What really happened…

In July 2008, I interviewed the late Professor John Marshall in the Catholic Herald on his experience as a member of the Papal Commission on Contraception. It was the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae.

The last 40 years has seen, in western countries, a dramatic decline in
active Catholic membership, marriages and vocations. And many would
attribute in large measure this sorry state of affairs to the publication by
Pope Paul VI of Humanae Vitae on July 25 1968. Its ruling that the
established teaching on the intrinsic evil of contraception should remain in
force rejected the firm recommendations of the Papal Commission which had
been studying the issue since it had been appointed by John XXIII. It first
met in October 1963.

Professor John Marshall, a distinguished neurologist who had spent much of
his professional life studying the science behind natural family planning
and working with the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council (now Marriage Care),
was a founder member of the commission. Now he was digging into his
excellent memory. This could be the last time a founder member would be able
to tell us about a proceeding of deep significance to the Church. I asked
him if the task had been to examine whether the traditional teaching should
be modified.

“On the contrary,” he replied. “The UN was concerned with discussions on
population problems, and our job was to establish the firmest and most
coherent support for Catholic teaching based on good science and
demographics. I don¹t think anyone at that stage thought of any change in
the teaching itself. But our little band of six realised the need for
additional firepower. So when we reconvened we had seven additions.”
Five of these additions were theologians, including Joseph Fuchs and Bernard
Häring theologians of international reputation. How important were the

“Not just important crucial, as it turned out. Pierre de Lochte¹s
contribution proved to be a turning point.”

He continued: “The commission, urged on by the growing scientific knowledge
that only a small minority of acts of intercourse could lead to conception,
had begun to consider whether the issue should change its focus from the old
categories of the primary and secondary ends of marriage and its sexual
expression, to the community of love in the marriage. And the question of
the structure of the marriage act did not of course apply to the Pill. So we
had to dig deeper, and it was de Lochte who clarified that we were now
dealing with questions of fundamental theology.”

I wondered whether that was when the commission realised that the teaching
would have to change.

“Certainly not. There was strong opposition to any change from some, and
even those who were prepared to contemplate it were initially very uncertain
and alive to the momentous consequences of change. I would describe it as a
gradual realisation by the majority over periods of long discussion and
thought. You must remember that by the time of the final general meeting in
1965, there were 58 members, and now included Catholic married couples.”

I asked him to summarise the outcome of these considerations.
“Do you want the short answer or the long answer?” But he did not need my
reply; he is a succinct man with a brain like a scalpel blade. “The short
answer is that we concluded that the foundation is married love which
expresses itself ideally and most fully in the generous procreation of
children, both in their conception and continued care. Taken within this
perspective the need for every marriage act to maintain its structural
openness to conception is not necessary and may, in many circumstances, run
counter to the virtue of prudence.”

I asked whether natural planning would not have offered a satisfactory
method of achieving these objectives without interfering with the structure
of sexual intercourse. He took the view that it was man’s vocation to invent
or discover ways of bringing order to creation. The use of the safe period
was just such a control of nature, as were barrier contraceptives or the
temporary suspension of fertility through the Pill. All such methods reduced
the fullness of the sexual gift in a sense but, used responsibly, served the
higher end of marital love.

Although he and others were well aware that natural family planning, as used
at that time, could be a problem for many, the presentation by the late
Patty Crowley (who co-founded with her husband the Catholic Family Movement in America) of a survey she had been asked to conduct brought, he said, a taste of reality to those who had little pastoral experience.

It brought home the fact that well-motivated, active, Catholic couples had
on the whole valued the method but that a large majority had also found it
had harmed their relationship in various ways. It broadly concluded that the
method was not suitable for all couples and probably unsuitable for almost
any couple throughout the whole of their married lives. It would be
difficult to repeat such a survey now in the light of improved methods,
since practising Catholic married couples who use natural family planning
exclusively are no longer representative of the general population.

