venerdì 11 maggio 2018

The Wall Street Journal
(Francis X. Rocca) Fifty years ago this July, Pope Paul VI promulgated his encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” which reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s traditional prohibition of artificial birth control and set off one of the most divisive debates in modern church history. Catholics have overwhelmingly rejected the document’s teaching. A 2014 Univision poll found that large majorities of self-identified Catholics in traditional strongholds of the faith favored the use of contraceptives: 93% in Brazil, 84% in Italy and 68% in the Philippines. In the U.S., a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center found that only 13% of weekly Mass-going Catholics thought contraception was morally wrong.
Yet the encyclical’s defenders insist that time has vindicated Pope Paul, who warned that contraception would “open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards,” a loss of respect for women and coercive policies of population control.
“Humanae Vitae” had its origins in a decision by St. John XXIII, shortly before his death in 1963, to establish a panel of experts in demography, medicine and economics to address rising concern about population growth. His successor Pope Paul expanded the commission to include cardinals, bishops and theologians as well as married couples, and shifted the focus to moral questions, particularly over the birth-control pill, which the U.S. had approved for use in 1960.
The pontifical commission was divided on the question and submitted two reports to the pope in 1966, with the majority arguing that a husband and wife could morally use contraception on certain occasions, as long as they were generally open to having children. When this was leaked to the press the next year, it raised expectations that a modernizing trend which had begun at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), bringing such innovations as the Mass in local languages instead of Latin and a more open relationship with other religions, would now extend to moral teaching.
Pope Paul agonized over his decision for two years after receiving the reports.
“How many times have We felt the inadequacy of Our poor person to cope with the formidable apostolic obligation of having to make a pronouncement on this matter!” he later recounted, in a speech striking for its raw expression of vulnerability (despite the formal diction and use of the papal “we”).
In its vision of sexual love between husband and wife, “Humanae Vitae” was progressive for the church of its time. Popes had previously taught that the primary end of marriage was procreation and child rearing, but “Humanae Vitae” described the “unitive” significance of sexual intercourse—its power to express and enhance marital love—as equal in value to its procreative significance. The encyclical gave new emphasis to the dignity of marriage as companionship between men and women.
But because these aspects of sex were inseparable, Pope Paul concluded, any form of artificial birth control was “intrinsically wrong” and never permissible.
The pope reaffirmed the church’s acceptance of birth control through abstinence from sex during a woman’s fertile period. Such methods, by which a “married couple rightly use a faculty provided them by nature,” are “completely different” than artificial methods, the pope wrote, since the latter “obstruct the natural development of the generative process” and thus transgress the “limits of the order of reality established by God.”
For many progressive Catholics, “Humanae Vitae” was one of several calamities in the tragic year of 1968, along with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy and the election of Richard Nixon.
Conservatives, on the other hand, lamented the pope’s failure to push back against dissent. The archbishop of Washington, D.C., punished priests for publicly criticizing “Humanae Vitae” shortly after its publication, but the Vatican later revoked the penalties. According to the American theologian George Weigel, that signaled tolerance for dissent of other kinds, encouraging a “cafeteria Catholicism” of selective adherence to teaching that has since grown only more prevalent.
Although a number of bishops’ conferences, including those of Canada, Belgium and the Netherlands, responded to the encyclical with more liberal statements on contraception, encouraging Catholics to follow their own conscience on the matter, Pope Paul did not rebuke or rebut them. Until his death in 1978, he let “Humanae Vitae” speak for itself.
The pope’s silence has been read in different ways, with some saying it reflected openness to various interpretations. “It was a really close question for him. He couldn’t say that you couldn’t in good faith hold the other view,” says M. Cathleen Kaveny, a professor of theology and law at Boston College. “It was understood that you could [differ] and still be in good standing.”
Any ambiguity from the Vatican over contraception stopped after Pope Paul’s death in 1978 and the election of St. John Paul II. The new pontiff, who had served on the conservative minority of the “Humanae Vitae” panel, made defense of the encyclical a priority of his teaching.
After a total of 35 years under Pope John Paul and his successor Pope Benedict XVI, who also firmly defended “Humanae Vitae,” few of the world’s bishops voiced doubts about church teaching on contraception. That doctrine has been a major point of principle for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who waged a high-profile struggle with the Obama administration against the mandate to provide birth control in the new health-care law.
Last month, at a conference on “Humanae Vitae” at the Catholic University of America, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, credited the encyclical with prophetic qualities: “The #MeToo movement, emotional wreckage, sexual disease and date rape are the realities we’ve inherited from the sexual revolution. Paul VI would not be surprised.”
Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, says that the church’s long debate over contraception has become too “divisive and polemical,” and that he prefers instead to focus on applying the teaching of “Humanae Vitae” to new challenges, including the exploitation of surrogate mothers and the risk of dehumanization through cloning and other genetic engineering.
In the light of such developments, barely imaginable half a century ago, Pope Paul’s insistence on the inseparable link between sex and reproduction has taken on startling new relevance, the archbishop says.
Pope Francis, too, has praised “Humanae Vitae,” saying that Pope Paul “had the courage to side against the majority, defend moral discipline, put a brake on the culture, oppose Neo-Malthusianism, present and future.”
But the current pope has characteristically stressed the social dimension of the teaching, denouncing population-control programs in developing countries as “ideological colonization” by the West, while playing down the aspect of personal morality. He has even indicated tolerance of artificial birth control under certain circumstances.
In 2016, Pope Francis said that contraception could be permissible in areas struck with the Zika virus, because of evidence linking it to a birth defect. The Vatican spokesman explained that the pope meant a Catholic could rely on his or her “well-formed conscience” to decide whether to use “contraception or condoms” in “situations of grave urgency.”
Others have inferred even wider tolerance from the pope’s emphasis on the role of personal conscience. In a lecture last December in Rome, later published in the official newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, the Rev. Maurizio Chiodi, a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, argued that Pope Francis’ teaching on the family indicates that responsible parenthood can actually require the use of artificial birth control when natural methods are “impossible or impractical.”
The Vatican has not endorsed Father Chiodi’s interpretation, but neither has it issued a correction.
The Vatican spokesman says he knows of no plans for a speech or statement by Pope Francis on “Humanae Vitae” this year. After a half-century of controversy, such papal silence would itself be notable—and fodder for still more debate.
Fonte: The Wall Street Journal