ROME, January 8, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — Responsible parenthood can obligate a married couple to use artificial birth control, a recently appointed member of the Pontifical Academy for Life has argued, basing his theory on Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia.
Italian moral theologian Father Maurizio Chiodi said at a December 14 public lecture at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome that there are “circumstances — I refer to Amoris Laetitia, Chapter 8 — that precisely for the sake of responsibility, require contraception.”
Chapter 8 of the Pope’s 2016 document on the family has drawn controversy because of its differing interpretations on the issue of admitting some divorced and civilly “remarried” couples to Holy Communion.
When “natural methods are impossible or unfeasible, other forms of responsibility need to be found,” argued Fr. Chiodi in his lecture entitled: Re-reading Humanae Vitae (1968) in light of Amoris Laetitia (2016).
In such circumstances, he said, “an artificial method for the regulation of births could be recognized as an act of responsibility that is carried out, not in order to radically reject the gift of a child, but because in those situations responsibility calls the couple and the family to other forms of welcome and hospitality.”
The Italian professor’s comments come as the Church this year marks the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, which reaffirmed the Church’s ban on contraception. In his encyclical, Paul VI called artificial contraception “intrinsically wrong,” approved natural family planning, and upheld the Church’s teaching on conjugal love and responsible parenthood.
Chiodi’s lecture was the third in a series of talks being hosted this academic year by the Gregorian University’s faculty of social sciences and moral theology. The aim of the talks is to take a new and broad look at the encyclical “in the context of a time of change” and “more complex” situations.
Fr. Chiodi’s lecture also follows revelations that the Vatican quietly created a four-member commission with the Pope’s approval, in order to “promote a comprehensive and authoritative study” of Humanae Vitae to coincide with the anniversary. The move came after Pope Francis purged the Pontifical Academy for Life, filling it with new appointees (including Fr. Chiodi), some with dissenting views on Humanae Vitae. And they coincided with the Pope issuing on September 8 a papal decree replacing the John Paul II Institute with a new institute to carry forward the teaching of Amoris Laetitia.
Concerns about the conference series were first made public in the National Catholic Register by Edward Pentin, and by George Weigel in an article published in First Things. But Fr. Chiodi’s public lecture, which included students and religious sisters, may be the most explicit indication to date that an organized effort to challenge Humanae Vitae’s prohibition against artificial contraception is underway.
Taking on the JPII Institute
Fr. Chiodi, a professor of moral theology at the Northern University of Italy in Milan, began his talk by summarizing an article published in First Things during the 2015 Synod on the Family. Two professors from the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family had drawn up the “Appeal” that criticized paragraph 137 of the synod’s working document (Instrumentum Laboris) which focused on responsible parenthood and Humanae Vitae.
The authors took issue with the text, saying it contradicted the teaching of the Church’s Magisterium about moral norms, conscience, and moral judgment. In particular, they argued that it fell into the error of using particular situations to grant exceptions, which in turn, would permit someone to commit an intrinsically evil act in “good” conscience.
The authors further maintained that the text’s “ambiguous and imprecise formulations” suggested a “rejection of the existence of intrinsically evil acts,” and appeared to call into question the Tradition of the Church and the explicit teaching of Pope St. John Paul II’s 1993 encyclical on the fundamentals of the Church’s moral theology, Veritatis Splendor.
They urged the Synod Fathers to reject the paragraph, saying it “empties” Humanae Vitae of its “central teaching” and could have “devastating consequences.” The appeal was signed by 62 philosophers and theologians worldwide, including key figures from John Paul II Institutes in Rome, Washington D.C., Krakow, and Melbourne.
In his talk, Fr. Chiodi, who preferred to call the appeal an “accusation,” said the authors’ interpretation of paragraph 137 seemed “to force its meaning” and was “guided by a kind of methodical doubt or suspicion.” Chiodi added that the authors failed to address what he considered to be the central question in moral theology today, i.e. “the relationship between the objective and subjective.”
The Italian moral theologian explained that “normally, the objective is identified with the moral norm known by reason and the subjective is identified with the conscience enlightened by the law.” But he rejected this idea, arguing instead that “the relationship between objective and subjective is not a relationship between the norm known by reason and the conscience” but “between the act … and conscience.” The task for philosophers and theologians, Chiodi said, is to “rethink a theory of conscience” that recovers “the original link between conscience and the moral act.”
