Life Lessons: How I teach ‘Humanae Vitae’

When I teach the papal encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” published in 1968, I usually do so with a class of undergraduate students at Boston College. I teach it after studying with them five other noteworthy texts: the two creation accounts in Genesis, the teachings on marriage and sexuality by Paul and then by Augustine, and finally the papal encyclical, “Casti Connubii” (1930).

In many instances I try to teach them how to read and understand “Humanae Vitae” as a real, authoritative document. I lead them, as I do here, through the document, paragraph by paragraph (indicated by the numbers in parentheses).

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First, I explain to them who wrote it and to whom. I have them see that the encyclical, that is, the papal letter, was written to brother bishops, clergy, Catholic laity and to all people of good will. I help them understand the different hierarchical levels of the audience. I also explain that the universal audience reflects the conviction of the pope and, indeed, the Catholic tradition, that such natural law teachings are not simply for Catholics but for all persons, since these teachings are from right reason.

I then try to help them see that Pope Paul VI wrote it and that, as a papal encyclical, it expresses the authoritative teaching from a pope. Without trying to get into exactly how authoritative a specific encyclical is, I try to highlight that in modern times the encyclical is a major mode of authoritative teaching that imposes objective claims on the consciences of all.

I then try to explain that “Humanae Vitae” was a document that was responding to the signs of the times; it was written in response to questions that were raised most notably by the invention and marketing of the birth control pill. The pill, like many other inventions, gave humanity the opportunity to dominate and rationally organize the forces of nature such that, we could now “extend this control over every aspect” of our own lives (No. 2). In one sense the document is specifically reflecting on birth control, but in a broader sense, the pope is asking the fundamental question of whether every invention is in itself worthy.

In teaching the encyclical I often find that students today do not appreciate the specific concern of the encyclical. They tend to think that the letter was about the birth control pill. I tell them it was about married people who were wondering about the use of contraception for the purpose of responsible parenting.

I then remind them that church teaching upholds marriage as the only legitimate context for sexual activity between a man and a woman. That is, I reiterate church teaching about the rightness of chastity and the wrongness of sex outside of marriage. Here, then, I note that the church was not considering whether birth control in any context was legitimate, but whether married couples alone could use it. No one, I remind them, was asking the more general question (“Can anyone use birth control?”) simply because contraception could only have been entertained as morally legitimate in the context of marriage, where sexual intimacy is permissible. This helps open their eyes to the many, many references to “married love” made in the encyclical.

I also introduce them to an argument, the principle of totality, which was current in the 1960s. This principle follows from a metaphysical insight that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that therefore if a married couple is committed to having children, they do not need to leave each and every act of sexual love open to procreation. In other words, the principle of totality lets married couples believe that “procreative finality applies to the totality of the married life rather than to each single act” (No. 3). According to this argument, Christian marriage could be open to contraception in specific circumstances, but not in the marriage as a total reality. I alert them to the fact that later in the encyclical the pope rejects this use of the principle.

I note the authority of the church’s competency to teach the natural law and that adherence to the law is required for our salvation (No. 4). I similarly note the commission that Pope John XXIII established for the study of the correct regulations of births and that Pope Paul VI confirmed and expanded that commission (No. 5). I add that my own life was affected by two members on that commission: John Ford, S.J., whose position at Weston Jesuit School of Theology I later held, and Josef Fuchs, S.J., with whom I did my dissertation. I describe the very different roles they ended up having as members of the commission.

I note that the commission produced a majority report influenced by Father Fuchs, among others, suggesting that married couples could regulate the ordering of the birth of their children through contraception, and a minority report influenced by Father Ford that contended against this position. I add that the pope saw in the disagreement the need to personally examine this question, particularly in light of the “moral doctrine on marriage constantly taught by the magisterium of the church” (No. 6). Having covered this background, I turn to the doctrinal principles of the encyclical.

I note that a new development emerges immediately in this section. The encyclical talks about sexual intimacy not as a right or a duty, nor as permissible or tolerable, as theologians and bishops had in earlier days. Nor does the document immediately turn to procreation as the primary end of marriage, as it did in “Casti Connubii.” Rather it turns to “married love,” which derives its nature and nobility from God who is love (No. 8, reiterated in No. 11). I have my students study how the encyclical specifically describes this love: friendship, faithful, exclusive and fecund (No. 9). I turn then to the question of the ordering of births in responsible parenthood. Here I focus on the notion of an objective moral order, a concept the students reasonably acknowledge and respect (No. 10).

I then have them study paragraph 11. Here I highlight the natural law’s recognition of the “intrinsic relationship” between sexual activity and procreation. While the encyclical acknowledges that any natural infertility does not compromise the moral legitimacy of sexual intimacy in marriage, still, “each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life” (No. 11). Here the encyclical instructs us on the two-fold, inherent significance of marital, sexual activity as unitive and procreative. There are no moral grounds for breaking this bond (No. 12).

The magisterium then demonstrates the rationality of its argument. Just as a sexual act with an unwilling spouse is no true act of love, so too a conjugal act that “impairs the capacity to transmit life” “frustrates” God’s designs and “contradicts the will of the Author of life” (No. 13). In highlighting the moral limits of our actions, the encyclical returns to an earlier observation: just as we do not have an unlimited domination of our lives, so too we cannot claim an unlimited dominion over our sexual faculties.

The document then specifically enunciates those activities that are by no means legitimate for the regulation of births. First, it names “the direct interruption of the generative process already begun,” above all “direct abortion”; then it re-declares its opposition to direct sterilization. Finally, it declares: “Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.” It then names certain casuistic principles that cannot be invoked in order to legitimate deliberately contraceptive conjugal activity: lesser evil, totality and toleration (No. 14).

It does, however, acknowledge that it “does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive” (No. 15). This paragraph highlights an important distinction, first articulated, as the encyclical notes, by Pope Pius XII.

As a theologian who has worked in the area of H.I.V./AIDS, trying to combat stigma, while advocating for proper education and equal accessibility to treatment for all people, I have also espoused a comprehensive prevention strategy, which includes the use of the condom, not as a contraceptive, but as a preventive or prophylactic device. This certainly applies in the case of a discordant couple (where one spouse is H.I.V. positive and the other is not) who are infertile, whether by illness, accident or age. Certainly such a couple using a condom in their marital intimacy are not in any way using the device as a contraceptive. As such, it is not an immoral activity.

Paragraph 15, I think, may be applied to those discordant married couples who may be fertile. “Humanae Vitae” does not prohibit the discordant couple from engaging in sexual intimacy while using a condom solely to prevent the transmission of the virus and not in any deliberately contraceptive way.

