500 Scholars Pretend To Support Humanae Vitae

When I first heard the news, that over 500 Catholic scholars issued a joint statement in support of Catholic teaching on contraception, I was pleased. Then I read the document and was deeply saddened.

The statement, issued at the Catholic University of America, is called:
Affirmation of the Church’s Teaching on the Gift of Sexuality
(hereafter called the CUA Statement)

The CUA Statement is a rebuttal to a statement, issued at the Wijngaards Institute, called:
Catholic Scholars’ Statement on the Ethics of Using Contraceptives
(hereafter called the WI Statement)

What is wrong with the CUA Statement? It purports to affirm the Church’s teaching on contraception, while in fact presenting a severe distortion of that teaching.

Marital Acts Only

Most alarmingly, the translation of Humanae Vitae used in the CUA statement is NOT the Vatican translation, nor it is a new literal translation of the official Latin text. The CUA statement uses an unofficial and highly-biased loose translation of Humanae Vitae by Janet E. Smith. That translation adds words and phrases to the English translation text, NOT based on any words in the Latin source text, in order to bolster Smith’s heretical claim that the teaching of the Church against contraception is limited to the marital state.

See my critique of her translation here: Janet Smith’s new translation of Humanae Vitae.

In this popular heresy, the teaching of the Magisterium against contraception is severely distorted by claiming that contraception violates the procreative meaning ONLY of the marital act, and not of sexual acts in general.

Here is what the CUA statement CLAIMS that Humanae Vitae teaches:

“The doctrine that the Magisterium of the Church has often explained is this: there is an unbreakable connection between the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning [of the marital act], and both are inherent in the marital act. This connection was established by God and human beings are not permitted to break it through their own volition. (HV12)”

And here’s the actual Vatican translation:

“This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.”

First, the Smith translation is a very loose rendering of the Latin. Second, it is not the Vatican approved translation. Third, it adds words and phrases to the text, in brackets, not based on any words at all in the Latin original. And the pattern of these additions, across the whole of the translated document, is clear. Smith adds words to Humanae Vitae in order to support her claim that Humanae Vitae is to be interpreted as restricting the prohibition against contraception to the marital state.

To the contrary, the teaching of the Magisterium in Humanae Vitae (e.g. HV 11 and 14) AND ALSO in other magisterial documents is absolutely clear that contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral, regardless of marital state, because it deprives sexual acts (whether marital or not) of the procreative meaning. Humanae Vitae, in some places, uses terms referring to the sex within marriage, because the question of the day, which Humanae Vitae answered, was whether married couples could use contraception some of the time. But in other places, the official Humanae Vitae translation, as well as OTHER magisterial documents (even in the Latin text), clearly relate the immorality of contraception to sexual intercourse in general, not merely to the marital act.

See my articles:
* Contraception and Heresy — Part 2, the use of contraception outside of marriage
* Contraception and Heresy — Part 3, On the Latin text of Humanae Vitae

And, yes, it is a heresy to take the teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium on contraception and distort it so that it applies only to marital intercourse.

How often is contraception used by unmarried couples? Very often, perhaps more often than within marriage. How often is contraception used by a couple, who think themselves to be married, but who are not considered to be married by Catholic teaching? Too often. Under the distorted version of sexual ethics offered by Janet Smith and the CUA Statement, most uses of contraception would not be condemned. They limit the condemnation of contraception by the Church to true marriages.

Janet E. Smith has been particularly adamant in rejecting the traditional understanding of Humanae Vitae, in favor of a radical reinterpretation which restricts the condemnation of contraception to the marital state. The result is her public approval, in some particular cases, for contraception, abortifacient contraception, and direct sterilization, based on intention and circumstances, despite the clear condemnation of all these acts by the Magisterium as intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral.

See my past posts on this type of error by Smith

Biological Laws

The CUA Statement claims:

“The Wijngaards Statement, rather than engaging recent scholarship in support of the Church’s teaching, misdirects the conversation from the start by claiming that the argument against contraception in Humanae Vitae is based primarily on “biological laws.” Humanae Vitae instead focuses, as it should, on the person’s relationship to God and to other persons.”

Huh. Where have I read about “biological laws” on the subject of contraception and ethics. Oh, yeah, in Magisterium documents:

Pope Saint John Paul II: “The moral law obliges them in every case to control the impulse of instinct and passion, and to respect the biological laws inscribed in their person. It is precisely this respect which makes legitimate, at the service of responsible procreation, the use of natural methods of regulating fertility.” [Evangelium Vitae 97]

Blessed Pope Paul VI: “With regard to the biological processes, responsible parenthood means an awareness of, and respect for, their proper functions. In the procreative faculty the human mind discerns biological laws that apply to the human person.” [Humanae Vitae 10]

Why does the CUA Statement object to the reference to biological laws as the basis for the immorality of contraception? It is because the CUA Statement rejects the teaching of the Magisterium that contraception is immoral because it contradicts the procreative finality inherent to the biological act of sexual intercourse, and substitutes the heretical teaching that contraception is ONLY immoral because it contradicts the meaning found in the marital relationship.

