Reports of the Threats to Humanae Vitae Are Greatly Exaggerated

Reports of the Threats to Humanae Vitae Are Greatly Exaggerated September 13, 2017

Pope Paul VI, via Creative Commons

Can we read what Pope Francis has actually said about Humanae Vitae? Is this too hard? Come, let us go together to Amoris Laetitia, that evil and heretical text that is going to overthrow the Church and rain down devastation, and look.

Here, look you, is §80:

Nonetheless, the conjugal union is ordered to procreation “by its very nature.” The child who is born “does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfillment. He or she does not appear at the end of a process, but is present from the beginning of love as an essential feature, one that cannot be denied without disfiguring that love itself. From the outset, love refuses every impulse to close in on itself; it is open to a fruitfulness that draws it beyond itself. Hence [Pay attention, now:] no genital act of husband and wife can refuse this meaning.

Here, look you, is §82:

The Church’s teaching is meant to “help couples to experience in a complete, harmonious and conscious way their communion as husband and wife, together with their responsibility for procreating life.


Amazing. It’s as though the pope is Catholic.

“We need to return to the message of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Blessed Pope Paul VI," says Francis in Amoris Laetitia. And in §222, look you, he tells us that both Humanae Vitae and Familiaris Consortio (e’en that) “ought to be taken up anew, in order to counter a mentality that is often hostile to life.”

So the pope is Catholic. It’s shocking, I know.

But back on January 19, 2015, the pope had this to say:

What I want to say about Paul VI is that it is true that openness to life is the condition of the sacrament of matrimony. A man cannot give the sacrament to the woman, and the woman give it to him, if they are not in agreement on this point to be open to life. … Paul VI was not more antiquated, closed minded. No, he was a prophet who with this said to watch out for the Neo-Malthusianism that is coming.”

So it would be odd, I tell you, if the pope had put together some commission to study whether the Church ought to do away with this part of Humanae Vitae.

On July 27, Crux published this article, by Inés San Martin, debunking rumors that such a commission exists. The rumors, says the article, had their origin in conservative blogs—a big shock, I know—but the truth of the matter is a bit more boring. San Martin placed a phone call to Fr. Gilfredo Marengo, the head of a group appointed to study Humanae Vitae, and he said that their task is to comb through archives “to reconstruct the writing process behind the encyclical.” “This is a historical-critical investigation work,” he told San Martin. “Nothing else.”

Cover story, some might say, nodding sagely. Well, yeah: That would require a particular burden of proof, I should think.

And yet on Monday, the National Catholic Register published this article by Edward Pentin reviving all the debunked rumors once more. “Recent developments in Rome,” Pentin begins, “indicate a campaign is underway to challenge the encyclical’s prohibition against artificial contraception.”

Recent developments? This has been going on since July 25, 1968. The gates of Hell will not prevail; no one promised the gates of Hell will not try. ’Twas ever thus. This is hardly news. Anyone shocked and chagrined has been asleep.

Half way through the first synod on the family, when it was becoming clear that heterodox agendas were being pursued in heavy-handed and deceptive ways [It’s clear that this is a claim], a well-respected Church figure took me aside at a reception with a pained expression on her face. “Of course, you realize this is all about Humanae Vitae,” she said. “That’s what I think they’re after. That is their goal.”

“A pained expression”; always with the melodrama! Ahy are these always anonymous sources who “took me aside” and “said to me in a stage whisper”? And why would the very synod that was the precursor to a text affirming Humanae Vitae have really been meant to overthrow it?

What Pentin cites here is an unnamed person’s opinion.

[T]he recent revelation of a four-member stealth commission to study the document — and other subtle and less subtle attempts to weaken the Church’s moral teaching — are making the concerns of the Church figure at the 2014 synod look ominously prescient.

Yes, this “stealth commission” is so “stealth” that (returning to the Crux piece from two months ago) Vatican Radio published an interview with Fr. Marengo in which Fr. Marengo said, “Oh, you know, I head up this group studying Humanae Vitae.” And it is so “stealth” that when San Martin from Crux called to speak with Fr. Marengo, he returned her call within ten minutes and said, “Oh, yeah, and you know, we’re doing an historical study of the process behind Paul VI writing it.”