I think it is worth noting that I have continuously upheld the teaching of “Humanae Vitae” and through it, I have also spoken, for 25 years, about the moral legitimacy of a comprehensive H.I.V. prevention strategy, that insists on marital fidelity, abstinence of sexual relations outside of marriage and the human dignity of the person, while including the use of the condom solely as a strategy to prevent disease in the context of the loving intimacy of discordant couples.

In Paragraph 16, the encyclical highlights that no couple needs to refrain from sexual intimacy at a time of infertility. It contrasts couples who rightly engage in sexual intimacy at times of infertility with those who “obstruct the natural development of the generative process.”

The document moves to its conclusion with warnings about the social repercussions of legitimating contraceptive activity and reminding readers of the limits of human power (No. 17). It also acknowledges that its position toward the natural law is not to be its arbiter, but rather its “guardian and interpreter”(No. 18).

In its last section on pastoral directives, the encyclical urges all to appreciate the law of God (No. 20), the value of self-discipline (No. 21) and the relevant need to promote chastity. It appeals to public authorities to seek true solutions to overpopulation and to scientists to study “natural rhythms” so as to “succeed in determining a sufficiently secure basis for the chaste limitation of offspring” (No. 24). It positively admonishes couples struggling with the matter (No. 25) and exhorts priests (No. 28) and bishops (No. 30) to minister well and to uphold the constant teaching of the church.

I find that following this close textual approach gives my students full appreciation of the teaching and the doctrine of “Humanae Vitae.”

