Contraception, ART: the Pontifical Academy for Life Talks About It Again

Source: FSSPX News

Bishop Vincenzo Paglia

Recent questioning of the doctrinal scope of the encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968) within the Church, is tending towards considering a reform of the teaching on assisted reproductive technology (ART)  and contraception may be on the agenda. Enough to revive the controversy on the “non-negotiable points” of Christian doctrine.

Gone are the days when Vatican religious news marked a summer break, while the successor of Peter abandoned the apostolic palaces to their scorching torpor, to join the smiling and peaceful countryside of Castel Gandolfo.

In July 2022, the Pontifical Academy for Life reignited controversy in the Catholic world over several bioethical issues – ranging from contraception to in vitro fertilization – which seemed to have been sufficiently commented on and settled for several decades.

It all began with the publication of the book Theological Ethics of Life: Scripture, Tradition, Practical Challenges at the beginning of the summer. A book that includes several contributions presented at a conference sponsored by the Academy in 2021.

These defended the distinction between a supposed moral ideal presented by the Church – such as the refusal of contraception – and the concrete and pastoral application of this ideal, which would justify departures from traditional teaching.

Under the fire of criticism from those who accuse him of having given authority to theologians considered to be heterodox, the president of the Academy justified himself at the Vatican Radio microphone: “We rather wanted to bring together different opinions on very controversial topics, offering many points for discussion,” explained Bishop Vincenzo Paglia.

The debate then ignited at the beginning of August, following a tweet published on the official account of the Academy for Life, claiming that the content of the encyclical Humanae Vitae, promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1968, prohibiting, among other things, artificial birth control, does not bear the seal of infallibility, and therefore is reformable.

The argument is perplexing, because it amounts to saying that everything outside the domain of infallibility would be subject to evolution: by all logic, we can do better...

Moreover, an element of doctrine does not need to be formally declared infallible in order to be so effectively: no pope has ever proclaimed as “infallible” the moral teachings of the Church on lying, theft, or murder, which does not mean that it would be possible one day to cut the throat of one's neighbor in complete peace of mind.

But the Academy for Life seems to disregard arguments based on logic and common sense: one of its eminent members, Rogrigo Guerra – who is also secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, and member of the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences – said it was “necessary to go beyond Humanae Vitae.”

Similarly, Civilta Cattolica, controlled by the Jesuits, announced on July 2 that the Holy Father could soon promulgate “a new encyclical or apostolic exhortation on bioethics, which he could perhaps title Gaudium Vitae (The joy of life).”

Would it be relevant to “go beyond Humanae Vitae”? What we know is that the more critical and negative the reception of the encyclical on the part of the episcopates won over to liberal ideas and the spirit of 1968, the more the decline of moral theology is found to be accentuated in the regions concerned.

It is not a question here of settling the question of the doctrinal status of the encyclical Humanae Vitae: at least we can consider it invested with a high degree of authority, because it comes under the ordinary magisterium of the pope and it repeats a constant teaching.

Admittedly, the ordinary pontifical magisterium remains fallible – and developments in the crisis that the Church has been going through for several decades point in this direction – but, the more constant it is, the more we can presume its inerrancy: even the case of the teaching given in Humanae Vitae? Theologians will give their opinion and the Magisterium will decide in due time.