Infallibility and Contraception: a Reply to Fr. Genilo, S.J., Fr. Tanseco, S.J., and Bishop Bacani by Paul Gerard Horrigan, Ph.D.

Source:  Splendor of the Church

In an email to Federico Pascual Jr.’s column “Postscript,” printed in the December 23, 2008 edition of the newspaper Philippine Star, Fr. Eric M. O. Genilo, S.J. Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at the Loyola School of Theology, Ateneo de Manila University wrote: “The word ‘infallibility’ has been often abused by both lay people and some clerics to bolster their moral arguments, as most recently seen in the debates on the Reproductive Health Bill. Your presentation is correct in saying that infallibility is only asserted by the Pope ex cathedra and is rarely used.

“Generally, a papal document has to state explicitly that the pope declares the teaching infallible. Thus Humanae Vitae is not an infallible document – it is still authoritative at the highest level but is open to improvement.

“…There is in the Vatican II documents another way of asserting infallibility, not by ex cathedra statement, but by the ordinary teaching authority of the Church which has a number of conditions that require practically universal agreement on a matter of faith or morals.

“So far no teaching has been universally accepted and formally recognized as infallible using this alternative method. Not even Humanae Vitae…” [1]

Contrary to the above assertions, I maintain that Fr. Genilo, S.J.’s understanding of papal infallibility is seriously wrong: it restricts papal infallibility to solemn ex cathedra definitions (he writes: “infallibility is only asserted by the Pope ex cathedra and is rarely used”), not taking into account that Pope Paul VI’s condemnation of contraception in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae is, in fact, an infallible exercise of the ordinary papal magisterium.

Aside from contraception, the Church’s condemnations of the intrinsic evils, for example, of direct abortion, homosexual acts, adultery, fornication, masturbation, and euthanasia, have also been taught infallibly [2] by the universal ordinary magisterium. The core of Catholic moral teaching as summarized in the Ten Commandments, precisely as these precepts have been traditionally understood by the Church (e.g., the Roman Catechism), has, in fact, been taught infallibly by the universal ordinary magisterium. Yet Fr. Genilo, S.J., following fellow dissenter Francis Sullivan, S.J., asserts that no specific moral norms have been proposed infallibly by the universal ordinary magisterium. The reason for this assertion is because, according to Sullivan and many other proportionalists, the Church simply cannot teach infallibly by its ordinary magisterium any specific moral norm, an erroneous claim made based on 1. the misunderstanding of Canon 749, paragraph 3 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law (Canon 1312, paragraph 3 of the 1917 Code) which would limit infallibility to solemn ex cathedra definitions ; 2. the denial of moral absolutes in the area of specific moral norms because of their assertion that no object chosen can be intrinsically evil in view of their notion of an act as a “whole” or “totality,” where an object freely chosen such as contraception, for example, traditionally condemned as intrinsically evil, becomes for them a mere physical, ontic or premoral, and not moral, evil, and justified when done by couples for proportionate reasons [3] ; 3. the denial of moral absolutes because of the ongoing and open-ended character of human experience [4]; and 4. because of the adoption of Rahner’s dualistic transcendental anthropology which holds that “concrete” human nature, different from “transcendental” human nature, is subject to radical change. [5]

Fr. Genilo, S.J. asserts in his writings and Ateneo handouts that the Church’s doctrine on contraception is not infallible, and therefore, one can responsibly dissent from it. He maintains that the Church’s teaching on contraception is wrong and that married couples can practice contraception for proportionate reasons. In his Ateneo course handout notes to his students, Fr. Genilo, S.J. counsels married couples to use non abortive contraceptives. [6]

Another Ateneo Jesuit, Fr. Ruben Tanseco, who has openly defied many infallibly taught Church teachings for decades, likewise denies that the universal ordinary magisterium has taught the doctrine on contraception infallibly, and forcefully advocates and counsels the use not only of condoms but even oral contraceptives for married couples [7] . Oral contraceptives have been scientifically shown to have an abortifacient mechanism [8] ; nevertheless, Fr. Tanseco, S.J. erroneously denies that birth control pills cause early abortions.

In his 1992 book The Church and Birth Control, Auxiliary Bishop of Manila (later bishop of Novaliches) Teodoro C. Bacani, commenting on Pope Paul VI’s Encyclical Humanae Vitae, writes: “Now you ask: is the teaching of the pope against contraception an infallible statement? And the answer is: it is not! In other words, is there a possibility that the pope can be mistaken? The honest answer is, ‘Yes, there is a possibility that the pope is mistaken.” [9] 16 years later, in his book, Catholics and HB 5043 (Reproductive Health Bill, 2008), Bishop Emeritus of Novaliches Bacani still maintains his dissent on the question of contraception, writing: “We accept the Church’s teaching against direct contraception and direct sterilization, as official Catholic teaching, or authoritative teaching without claiming that it is infallible and irreversible.” [10]

Against Fr. Genilo, S.J., Fr. Tanseco, S.J. and Bishop Bacani, I hold that the specific norm condemning contraception as taught by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae is infallible by the ordinary papal magisterium, and that this doctrine has been taught infallibly by the universal ordinary magisterium, meeting the conditions of Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium, no. 25 for its infallible exercise.