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Bill Mazzella
3 years 9 months ago
James, So you condemn the 75% + of Catholics who use birth control. Or at least find what they are doing is wrong. "Constant teaching of the church." Are you serious? Perhaps you can explain further.
Mike Evans
3 years 9 months ago
One must assume that both sides of the commission's arguments were well reasoned and well submitted. Thus it was left to Pope Paul to decide (by himself?) between the differing positions and then cast the encyclical with justifying argument, proclamation and assertion in crystal clear antithesis to the other side of the argument. No wonder educated folk have major difficulty being persuaded of the authority of the teaching. Social repercussions are not part of any revealed material. Being a self-appointed 'guardian and interpreter' is arbitrary at best.
Bill Mazzella
3 years 9 months ago
Mike, the commission was overwhelmingly in favor of allowing birth control. Cardinal Ottaviani and others convinced Paul VI that to go against Casti Connubi would be to go against the infallibility of the church. Now most of us realize that the church is not infallible. Keenan's embracing of the "constant teaching" is not supported by any studious and honest scholarship..
Frank Bergen
3 years 9 months ago
My Jesuit brother Francis perhaps speaks to my Jesuit brother Jim Keenan in The Joy of the Gospel. In Chapter 4, Section III, The Common Good and Peace in Society, he states in a subsection headed "Realities are more important than ideas" that realities are greater than ideas, "realities simply are, whereas ideas are worked out." I first encountered Humanae Vitae on the day of its promulgation, in the company of a 29 year old married mother of three daughters under six, one of whom had been diagnosed with neuroblastoma. For me that reality trumped Paul VI's ideas. Looking back, I think that day may have been the beginning of my departure from the Roman communion. I hope students at Boston College and the country's other 27 Jesuit colleges will be encouraged to spend as much time with The Joy of the Gospel as Jim Keenan's are with Humanae Vitae.
Frank Bergen
3 years 9 months ago
A question for Matt Malone: why did you publish this article now, 45 1/2 years after Paul VI's publication of Humanae Vitae? A case study in pedagogical methodology? An ancient manuscript to be newly parsed? Surely not a burning issue in the contemporary church? Why?
Paul Ferris
3 years 9 months ago
I agree with Frank Bergen.
Bill Mazzella
3 years 9 months ago
Frank, Though married Catholics have largely settled the issue in their practice, the issue is still very relevant as the Chruch still stays in the way of many nations getting supplies of birth control. Further, and editor is supposed to encourage discussion and mature people can work out their own conclusions according to their consciences.
Paul Ferris
3 years 9 months ago
James Keenan, S.J. in his compassion for HIV carriers thinks he found a loophole in Humanae Vitae to allow married people to use a condom if one of the spouses has the disease. A strict adherence to the encyclical would not allow this exception. I believe that the male celibate clergy can say a lot that is true and prophetic about love, sex, and marriage. But no matter how wise these men are, the fact remains that they have "no skin in the game." After two difficult pregnancies our doctor told me and my wife she should not have more Cesareans, the only way should could conceive. The rhythm method advocated at the time was a bad joke as is the new touted method of natural family planning. Casti Connubi is often cited as the beginning of the natural law commandment. Actually the encyclical is filled with pastoral concern for married people and their children. It argues that divorce is injustice to children from an economic point of view. The irony of all this is that James Keenan is speaking to students the majority of whose parents have worked through the teachings of Humanae Vitae and found it impractical in their marriage. One cannot find an absolute teaching of natural law as regards sexual intercourse in Scripture. There is a reference to Onan where he violated the Leverite law by spilling his seed on the ground. The moral theologians like Fr. Ford misused this event to support the immorality of contraception. If Father Kennan has to choose between Fr. Ford and Fr Fuchs, I suggest he choose Fuchs. Curious to know if Father Kennan comes from a traditionally large Catholic family common in his generation ? If so does that have any influence on his reasoning?
Bill Mazzella
3 years 9 months ago
Quite relevant to all this is a blog by Tim Reidy, several years ago, quoting McCormick who sees this as an authority problem rather than a moral one. http://americamagazine.org/content/all-things/mccormick-humanae-vitae
Paul Ferris
3 years 9 months ago
I went back and read the Tim Reidy and the Richard McCormick article referenced above by Bill Mazzella.. I think it would be great if James Keenan would include the whole McCormick article in his teaching of Humanae Vitae.
ROBERT STEWART
3 years 9 months ago
Why Paul VI decided to support the minority position of the birth control commission defies logic. What is the purpose of having a commission to study an issue if the opinion of the majority is ignored? Essentially Paul concluded that the majority did not know what they were talking about but he and the minority had grasped the truth that had alluded the majority. Now we have a majority of Catholics that do not believe that Paul VI captured the truth of the matter and ignore the teaching of the encyclical. Although an argument can be made that truth should not be determined by a majority vote, the fact of the matter is that a majority of Catholics have not found the teaching set forth in the encyclical to be persuasive. What is not mentioned in Keenan's article is that the teaching articulated was neither then (1968) nor now considered to be an infallible statement regarding the matter. I have always held Paul VI in high esteem, primarily because of what he did have to say regarding the issues of justice and peace. Many found his teaching in this regard to be very persuasive, and his teaching on these issues of justice and peace got a positive reception from many Catholics and other people of faith. The poor reception of "Humanae Vitae" had nothing to do with the messenger but only with the message, a message that a majority of Catholics simply did not find persuasive.
Robert O'Connell
3 years 9 months ago
Fr. Keenan's lesson on teaching Humanae Vitae warrants appreciation, praise, and our sincere "thanks" at the least. Yet, I would add more about expressing affection, love, families, self mastery and reconciliation/confession when teaching about either Humanae Vitae or human sexuality. Perhaps successfully married couples who are orthodox Catholics might also talk to students on these subjects.
Paul Ferris
3 years 9 months ago
"orthodox Catholics" ???? meaning anyone who disagrees is unorthodox, a polite word for heretic.. Not to beat a dead horse but if Fr. Kennan only requires his students to read the first chapters of Genesis, I have to wonder what would happen if he got beyond chapter 12 and his students found out that because Abraham's wife Sarah could not conceive, he slept with his maid, Hagar, and she conceived a son. Unlike most of us, an angel intervened and Sarah did finally conceive overcoming even Sarah's laughing skepticism. Talk about separating the unitive from the procreative meaning of the act of intercourse !!! Here is a principle I got from my Jesuit trained parish priest growing up. He said anything married people do in their bedroom (or out of it) in regard to sex and intercourse is their business only.
Michael Barberi
3 years 9 months ago
I respect Fr. Keenan, but I disagree with him on the issue of Humanae Vitae (HV). A few important considerations that this article does not address: 1. Fr. Keenan believes that artificial birth control for seropositive couples is licit because the intention and end/goal of the agent is not contraception but therapeutic…in other words to guard the other spouse against a deadly disease as a result of sexual intercourse. According to HV 12, and official Catholic teaching, this is strictly forbidden. Equally important is the fact that the Church also teaches, per HV, that a married spouse who is told by her physicians that another pregnancy will be life-threatening with certainty cannot use artificial birth control or be sterilized in order to safe-guard her life. The hierarchy of values in this case has been turned upside down. How can safe-guarding one's life be subordinate to the teaching that every marital act must be open to procreation? I ask Fr. Keenan: If you believe that the agent's intention, end and circumstances are good justifies the use of artificial birth control in the above two cases, how can you condemn married couples who have other good ends. intentions and circumstances for using artificial birth control? According to the Church HV is a moral absolute, meaning that under no circumstances, ends or intentions can the two meanings of the marital act be separated (e.g., HV 12). Don't get me wrong, I think artificial birth control can be practiced in these cases and in the practice of responsible parenthood when married couples have children and want no more for good reasons. The argument of allowing "exceptions" for legitimate and good ends and intentions, in part, undermines the encyclical (and justifies its responsible reform). The Church has failed to make any convincing moral argument that is received, not only by most married couples but by most theologians and many bishops. 