A Canon Lawyer radically revises Humanae Vitae

Over at In the Light of the Law: A Canon Lawyer’s Blog, Dr. Ed Peters has a post titled About that ‘Humanae vitae’ rumor (July 11, 2017). And what he says about Humanae Vitae is perplexing, arrogant, false, self-contradictory, and heretical.

First, he says:

“In my opinion the central teaching in Humanae vitae—that contraception between married couples (both terms being correctly understood) is intrinsically evil—is a proposition infallibly taught by the (ordinary universal) magisterium of the Church.”

So, it’s his opinion that the central teaching of Humanae Vitae is infallible under the ordinary and universal Magisterium. I agree that the Church’s teaching on contraception — found in many magisterial documents, not only Humanae Vitae — is infallible under the ordinary and universal Magisterium. Since that teaching is infallible, asserting the contrary is at least material heresy. And if one realizes that one’s own adherence to, or expression of, the contrary is in fact contrary to the infallible teaching of the Church, then that would be formal heresy as well.

But in the above quote from Dr. Peters, right in the middle of his assertion that the teaching of Humanae Vitae on contraception is infallible, is the assertion of a grave heresy: the claim that the magisterial condemnation of contraception is limited to contraception between married persons. The heretical claim here is that the sin of contraception does not exist, or at least it is not correctly understood as contraception, between any persons who are not in a valid marriage (natural marriage or the Sacrament). And this claim wickedly contradicts the infallible teaching of the Magisterium that contraception, as defined by the Church, is intrinsically evil.

Dr. Peters is saying that he knows the teaching of the Church on contraception is infallible. Then, in the same breath, he rejects that teaching by radically revising it so as to limit the sin to a much smaller scope. He openly rejects the idea that the Church has condemned the use of contraception outside of, as well as within marriage. And he proposes a definition of contraception, as an intrinsically evil sin, which is limited to valid marriages. That assertion is material heresy.

Sometimes heresy is an outright denial of an infallible magisterial teaching. Other times, the heresy consists in substantially distorting the true teaching, to produce the heretical doctrine. In this case, we have the latter. Dr. Peters and a modest-sized group of other Catholic leaders have radically altered Catholic dogma on the intrinsically evil act of contraception so as to justify the commission of that grave sin in millions of cases daily throughout the world. Essentially what they are saying is that contraception is always gravely immoral, except most of the time.

And yet Dr. Peters thinks that this heretical idea is an infallible dogma. But then, as he goes on to try to support this radical reinterpretation of Humanae Vitae, he contradicts himself by presenting much evidence against his revisionist definition of contraception as an intrinsically evil act.

He cites “Contraception and the Infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium” by Ford and Grisez in order to support his claim that the teaching is infallible. Fine. But that article presents a definition of contraception that directly contradicts Peters. Ford and Grisez say:

“the teaching is that acts intended to impede procreation are in species gravely evil”

“Many authors used Gen 38:9-10 as a proof-text for the teaching condemning all positive acts intended to impede procreation”

This definition of contraception, in the teaching of Scripture and the Magisterium, as explained by Ford and Grisez, applies regardless of marital state. The definition refers to any act that is inherently ordered “to impede procreation”. But of course procreation does not only occur in a valid marriage.

Peters then goes on to further undermine his revisionist definition of contraception (as limited to marriage) by citing William E. May, a Roman Catholic theologian who strongly argues that contraception is intrinsically evil because it is antilife, that is to say, because it is against the conception of life — hence the term “contra-ception”.

To counter May, Peters cites Ramón García de Haro, writing in a Spanish book translated by May. But in that book Haro equivocates on the definition of contraception and its sinfulness outside of marriage. Haro states:

“Therefore, properly speaking a contracepted act between persons who are not united in marriage is not contraception but, according to the cases, adultery, fornication, etc., or, if done by persons of the same sex, it constitutes an act of homosexuality. All these acts are sins against chastity even more serious than the contraception of spouses, and the use in them of contraceptive means does not diminish their malice to contraception but, to the contrary, aggravates it: that is, it joins the malice of contraception to the malice proper to these respective acts — adultery, fornication, etc. — inasmuch as the privation of its eventual procreative capacity facilitates the commission of these disorders and increases the progressive irresponsibility of committing them.” [ p. 361 in Marriage and the Family in the Documents of the Magisterium, November 1993, by Ramon Garcia De Haro De Goytiso (Author), William E. May (Translator)

Notice that Haro condemns the use of contraception outside of marriage due to its privation of the procreative capacity. Sexual acts outside of marriage, using contraception, join “the malice of contraception” to the malice of the sin of sex outside of marriage. Haro’s definition of contraception, then, wavers somewhat. His position is not that of the radical revisionists, who claim that contraception outside of marriage is moral, or morally neutral, or that the Church has no teaching on its morality.

