Published as received. The author of the letter is an ecclesiastic with advanced specialized scholarly training, and one who has held significant teaching posts in Italy and abroad, but who also dedicates time and energy to pastoral care.
He is the same one whose letter http://www.chiesa published in January of 2016, on the deterioration in the “quality” of sacramental confessions, a deterioration that does not appear unrelated to the impact on many of the faithful of certain remarks of Pope Francis emphasized by the media
In this new letter he highlights the baselessness of the arguments recently adopted – mainly in a conference authorized from above at the Pontifical Gregorian University – to reinterpret and in substance invalidate the teaching of the encyclical of Paul VI “Humanae Vitae.”
In particular, he refutes as “disloyal” the claim of deriving the permissibility of anti-conception technologies from the fact that a great number of Catholic spouses already practice them, convinced in conscience that what they are doing is right.
The responsibility of this “erroneous conscience” promoted to a virtue – he explains – cannot be heaped upon the spouses, but must be traced back to those in the Church who have educated them badly, systematically remaining silent on or distorting the teaching of “Humanae Vitae.”
As for the letter before it, this time as well it is appropriate to keep the author’s name confidential, to avoid exposing him to predictable and inevitable retaliation.
Among the obsolete arguments dusted off by the moral theologian of the Theological Faculty of Northern Italy (FTIS, Milan), who is also a freshly appointed member of the “new” Pontifical Academy for Life, Professor Fr. Maurizio Chiodi, to eliminate the normative authoritativeness and credibility of the encyclical letter “Humanae Vitae” (HV) of Blessed Paul VI – which designates contraception as morally illicit and as acceptable instead the methods for avoiding conception that are based on the understanding and personalized identification of the infertile periods of the female cycle – there is that of the failed reception of this norm in the conjugal ethos of Catholic spouses, even thought they are of solid faith and practicing in other dimensions of the Christian life.
The 72-year-old theologian, in a public conference in Rome at the Pontifical Gregorian University entitled “Reinterpreting ‘Humanae vitae’ in the light of ‘Amoris laetitia,’” held on December 14, 2017, contested the permanent validity and binding nature, for all the faithful who have received the sacrament of marriage and live more uxorio, of the teaching of Blessed Paul VI – confirmed by his successors Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and as of now not abrogated by Pope Francis – which “condemns as always unlawful the use of means which directly prevent conception, even when the reasons given for the later practice may appear to be upright and serious” (HV, 16) and denounces as “error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong” (HV, 14).
One of the arguments adopted by Fr. Chiodi to try to dismantle the magisterium of Pope Giovanni Battista Montini on the intrinsic unlawfulness of every action that intentionally separates “the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act” (HV, 12), is based on the observation of a statistical-sociological-pastoral nature that this norm has been widely disregarded by the people of God, with the practical result of not being observed by most wives and husbands, who while using contraception do not accuse themselves of this sin in the course of sacramental confession, nor ask for the confessor’s help in judging their behavior on its rectitude or lack thereof.
The argument that “the great majority of even believing married couples live as though the norm doesn’t exist” (citation from the English translation by Diane Montagna of the recording of Fr. Chiodi’s conference, published on Life Site News on January is certainly not original. Already in 1985, Monsignor Giuseppe Angelini, he too a theologian of the FTIS, wrote: “The discrepancy between the personal morality of Catholics and the ecclesial magisterium is particularly accentuated on the issue of contraception. […] There has often been pointed out the distance of the argumentations proposed to support the moral condemnation of every artificial contraceptive technology with respect to the personalistic perspective of approach to the issue of sexuality” (“La teologia morale e la questione sessuale. Per intendere la situazione presente,” in: Aa. Vv., “Uomo-donna. Progetto di vita,” Rome 1985, 47-102, pp. 49-50).
The attempt to heap upon the faithful – in particular, spouses – the burden of proof that the teaching of HV on the natural regulation of births does not belong to the consolidated and perennial patrimony of Catholic moral doctrine turns out to be clumsy and misleading, and must be rejected.
That is in fact a reckless judgment which would see Catholic spouses as being mainly or solely responsible for the non-implementation of the norm of HV, which they are seen as having rejected in the name of “another truth” about the relationship between love and procreation that would not allow their conscience ultimately to judge contraception as an evil.
On closer inspection, and on the heels of an interpretation of the theological and pastoral experience of HV in many local Churches beginning in the late 1960’s, this is not the way things are.
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC0 teaches, following in this the preceding moral theology and magisterium, “a human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience” (CCC, no. 1790). It is therefore admissible that many married believers (in some Christian communities perhaps even the majority or even the totality) in deliberating their recourse to contraception may have followed their conscience, the voice of which, with certainty, did not indicate this action as an evil to be avoided. Does this mean that contraception is not intrinsically evil? Is their behavior “according to conscience” perhaps the moral proof that the law of HV is contrary to the conscience of Christian spouses and, therefore, is not right? No. Their conscience, as certain as it may be, was not upright, because “it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed” (CCC, no. 1790).
So let us ask ourselves this further question: with their contraceptive choice “according to an erroneous conscience,” do these numerous spouses bear the responsibility of lending a “testimony of conscience” against the magisterium, or of indicating to those in charge of Catholic moral teaching that what is prescribed by HV conflicts with the conscience of the believer and, therefore, has no binding value?