He concluded by saying that the authors’ final “accusation” — that paragraph 137 “undermines the central purpose of the encyclical” which is to offer a normative interpretation of the natural law — is a “theoretical question” which “requires us to think.”
The significance of silence
Fr. Chiodi dedicated the second part of his lecture to the relationship between Humanae Vitae and Amoris Laetitia. While he acknowledged that Humanae Vitae occupies “a very important place” in the “historical development” of the Church’s magisterium on marriage, he said the encyclical has become more of a “symbolic issue, criticized or rejected by those who were disappointed with its conclusions, or considered as a true pillar of Catholic moral doctrine on sexuality by others.”
The Italian priest attributed the encyclical’s increasing importance to its insertion in John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio, n. 29-34, but especially, he said, “to the fact that Veritatis Splendor n. 80 includes contraception among the ‘intrinsically evil’ acts.”
But from a pastoral point of view, he said the “urgency of the issue” of contraception “seems gradually to be diminishing.”
“While in the 50s and 60s was an urgent for believers, now the great majority of even believing married couples live as though the norm doesn’t exist,” he said.
“Officially and objectively the norm has remained,” but “even many pastors” don’t talk about it, he said. “In public, in catechesis, and in preaching, they prefer not to talk about it” while “in personal encounters they maintain a very indulgent attitude when the issue is raised.”
“And therefore,” he argued, “it’s significant that Amoris Laetitia speaks so little about it.”
Commenting further on the significance of this silence, Fr. Chiodi pointed out that Humanae Vitae is cited only six times in Amoris Laetitia. “It has been observed,” he added, that its most important reference — on the generation of life, responsible choice and conscience (paragraph 222) — presents “a relatively soft formulation” of Paul VI’s encyclical, since “it refrains from a clear and strong condemnation of differing positions, both systematic and normative.”
Moreover, Chiodi noted that Amoris Laetitia makes no “explicit reference” to contraception as “intrinsically evil,” adding that “it would have been very easy to do so given Veritatis Splendor.”
In light of the paucity of references to Paul VI’s landmark encyclical in Amoris Laetitia, Fr. Chiodi asked: “How can one claim to reread Humanae Vitae in light of Amoris Laetitia? It seems I’ve been given an impossible task.”
But he proceeded to do exactly what he feigned to be unachievable, moving straight to a consideration of what he called the “two great questions” that emerge in Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia. The first question, Fr. Chiodi said, is the “objective relevance of extenuating circumstances and subjective responsibility of the conscience.” The second: “the constitutive relationship between norm and discernment.”
His talk then took a sophistic turn through a wandering reflection on conscience, act, norm, and discernment. Fr. Chiodi himself acknowledged his ambitions “might be excessive” in the time allotted, but eventually got to the crux of his argument.
Through His Paschal Mystery, Fr. Chiodi said, “Jesus … opens to the believer the possibility of acting responsibly, that is, a way of acting that responds to grace, passing through the travails of history and of evil.”
“Within this perspective,” Chiodi argued, “moral norms are not reducible to rational objectivity but belong to human life understood as a story of salvation and grace. The norms conserve the good and instruct in the way of good. But they are historical.”
“In other words, they are subject to change,” an academic close to the Vatican told LifeSite. This is “nothing more than historicism and relativism,” he added.
Chiodi continued: “[Moral norms] have a symbolic and universal quality, because they point to the good to which they attest, and to the conscience which they instruct and guard.”
And “in this light,” Fr. Chiodi said, “discernment is not an activity added on” but is “the conscience itself.”
He then moved on to his last point — Humanae Vitae: conscience, norm and discernment — and said the theory he was proposing was aimed at “rethinking the anthropology of marriage in its core, on the one hand in sexual difference, and on the other in responsible fruitfulness.”
The “wisdom of Humanae Vitae,” he said, is to have stressed “the connection between the spousal relationship and generation,” which he believes is “the fundamental anthropological lesson that we have to take” from the encyclical.
Significantly, Fr. Chiodi said the reflection he had offered in his lecture “seems to authorize us to rethink the meaning of the moral norm of Humanae Vitae, so that we don’t concentrate on [it] as an objective truth that stands before reason, in this case, of the believing spouses.”
