- Trying to square the circle
The opening days of the Synod on the Family have revealed distinct differences of opinion between the participants. How can their commitment to church teaching be matched with compassion for those who struggle with it?
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It appears that the followers of the Natural Law theory, and the followers of Grisez's "New Natural Law" theory, both agree that contraception and abortion are wrong (The Tablet, 7 June). However, each group believes that the others' arguments and the philosophical routes by which these conclusions are reached, are incorrect .
The American, Grisez, was well aware that there is a contradiction at the heart of the Natural Law theory as generally understood. This is because of the use of the word "law". It can used in the sense of describing things simply happening and never changing. No matter how many apples fall from how many trees, they always fall down and never up. However, the other use of the word is prescriptive, "thou shalt" or "thou shalt not" and is a man-made rule or order. The Church's position, using the Natural Law, seems to be that because things always happen in nature human beings must ensure that they continue to happen (prescription, thou shalt) which does not logically follow. In any case, this may be true of apples, following the unchangable law of gravity, but it is obviously not true of either contraception or abortion, both of which take place with frequency, and always have done.
Grisez recognised this inconsistency, but wishing to preserve the Church's teaching, he originated what he thought was a simpler but equally logical system. Believing that everything created by God has a natural end or purpose, which should not be frustrated, he stated that contraception and abortion are always wrong, not because of the Natural Law but because of the Church's justified ban. The Jesuit Father McCormick rejected this explanation as poor philosophy, not fit for purpose, though agreeing with his conclusions.
While these important discussions take place, a young Asian woman recently died unnecessarily in Ireland, because no doctor would take the responsibility to remove the already dead child from her womb. I do not know if this was because of philosophy, papal interdict or the Irish legal system, but I doubt if her distraught husband or motherless children were able to appreciate the finer points of the argument. Meanwhile, clinging to the ban on contraception raises the spectre of the "rhythm method" for those Catholics desperate to limit their families.
Pope Francis has recently said, quoting Freud, that any idealisation covers an attack. Therefore, from a psychological point of view, idealisation by celibate men of married sexual intercourse, fertility and procreation, insisting that procreation should never be frustrated under any circumstances, seems often to cover an attack, the result of unconscious envy, causing love-making to be as fraught and convoluted as possible.
Pauline Webb, Bedford
With reference to your correspondent's query (The Tablet, 7 June) as to the role of Man and God respectively for childbirth, surely the answer is that a child is both a gift from God and a gift to God. Man did not invent the process but has been given the responsibility and gift of co-creation whereby he shares the joys of existence in this life and the next by bringing new life into the world, planned or unplanned.
David Quinn, Paris, France
Gerald O'Collins (The Tablet, 21 June) seems to strive to make the point that had John Paul I survived, his papacy may have overturned or formalised the dissent to Humanae Vitae, based on the Book of Prayer for the dioceses of Triveneto in 1977 whilst he was Patriarch of Venice.
That may be true, but the same Albino Luciani, before his election as Pope at the conclave, was unnecessarily vocally supportive of the process which brought about the first so called "test tube baby" in 1978 in Oldham General Hospital. Now that we know that countless millions of our embryonic brothers and sisters lie frozen or discarded in IVF facilities the world over, the same generous pastoral spirit of the "Smiling Pope" would have been extended to them too had he survived. Fr O Collins is right to ask "Could one dare to hope..?"
Edmund Adamus, Director for Marriage & Family Life, Westminster Diocese