But the translator, William E. May, states the following:

“Translator’s note: I disagree with the author regarding the malice of contraception. I believe that contraception is not, of itself, a sexual act, but an act related to a sexual act and that its malice is that of a contralife will. It is not, indeed, an act of homicide, but it is an antilife act, since its precise point is to impede the beginning of the new human life that could begin if something were not done prior to, during, or subsequent to a freely chosen sexual act through which one reasonably believes new human life could be given (cf. Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, July 25, 1968 no. 14). Contraception, indeed, is also contrary to the virtue of chastity. Married couples who contracept, by doing so, make their sexual act to be not an act of true marital union, but one that mocks and simulates their one-flesh unity. But fornicators can contracept just as married people can, and it is wrong for them to do so. When they contracept, the commit two evils: fornication and contraception.” [ note 49, p. 360]

Haro’s position is not too far off the mark, as he condemns contraception outside of marriage — and not solely because the sexual acts are non-marital, but because they join that sin to the malice of contraception. May’s position is an improvement on Haro, since he clearly defines contraception in a way that explains fully that same condemnation within and outside of marriage.

Peters also provides a link, from the text “some important challenges” in this sentence: “If Ford and Grisez are correct (as I think they are, even in the face of some important challenges over the years)”. And that link is to a page with six documents in PDF format, and the page is on the website of Germain Grisez.

The first source therein is “Contraception and the Infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium” by Ford and Grisez, which, as I already explained, defines the sin of contraception without regard to marital state.

The second source is “Infallibility And Specific Moral Norms: A Review Discussion” by Germain Grisez, writing about the work of Francis Sullivan. And that text also defines contraception without regard to marital state by quoting Gaudium et Spes: “it is not allowed that children of the Church in regulating procreation should use methods which are disapproved of by the magisterium….” [n. 51].

The earlier text of Gaudium et Spes, says this: “the moral aspects of any procedure does not depend solely on sincere intentions or on an evaluation of motives, but must be determined by objective standards. These, based on the nature of the human person and his acts, preserve the full sense of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love. Such a goal cannot be achieved unless the virtue of conjugal chastity is sincerely practiced.”

So the Second Vatican Council rejects the idea that contraception is defined by intentions or motives — a common claim among radical revisionists today. Contraception is not only immoral, nor is it only contraception properly defined, when there is a contraceptive intention or motive. So the intention to treat a medical disorder does not thereby justify contraception.

Notice, also, that the condemnation of contraception by the Second Vatican Council rests upon “the nature of the human person and his acts” and is based on preserving the nature and meaning of “human procreation”. This basis does not support the claim that contraception is only contraception, or is only intrinsically evil, within marriage. Any act inherently ordered to thwart the procreative capacity and meaning in human nature and in human sexuality is a grave sin.

For, as stated in the quote given by Grisez, contraception is an act pertaining to “regulating procreation” by immoral methods. It is not, by definition, solely an offense against marriage. And Grisez goes on to say, as in the first citation above: “the teaching is that acts intended to impede procreation are in species gravely evil….” Again, contradicting the definition of Peters.

The third source is Grisez replying to Garth Hallett: “Infallibility and Contraception: A Reply to Garth Hallett”. Therein, Grisez explains that “I also said that the special significance of perverting the power of procreation is ‘because the procreative good is in itself an essential human good.’ ” So this source, too, supports a broad definition of contraception which cannot be limited in scope to sexual acts only within a valid marriage.

The fourth source is Grisez “Two Views of the Church’s Magisterium”, but it does not state a definition of contraception, nor speak to the point of its use outside of marriage. The fifth and sixth sources also lack a definition of contraception, but they are by Grisez, who defines contraception broadly, without regard to marital state.

So Ed Peters cites Grisez, in order to support the assertion that Church teaching on contraception is infallible. But Grisez does not agree that contraception should be defined narrowly, so that its use outside marriage is not sinful or is not really contraception. As explained in his book, The Way of the Lord Jesus, Grisez understands the sinfulness of contraception to be based on its opposition to new life. Contraception is antilife, and therefore it is inherently immoral.

Peters then ends his post by stating:

“In any case, my main point is this: before any commission or study group could move against the substance of the Church’s teaching reflected in Humanae vitae, the arguments for its infallible certainty, arguments set forth and steadily defended by Ford and Grisez, would need to be addressed and soundly rejected. Something I don’t see happening. At all.”