It was Patty who was later to reply to Fr Marcelino Zalba’s question: “What
then with the millions we have sent to hell, if the rules are relaxed?” She
responded “Fr Zalba, do you really believe God has carried out all your

“Perhaps,” Professor Marshall said, “the real turning point came in April
1965 when the four theologians who were opposed to change admitted that they
could not demonstrate the intrinsic evil of contraception through natural
law. They based their case on the tradition of the Church, and the moral
laxity which contraception would introduce. Interestingly, the Pope cited
the natural law in support of his final judgment but without giving any
further reasoning. And none has been forthcoming.”

The additional select group appointed for the final meeting to consider the
Majority Report consisted of six cardinals, 13 archbishops, one bishop and
the Pope’s theologian. The report was approved following preliminary voting
by the bishops on specific questions: was contraception intrinsically evil?
By a substantial majority the answer was no. Was the recommendation on
contraception in the report in basic continuity with tradition and the
teaching the Magisterium? By a substantial majority the answer was yes.
Subsequently, representations contrary to the Majority Report were made
privately to the Pope by those who believed that the doctrine could not, or
should not, be changed.

In view of the ultimate decision, I asked Professor Marshall whether he
thought that the Pope was determined from the first to reject any
recommendation for change.

“No, I believe it was an agonising decision for him. He was consistently
encouraging us to debate freely even when the developing trend of our
thought was reported to him. He was a man who was open to persuasion, and it
seems that in the end he was persuaded, by the so-called Holy Office, that the maintaining of the Church’s consistent authority was more important than the insights of the commission.”

“But might he not have been right in thinking that a change in such a firm
teaching would have been scandalous to many people, and eroded the Church¹s
authority?” I asked.

“Certainly there would have been many distressed people particularly those
who were not aware that such changes in non-infallible teachings have
occurred in the past. As an example, the Council’s change in the Church¹s
teaching on freedom of conscience in matters of religion was even more
radical but did not attract popular attention. And the inevitable fuss would
have been as nothing compared with the long term effects of maintaining the

I wondered whether he was referring to the very substantial drop in Catholic
practice, marriages and vocations since then.

“Certainly that. Every survey has shown that around 90 per cent of Catholic
couples ignore the unqualified teaching of Humanae Vitae. And the most
recent widespread survey of parochial clergy showed that fewer than half
supported the total ban. We have the unusual but very destructive dilemma of
the Magisterium teaching a doctrine under authority and that doctrine not
being ‘received’ by the Church as a community. Perversely, the perceived
irrelevance of the Magisterium¹s teaching on marriage may have contributed
to the growth of the contraceptive mentality which is now so evident in
countries we think of as Catholic.”

I thought that the distinction between a doctrine being taught and a
doctrine being received had deep theological significance for the nature of
the Church. But that was for another occasion, so I asked Professor Marshall
to sum up.

“The papal commission could be described as an aberration. Asking experts
from relevant disciplines to study a doctrinal question and make
recommendations had never happened before and it’s unlikely to happen
again. Yet there are so many problems. For instance, we are asked to tackle the shortage of vocations through Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Excellent in itself, but it should be
complemented by a full-scale commission, making use of the Church¹s full
resources clerical and lay. But I doubt if it will be.

“Frankly I am gloomy about the present prospects for the Church. The only
bright light is the growth of Eucharistic communities led by good priests.
That may be the future of the Church, as Karl Rahner suggested.”

About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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86 Responses to What really happened…

  1. Gerry says:

    This is a most important article. John Marshall was a great man and a most careful man and was on the Commission from the very beginning being one of the original six. I knew him briefly from meetings (he was the temperature method expert in the 1950s and 1960s) and at Sacred Heart Wimbledon. He contributes a forward to what I consider the best book on the Commission “The Encyclical That Never Was” The story of the Pontifical Commission on Population, Family and Birth 1964-66” by Robert Blair Kaiser. (Sheed and Ward 1987) Amazon still has a few copies.
    In 1966, John Billings, a third cousin of mine from Australia, and his wife Lyn came to see John Marshall and during their visit kindly asked me out to dinner. It was there that I learnt about their new method of NFP. I had no idea at that time that it would become so important in Catholic theology and in Catholic attitudes to contraception. Pope John Paul II seems to have had great faith in the Billings’ method. Far too much faith. It’s good but it isn’t good enough.

