Monday, April 21, 2008

Papal Infallibility and the Union of Church and State in Breeding Hunger and Poverty

OR: The Real Reason the Church Won't Change It's Stand on Birth Control ... Is That It Cannot!

hile I am extremely gratified to see that a vibrant public debate has now again arisen over the problem of overpopulation in the Philippines. I am led to the depressing conclusion that the Catholic Church cannot and will not change its stand on population management issues any time soon by a recent review of the history of the allegedly infallible teaching that contraception is a "grave moral disorder and mortal sin" -- even if it does not involve abortion.

As the nation faces frightening oil and food price crises there lies unmasked a dogmatic policy that reeks of supernal vanity and infernal indifference to the terrible consequences of the last 40 years. For it was indeed in 1968 that Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical Humanae Vitae.

What is perhaps not widely known is that the ultimate reason for the Church's now unchangeable stand has little to do with with its moral position on sex and birth control and more to do with preserving the authority of the Church and that supernal piece of hubris and vanity called papal infallibility. This analysis by John Swormley from Christian Social Action (Feb. 1998) provides details that ought to make people mad not only because of the destructive social effects but also the long term damage done to the Church itself:
The birth control story begins with the Second Vatican Council in the early l960s and the decision of two popes to re-examine the church’s position on birth control. Pope John XX Ill had intended to begin that re-examination, but he died before he could begin the process. His successor, Pope Paul VI, appointed a Papal Commission on Population and Birth Control.

That commission was two-tiered: (1) a group of 15 cardinals and bishops; (2) a group of 64 lay experts representing a variety of disciplines. A member of the lay commission, Thomas Burch, a professor at Georgetown University in the 1960s, said the pope had asked them to try to find a way to change the church’s position on birth control without destroying papal authority.

Commission Voted for Change

After two years of study, the lay commission voted 60 to 4, and the clergy voted 9 to 6, to change the position on birth control, even though it would mean a loss of papal authority, because it was the right thing to do. However, a minority report was submitted to the pope. The co-author of that report was a Polish archbishop, Karol Wojtyla, who later became Pope John Paul II.

A Roman Catholic historian and theologian, August Bernhard Hasler, tells the story in his 1979 book, How the Pope Became Infallible. He provided the following quotation from that minority report, which actually was the one accepted. It clearly sets forth the basis or reason for the current Catholic crusade against birth control and family planning:

“If it should be declared that contraception is not evil in itself, then we should have to concede frankly that the Holy Spirit had been on the side of the Protestant churches in 1930 (when the encyclical Casti Connubi was promulgated). and in 1951 (Pius XII’s address delivered before the Society of Hematologists in the year the pope died).

“It should likewise have to be admitted that for a hall a century the Spirit failed to protect Pius XI, Pius XII, and a large part of the Catholic hierarchy from a very serious error. This would mean that the leaders of the Church, acting with extreme imprudence, had condemned thousands of innocent human acts, forbidding, under pain of eternal damnation, a practice which would now be sanctioned. The fact can neither be denied nor ignored that these same acts would now he declared licit on the grounds of principles cited by the Protestants, which popes and bishops have either condemned or at least not approved” (page 170).

Dr. Hasler concluded: “Thus it became only too clear that the core of the problem was not the pill, but the authority. continuity, and infallibility of the Church’s magisterium.”
I find this explanation enlightening and logical because I've always been puzzled about the apparent inconsistency of promoting at least one method that does result in preventing pregnancies, albeit unreliably, in the natural rhythm method (VaticanRoulette) yet regarding as anathema pills, condoms and IUDs as the very devil's handiwork.

Since then, many Catholic Churches in Latin America and Europe have quietly ignored the Pope and adopted a more enlightened and liberal view towards birth control excluding abortion. But unique even among Catholic countries around the world, the Church and the State in the Philippines have been shamelessly united in a thoroughly irresponsible do-nothing population policy that is only breeding hunger and poverty and destroying the lives of millions of families.

There are undeniably other contributory factors, such as graft and corruption, but only the deaf and the blind would deny that the resulting level of poverty, hunger and deprivation would surely have been avoided or minimized if the leaders of a holier-than-thou Church and the most-corrupt State in Asia thought and acted more humanely and realistically about the issue.

