploy to obtain selected findings and then present them to show that Paul VI’s commission was moving in the direction of loosening the Church’s teaching on contraception, but undue pressure was placed on the Pope to reassert the doctrine.
Another expected strategy by commission members and other “revisionists” is to present any re-interpretations as part of a “change in paradigm” in moral theology, just as was achieved with Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) in allowing for some civilly remarried divorcees to receive Holy Communion. The emphasis is expected to be on changing pastoral practice to make it more applicable to today — a tactic, say critics, to alter and soften Church teaching by finding exceptions, while all the time insisting the doctrine won’t be changed.
The clincher is remembering what Pope Francis himself said about Humanae Vitae:
Finally, there are Pope Francis’ own comments regarding the encyclical’s teaching. Asked in 2014 if the Church should revisit the issue of contraception, he replied: “It all depends on how the text of Humanae Vitae is interpreted. Paul VI himself, toward the end, recommended that confessors show great kindness and attention to specific situations.”
He added it is not a question of “changing doctrine, but to go into the depths, and ensuring that pastoral [efforts] take into account people’s situations, and that, which it is possible for people to do.”
The Pope also last year praised one of the most prominent dissenters of Humanae Vitae, the German moral theologian Bernard Häring. And speaking to reporters in February last year, Francis cited favorably a mythological story of Paul VI allowing nuns in the Congo to use contraception for cases of violence. The case has historically been used by dissenters as a means to circumvent the encyclical’s teaching. The Pope is also sympathetic to the vision of the Church of the late Jesuit Cardinal Carlo Martini, who was very vocal in his opposition to Humanae Vitae.
Further adding to the sense that there is a plot afoot are the recent articles coming out in leftist “Catholic” publications attacking the very root of the Catholic moral teaching against artificial contraception. The timing of these articles seems to indicate the leftist intelligencia is preparing the way by presenting systematic dissections of the Catholic teaching that can no doubt be adopted by the “commission” to change it.
One such article is titled “Indefensible: Moral Teaching After Humanae Vitae” and found in the sordid pages of the leftist “Catholic” magazine Commonweal. The article is important as it was penned by an intellectual heavyweight in leftist circles who, like the modernists Pius X spoke of, makes what appears to the unwary to be a convincing case, but in reality it is filled with erroneous and dangerous premises. The author, Michael Dummett, “was Wykeham Professor of Logic at Oxford University until his retirement in 1992. He has taught at Stanford University, Princeton University, the University of Bologna, the University of Ghana, and Harvard University.” Need I say more.
Examining a few of the supposed leftist “Catholic” arguments against the Church’s perennial teaching on artificial contraception will let us know what to expect this summer. In addition, my hope is that a truly Catholic professor of moral theology, or several, can take on articles like these and provide sound refutations to counter the onslaught of sophistry that the media machines of the “Catholic” left have begun to spew in anticipation of the commission’s report. For we all need to be prepared to counteract the poisonous onslaught that is around the corner.
The piece condescendingly begins with the sentence, “Though the church contrived to slide out of its condemnation of usury, it has difficulty discarding a teaching that declares some type of action immoral.” Any informed Catholic of a saner age would stop reading the article immediately, identify the author as an anti-Catholic bigot and move on. Sadly, however, this is Francis’ Church in 2018 and this author’s arguments are most likely holding sway with high ranking prelates in Rome, thus I have no choice but to engage them.
The idea that the Church (notice how the author uses a small “c”) “contrived to slide out of” any moral teaching including usury is, of course, absurd. This is explained briefly and adequately enough here.
The gist of the author’s argument is contained in the following two paragraphs:
A certain type of act, defined by a given form of description, may be intrinsically wrong. If so, it can never be morally justified by an ulterior purpose, however commendable; this is what is meant by saying that the end does not justify the means. For instance, to give someone a fatal dose of poison must in all circumstances be wrong: even if the purpose is to frustrate the known plan of the victim to massacre an entire family, it will still be wrong. It would be a misuse of the principle of double effect to appeal to it in justification of such a murder. The poisoner could not legitimately argue, “What I was doing was to save that family from slaughter; I had no interest in the death of my victim in itself.” Nor can the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki be justified on the score that what was being done was to end the war and the deaths of the inhabitants were side effects. Double effect can be invoked only when the act is in itself morally legitimate, even though in the particular circumstances it will have foreseeable evil side effects. Nothing can be a side effect if it is the means by which the objective of the act is realized. The poisoner cannot claim the death of his victim as a side effect: it is only through the death of the victim that he saves the family from massacre. Conversely, an act that is not intrinsically morally illegitimate may be wicked if it is done for an evil purpose. Thus to give someone a piece of information that it is not in itself wrong to impart in order to humiliate him or to prompt him to do something shameful is rendered an immoral act by the intention with which it was done.
