McCormick on Humanae Vitae

Much has already been said about the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, but this piece is a must-read from one of the giants of moral theology. In "Humanae Vitae 25 years Later" Richard McCormick, S.J., looked at the "uneasy silence" that followed the release of the encylical, and what to do about the "present impasse."

I view the matter of the church’s teaching on birth reg­ulation as dominantly an authority problem. By that I mean that any analysis, conclusion or process that chal­lenges or threatens previous authoritative statements is by that very fact rejected. Any modification of past authority is viewed as an attack on present authority. Behind such an attitude is an unacknowledged and historically unsup­portable triumphalism, the idea that the official teaching authority of the church is always right, never errs, is always totally adequate in its formulations. Vatican II rad­ically axed this idea in many ways, but nowhere more explicitly than in its November 1964 "Decree on Ecumenism": "Therefore, if the influence of events or of the times has led to deficiencies in conduct, in Church discipline, or even in the formulation of doctrine (which must be carefully distinguished from the deposit of faith itself), these should be appropriately rectified at the prop­er moment" (my emphasis, No.6).



On the 25th anniversary of Humanae Vitae it is important to point out...that there are abiding substantial values that all disputants share and want to protect: the holiness of marriage, generous and responsible openness to life, the human character of the expression of married love, the fidelity and stability of marriage and respect for life. If these get lost in debates about the means of birth regulation, as I fear they may have, then to the malaise of polarization will have been added the tragedy of irrelevance. 

Read the whole article here.

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10 years 7 months ago
I have found on the web site of Prof. William E. May a good presetation ofthe underlying principle of nautral family planning as opposed to contraception and also the definition of the irritating-sounding expression ''intrinsically evil'' used for contraception, homosexual acts and so on: ''The fundamental moral principle supporting recourse to the rhythm of the cycle is ... the commandment to love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves (see Deut 6:5, Lev 19:18; Matt 22: 37-39). And we love our neighbor only by loving the “goods” intrinsically perfective of him: goods such life itself and health, knowledge of the truth, appreciation of beauty, friendship etc. And we do not love our neighbor if we are willing intentionally to deprive him of these goods, to impede their flourishing in him, intentionally to destroy them. Thus, as John Paul II rightly says, 'reason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their nature “incapable of being ordered” to God, because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image. These are the acts which, in the Church’s moral tradition, have been termed “intrinsically evil” (intrinsece malum); they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances (Veritatis splendor, no. 80, 1).''' (Source: CONTRACEPTION, GATEWAY TO THE CULTURE OF DEATH, on )
10 years 7 months ago
Consider this: having worked within the U.S. Indian Health Service I have noticed quite a reluctance among many Native Americans to to accept the contraceptive handouts so faciley offered by physicians. My theory is that the American Indians instinctively shun what they could perceive as a method of finishing the job that guns and greed didn't finish. Then again, look at countries like Japan or Holland or many others who have a good start on wiping themselves out. Besides these, there are other arguments to show that McCormick's mere authoritarianism theory is wrong. Like a mother instructing a child, the Church has a reason behind the command. That McCormick couldn't see this despite his great brilliance is a matter for examination and wonder; however, he is obviously not alone in his position. Does this mean that sometimes time and distance or special insight or special graces are called for? Also note, it is possible to assent to the pronouncements of the Church without understanding the reasons but that is maybe not what many professional theologians choose to do from having an ethos of having to grasp all the reasons. Others perhaps make their choices from more practical reasons out of their lived experiences.
10 years 7 months ago
Perhaps we can pull this post and the one prior together by employing a quote by Dr. Williams: “If we are looking for a sexual ethic that can be seriously informed by our Bible, there is a good deal to steer us away from assuming that reproductive sex is a norm, however important and theologically significant it may be ... in a church which accepts the legitimacy of contraception, the absolute condemnation of same-sex relations of intimacy must rely either on an abstract fundamentalist deployment of a number of very ambiguous texts, or on a problematic and non-scriptural theory about natural complementarity, applied narrowly and crudely to physical differentiation without regard to psychological structures.”


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