Friday, July 25, 2008

Like Limbo, Birth Control Teachings Are NOT Infallible Ex Cathedra

Here is a fact little-understood or appreciated by even devout Catholics: not everything the Catholic Church teaches is considered by it to be infallibly true. From the Code of Canon Law one may deduce the following table which shows that "non-infallible" teachings do not require the full assent of the faithful, but only "religious submission" or "obsequiium religiosum".
BishopsOrdinaryNON-INFALLIBLEReligious Submission
PopeOrdinaryNON-INFALLIBLEReligious Submission
Bishops dispersed, in union with PopeOrdinary and universalINFALLIBLEFull assent of faith
Bishops and Pope in General CouncilExtraordinary and universalINFALLIBLEFull Assent of Faith
Pope ex cathedraExtraordinary and universalINFALLIBLEFull Assent of the Faith

A good recent example of a fallible teaching that has in fact fallen lower and "need no longer be believed in" is the old doctrine of limbo which used to be part of Hell but is no more. There were actually two types of limbo, one for the Patriarchs of the Old Testament--folks who were never baptized but were allegedly rescued from there when Jesus "descended to the dead", and the one for infants who died before baptism but before they could be guilty of personal sin. What once was piously described by priests and nuns to terrified young charges in convent schools as limbo, can now be chucked out as fairy tales and ghost stories, though limbo was once the stuff of learned disquisitions and theological debates.

I hope that the same fate will befall the disastrous, wrong-headed and cruel teaching of the Philippine Catholic Church on modern contraception and birth control, which their surrogates and spokesmen have been dishonestly portraying as abortion, or even, as in the case of the lying fruitcake, Linda Valenzona, with straight-faced ridiculousness as "genocide"!

PAPAL INFALLIBILITY was first defined dogmatically by the First Vatican Council on July 18, 1870, under Pope Pius IX (Pio Nono) in Pastor Aeternus (the Dogmatic Constitution of the Roman Catholic Church):
We teach and define that it is a dogma Divinely revealed that the Roman pontiff when he speaks ex cathedra, that is when in discharge of the office of pastor and doctor of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the universal Church, by the Divine assistance promised to him in Blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed that his Church should be endowed in defining doctrine regarding faith or morals, and that therefore such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves and not from the consent of the Church irreformable. So then, should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of ours: let him be anathema. (see Denziger §1839).
However, the incantation formula prescribed for proclaiming an infallible teachings has not been applied to birth control and contraception, certainly not in Humanae Vitae, which does not contain the witch-doctor's curse in the last line above.

The doctrine of infallibility makes the quite amazing claim that the Roman Church is not only protected by God from any actual error, but even the possibility of error, whenever it practices its "teaching magisterium". But the Catholic doctrine of infallibility is in fact a dangerous two edged sword. While it may serve to silence opposition to its dogmatic pronouncements on the part of nominally faithful and devout Catholics, it also binds the Church forever to uphold and defend its infallible pronouncements. It sets up a potentially embarrassing vulnerablity in an epoch when scientific culture that has swept human civilization teaches human beings what would seem to be a superior virtue and mental habit--to seek after the truth based on facts, evidence and reason. This poses a constant threat to any allegedly infallible teaching. Inherent to the scientific attitude and the scientific method is the notion that most truly worthwhile ideas about nature -- including human nature -- are ideas that can be tested against the facts and are therefore at least falsifiable if not in fact verifiable.

A claim to infallibility is not only a radically unscientific attitude. It is a rhetorically weak and vulnerable position to take. I think it is a special kind of mental weakness, a sign of institutional intellectual impairment, decrepitude, the sign of a deepening lack of vitality and vigor at the very roots of the Roman Catholic Church, a signal that a kind of ideological sepsis has set in.

When Pope Benedict warned the youth of the world in Australia last week against entering into a spiritual desert, he may inadvertently have put his finger on his Church's own problematic malaise, which the doctrine of papal infallibility makes so palpable. What they cannot teach by reason and clarity of logic, they would force into the hearts and minds of the sheep.