The use of the Pill by a married woman with contraceptive intent does not fall into either of these categories. No one supposes that it is intrinsically wrong for a woman to take the Pill, for example, for its original purpose of regularizing irregular periods. It has been persuasively argued that the Pill may be legitimately taken with contraceptive intent, for instance, by a nun who knows herself in danger of rape. Equally, the intention, on the part of a married couple, of reducing the frequency or number of the wife’s pregnancies is, as already noted, recognized by the church as legitimate and, in appropriate circumstances, praiseworthy. In the ruling of Humanae vitae, we have therefore a condemnation as morally wrong of an act not intrinsically wrong but held to become wrong when it is done for a particular end, even though that end is likewise not in itself wrong. It is incomprehensible how this could be so; it is impossible to think of a parallel—at least, I have not been able to think of one. Whatever may be thought about the maintenance in the encyclical of the traditional teaching on other methods of contraception, the prohibition on the use of the Pill is indefensible on the basis of moral theology as it has always been previously understood, and throws the moral teaching of the church into confusion.
Where to begin? There is no time to cover all of the errors in these paragraphs, so I will focus on the most important. The author fails to take into consideration a critical aspect of what is happening when a married woman uses “the Pill.”
The author admits the Pill was originally meant to treat irregular periods. In this case there is a medical condition in which the body is not functioning as intended. It is legitimate for medical science to treat the condition. In that case there are serious side-effects to the treatment, especially side-effects such as temporary infertility, means to treat the disorder that do not have such a consequence should be sought. If the disorder cannot be treated in any other way, and the disorder is serious enough that it needs to be treated, then a side-effect of temporary infertility during treatment would precisely fall into the category of “double effect.”
The principle of double effect is when a good or morally neutral act, in this case the treating of a medical disorder, unintentionally causes a bad or evil side effect, in this case infertility. In these cases of course, the good done by the act, still needs to be balanced against the unintended evil effect.
What the author is arguing here, however, is completely different. The author is arguing that a married woman should be morally allowed to take the Pill with no intention to correct any medical disorder whatsoever, but for the very purpose of making herself infertile. In other words, the author is arguing that it is a morally good act to take a medicine to intentionally create a medical disorder in your own body.
The irony is that in the preceding paragraph the author was just talking about how it would be morally illicit to give poison to someone who tells you he is about to murder a family. However, in his world, it is perfectly licit to administer yourself poison in the form of the Pill to prevent your body from functioning properly. Such is the mind of the left.
The author misses the point of the Catholic teaching on the issue because he apparently has no foundation in the Natural Law. Instead he argues for what he previously just argued against. Namely that one can use “the ends justify the means” argument to determine moral liciety. By taking the Pill in the author’s scenario, a married woman is saying that the ends, in this case refraining from having a child for a serious reason, justify the means, deliberately consuming a substance with the express purpose of creating a disorder in your body. The latter act is always wrong and can never be justified in and of itself. That is commonly referred to as “intrinsically evil.”
To give an analogy, as the author is fond of, it would be logically similar to a person taking morphine or pain killers for the express purpose of getting high--and potentially damaging their health--versus a legitimate purpose of easing pain associated with grave injuries, surgery, etc. Similarly, in the case of cancer, sometimes treatments render the patient sterile. But the point of the treatment is to treat the cancer to avoid death, not to sterilize oneself. Intentionally sterilizing oneself would, of course, be a sin.
In the final analysis, one can see the clever sophistry present in the arguments of this Oxford Logic professor who spoke regularly at Stanford, Princeton, and Harvard. He has all of the prestige of these bastions of anti-Catholicism on his resume and is printed in so-called “Catholic” publications like Commonweal. And make no doubt, his arguments will be well represented to the four members of the Humanae Vitae commission. It will be our job, especially the moral theologians and experts among us, to call them out every step of the way.