Archive for 2018

Humanae Vitae, Father Maurizio Chiodi, and Natural Family Planning

Friday, January 12th, 2018

Almost a month after Fr. Maurizio Chiodi made a controversial presentation at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome on December 14, reports reached the internet news media.  As I read the report on LifeSiteNews, I could not help but thinking, “It’s been 52 years but some things are unfortunately the same.”  In 1966, Father Jozef Fuchs, S.J. was a theologian at the Gregorian and was also a member of the papal birth control commission.  In the summer of 1966 I participated in a moral theology course taught by Father Fuchs at the University of San Francisco.  I asked a lot of questions in those classes attended mostly by clergy and religious.  At least one priest appreciated my efforts.  “John, you ask good questions.  Keep it up.”  Apparently Father Fuchs didn’t think so; the next summer he taught the same course but attendance was limited—no laity permitted.

Later that year Fr. Fuchs submitted the majority report which advocated that the Church should accept marital contraception.  Fortunately, they spelled out their reasons, and it was clear that the arguments used for the acceptance for marital contraception cannot say NO to sodomy whether within heterosexual marriage or by same-sex persons.  Five years later, Theological Studies, a generally liberal journal, published my article, “Continued Dissent: Is It Responsible Loyalty?” (March 1971) in which I showed that the decision-making principles of archdissenter Fr. Charles Curran could not say NO even to spouse-swapping.  No one accused me of creating a straw man.  The liberals have long known what is entailed in their acceptance of marital contraception.

Fr. Chiodi, who teaches moral theology at the Northern University in Milan, tries to make two points.  First, he asserts that there are “circumstances—I refer to Amoris Laetitia, Chapter 8—that precisely for the sake of responsibility, require contraception.”  Amazing.  I thought he would go on to make a sympathy-earning case for a couple with a large family and for whom their particular method of systematic NFP was not “working,” or a couple who had an alleged irrepressible sexual attraction to each other during the fertile time, etc. etc.  But no.  Instead he posits a situation in which “responsibility calls the couple and the family to other forms of welcome and hospitality.”

This is an assertion, not an argument.  The situation he suggests is of the kind described in Humanae Vitae —a couple having “just reasons” for seeking to avoid pregnancy.  I grant there can be situations in which a couple decide that God is not calling them to have more children, but that in no way justifies falsifying the marriage act.  Instead, it provides a reason to practice fertility awareness and systematic natural family planning.  Unfortunately, Fr. Chiodi’s assertions sound like Fr. Jozef Fuchs revisited.

The second major point of his lecture seems to be made in this statement.  “My thought is to take up the anthropological meaning of the norm of Humanae Vitae…  it’s not a matter of abolishing the norm, but of demonstrating its meaning and truth.”  In the LifeSite commentary, Fr. Chiodi sees an anthropology of marriage built on “four fundamental aspects”: the relationship between sexuality and sexual difference; the relationship between human sexuality and the spousal covenant; the relationship between marital communion and generation; and the meaning of responsibility in generation.  In the LifeSiteNews  opinion, that probably means responsible parenthood.

In my opinion, the key item among the four is the second one—the relationship between human sexuality and the spousal covenant.  Here I want to interpret Fr. Chiodi as calling for more emphasis on the meaning of sexual intercourse.  I submit that there is covenantal meaning that God has built into human sexual intercourse.  What makes the human sexual act different from the sexual intercourse of high primates?  The distinctly human difference is that while animals can “have sex,” only human persons can engage in an act that is intended by Almighty God to be a renewal of the faith and love and commitment of their marriage covenant—and which the couple can consciously intend to be such a renewal.

This is illustrated in Sacred Scripture with its condemnation of a number of specific kinds of human sexual acts.  In alphabetical order, adultery, bestiality, contraception, fornication, incest, masturbation, prostitution, rape and sodomy are all condemned.  (I consider the Onan account to condemn both contraception and masturbation.)  Each of these has its specific evil or form of injustice.  But, what is most significant is what they all have in common—none of them is a true marriage act.  About each one of these behaviors, consequentialist questions have been raised.  For example, what’s wrong with adultery or any of the other forms of biblically condemned behaviors if both parties are okay with it and use efficient contraception when doing sex with heterosexual partners?  It is that sort of consequentialist thinking that has led to the current degraded societal sexual morality which has only two criteria—legal age and mutual acceptability.