“My thought is to take up the anthropological meaning of the norm of Humanae Vitae,” Chiodi said. Therefore, he stressed, “it’s not a matter of abolishing the norm, but of demonstrating its meaning and truth.”
The academic speaking anonymously to LifeSite said that given Fr. Chiodi’s “clear historicism, it seems that for him, there is no objective truth.” For Chiodi, the source added, “there is no moral norm that is always normative.”
Some cases 'require' contraception
In the final part of his talk, Fr. Chiodi developed an “anthropology of marriage” based on what he considered its “four fundamental aspects”: The relationship between sexuality and sexual difference; the relationship between human sexuality and the spousal covenant; the relationship between marital communion and generation; and the meaning of responsibility in generation [i.e. responsible parenthood].
Before moving on to consider these four aspects, Fr. Chiodi said that “naturally, we need to ask if natural methods can and have to be the only form of responsible parenthood, or if this doesn’t need to be interpreted more broadly.”
He also noted, referring to Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia, that these four aspects have the character of a “promised good” which “opens up the possibility of failure.” Therefore, in these four aspects of marriage a person is called to “discern the good that is possible” and to avoid the “absolute opposition between good and evil, between black and white, as Amoris Laetitia says,” by considering “the very obscure and dramatic circumstances of life.”
Moving rapidly through the first three points, Fr. Chiodi came to the fourth, i.e. the meaning of responsible parenthood. He said the vocation inscribed in generation is to “recognize that generating is not creating” but involves “responding to a gift and recognizing with gratitude the call to welcome the presence of another.”
“I believe that this is what the natural methods of fecundity attest to,” Fr. Chiodi said. “They attest to the responsible character of generation, through the rhythm of time, the rhythm of the body of the other, the care for a relationship that involves dialogue and mutual acceptance, not the instrumentalization of the other.”
Having given a 40-minute lecture laden with ambiguities and vague philosophical theories, interspersed with intimations of where he was going, Fr. Chiodi in the last three minutes of his talk revealed his true intention and meaning — namely that, in some circumstances, artificial birth control is not only acceptable but even good and therefore is not “intrinsically evil.”
Fr. Chiodi concluded his lecture with remarkable frankness about his intentions, saying:
If it is true that the responsibility in generating is what these [natural] methods point to, then we can understand how, in situations when natural methods are impossible or unfeasible, other forms of responsibility need to be found. There are circumstances — I refer to Amoris Laetitia, Chapter 8 — that precisely for the sake of responsibility, require contraception. In these cases, a technological intervention does not negate the responsibility of the generating relationship. The insistence of the Church’s Magisterium on natural methods cannot be interpreted, in my opinion, as a norm which is an end in itself, nor as a mere conformity with biological laws, because the norm points to an anthropology, to the good of marital responsibility.
Technology [i.e. artificial birth control], in certain circumstances, can make it possible to guard the responsible quality of the sexual act, even in the decision not to generate, for all of the reasons that Paul VI, and even before, Pius XII already indicated as ‘plausible reasons’ for avoiding the conception of a child. Technology [i.e. artificial birth control] it seems to me, cannot be rejected a priori, when the birth of a child is at play, because technology [i.e. artificial birth control] is a form of acting, and so requires discernment on the basis of these circumstances, one however that is irreducible to a material interpretation of the norm. In the above-mentioned circumstances, then, an artificial method for the regulation of birth could be recognized as an act of responsibility that is carried out, not in order to radically reject the gift of a child but because in those situations, responsibility calls the couple and the family to other forms of welcome and hospitality.
Fr. Chiodi’s talk was introduced by one of the chief organizers of the conference series, Argentine Jesuit Father Humberto Miguel Yanez. Fr. Yanez is the Director of the Department of Moral Theology at the Gregorian University. Yanez is known to be close to Pope Francis, and in fact Bergoglio was Yanez’ religious superior as a young Jesuit (see Pope Francis, untying the knots).
In May 2015, Father Yanez participated in the “secret synod” at the Gregorian, during which a number of theologians sought to sway the synod on the family to accept same-sex unions, dispense with the term “intrinsically evil,” and introduce a controversial “theology of love.”
Father Chiodi’s December 14 lecture is not his first attempt to justify contraception, nor to use arguments that critics say are condemned in Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor.