2. HV 12 (and JP II's teachings) also claim that two meanings of the marital act cannot be separated because it is God's Plan, and that natural family planning (periodic continence) is in accordance with God's procreative plan. I ask Fr. Keenan: Who knows God's procreative plan with moral certainty? How is this teaching a "constant teaching of the Church"? No pope or bishop ever wrote or spoken about the inseparability of two meanings of the marital act before 1960 when it was Bishop Karol Wojtyla that wrote about it in his book Love and Responsibility. HV 12 is not a constant teaching of the Church, but a novum. Up until that time, all the Church spoke about was the ends of marriage. Equally perplexing is the fact that this inseparability principle cannot be found in any of the Pontifical Birth Control Commission documents. 3. If the unitive and procreative meanings of the marital act cannot be separated, then both contraception and natural family planning either violates HV or they do not. Most, if not almost all, married couples who use birth control have as an end-goal and intention to ensure that every act of sexual intercourse does not result in conception. Some couples take the anovulant pill and temporarily suspend ovulation; others use periodic continence (PC) and measure basil temperature and cervical mucus and plot them on a calendar to determine infertile times so that sexual intercourse can be limited to those times ensuring that every act of sexual intercourse will be non-procreative. The anovulant pill manipulates the body by temporarily suspending ovulation, and PC manipulates the fertility-infertility nexus to accomplish the same end-goal and intention. If married couples have good reasons (e.g., ends, intentions and circumstances) for limiting the number of children in their marriage by regulating their fertility, then it is not a violation of responsible parenthood if they choose artificial birth control. 4. What would Fr. Keenan say to the 30% of women where PC does not work for them because they have irregular menstrual cycles? Is the answer for these women to abstain for 15 or 20 days per month from sexual intercourse, instead of the average of 12 days that most PC programs require? If PC is God's plan, and artificial birth control violates His Plan, then why do couples have to abstain from sexual intercourse for 12 days per month when the maximum fertility window for couples in only 4-6 days? Why cannot couples do what God wants and abstain for 4-6 days? The answer is that science has not found any convenient method of determining the moment or day of ovulation with reasonable accuracy. Therefore, it is not "difficulty" that couples do not receive HV and do not practice PC, it is because PC is impractical, unreasonable and excessive. 5. Finally, there is no evidence whatsoever that couples who practice PC treat each other as loving subjects, while contraceptive couples have a utilitarian attitude and a diabolic love grounded in concupiscence (JP II's Theology of the Body in support of HV). This blog is not the forum for a deep theological debate about HV. Nevertheless, for these and other reasons, HV should be responsibly reformed.
Paul Ferris
3 years 9 months ago
Maybe what is needed here is not "deep theological debate" but a little real world common sense. It is too easy for some unmarried people to think that all married couples do is wait around during the day until it is time to go to bed and have sex. Some may think that abstaining from sex for 12 to 15 days in a month should not be a big deal, (especially if one abstains for his or her whole celibate lifetime),but imagine the common experience of married people in the service who leave their spouses for months, or even years, coming home for furlough and being told they cannot engage in marital intercourse until maybe the next furlough. Or imagine a woman who is trying to plot her basil body temperature in the morning for weeks only to get a call that one of their parents has died leading to interruptions in the calendar.
Michael Barberi
3 years 9 months ago
Paul, Thanks for your comments. They are very real and important. I tried to mix theological and practical principles because I know that only practical arguments are often ignored by the Vatican and many traditionalist theologians. I did like your examples. I would add this: married Catholics do not have similar libidos, nor are the daily burdens of life impact each of them equally. For example, one spouse may not be in the so-called mood or more frequently does not have the degree of sensual intimacy than the other. In these cases, most Catholics abstain for love and respect the other spouse. This happens everyday in married life. Yet, the Church thinks all Catholics must control their sexual appetite, that they believe is concupiscence. They don't realize that most Catholics control their sexual urges much more than they think. Celibate men have never experienced marital love and sexual intimacy. For them, things are black and white, you are either chase or lustful, you either love your spouse or have a false love if you practice artificial birth control. Nevertheless, there are many good priests, bishops and theologians working hard to move the conversation forward toward a better understanding of truth. Scripture, revelation, reason and human experience are the sources of truth. However, human experience is mostly ignored by the Church.
kevin hickson
3 years 9 months ago
I read this article and comments with interest. In our marriage the pill was not an option because some people medically should not take it. Our experience with NFP seems to be different to what is cited in the comments. Our period of abstinence rarely exceed five days. Perhaps it is worth looking at HV again in light of the World Health Organization placing oral contraceptives in the group of Class One Carcinogens alongside asbestos and plutonium. In a society where we place such importance on having a chemical free and naturally organic food supply is it hypocritical to take chemicals to make our bodies stop doing what they were meant to do?
Michael Barberi
3 years 9 months ago
Kevin, No one is condemning NFP. For some Catholics this form of birth control works for them. The issue is whether artificial birth control in intrinsically evil and whether there are no circumstances, intentions and ends that can justify its morally licit use, especially in the practice of responsible parenthood. Your experience with NFP and five days of abstinence is not typical.
Paul Ferris
3 years 9 months ago
A diaphragm is effective and is not a chemical. If someone absolutely thinks a pregnancy could be life threatening than natural methods are not a guarantee. I attended a class on NFP and when a nurse started talking about measuring the consistency of mucus in the vagina between ones fingers, I knew right then that a lot of women would find this objectionable. My wife certainly did. But again I go back to the idea that couples should decide what is best for them based on their circumstances. It is when people start talking in absolutes I think they are, to use a contemporary phrase, reducing the Joy of the Gospel, to a grave injustice.
Stephen McCluskey
3 years 8 months ago
I was taken aback by the claim that oral contraceptives are "Class One Carcinogens alongside asbestos and plutonium.". Looking over the list http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/generalinformationaboutcarcinogens/known-and-probable-human-carcinogens I found that "class one carcinogens" include a wide range of substances with different levels of cancer-causing potential, among them being alcoholic beverages, diesel exhaust, soot, solar radiation, and workplace exposure as a painter. To pick such highly carcinogenic substances as plutonium and asbestos as if they were similar to oral contraceptives is deliberately misleading.
Mary Pearlman
3 years 9 months ago
Father Keenan, I have never understood why God would care whether or not we decide to limit our family naturally or artificially. The intent is the same, so if there is sin, surely it is the same. (Talking about preventing conception only)
Michael Barberi
3 years 9 months ago
