May 30, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — Rumors are circulating that Pope Francis has set up a secret commission to “re-examine” the Church’s teaching against the evil of contraception. Let’s hope they prove false.
Such a commission under Francis’ leadership would likely undermine and even corrupt the Church’s beautiful teaching on the meaning and purpose of conjugal relations.
We saw exactly this sort of undermining happen during the Synods on the Family. The pope’s final document, the ambiguous Amoris Laetitia, has been used to undermine the indissolubility of marriage, to approve of adulterous relationships, to give Holy Communion to adulterers and fornicators, and to elevate conscience above the laws of God as reflected in the perennial teachings of the Church.
Earlier this month veteran Italian Vaticanist Marco Tosatti blogged about “unconfirmed reports from good sources” that Francis “is on the verge of appointing – or even might have already formed – a secret commission to examine and potentially study changes to the Church’s position on the issue of contraception.”
“We have so far no official confirmation of the existence and composition of this entity; but a request for confirmation, or for denial, which was put forward to the competent authorities, has so far not been answered – which could be a signal in itself – in the sense that, if the report was completely unfounded, it wouldn’t take much to say so,” Tosatti wrote on May 11.
Tosatti's claim of a secret commission has, of this writing, still not been confirmed or denied by Vatican officials.
Six days later, in a May 17 article, OnePeterFive’s Maike Hickson reported that she was able to confirm Tosatti's claim of a secret commission by a “well-informed source in Rome” who was, however, unable to “give specific names of the members of that commission.”
My huge fear is that such a commission with Francis at the helm can only arrive at the conclusion, contrary to Catholic faith, that “pastoral accompaniment” of people in “concrete situations” means allowing them to “discern” the use of contraceptives in “serious” cases according to a “well-informed conscience.”
I hope I’m dead wrong. But my fear that the commission would reach such a conclusion is based on what Pope Francis has already said on various occasions about the matter of contraception. Here are a few samples of what he has said that make me so worried:
- In a March 2014 interview with Corriere della Sera, Francis said that the question of birth control must be answered not by “changing the doctrine” but by “making pastoral (ministry) take into account the situations and that which it is possible for people to do.”
- During a November 2015 press conference on his return flight from Africa, Francis, when asked if it was time for the Church to allow the use of condoms to prevent HIV agreed that condom use is “one of the methods,” but that it brought into conflict the fifth and sixth commandments.
- During his February 2016 return flight from Mexico, Francis said that contraception may be the “lesser of two evils” for parents wanting to avoid conceiving a child in areas affected by the Zika virus. Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi confirmed the pope’s words the following day, stating: “The contraceptive or condom, in particular cases of emergency or gravity, could be the object of ‘discernment’ in a serious case of conscience. This is what the Pope said.”
- Last November Francis praised the 1960s German moral theologian Bernard Häring, one of the most prominent dissenters from Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, for his new morality which the pope said helped “moral theology to flourish.” Francis praised Häring in the context of answering a question about a morality he has often spoken about based on “discernment.”
The Catholic Church condemns the use of contraception as an objectively evil act, meaning that it is gravely wrong in every instance. The use of contraception contradicts the procreative purpose of the conjugal act, the fact that it must always be open to life, and it violates the unity of the spouses when one spouse blatantly rejects the gift of fertility of the other spouse.
Fertility in marriage is a beautiful and precious gift from God. The marital act goes hand-in-hand with respecting the beauty and responsibility that goes along with this great gift. Contraception essentially destroys the gift of fertility within marriage. The result is that it poisons true love, turning the marital act into selfish pleasure seeking.
For this reason, the Church “teaches that each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life,” states Humanae Vitae, the 1968 encyclical of Pope Paul VI that reiterated the Church's definitive teaching about the moral evil of contraception.
“To use this divine gift destroying, even if only partially, its meaning and its purpose is to contradict the nature both of man and of woman and of their most intimate relationship, and therefore it is to contradict also the plan of God and His will,” the encyclical states.
The Church advises couples seeking to postpone pregnancy for grave reasons to avoid conjugal relations during the woman’s fertile period. Scientific methods approved by the Catholic Church for determining when a woman is fertile include the Sympto-Thermal Method and the Billings Ovulation Method. Studies have shown that fertility awareness methods, when used correctly, are just as effective or even more effective in postponing pregnancy when compared to hormonal and barrier contraceptive methods.
Will Francis change Catholic teaching against the evil of contraception if the rumors prove true? He cannot, but sadly we can expect his conclusion on the findings of the committee would be sufficiently ambiguous that anybody who wanted to contracept in “good conscience” would feel justified in doing so. I imagine that it would be a rehashing of the Canadian bishops’ infamous “Winnipeg Statement” that dissented from Humanae Vitae.
Would Catholics who choose to contracept based on an ambiguous teaching from the Pope be culpable for their sinful actions? Their culpability would be lessened, but the temporal effects of the sin of contraception would just as much plague their marriages, potentially resulting in marriage breakdown, divorce, misery, and possibly eternal separation from God.
Christ gave warning to those who caused others to sin. He said it would be better if a millstone were hung around their neck and they were cast out to sea than to cause others to sin. If Pope Francis has set up a commission to examine ‘the pill,’ I hope and pray that whatever teaching may arise will affirm previous Catholic teaching, in its fullness, highlighting the evil of contraception while warning Catholic couples to stay as far away from this spiritual poison as possible.