Wednesday, September 10, 2008


TURNING POINT by Robert McClory - Chapter 1

The Commission, established by Pope John XXIII and continued by Pope Paul VI, met a total of four times:

1963 - Six people invited by the Pope to participate
April 1964 - Thirteen people invited--the first six plus 7 more
June 1964 - Two additional people invited
1965 - Forty-three more invited
April 1966 - Twenty-nine more invited for a total of 72

The original six members were Rev. Stanislas de Lestapis, S.J., sociologist; Dr. John Marshall, neurologist; Rev. Clement Mertens, S.J., demographer; Rev. Henri de Riedmatten, O.P., diplomat; Dr. Pierre von Rossum, internist; and Prof. Jacques Mertens de Wilmars, economist.

What is particularly striking is that there are no women involved in this initial discussion, and three of the members are presumably celibate men. There is no indication whether the non-priests were married men. This is the original team assembled to determine if birth control should be allowed to married couples.

Additional members added for the second and third meetings included nine men, seven of them priests.

Pat and Patty Crowley were invited for the fourth meeting in 1965. Another married couple, the Potvins, were also invited, as was Mrs. Marie Rendu. Apart from them, the rest were men, with the majority being members of the priesthood. The fifth meeting saw "Cardinals and bishops appointed as the official Commission members for the fifth and final meeting - 1966". There were no women or married couples represented at this last "official" meeting. In other words, the popes chose as advisors on a topic intimately related to the married state, a significant number of men who had never experienced it.

Commission members were forbidden to take photos even with their own cameras until after the final session on the last day. Pat and Patty snapped some group shots with their Polaroid, producing the only known photographs of the historic gathering.

Most of the reports and records of the Commission turned over to Pope Paul VI at the conclusion have never been released by the Vatican. When some crucial ones were leaked to the
National Catholic Reporter in 1967, the Pope was so distressed he wrote indignant letters to all the bishops on the Commission It is possible that the remaining papers, some twelve volumes in all, may have meet the same fate as the background papers for Pius XI's precedent-setting encyclical of 1930, Casti Connubii. That material simply disappeared in the recesses of the Vatican, as if dropped down a bottomless well. (p. 3)

Security is said by the author to have been heavy at every session. Among the crucial questions being discussed was whether Church doctrine could be changed:

Throughout its existence the Church has found it difficult to acknowledge mistakes. Yet mistakes there have been. Few would deny that the condemnation of Galileo was a mistake. The Crusades were a mistake. The various Inquisitions were mistakes. The virtual selling of indulgences in the sixteenth century was a mistake. The failure to take any clear stand against human slavery for nineteen hundred years was a mistake....Each of these represented a stance taken or an approval given by the Church at its highest levels... (p. 3-4)

In clear, no-nonsense language Pope Pius XI declared in his encyclical Casti Connubii that acts of artificial contraception are and always will be "intrinsically evil". "Intrinsically," as unanimously understood by theologians, means "in its very nature" or "in itself." Intrinsically evil acts therefore would never be permitted for any reason whatsoever. The "intrinsically evil" label has not been lightly applied in moral matters. Killing another human being is not considered intrinsically evil--the fifth commandment notwithstanding. Taking another's possessions against that person's will is not regarded as intrinsically evil--the seventh commandment notwithstanding. In these and similar cases, say moralists, circumstances may justify the action: self-defense in the case of killing, for example, or providing food for a starving human being in the case of stealing. But no circumstance--physical, psychological, eugenic, social, or economic--can be called forth to justify an action that is intrinsically (in its very nature) considered evil. And artificial contraception (which includes every form of birth control but rhythm) was declared intrinsically evil in the encyclical. (p. 4-5)

Why, then, was there no commandment forbidding something which would appear, from the "intrinsically evil" designation, to be morally worse than those actions forbidden by specific commandments? Did God not know about birth control when He issued His guidelines? Why is there nothing in Scripture that specifically addresses birth control?

This then was the context for the Pontifical Commission. Could the Church change its unambiguous position on contraception less than forty years after it had been stated so solemnly? No time here for the sands of history to mercifully cover the grave. Could it somehow alter its position so as to allow exceptions without admitting that a mistake had been made? (p. 5)

At the same time the Birth Control Commission was meeting, the Second Vatican Council was also taking place:

The Second Vatican Council...stressed the concept of the Holy Spirit's presence not just in the magisterium...but in "the faithful of every rank." It spoke of the ancient "sense of the faithful" as an important instrument in determining correct teaching and interpretation. Many theologians even discussed the "consent of the faithful"--that is, the acceptance of a Church teaching by the people--as one of the factors that identify the Church's actual belief. The Commission represented an experiment in some of those ideas... (p. 5-6)

To be continued...

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