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Catholic tradition guides teaching on contraception, archbishop says

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Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON — The Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage, abortion, human sexuality and contraception is rooted in the same respect for human dignity that guides its work for social justice and care for poor people, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput told a Catholic University of America audience.

It is imperative that the church make known why it upholds its teaching, as reiterated in Blessed Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae” (“Of Human Life”), so that Catholics and the world understand God’s plan for humanity, the archbishop said during the April 4 opening session of a symposium marking the 50th anniversary of the papal teaching.

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Scholars reaffirm Pope Paul’s 1968 teaching against artificial birth control

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WASHINGTON — 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 at The Catholic University of American 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.

Attendees listen to Catholic scholars release a statement reaffirming Blessed Paul VI's 1968 "Humanae Vitae" encyclical on human sexuality at The Catholic University of America in Washington Sept. 20. The scholars rejected new calls for the church to lift its ban on artificial contraception. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Attendees listen to Catholic scholars release a statement reaffirming Blessed Paul VI’s 1968 “Humanae Vitae” encyclical on human sexuality at The Catholic University of America in Washington Sept. 20. The scholars rejected new calls for the church to lift its ban on artificial contraception. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

“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 Contraceptives.”

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 in Washington.

“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.

The scholars’ 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 partners.”

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.”

 

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Couples observing bishops’ synod call for empathy, support for struggling families

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Couples attending the Synod of Bishops called for empathy and support from the church to families suffering difficult circumstances.

U.S. couple Anthony Paul and Catherine Wally Witczak, left, and other delegates leave a session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 15. The couple are observers at the synod. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

U.S. couple Anthony Paul and Catherine Wally Witczak, left, and other delegates leave a session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 15. The couple are observers at the synod. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Several lay couples and a missionary sister addressed the synod Oct. 15-16, highlighting various issues facing families in their countries and abroad.

Anthony and Catherine Witczak, the international ecclesial team of the Worldwide Marriage Encounter, stressed the need for better programs for engaged and married couples in the church. They also said couples should not be separated when taking part in parish ministry, “but rather let their sacrament shine by allowing them to work as a team.”

Anthony Witczak also called for a priestly formation that is geared to living a closer relationship with families in their parishes.

“If a church is meant to be a family of families, then we should encourage our seminarians to be priests in love with their people, not merely priests in charge of a parish,” he said. “Our faith is based on relationship with God, but it is learned and lived out in relationship with others.”

The president of Parents Centres New Zealand, Sharron Cole, said that while the church’s teaching on conjugal love and responsible parenthood in “Humanae Vitae” has “great beauty and depth,” couples who struggle with either low-income, mental health problems or other difficulties find it hard to abide by those tenets.

“As an ex-board member of Natural Family Planning, I know that this method of contraception permitted by ‘Humanae Vitae’ is an effective method for motivated couples,” she said.

“Every family has difficulties which might lead them for a period of time to use artificial contraception in the interests of responsible parenting. Marriage naturally leads to a desire for children, which is a biological imperative and a great grace of the sacrament. In my experience, very few couples suppress this desire, with its constraints tending to be the couple’s resources to cope, not selfishness.”

“Many laypeople believe the church does not understand the realities of their lives. Laypeople are not trusted to make good decisions in conscience, and they often feel subjected to exacting rules which take no account of context or of stages of spiritual development,” she said.

She also said that “too many in authority responded to clergy sexual abuse in a way which demonstrated that they lacked the expertise in sexuality and psychology to make good decisions, with the result they became complicit in perpetuating enormous harm, harm done to laypeople.”

Cole called on the church to listen “with deep empathy” to laypeople and to “re-examine its teaching on marriage and sexuality, and its understanding of responsible parenthood, in a dialogue of laity and bishops together.”

Moira McQueen, director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, noted that elderly people are seldom mentioned in the synod’s working document.

“This perhaps reflects what the elderly report: They are not seen as important; society tends to ignore them; they do not seem to matter,” she said.

McQueen said that while the elderly not only deserve proper medical care, they also deserve spiritual programs that help them in the final states of life.

“Pope John Paul II urged people to ‘live life to its end,’ and we can help elderly people do that by looking after their physical and spiritual welfare, protecting them from hastened death, and giving them reason to maintain their sense of purpose in life as long as possible,” she said.

