Why the CCCB stand remains unsatisfactory.
One may wonder why this small six-page brochure deserves a review, and a long one at that. It was issued by COLF, a branch of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) in Ottawa, for the thirtieth anniversary of the publication by Pope Paul VI of his 1968 encyclical Humanae vitae, and was two years in the making. It is meant to be the CCCB's highlighting of the papal encyclical.
This brochure on Natural Family Planning (NFP) raises such questions as: "Why is the Church concerned about family planning? What is the difference between NFP and contraception? Why make life more complicated when there are other effective methods available?" These are good questions and, indeed, much needed in answer to the scoffers who still think that NFP is like Russian roulette, hopelessly ineffective. In addition, one can say that the brochure is attractively designed, colourful, and easy to read. However, short as it is, the brochure invites several criticisms, especially its inadequate grasp of the contraceptive mentality and, therefore, of the "culture of death" in our present society. First a few technical but important points.
1. Though NFP is designed to be used only within marriage, "husband and wife" and "spouse" are mentioned only once each. On the other hand, "couples", "lovers", "man and woman", and "partners" are mentioned twenty-three times.
2. The brochure does not mention that contraceptive pills and many other contraceptives which are never fully effective at preventing conception, prevent the child conceived from being implanted in the womb, and thus produce an abortion.
3. It does not mention that NFP may be practised licitly only under a condition. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: "For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood."
Let us place the brochure-two years in the making, as mentioned above-in a broader context, namely, that of the encyclical it is meant to honour.
First it should be noted that Humanae vitae's thrust is in defence of the family, including large families. Birth restriction, and therefore NFP, are only subsidiary aspects.
Humanae vitae has much to say about true Christian marriage, its sublime nature when seen and experienced in the plan of God. But its main purpose was to say NO to the burgeoning contraceptive mentality of the nineteen-sixties. It said NO to the Pill and to all other contraceptive devices. It still says NO.
The centrality and power of this teaching are lost in this brochure. It quotes only one sentence from the encyclical: "By safeguarding both these essential aspects, the unitive and the procreative, the conjugal act preserves in its fullness the sense of true mutual love and its ordination towards the most high calling to parenthood." And it adds: "The Church sees NFP and not contraception as the morally acceptable choice."
The brochure does not point out that the encyclical calls contraception "contrary to nature" and "intrinsically wrong," and that the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that it is "intrinsically evil" (#2370).
We should, ordinarily, not fault a book or a brochure for what it does not cover. That would be like saying about an exhibition of Van Gogh's paintings that it should have shown some by Rembrandt. But this is not an ordinary case. This little pamphlet is the sole "official" response of the Canadian bishops to the encyclical in thirty years other than the Winnipeg Statement of September, 1968, and an earlier statement on NFP in 1993, at the encyclical's 25th anniversary, which carried some of the same flaws as this recent brochure.
As we know, the Winnipeg Statement did not accept the teaching of the encyclical. And the Canadian bishops covertly contradicted their own Winnipeg Statement in their 1973 Statement of the Formation of Conscience. They wrote:
"For a believer, this teaching of the Magisterium...cannot be just one element among others in the formation of conscience. It is the definitive cornerstone upon which the whole edifice of conscientious judgment must be built....A believer has the absolute obligation of conforming his conduct first and foremost to what the Church teaches....For a Catholic, to follow one's conscience is not, then, simply to act as his unguided reason dictates" (#38, 39, 41).
While excellent in itself, the weakness of this document in the Canadian context was that it mentioned neither contraception nor the Winnipeg Statement, nor was it followed up by preaching in the parishes. Its effect on the contraceptive mentality was therefore nullified in practical daily life.
In 1983 the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops openly contradicted the Winnipeg Statement, or at least the common interpretation of it, in their Guidelines for Family Life Education, when they stated:
"This statement [#26 of the Winnipeg Statement] cannot be understood as lessening the full force of the Church's teaching against artificial contraception. The will of God is the objective moral standard which is constantly calling all the faithful to its full and complete acceptance....So we must admit that the subjective moral standard on artificial contraception may be far from the objective standard. While we respect the moral judgments of people made in good faith, we cannot allow a currently imperfect understanding of God's will to replace the true teaching of the Church" (#60-61).
Once again, however, this declaration did not find expression in a broader application, beyond the Study Guide, to the parishes, and therefore also remained a dead letter as far as the faithful (and by now the unfaithful) at large were concerned.
A similar statement was made by all the Bishops of Manitoba in 1988, which also dealt with contraception but again did not mention the Winnipeg Statement:
"By examining the human sexual faculty in its structure and function as well as in its psychological and social aspects, it becomes clear that the proper place for the sex act is within marriage and that the conjugal act by its nature is both love-giving and life-giving in such a way that one meaning and purpose may not be artificially separated from the other: Hence the conjugal act that is not love-giving is unnatural and wrong and the conjugal act that is artificially prevented from being life-giving is likewise unnatural and wrong."
The above three statements, buried in hard-to-find documents, are cancelled out by contrary statements made by others, including spokesmen for the CCCB, which are quoted in the daily press. For example, in 1993, immediately after the papal encyclical Veritatis splendor stated that contraception is intrinsically evil, which means that it can never be allowed, the Secretary-General of the CCCB, Monsignor Weisgerber, now Bishop of Saskatoon, announced that the Winnipeg Statement was still in effect. And his assistant, Mr. Bede Hubbard, wrote an article to defend this position.
Again, at its meeting in October 1998, after a formal request by three bishops, the vast majority of the Canadian bishops refused to re-consider the Winnipeg Statement. Obviously this refusal to speak out will allow Canadians to continue to quote it as justification for by-passing Pope Paul's prohibition of contraception. A case in point is the current Secretary-General of the CCCB, Monsignor Peter Schonenbach, saying privately that, according to the CCCB, the interpretation of Humanae vitae is left up to each priest in confession. Now, if it can be left to each priest, then it can also be left to each Catholic man or woman. Such actions (and inactions) will not be redeemed by a six-page brochure on NFP, nor indeed by an exclusive emphasis on NFP while remaining silent on the larger issue of the integrity of married love.
Fr. Leonard Kennedy is a priest of the Congregation of St. Basil.
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|Author:||Kennedy, Leonard A.|
|Date:||Nov 1, 1999|
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