  2. Iona says:

    I was corresponding with Professor Marshall for a while (during the mid-80s, that would be), – it was not long after I’d become a Catholic, and was trying to learn to use NFP, and there weren’t any teachers near enough for me to visit, but Professor Marshall sent letters, temperature charts and so forth. I knew nothing about the Billings method until later. I understand that there are now still more accurate ways for a woman to recognise when she is, and is not, fertile.

    • St.Joseph says:

      A females fertility ought not to be a mystery not just for planning or spacing children.
      The benefits are so important for heath risks and for understanding ones body. single or married.
      I consider that to be the’ liberation of women’!

  3. John Nolan says:

    Could anyone in 1968 have predicted that the birth rate in every European country would have fallen below replacement level by the year 2000? Or the disastrous economic consequences of this, particularly in southern Europe?

    The dramatic decline in active Catholic membership reflected in Mass attendance, baptisms, vocations, marriages and conversions was already underway by 1968. The collapse of the traditional religious orders, which accelerated in the 1970s, is unlikely to have been a consequence of HV. Had the encyclical never been issued, or if the Church had relaxed her opposition to artificial contraception, I doubt if it would have made much difference. A lot was happening at that time; it seemed to the Catholic intellectual John Eppstein, writing in 1971, that a 2000 year old supernaturally-oriented institution that was ‘the most solid and venerable pillar of civilization’ had been transformed almost overnight into an organization where every form of disorder and disorientation ‘in the fields of morals, faith, authority and worship’ was not only tolerated, but encouraged.

    Outsiders like Malcolm Muggeridge were saying much the same thing. In this context, HV can be seen as a failed attempt to buck the trend.

    • St.Joseph says:

      John Nolan.
      You are quite right.
      Artificial contraception before HV gave women the freedom to have sexual intetrcourse before marriage.The permissive society of the late 50s and 60s then the Pill women felt liberated and then abortion made legal- no danger of having to give birth to a baby.
      Religion chastity and purity flew out the window sex came out into the open it did not have to be hidden-pop music, flower people-who was going to listen to the Pope.when even his priests didn’t!. We can look back in anger or pray to change it ,and of course the Church will have taken the blow.

    • Nektarios says:

      I hate to disallusion you, it did not fall since the 1960s. Those who should have been here and in Europe, are not, because since the mid to late 1960s onwards to date, they were aborted by the millions. Our country, the UK stands is now over 9 million.

      I almost give up any hope of the Church rescuing the world from its sorrow, and pain,
      even the Church wants its cake and eat it of this world and passions and pleasures.
      power, prestige and money – oh yes it does, hencde its spiritual weakness and real spiritual comprehension. It’s tragic to observe.
      What good is all the stats concerning NFP and other related matters – it is busybodying in other peoples lives,
      for their so called good, when we on the otherhand in the West are fragmenting just as they are eleswhere.
      It is time to pay attention to those who look after other peoples gardens, to attend to their own – there is enough to keep us all going to keep those weeds at bay and chase off those foxes that spoil your vine.
      We are not staying here, we will die and depart soon enough, Is it not more important we who are Christians help one another on our spiritual journey and life, looking unto the Author and Finisher of our Faith, Our Lord, God and Judge?

      Salvation is not a patch up of our old nature and have that in heaven, that is just too childish for words. Salvation is a new nature entirely a new creature entirely.
      The Gospel is what needs to be proclaimed, lived first internally, before one even attempts to tell others, otherwise it one goes forth on their own power and charge, not being sent of the Lord but it seems we are caught up in this world and its affairs too much for our own souls good.
      Comapssion, help when sought by others should be given to all.

      Yes there is progress in this world in a mechanical reptitive sense and technologically, but spiritually and in morals? If we were as clear about that internally as we are about branishing statistics about, then the clarity would be there, the beauty and attractiveness would be there, attracting so many in this world to the Saviour of the World.
      Who else is going to do it?
      It seems we are willing, to do anything as long as it is the devil’s A,B.C – anything but Christ.
      When you see evil rising in the world, do not be surprised, Let not your heart be troubled,
      look up, look up, for your redemption draws nigh.