Indeed, the situation has suited the Church hierarchy just fine, since it is not legally responsible for anything but its own dogmatic preachings on faith and morals. Meanwhile the State cynically profits from a quid pro quo that allows Catholic dogma to reign supreme in the social and religious spheres even as Catholic Church inaction and silence allow corrupt and illegitimate leaders like Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to lord it over politics and the economy.

With Pagcor's blood-and-vice-stained gambling money disguised as charity serving as the conduit for institutional bribery on a massive and despicable scale, the Principle of the Separation of Church and State has been perverted into a thinly a disguised regime reminiscent of Spanish Taliban theocracy that also ignored the people's long-term welfare.

I wish I could say that a widespread impetus towards a more enlightened population policy (as found in Latin American and European Catholic countries, and our regional neighbors), might be expected as the Catholic Bishops discern ever more clearly their utter failure to prevent the greater evil and injustice of the avoidable hunger, poverty and potential social chaos, compared to whatever evils they discern in simple, effective modern birth control methods. We are not even talking here about abortion, which I condemn and should always remain criminal and illegal in the Philippines. (Ironically, there are said to be up to half a million cases of illegal abortions in the Philippines annually--most of which are attributed to the lack of effective birth control measures).

I lay the responsibility for those abortions squarely on their betters who have indeed deprived the people access to readily available means of avoiding such a morally debased action but have been led to it by their own desperate desire to save another child from the evil of destitution.

Unfortunately I do not think such a conscientious reconsideration by the Catholic Sanhedrin of their culpability in a mortal sin of omission is even forthcoming even if they have condemned millions of families to lives of misery and demoralization.

The reason for such pessimism is my conviction that the real motivation behind the intransigent Catholic Church stand against birth control is the need to preserve Church authority via the doctrine of Papal Infallibility.

ABSOLUTE POWER has absolutely corrupted both the Church and the State. No wonder the CBCP and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo share a bed in the Pagcor Hotel.


mesiamd said...

Rage and frustration seem evident against the Catholic Church (CC). I think we'll hear a lot of blame vs. CC for not overturning its traditional teaching on contraception and abortion.

I guess CC won't change its position anytime soon. To appease her critics, all she has to do is overturn her dogma?

Establishing another church is an option for those "who can't take it anymore." It has been done many times by the protestants.

Why can't critics advice policy-makers so contraception and abortion can be done upon request? Ranting, with little respect on the belief of others only breeds animosity.

Anonymous said...

Excuse my ignorance, but may I know what is your religion? You seem to have so much hatred for the Roman Catholic Church. Or maybe it is just my perception -- because of the way you express your ideas.

The way you address "inconvenient truths" makes the concerned party to become even harder to be drawn to the "light" of your "truth".

Attention CBCP, do you have nothing to say concerning this particular very serious problem on overpopulation and contraceptions?

It will be your (CBCP) fault if you silent as if nothing is happening and merely ignore this issue by not even daring to explain your side.

We want to hear from you. DJB has made his shots, now the ball is in your side (CBCP). What will the shepherds tell their flocks, "run away?"

DJB Rizalist said...

mesiamd, anon,
Consider the facts about how the church's policy has harmed the church itself:

1. In 1965 there were 42,000 young men in American seminaries studying for the priesthood. Today there are fewer than 6,000, even though the number of Catholics in this country has nearly doubled.

2. The average age of nuns in the United States is 65 years. Only 3% are under age 40, while 35% are older than 70.

3. One-half of all American priests quit the priesthood before reaching retirement age. Self-destruction as a result of loss of credibility is underway but progressing slowly. The pope remains hopeful that he can turn this around. He is convinced that, if he changes the Church’s position on birth control and destroys the principle of infallibility, self-destruction will be very swift. We know that this matter was the focus of his attention for several years in the 1960s.

I am a Roman Catholic. I want to take the Church back from the Heretic Popes that are destroying it.

DJB Rizalist said...

The Church leaders responsible for "papal infallibility" CAN NOT overturn this particular dogma. After apostasizing and calling themselves "GOD" -- how can they?

After say they cannot make a mistake when then they claim to use the power of God, how can they then admit a mistake.

That is the tragedy of hubris!

Amadeo said...


I am glad that in your inside text you made the proper qualification by referring to the Church hierarchy, rather than as in your blog entry title, as simply the Church, (referring to the Catholic Church). The reason being that in acceptance of reality, many Catholics do not share in belief of all the official declarations, or call those dogmas under the umbrella of infallibility, promulgated by the hierarchy. And they would be called popularly as cafeteria Catholics, as those picking and choosing the beliefs they want to believe in. But members of the Catholic Church nonetheless, since as the officially-defined Mystical Body of Christ, they, with the clergy including the Pope, all belong and are collectively referred to as the Church Militant.

