Pontifical Academy Raises Confusion, on Contraception, ‘Humanae Vitae’

The Pontifical Academy for Life has triggered renewed speculation that Pope Francis could be planning a new document addressing the Church’s teaching on the immorality of artificial contraception.

Newsroom (09/08/2022 08:55 PM Gaudium Press) One of the social media accounts of The Pontifical Academy for Life said that Humanae vitae, Pope St. Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical letter on the subject, is not infallible.

“History records by Abp. Lambruschini confirmed that Paul VI said [to] him directly that [Humanae vitae] were not under infallibility,” the Pontifical Academy’s official Twitter account said on Aug. 6.

The academy’s now-deleted tweet generated considerable backlash and speculation online. Many commentators interpreted the statement as suggesting that the landmark encyclical could become the subject of papal review or reform.

When questioned whether Catholics are bound to the prohibition on artificial contraception expressed in Humanae vitae and if the academy’s leaders maintain that teaching can change, the academy stated on Twitter on Aug. 8 (which it has since deleted) that “Many people on Twitter seem to think that Humanae vitae is an infallible and irreformable pronouncement against contraception.”

“As regards the specific question of contraception,” the academy said, “when the moral theologian of the Pontifical Lateran University Msgr. Ferdinando Lambruchini presented Humanae vitae in a press conference in the Vatican on Jul. 29 1968, responding to a specific journalist’s question, he stated – under the mandate of [Pope Saint] Paul VI – that the encyclical Humanae vitae did not express a definitive truth of faith granted by ‘infallibilitas in docendo’.”

As the pontifical academy’s tweet noted, the encyclical was not issued invoking infallible papal teaching authority, which is usually reserved for the pronouncement of revealed dogmatic teachings, like the Immaculate Conception.

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But Pope Paul VI explained in its text that Humanae vitae still contained an articulation of unchangeable teaching:

“Since the Church did not make either of these laws [natural and evangelical], she cannot be their arbiter—only their guardian and interpreter. It could never be right for her to declare lawful what is in fact unlawful, since that, by its very nature, is always opposed to the true good of man,” wrote Pope St. Paul VI.

“In preserving intact the whole moral law of marriage, the Church is convinced that she is contributing to the creation of a truly human civilization.”

Pope St. Paul VI acknowledged that “not everyone will easily accept this particular teaching” against artificial contraception” and noted “much clamorous outcry against the voice of the Church” on the subject.

“But it comes as no surprise to the Church that she, no less than her divine Founder, is destined to be a ‘sign of contradiction.’ She does not, because of this, evade the duty imposed on her of proclaiming humbly but firmly the entire moral law, both natural and evangelical.”

In his 1968 encyclical, Paul VI warned that the widespread adoption of artificial contraception, even within marriage, would lead to increases in divorce, abortion, and other forms of sexual immorality, all contributing to increased human suffering.

During an inflight press conference last month, Pope Francis was asked about the possibility of “developing” Church doctrine on the subject; the pope responded, “When dogma or morality develop, it’s a good thing.”

“A Church that doesn’t develop its thinking in an ecclesial sense is a church that goes backward,” Francis said.

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But the pope added that “dogma, morality, is always in a path of development, but development in the same direction.

“On the issue of contraception, I know there is a publication out on this issue and other marriage issues. These are the proceedings of a congress, and in a congress, there are hypotheses, then they discuss among themselves and make proposals. We have to be clear: those who made this congress did their duty because they tried to move forward in doctrine, but in an ecclesial sense, not out, as I said with that rule of St. Vincent of Lerins. And then the magisterium will say: yes, it is good [or] it is not good, the pope added.

– Raju Hasmukh

(with files from The Pillar)

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