Wednesday, September 24, 2008
THE BIRTH CONTROL COMMISSION
TURNING POINT by Robert McClory - chapter 11
The first four meetings of the Birth Control Commission were brief, three- or four-day affairs. The final meeting, held at the Spanish College in Rome, would last almost three months, beginning in early April 1966 and finally concluding at the end of June....periti). The real members were sixteen cardinals and bishops named by the Holy Father. Most would be attending only the final plenary meeting, and would be this new body--not the full Commission--that would make the final determination of what advice to give the Pope. It would be logical to see the hand of Cardinal Ottaviani in this unexplained procedural shift. He was well aware of the overwhelming consensus for change.... (pp 96-97)
Not everyone realized it, but the rules had changed. The Commission's members, according to the official schedule in Latin, were no longer members but "experts" (
Members of the final Commission meeting were Cardinals Ottaviani, Suenens, Heenan, Doepfner, Gracias, Shehan, and (Joseph) Lefebvre. New bishops were Colombo (the pope's theologian), Dearden (Detroit), Dupuy (France), Morris (Ireland), Pulido-Mendez (Venezuela), Zoa (Cameroon), Wojtyla (Poland - who declined to attend). Reuss and Binz continued on the commission. (p. 97)
The April sessions of the Commission focused on theology and showed how the tone had moved to "fundamental questions." Debates over the pill gave way to discussion of natural law, the limits of Church authority, and especially just what constitutes intrinsic evil. Was the prohibition against contraception an ideal which Christians should aim for but not be overly alarmed about when they fell short? Or was it an absolute...(p. 98)
In the midst of the debate, French theologian Philip Delhaye tried to offer a compromise. The reaction revealed the deep division among the theologians....
Pierre de Locht objected that applying a Church law remedy to a natural law problem would be absurd. "You can't legislate morality by just laying down some rules," he said. "It is necessary to inculcate a moral sense by emphasizing the fundamental virtues...The German Redemptorist Visser interjected that the presence of doubt is no reason to alter the obligation of an old law: "It is imprudent to toss aside the observance of a norm because of doubt alone." (p. 98)
Jesuit John Ford insisted doubt shouldn't even be discussed because on the matter of birth control there is no doubt. The magisterium has spoken; obedience is the only appropriate response.
His fellow Jesuit Joseph Fuchs disagreed, contending that such a literal line of thought would take everyone down a blind alley: "Continuity of a teaching doesn't consist in repeating what has been said before in other circumstances but in continuing to see if these earlier pronouncements actually took permanent values into account....
...Fernando Lambruschini, an official in the Roman Curia, said the bottom line is that people will not obey a law they don't understand; and that is precisely the Catholic response to the ban on contraception: the people don't get it.
The prolonged theological debates reached a kind of summit on May 6. De Riedmatten asked each of the nineteen theologians to give a six-minute presentation of his position, after which a vote would be taken on two questions: Is the doctrine of Casti Connubii irreformable? And is artificial contraception an intrinsically evil violation of the natural law? The result was no on both questions--both by 15-4 tallies. (p. 99)
The German physician Albert Gorres claimed:
the centuries-old united front against contraception was in fact a sham. Those who opposed the Vatican party line found their books and opinions censored, he said, and thus the official presentation of moral doctrine was left to timid, second-rate, and overly scrupulous maintainers of the status quo who looked for evidence to bolster foregone conclusions instead of seeking truth. A large amount of moral doctrine, Gorres asserted, comes out of a history scarred by Manicheism, patriarchalism, sexism, and blatantly erroneous assumptions about human biology. As a result, "moral theologians have justified with great confidence things which their successors today reject as outright immoral and unchristian: witch trials, tortures, burning of heretics, slavery, forceful violation of the consciences of unbelievers and heretics, suppression of colonial peoples, and...the castration of choirboys, this last over a period of centuries and with the approval of popes.(p. 100)
Gorres's sharp observations were bolstered by Canon Delhaye, who had come upon an official report of the results of a poll of the world's bishops in 1964 at the request of the Pope concerning attitudes toward contraception as the leading moral problem but were stymied on how to react. All over the world, Delhaye said bishops reported, "It used to be that people talked to their confessors knowing that they were wrong. Now they do so knowing they are right. The faithful accept other laws and see themselves as sinners when they transgress them. Here they invoke the impossibility of the law, their conscience, and God's mercy." (pp 100-101)
...it was in this context that sociologist Donald Barrett presented the findings of the Crowleys' survey, along with copies of the correspondence they had received....The letters showed that while many took heroic measures and endured great sacrifice to obey the law, others were beginning to echo what Catholics were telling the world's bishops: an unintelligible law does not oblige. (p. 101)
The thythm method also took a beating from Dr. Andre Hellegers of Baltimore, who reported that it was ineffective for many women during menopause, "precisely the time when it's most necessary." (p. 101)
The women were offered an opportunity to witness to their unique perspective:
The first to speak, J. F. Kulanday, a married nurse and administrator with the Public Health Department in New Delhi, India, explained a survey she had directed on the importance of intercourse in the lives of Indian women. "Women desire intercourse in marriage," she said. It binds the husband and wife together.(p. 102)
Patty Crowley offered her own analysis of the data she had gathered from the Christian Family Movement members.