Strangely, the WI Statement — which is heretical for a different reason — correctly states the magisterial teaching on contraception: “each and every act of sexual intercourse has procreation as their natural ‘finality’ and ‘significance.’ From such a belief, the moral requirement is inferred that couples engaging in sexual intercourse must always be open to procreation.”

The WI Statement is heretical because it rejects its own correct assertion as to what the Magisterium teaches. The WI signatories are openly rejecting magisterial teaching. But at least they have understood the basics of that teaching: contraception is immoral because all sexual acts must be both procreative and unitive. Deprive any sexual act of either the procreative or unitive meaning (or both) and you sin gravely.

Of course, all sexual acts outside of marriage are also gravely immoral. But the commission of one grave sin, sex outside of marriage, does not nullify the moral law, such that the sin of contraception would become moral by means of the grave sin of sex outside of marriage. In truth, the more gravely disordered the act, the greater the sin.


Once a Catholic scholar rejects the teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium that contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral, many errors follow. In particular, Janet Smith has proposed the justification of contraception, abortifacient contraception, and direct sterilization, based on her radical reinterpretation of magisterial teaching on intrinsically evil acts and on sexuality. Once a scholar decides that magisterial teaching can be bent to his or her will, one sound teaching after another falls prey to this type of attack.

The WI Statement explains that contraception is absolutely banned by magisterial teaching. And that point is essentially correct. The Church teaches that contraception, direct sterilization, and direct abortion (including abortifacient contraception) are intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. Then the WI Statement rejects that teaching.

The CUA Statement implicitly suggests that, since contraception is supposedly only immoral because it contradicts the marital meaning, its use can be approved outside of marriage. And that suggestion is made explicitly in a number of Catholic authors’ writings. They even find clever ways to approve of abortifacient contraception — despite the deaths of innocent prenatals which can be anticipated to occur. They approve of direct sterilization and of contraception, not only outside of marriage, but even within marriage, in the case of certain intentions or circumstances.

The CUA Statement vehemently rejects the proposal of the WI Statement that the Church change her teaching to permit contraception in many cases. Instead of rejecting Church teaching, the CUA Statement proposes that it be radically reinterpreted, the result of which is, ironically, the same: contraception, abortifacient contraception, and direct sterilization become permissible in many cases.

So the strong condemnation by the CUA Statement of the WI Statement is absurd, since the end result of both proposals is essentially the same: the broad approval of contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient contraception — in contradiction to the teaching of the Church against intrinsically evil acts.

The Church

The Church today is being assailed by teachers of heresy. Some attack from outside the Church. They openly reject magisterial teaching, just as the WI Statement does. Others attack from inside the Church. They present grave doctrinal errors with the claim that these errors are merely a proper understanding of Church teaching, just as the CUA Statement does. And if a magisterial document such as Humanae Vitae contradicts their claims, they not only radically reinterpret the document, they radically mistranslate it, so that the document now says what they wish it said.

At the present time, many Catholic theologians, scholars, and authors teach grave errors on important matters of faith and morals. The public teaching of heresy, with the claim that these heresies are really the teaching of Jesus and His Church, is a clear indication that the Church is about to enter into a time of great suffering and trials. The great schism is near, and it will be followed by the great apostasy.


The 500 plus signatories of the CUA Statement have committed an objective mortal sin by agreeing to a document whose content is heretical. However, the Statement is clever in its wording, so as to seem, on the surface, to support Church teaching against contraception. If any signatory was deceived by this wording, so as not to realize the Statement is heretical, he or she would not be guilty of sin. But upon realizing this, they must remove their name from the statement, and speak out against it, to avoid the sin of scandal.

The CUA Statement is worse than the WI Statement. The latter openly opposes magisterial teaching, and thus, faithful Catholics will be unlikely to be fooled into accepting its proposal. But the former has already succeeded in deceiving many faithful Catholics into thinking that the heresy proposed is simply a correct understanding of magisterial doctrine. In this way, the CUA Statement does more harm and is more sinful.

Whoever is a Heretic is also a Schismatic

The signatories of the CUA and WI Statements — in so far as they realize that each Statement rejects the definitive teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium on contraception — are guilty of formal public heresy. Whoever is a heretic is also a schismatic. They have separated themselves from full communion with the one true Church, by rejecting Her infallible teaching against this grave sin. They are not worthy to receive holy Communion, nor are any of them (whether they realize the error or not) fit to teach Catholicism, especially ethics.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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