While my previous comment disagreed with the position of this article, I would like to add a most respectful comment about Fr. Keenan and his works. I have been a loyal reader of Fr. Keenan's many books especially: A History of Catholic Moral Theology in the Twentieth Century; Moral Wisdom and Paul and Virtue Ethics….as well as his many articles especially his latest one published in Theological Studies, namely, Vatican II and Theological Ethics. In my opinion, Fr. Keenan is one of the few prominent and respected theologians that elects to take a straight path down the center of the heated theological divide, never inappropriately leaning to one side. He thoroughly educates readers on the many theological arguments on a subject representing agreement and disagreement but always in a most scholarly and even handed manner without any deliberate attempt to persuade against a Church teaching or to restrict discussion that prohibits the development of thought and truth. I don't know why this article was written. It seems to paint an incomplete picture on this most important subject and it is not in the balanced style I would say, perhaps in error, is representative of Fr. James Keenan. Maybe he had a different objective in mind.
Paul Ferris
3 years 8 months ago
Thank you for the background information on Father Keenan. Maybe the problem is that he tries to be too judicious when the right thing to do would be to take a stand. Put in another way, driving down the middle of the road is not the best course. Also thank you for your kind comments on my posts.
Brian Killian
3 years 9 months ago
I don't think paragraph 15 can justify the use of condoms. It violates paragraphs 11 and 12 that every sexual act must retain it's intrinsic relationship to procreation. The intended effect of not being infected with the virus is not a foreseen consequence, it's the direct means to the end of non-infection. It's precisely by breaking that relationship to procreation that the virus is kept from spreading. Also, isn't the contraception intention wrong because it breaks that relationship to procreation? What else is a contraception intention but the intention to separate sex from it's function? And if that's the case, there is a contraceptive intention, even if the couple is already infertile. Finally, loving sexual intimacy has nothing to do with condomistic sex. That's one of the most damning fallacies of our culture, that sexual love is somehow independent of what one is actually doing with one's sexual activity. To use contraception at all, and it's especially obvious with a condom or other physical barriers, is to change the nature of sex. In what sense is a couple using a physical barrier sexually one? And if they are not sexually one, how can they be spiritually one? The spiritual is founded on the physical - on created nature and reality. Destroy the first and you destroy the possibility of the second. It's nothing more than a myth that sex can both be unitive and have nothing to do with procreation at all by human design. The unitive side of sex is not indifferent to the nature of sex and what HV calls that intrinsic relationship to procreation, indeed that is the basis of that unity.
Paul Ferris
3 years 8 months ago
Brian, you write: "The spiritual is founded on the physical". I think the opposite may be true according to our Christian faith. Aquinas says that humans are the crown of creation, even greater than angels in the sense that humans combine both matter and spirit in their being. In any case the relationship between the spiritual and physical should not be reduced to either choice. The spiritual is also a created reality. If I follow what you are saying, when a couple is infertile or no longer fertile, they should abstain from intercourse because procreation is not possible. This is not the teaching of HV nor the common understanding of our faith. Finally, there is more to life than logic; leave some room for mystery.
Marie Rehbein
3 years 8 months ago
HV is one man's opinion--a man that, if he followed the rules, would have no practical experience with which to inform the opinion. HV's big breakthrough was to make people stop feeling guilty about having married sex. However, for reasons that are your own, Brian, you seem to want to make it into a "how to" book for performing sex. Loving sexual intimacy has nothing to do with following rules. Plenty of people are "spiritually one" without being sexual at all.
Michael Barberi
3 years 8 months ago
Brian, Thanks for your comments. They point to important distinctions that should be discussed. I offer my thoughts for your reflection. 1. An "effect" or consequence of a voluntary human act, is not a "means-act" that is chosen to accomplish the end/goal and intention of the agent which in this case is to protect the wife from a deadly disease as a result of marital sexual intercourse. The separation of the so-called unitive and procreative meanings of the marital act is an "unintended" effect/consequence of the act. In other words, this separation is not the intention of the agent. 2. Your use of the words "contraception intention is wrong because it breaks the relationship to procreation" can be true, but the intention of the agent here is not contraception but to safe-guard the health and life of the spouse from a deadly disease. 3. You also said "loving sexual intimacy has nothing to do with condomistic sex". This can be true if the agent is forcing the spouse to have sexual intercourse against her will or if the agent is solely having sexual intercourse for mere pleasure. However, this would read into the example something that is not be assumed a priori and therefore would be irrelevant. I ask: Just how is loving sexual intimacy only possible provided that the marital act is open to procreation in every single act of sexual intercourse regardless of intentions, ends or circumstances? If the answer is a repeat of HV 12, then I would further ask: how is this the absolute moral truth, the constant teaching of the Church and God's Plan? No pope or bishop ever wrote or mentioned that the marital act had two meanings that could not be separated before 1960 (see my previous posting). Even Pius XII in his 1951 Address to the Midwives proclaimed that couples can be exempt from their procreative obligations in marriage, even for their entire married life, based on good reasons (e.g., medical, social, economic and eugenic). For these good reasons, Pius XII said that PC was licit. As I mentioned and explained in my previous posting, both PC and contraception violates HV. Therefore, if couples have such good reasons why is PC the only licit form of birth control? [See also my comments about the issues of God's Plan and the Constant Teaching of the Church]. 4. I can only conclude from your comments that the HIV positive husband must practice a lifetime of sexual abstinence. Lifetime sexual abstinence and celibacy is a gift from God given to the very few. Even many seminarians don't take their final vows because they lack this gift. In order for celibacy or lifetime sexual abstinence to work it must be voluntarily chosen, not imposed on someone from authority. Would not sexual abstinence destroy and undermine the marriage, force upon the spouses almost impossible burdens and create unnecessary disharmony for existing children? 5. Make no mistake about what I am saying. I believe that sexual intercourse in a marriage have unitive and procreative meanings. However, the definition of unitive love is not a narrow definition as the Church makes it out. In their view, there is only a false, evil and destructive love that is expressed in the marital act by the agent unless every single marital act is open to procreation. As for the body-spirit unity argument, one cannot separate body and spirit for they are one. However, is it not a metaphoric leap to transform this belief into an absolute moral norm where under no intentions, ends or circumstances, the so-called unitive and procreative dimensions of the marital act cannot be separated? I could go on, but I hope this has been somewhat helpful…at least my thoughts on this complicated issue.
Frank Gibbons
3 years 8 months ago
Kudos to Father Malone for publishing this thoughtful and balanced reflection on "Humanae Vitae." Thanks also to Father Keenan for sharing his charitable approach to HV.
Michael Barberi
3 years 8 months ago
When I think about the divisive arguments about the HV it reminds me of two people that are asked to truthfully describe a glass of water partial filled. One person says the glass is half full and the other says the glass is half empty. The problem that has been going on for 45 years is that the Church proclaims the truth with certainty that the glass is half full, and refuses to acknowledge that the truth is also that the glass is half empty. This analogy will be clearer by describing two concrete examples. 1. The Glass Half Full Argument (Church's position): The argument goes something like this. PC/NFP couples have the intention of no more children for good reasons and do not want acts of sexual intercourse to result in conception. When these married couples practice PC/NFP they choose to abstain from sexual intercourse at those times that are fertile. In accordance with HV, they are not performing any deliberate and willful physical acts before, during or after the marital act that prevents procreation. Couples who practice PC/NFP also do not have a contraceptive intent because if PC/NFP fails and a child is born by accident, the overwhelming percentage of these couples, save for the rare few, will welcome the child into their family with unconditional love. On the other hand the Church proclaims that PC/NFP couples can have a contraceptive intent. If so, PC/NFP would be immoral. However, when pressed to explain this statement, the discussion often revolves around a couple who does like or want children (presumably not for good reasons) and if PC/NFP fails they likely would abort a pregnancy. 