Earlier this year, both he and Father Yanez also took part in the presentation at the Gregorian of a new book entitled Amoris Laetitia: A Turning Point for Moral Theology, edited by Stephan Goertz and Caroline Witting, in which it is argued that Amoris Laetitia represents a paradigm shift for all moral theology and especially in interpreting Humanae Vitae.
Fr. Chiodi’s lecture was followed by an accompanying talk by Emilia Palladino, a professor of family ethics in the Gregorian’s department of social sciences. Palladino, one of the chief organizers of the conference series together with Fr. Yanez, also expressed support for the use of artificial contraception in some circumstances.
Fr. Chiodi’s talk comes after several articles appeared in Avvenire, the Italian bishops’ newspaper, promoting a similar position. A summary of Fr. Chiodi’s talk is expected to be published in Avvenire in mid-January.
Asked for an interview by LifeSite, Fr. Chiodi declined to comment, saying these are “sensitive matters.”
Moral theologian reacts: Chiodi’s theories vs. Church doctrine
Here below are comments on Fr. Chiodi’s talk from a well-respected moral theologian who wished to remain anonymous.
The Church’s position on this matter is abundantly clear, and has been repeated many times. According to perennial Magisterial teaching, the use of contraceptives is an intrinsic evil, that is, a moral evil that never becomes good no matter what circumstances may exist. As an objective moral evil, the use of contraceptives therefore is never responsible, but rather is a practice that is always irresponsible because it undermines the dignity of the spouses and instrumentalizes the conjugal union by destroying its chief end, namely, procreation.
Fr. Chiodi’s position, therefore, is no different from a moral relativism which states that there are no actions which by their very object are intrinsically evil. Instead, his view assumes the principle that circumstances can make any action good and laudable provided certain circumstances exist and the agent act with a good intention. Such a view undermines the entire moral order and will justify every kind of moral disorder.
Pius XI makes this abundantly clear, saying:
Since, therefore, openly departing from the uninterrupted Christian tradition some recently have judged it possible solemnly to declare another doctrine regarding this question, the Catholic Church, to whom God has entrusted the defense of the integrity and purity of morals, standing erect in the midst of the moral ruin which surrounds her, in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain, raises her voice in token of her divine ambassadorship and through Our mouth proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin (Casti Conubii, n. 56).
Likewise, Paul VI in Humanae Vitae declares:
“Excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means. […] Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one, or that such intercourse would merge with procreative acts of past and future to form a single entity, and so be qualified by exactly the same moral goodness as these. […] Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong. (n. 14)
The Church, said Paul VI, “condemns as always unlawful the use of means which directly prevent conception, even when the reasons given for the later practice may appear to be upright and serious” (n. 16).
Pope Paul VI also stated in Humanae Vitae, n. 14, that “it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong.”
And in Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II states that:
[T]he negative values inherent in the “contraceptive mentality” – which is very different from responsible parenthood, lived in respect for the full truth of the conjugal act are such that they in fact strengthen this temptation [to commit abortion] when an unwanted life is conceived. Indeed, the pro- abortion culture is especially strong precisely where the Church's teaching on contraception is rejected. [emphasis added] (Evangelium Vitae n. 13)
…Today an important part of policies which favour life is the issue of population growth. Certainly public authorities have a responsibility to “intervene to orient the demography of the population. But such interventions must always take into account and respect the primary and inalienable responsibility of married couples and families, and cannot employ methods which fail to respect the person and fundamental human rights, beginning with the right to life of every innocent human being. It is therefore morally unacceptable to encourage, let alone impose, the use of methods such as contraception, sterilization and abortion in order to regulate births (n. 91).
It is surely significant that Francis never quotes St. John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendor. Had he done so, Francis could have easily shown that he rejects all forms of moral relativism, situationism, and the sorts of theories proposed by Fr. Chiodi. This is particularly clear with respect to Veritatis Splendor no. 80:
[T]he acts which, in the Church's moral tradition, have been termed “intrinsically evil” (intrinsece malum): […] are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances. Consequently, without in the least denying the influence on morality exercised by circumstances and especially by intentions, the Church teaches that “there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object.
John Paul adds:
With regard to intrinsically evil acts, and in reference to contraceptive practices whereby the conjugal act is intentionally rendered infertile, Pope Paul VI teaches: ‘Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good, it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (cf. Rom 3:8) — in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general.’