Catholis and contraception, conscience reigns

I was present in St. Peter’s in Rome in 1965 ( as peritus to Bishop Thomas J. Drury of Corpus Christi, Texas) when the document on the Church in the Modern World was being discussed.  On the day when the Bishops should have debated birth control a message was delivered to the Council  saying that Pope Paul V1 had reserved the issue to himself and asking that the Bishops move on without dealing with birth control. 
The Bishops applauded.
Later that day at a press conference given by representatives of the U.S. Bishops the religious affairs correspondent ( I believe he represented  Time magazine) asked why the Bishops applauded when the Pope took the most important issue facing the Council out of their hands.  The Bishops present simply hung their heads and fumbled an unconvincing response..Aside from the Pope making an unwarranted entry into Conciliar deliberations, this intervention, was a major mistake from which we Catholics are still suffering.
An ecumenical council is the highest teaching authority in the Catholic Church. but a conservative curia did not accept that.
At present confusion is  still being generated concerning the Catholic Church’s stance on birth control.

There is no single position that would qualify for the status of Catholic doctrine.

In 1968 Pope Paul V1 against the view of the majority of his advisers issued a letter in which he asserted that every act of intercourse must be open to new life meaning no birth control by artificial means.  The letter while authoritative was not infallible as the pope himself pointed out.  Many Catholics including theologians and priests dissented from the teaching.  Then bishops in national conferences intervened but they too were divided: some agreed with the pope others (about one third of national conferences) stressed the legitimacy of dissent from the papal position.

Here in the DC area Father Charles Curran, a former student of Bernard Haring led the dissent from the papal teaching in 1968.  He and other professors at CU who joined in dissenting were fired by Cardinal O Boyle but they were reinstated after student protests. Ten years later in 1978 Pope John Paul 11 deprived Curran of the title “Catholic theologian” and Curran lost his job at CU.  No Catholic university in the US offered him a position.  Southern Methodist University where Curran still teaches did offer him a position.

The Belgian bishops wrote in 1968: “If someone competent in the matter and capable of forming a well founded judgment—which necessarily supposes sufficient information—after serious investigation, before God, reaches different conclusions on certain points, he has the right to follow his convictions in this matter, provided that he remains disposed to continue his investigations.”

The Belgian Bishops and other national conferences endorsed Curran’s dissent

This position has never been condemned or rescinded.  Today one may argue that the papal position as expounded in Humanae Vitae has been rejected through non-acceptance.

A majority of Catholic couples follow their consciences in electing to practice contraception. Some bishops, and a majority of moral theologians accept the legitimacy of this practice. And all of these are part of the  People of God, namely the Church, and what they advocate is Church teaching also. So at most there are different positions being argued even at the highest levels in the Church

What is sometimes called  ‘fundamental Catholic teaching’ has now changed. And as is customary when disputes exist the legitimacy of conscience and being obedient to it prevails.

Paul Surlis

1684 Albermarle Drive

Crofton, MD 21114

410-451-1459

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