2. The Glass Half Empty Argument (another legitimate theological position): This argument goes something like this. Married couples who choose to practice PC/NFP have the intention of no more children for good reasons and want to ensure that acts of sexual intercourse do not result in conception. However, PC/NFP couples perform the deliberate and willful physical acts of measuring basil temperature and cervical mucus and plot them on a calendar (before the marital act) to determine the times that are infertile so that marital acts can be limited to those times in order that every act of sexual intercourse will be non-procreative. They manipulate the God-given fertility-infertilty nexus to prevent marital acts from being procreative. Therefore, PC/NFP separates the unitive and procreative dimensions of the martial act and violate HV. This argument acknowledges that if PC/NFP fails, the overwhelming majority of these couples, save for a rare few, would not abort a child born by accident. Two multiple-phrased questions: 1. How is PC/NFP morally different than married couples who to take the anovulant pill as a means of birth regulation? The Pill-taking couples have the same intention as PC/NFP couples in that they do not want more children for good reasons. Do not PC/NFP couples perform physical acts before marital acts to ensure that acts of sexual intercourse do not result in conception? Is it also true that the overwhelming majority of Pill-taking couples, save for the rare few, would also NOT abort a child born by accident if the pill failed? 2. If HV proclaims that any act is forbidden that is performed before, during or after the marital act that prevents procreation, then how precisely do PC/NFP couples not separate the unitive and procreative dimensions of the marital act? Why is the Glass-Full Argument and the Glass-Half Empty Argument not a description of the truth? According to one virtue ethical argument, PC/NFP couples are practicing the virtue of chastity-temperance by abstaining from sexual intercourse. If so, then I would posit that Pill-taking couples are not having unbridled sex but frequently abstain from sexual intercourse as an act of love when one spouse has less of a sexual appetite than the other or is simply not in the mood because of the burdens and chores of child rearing, family and work life. This existential reality often gets lost in such a discussion. The number of children that PC/NFP couples have is not significantly different from the number of children that Pill-taking couples have. Equally important, the number of children in a marriage is up to couples, not the Church. There is no explicit number of children that anyone claims is immoral or a violation of responsible parenthood. More importantly, the overwhelming majority, if not almost all, PC/NFP couples and contraception/Pill-taking couples choose a form of birth regulation for "virtuous reasons". For example, 30% of women who have irregular menstrual cycles do not choose PC/NFP because it would result in far too many children that they could emotionally, physically and financially manage in the practice of responsible parenthood. In conclusion: Clearly, this is only one disputed issue in the debate about HV and it does not exhaust the entire argument.
Brian Killian
3 years 8 months ago
Michael. Do NFP users change the nature of sex? Does contraception change the nature of sex? And if it does, doesn't that change the nature of what you are doing? When the NFP user has sex and the contraception user has sex, are they doing the same thing? How can they be doing the same thing, when the nature of sex has changed? What becomes of sex, when you divorce it from it's natural orientation? Isn't artificial birth control a kind of change therapy to change the sexual orientation of sex?
Michael Barberi
3 years 8 months ago
Brian, Thanks for your comments. The issue you raise is not a new one. According to natural law which governed much of the position on sexual ethics for a long time in the Church, the nature of sex had its origin in the nature of the sexual faculties. The narrative was that God created the sexual faculties for procreation and the natural end of sexual intercourse was considered natural law To go against the natural law was to go against nature because God created nature with some type of order. Hence, it was immoral to use the sexual faculties for anything other than procreation. Given this way of thinking, Augustine rejected sexual relations during sterile periods and sex during menstruation because it is non-procreative, which incidentally would rule out the Catholic teaching about PC in the practice of responsible parenthood! To borrow from Bill Murphy's article on Forty Years Later: Arguments in Support of Humanae Vitae in light of Veritatis Spendor...Both Augustine and Aquinas understood that the moral practice of sexual intercourse required the non-frustration of this procreative end, which was understood to reflect the natural law, which itself was understood as centered in the non-frustration of natural ends. However, Aquinas taught that the relation to a natural end is accidental to the morality of the human act. In other words, he taught that the proximate good and end intended by the agent indicates the essence of the human act whereas the relation to the natural end, which corresponds to what is physically caused is accidental. Now, accidental does not mean irrelevant but it does indicate clearly that Thomas's understanding of natural law is not centered in the non-frustration or normatively of natural ends. In the debates surrounding HV moral theories that appealed to "nature" were rejected by revisionist theologians as too legalistic, physicalistic or biologistic. Much later in Veritatis Spendor, JP II argued a middle course in which the moral relevance of the natural law is understood not an an immediate appeal to the "natural", but as understanding its moral relevance in light of virtue, the person, and the orientation of the person to self-gift in love. However, what is a seeming contradiction, and according to JP II, contraception is immoral because agents are holding back their fertility during sexual intercourse (e.g., they are not fully self-gifting themselves per the narrow definition of unitive love). The counter-argument is that PC couples are also holding back their fertility during sexual intercourse. So, this issue comes full circle where the issues I have been raising have not been adequately addressed by official teaching or in the debate the ensued after the publication of HV. I hope this answers your question or at least provide more background for my position.
Paul Ferris
3 years 8 months ago
As a Jesuit, James Keenan has made a special vow or promise to obey the Pope. This promise colors his arguments. He also is a man of compassion so he attempts to get around the clear teaching of HV with some creative casuistry in regards to a marriage partner who has AIDS, Unfortunately his compassion cannot extend to married couples who think another child might be detrimental to the overall wellbeing of the family unless they practice rhythm or NPF. When HV was written In Vitro Fertilization was just beginning. This form of procreation really drives a wedge between the procreative and unitive aspects of sexual intercourse as traditionally understood. Imagine the man must masturbate in a petri dish. Ratzinger called the childreb conceived by this method test tube babies. Wonder how Kennan reflects on this new reality. It I is worth another article and entirely relevant to the realties of his students who may have problems conceiving a child in the future. Alas Ratzinger did become Pope Benedict XVI but he has retired so this would give Keenan some space for free reflection. I believe Francis is worried about other issues....thank God !!!
Paul Ferris
3 years 8 months ago
As a 68 year old Catholic, raised on the Baltimore Catechism and the belief that the Pope was infallible in faith and morals, it was very important to me what Pope Paul VI said about birth control. I could not imagine him being wrong about anything so tied up with morality as sex and sexual intercourse. I do not believe this anymore but I still wish there was some authority that could tell me clearly what is right and wrong. I believe such an authority does not exist but God did create me with a conscience and Jesus Christ gives me the grace to follow it. The Pope authority has been adjusted from an infallible voice to one of respect in moral issues. Blind faith in the Pope is no longer an option. Thanks to James Keenan and America magazine for this forum for debate and reflection.
Frank Gibbons
3 years 8 months ago
Paul, Did you see the comments that Pope Francis made today to the trustees of the University of Notre Dame? "Essential in this regard is the uncompromising witness of Catholic universities to the Church’s moral teaching, and the defense of her freedom, precisely in and through her institutions, to uphold that teaching as authoritatively proclaimed by the magisterium of her pastors." The Pope's full comments can be found here:http://www.osservatoreromano.va/en/news/defend-freedom-teach#.Uup2uXddUfc