Though in my own family I have neither used contraceptives preferring to exercise only the prescribed method of family planning, which is the rhythm method, nor have I been a part in having any abortion within our family, I cannot in good conscience make public moral judgments on how other Catholics follow their faith. One can only counsel, and I say that includes the hierarchy. That ought to be a spiritual matter between the member and his God. His salvation rests ultimately with his personal relationship with his God, and not strictly and solely with his compliance with strictures of Church hierarchy. He is part of the Mystical Body of Christ for a reason, a big reason. His inestimable value as a human being equipped with free will.

Though I continue to be a confused (or would it be ambivalent?) Catholic, I simply am articulating my own opinions.

DJB Rizalist said...


To the deny the fallibility of any man, even if he is the Pope, and to uphold the infallibility of whole councils of men, is to me a heresy or an apostasy that makes Gods of them.

How can infallibility be "limited" only to certain questions and occasions? So limited indeed that it does not extend to "impeccability"?

This to me is not only illogical, it is false, the error of heresy.

Moreover, the need to distinguish the Church from its People is to separate Christ from his Body.

That is apostasy.

mesiamd said...


There are certainly grim numbers that tell CC is having its own problems. That's why, I believe, part of being a RC believer is to open one's heart to God and acknowledge our sinfulness and limitations. Fidelity is called upon us amidst perceived setbacks and trials.

Hubris comes in many forms in both sides of the aisle. No matter how good our intentions are, I think it's dangerous for laymen to wrestle with CC authorities on matters of doctrine. It's here where a personal relationship with God comes in (as one poster suggested?)

Don't worry. Jesus promised us, his church: "I will be with you till the end of time."

DJB Rizalist said...

Then there is the Layman who indeed wrestled with His church's authorities on matters of doctrine, in the most dangerous of ways, even giving up His Life because of a personal relationship with Man and God.

He was the Way, the Truth and the Light who asks us all to come and follow Him! Not the "authorities".

His laws are written for all to see, in the Book the He wrote--the book of nature, the heart of humanity.

Econblogger said...

I am an ex-Catholic. The way I understand it, infallibility extends only to pronouncements ex cathedra. So far there have been but two such pronouncements: the bodily assumption of Mary, and the ex cathedra doctrine itself.

Encylicals are errant. Technically these can be denied without damaging infallibility. But it would be hugely embarassing, and lose the Holy Roman Catholic Apostolic church not a few more members.

DJB Rizalist said...

There is more to papal infallibility than the two pronouncements on Mary.
Here is an authoritative description of the whole enchilida.

You will see that it is not only the Pope that can make infallible statements. The Bishops in ecumenical council also can. In fact it was Vatican I, not the Pope that established the doctrine in 1870 AFTER the Pope had already defined the Immaculate Conception as infallible dogma. Technically, the Pope has only made one ex cathedra infallible definition: on the Assumption.

Jego said...

The fact that the popes put up a commission to study the matter means that the Church has no dogma on birth control. John Paul I was said to favor reversing the Church's stand before he died in 1978. No dogma or infallible teaching will be trashed by reversing the official stand on birth control.

This would mean that the leaders of the Church, acting with extreme imprudence, had condemned thousands of innocent human acts, forbidding, under pain of eternal damnation, a practice which would now be sanctioned. The fact can neither be denied nor ignored that these same acts would now he declared licit on the grounds of principles cited by the Protestants, which popes and bishops have either condemned or at least not approved”.

The above shouldnt be a problem either as the Catholic hierarchy believes that whatever they bind on earth is bound in heaven, and whatever they loose on earth is loosed in heaven. Remember the current pope's reversal of the teaching on Limbo? Although I also think that reversing the stand on birth control will not happen anytime soon, I think it will indeed happen.

domingoarong said...

At least, no one is compelled to be a Catholic against one’s will anyway; but one cannot truly claim to be a Catholic unless one willingly submits to its teachings.

Thus, Catholics are afforded the opportunity to renew their baptismal vows annually, which amounts to a declaration of one’s willingness to continue submitting to what it teaches the flock, like it or not.

In short, obedience; otherwise, protest, leave, join or organize another hierarchy where, perhaps, the democratic majority rules or is simply to one’s liking.

