Saturday, May 3, 2014

Does the Pope Have Any Authority in This Matter?

This kind of question requires from the teaching authority of the Church a new and deeper reflection on the principles of the moral teaching on marriage—a teaching which is based on the natural law as illuminated and enriched by divine Revelation.

No member of the faithful could possibly deny that the Church is competent in her magisterium to interpret the natural moral law. It is in fact indisputable, as Our predecessors have many times declared, that Jesus Christ, when He communicated His divine power to Peter and the other Apostles and sent them to teach all nations His commandments, constituted them as the authentic guardians and interpreters of the whole moral law, not only, that is, of the law of the Gospel but also of the natural law. For the natural law, too, declares the will of God, and its faithful observance is necessary for men's eternal salvation.

In carrying out this mandate, the Church has always issued appropriate documents on the nature of marriage, the correct use of conjugal rights, and the duties of spouses. These documents have been more copious in recent times.

The consciousness of the same responsibility induced Us to confirm and expand the commission set up by Our predecessor Pope John XXIII, of happy memory, in March, 1963.
This commission included married couples as well as many experts in the various fields pertinent to these questions. Its task was to examine views and opinions concerning married life, and especially on the correct regulation of births; and it was also to provide the teaching authority of the Church with such evidence as would enable it to give an apt reply in this matter, which not only the faithful but also the rest of the world were waiting for.

When the evidence of the experts had been received, as well as the opinions and advice of a considerable number of Our brethren in the episcopate—some of whom sent their views spontaneously, while others were requested by Us to do so—We were in a position to weigh with more precision all the aspects of this complex subject. Hence We are deeply grateful to all those concerned.

However, the conclusions arrived at by the commission could not be considered by Us as definitive and absolutely certain, dispensing Us from the duty of examining personally this serious question. This was all the more necessary because, within the commission itself, there was not complete agreement concerning the moral norms to be proposed, and especially because certain approaches and criteria for a solution to this question had emerged which were at variance with the moral doctrine on marriage constantly taught by the magisterium of the Church.

Consequently, now that We have sifted carefully the evidence sent to Us and intently studied the whole matter, as well as prayed constantly to God, We, by virtue of the mandate entrusted to Us by Christ, intend to give Our reply to this series of grave questions.

Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, 4-6

Reflection – So we will be going through this controversial encyclical, a few paragraphs at a time, a few days at a time. I’m thinking right now that we may spend our weekends here for the next little while, and do other stuff Monday-Thursday, for variety.

So, having established the question yesterday in pp 1-3, the genuine question of birth control raised above all by the development of the pill, Pope Paul VI now establishes his own authority as Pope, an authority shared by him with the bishops of the Church, to teach with authority on matters of the moral law.

Oh, we don’t like this, do we? The notion of authority is a rough one for post-moderns—the idea that someone who is Not Me has the right to say something that is binding on Me—terrible! Of course the Church’s authority is completely different from the Church’s power—the Church has no power whatsoever to do anything but make statements and give teachings. As was pointed out in the comments yesterday, a large majority of Catholics do in fact reject Humanae Vitae, although I would bet you dollars to donuts that hardly any of them have read it, could summarize its arguments, or could discuss the history of the question with a semblance of coherence or accuracy. Not a well thought out and carefully considered dissent, in other words, not for the most part.

But back to the central assertion—the Church’s hierarchy has authority, given to it by Jesus Christ Himself, to teach authoritatively (that is, assured of the truth of the teaching, and thus binding on the conscience of the faithful) on matters of faith and morals. This very point is, in fact, part of the sensus fidelium of the Church, that real teaching authority lies in the episcopal and papal office. This is standard Catholic doctrine—if one really rejects this wholesale, one is simply not a Catholic. Fine – go in peace! God bless you! Let us pray for one another.

But Catholics believe in the college of apostles and the teaching authority of the bishops and the Pope in a particular way. And never in recent years has this belief been more tested and called for than in 1968, when the Pope essentially had to overrule the majority conclusion of the commission he had convened to uphold a teaching that so many wanted to see changed. I don’t remember those days (I was two at the time!), but the pain, the anger, the turmoil the erupted with the publication of Humanae Vitae echoed and resounded in the Church throughout my childhood.

