Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Sandro Magister reviews the latest book by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini. The following is taken from the review:

ROMA, November 3, 2008 – In his latest book-interview, published first in Germany and now also in Italy, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini calls himself not an anti-pope, as he is often depicted by the media, but "an ante-pope, a precursor and preparer for the Holy Father." ...

As always, Martini's style is subtle and opaque, beginning with the title of his latest book: "Nighttime conversations in Jerusalem. On the risk of faith." About priestly celibacy, for example, he says and doesn't say. The same about women priests. And about homosexuality. And contraception. And when he criticizes the Church hierarchy, he doesn't give names, of persons or things.

But this time, there is an exception. In one chapter of the book, the explicit target is Paul VI's encyclical "Humanae Vitae," on marriage and procreation. Martini accuses it of causing "serious damage" by prohibiting artificial contraception: "many people have withdrawn from the Church, and the Church from people."

Martini accuses Paul VI of deliberately concealing the truth, leaving it to theologians and pastors to fix things by adapting precepts to practice:

"I knew Paul VI well. With the encyclical, he wanted to express consideration for human life. He explained his intention to some of his friends by using a comparison: although one must not lie, sometimes it is not possible to do otherwise; it may be necessary to conceal the truth, or it may be unavoidable to tell a lie. It is up to the moralists to explain where sin begins, especially in the cases in which there is a higher duty than the transmission of life."

In effect, the cardinal continues, "after the encyclical Humanae Vitae the Austrian and German bishops, and many other bishops, with their statements of concern followed a path along which we can continue today." It is a stance that expresses "a new culture of tenderness and an approach to sexuality that is more free from prejudice."

But after Paul VI came John Paul II, who "followed the path of rigorous application" of the prohibitions in the encyclical. "He didn't want there to be any doubts on this point. It seems that he even considered a declaration that would enjoy the privilege of papal infallibility."

And after John Paul II came Benedict XVI. Martini does not name him, and does not seem to have much confidence in him, but he hazards this prediction:

"Probably the pope will not revoke the encyclical, but he might write one that would be its continuation. I am firmly convinced that the Church can point out a better way than it did with Humanae Vitae. Being able to admit one's mistakes and the limitations of one's previous viewpoints is a sign of greatness of soul and of confidence. The Church would regain credibility and competence."

It is not often that I agree with Cardinal Martini. This time I do agree that HV has been the cause of Catholics walking away from the Church. It has been the cause of the sexual act being reduced to discussions of mechanics, and of the silence concerning the act's bonding significance within marriage. Rather than preserving this bond for its intended purpose, this concentration on mechanics has led to an openness to discussion on the subject which has undermined the mystique of the conjugal act. This openness has descended in age level to the point that we are now plagued with those mechanics being taught in sex education in schools even at the kindergarten level. At the same time the public sector has been led to believe that the only "sin" in sexual relations is fathering a child out of wedlock and then not being willing to support that child. The family has disintegrated during this cultural process, and abortion has become the ultimate birth control, because the only brake on such a disintegration was taken out of the way with HV.

St. Paul trumped the first pope, St. Peter, in eliminating the need for circumcision of gentile converts because he believed it would turn men away from Christ. HV has also acted to turn people away from Christ when the circumstances demanded by the Church have been in conflict with reality.

HV has also reduced the Church to irrelevance on the subject of birth control, and that fuels the pro-abortion side of the current debate.

Meanwhile the Church does sanction birth control in the form of rhythm, admitting in the process that God ordains that sexual relations shall not be essentially tied to procreation in every single instance.

Yet the only method for such breaking of the tie which the Church approves is a method that frequently fails--a method that does not stand up to the test of logic. When Catholic couples are faced with impossible circumstances such as treatment for cancer which always carries a prohibition of pregnancy as a necessary condition, they are left with no choice but that of abandoning Church teaching and doing what is morally right in these circumstances. And cancer drugs are not the only medical intervention which demands freedom from the possibility of conceiving. There are drugs used to treat other diseases which also damage the fetus. In these circumstances a couple may want nothing more than to have a child, but faced with the credible danger of harming the child during pregnancy, they abandon the Church teaching and do what they believe morality demands. The selfish decision would be to risk conceiving, asking God to "fix it" in spite of medical evidence to the contrary. Yet we are told "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord your God."

For this reason the sacrament of confession, in my opinion, has been ignored by the majority of Catholics since HV. Children have moved from the treasured gift from God in which they were formerly seen, to a position of burden to be avoided. And in the rejection of the Church's moral authority on this topic is lodged a descent into promiscuity outside of marriage even for Catholic singles.

We are now aware of the possibility that the pope who promulgated this destructive encyclical may actually have been a practicing homosexual. And as we consider this we are being told that a homosexual seminarian is not eligible for ordination.

There is a defensible divide between methods of birth control that cause abortion, and methods that do not. That divide can be defended based on the human rights of every conceived human being, whether born or unborn. The nature of some forms of birth control under consideration during the reign of Pope Paul VI was not known. Today it is known. Had the encyclical not been promulgated, today the Church could be in the difficult position of having approved of abortifacient contraception. Yet the difficulties in which HV have placed married couples is undeniable.

And thus I agree with Cardinal Martini that it is time to revisit HV and see if there is not needed some clarification.

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