Monday, September 29, 2008
THE BIRTH CONTROL COMMISSION
TURNING POINT by Robert McClory - chapter 14
On June 28, 1966, three days after the Commission disbanded, Cardinal Julius Doepfner and Father Henri de Riedmatten personally presented the results of the work to Pope Paul....What they gave the Pope were the two documents representing the Commission's official legacy: the Majority Report written by the theologians and the Pastoral Introduction written by Bishop Dupuy. Both had been approved by an overwhelming majority of the membership. Also presented was a three-foot stack of background material--twelve bound volumes including summaries of all the meetings...(p. 129)
Meanwhile Cardinal Ottaviani, president of the last Commission session, did not make the presentation. Instead he, Father Ford and others not listed by McClory prepared an alternative unauthorized report which they submitted three days later to Pope Paul:
On July 1...Ottaviani met with Pope Paul and presented him with a document repudiating what the majority had decided. It was basically Ford's so-called Minority Report...endorsed only by Ford and three other theologians.(p. 130)
According to Bernard Haring, [Franciscan Ermenegildo Lio, who collaborated with Ottaviani] admitted to associates that Pope Paul was at first favorably impressed with the Majority Report and was attracted by its conclusions, but after two meetings with Ottaviani and Lio himself, the Pope realized his mistake and was "reconverted." (p. 130)
Paul VI was under pressure to make a decision:
...on October 29, in an address to the Italian Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists...Paul praised the Birth Control Commission for the "great work" it had done but then added that its conclusions "cannot be considered definitive because of the fact that they carry grave implications...in the pastoral and social spheres, which cannot be isolated or set aside." Finding a solution, he said, requires a "supplementary study," which "we are resolutely undertaking...with great reverence for those who have already given it so much attention and tiring labor....This is the reason why our response has been delayed and why it must be deferred for some time yet."(p. 132)
His objective was to calm the public, but instead is caused more confusion:
...if it really was in doubt, how could Catholics be bound to obey a doubtful law? And just who was carrying on the "supplementary study?"....Clergy Review, was so irate over the seeming contradictions in the papal speech that he left the priesthood and eventually the Church. The statement, he said, "illustrated the subordination of truth to the prestige of authority and the sacrifice of persons to the preservation of an out-of-date institution." (p. 133)
Jesuit theologian Richard McCormick reported that the Church indeed was in doubt. "Once it is shown that there are intrinsic reasons...why the Church may change her teaching on contraception, it would seem that the foundation for a certain obligation [to obey] has ceased to exist," he wrote. English theologian Charles Davis, editor of the
Around the world, married couples, unwilling to put their marital lives on hold, made practical decisions on the morality of contraception--more and more often with the approval of priests and bishops....Cardinal Doepfner said those who practice contraception with reasonable motives ought not to consider themselves in sin and should continue to receive the sacraments. In the United States Charles Curran...took a similar stance.... (p. 133)
The National Catholic Register got access to the documents which were supposed to remain hidden and published them on April 15, 1967. The New York Times gave it front page coverage. At this point Curran was not considered to be a dissenter. It thus could be argued that this was what propelled Curran into his later activities.
Meanwhile the Commission's report was being discredited in Rome. (pp 134-135)
This was Ottaviani's final activity before retirement. It became his legacy to the Church. The Potvins who had run a rhythm clinic before participating on the commission went home to Ottawa no longer convinced of "the temperature method as the only Catholic form of birth control." (pp 136-137) Laurent Potvin accepted a post at Laval University in Montreal and the family moved. Their clinic in Ottawa was taken up by volunteers and continued to exist for only a short time. (p. 137)
In reading through this chapter it becomes even more clear that dissent was born over the teaching on birth control. The Church could not present a united front, nor could She present a logical and reasonable argument why birth control was wrong. Lacking such an argument, Catholic couples made up their own mind, and today we see that the majority practice birth control.
It is also clear that Pope Paul VI vacillated back and forth over this matter before H.V. was promulgated. He was not completely convinced that he was right, but he listened to the arguments of Ford and Ottaviani and went with them.
In all of this we are supposed to see the working of the Holy Spirit. It can be seen in the fact that had birth control been approved at the time H.V. was promulgated, it would have included abortifacient methods--something that today we know, but at that time we didn't.
The two arguments advanced for the prohibition are concern for the historical verity of the Church, and an argument from nature. Today we can easily see in the Papal apologies that the Church can be wrong and can change Her beliefs. So much for historical verity. The argument from nature is overturned by the approval of the Church for medical intervention in any number of illnesses. Then too, if nature is sacred, how can an interruption of the natural inclination of a couple to have conjugal relations be conditioned on a temperature chart?
Neither argument can be substantiated today, nor can a distinction be made between Natural Family Planning and other barrier methods of birth control. We are left with "it's wrong because the pope says so", a twist on the proverbial statement of a parent to a child who has asked too many questions the parent can't answer.