At the end of it all, and with all the genuine difficulties and questions and very real problems and anguish of this difficult matter, we do come back to this central matter of Catholic faith: the magisterium of the Church, the pope and the bishops together, have authority given them by Jesus Christ, to teach on matters of faith and morals. So it has always been understood, so it always will be understood. And we will leave it there for today.


  1. The magisterium has authority only if the faithful grant it to them and the faithful do not now.

    Never before have moral teachings been more debated than the last several decades. The faithful understand the reactionary teachings of the discredited clericalist cabal that hijacked the church in the wake of Vatican II. They reject them. Believing that the faithful are ignorant is how you rationalize your own loss of divine trust and authority.

    The Church would have been better served with a man like Hans Kung as pope for the last 50 years. We would be better off if he were pope today and if the faithful were allowed to chose he would be. You know that this is true.

    The only reason that there is a "Francis effect" is that the faithful expect change and they expect it now. If they don't get it they will go to the courts and demand it back, lock, stock and barrel. Who do you think the courts will give it to if popular support is overwhelming and it will be?

    1. Well, since you offer an argument here, rather than mere contradiction, invective, and personal insults, I will respond.
      Your theology of where divine authority comes from is utterly unsupported by anything in Scripture or in tradition. I realize you don't accept the Catholic tradition, but I understand you do still profess Christianity (?) and hence Scripture. Where in Scripture does divine authority come by popular consent?
      By that standard, Paul would have been deprived of his apostleship by the Corinthians and Galatians - instead when they challenge him, he doubles down on them - he is an apostle because Jesus Christ appointed him as such. That is the universal theology of authority in the Bible.
      As for what 'I know to be true', I have little to say. Pope Hans Kung? Ummmm, no.
      As for the rather far-fetched scenario you sketch out of the courts, etc... well, I doubt it. But if so, it will be a persecution of religion, not unlike others we have had, and we will go to jail or to the hangman for our faith, as we always have.
      As I said in my post, the authority of the hierarchy is fundamental Catholic dogma. You are clear that you are not Catholic any longer, and as I said in the post, go in peace! Let us pray for one another! I have no animosity towards people who have concluded what you have concluded - God bless you.
      Meanwhile, I will continue to write and preach the Catholic faith.

  2. I first looked at this question from a "devil's advocate" view. Question: Does each and every individual have the right to decide what for them is moral or immoral. ( I can do whatever I like)Obviously the answer to this is "no" ergo there must be " an authority" This leads to discovering who or where this authority lies. In the case where belief is in God as the ultimate authority, we may ask who speaks for God. Leading back to the first question, can each person individually interpret for themself what they believe to be God's will, (Again I can do whatever I like ) Sooner or later reason leads to the Church posessing the authority granted by God.

  3. In todays secular humanistic world we need only look around us to see what un-reigned human thought can provide. These same attitudes have done a number to our Church and caused scandal after scandal. We are at fault, for sin has crept into everything these days and corrupted our value systems and beliefs. One reason I am Catholic was because this is what I was taught as a young child. Now that I am older and getting the full blown effect of what sin can do to a world I am very thankful to my parents and the Catholic Church for their teachings. We Catholic's should never be ones to give into this "watered down effect". Faith is a gift from God but you have free will to either live the faith or reject it. Just think of how many examples in your life where you have seen those rejections of the Faith that is freely given....where has this led the world? Where has this led you? Dear Lord thank you for our Catholic Church and its teachings. May we all stop being so selfish and think more about your teachings as passed down through the moral authority invested in our Pope, Bishops, Priests, and other religious. This is the way to find peace as an individual and a member of the great world as a whole. Popular trends provide nothing of substance for me to live as a Christian.....please don't let this be your guide! Pray for our priests as many have fallen for this destructive notion. Pray for all of us really....most of all pray for those who are your enemies...this is tough to do but do it anyway...Amen

  4. Many years ago, I fell in love with Humanae Vitae! It is heartbreaking to me that some many people are living with, most of the time unconsciously, the pain from the evil of contraception! I hear so often, in my role as a natural family planning instructor, "why did no one TELL me! Why is it only now, after years of suffering, that I am discovering the beauty that is Church teaching?" I hear this also from the couples I work with that are being faithful to the Truth while struggling with infertility. So THANK YOU! THANK YOU for sharing the truth! What is true is also beautiful!

    1. Thanks! Well, I will keep trying to do that - share the truth as best I can. God bless you for your good work in that field.


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