The Church is clearly authoritarian, but the ROCK that holds the KEY was I think never contemplated to be democratic or republican--although I wish it were.

POGB said...

Good one DJB, and I couldn't agree more on Dr. Hasslers assertions. What makes it worse is the talibani cousins of the pro-life group, that extremist in the CC where Lito Atienza is one of the henchman has denied the urban poor of Manila access to birth control contraceptives going to the extent of harrassing and intimidating those who dispense of medical contraceptives.

DJB Rizalist said...

It's true no one is compelled to be a Catholic. That is what 1896 was really all about.

But even from within the Catholic Church, there is an obligation to discern the consequences of acts of faith.

I believe that Christ taught more by example than of words, by ACTS of love and self-sacrifice, not the prerogatives of power.

In that sense I simply cannot make head or tail of the distinction being made between INFALLIBILITY of teaching, and IMPECCABILITY of actions.

It is as if the Holy Ghost was all tongue and no heart!

To me the dogma of infallibility is itself infallible but heretical. It stands OUTSIDE the Deposit of Faith!

The Nashman said...

"Ranting, with little respect on the belief of others only breeds animosity."

Tell the Catholic Church to leave government policy alone then. They are not respecting the belief of others, and the right to information, and the right to choice. This is why the CC is hated....

The Philippines is a Republic! I don't see Catholic Republic of the Philippines on that title.

Dominique said...

Dean: infallibility isn't nearly the irrational a concept you make it out to be. You believe (I suppose) in the infallibility of your senses, of scientific measurement, and of common sense. One cannot argue against the infallibility of the Church without believing in another form of infallibility.

DJB Rizalist said...

I heartily disagree that what Science counterposes to Papal Infallibility is "the infallibility of our senses, scientific measurement and commonsense".

Rather than "infallibility" we propose "falsifiability".

What the scientific method consists of is the proposal of HYPOTHESES that must have the possibility of being proven false.

Thus we only accept as provisionally true any particular theory or statement about reality, and we generally only consider those that can be proven to be false, by evidence of observation, by reason of logic, and sometimes of commonsense or some combination of these things.

In contrast, Papal Infallibility declares as unquestionably, unfalsifiably and indubitably TRUE that which the Pope or the Bishops in ecumenical council so declare to be infallibly true.

No two attitudes towards human understanding of reality could be more opposed to each other.

Consider the particular case of the assumption into heaven of the BVM.

This is is a dogma that has no possibility of being proven false in any practical or even imaginable manner. Perhaps if we could fly back in a time machine and observe her dying and her flesh rotting away.

This is not to deny that there are things even in Science that we take on pure faith. For example I've never met Albert Einstein in the flesh, but I have a fervent belief (and relief!) that he truly existed!

Dominique said...

Rather than "infallibility" we propose "falsifiability".

Isn't that the same thing? The tenet of falsifiability becomes your point of infallibility (and really, how can you falsify without observation and measurement?)

To put it another way: if I were to subscribe to "falsifiability", is the concept itself falsifiable? If by its nature it admits that the concept is falsifiable, then it also admits infallibility.

The idea of falsifiability is questionable in ethics.

DJB Rizalist said...


"Falsifiability" [of hypotheses regarding something in the real world] comes by another more common name. It is called "the scientific method." Here the attitude is one of humility, because we accept from the git-go that we could be wrong, and we only propose hypotheses that CAN be proven wrong by others, without our help if need be.

"Infallibility" [of hypotheses regarding something in the real world] is an altogether different and distinct thing. Here the attitude is one of complete hubris because it says we cannot be wrong. Indeed, the subjects of infallible teachings are carefully chosen to be virtually impossible to prove wrong, which is perhaps why it is insisted that they be "believed" purely on the basis of faith and allegiance to authority of the maker of the hypothesis.

Now you ask, "how can you falsify without observation and measurement?"

It depends on the subject of discussion. Take the purely logical realm.

"If A equals B and B equals C, then A equals C."

Since we cannot even have a meaningful discussion unless we agree to and accept certain axioms of logical and consistent discussion, there ARE certain statements which are not falsifiable, because they are needed for falsifying non-axiomatic statements, which we call theorems or hypotheses.

Now is the falsifiablity [of hypotheses] itself falsifiable?

YES! We can decide by virture of reason and logic and experience whether or not it is possible to prove or disprove the truth or falsity of any given hypothesis.