Dr. Peters is writing about a rumor that a papal commission might change the official teaching of Humanae Vitae, via reinterpretation, so as to weaken its condemnation of contraception. Then he says that such a change can’t occur because the teaching is infallible. But, in a stunning display of arrogance and hypocrisy, Peters himself changes the teaching of Humanae Vitae by means of a radical reinterpretation — limiting the sin of contraception to the marital state — despite his own assertion that the teaching is infallible and therefore irreformable. And to support his claim that the teaching is infallible, he cites sources, all of which (even Haro) condemn contraception outside of marriage.

Again and again, the Humanae Vitae revisionists publicly assert that the use of contraception outside of marriage is either not really contraception, or not intrinsically evil, or not condemned by Church teaching. By doing so, they are telling people who are not in a valid marriage, as marriage is defined by the Church, that they may morally use contraception. Therefore, this assertion is the grave sin of formal cooperation with the use of contraception outside of marriage. For whenever you publicly assert that a grave sin is moral (or morally neutral, or at least not condemned as sin by the Church), you approve of that act and implicitly encourage persons to commit the act. The harm done by this small group of arrogant false teachers is immense. And yet, they cannot be bothered to present a clear and comprehensive theological argument to support their claim.

Peters says the teaching is infallible, but his own sources disagree with his explanation of the teaching. Other authors merely state this heresy, limiting sin of contraception to the marital state, without any argument at all, as if it were obvious. Janet E. Smith supports her similar claim by literally rewriting the text of Humanae Vitae, in a new translation, adding words and phrases not justified by anything in the Latin source text, so that Humanae Vitae now says what the radical revisionist wish the Pope had written. But nowhere, as far as I am aware, is there a substantial theological argument supporting this revision of Humanae Vitae, limiting the sin of contraception to contracepted marital acts.

The Humanae Vitae revisionists argue that contraception is not intrinsically evil, or is not contraception at all, outside of marriage. And within marriage, they would permit the use of abortifacient contraception, while the couple is sexually active, despite the deprivation of the procreative meaning from those sexual acts and despite the deaths of innocent prenatals, on the excuse that the abortifacient contraception is used for a medical purpose.

If we then take this proposition to its logical conclusion, most uses of contraception in the world would be not be a sin because (according to these radical revisionists) it is outside of a valid marriage. And within valid marriages, any woman with a medical purpose could use abortifacient contraception — not merely contraception. Are there any women who do not have a medical purpose in using abortifacient contraception? The long term use of the birth control pill has been proven to substantially reduce the risk of ovarian cancer. So every woman could use abortifacient contraception and claim that its use is moral. There would be left no cases where the use of contraception could be condemned, except perhaps married women who assert that their sole intention is to contracept.

Thus, the position of Ed Peters, Janet Smith, Jeff Mirus, Jimmy Akin, and several other prominent commentators, quickly leads to the justification of contraception and even abortifacient contraception in the vast majority of cases. And it is absurd to claim that this version of Church teaching on contraception — a version which justifies most uses and justifies killing millions of innocents — is an infallible teaching of Jesus Christ through His Church.

To the contrary, the traditional teaching is that contraception is gravely immoral because it impedes the natural end of sexual acts, procreation. This end is inherent to human nature and the gift of human sexuality. And there are many magisterial sources as well as the writings of Saints and Doctors of the Church, which support this view. Contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral, regardless of marital state. See my past posts elaborating on the sources which support the traditional condemnation of contraception, whether within marriage or outside of marriage. See also my series of articles on contraception and heresy here.

Here’s a quote from an article, originally published in The Thomist (1988), by Grisez, Boyle, Finnis, and May:

“The characterization of contraception as a contralife act is one major element of the unbroken Christian tradition condemning contraception as always wrong…. When contraception is regarded as contralife, it is seen as evil outside marriage as well as within. Historically, contraception probably was more common among the unmarried than the married, and much of the tradition condemned contraception without distinguishing between its uses in and outside marriage.”

“This definition makes it clear that contraception is only contingently related to marital intercourse. For the definition of contraception neither includes nor entails that one who does it engages in sexual intercourse, much less marital intercourse. Therefore, if someone both engages in a sexual act and contracepts, the two are distinct acts.”

[“Every Marital Act Ought To Be Open To New Life: Toward A Clearer Understanding” by Germain Grisez, Joseph Boyle, John Finnis & William E. May]

So the teaching that Peters says is infallible is NOT “that contraception between married couples (both terms being correctly understood) is intrinsically evil”, but that any deliberate act inherently ordered to impede or thwart the procreation of new life is an intrinsically evil act of contraception. And this is what Humanae Vitae states: “Similarly 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.” But here the term “specifically intended” refers not to the intended end, but to the species of the intentionally chosen act.

