March 21, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — Since Pope Francis’ controversial remarks on contraception, in the context of a question about the Zika virus, on his February 18 return flight from Mexico, several prominent Catholic theologians have warned that the pope erred, and his own spokesman seemed to interpret the remarks in a way that would contradict Catholic doctrine.
According to Fr. Federico Lombardi, Francis was saying that “The contraceptive or condom, in particular cases of emergency or gravity, could be the object of discernment in a serious case of conscience.”
“The teaching of the Church on the intrinsic immorality of contraception is unchangeable and no pope can change this teaching.”
The papal quotes sparked a worldwide media storm, with many news outlets claiming that the Catholic Church had dropped its opposition to artificial contraception in serious circumstances. While several bishops have applauded the so-called “re-evaluation” of contraception, few, if any, have spoken critically of his remarks.
One of the world’s most outspoken bishops in confronting the concerning developments in the Vatican, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, the auxiliary bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan, agreed to be interviewed on the topic. Answering LifeSite’s questions almost exclusively by providing references to teaching documents of the Church, Bishop Schneider sets straight not only Church teaching on the matter but also how bishops and lay Catholics should handle the Pope’s missteps.
Quoting Humanae Vitae, Bishop Schneider affirmed the Church’s perennial teaching that contraception is “intrinsically evil.” He added, quoting the Catechism, that even legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses (such as avoidance of Zika transmission) do not justify recourse to contraception.
Speaking to the Pope’s involvement, Bishop Schneider said, “The teaching of the Church on the intrinsic immorality of contraception is unchangeable and no pope can change this teaching, because the Church through the Holy Spirit taught this truth always and everywhere (semper et ubique) in the same sense and in the same signification (eodem sensu eademque sententia).”
When asked how the faithful should react in the situation where Pope Francis seems to have spoken erroneously on the subject, Bishop Schneider said, “The faithful should react in the same way as did all the saint confessors of the faith in all times and as did our forefathers according to the words which the Holy Spirit spoke through the mouth of the holy Apostles: ‘Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3).”
Bishop Schneider concluded, quoting St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians: “Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ (Gal 1: 9-10).”
The full Q&A with Bishop Schneider follows:
1. LifeSite: When we speak about contraception, is there a moral difference between methods? For instance, between Onanism, the use of barrier methods such as condoms, and chemical methods? Can one use contraception of any kind to prevent children from being born with birth defects? Are various kinds of contraception immoral independently of their abortifacient properties? Is each kind of contraceptive intrinsically evil such that they are never permitted? What is the relationship between openness to life and the sexual act?
Bishop Schneider: We should steadfastly hold on to the truth taught by the Magisterium: “Every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil” (Paul VI, Humanae vitae, 14). “Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception)” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2399). “This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act. The reason is that the fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life—and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman. And if each of these essential qualities, the unitive and the procreative, is preserved, the use of marriage fully retains its sense of true mutual love and its ordination to the supreme responsibility of parenthood to which man is called. We believe that our contemporaries are particularly capable of seeing that this teaching is in harmony with human reason” (Paul VI, Humanae vitae, 12). “Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality” (John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, 32).
2. LifeSite: Can medical procedures that have contraceptive effects be used?
Bishop Schneider: The question is ambiguous. Contraception is a concrete act in order to prevent the conception. Contraception is always immoral. Only when medical procedures intend directly the treatment and the cure of health problems having thereby only in a collateral way not a contraceptive but more precisely a sterilizing effect, they can be used in the sense of a good act with double effect. Saint Thomas Aquinas says: “Nothing hinders one act from having two effects, only one of which is intended, while the other is beside the intention. Now moral acts take their species according to what is intended, and not according to what is beside the intention, since this is accidental” (S.th. II-II, q. 64, a. 7).
3. LifeSite: If the sexual act is itself compromised (if it is outside the context of marriage, or if it is deliberately contraceptive, for instance), do additional means of compromising the sexual act make those acts worse? Or is it already simply immoral, such that additional compromises do not change the gravity of the act? (For instance: if two people are fornicating, does using a condom make the act worse?)
Bishop Schneider: Additional immoral aspects in performing an immoral sexual act (p.e. contraception, adultery, fornication, sodomy) do aggravate the morality of the act, although the aggravating circumstances do not change the species of this act. Saint Thomas Aquinas says: “Ad 2: A circumstance may aggravate a sin either way. For if it is evil, it does not follow that it constitutes the sin's species; because it may multiply the ratio of evil within the same species. And if it be not evil, it may aggravate a sin in relation to the malice of another circumstance. Ad 3: Reason should direct the action not only as regards the object, but also as regards every circumstance. Therefore one may turn aside from the rule of reason through corruption of any single circumstance; for instance, by doing something when one ought not or where one ought not; and to depart thus from the rule of reason suffices to make the act evil. This turning aside from the rule of reason results from man's turning away from God, to Whom man ought to be united by right reason” (S.th. I-II, q. 73, a. 7).
4. LifeSite: When the Holy Father made his remarks about contraception in cases of rape and they were confirmed by Fr. Lombardi, it seemed to most of the world that the teaching of the Church had changed on contraception. How is a bishop or priest to handle such a situation?
Bishop Schneider: The teaching of the Church on the intrinsic immorality of contraception is unchangeable and no pope can change this teaching, because the Church through the Holy Spirit taught this truth always and everywhere (semper et ubique) in the same sense and in the same signification (eodem sensu eademque sententia).
5. LifeSite: How should the lay faithful react in this situation?
Bishop Schneider: The faithful should react in the same way as did all the saint confessors of the faith in all times and as did our forefathers according to the words which the Holy Spirit spoke through the mouth of the holy Apostles: “Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3); “Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal 1: 9-10).