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Archbishop Vicenzo Paglia, at a press conference February 12, 2024Michael Haynes

VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — Responding to LifeSiteNews’ questioning on his previous statement supporting contraception, the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life disputed the claim but added that the Church’s moral teaching “requires continued reflection.”

Speaking at a press conference on the sidelines of the Pontifical Academy for Life’s (PAV) assembly on Monday, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia outlined part of his view regarding Catholic morality with regard to contraception. 

LifeSiteNews asked the PAV president if he still held to the views expressed in a 2022 interview when he stated he “believe(s) the day will come” when Pope Francis or a successor would issue a document on moral issues in line with the PAV’s recently published book, which opened the door to permitting contraception.

“On this interview, I don’t think I said as you have,” Paglia responded. 

Paglia’s 2022 interview comments came in light of the highly controversial and much-contested The Theological Ethics of Life book – born out of a previous PAV assembly – that proposes both contraception and artificial insemination as morally acceptable.

Shortly thereafter, Jesuit-run La Civilta Cattolica – notable for having its content reviewed by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State before publishing – summarized and promoted the PAV’s book, asking in light of the text if Francis might soon issue “a new encyclical or apostolic exhortation on bioethics that might be called ‘Gaudium Vitae.’”

Paglia agreed with this suggestion when speaking to The Tablet in autumn 2022. He told The Tablet that the “whole architecture of the ethical dimension of life” must be developed. As an example of the change he meant, Paglia referenced Pope Francis’ controversial declaration that the death penalty is “contrary to the Gospel,” a statement the Pope has since often repeated, even changing the Catechism of the Catholic Church to state that the death penalty is “inadmissible,” despite Catholic teaching and Sacred Scripture affirming the moral permissibility of the death penalty. 

READ: Pope’s change to Catechism contradicts natural law and the deposit of Faith  

Expanding on his answer to LifeSiteNews on Monday, Paglia referred to the base text that gave rise to the Theological Ethics of Life, which has just been published under the title Gaudium Vitae or The Joy of Life. The new text, Paglia said, is about looking at the teaching of morality under the view of “the development of the Church’s tradition, because this has taken place continuously.”

Paglia presented an “example” of an alleged change in Church teaching on contraception, attesting that there was a change in position between Pius XI and Pius XII on the prohibition of the use of natural methods to lessen the likelihood of conceiving. 

Paglia argued that Pius XII was more permissive in allowing natural practices such as NFP while Pius XI had banned them, saying that the alleged change demonstrated the understanding of contraception had “deepened.”

“So these moral teachings, in my opinion, require continued reflection,” he said. “In fact, it’s not just a matter of, as you say, resolving some issues. The issue is to understand more passionately, more clearly, more strongly, the behavior in… respect to the inspiration of Scripture, Tradition and also the Magisterium.”

As LifeSiteNews has previously presented, the Catholic prohibition on artificial contraception has remained constant, nor did Pius XI ban the use of natural methods (known commonly known as NFP) as Paglia attested. Section 59 of Pius XI’s Casti Connubii notes that couples are not “considered as acting against nature who in the married state use their right in the proper manner although on account of natural reasons either of time or of certain defects, new life cannot be brought forth.”

Pius XII’s 1951 Address to Midwives affirmed Casti Connubii, and also outlined the liceity of the use of the “matrimonial right even during the days of natural sterility.”

READ: The Church’s total ban on contraception cannot be changed by Pope Francis or anyone else  

However, Pius XII presented the warning shared by Pius XI, condemning the “abuse” of “the perversion of the act itself,” namely contraception, along with strongly warning against spouses who are “limiting the conjugal act exclusively to those (naturally sterile) periods,” saying that “then their conduct must be examined more closely.”

Citing the aging demographic and the decline of birthing rates, Paglia told LifeSite that moral issues are not answerable based on “individual cases,” but that “there is a need for a new vision that accompanies people’s lives.” 

Paglia’s comments to LifeSite echo his previous statements on the topic of contraception in light of the outrage by numerous Catholics about the Theological Ethics of Life along with those about the PAV itself. In defending the book against criticism from concerned Catholics online, the PAV wrote in 2022 that theology requires “progress” as part of a natural process. “Be careful: what is dissent today can change,” the PAV wrote.

However, the Catholic Church’s prohibition on artificial contraception is not an aspect subject to future modification. Pope John Paul II declared in 1988 that such teaching on the topic “belongs to the permanent patrimony of the Church’s moral doctrine.”

Some five years before that, John Paul II had noted how any attempts to justify contraception were impossible and illicit:

In this perspective, contraception is to be judged objectively so profoundly unlawful, as never to be, for any reason, justified. To think or to say the contrary is equal to maintaining that in human life, situations may arise in which it is lawful not to recognize God as God.

However, the PAV is no stranger to controversy regarding the Catholic Church’s moral teaching. Paglia issued a call in 2019 for the PAV to “widen its scope of reflection” and said that Pope Francis warned the PAV “that it is risky to look at human life in a way that detaches it from experience and reduces it to biology or to an abstract universal, separated from relationships and history.” 

The PAV has been described as being permeated by “heretical gnosticism” after it was overhauled by Francis’ new statutes beginning in November 2016. Under the new terms, members were no longer required to sign a declaration that they uphold the Church’s pro-life teachings while also expanding the PAV’s mandate to include a focus on the environment.