John-Henry Westen: The Subversion of the Magisterium

By John-Henry Westen

This talk was delivered at “Humanae Vitae at 50: Setting the Context”, Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas, Rome, 28 October 2017

From the perspective of a journalist, the world is experiencing a revolution in the Catholic Church. The secular media have been speaking about a monumental change in Catholic teaching on morality, particularly sexual morality already for nearly four years. Already in 2013 countless headlines spoke of the Pope’s admonition to not to speak of “abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods” all the time. The new ‘who am I to judge’ attitude regarding homosexuality was bolstered by the images of embracing homosexual and transgender couples.

A new openness or merciful outreach was witnessed and lauded by the media. Praise for abortionists such as Emma Bonino and speaking invitations to historical enemies of the faith – population control advocates who loudly proclaimed the Church’s teachings against birth control akin to terrorism, now praising the Church for its openness to dialogue.

Some have attempted to understand these measures within a traditional framework by supposing that in meeting with public sinners as did Christ the point is to call them to the truth. However even in that pursuit the evidence does not permit the comforting hypothesis. Public testimony evidences no such call to conversion.

It is an interesting question to ponder how this situation is influencing the perception of the Catholic Church in the world today. More important however is the effect this state of affairs is having on the faithful. I can tell you personally it is affecting the faith of children, and also of fervent Catholics.

On June 16, last year Pope Francis was speaking to priests in Rome when he spoke of cohabitation as ‘real marriage’. Reports of his words spread across the globe like wildfire. He said:

“In Argentina’s northeast countryside, couples have a child and live together. They have a civil wedding when the child goes to school, and when they become grandparents they ‘get married religiously.’”

“It’s a superstition, because marriage frightens the husband. It’s a superstition we have to overcome,” the Pope said. “I’ve seen a lot of fidelity in these cohabitations, and I am sure that this is a real marriage, they have the grace of a real marriage because of their fidelity.”

My daughter who was 20 at the time and away at college called me to ask if it was true that the Pope had said cohabitation is real marriage. And I’ve asked several Cardinals since if I should have lied to my daughter.

A Monsignor friend revealed to me another anecdote demonstrating the monumental shift we are currently experiencing.  He told me that the little old ladies were confused. The little old ladies are known throughout the West as those heroic elderly women that run most parishes. They do the bake sales, they are the ones who take most of the adoration hours and rosary vigils, they decorate and clean, and care for the parishes in most smaller churches. It was these ladies, in this modernist culture the most faithful of Catholics, of whom my monsignor friend was speaking.

He revealed that at one meeting with them he found they were confused about what was always considered unchangeable teaching in the Church. They were discussing homosexuality and suggested that while some used to pray with sorrow for their children and grandchildren in homosexual relationships they were now relieved of their concern. Who are we to judge?

But most instructive has been the shift in prelates, not any prelates mind you – that of the likes of the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. Cardinal Marc Ouellet was, before the publication of Amoris Laetitia, opposed to the giving of Holy Communion to remarried Catholics. He wrote a book outlining his position in line with Familiaris Consortio and the constant teaching of the Church. But only last month in a talk to Canadian bishops the Cardinal reversed his position. The exhortation he said “may open a door” for civilly-divorced-and-remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion. He said that some saw in the Pope’s teaching “the good news of an openness.”

On the main subject of Humanae Vitae we have seen a seismic shift in the last few years. Rather than an affirmation of the central truth of the encyclical – the intrinsic evil of contraception – has come in it’s 50th anniversary an apparent attempt to reinterpret the document along the lines of Amoris Laetitia in that in hard cases, resort to artificial contraception becomes not a matter of engaging in intrinsic evil but a matter of conscience.

Some of you will have heard of the study group that has been given exclusive access to the Secret Archives of the Vatican in order to perform a historical-critical analysis of Humanae Vitae for it’s 50th anniversary we commemorate in 2018.

The study group composed of Fr. Marengo, a Professor at the John Paul II Institute, Pierangelo Sequeri, president of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute, Philippe Chenaux, a professor of Church history at the Pontifical Lateran University, and Angelo Maffeis, president of the Paul VI Institute of Brescia.

We all know that biased researchers can make from historical-critical analyses all types of doubts as has already been done with the Scriptures themselves. Prof. Marengo has revealed his bias in favor of a particular reading of Humanae Vitae. In article for Vatican Insider called “Humanae Vitae and Amoris Laetitia,” he compared the Church’s condemnation of birth control to today’s debate over communion for adulterers.

In the article, Fr. Marengo uses the reasoning of Amoris Laetitia applying it to the use of birth control. “Every time the Christian community falls into error and proposes models of life derived from too abstract and artificially constructed theological ideals, it conceives its pastoral action as the schematic application of a doctrinal paradigm,” he said.

Only last weekend a series of lectures at the Gregorian University was launched which threaten to undermine the Church’s teaching. One of the organizers is Argentine Jesuit Father Miguel Yanez who teaches theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University and is a close friend of Pope Francis, said contraception is not the basis of Humanae Vitae, and there are “many problems” that have emerged over the past 50 years. In May 2015, Father Yanez took part in the “secret synod” at the Gregorian, during which a number of theologians sought to sway the synod on the family to accept same-sex unions, dispense with the term “intrinsically evil.”

