13 June 2014
Consequences of applying natural law to contraception
Posted on the website of the 1 June edition of Catholic Family News are eight lectures on Humanae Vitae. Fr Peter Ryan SJ’s comprehensive talk on the development of teaching on sexuality mentions that Germain Grisez (Russell Shaw, Letters, 7 June) was an adviser to Fr John Ford SJ, one of the four dissenting minority theologians on the Pontifical Commission for Birth Control. Several married couples had given evidence to that commission which was in part responsible for the majority view that the guilt of contraception could not be demonstrated from Natural Law.
In their Minority Working Paper is a piece rubbishing the evidence of these couples on the benefit of frequent loving intercourse in these words: “Conjugal love is above all spiritual (if the love is genuine) and it requires no specific carnal gesture, much less its repetition is some determined frequency. Consequently, the affirmed sense of generosity and the absence of hedonism are suspect, when we find the intimate love of the whole person between a father and daughter, a brother and sister, without the need of carnal gestures”. Are people who can ask such a question and make such a comparison fit to moralise on the behaviour of married couples? Did Germain Grisez or his colleague John Finnis notice and concur with this passage?
What of the teaching of Christ: “They two shall be one flesh, therefore are they no longer two but one flesh”? Surely these words uttered by God the Son, place “carnal gestures” at the core of the married relationship? Bodily union is the physical expression of a lifelong union of heart and mind professed in the Old Sarum marriage vow by the words, “to have and to hold … till death do us part”.
Can Natural Law ignore both vow and Scripture?
Elizabeth Price, Maidstone, Kent
The Japanese Cardinal Stephen Fumio Hamao (1930-2007) criticised the “over-intellectualised” theology of the Church which is surely exemplified in Russell Shaw’s proposal that the historical Natural Law Theory be replaced by the “New Natural Law Theory” advanced by Germain Grisez. The word “Law” endows these arcane theories with a spurious authority which alienates those who struggle to find the right way in their lives.
Peter Foster, Sheffield
One way of advancing discussion about the Church and contraception might be to base it not on the secular theme, contraception, but rather on religious teaching about sacred time. Are we perhaps being asked to keep the monthly human life-initiating time intact for rest except when we want to beget a child?
Marie Arnall, Ambleside, Cumbria
Italy's falling population (The Tablet, 7 June) is unfortunate but completely understandable and I sympathise with those parents or would-be parents. When we married in 1955, we were “good” Catholics and, observing the so-called safe period with heroic self-control, had four children in 9 years.
Despite my husband being in a profession, we could not manage financially without my working, so, with his blessing, I trained as a mature student for three years full-time to be a teacher. This was incredibly difficult, combining study, housework and bringing up the children. He was not a “new man”.
The point of this letter is to say, “What's new?” At least modern Catholics here and in Italy now use their consciences with regard to family planning. If we had been “disobedient” maybe our marriage would have survived and not ended after 21 years. But I would not be without any of my much-loved children despite the precarious, failed “planning”.
Thank God that I then had a profession so could support the children and myself.
Ann Thorp, Newport
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