May 17, 2016 (Steven O’Reilly) – It has been recently reported by two separate Catholic blogs that Pope Francis has established or is about to establish a commission to review Humanae Vitae. The blog Eponymous Flower citing the reporting of Marco Tossati on leaks from the Vatican, writes that Pope Francis intends to set up a secret commission to “examine possible changes in the position of the Church on artificial contraceptives.” Separately, the blog OnePeterFive posted its own report on these leaks. For the details, see these blogs and the original post by Marco Tosatti here (in Italian). To date, the Vatican has neither confirmed or denied the reporting, and as Tosatti notes: “which could be in itself a signal.”
I do not know if the leaks are true. If they turned out to be true, would it surprise me? Yes and no. “Yes,” to me, it would be surprising – but only in one sense. Very few Catholic couples follow the teaching anyway (10%, 20%?). So. . .why bother? Who would a revision benefit? What is the purpose? Is it to ease the potentially troubled consciences of the many who ignore the teaching? Or, perhaps, is it to try to make us “rigid” types who have followed it feel like fools for having done so? Is the pope afraid us “rigid” types who ‘breed like rabbits‘ are on a demographic course to “win” back the Church?
However, ultimately. . .”no”. . .it would not surprise me in the least if there were such a commission. Given the current crisis in the Church and in the Vatican in particular, there is nothing inherently unbelievable about the report. That alone is a sorry commentary on the state of how bad things really are. If there is such a commission, and if it wants to “revise” Humanae Vitae, I expect it will do so. We must face facts: Amoris Laetitia – in practice and in effect, if not explicit word – repeals the Sixth Commandment against adultery and renders Our Lord’s teachings (cf Mt 5:31-32, Mt. 19:9, Mk 10:11-12, Luke 16:18) and those of St. Paul (cf 1 Cor. 7:10-11, 39) on adultery little more than “rigid” bromides that can be safely ignored (NB: I have commented with my views here, here, and here on AL issues). If one can repeal and replace the Sixth Commandment, why not do so with other teachings of the Natural Law, such as in regard to artificial contraception?
Indeed, Pope Francis has already given this prospective commission the tools – the cookie cutter – to do it. Something of a cookie cutter methodology has been created which can now be applied to any objectively sinful situation. Its name is Amoris Laetitia – but it could as readily been named “Amorphous” Laetitia, as its principles (as popularly interpreted) will apply to any grave sin. Lay out the objective sin like cookie dough, sprinkle lots of sugar, apply the cookie cutter and then bake. Any grave sin can now be made palatable by simply replacing the concepts of “adulterous relationship” or “irregular relationship” and inserting artificial contraception – or some other sin of choice. Granted, artificial contraception is not a manifest sin, as is public adultery – but do not think for a moment that the now favored “pastoral” approach when applied to contracepting couples will lead them out of their objective state of sin. Nope. One can even be cognizant of objectively violating the teaching, and yet continue to do so! All one will need is a “difficult” case, or a good sob story, such as offered by Cardinal Coccopalmerio with regard to AL. Yep. They will be handing out degrees in Rome soon in sob-story theology for future priests.
Again, all we have are leaks. But, if a revision comes, what shall it be called? Humanae Laetitia? Amoris Vitae, perhaps? My guess is the latter. . .”Amoris Vitae”. . .”love life”. . .as that seems to be where the interests of our hierarchy seem to be of late. More sex for adulterers. . .more sex for everyone! “Steve the Predictor” has one more provisional prediction. If there is an “Amoris Vitae” to come of this supposed commission, I suspect the document will be just like Amoris Laetitia, i.e., vague and ambiguous. It will not clearly denounce or change the teaching of Humanae Vitae or other Church documents on the question, but nor will it defend them – and least of all will it accurately cite them. Those who always opposed Humanae Vitae, or those who wish to change it, will find what they want in “Amoris Vitae.” That is my prediction. Oh, and I predict that in 99% of the footnotes in “Amoris Vitae” Pope Francis will cite himself. Take that one to the bank. [NB: As an aside, I think footnote conventions in papal documents need to be updated in the age of Pope Francis, e.g., (n. 351 Alitalia AZ4000, Rome to Fatima, May 12, 2017, Arrive 16:20 Local, Pope Francis, Window Seat, 1A, Nonsmoking)].
Now, if all this really does come to pass, it will be interesting see how those who have demanded everyone must accept Amoris Laetitia will now plausibly argue we stop accepting Humanae Vitae. Come to think of it, the lack of plausible reasons and support hasn’t stopped them from making arguments before, so we should not expect them to be deterred from making weak arguments in the future.
Oh, one more thing. . .I also “predict” the same handful of cardinals might issue a new set of dubia in the wake of a potential “Amoris Vitae,” but these will end up like the first set of dubia – crumpled up and tossed by Pope Francis for a three-pointer bank shot into the wastepaper basket in the corner of his office.