Wednesday, September 10, 2008


I have never liked politics. This election year it seems critical to share information since the news media is failing to do it, but this is not meant to be a political blog, so I'm changing the subject, no matter how briefly.

TURNING POINT by Robert McClory.

I finished the book last week and found it an eye-opener. Before I even begin to comment on the book, McClory has written another titled FAITHFUL DISSENTERS: STORIES OF MEN AND WOMEN WHO LOVED AND CHANGED THE CHURCH. According to Amazon's review of this book the subjects discussed are "Gallileo, Hildegard of Bingen, St. Thomas Aquinas, and other luminaries and lesser knowns [who] challenged the church authorities or teachings of their time...some who simply ignored mandates or opposed positions taken by church leaders, and others who pushed the envelope of ecclesiastical authority....Mc Clory writes, for example, of Mary MacKillop, an Australian nun who was excommunicated in 1871 for challenging a bishop's efforts to govern her religious community. More than a century later, Pope John Paul II declared her "blessed."

That is McClory's position.

The book that I want to discuss concerns the famous (or infamous, depending upon your point of view) Birth Control Commission of Pope Paul VI. Given the impact of Humane Vitae on the Church, and thus on the world, it would seem prudent to learn something about the lead-up to that encyclical, and this commission was a major contributor. Yet we hear almost nothing about it, and the records of it are not available. McClory's book was published in 1997, but I just discovered it this summer.

The book is sub-titled "The Inside Story of the Papal Birth Control Commission, and How Humane Vitae Changed the Life of Patty Crowley and the Future of the Church." Patty Crowley and her husband were members of the Commission.

Speaking of the efforts on the part of a small group within the Papal Commission, to undo the work of the entire body, in the Foreword to TURNING POINT McClory writes:

...Ottaviani and his four supporters on the Papal Commission were passionately opposed to changes in the teaching on contraception. After the official Commission was disbanded, they met and constructed a minority report, which they then submitted to the Pope.

The machinations and pressure tactics that then ensued as the small group of conservatives sought to destroy and nullify the Commission's report would be material for a farce if the results were not so tragic. Paul VI was torn, but finally gave in to Ottaviani and the arguments of his supporters. Since all this maneuvering was done in secret, there was a great deal of shock when
Humane Vitae appeared. The Crowleys could hardly believe it, and like many others reacted with bitter disappointment at the surprising turn of events. Soon widespread protests occurred, with the signed dissent of six hundred theologians, many statements from other Catholic organizations, and outcries from individuals. Statements by many bishops conferences also attempted to soften the teaching and leave room for the dissent of individual conscience....

Don't ask, don't tell, is the order of the day.

If you are a young Catholic today and didn't live through it, you can't imagine the earthquake this encyclical represented. I truly believe that all of the dissent, confusion, and sometimes outright heresy that followed, ultimately culminating in the sexual abuse scandal, can be laid at the door of Pope Paul VI's encyclical. It was that important. For that reason it deserves a closer look.

Ottaviani was a leader in protests over Vatican II with his book THE OTTAVIANI INTERVENTION: SHORT CRITICAL STUDY OF THE NEW ORDER OF MASS. He was no stranger to dissent when the Council decisions were being implemented, so one cannot just package his story in a "magisterium" box and close the lid. He believed he was defending Tradition, and in the process rejected even the beliefs of the reigning pontiff.

Returning to the Foreword, McClory writes:

But what of the victorious villains in this melodrame? Since they won, at least in the short run, they also have negative lessons to impart. Yes, they appeared to believe sincerely that artificial contraception was intrinsically evil. But whenever queried, these opponents of change also admitted that they could not give rational arguments for their convictions; they held to their position solely because for the past forty years Roman Church authorities had so taught. Their primary allegiance and most passionate belief was that the Church must never admit to error or even to changes that might look like an admission of error.

What would they say now when John Paul II admitted to error and apologized on several occasions? When Benedict XVI apologized for the sexual abuse scandal? Would they dissent over this as well?

More to the point, the conservatives ensured that the little known theological doctrine that a teaching must be received in order to have been successfully taught in the Church becomes ever more acclaimed and widespread.

To Be Continued...

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