Fr. Genilo, S.J., Fr. Tanseco, S.J. and Bishop Bacani are not alone in their dissent from Church teaching on contraception. Dissenters who deny that the Church’s doctrine on contraception has been taught infallibly by the universal ordinary magisterium are legion. These dissenters include Charles E. Curran, Louis Janssens, Karl Rahner, S.J. Bernard Häring, Franz Böckle, Franz Scholz, Bruno Schüller, Timothy E. O’Connell, Daniel Maguire, Peter Chirico, Richard Gula, Richard McCormick, S.J., Francis Sullivan, S.J., Garth Hallett, S.J. and Vincent Genovesi, S.J. These dissenters maintain that the Magisterium’s teaching on contraception is not infallible, is wrong, and must be reversed. Dissenting ex-priest Gregory Baum writes that not only is the teaching of the Church on contraception not infallible but that the Church is incapable of teaching infallibly the natural moral law. [11] Not only did the influential Jesuit Karl Rahner dissent from Humanae Vitae, but his Kantian-Heideggerian inspired immanentist transcendental theology holds that the possible range of infallible moral teaching extends to “hardly any particular or individual norms of Christian morality,” [12] such as is, for example, the norm on contraception. This is where he stands, for he, like the misanthropic Heraclitus of old, advocates a human nature in radical flux, in constant evolution, the enduring universal nature of man yielding little in the way of moral maxims. [13] Sulpician proportionalist Peter Chirico rejects infallibility for all the Church’s specific moral teaching. [14] In his book Birth Control and Natural Law, Canon Drinkwater denies that the Catholic doctrine on contraception has been taught infallibly by the universal and ordinary magisterium, maintaining the reformability of the teaching. [15] In his widely read book Magisterium: Teaching Authority in the Catholic Church, Jesuit Francis Sullivan maintains that the Church cannot teach infallibly on the specific norms of the natural moral law. [16] Another Jesuit, Garth Hallett, denies that infallibility extends to prescriptive moral teachings (those that attempt to command or forbid behaviour). [17] For Richard McCormick, S.J., the Catholic Church has never taught infallibly in the area of concrete moral norms in the exercise of its ordinary universal magisterium. [18] For Daniel Maguire [19], Richard Gula [20], Peter Chirico [21], and Charles E. Curran [22], no specific moral norms taught by the magisterium (norms forbidding the intentional killing of innocent human life [as in direct abortion], adultery, fornication, contraception, direct sterilization, etc.) have been infallibly proposed. In his book Contemporary Problems in Moral Theology, Curran states: “There has never been an infallible pronouncement or teaching on a specific moral matter; the very nature of specific moral actions makes it impossible, in my judgment, to have any infallible pronouncements in this area.” [23]
On the other hand, able defenders of the magisterium [24] have not been lacking. Eminent Catholic theologians have written books or articles maintaining that the Catholic Church’s doctrine on contraception has been taught infallibly by the universal ordinary magisterium. These theologians include John C. Ford, S.J. [25], Germain Grisez [26], Cardinal Luigi Ciappi, O.P. [27], former Papal Theologian of the Pontifical Household, John Finnis [28], Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J. [29], Marcelino Zalba, S.J. [30], current Vicar General of Opus Dei Msgr. Fernando Ocariz [31], Catholic University of America moral theologian William E. May [32], and Karol Woytyla (later Pope John Paul II), who writes in his commentary on Humanae Vitae published a year after the Encyclical: “The teaching of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae regarding the essential principles of an ethical regulation of births is marked by all the characteristics of the infallible ordinary teaching of the Church. This means that one is dealing with a teaching based upon the authority of God and imparted in His name.” [33]

In Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, no. 25, we find four conditions for the infallible exercise of the universal ordinary magisterium, namely:
1. That the bishops be in communion with one another and with the Pope;
2. That they teach authoritatively on a matter of faith and morals;
3. That they agree in one judgment; and
4. That they propose this as something to be held definitively.

The first condition, that the bishops be in communion with one another and with the Pope, does not mean that they must formally act as a body in a strictly collegial manner. Rather, it is necessary and sufficient that these bishops remain bishops within the Catholic Church.

The second condition, that the bishops teach authoritatively on a matter of faith and morals, requires that the bishops be acting in their official capacity as teachers, and not merely expressing their opinion as private individuals or as theologians. As regards the subject matter of their teaching – faith or morals – we say that “morals” here, in the sense intended by Vatican II, is not limited in such a way as to exclude specific moral norms, such as the norm condemning contraception.