Marie Rehbein
3 years 8 months ago
Is one of the moral teachings to deprive others of making conscientious judgments pertaining to their own circumstances?
Frank Gibbons
3 years 8 months ago
Marie, You'll have to ask Pope Francis that question.
Paul Ferris
3 years 8 months ago
Frank, Duplicate comment by mistake.
Paul Ferris
3 years 8 months ago
Frank, Your answer to Marie sounds like a copout in my opinion.. You were the one who brought up the Pope's address. Now when asked what it means you punt....hmmm.
Marie Rehbein
3 years 8 months ago
I'm betting that Pope Francis thinks that the teachings of Catholicism leave room for exceptions and so feels free to encourage the teaching to continue as it always has at Notre Dame. When I visited Notre Dame it seemed that the school made it as easy a possible to live in conformity with Catholic teaching. I did not sense that students were under pressure to obey without question.
Paul Ferris
3 years 8 months ago
Frank, I just read the address you referenced. As a former Notre Dame student I do not have a problem with what Pope Francis said. The devil as always is in the details and there is nothing concrete in reference to a particular subject. If he wanted to get more specific he is intelligent enough to have done so. I think some American Bishops should be ashamed of themselves for piling on to the Republican party's war on women. They then have the gall to send around a questionnaire asking Catholics how they feel about these and other issues. What is your take on this speech?
Paul Ferris
3 years 8 months ago
I offer a review I wrote about this subject. I think it pertains to Kennan's article. More than any group, sexual intercourse is 'objectivized" by celibate male priests to the point that they cannot imagine anything interfering with the physical structure of the act. Most people do not experience sex this way. One thing the Church should have learned from the pedophile crisis is that sexual acts carry enormous psychological consequences beyond the "physical structure of the act" itself. This will be my last post on this subject...I promise. :) The Christian Philosophy Of St Thomas Aquinas (Paperback) On page 298 of this book we read :"to violate nature is to set oneself against God. Now the worst way of violating nature is to carry corruption into its very principle. Fornication, adultery, rape, incest are certainly grave faults, but they are not as serious as vice against nature. Moral errors, even incest, respect nature's order in the performing of the sexual act. Unnatural vice, however, refuses to accept this order. The worst form of luxury is bestiality, and after it, sodomy, irregularities in the sexual act, and Onanism. Whatever it is from, this vice affects man in what is most intimate in him, his very nature; and herein lies its exceptional gravity.(footnote ST II-II, Q.154, Art 12. ad 2. Yes Gilson, whatever indeed. Gilson adds onanism. Not clear that is part of Aquinas's answer. Scholars know now that the sin of Onan was a violation of the Leverite law and not the sin of contraception or so called onanism. What to me is troubling is that Gilson, an outstanding Thomist, may have influenced the hierarchy in its understanding of this issue in regards to natural law leading to Humanae Vitae. I looked up the issue in question in the Summa and Gilson does seem to interpret Aquinas correctly. The Question Aquinas asks is "Whether the Unnatural Vice is the Greatest Sin Among the Species of Lust." He gives the first objection to the question. It seems that unnatural vice is not the gravest sin against the species of lust for the more a sin is contrary to charity the graver it is. Now adultery, seduction, and rape which are injurious to our neighbor, than unnatural sins, by which no other person is injured." One would hope that this was Aquinas' opinion as well but he disagrees and answers in response to this objection. "Just as the ordering of right reason proceeds from man, so the order of nature is from God Himself: wherefore in sins contrary to nature, whereby the very order of nature is violated, an injury is done to God, the Author of nature." But in other places Aquinas says that the person is that which is most noble in all creation, even in some sense higher than the angels because only the human person has both matter and spirit as a composite of its nature. Aquinas would have been better served if he applied this to the question at hand. To call rape, an act of violence against women or man, or incest, sexual acts, is criminal and offensive to moderns and these acts should not be listed in the same category as fornication and adultery. Didn't Aquinas himself, following scripture and the Patristic Fathers, view humans as created in the image and likeness of God. Scripture quotes Jesus saying at the last judgment, "whatever you do to the least of these you did it to Me." In the Incarnation of the Word, Jesus assumed what is ours so that we may be elevated to what is His. So shouldn't if follow logically from these premises that to harm a human being is to harm the Author of humanity ? Actually it is weird that this subject was even dealt with in the way that Aquinas and Gilson treat it. Throw the book across the room !
Michael Barberi
3 years 8 months ago
Paul Feris mentioned Aquinas and questioned exactly what he meant in terms of the morality of voluntary human action. What is important to understand is that there was a significant shift in the Church's thinking over HV and the various debates that had been going especially during the pontificate of JP II. It was in 1993 that JP II issued Vertitatis Spendor (VS) where the encyclical suggests an alternative approach more defensible than one claiming that the "natural" immediately reveals the "moral" without the benefit of reason. While I don't want to post a lengthy discussion of VS, I want to point out one major issue that most theologians either don't realize or ignore. This is VS no. 78 where JP II asserts that acceding to Aquinas, in short, the moral act is the proximate end of the chosen exterior act, or the proximate end intended by the agent. However a reading of VS 78 refers to S.T. I-II q. 18, a. 6 that never mentions a "proximate end", but this text does refer to S.T. I-II q. 1, a. 3. In ST I-II q. 1, a. 3, ad. 3. In this text, Thomas explains how an act is ordained to but one proximate end, from which it has species: but it can be ordained to several remote ends. However, the phrase “the proximate end from which it has species” ignores the complete corpus of the article and the example Aquinas used to explain what he meant by this sentence. The example is the act of killing a person that Aquinas says is one with respect to its natural species, but can be directed to several ends of the will. Paradoxically, this is an example where the so-called remote or ulterior end of the agent specifies, and not the proximate end. The only thing that is “proximate” in the example of killing a person is the victim’s death, its natural species. As Aquinas clearly explains, the moral specification of this human act is based on the death of the victim for the intention of vengeance (immoral), or based on the intention to safeguard justice where the death of the victim is not intended (morally licit). Most importantly, these ends are the agent’s ulterior intentions-to-ends, not the proximate end of the act of choice, the killing of the person. It is obvious in ST I-II q. 1, a. 3, ad. 3 Aquinas was referring to the proximate end of the act from which is has species to mean from which it has "natural species", not "moral species". This does not mean that a means-act cannot be specified as morally evil action rendering the total human activity immoral. Rather, for Aquinas the circumstances and the agent’s end must be good but that the means-act must be evaluated differently as a useful good possessing due proportion and due matter in due circumstances; it must be appropriate and suitable. To date, there has been disagreement over the interpretation of Aquinas and most recently in the credible substantiation of VS 78. For an outstanding discussion on this see: Joseph A. Selling, "Quaestio disputata: The Recovery of Aquinas's Action Theory: a Reply to William Murphy" in Theological Studies 73 (2012) 139-150. Thus, in the post-VS debate regarding HV, the issue concerning the moral criteria that species the morality of the voluntary human act of contraception in the practice of responsible parenthood, in particular the Church's argument, continues to lack an intellectually persuasive moral theory and argument.
Paul Ferris
3 years 8 months ago
Thank you for this post. I think the distinction between the natural species and moral species may be a path out of the thicket for some.
Stephen Benson
3 years 8 months ago
This news story from 2011 might be of interest to the author and commenters: New documents reveal inner workings of papal birth control commission http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/new-documents-reveal-inner-workings-of-papal-birth-control-commission/