This is all “stealth.” But “the commission was never formally announced,” Pentin says. That’s probably because the Vatican did not feel a need to, since its purpose—to reconstruct the writing process behind Humanae Vitae—was of documentary interest, to a few scholars perhaps but not to the wide, wide world. But then, as always happens, the rumors and the hyperventilation started, and so the Vatican said, “Okay, here’s what’s going on, folks.”

Pentin concedes all this, citing Fr. Marengo and Archbishop Vincenzio Pagalia. “But,” he continues (for there is always a “but”):

the mere existence of such a commission has left many suspicious and asking: Why make all the effort to deepen and study something that will not fundamentally change?

Oh. There is nothing to this, but suspicious people are suspicious. So it’s all suspicious. Why study something that’s not going to change: Is that a serious question? Should we not study the Bible, then? It’s not going to change; no need to study it! Is that what we’re saying here? Because that’s really odd. Something of value may be learned by studying what this commission is studying, that can deepen our appreciation for Humanae Vitae: Is that not a work of potential value for the Church? Why are we not celebrating this, rather than running around with our heads on fire with suspicion and panic?

More Pentin:

Also viewed as suspect is the unprecedented level of access given to the commission members. According to the memorandum, the Pope has given the scholars permission to view the relevant historical archives not only of the Secretariat of State, but also the Vatican Secret Archives and that of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Good heavens, this is what scholars do. They look through “relevant historical archives.” Our eyebrows should not arch in suspicion at this revelation; our mouths should open in a yawn of boredom. Scholars are behaving like scholars; the Church has gone over the edge.

More Pentin:

All of which amounts to a concern that the commission is being used as a cover: to look at the scientific and historical character of the document, but with the ultimate goal of presenting the Pope with enough information for the encyclical’s dissenters to say: “Times have changed—Humanae Vitae needs to be interpreted in the light of conscience, according to the complexity of people’s lives today.”

So there’s no evidence, but there’s “concern” that it’s all a “cover.” Based on anything concrete? No, but there’s “concern.” So nothing concrete? No. No. Well, you know, before his death Cardinal Caffara “privately expressed similar grave concerns.” Oh, so the evidence for the concern is someone else’s “privately expressed” concern.

I tell you, dear reader, this method of reasoning concerns me. Nevertheless, Pentin sees reason for concern in the attempts over the last four years to “marginalize” St. John Paul II by “ignoring his teachings.”

Really? Is this why Pope Francis canonized him? Is this why he cites Familiaris Consortio to death in Amoris Laetitia? And why he says that we need to study FC afresh “in order to counter a mentality that is hostile to life”? Because we’re ignoring John Paul II?

Here’s a subject for a study: Document all the citations of John Paul II in the writings of Pope Francis. Take as much time as you need, for you will be busy. Ignoring John Paul II? Please! You know who Pope Francis is ignoring? Boniface IV, that’s who. I demand answers. Why are we ignoring Pope Celestine III? Concerned people want to know.

Much of the rest of Pentin’s article is taken up with the kind of “connect-the-dots exercises” San Martin at Crux lambasts. “So what is likely to happen?” Pentin concludes.

The commission will have no authority to enact changes, [Of course it won’t. And Fr. Marengo has already said this is not its purpose anyway.] and, already, there are reports of divisions among them that will weaken its purpose. [Begging the question.] But some cardinals, bishops and theologians, as well as elements of the media, will use this opportunity to try to persuade Francis to modify Humanae Vitae using the strategies outlined above as well as others.

If I recall correctly, there was similar pressure on Paul VI in the months leading up to Humanae Vitae. A study of the process of putting that encyclical together will, at least in part, be a study of how he resisted those pressures—with the help of the Holy Spirit who guides the Church into all truth and protects it from error.

This is all much ado about nothing. That’s the nice way to put it.

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