The Philippine Catholic Bishops even sponsored a "mass protest action" yesterday against Reproductive Health bills being considered in Congress on the anniversary of the promulgation in 1968 of HUMANAE VITAE POPE PAUL VI, an outline of which follows for the convenience of my readers...
New State of Things
New Questions
Interpreting the Moral Law
Special Studies
The Magisterium's Reply
God's Loving Design
Married Love
Responsible Parenthood
Observing the Natural Law
Union and Procreation
Faithfulness to God's Design
Unlawful Birth Control Methods
Lawful Therapeutic Means
Recourse to Infertile Periods
Consequences of Artificial Methods
Limits to Man's Power
Concern of the Church

Nota bene: I have already discussed the fallacy of false distinction between "natural" and "artificial" contraception in a previous post.

Value of Self-Discipline
Promotion of Chastity
Appeal to Public Authorities
Seeking True Solutions
To Scientists
To Christian Couples
Recourse to God
Family Apostolate
To Doctors and Nurses
To Priests
Christian Compassion
To Bishops
A Great Work
Given at St. Peter's, Rome, on the 25th day of July, the feast of St. James the Apostle, in the year 1968, the sixth of Our pontificate. PAUL VI.

Nota bene: After Pope John XXIII died, his successor, Pope Paul VI "confirmed and expanded" the Papal Commission on Population and Birth Control. Composed of 15 cardinals and bishops and 64 lay experts, the Commission's work is addressed by Paul VI in "Special Studies" above. But the cardinals and bishops voted 9-6, and the lay experts, 60-4, for the Catholic Church to change its position on contraception and birth control.

In the Magisterium's Reply, Paul VI ignored the Commission's recommendations, noting only that it was "divided" over the moral principles involved, and reaffirmed the Church's steadfast opposition to contraception and abortion. It is ironic of course that in countries like the Philippines, the lack of access to simple contraceptive materials such as pills, IUDs and condoms have led to an estimated 400,000 to 800,000 induced abortions annually, according to the World Health Organization and numerous independent studies.

There is a heartlessness about the Catholic Bishops that belies any of their claims to leadership, piety or even fealty to the Gospel message of love and good will.

Pope Paul VI, speaking always in the royal "WE", rejected the Papal Commission's findings on the basis of a "Minority Report" (authored by the future Pope John Paul II) which reveals the true reason for the Catholic Church's intransigent position:

Minority Report of the Papal Commission: “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).

Catholic theologian and historian August Bernard Hasler remarked that, “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.”

It is quite evident from the fact that a majority of the cardinals and bishops on the population commission wanted to allow non-abortion type contraception, that the Pope and the episcopacy are NOT united, universally or ordinarily in their opinions on the issue. This disagreement is also to be seen in the fact that European and South American bishops have adopted a more liberal attitude towards birth control

Only the Philippine Bishops are militantly in support of the old doctrine. It's heartless, cruel and not at all in the best interests of the Filipinos, Catholic or not. The Philippine Church must change, or it will surely perish.


The Nashman said...

Is it not very funny Dean? What other organisation in the world has a chart detailing when someone is "infallible".

I'm a mediocre scientist, but sometimes even I can tell off my boss (brilliant and world renowned that he is) that his theory is crap when it is.

Right, who was the infallible bloke who said the solar system was not heliocentric....

Oh well, thank god I am not a priest.

DJB Rizalist said...

haha. Pride goeth before the fall...

blackshama said...

Whew! DJB let's disentable your arguments for the sake of clarity!

Let us say that the premise of Humanae Vitae is right. I do believe it is right under certain circumstances. The chances for biological evolution should be given free reign. Procreation is just one of the things by this could happen.

The problem is the logic of the Church is selective. The problem of Humanae Vitae is that it isn't only a matter of faith and morals, but it is a matter of science. In science no Pope can claim infallibility.

We are left with the quandary that while Humanae Vitae is prophetic in the moral sense, its premise in the evolutionary biological sense has been falsified.