The Humanae Vitae revisionists present no theological argument to support their claims. When confronted with arguments to the contrary, they have no reply. They continue to harm souls by justifying all acts of contraception outside of marriage, and many acts of contraception and abortifacient contraception within marriage. And they have the gall to claim that they are merely presenting the infallible teaching of Jesus Christ through His Church.

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

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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12 Responses to A Canon Lawyer radically revises Humanae Vitae

  1. Matt Z. says:

    Contraception is intrinsically evil by its very nature. Just as abortion and IVF are intrinsically evil by its very nature regardless of marital state. This is a no brainer.

  2. Marco says:

    “The harm done by this small group of arrogant false teachers is immense.”

    Are you are about that? If these false teachers taught the truth regarding contraception, do you think that most Catholics would follow it?

    I think that these false teachers are numbing people consciences, in a way that people can contracept without being guilty of actual mortal sin because they have received wrong teachings on this matter.

    Every Christian church (even the orthodox) is more lenient than the Catholic Church on contraception. My question is: what is worse? That catholics contracept and doing so they commit a mortal sin because they know the rule or that people still contracept but they aren’t guilty of actual mortal sin because they don’t know the rule and they have been duped by false teachers?

    • Marco says:

      About my question I’m sure that you will respond that people shouldn’t contracept, but the thing is that they will contracept, even if they are taught that they shouldn’t.

      And I think this is just the reality. So what is worse? That Catholics contracept and go to hell for this sin (and we would be the only ones because all the other churches allow contraception -not abortifacient contraception of course, but normal contraception is allowed even by the ortodox Church- so for the other christians is very harder to commit an actual mortal sin by contracepting because they are taught that it’s not a grave sin) or that they still contracept but they commit only a venial sin by doing so?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Of those to whom more is given, more will be expected. And Catholics who sin can repent by the grace of God, so they are not worse off.

    • Ron Conte says:

      {8:32} And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
      No, it is not better if people continue in ignorance, so that they aren’t guilty of actual mortal sin.

  3. Guest says:

    Are you certain his argument is that contraception is not evil outside of marriage is okay? Here is seems that he mentions marriage, but we cannot infer about what he says about it outside of marriage. That would be arguing from silence. Maybe he takes fornication as impermissible regardless and does not to be mentioned since it’s obvious.

    Have you contacted him to get a clarification?

    • Ron Conte says:

      He has mentioned this position before, and it has been elaborated by other persons he cites. So, yes, they think that contraception is not intrinsically evil outside marriage, and that it is not really contraception outside marriage. They also claim the Church has no teaching on contraception outside marriage. Very wrong and foolish.

  4. domzerchi says:

    I don’t understand how what Peters said logically implies this “…the sin of contraception does not exist, or at least it is not correctly understood as contraception, between any persons who are not in a valid marriage”

    I can see how it might possibly have been intended as a weak (not logical) implication, a sort of implication by omission, but I dont understand how we can be so sure that is what he meant to do. He might simply, for example, have not intended to address the question of contraception outside of marriage, perhaps because he did not know enough to do so or perhaps for some other legitimate reason. Perhaps he ended up seeming (to you) to be weakly implying the view you attribute to him as a result of his answering a very particular question in a very strictly precise way. I can tell you from personal experience that I have been misunderstood for that very fashion–after speaking very precisely to avoid being misunderstood or to avoid being incorrect by saying too much I’ve ended up being misunderstood by people who draw false conclusions about my beliefs based on what I didn’t say, on what I purposely refrained from saying in order to be precise and on-topic.

    • Ron Conte says:

      I know his position on this topic not only from that one post, but from other posts by him and from lengthy articles by persons whom he cites. So my words, which you quoted, refer to sources which say exactly that. Various claims are made by persons who limited the condemnation of contraception by the Church to the marital state about what happens outside marriage. Either: we don’t know because the Church hasn’t taught that (Jimmy Akin), or contraception is morally neutral outside marriage (Jeff Mirus), or it is not really contraception properly defined (Janet E. Smith).

    • domzerchi says:

      Ron Conte,

      Thank you!

  5. domzerchi says:

    Also, arguing in a parsimonious way, not proving more than one intends to prove, makes one’s argument stronger. Couldn’t that rhetorical principle have been Peters’ sole reason for excluding the question of contraception outside marriage?

    Also, isn’t the phrase “the marital act” simply a way of saying “the act whose object is sexual reproduction, by a human couple” irrespective of whether the couple in question are actually married?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Peters’ position has been mentioned by him before, and it has been elaborated by other persons he has cited. So, the answer to both questions is No.

      Contraception is an act that impedes “sexual reproduction, by a human couple irrespective of whether the couple in question are actually married”.

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