It appears that Pope Francis is trying to reverse the Catholic Church’s unpopular and widely-ignored ban against artificial birth control.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae (“Of Human Life”), Pope Paul VI’s encyclical forbidding contraception. Two years ago, Pope Francis released another encyclical that dealt also dealt with sexuality entitled Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love’), which seemed to relax the teaching that divorced and remarried Catholics may not receive Holy Communion.
Now Pope Francis has appointed a commission to interpret Humanae Vitae in light of Amoris Laetitia. He has also revamped a Vatican institute on marriage and the family to give it the same mission. Both the commission and the institute are headed by critics of the no-birth-control teaching.
Amoris Laetitia offers two loopholes that liberal Catholics, apparently including Pope Francis, hope to drive a truck through:“the objective relevance of extenuating circumstances,” and “the subjective responsibility of conscience.”
Both concessions, conservative Catholics believe, would fatally undermine traditional moral teaching.
Even conservative non-Catholics might agree. Even non-Catholics who may not agree with the contraception ban might question the process of countering a teaching by interpreting it away.
Some might say, if the Pope wants to change the church’s teachings, why doesn’t he just use his authority to do so? The papacy and Catholicism don’t work that way. One infallible pope must not undermine the teachings of another infallible pope. To do so would be to undermine infallibility all together!
When there are contradictions in encyclicals, some way must be devised to “save the appearances” by a strategy of interpretation.
This is a strategy of liberal theology in general, to “interpret” the Bible, often by means of an ingenious paradigm, rather than to accept it as written.
(For details about the Pope’s actions, see E. Christian Brugger, “A New Assault on Humanae Vitae Begins,” National Catholic Register).
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