Pope Francis himself indicated already in 2014 that he intended a reinterpretation of Humane Vitae. In an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Pope Francis was specifically asked about “tak[ing] up again the topic of birth control” half a century after the publication of Humanae Vitae. “Your confrere, Cardinal [Carlo Maria] Martini [the late Archbishop of Milan] believed it was now time,” said the interviewer.

“It all depends on how the text of ‘Humanae Vitae’ is interpreted,” responded Pope Francis. “Paul VI himself, towards the end, recommended to confessors much mercy and attention to concrete situations.” He added, “The object is not to change the doctrine, but it is a matter of going into the issue in depth and to ensure that the pastoral ministry takes into account the situations of each person and what that person can do.”

In statement to the press, the Holy Father himself has said things that seem to contradict Humanae Vitae almost verbatim, claiming that contraception can be justified as a lesser evil.

In February 2016, while on the papal plane, the pope was asked about the dangers of the Zika virus, which has been blamed for a rash of fetal deformity cases in Latin America. “As regards avoiding pregnancy, on this issue, can the Church take into consideration the concept of ‘the lesser of two evils?’” a reporter asked.

Pope Francis responded by insisting that abortion can never be justified, but added: “On the ‘lesser evil,’ avoiding pregnancy, we are speaking in terms of the conflict between the fifth and sixth commandment… avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil. In certain cases, as in this one… it was clear.”

The statements from Pope Francis were of great interest to journalists since they seemed to contradict former Church teaching. Journalists, including LifeSiteNews sought clarification from the Vatican Press office which confirmed the statement. “The contraceptive or condom, in particular cases of emergency or gravity, could be the object of discernment in a serious case of conscience,” Fr. Lombardi told Vatican Radio. “This is what the Pope said.”

Fr. Lombardi added that the pope was speaking of “the possibility of taking recourse to contraception or condoms in cases of emergency or special situations. He is not saying that this possibility is accepted without discernment, indeed, he said clearly that it can be considered in cases of special urgency.”

We recall paragraph 14 of Humanae Vitae where Paul VI condemns contraception. He wrote: “excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.”

In fact Pope Paul VI, who we’ve already heard was prophetic in his predictions of what would happen if contraception were permitted, seems to have anticipated the argument regarding a lesser evil.

Humanae Vitae reads: “Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one…. Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good, it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it —in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general.”

At the beginning of our proceedings Cardinal Brandmüller reminded us that while Humanae Vitae put an end, in doctrinal terms, to disputes over the lawfulness of artificial contraception, it nevertheless “triggered a fierce storm of protest within the Church.” “A number of Catholic theologians,” he said, endorsed the position contrary to the Church.

Cardinal Brandmüller laid out the process of parodosis – or the transmission of the doctrine of the Church. The doctrine develops to be sure, but never changes. Just as an adult person continues to be identical to the infant it was in the past.

This theme of the unchanging doctrine of the Church was mentioned again and again by the scholars at this conference. Professor de Mattei laid out the historical context of Humanae Vitae, coming during the Sexual Revolution, feminism and neo-Malthusianism. But on the matter of perennial doctrine, Professor de Mattei argued that the error of the Catholics of the 1968 dissent was not to resist Pope Paul VI, but to refuse the perpetual teaching of the Church, of which the Pope was at that time spokesman. Those who today criticize Amoris Laetitia, he said, do not intend to oppose the Pope, but a document that contradicts the Church’s constant Tradition.

Professor Seifert demonstrated that the Church’s constant tradition reflected in Humanae Vitae is knowable not solely by faith but also by reason as well. “Even from a purely natural standpoint, the most notable end of human sexuality is the procreation of a new human life,” he said.

“The question of moral good and evil aims at the very heart of reality and the drama of human existence,” he said. “It does not profit a man even when he gains the whole world but suffers harm in his soul. Because of the specific absoluteness of the moral sphere, there can be no grounds whatever for permitting an act that is morally evil in itself. Indeed, if we could save the whole world through one single immoral act, we would still not be allowed to perform such an act.”

The existence of moral absolutes, he said, was an essential tenet of any genuine ethics. Dr. Seifert warned that logically, from an assumption to the contrary it would follow that adultery, sacrilege, pornography, lying, yes, every infraction and crime could be allowed in view of the possible consequences of avoiding suffering or other evils.

Fr. Lanzetta told us that the doctrinal vision of Humanae Vitae rests on two principles that are abused to promote artificial methods of birth control but he guided us through Pope Paul VI’s placing them rather in the light of the whole of Revelation. These two principles are a) human love and b) responsible parenthood. Truly human love unites the parents, making them thus capable of transmitting the gift of life; the gift of life, in turn, is the expression of human love. Drawing together Humanae Vitae with the teachings of the second Vatican Council he showed how they affirm Casti Connubi, that “each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.” Here the truth of love, and therefore of union, is knit together with the always primary end of procreation.  The marital union, therefore, is for the sake of procreation, and procreation perfects the union in a circular relationship of truth and love: the truth of the union finds its fulfilment in the generative love of new lives and the fruitfulness of love in turn is part of the indissoluble unity of the couple; otherwise the love would be false, a deception. Just as there is no procreation without union, so there is no union without procreation. Similarly love and fruitfulness always go together and are the reflection of love and unity. Today, instead, “what’s at risk with this adventurous change of paradigm (Amoris Laetitia) is not only the morals of marriage but morality as such, which would be reduced to good intentions. Let us act in such a way that our ‘yes’ means ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ means ‘no’. The rest if from the Evil one.”