Dr. Anca-Maria Cernea, a Romanian and president of the Catholic Doctors Association of Bucharest, warned of a “cultural Marxism” that imposes gay rights, gender ideology and attempts to redefine family, sexual identity and human nature.

“This ideology calls itself progressive. But it is nothing else than the ancient serpent’s offer, for man to take control, to replace God, to arrange salvation here, in this world,” she said.

The church, she added, is called to protect the faithful from these dangers through evangelization and conversion.

“The church’s mission is to save souls. Evil, in this world, comes from sin,” she said, “not from income disparity or climate change.”

Sister Carmen Sammut, a member of the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa and president of the International Union of Superiors General, urged the Synod of Bishops to allow for more collaboration between the laity and the hierarchy.

“If the image of church is the people of God, then we, the laity, would be expected to bring our knowledge to the discernment processes of the church, in view of decision-making, always in union with the pope and our bishops,” she said.

She suggested that couples, as well as religious, can help in the formation of priests and ordained ministers.
“I really dream of a church where each one is called to give his or her part for the construction of the whole,” she said.

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Synod bishops discussing ‘graduality’ in sexual and medical ethics

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Catholic News Service VATICAN — In their discussions of sexual and medical ethics, participants at the Synod of Bishops on the family are giving emphasis to the concept of “graduality,” as a way of thinking about morality that allows for human imperfection without compromising ideals. In an address to the assembly on its first working day, Oct. 6, Cardinal Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest, Hungary, said that “Humanae Vitae,” the 1968 encyclical by Pope Paul VI that reaffirmed the church’s prohibition of artificial birth control, “needs to be considered in light of the law of graduality.” He suggested that it was unrealistic to expect immediate acceptance of the widely flouted teaching.

Cardinals Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, leave the morning session of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 7. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Cardinals Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, leave the morning session of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 7. (CNS/Paul Haring)

The cardinal quoted “Familiaris Consortio,” a 1981 apostolic exhortation by St. John Paul II on the role of the Christian family in the world that was inspired by the last synod on the family in 1980. According to St. John Paul, each person is a historical being who “knows, loves and accomplishes moral good in stages of growth.” Several bishops referred to graduality in their remarks during an afternoon session dedicated to the theme of “God’s plan for marriage and the family.” “Despite serious flaws that we always identify in Western culture, we also have to discern and to declare what the steppingstones are for Christian wisdom,” one bishop said, according to Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, an assistant to the Holy See Press Office, who did not identify the bishop in accordance with synod rules. Discussing the church’s attitude toward “irregular” relationships, such as those of civilly married or cohabitating Catholic couples, another bishop drew an analogy with the Catholic understanding of other Christian churches. While the church is said to subsist fully only in the Catholic Church, other Christian communities are believed to possess important elements for sanctification. By the same token, “there is a full and ideal vision of the Christian family, but there are absolutely valid and important elements even of sanctification and of true love that may be present even when one does not fully realize this ideal,” the bishop said, as paraphrased by the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi. Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, who also spoke at the Oct. 6 session, told reporters the next day that the “law of graduality” is a “law of pastoral moral theology which permits people, all of us, to take one step at a time in our search for holiness in our lives.” The cardinal, who attended the 1980 synod as a priest assisting a participating bishop, recalled that St. John Paul II had made an important point on the subject at the conclusion of the synod. “He said, yes, there is a law of graduality, but it should not be confused with a graduality of the law,” Cardinal Nichols said. “He was saying the vision, the teaching of the church is consistent and is offered to everybody. So it’s not as if there’s one law at this time in your life and another law later in your life, but there is a pathway on which we’ll walk.” Another synod father, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, Germany, told reporters Oct. 6 that the idea of graduality could help the church develop a new way of speaking about sexuality. “We cannot have always 100 percent, and I would say good and bad, that’s not so easy to make the difference,” the cardinal said in English. “There is a development, a way, in the biography or in a relationship and so on.” Cardinal Marx, chairman of the German bishops’ conference, also said that the “great majority” of German bishops support German Cardinal Walter Kasper’s controversial proposal to make it easier for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion, even if they have not obtained annulments of their first, sacramental marriages. “I think it is very important to see that we have ways or that there is a graduality also in the way to the sacrament,” Cardinal Marx said.

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