The third condition, that the bishops agree in one judgment, “identifies universality,” writes Grisez, “as a requirement for an infallible exercise of the ordinary magisterium. What is necessary, however, is the moral unity of the body of bishops in union with the Pope, not an absolute mathematical unanimity such as would be destroyed by even one dissenting voice.

“Furthermore, if this condition has been met in the past, it would not be nullified by a future lack of consensus among bishops. The consensus of future bishops is not necessary for the ordinary magisterium to have taught something infallibly or to do so now. Otherwise, one would be in the absurd position of saying that it is impossible for there to be an infallible exercise of the magisterium until literally the end of time; since at any given moment, one cannot tell what some bishops in the future might say.” [34]

The fourth condition, that the bishops propose a judgment to be held definitively “means at least this,” explains Grisez: “That the teaching is not proposed as something optional, for either the bishops or the faithful, but as something which the bishops have an obligation to hand on and which Catholics have an obligation to accept.” [35]

Does the Catholic Church’s doctrine on contraception meet the conditions identified by Vatican II for an infallible exercise of the universal and ordinary magisterium? Yes, it does. In his 1965 historical study, Contraception, John T. Noonan, then a professor of law at the University of Notre Dame, summed up the nearly two thousand year teaching of the Church on the immorality of contraception: “The propositions constituting a condemnation of contraception are, it will be seen, recurrent. Since the first clear mention of contraception by a Christian theologian, when a harsh third century moralist accused a pope of encouraging it, the articulated argument has been the same. In the world of the late Empire known to St. Jerome and St. Augustine, in the Ostrogothic Arles of Bishop Caesarius and the Suevian Braga of Bishop Martin, in the Paris of Albert and St. Thomas, in the Renaissance Rome of Sixtus V and the Renaissance Milan of St. Charles Borromeo, in the Naples of St. Alphonsus Liguori and the Liège of Charles Billuart, in the Philadelphia of Bishop Kenrick, and in the Bombay of Cardinal Gracias, the teachers of the Church have taught without hesitation or variation that certain acts preventing procreation are gravely sinful. No Catholic theologian has ever taught, ‘Contraception is a good act.’ The teaching on contraception is clear and apparently fixed forever.” [36]

In their essay, Contraception and the Infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium, John C. Ford, S.J. and Germain Grisez came to the conclusion that the Church’s constant condemnation of contraception throughout her history merits the status of infallibility: “At least until 1962, Catholic bishops in communion with one another and with the Pope agreed in and authoritatively proposed one judgment to be held definitively on the morality of contraception: Acts of this kind, are objectively, intrinsically, and gravely evil. Since this teaching has been proposed infallibly, the controversy since 1963 takes nothing away from its objectively certain truth. It is not the received Catholic teaching on contraception which needs to be rethought. It is the assumption that this teaching could be abandoned as false which needs to be rethought.” [37]

Russell Shaw, former Secretary for Public Affairs for the United States National Conference of Catholic Bishops, explains that the Church’s teaching on contraception was not just universally taught by the magisterium, but also proposed to Catholics as something to be held definitively. He gives a number of considerations in support of this position, as well as incorporating statements on contraception by Popes Pius XI, Pius XII, and Paul VI:

“The first consideration is a negative one. No evidence has come to light that anyone proposed this teaching as a private opinion, a probable judgment, or a lofty ideal which there was no blame in failing to achieve. It was proposed instead as an obligatory moral teaching.

“Second, the teaching is that contraceptive acts are the matter of mortal sin. Third, when in modern times the teaching was challenged from outside the Church, it was repeated with insistence and emphasis. Fourth, the teaching was often proposed as a divinely revealed moral norm…The point is significant for the light it sheds on the intention of those proposing the teaching. If, in doing so, they contended that the teaching was divinely revealed, this can only mean that they proposed it as something to be held definitively; they would hardly have done the contrary – i.e., at the same time maintained that the teaching was divinely revealed yet proposed it as something which need not be held definitively.

“Having reached this point, it is useful briefly to examine the major statements on contraception by Pius XI, Pius XII, and Paul VI and to do so in light of what has been said up to now.

“In condemning contraception as a sin against nature, Pius XI appeals to Scripture, to Augustine’s exegesis of Genesis 38:9-10, and to the constancy of the Church’s tradition. He declares himself to be restating, on behalf of the Catholic Church, something willed by God and pertaining to salvation. [38] Pius XII, officially summarizing the teaching of his predecessor, says he solemnly proclaimed anew the fundamental law concerning the procreative act. He states the matter emphatically: ‘This teaching is as valid today as it was yesterday; and it will be the same tomorrow and always.’ [39] Paul VI is less emphatic but no less clear. He says among other things that it would be impossible to accept some conclusions of his Commission for the Study of Problems of Population, Family, and Birthrate because they are not compatible with ‘the moral doctrine on matrimony, proposed by the magisterium of the Church with constant firmness’ (Humanae Vitae, 6). He speaks of ‘the constant teaching of the Church’ (ibid, 10 and 11), says the Church by its teaching on contraception ‘promulgates the divine law’ (ibid, 20), and declares the teaching on contraception to be part of the ‘saving teaching of Christ’ (ibid, 29).” [40]

