Monday, July 28, 2008

Vatican Declines to Address the Central Theological Issue of Its Birth Control Ban

The Catholic critics who ran the half-page ad in Italy’s largest-circulation newspaper asking the pope to reconsider Humanae Vitae, the Catholic Church’s 40-year old prohibition of birth control, got their answer.

Saying the ad was “not an article that expresses a theological or moral position,” Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi dismissed the plea as “paid propaganda to promote the use of contraceptives.”

Responding to one issue raised in the ad, Lombardi contended that use of condoms would have no positive impact reducing the spread of AIDS. He cited no evidence for this remarkable assertion.

His main criticism of the ad was that “it does not remotely breach the true issue that is at the heart of Humanae Vitae, i.e., the connection among the human and spiritual relation between husband and wife, the practice of sexuality as its expression, and its fecundity.”

Unfortunately, Lombardi did not address the serious theological issue the ad did reiterate: the rejection of the church’s position on birth control by an overwhelming majority of Catholics around the world.

That has been the theological issue with Humanae Vitae from the start, and in forty years Rome has never addressed it to anyone’s satisfaction. That is why it is basically the jumping off point in the introduction to my doctoral dissertation, which provides a process-theology justification for why church teachings change.

For those like Lombardi who would like to ignore that central issue, Robert McClory highlights it again in a Chicago Tribune op-ed piece July 27th entitled, “Contraception ban remains bitter pill.”

McClory quotes this candid assessment of Humanae Vitae by Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George: "We have the beginning of the dissolution of the teaching authority of the church."

As McClory reminds us, the sad thing about Humanae Vitae is that the pope could have acted differently, but declined to do so. In one ill-considered act, the pope drove generations of Catholics away from the church and removed Catholicism from any credible role in the discussion of birth control. Subsequent popes, blithely reasserting what most of their fellow Catholics deny, have only compounded the damage, year after year.

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