14 April 2016, The Tablet

Almost without meaning to, Francis has shot Humanae Vitae dead


In 2009 the Catholic Church’s International Theological Commission proposed a fundamental change to the way the Church regarded natural law. It could not be presented “as an already established set of rules that impose themselves a priori on the moral subject”, it said. Instead, “it is a source of objective inspiration for the deeply personal process of making decisions”.

This raised some eyebrows, not least because of the way natural law had consistently been imposed a priori by moral theologians to explain and justify Catholic teaching regarding sex. The most obvious example was the way natural law was invoked as the basis of the case against contraception, for instance in Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae.

But that redefinition of the role of natural law was just the opinion of a select group of theologians. Or at least it was until last Friday. That was when Pope Francis gave it the authority of his office when he adopted it as his own, in his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. At the start of the process of consultation that led up to Amoris Laetitia, including two international synods, a questionnaire had been circulated asking to what extent ordinary Catholics understood natural law. A summary of the responses strongly suggested they did not.

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User Comments (5)

Comment by: Speighdd
Posted: 30/05/2016 00:21:28
It is the job of the Church to accept the truth wherever it finds it, including in Greek philosophy. Moral insights, like all insights, are assumptions only logically. In reality they are the natural awareness of truth or awareness of the truth of nature. If kla2 thinks that the Church’s conception of what moral insight reveals in the way of natural truth, is mistaken, he should say what is wrong with it, and offer a better one. Clifford Longley might have accomplished that task, had he addressed the question of what constitutes a genuinely human, as distinct from a merely animal, act of sexual intercourse, but he did not. The appeal that toni makes to demography as a standard for moral judgement, fares no better, since it fails even to differentiate natural from unnatural law, or natural from unnatural selection.
Comment by: toni
Posted: 20/04/2016 00:33:17
Being a demographer, it seems to me that natural law does exist, and goes hand in hand with natural selection. So in my experience some lines of thinking will cause some groups of people to die out. I don't know if they will be missed by natural law or natural selection.
Comment by: Micah Schonberger
Posted: 19/04/2016 14:31:44
Responding to the disciples' amazement at his statement about divorce, remarriage and adultery, Jesus says, "Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given" (Matthew 19:11) Perhaps this should be applied to many divorced and remarried people. Jesus often demonstrates his disagreement with applying the law in a way that causes people to suffer. A pastoral approach to the complexity in people's lives can seem inconsistent or even confusing. However, some people's confusion can be ambiguity to someone else. As St. Irenaeus said back in the 2nd century, "Life isn't a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived." It seems to me that the spirit of Vatican II points in that direction.
Comment by: Brownie
Posted: 15/04/2016 18:36:08
What a long, long time in the desert, just to protect a pope's authority! HV was never about the merits of the issue, but the exercise of power and control. The cost has been severe.
Comment by: kla2
Posted: 15/04/2016 15:31:42
If the 'church' had more sense, it would never have borrowed from Greek philosophy for the basis of their moral assumptions. Natural Law is a failed moral paradigm with nothing to offer as a guide to the spiritual malaise that affects virtually the whole of the modern world, if not the whole of history itself. Human sexuality remains a profound mystery that the church has failed to comprehend, probably because the insights necessary to do so have not been revealed to this institution. As just one of many reasons that I left the 'church' behind. God can do better!