Michael Barberi
3 years 8 months ago
Stephen, Thanks for this, however, nothing is new here. More importantly, this short article minimizes the complete story when the four theologians who opposed the Majority Report, and Cardinal Ottaviani, head of the Holy Office, began a campaign to persuade the pope to reject the Majority Report and embrace tradition. I will not go into details here because there are many books written on this subject. Two of them worth seeking out are: Robert McCory's "Turning Point: The Inside Story of the Papal Birth Control Commission, and How Humanae Vitae Changed the Life of Patty Crowley and the Future of the Church"; and Robert Blair Kaiser's "The Encyclical That Never Was: The Story of the Pontifical Commission on Population, Family and Birth, 1964-66."
Michael Barberi
3 years 8 months ago
I hope this to be my final comment so I would like to summarize the major issues discussed, and some that ware not. Perhaps at a future time Fr. Keenan might help us address these issues. 1. Classicism versus Historicism. The Church holds to a world view (classicism) that the world has been created and truth has already been revealed, and taught and known. The truth is universal and unchanging. Historicism holds to a world view that the truth is discovered and is only understood and grasped over time through experience and maturity. Our "understanding" of truth, our humanity, scripture, philosophy, anthropology, theology, et al, is constantly changing. This does not mean that there are no truth claims about faith, but that moral truth often is not a moral absolute as taught in history by historical persons and fixed for all time, but frequently is developed as we better understand what is right and wrong in our personal and human relationships etc. 2. Nature, Natural Ends and the Order of Nature versus Moral Normativity We discussed this in these thread comments. Should the non-frustration of natural ends (e.g., of voluntary human acts) be immoral? 3. God's Plan, in particular HIs Procreative Plan versus Absolute Moral Obligation and Truth We also discussed this in the question: who knows God's Procreative Plan with moral certainty? Should we profess to know God's plan with moral certainty based on on theory of philosophical anthropology, one definition of personalism and symbolism? In other words, should we assert that something like the marital act has unitive and procreative meanings that must never be separated by human persons regardless of ends, intentions and circumstances because it is God's Plan? 4. Consequences of Contraception Is it true and substantiated by evidence in existential reality that NFP married couples love each other as subjects, while contraceptive married couples have a utilitarian attitude and a diabolic love grounded in concupiscence? 5. Moral Method Is the moral object, in short, the proximate end of a deliberate choice of an exterior voluntary human act? If so, what is this so-called proximate end if it is not the natural end of the act and not the agent's ulterior intention-to-end? What criteria defines it? 6. Human Experience and Virtue We did not discuss this issue. I posit only a few questions from reflection. How precisely should human experience be used as one source of moral truth, especially in marital human relationships? How should we define end-states of affairs such as responsible parenthood in terms of virtue? Is responsible parenthood merely the virtue of charity-temperance without remainder? How can we transform abstract virtues into practical guidelines for moral decision-making? Is not our voluntary human actions as moral choices based in some way on a holistic composite of many virtues, and not governed by one virtue? What guidelines should we follow when we are confronted with a conflict of virtues? Can there exist several choices of action that can be virtuous in a given set of circumstances? If so, is there only one choice that is morally right and all others are immoral? Is there a theory of virtue ethics we should follow?
Paul Ferris
3 years 8 months ago
Michael, great summary. I love #6.
Paul Ferris
3 years 8 months ago
Thank you for your clarification in #1. I took it the wrong way. You were just using it as an illustration comparable to a couple where one of the spouses has HIV. I am glad for your posts. Without them I would feel that I am arguing with myself, trying to hear the sound of one hand clapping.
Paul Ferris
3 years 8 months ago
Michael, You and I have responded more than once to this article. I want to quote a couple of your paragraphs and comment: "Equally important is the fact that the Church also teaches, per HV, that a married spouse who is told by her physicians that another pregnancy will be life-threatening with certainty cannot use artificial birth control or be sterilized in order to safe-guard her life. The hierarchy of values in this case has been turned upside down. How can safe-guarding one's life be subordinate to the teaching that every marital act must be open to procreation? I ask Fr. Keenan: If you believe that the agent's intention, end and circumstances are good justifies the use of artificial birth control in the above two cases, how can you condemn married couples who have other good ends. intentions and circumstances for using artificial birth control? According to the Church HV is a moral absolute, meaning that under no circumstances, ends or intentions can the two meanings of the marital act be separated (e.g., HV 12). " I think you hit the nail on the head with these two paragraphs except for the phrase, "life threatening WITH CERTAINTY." I don't not think there can be certainty in most cases. One has to weigh what a physician says and ask if ignoring a warning is worth the risk to the life of the mother, wife, and future well being of children. Also you wrote that the church does not weigh experience as a source of truth. This is an extraordinary admission on your part, especially in response to an article called Life Lessons. It begs the question: whose lives and whose lessons?" Certainly not the majority of most Catholic couples. I agree with Fr Kennan that HIV people should be allowed to use condoms in marriage rather than live lives of celibacy. What Fr. Kennan misses in his analysis is what many couples without the issue of HIV discovered.They too following HV would have to live celibate lives rather than risk another pregnancy. As an aside, observe that the married couple canonized by JPII practiced celibacy in marriage after having children. Why should we not be surprised. One last comment is relevant here. Karl Barth once said that Catholicism has no theology of marriage, it only has a theology of the marriage ceremony. I agree and this makes Fr. Keenan's article and HV a very narrow view of reality within marriage. Finally did you notice that most of the responses from to this article were from males? The women responses were very brief meaning they have no need for all this logical angst. I promised not to write again. I guess I lied.
Michael Barberi
3 years 8 months ago
Thanks Paul for your comments. 1. You make a good point about the phrase "life threatening with certainty". I wanted to make clear that I meant "according to the agent's physicians that another pregnancy will be life-threatening with certainty"…to emphasize that this was a serious issue that any prudent Christian person could not and should not ignore. Thus, for this married female spouse (with a husband and existing children) to choose NFP under these circumstances would be imprudent. Some would say taking the anovulant pill would not be the most prudent and safest means either. On the other hand, a life time of sexual abstinence would clearly be imprudent and threaten her marriage, bring disharmony, even unnecessary psychological and other burdens to her children if the marriage ended in divorce or separation. To require and impose upon this spouse a lifetime of sexual abstinence under the rubric of "heroic virtue" is absurd. I asked my local parish priest about this, and he had no problem with a married women in these circumstances to be sterilized in order to safe-guard her life. I think enough is said about this case example to seriously question the moral absoluteness of HV 12. 2. For the most part, the Catholic Church does not take human experience into sufficient consideration in many cases of doctrine, such as Humanae Vitae. Many of the Church's claims: that contraception leads to abortion and divorce, and that married couples who use artificial birth control for good reasons in the practice of responsible parenthood have a false, evil and destructive love, et al., are not substantiated by existential reality. Many such claims are exaggerated in a narrative that distorts a correlation (any degree of correlation) for a "cause". Few Catholic married couples believe such claims because they are in tension with their human experience. Thanks again…for your final thought. I understand your purpose and don't think you lied. I hope this to be my final comment as well. Let's hope that the good Fr. Keenan, who I admire and respect, will address all the issues discussed in the immediate future.

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