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Professor John Finnis

VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — Prominent former professor of natural law and legal philosophy at Oxford, John Finnis, has defended the infallibility of the Church’s condemnation of contraception. 

At a conference of theologians and canon lawyers held in Rome in December, Finnis argued that the teaching fulfills the four conditions necessary for a doctrine to be regarded as infallible, whether it was formally defined as such or not.  

READ: Prominent Vatican theologian: Pontifical Academy for Life is undermining Catholic sexual morality

The conference, organized by the International Catholic Jurists Forum, was titled “A Response to the Pontifical Academy for Life’s Publication: Theological Ethics of Life: Scripture, Tradition, Practical Challenges.” The book in question was published last summer by the Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV) following a conference in which both contraception and artificial insemination, which have been definitively condemned by the Church, were proposed as possibly morally licit in “certain circumstances.” 

READ: Pontifical Academy for Life’s new book deviates from Church teaching on contraception, artificial insemination 

The publication of the book rekindled heated debate over the Church’s prohibition of the practice of contraception and the status of the teaching of Humane Vitae. As LifeSiteNews reported at the time, “Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the president of the Academy, claimed the seminar and the book were simply ‘opening a dialogue between … different opinions.’” In August, pro-contraception priest Father Maurizio Chiodi, a member of the PAV, published an interview in which he declared that the moral teaching of the Church articulated in both Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae and Pius XI’s Casti Connubi, condemning the practice of contraception as gravely sinful, was “reformable doctrine.”  

These theologians of the PAV follow what Finnis called the “new paradigm,” pushed after Humane Vitae, in which openly dissenting theologians banded together to form a “consensus of the majority of moral theologians,” in an attempt to oppose the Magisterium with strength of numbers.  

This paradigm shift, Finnis argued, has resulted in the present lack of unity on this moral teaching of the Church among the bishops, although on this same question there was long unanimity among the Church’s pastors prior to the dissent that plagued the pontificate of Paul VI. Finnis argued that whereas the loss of such unity within the bishops of the Church “is a problem for them and for the sees they govern,” on the other hand, it is “not for the truth of a teaching.” The prior long-standing unity of Catholic bishops regarding the evil of contraception and the definitive charter of this teaching suffices to see that the teaching is infallible. 

Explaining the four conditions for the infallibility of the ordinary Magisterium, Finnis said the teaching of the bishops of the Church who are in communion with the Pope and each other cannot err when, “[i] authoritatively teaching [ii] matters of faith and morals, they [iii] agree in one judgment [iv] as that to be held definitively.” Finnis pointed out that prior to Vatican II even more liberal theologians, such as Jesuit Karl Rahner, admitted that if a doctrine were taught by the Church “everywhere in the world as a commandment of God, she is preserved from error by the assistance of the Holy Ghost.” 

Finnis then argued that this is just what happened in the case of the teaching on contraception before Paul VI. According to the report of National Catholic Register’s Edward Pentin, “The evidence included the long history of opposition to contraception from bishops, saints, doctors of the Church and moral theologians; canon law’s penalization of the ‘moral crime’ of artificial contraception from the 13th century until 1917; and the ‘absence of any significant negative reaction’ within the Church to the statements in which Pius XI and then Pius XII authoritatively reaffirmed the teaching against contraception as constant ‘from the beginning’ and unchangeable.” 

Finnis stated that it has always been held as a “received and certain part” of the Church’s moral doctrine that intentionally placing an obstacle to the fertility of sexual intercourse — making it contraceptive and sterile — is a “matter of mortal sin endangering salvation.”  

Finnis rooted this doctrine in the “apostolic tradition conveying the teachings of Christ” which he said “constitute a revealed unity of developing and developed doctrine.” This doctrine includes the teaching that “sex is exclusively for marriage,” and that “within marriage, it is reserved to acts that in their culmination are authentically expressive of — signify, without willed separation — each of marriage’s two defining goods … proles and fides, offspring and marital commitment.”    

Finnis also pointed out that already at the time of Humane Vitae Anglican theologians “were thinking their way from the acceptance of contraception” to “the acceptance of the moral permissibility of homosexual sex acts,” a line of reasoning that is increasingly evident in dissenting Catholic bishops and priests. In both contraception and homosexuality, sexual acts are rendered infertile. In the first, the generation of new life is rejected by human choice, in the second, it is impossible. 

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

In spite of the increased rejection of the Church’s teaching on the grave sinfulness of contraception on the part of priests and bishops, Finnis declared that as believers, “we are left with the conclusion that because it was everywhere taught as to be held definitively, it should be regarded by all Catholics as certainly true, now as always, even though the episcopal unity that guaranteed that judgment as irreversible has subsequently shattered.”