Thursday, September 18, 2008


by Robert McClory - Chapter 7

...1964 was marked by a remarkable sustained rise in the lay voice on the subject of birth control. The book WHAT MODERN CATHOLICS THINK ABOUT BIRTH CONTROL, presented the insights of twelve lay Catholics, all professionals in a variety of disciplines, most of whom argued that marital sexuality stood at a threshold requiring development of the old doctrine. In a second book, THE EXPERIENCE OF MARRIAGE, thirteen couples expressed their views and made at least two clear points: a majority of couples find rhythm frustrating and not very effective; and many couples resent the narrow interpretation of marital relations presented by celibate theologians who formulate doctrine by talking to one another. Several cited Cardinal John Henry Newman's pioneer easay ON CONSULTING THE FAITHFUL ABOUT DOCTRINE. In it Newman showed how the laity on more than one occasion had prevented the whole Church from lapsing into heresy, even when the majority of bishops seemed fully prepard to lapse. (pp 57-58)

At the October 1964 session of Vatican II, during discussions Cardinal Emile Leger, archbishop of Montreal told the assembly:

"Many theologians think that our present difficulties derive from an inadequate presentation of the goals of marriage. We have had a pessimistic, negative attitude toward love. This schema [The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World] is intended to amend these conceptions and clarify love and its purposes." In fact, he said, the schema should go further. "Love is a good in itself. It makes its own demands and has its own laws...Let us be clear. Otherwise the fear of conjugal love that has so long paralyzed our theology will persist. We must affirm that the intimate union of the couple finds its legitimate end in itself, even when it is not directed toward procreation." (p. 59)

The subject of birth control, though, was specifically omitted from the schema and left in the hands of the Birth Control Commission. (p. 58)

Cardinal Suenens suggested that the Birth Control Commission and the Council commission that was creating the schema might work together. He suggested that too much weight had been given to the Biblical phrase "Increase and multiply" with not enough given to "And they shall be two in one flesh". He is quoted as saying "We have made progress since...St. Augustine. Let us have done with Manichean pessimism." (p. 59-60)

Patriarch of Antioch Maximos IV Saigh told the Council:

"Among the anguishing and sorrowful problems which agitate the human masses today, there emerges the problem of birth regulation, a problem most urgent since it is the bottom of the grave crisis of the Catholic conscience. There is here a conflict between the official doctrine of the Church and the contrary practice of the vast majority of Catholic families. The authority of the Church is once more questioned on a large scale. The faithful are reduced to loving outside the law of the Church, far from the sacraments, in constant anguish." (p. 60)

Therein lies the heart of dissent. Impose an impossible constraint, make the sin mortal, and confession fades to the background of Catholic thought, as we have seen that it has done. Force a majority of Catholic couples to reject Catholic teaching on one subject, and soon the conscience reforms into an openness to rejection of teaching on many other subjects. One can only cope with a double bind for so long without changing thinking to accommodate it.

Cardinal Bernard Alfrink offered:

"An honest doubt is rising among many married people and also scientists and some theologians regarding the arguments used to prove that the only efficacious moral and Christian solution to...conflicts in married life...is complete or periodic continence...Only if there is real certainty regarding the knowledge of the true content of divine law can and must the Church bind or free the consciences of her faithful." (pp 60-61)

McClory writes that a "thunderous applause" followed.

Cardinal Ottaviani, head of the Holy Office, voiced a contrary view:

"I am not pleased with the statement...that married couples can determine the number of the children they are to have. This is unheard of, from previous centuries up to our own times. The priest who speaks to you is the eleventh of twelve children, whose father was a laborer in a bakery--a laborer, not the owner of a bakery, a laborer. He never doubted Providence, never thought about limiting his family, even though there were difficulties."

Rhythm and NFP, however, propose to do just that, and with the full blessing of the Church.

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