Professor Le Méné too made it clear that reason dictates the truth of the dignity of the human person and thus human love. Violations of the sexual norms are below the dignity of man, he explained and in these abuses we see incompatibility with human dignity:

– contraception, is make loving without openness to making a child,

– in vitro fertilization, makes the child without making love,

– abortion, which is the unmaking of the child,

– and pornography, which is undoing love,

The two medical doctors that spoke to us both experienced the repercussions for Catholic physicians of the sexual revolution. Dr. Schepens observed, “Contraception that makes couples and other adults irresponsible, not only of their bodies, poisoned by steroid hormones, but also by the total separation of the sexual act from procreation by turning it into an act of pleasure without responsibility, deprives itself of its future.” He also drew attention to the demographic collapse that is imminent in contraception’s wake.

Dr Ward drew attention to another outcome of the sexual revolution — the removal of parents rights as Primary Educators,” he said, “started with contraception and its indoctrination in sex education.” “It has now metastasized to include underage abortion, general medical services, school homosexual and gender theory indoctrination and in Germany even imprisonment of parents who exercised their Primary right as educators.”

He reminded us of the teaching of the Church from Pope St John Paul:

“Sex education, which is a basic right and duty of parents, must always be carried out under their attentive guidance, whether at home or in educational centres chosen and controlled by them. In this regard, the Church reaffirms the law of subsidiarity, which the school is bound to observe when it cooperates in sex education, by entering into the same spirit that animates the parents”. (Saint John Paul, Familiaris Consortio, No 37) “And Parents have the right to ensure that their children are not compelled to attend classes which are not in agreement with their own moral and religious convictions. In particular, sex education is a basic right of the parents.”

And pointing to the current state of affairs in Rome, Dr. Ward said who will protect millions of Catholic children from indoctrination by the wolves in the population and homosexualist lobbies and their powerful allies in the Vatican? Where will our children hide?”

From the perspective of a Catholic journalist it is fascinating to consider the motivation of the Pope in taking this direction. From his heavy emphasis on mercy a majority of thinkers who have pondered the question have postulated that from his great desire to show the mercy of God, to reach out to the peripheries, comes this approach which as Professor Seifert pointed out threatens the moral edifice of the Church.

Without doubt many who counsel the Pope have urged him to be quiet about the Church’s teachings which confront the culture.

That strategy was attempted in the late 1960s and 1970s and statistics suggest resulted in a mass exodus from the Church that we are still witnessing today. A renewed interest, especially among the young, is seen only in places where tradition has been revived.

The Church has in fact considered such proposals before. Pope Leo XIII in 1899 in the encyclical letter Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae says some contend “it would be opportune, in order to gain those who differ from us, to omit certain points of teaching which are of lesser importance, and to tone down the meaning which the Church has always attached to them.”

However, said Pope Leo XIII, the Church has already visited such suggestions and has determined, “Such a policy would tend rather to separate Catholics from the Church than to bring in those who differ.” Concluding his point, Pope Leo said that there was nothing closer to his heart “than to have those who are separated from the fold of Christ return to it.” He added, however, “but in no other way than the way pointed out by Christ.”

And finally let us consider the false charge of some in the media that those who question the Pope’s actions, who lovingly and with great respect and reverence call on him to dispel the confusion running rampant in the Church are somehow the enemies of the Pope. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Of late, we have often heard St. Thomas Aquinas statement that “…if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter’s subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning the faith.”

But one quote far less well known comes from the holy Bishop Melchior Cano, a Theologian of the Council of Trent who wrote in the 1500s “Now it can be said briefly that those who defend blindly and indiscriminately any judgement whatsoever of the Supreme Pontiff concerning every matter weaken the authority of the Apostolic See; they do not support it; they subvert it; they do not fortify it… . Peter has no need of our lies; he has no need of our adulation.”

Here is the truth. Those such as Cardinal Brandmüller who have put their reputations and good names in peril for their loving entreaty to the Holy Father to clarify the faith, to confirm his brethren in the Truth, are the only true friends of the Pope. There is no self interest in this action, no intention of ill will. It is an action born of prayer and concern of true love and friendship that seeks the best for the beloved and for the Church he is called to shepherd.

St Paul spoke to Bishop Timothy about a time that would come when people would have itching ears and not want to hear the truth and wanting to keep to themselves teachers of what they want to hear and St Paul’s words to Timothy are crucial for us today: “I charge thee, before God and Jesus Christ, who shall judge the living and the dead, by his coming, and his kingdom:  Preach the word: be instant in season and out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine.” (2 Tim 4:1-2)