WASHINGTON (CNS) — A group of Catholic scholars Sept. 20
reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s teaching on “the gift of
sexuality” and its long-standing prohibition on artificial birth control
as outlined in “Humanae Vitae,” Blessed Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical.
In a statement released in Washington, they rejected calls for the
church to change its teaching by another group that issued a statement the same
day at the United Nations.
“We, the undersigned scholars, affirm that the Catholic
Church’s teachings on the gift of sexuality, on marriage and on contraception
are true and defensible on many grounds, among them the truths of reason and
revelation concerning the dignity of the human person,” they said.
The scholars said the “church’s constant and consistent teaching
on human sexuality,” as explained in “Humanae Vitae,” “has
been reaffirmed” by every pope since its release, most recently by Pope
Francis in his apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy
of Love”), released in April.
Signatories include: Richard Fehring, professor emeritus and
director, Marquette University’s Institute for Natural Family Planning;
professor Angela Franks, director of theology programs for the Theological
Institute for the New Evangelization, St. John’s Seminary in Massachusetts;
John Haas, president, National Catholic Bioethics Center, Philadelphia; and
George Weigel, senior fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington.
“Scholarly support for the church’s teachings on the gift of
sexuality, on marriage and on contraception has burgeoned in recent
decades,” they said. “Moreover, institutes and programs supporting
that teaching have been established all over the world. Even some secular
feminists and secular programs have begun to acknowledge the harms of contraception.”
The other statement, issued at the U.N., was from an ecumenical
group of Catholic and other moral theologians, ethicists and economists from
around the world, under the auspices of Wijngaards Institute for Catholic
Research, based in England.
“Our goal is to encourage the Catholic hierarchy to reverse
their stance against so-called ‘artificial’ contraceptives,” said the
Wijngaards group, which claimed “Humanae Vitae” (“Of Human
Life”) is based on faulty reasoning.
“The decision to use modern contraceptives can be taken for a
variety of morally worthy motives, and so it can be responsible and
ethical,” it said in its statement, “On the Ethics of Using
Signatories of the Wijngaards declaration include Father Charles
Curran, who in the 1980s was told by the Vatican that he no longer had
permission to teach as a Catholic theologian because of his dissenting
positions on church teaching about sexual morality. Another signer is Father
Peter Phan, who teaches at Georgetown University; his writings on religious
relativism, or that many faiths offer valid spiritual paths, came under
scrutiny by the Vatican.
The homepage of the institute’s website describes the
organization’s mission as “promoting gender equality and shared
decision-making in the church.”
The Wijngaards group said it was invited to present its statement
at the United Nations Sept. 20. Copies were being made available “to all
U.N. departments and development agencies … trying to navigate the
relationship between religious belief and women’s health as they work toward
the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals,” it said.
“We cannot pretend that it is still 1968 or ignore the harm
done by the sexual revolution,” said John Grabowski, associate professor
of moral theology and ethics at The Catholic University in Washington.
Grabowski, who was an expert at the 2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family, made
the comments in a Sept. 20 news release about the scholars’ statement released
“Unfortunately, the Wijngaards statement fails to acknowledge
the vindication of the teaching of Blessed Paul VI over the last 48 years by
the sciences, the social sciences, and its further elaboration by the teaching
of St. John Paul II and its support from Pope Francis,” he said.
During a Sept. 20 news conference at Catholic
University, a theology professor stressed that the statement presented to the
U.N. failed to take into account the spiritual benefits of church teaching
against artificial birth control, which allows for “fertility-awareness based
methods of family planning.”
are great benefits to natural family planning,” said Janet Smith, who holds
the Father Michael J. McGivney chair of life ethics at Sacred Heart Major
Seminary in Detroit and has served as a consultor to the Pontifical Council on
said natural family planning improves marriages and brings people closer to
God, their spouses and their children. It’s also green since it is free and
causes no harm to the environment.
who addressed the news conference by skype, said when she first learned of the Wijngaards
statement a few weeks ago, she planned to simply write a response to it, but the
reaction grew larger and became “an opportunity for us to show the world there
are many, many Catholics who support ‘Humanae Vitae.'”
speculated that if the ages of signers of the two different documents could be
compared, she would guess that those who signed the document presented to the
U.N. were at least 15 years older because she said many younger Catholics
support the church’s teaching on contraception, particularly those influenced
by St. John Paul II’s “theology of the body” — teachings on human
and Mary Hasson, who directs the Catholic Women’s Forum at the Ethics and
Public Policy Center in Washington, also spoke at the news conference and
stressed that the church’s teaching on contraception offers something beyond
noted that there will be much more to say on this teaching as the 50th
anniversary of Humanae Vitae approaches in 2018.
statement said the Wijngaards declaration “misdirects the conversation
from the start by claiming that the argument against ‘Humanae Vitae’ is based
primarily on ‘biological laws.’ ‘Humanae Vitae’ instead focuses, as it should,
on the person’s relationship to God and other persons.”
“God is love. … Because God is love — a communion of
divine persons — he made men and women in his image: able to reason and to
choose freely, with the capacity to love and to be in loving
relationships,” the statement said.
“God invites all people to share in his love. … Every
person is created to make a gift of self to God and others,” it continued.
“The gift of self means living in a way that promotes the good of
everyone, especially those with whom one is in close relationship.”
Marriage “was designed by God to enable a man and a woman to
live out humanity’s core identity and lovers and givers of life. … Human
sexual relations fulfill God’s intent only when they respect the procreative
meaning of the sexual act and involve a complete gift of self between married
Quoting “Humanae Vitae,” the group said: “There is
an unbreakable connection between the unitive meaning and the procreative
meaning … and both are inherent in the marital act. … The teaching that
contraception is always against God’s plan for sexuality, marriage and
happiness is not based on human law,” the group said.
The statement also said that to live out “God’s design for
married love,” husbands and wives need “moral family planning
methods,” which are available to them in “the many forms of natural
family planning.” Natural methods based on fertility awareness “are
fully consistent with the church’s teaching on marital chastity.”
“Several well-argued versions of ‘natural law’ defenses
support the church’s teaching that contraception is not in accord with God’s
plan for sexuality and marriage,” it said, noting that St. John Paul II’s
theology of the body “provides a powerful defense” of the teaching in
“Humanae Vitae” also “speaks against the distorted
view of human sexuality and intimate relationships that many in the modern
world promote,” it added.
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Contributing to this report was Carol Zimmermann in
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