While human sexual intercourse can be considered unitive within marriage, it is not always procreative. When the Church and its celibate hierarchy have come to grips with this clear teaching of the Magisterium of Science (viva Stephen Jay Gould!) then we should see an end to idiotic statements of celibate bishops counselling married couples to self control in bed. This is simply not what evolution has given us!

DJB. If our Catholic bishops were like the Anglicans,who are married and in the 2008 Lambeth conference, they have witnessed the difficulties of married life, then Catholic bishops can be seriously listened too. That's why I support the idea that the Church ordain married men. But that is beyond my scope in this reply.

That is why the encyclical needs to be revisited.

Papal infallibility is a grace to the Church for it safeguards the deposit of faith. Unfortunately this grace can be exercised by Popes who are sinners like DJB and me. Worse you have subalterns to the Pope that will prod him to declare this or that infallible for their political purposes. Towards the end of John Paul II's papacy (when he was almost mentally incapacitated) this was the case. The Panzerkardinal Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI) deserves credit for thwarting some of these moves.

The same idea can be applied in the case of Humanae Vitae. So far Benedict has placed the teaching in its positive context and that is charity. I admire and love Benedict for not being polemical and that he uses the encyclical to define a theology of environment. Benedict surprisingly omitted any reference to procreation in "Deus Caritas Est" but he traditionally reiterated Humanae Vitae

There is no great fanaticism in Benedict nor can we expect radical change. But I am sure Benedict will place the encyclical in its proper context.

About some of the Philippine Catholic Bishops well DJB,they don't compare to Papa Ratzinger, in theology and in charity!

DJB Rizalist said...

I am also a great admirer of Benedict's mind. Of his heart we must await further events.

The reason for this post was to point out that there IS a way out yet for the Church on birth control because the reasoning in Humanae Vitae IS so flawed--mainly on the matter of inconsistency about what is "natural" and what is "artificial". In essence, the encyclical is not actually against contraception per se, but artificial contraception. Thus the distinction between what is natural and what is artificial contraception becomes crucial.
I believe the encyclical is vulnerable to the distinction made by Paul VI being a false one.

But papal infallibility has not yet been accorded to its current teaching on birth control, though there are those who would argue it has been a constant in the "ordinary" magisterium of the bishops. it has not however been "universal" because the majority of the bishops and cardinals on the Papal Commission's wanted to change that teaching.

The Nashman said...

I must have missed the memo "Benedict is NOT polemical...has clarity...etc..."????? Riiiiight....ask him again why women will never be considered as equals in the Catholic church....It's as clear as mud.

DJB Rizalist said...

the nashman,
THAT, if I am not mistaken has been declared an infallible teaching. come to think about it though, married priests and coed seminary dorms could go a long way to changing church policy on contraception!

blackshama said...


If you are referring about women as priests in this equality thingy. The Catholic position that the Church has no authority to ordain women is not listened to by the liberals. The Orthodox have a better explanation which should filter out the mud as you say.


blackshama said...


Papa Ratzi was one of the cardinals that dissuaded JP II not to make Humanae Vitae a dogmatic definition, though the idea of the encyclical is indeed infallible.

However the Panzerkardinal was challenged on the infallibility issue since towards the end of JP II's papacy, the CDF ruled that an encylical may be infallible even if it weren't defined as such.

The liberals challenge was this.How can the CDF define what is infallible or not when it is itself fallible?

The same question I throw at you DJB. How can you say something is fallible when you yourself is fallible?

I would nail my 95 theses on the door of the Church of Science if you have a claim to infallibility!

Albert said...

I'm not Catholic - and hence do not accept the infallibility doctrine - but let's at least define it as it states. The pope is said to be speaking infallibly if he is defining a position on the doctrine and morals of the Christian Faith while exercising his office as head of the Church. He doesn't have to say "Hey guys, this is infallible! Nyeah! Nyeah!" Thus the communication must be a public letter or statement, addressed to the faithful, intended to define a position of the Church on matters of faith and morals, and done is exercies of his office as pastor of the universal Church. If Humanae Vitae doesn't meet those requirements, I don't know what does.