Shaw concludes, stating:

“…Thus, a review of the data establishes that the teaching on contraception has been proposed in a manner which meets Vatican II’s criteria for an infallible exercise of the ordinary magisterium.” [41]

One main reason dissenters use to justify their negation of the infallibility of specific moral norms is the claim that they have never been manifestly demonstrated to be infallibly defined, and utilize canon 749, par. 3 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law to justify their claim. Canon 749, paragraph 3 reads: “No doctrine is to be understood as infallibly defined unless this is manifestly demonstrated.” Dissenters Charles E. Curran [42] and Francis A. Sullivan, S.J. [43] appeal to this paragraph, asserting that it is not manifestly demonstrated that any specific moral norms have ever been infallibly defined. But following Germain Grisez [44], Canon 749, paragraph 3 in fact refers to infallible definitions of the solemn extraordinary magisterium, not to teachings infallibly proposed by the universal ordinary magisterium. Curran and Sullivan conveniently overlook the preceding paragraph of Canon 749, which states: “The College of Bishops also possess infallibility in its teaching when…the bishops, dispersed throughout the world but maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, together with the same Roman Pontiff authoritatively teach matters of faith or morals, and are agreed that a particular teaching is definitively to be held.” [45] Dissenters like Curran and Sullivan simply fail to consider whether any specific moral norms have been infallibly proposed by the ordinary day-to-day exercise of the magisterium, according to the criteria articulated in Lumen Gentium, no. 25. In their equating infallibly proposed teachings with teachings that are solemnly defined they do not take into account the possibility that certain specific moral norms have been proposed infallibly by the exercise of the universal ordinary magisterium.

The ordinary Papal Magisterium can teach, and has taught, specific moral norms infallibly. For example, the Church’s doctrine on the intrinsic evil of contraception, reaffirmed by Pope Pius XI in Casti Connubii [46] and by Paul VI in Humanae Vitae [47], as well as the confirmations of the condemnations of the intrinsic evils of murder (the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being) [48], direct abortion [49], and euthanasia [50] by Pope John Paul II in his 1995 Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, are all infallible pronouncements of the ordinary Papal Magisterium. Though they are not solemn ex cathedra definitions, nevertheless, these definitive papal pronouncements on specific moral norms also enjoy the gift of infallibility.

As Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B., then Secretary for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (now Cardinal Secretary of State of the Vatican), explains in his article which appeared in L’Osservatore Romano on December 20, 1996 (the English translation appearing in the English edition of L’Osservatore Romano on January 29, 1997): “The ordinary papal Magisterium can teach a doctrine as definitive because it has been constantly maintained and held by Tradition and transmitted by the ordinary universal Magisterium. This latter exercise of the charism of infallibility does not take the form of a papal definition, but pertains to the ordinary, universal Magisterium which the Pope again sets forth with his formal pronouncement of confirmation and reaffirmation (generally in an encyclical or apostolic letter). If we were to hold that the Pope must necessarily make an ex cathedra definition whenever he intends to declare a doctrine as definitive because it belongs to the deposit of faith, it would imply an underestimation of the ordinary, universal Magisterium, and infallibility would be limited to the solemn definitions of the Pope or a Council, in a way that differs from the teaching of Vatican I and Vatican II, which attribute an infallible character to the teachings of the ordinary, universal Magisterium. …Although it is not per se a dogmatic definition (like the Trinitarian dogma of Nicea, the Christological dogma of Chalcedon or the Marian dogmas), a papal pronouncement of confirmation enjoys the same infallibility as the teaching of the ordinary, universal Magisterium, which includes the Pope not as a mere Bishop but as the Head of the Episcopal College.” [51]

In conclusion, let me quote from the Pontifical Council of the Family’s Vademecum for Confessors, issued in 1997, which affirms that the Church’s constant doctrine on the intrinsic evil of contraception is definitive and irreformable: “The Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception, that is, of every marital act intentionally rendered unfruitful. This teaching is to be held as definitive and irreformable. Contraception is gravely opposed to marital chastity; it is contrary to the good of the transmission of life (the procreative aspect of matrimony); it harms true love and denies the sovereign role of God in the transmission of human life.” [52]
_____________________

NOTES:

[1] E. GENILO, email to Federico Pascual’s column “Postscript,” in the Philippine Star, December 23, 2008, paragraphs 2-5.

[2] “We define infallibility,” writes Fr. James T. O’Connor following Gasser and Vatican I, “as that special gift of God which enables the Catholic Church to hold and propose without error those truths which God intends to be known and held for the sake of our salvation”(J. T. O’CONNOR, The Gift of Infallibility, St. Paul’s, Boston, 1986, pp. 98-99).