If this were so, the moral or pastoral theologian who gathers the experience of spouses with respect to the regulation of births, and studies it for the sake of submitting to the authority of the Church a proposal on this matter (as Fr. Chiodi intends to do), would attribute a grave responsibility to them. On the basis of that to which their choices in conscience attest a judgment would in fact be issued that would be translated into a norm (new or modified, or reinterpreted) that would have to apply to all believers. If the testimony of their conscience is false, the faithful would bear the burden of a misleading guideline issued to the whole Church, and the theologian would be concealing his responsibility with regard to this “new course” behind the people’s response to the Pilatesque question: “In conscience, what do you want to be liberalized: the natural regulation of fertility, or contraception?”
In reality, things cannot go this way at all. It would be too comfortable (and above all disloyal) not to consider that an erroneous conscience and its judgments are not always attributable to the responsibility of individuals.
At the origin of the deviations of the judgment of conscience there is not always the culpable disregard for seeking truth and goodness, but there can be a non-culpable ignorance of truth and goodness (cf. CCC, no. 1792-1793). This happens, for example, when a person or even an ample number of believers have not had the possibility of receiving an adequate formation of conscience and an illumination of moral judgment (cf. CCC, no. 1783) because they have not been offered any opportunity to know entirely and faithfully the teachings of the Church that directly concern them.
This is precisely what has happened in the case of the doctrine of HV. For decades countless priests, catechists, instructors and assistants of courses of preparation for the sacrament of marriage and educators of the young in Catholic parishes, associations, and movements have unjustly kept silent on the Church’s teaching with regard to the regulation of births.
Or else, they have presented it in a partial or erroneous way, for example saying that what matter for spouses is “being open to life,” generating one or a couple of children, and not, instead (according to HV) that every single conjugal act must remain open to life according to God’s plan for creation, in which it is provided that not all the periods of the woman’s fecund age are fertile.
Also numerous have been – among the priests and laity charged with family pastoral care – those who, out of culpable ignorance, have not kept up-to-date on the practical aspects of the methods for the natural regulation of fertility and on their effective capacity to indicate the days on which coitus could lead to conception and those on which this latter cannot happen. Many have not gotten past highlighting only the cyclical variations of body temperature under standard conditions (the calendar method), which in effect was not always reliable when HV was promulgated, ignoring the fact that, in the meantime, other methods based on symptomatic or biochemical data (hormone levels in the urine) have been made available and are currently in use to identify the woman’s fertile days, producing – in association with periodic continence – results comparable to those of the most widespread contraceptive methods. How many priests or educators continue to repeat to fiancés and spouses: “Anyway they don’t work!” or “If you use them, you’ll breed like rabbits!”
On the contrary, wherever in the Catholic communities both in Western countries and in Africa and Asia natural methods are presented and taught to married couples in a way that is correct both in their anthropological and ethical reasoning and in their practical application, they find a high level of consensus among spouses and are spread in families and among young people. Even more today than when HV was published, in that the anthropological vision proposed by it now encounters a “secular” view of sexual life and procreation guided by a greater sensitivity to the “ecology of the human body” (in particular the feminine) and by recourse to “nature” as a source for regulating its different functions, instead of the use of chemical-pharmaceutical products and mechanical devices.
But it would be ungenerous or even a grave wrong toward priests and their pastoral associates if they were to be loaded with all or most of the responsibility for not having formed properly the consciences of the faithful and of Catholic spouses in the matter of responsible procreation.
In its turn, in fact, too often the clergy has not been formed adequately or correctly on the teaching of HV. In how many seminaries, courses of the theological faculties, or refresher meetings for priests, deacons, and religious are they not instructed on the anthropological-theological and moral reasons that underlie the doctrine of HV! If they themselves do not know how to fully explain the teaching of Blessed Paul VI, confirmed by his successors up to the current pope, how could they illuminate the faithful on this?
A heavy responsibility for this deplorable situation must therefore be recognized in not a few professors of the theological anthropology of corporeality and of sexuality and of the moral theology of married life who give courses in the seminaries, in the theological faculties, and in the advanced institutes of religious studies. Without forgetting the responsibility, likewise grave, of the diocesan bishops and of the superiors of religious orders who have appointed these professors or have neglected the supervision of their work in the formation of seminarians, clergy, and consecrated.
Besides, one cannot forget that Professor Chiodi himself was repeatedly called by the then-president of the Pontifical Council of the Family, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, to give seminars on conjugal morality and procreation for the officials of this dicastery. Who however – solidly formed in the school of Archbishop Paglia’s predecessors, Cardinals Alfonso López Trujillo and Ennio Antonelli – never bowed to that attempt at indoctrination promoted by the one who is now president of the Pontifical Academy for Life.
Thank you for your attention and many cordial greetings, “ad maiorem Dei gloriam/“
In this climate of revisionism applied to “Humanae Vitae” it must nonetheless be noted that there are also important position statements in support of the authentic teaching of that encyclical.
This is the case, among others, of the pastoral letter published on February 2, the feast of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, by Denver archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, available on the website of the diocese in both English and Spanish:
The letter makes extensive reference to the “theology of the body” preached by John Paul II and makes a very positive assessment of the courses in Natural Family Planning organized in the diocese for young couples, before and after their marriage.
It is written in simple and effective language and concludes with a dictionary of terms that are the object of controversy, from chastity to contraception, from responsible fatherhood to sexual revolution.
For readers of English, a summary of the pastoral letter can be read in this article from Catholic News Agency:
(English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.)