I submit that the biblical condemnations plus almost 2000 years of Catholic teaching on these matters leads to the conclusion that in God’s plan, sexual intercourse is intended to be, at least implicitly, a renewal of the marriage covenant.  That means two things:  Sexual intercourse ought to be exclusively a marriage act.  Then, within marriage, the marriage act ought to be a true marriage act, one that affirms the love and faith and commitment of their marriage covenant, for better and for worse—including the imagined worse of possible pregnancy.  The body language of the contracepted marriage act says, however, “I take you for better but positively NOT for the imagined worse of possible pregnancy.”  It pretends to be what it is not.  It is intrinsically dishonest.

Of great interest to those of us who teach natural family planning is Father Chiodi’s reference to contraception as technology.  Contraceptive behaviors have been with the human race since the beginning of recorded history with some records going back to 3000 BC.  Condoms and withdrawal have been used for centuries.  The development of latex condoms in the 19th century might be considered a form of “technology,” but I suspect that most moderns would think only of the modern developments as “technology.”

Modern technology would perhaps include tubal ligation and vasectomy, but more commonly it would refer to hormonal forms of birth control.  Here I do not use the word “contraception” because the hormonal methods of birth control are not just contraceptive but also have the abortifacient potential of denying implantation of the newly conceived baby.  The hormonal methods are also the ones that can cause blood clots and breast cancer and a whole list of other health problems.

If an atheist would talk about technological contraception without adequately treating of the serious problems with those technologies, that would be unethical.

If a Catholic moral theologian talks about technological contraception without adequately treating of the serious health problems with those technologies, that would also be unethical.  But if he should also say it might be “required” in some cases, that is so strange that it should be unthinkable.  The most charitable interpretation I can place on this is that such “moral theology” is missing one of the key elements of any bio-theology—the scientific facts.

Furthermore, anyone doing any form of moral theology dealing with human sexuality should be required to read Mary Eberstadt’s sociological gem, Adam and Eve after the Pill (Ignatius, 2012).  It is hard to understand how any informed moral theologian, having become aware of the negative sociological effects from the societal acceptance of contraception, could write as Father Chiodi has done.

John F. Kippley
January 11, 2018

Humanae Vitae: The End Does Not Homogenize the Means

Sunday, January 7th, 2018

Most Christians recognize that the end does not justify the means.  Many recall St. Paul’s allusions to this truth in Romans 3:6 and 6:1 and 15.  In the birth control controversy, Pope Paul VI teaches clearly in Humanae Vitae that “it is not licit, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil so that good may follow therefrom…” (n. 14).  Civilization would simply cease to exist if everyone accepted as a moral principle the idea that “To accomplish some good, I can do anything; whatever I do is justified by my good purpose.”  This is so easy to see that ordinary people of good will almost instinctively recognize that “the end does not justify the means.”

In talking about birth control, however, sexuality is involved, and sexual matters have a way of clouding reason because there is so much self-interest involved.  Thus some people say that if it is morally permissible for people to use natural methods of conception regulation, then it is also okay to use unnatural methods.  After all, they say, people who use either “method” have the same purpose, so what’s the difference?  In other words, a common purpose would make morally the same—homogenize—the various ways of carrying out that purpose.

In my experience, people who think this way about birth control do not think this way about anything else in life.  I ask such folks to consider two couples who would both like to live in a better house that they can’t afford right now.  One couple decides to cut back on spending, to work harder, and to save more.  The other couple decides to engage in the illicit drug trade.  Does having the common purpose of buying a better house make it morally the same to use either of these ways to accomplish that purpose?  I have never met anyone who says that wanting a better house makes drug dealing and working harder at an honest trade morally the same.  Once the subject is no longer sex and birth control, everyone recognizes the truth of the moral principle, “The end does not homogenize the means.”

Since this is such a common mistake, and since it would be easy for someone to “feel stupid” if he was publicly corrected, here’s a suggestion.  If you give a talk where someone might raise this question, pre-empt it and answer the question in your talk.  That way, you make the point, and nobody is embarrassed.

By John F. Kippley
Sex and the Marriage Covenant