[3] For a critique of this proportionalism, see: W. E. MAY, An Introduction to Moral Theology, Our Sunday Visitor, Huntington, IN, 2003, pp. 156-157.

[4] For a critique of this position, see: W. E. MAY, op. cit., pp. 157-158.

[5] For a critique, see: W. E. MAY, op. cit., p. 158. For a thorough and convincing critique of Karl Rahner’s dualistic anthropology underlying his dissent on contraception and other moral norms, see Cornelio Fabro’s La svolta antropologica di Karl Rahner, published by Rusconi, Milan in 1974, especially pages 87-121.

[6] E. GENILO, THEO 262A Sexual Ethics and Bioethics course handout notes to Ateneo students, 2006, Bioethics Session 13 (Special Interventions to Impede the Transmission of Life), last paragraph.

[7] Cf. R. TANSECO, God’s Word Today colum

n, Philippine Star, August 8, 2004.

[8] John Wilks, M.P.S. writes concerning the abortificient mechanism of oral contraceptives: “Both the progesterone-only and the estrogen-progesterone formulations act to cause alterations in the lining of the womb, converting the proliferative nature of the endometrium, which is naturally designed to accept and sustain a fertilised ovum, to a secretory endometrium, which is a thin, devasculating lining, physiologically unreceptive to receiving and sustaining a zygote”(J. WILKS, A Consumer’s Guide to the Pill and Other Drugs, 3rd Ed., National Book Store, Mandaluyong City, 2000, p. 4).

[9] T. C. BACANI, The Church and Birth Control, Manila, 1992, p. 29.

[10] T. C. BACANI, Catholics and HB 5043, Gift of God Publications, Manila, 2008, p. 40.

[11] G. BAUM, The Christian Adventure – Risk and Renewal, “Critic,” 23 (1965), pp. 41-53.

[12] K. RAHNER, Theological Investigations, vol. 14: Ecclesiology: Questions in the Church, The Church in the World, Seabury Press, New York, 1976, p. 14.

[13] Cf. K. RAHNER, op. cit., pp. 14-15.

Cf. P. CHIRICO, Infallibility: Crossroads of Doctrine, Sheed, Andrews and McMeel, Kansas City, MO, 1977.

[14] F. H. DRINKWATER, Birth Control and Natural Law, Helicon, Baltimore, 1965, pp. 39-66.

[15] F. SULLIVAN, Magisterium: Teac

hing Authority in the Catholic Church, Paulist Press, New York, 1983, p. 152. Grisez refutes Sullivan’s position in G. GRISEZ, Infallibility and Specific Moral Norms: A Review Discussion, “The Thomist,” 49 (1985), pp. 248-287. Sullivan responds to Grisez in: F. SULLIVAN, The Secondary Object of Infallibility, “Theological Studies,” 54 (1993), pp. 536-550. Grisez and Sullivan go another round in The Ordinary Magisterium’s Infallibility: A Reply to Some New Arguments, “Theological Studies,” 55 (1994), pp. 720-738. Sullivan dissents again on the infallibility of the universal ordinary magisterium in: F. SULLIVAN, Creative Fidelity: Weighing and Interpreting Documents of the Magisterium, Paulist Press, New York, 1996.

[16] G. HALLETT, Contraception and Prescriptive Infallibility, “Theological Studies,” 43 (1982), pp. 629-650. Grisez answers the arguments of Hallett in: G. GRISEZ, Infallibility and Contraception: A Reply to Garth Hallet, “Theological Studies,” 47 (1986), pp. 134-145. In pages 911-912 of his work, Christian Moral Principles, the first volume of his moral theology series The Way of the Lord Jesus (published by Franciscan Herald Press, Chicago, 1983), Grisez gives a summary response to Hallett’s 1982 article.

[18] R. A. McCORMICK, Authority and Morality, “America,” 142 (1980), p. 169.

[19] D. MAGUIRE, Morality and the Magisterium, “Cross Currents,” 18 (Winter, 1968), pp. 41-65.

[20] R. GULA, Reason Informed by Faith: Foundations of Catholic Morality, Paulist Press, New York, 1989, pp. 209-210.

[21] P. CHIRICO, Infallibility: Crossroads of Doctrine, Sheed, Andrews and McMeel, Kansas City, MO, 1977, pp. 68-83, 185.

[22] C. E. CURRAN, Humanae Vitae: Ten Years Later, “Commonweal,” 105 (July 7, 1978), p. 429.

[23] C. E. CURRAN, Contemporary Problems in Moral Theology, Fides, Notre Dame, 1970, p. 257.