"Is there a bad psychological effect in the use of rhythm? Almost without exception, the responses were that yes, there is.(p. 103)
"Does rhythm serve any useful purpose at all? A few say it may be useful for developing discipline. Nobody says that it fosters married love.
"Does it contribute to married unity? No. That is the inescapable conclusion of the reports we have received....In marriage a husband and wife pledge themselves to become one in mind, heart and affection. They are no longer two, but one flesh--and they must find mutual help and serve each other through intimate union of their persons and their actions; through an experience of their oneness with growing affection day by day.
"Some wonder whether God would have us cultivate such unity by using what seems to them an unnatural system....
...instead of unity and love, rhythm tends to substitute tension, dissatisfaction, frustration and disunity....
"Is rhythm unnatural? Yes--that's the conclusion of these reports.
...month after month she must say no to her husband because it is the wrong date on the calendar or the thermometer reading isn't right."...
She quoted from several of the letters to illustrate aspects of the problem: "'My husband is away on long business trips and unfortunately his company doesn't take our calendar into consideration when he has to be gone all over this country and now all over the world. He has left on trips at the wrong time of the month and arrived, all in the same month, at the wrong time of the month. This problem is detrimental to family rapport....' (pp 103-104)
Patty then drew her bottom-line conclusion: "We think it is time that this Commission recommend that the sacredness of conjugal love not be violated by thermometers and calendars." (p. 105)
If they had been concerned before, the dissenting theologians were now near panic. The push for change was approaching avalanche proportions....an angry de Lestapis told the assembly he feared a tendency to "idealize" married persons. "The couple has become a state of grace and contraception their sacrament," he said, "and the result is a sort of intoxication, a practical obliteration of the sense of God, a mystification in the psychological order, a devaluation of procereation."
Others took exception to that. Said Giacomo Perico, a theologian from the University of Milan who had been quiet during the debates, "The more I hear the confessions of good Catholics on this matter, the more I feel it necessary for the Church to change. I would dare to say my own penitents have made a contribution here." Dutch philosopher Andre van Melsen said it was clear to him that if change did not come, pastoral activity would be paralyzed; confessors would lose contact with the best Catholics, and the result would be a "ghetto Church."
Pat Crowley summed up the majority view: "I think we have agreed that the sense of the faithful is for change. No arguments were presented on the side of the status quo other than the one that Rome has spoken once and to change would undermine the magisterium. (p. 107)
The preponderance of testimony from the lay members showed that change is anticipated and great problems will arise if no change is made. If the Church fails in this, much of the progress made by the Council will be lost." (p. 107-108)
No change was made, and the progress made by the Council has been a disaster. Pastoral activity has been paralyzed, and confessors have lost contact with faithful Catholics, as was predicted. Yet it can't be denied that had Pope Paul VI chosen to change the Church's stance on birth control at that time, the abortifacient pill would have been accepted as a legitimate form of contraception.