But now I ask you. Is the dogma of infallibility [of hypothesis] itself infallible?

My understanding of the dogma may be weak, but I think the Catholic Church insists that only something called "the Holy Ghost" can decide which hypotheses are infallible but whispers it to the Pope!

How convenient and unfair and, well, inhuman.

There is no discussion possible without being declared ANATHEMA!

blackshama said...

One piece of Catholic teaching has been falsified by Science. Teilhard de Chardin was silenced for saying

Sex is not only for procreation.

Teilhard gives the same arguments given by Darwin.

That's why the Catholic teaching on contraception cannot be deemed infallible.

BTW, I teach my PhD students a bit of philosophy of science when I teach evolution. Popperian falsifiability is a concept they find hard to grasp. The reason is that they are conditioned to accept fact largely BY AUTHORITY alone.

As a Catholic I will not accept infallibility without reason. The Church places strict limits on the Bishop of Rome in exercising infalllibity. The Orthodox are not against infallibility per se but are against the idea that the Bishop of Rome may declare an article of faith as infallible WITHOUT CONSENT of the Church.

Infallibility requires reasonable assent. But many Pinoy Catholics have dumped reason for the infallible pronouncements of fallible priests and bishops!

The classic example from an American Catechism is this is "The Pope declares Rin Tin Tin is the first dog saint"

Is this infallible teaching?

A more serious teaching that made John Paul II almost declare as infallible the teaching that women cannot be priests.

Pope Ratzinger being a good theologian he was as PanzerKardinal got John Paul II off the infallibility track.

John Paul had to content to say that the Church had no authority to ordain women.(Although John Paul embargoed all discussion on women's ordination)

Benedict XVI has to be given credit for putting reason before blind fanatical dogma.

That is true Catholicism in action. Faith and Reason are elevated together.

DJB Rizalist said...

I read on catholic dot net (I think) that the male priesthood is an infallible teaching from the ordinary magisterium. what's your take?

blackshama said...

Catholics should accept that the teaching on male priesthood is infallible not because the Pope declared it so but because it belongs to the "deposit of faith"

This teaching has always been infallible and received from the early Church. Proof that it has always been is that the Orthodox hold to the same teaching even if they reject other teachings of Rome. Pope Ratzinger then as Cardinal saw no REASON to declare it infallible.

What is unreasonable is John Paul's embargo on discussion on the issue.

The embargo has even shut down the discussion of women being ordained as deacons. The early Church ordained women deacons.

Benedict XVI is unlikely to remove the embargo.

Dominique said...

Dean: I haven't even gotten to dogma just yet. I'm speaking from a purely philosophical viewpoint. My point is that falsifiability makes for a poor first principle because it is ultimately self-negating.

Before I get into that, I must point out that you misrepresent "falsifiability" in two ways:

"Falsifiability" comes by another more common name. It is called "the scientific method.

This statement is incorrect. Falsifiability is a part of the scientific method but not its entirety. In fact, falsifiability is not without its share of criticism within the philosophy of science.


Now is the falsifiablity [of hypotheses] itself falsifiable?

YES! We can decide by virtue of reason and logic and experience whether or not it is possible to prove or disprove the truth or falsity of any given hypothesis.

Now we've just entered into a tautology.

You have to show me a physical, observable (not merely logical) test to prove this assertion. Otherwise, it becomes another dogmatic principle that you are forcing me to accept.

Assuming that you do come up with a physical test, then it now becomes a possibility that "falsifiability" is wrong--in which case, you will have swept the rug from under yourself.

blackshama said...


Popperian falsifiability is best said in this terms

You may not be able to prove all swans are white, but a single black one falsifies the idea.

That is if you hold on to the premise that all swans are white.

Falsifiability is criticized in some philosophies of science. In the historical sciences where the inductive method is used, certain conclusions may not be falsified. The historical sciences such as evolutionary biology have essentially a narrative framework. What is tested are the consistencies of theory. For instance if the DNA of humans and Chimps were largely divergent then this falsifies common descent which is the cornerstone of Darwinian evolution.

Some questions have to be resolved. What is the truth value of a falsifiable hypothesis? Which has a higher truth value,a non-falsifiable hypothesis or a falsifiable one?

That depends on the premise you are testing. If you declare at the start that falsifiability is self-negating then you are forcing me to accept an dogmatic philosophical principle.

DJB Rizalist said...

thanks for the amplifications and distinctions blackshama.