[24] “Magisterium” is the teaching authority of the college of bishops under the headship of the Pope. Grisez defines Magisterium as “the authority and role of the Pope and other bishops, as successors of the apostles, to distinguish what belongs to revelation from what does not, and to guide the receiving, guarding, and explaining of revealed truth. The exercises of this responsibility are divided into extraordinary and ordinary. The extraordinary magisterium embraces all acts of solemnly defining truths of faith and morals, and all teaching of ecumenical councils. The ordinary magisterium is the role as day-to-day teachers of the Pope and other bishops. Under certain conditions the exercise of the ordinary magisterium is infallible”(G. GRISEZ, The Way of the Lord Jesus, vol. 1: Christian Moral Principles, Franciscan Herald Press, Chicago, 1983, p. 922).

[25] J. C. FORD and G. GRISEZ, Contraception and the Infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium, “Theological Studies,” 39 (1978), pp. 258-312. Reprinted in The Teaching of ‘Humanae Vitae’: A Defense, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1988, pp. 117-219.

[26] Ibid.

[27] L. CIAPPI, L’enciclica ‘Humanae vitae’: valutazione teologica, “Lateranum,” 54 (1978), pp. 105-124.

[28] J. FINNIS, Conscience, Infallibility and Contraception, “The Month,” 11 (1978), pp. 410-421.

[29] J. A. HARDON, Contraception: Fatal to the Faith, catholicculture.org, November, 1998.

[30] M. ZALBA, Infallibilità del magistero ordinario universale e contraccezione, “Renovatio,” 4 (1979), pp. 79-90.

[31] F. OCARIZ, La nota teologica dell’insegnamento dell’“Humanae vitae” sulla contraccezione, “Anthropotes,” 1 (1988), pp. 25-43. In this article, Msgr. Ocariz affirms that the doctrine on contraception has been taught infallibly by the universal ordinary magisterium and that one is dealing with a doctrine de fide divina et catholica (of divine and catholic faith).

The Church’s doctrine on contraception is revealed (implicitly) and therefore one is dealing with a doctrine de fide divina et catholica (of divine and catholic faith). Although it is of divine and catholic faith, nevertheless, it is not solemnly defined ex cathedra by the extraordinary magisterium. But the doctrine is infallible, nevertheless.

The Church’s doctrine on contraception pertains to the moral order revealed by God. Pope John Paul II writes that “we are not dealing with a doctrine invented by man: it has been inscribed by the creative hand of God into the very nature of the human person and has been confirmed by Him in Revelation. To question it therefore, is equivalent to denying to God Himself the obedience of our intelligence. It is equivalent to preferring the light of our own reason to that of God’s Wisdom, thereby falling into the obscurity of error and ending up by damaging other fundamental principles of Christian doctrine”(JOHN PAUL II, Address to Participants of the Second International Congress of Moral Theology, November 12, 1988, no. 3).

The doctrine on contraception belongs to the primary object of infallibility (it is a truth which belongs directly to the faith, that is, it belongs to the deposit of faith, though not explicitly, but implicitly) and, not, as is sometimes maintained, to the secondary object of infallibility (as a truth belonging indirectly to the faith, a truth, although not revealed in se, is nevertheless required in order to guard fully, explain properly and define efficaciously the very deposit of faith). In his book, The Gift of Infallibility, James T. O’Connor, explains that “some matters which, at first glance, do not appear to be a part of the deposit of faith directly may, in fact, be so, and thereby pertain to the primary or direct object of infallibility. We may cite as an example the moral norm which declares that ‘every action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible (Encyclical Humanae Vitae, no. 14). This is the way Pope Paul VI phrased the Church’s constant teaching on artificial contraception. It would seem, viewed superficially, that this teaching would pertain to those things which belong to the secondary object of infallibility; it would seem, that is, that such a teaching is not directly revealed, thus not forming part of the deposit of faith. Closer study indicates, however, that such is not the case”(J. T. O’CONNOR, op. cit., pp. 119-120).

Fr. O’Connor then quotes from Pope John Paul II, where the Holy Father writes in 1984 the following concerning the moral norm on contraception contained in Pope Paul VI’s Encyclical Humanae Vitae: “The author of the encyclical stresses that this norm belongs to the ‘natural law,’ that is to say, it is in accordance with reason as such. The Church teaches this norm, although is it is not formally (that is, literally) expressed in Sacred Scripture, and it does this in the conviction that the interpretation of the precepts of natural law belongs to the competence of the Magisterium.

“However, we can say more. Even if the moral law, formulated in this way in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, is not found literally in Sacred Scripture, nonetheless, from the fact that it is contained in Tradition and – as Pope Paul VI writes – has been ‘very often expounded by the Magisterium’(HV, n. 12) to the faithful, it follows that this norm is in accordance with the sum total of revealed doctrine contained in biblical sources (cf. HV, n. 4).

“4. It is a question here not only of the sum total of the moral doctrine contained in Sacred Scripture, of its essential premises and general character of its content, but of that fuller context to which we have previously dedicated numerous analyses when speaking about the ‘theology of the body.’

“Precisely against the background of this full context it becomes evident that the above-mentioned moral norm belongs not only to the natural moral law, but also to the moral order revealed by God”(JOHN PAUL II, General Audience of 18 July 1984, nos. 3, 4).

Commenting on this passage by the Pope, O’Connor writes: “What the Holy Father is saying is that this moral norm, although not found explicitly or ‘literally’ in Sacred Scripture, forms, nonetheless, part of the revealed moral order and is found implicitly in the sources of Revelation, Sacred Scripture and Tradition. Therefore it belongs to the deposit of faith as well as to the natural moral law, and so is included among the truths which fall under the primary object of infallibility”(J. T. O’CONNOR, op. cit., p. 121).

Revealed (implicitly), and though not solemnly defined ex cathedra, nevertheless, the Church’s doctrine on contraception, taught infallibly by the universal ordinary magisterium, is of divine and catholic faith (de fide divina et catholica).

Quoting from Vatican I’s Dei Filius, the 1983 Code of Canon Law, Canon 750 states: “Those things are to be believed by divine and catholic faith which are contained in the word of God as it has been written or handed down by tradition, that is, in the single deposit of faith entrusted to the Church, and which are at the same time proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn magisterium of the Church, or by its ordinary and universal magisterium, which is manifested by the common adherance of Christ’s faithful under the guidance of the sacred magisterium. All are therefore bound to shun any contrary doctrines.”

Canon 751 states: “Heresy is the obstinate denial or doubt, after baptism, of a truth which must be believed by divine and catholic faith.”

[32] W. E. MAY, An Introduction to Moral Theology, Our Sunday Visitor, Huntington, IN, 2003.

[33] K. WOYTYLA, Introduzione alla Humanae Vitae, Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana, Vatican City, 1969, p. 35.

[34] G. GRISEZ, op. cit., p. 843.

[35] Ibid.

[36] J. T. NOONAN, Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1965, p. 6. Incredibly, after marshalling hundreds of pages of texts in support of the Church’s constant teaching on the immorality of contraception, Noonan quite illogically dissented from the Church on this issue. He became one of the main players in the dissenting Majority Report of the Commission for the Study of Problems of Population, Family and Birthrate that approved of contraception in certain cases, utilizing the soon to be widespread revisionist method of proportionalism. Though he fought abortion in the 1970s Noonan stubbornly refused to retract his dissent on contraception.

[37] J. T. FORD and G. GRISEZ, Contraception and the Infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium, in The Teaching of Humanae Vitae: A Defense, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1988, p. 171.

[38] PIUS XI, Casti Connubii, AAS, 22 (1930), pp. 559-560.

[39] PIUS XII, Address to Midwives, AAS, 43 (1951), p. 843.

[40] R. SHAW, Contraception, Infallibility and the Ordinary Magisterium, in Why Humanae Vitae Was Right: A Reader, edited by J. E. Smith, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1994, pp. 354-355.

[41] R. SHAW, op. cit., p. 355.

[42] C. E. CURRAN et al., Dissent In and For the Church: Theologians and ‘Humanae Vitae,’ Sheed and Ward, New York, 1969, p. 63.

[43] F. A. SULLIVAN, op. cit., pp. 150, 227, n. 44

[44] G. GRISEZ, Infallibility and Specific Moral Norms: A Review Discussion, “The Thomist,” 49 (1985), p. 273.

[45] CODE OF CANON LAW, Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, Vatican City, 1983, Canon 749, par. 2 (emphasis mine).

[46] Moral theologian Ramon Garcia de Haro quotes Pius XI: “Since, therefore, openly departing from the uninterrupted Christian tradition some recently have judged it possible solemnly to declare another doctrine regarding this question, the Catholic Church, to whom God has entrusted the defense of the integrity and purity of morals…in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain, raises her voice in token of her divine ambassadorship and through our mouth proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of marriage exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately deprived of its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.”(no. 57). Garcia De Haro then states: “The terms used leave no doubt: we are dealing here with a definitive teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium and, therefore, one that is infallible”(R. GARCIA DE HARO, Marriage and the Family in the Documents of the Magisterium, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1993, p. 132).

[47] PAUL VI, Humanae Vitae, no. 14: “Therefore we base our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when we are obliged once more to declare…excluded is every action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible.” Cf. R. GARCIA DE HARO, op. cit., p. 307.

[48] JOHN PAUL II, Evangelium Vitae, no. 57: “By the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, and in communion with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral. This doctrine, based upon that unwritten law which man, in the light of reason, finds in his own heart (cf. Rom 2:14-15), is reaffirmed by Sacred Scripture, transmitted by the Tradition of the Church and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.” Cf. W. E. MAY, op. cit., p. 249.

[49] JOHN PAUL II, op. cit., no. 62: “By the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops – who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine – I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church’s Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.”

“No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church.”

[50] JOHN PAUL II, op. cit., no. 65: “In harmony with the Magisterium of my Predecessors and in communion with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written word of God, is transmitted by the Church’s Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.”

[51] T. BERTONE, Theological Observations, “L’Osservatore Romano,” English Edition, Jan 29, 1997, p. 6, col. 3.

[52] PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR THE FAMILY, Vademecum for Confessors Concerning Some Aspects of the Morality of Conjugal Life, 1997, 2, no. 4.

About Quirino M. Sugon Jr
Theoretical Physicist in Manila Observatory

7 Responses to Infallibility and Contraception: a Reply to Fr. Genilo, S.J., Fr. Tanseco, S.J., and Bishop Bacani by Paul Gerard Horrigan, Ph.D.

  1. blackshama says:

    Similarly, that the Church has no authority to ordain female priests was never pronounced infallibly yet it is. It has been held by the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics for ages. An appeal to tradition would suggest it is infallible teaching. John Paul II wanted to declare the teaching infallible ex cathedra but then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger convinced him not to since it wasn’t needed.

    Unfortunately, the Orthodox don’t have a consistent position on contraception as compared to Catholics. However the emerging consensus is that the only allowable methods are natural. Now if the Jesuit moral theologians want to dissent, perhaps they should look into why the Orthodox position isn’t consistent rather than twist the interpretation of infallibility.

  2. Tim says:

    A briliant and well argued article on the obligation to follow Humanae Vitae. In the final analysis the magisterium must be obeyed regardless of the question of “infallibility”.

  3. Tim says:

    Canon 752 should also be kept in mind here:
    ‘While the assent of faith is not required, a religious submission of intellect and will is to be given to any doctrine which either the Supreme Pontiff or the The Church ‘s Magisterium College of Bishops, exercising their authentic Magisterium, declare upon a matter of faith or morals, even though they do not intend to proclaim that doctrine by a definitive act (Canon 752).
    And of course Vatican II:
    This religious submission of will and of mind must be shown in a special way to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, ch. 3, n. 25).

  4. The public statement of these dissenting Jesuits has shown the whole world that they have violated Canon 1436 and Article 6 of the CDF Doctrinal Commentary on the Concluding Formula of Professio Fidei. I will submit their names to the Holy See so that they will be censured and their licenses revoked!

  5. Raymond St Cyr Sr says:

    The Pope is human and all humans are fallible. It wasn’t until the First Vatican Council held in 1870 that the Pope was declared by proclamation to be infallible in matters of Church teaching and morality. The fact that the Vatican Council made this decree does not make it so, or make it true. To claim that the Holy Spirit directed a group of fallible men to have the power to bestow infallibility upon another man is not a matter of faith but a decree to amplify the pope’s authority in matters of the faith in the eye’s of the faithful.

  6. Quirino M. Sugon Jr says:

    Raymond St. Cyr Sr,

    All humans are fallible. Christ is true man. Is Christ fallible? Of course not, because Christ is also true God. Every rule always has an exception. Now, Christ promised Peter: “Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat,32 but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers” (Lk 2:31-32). Apostleship is an office. When Judas died, Matthias took his place (c.f. Acts 1:25). Now,since the Pope is the Successor of Peter, then the Pope is guaranteed by Christ that his faith may not also fail. So in matters of faith and morals, we are assured by Christ that the Pope’s faith may not fail. That is, he cannot teach error. This is the essence of Papal Infallibility. Vatican I’s definition of Papal Infallibility by the college of bishops is only an affirmation of what Christ promised to Peter.

    Since you are also human, I guess your critique of papal infallibility is fallible.

  7. Peter D Howard says:

    In The Ex Cathedra Status of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, Fr Brian Harrison O.S., demonstrates conclusively that H.V. is in fact an ex cathedra infallible definition. This can be read at: http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt43.html

    Fr Harrison’s review of a ground–breaking book by Fr Ermenegildo Lio, O.F.M., in which Fr. Lio “has amassed argument after argument, and document after document, to maintain that Humanae Vitae, art. 14, contains an ex cathedra definition of the intrinsic immorality of contraception: that is, an exercise of papal infallibility as solemnly defined by Vatican Council I, in the Constitution Pastor Aeternus, can be found at: http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt12.html.

    Fr Lio was sent this accolade by Bl John Paul II:

    To the Rev. Fr. Ermenegildo Lio, O.F.M., with deep thanks for the presentation of your volume Humanae Vitae e Infallibilità, and with warm appreciation for the sentiments of sincere adherence to the Magisterium of the Church which have always guided your activity of research and teaching: I impart to you from my heart a special Apostolic Blessing, a pledge of continuing heavenly assistance towards a fervent perseverance in the love of Truth and the service of souls.

    From the Vatican, 31 July 1986.

    (Signed) John Paul PP. II.

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