      • Nektarios says:

        Line 4 should read: ……hence its spiritual weakness and lack of spiritual awareness.

      • St.Joseph says:

        I is very sad to think that there are some people who do not really know or understand what Holy Mother Church is involved in or at least the work of Catholic Organisations!.
        An interesting insight is The Gift of Fertility Catholic Medical Quarterly by Dr Olive Duddy’ of the NANFPT.

      • St.Joseph says:

        I is very sad to think that there are some people who do not really know or understand what Holy Mother Church is involved in or at least the work of Catholic Organisations!.
        An interesting insight is The Gift of Fertility Catholic Medical Quarterly by Dr Olive Duddy’ of the NANFPT.

      • St.Joseph says:

        You say ‘you hate to disillusion us’
        You say ‘what good is all this stats concerning NFP.
        ‘You say 9 million aborted in the UK.
        Let me tell you to change this takes effort- I am certainly not disillusioned,because of teaching Fertility Awareness I thank God that less babies have been aborted through not using the Pill, more babies were conceived through their mothers knowledge of knowing their fertility that otherwise would not have been,
        I can hold my head up high and look the Lord in His face and say to Him I did my best and on this Mothering Sunday there are mothers not only from whom I have taught who have conceived who otherwise would still be infertile or else would maybe have gone down the road of IVF and would be then numbered in the abortion counts.
        You also say ‘you almost give up hope of the Church rescuing the world from its sorrow and pain’ you also say It is busybodying in peoples in lives for their so called good
        You have no right to criticise ‘What have you done in that area you speak of.
        My conscience is clear?.

  4. Gerry says:

    In the 1950s it was possible to believe – as I did – that a great surge of support for the Church was likely as the divide between very rich and very poor countries became obvious. The Church with its deep roots in both the rich north and the poor south would become the lead in alleviating the great poverty in the south by building schools and medical clinics and giving support through its many connections. Sadly this was not to be. The schools and clinics were built, but they were used to spread Catholic moral theology, both liberation theology which favoured an anti-capitalist economic system and scholastic theology which bans the use of artificial contraception. These two theologies nullify, and more than just nullify, all the good done by the saintly and selfless priests and nuns and laity who had provided the schools and clinics. Consequently, the poverty and hunger continues, often made worse by conflict; good people see these things, see that the Church has brought great misery to the poor and want to have nothing to do with it. Catholic theology, whether coming from Greek philosophy or Karl Marx, needs to be profoundly demoted from its present dominant position in the Church.
    Happily, in the Far East and, belatedly, in parts of Latin America, following the lead of the four Asian Tigers, more people are being brought out of poverty more quickly than at any time in history, simply by using the market economy, the world economic system, and keeping their fertility rate below two.

    • St.Joseph says:

      I am sorry to be a bit ignorant on the issues you speak about.
      Surely it is the responsibility of Governments to sort out the poor , and provide proper living conditions and schools and medical Centres.
      The Church can not be responsible for for bringing misery to the poor.. We have been donating money to the third world as long as I can remember.
      Fertility Awareness applies to all Nations! If overpopulation is a problem.

  5. Singalong says:

    Gerry, and St. Joseph, I am similarly puzzled.

    Fertility Awareness/Natural Family Planning has improved so much since the 1960`s that it could be much more widely taught and used and explained as a better option than artificial contraception, a lot less expensive, in the West, and in developing countries, and much healthier.

    The element of control needed, which is part of Christian life, would help to avoid the increase in promiscuity and marriage breakdown which has followed the widespread use of artificial methods. Theologians may not have been able to cite the natural law to back their opinions, but their forecast of moral laxity resulting is clear for us all to see.

    It is hard to think that the teaching of the Church will change, or that it should. Officially, it is still very clear. I was surprised to realise recently, that a Catholic marriage is not considered to be consummated if artificial contraception was always used during intercourse, so that can be grounds for applying for an annulment.

    Pandora`s box has been open for a long time, but so it was when the Church spread across the Roman Empire, and changed its pagan culture.

  6. Gerry says:

    St Joseph and Singalong,
    I think that all your queries are answered on my website at http://www.gerrydanaher.com The whole site is far too long, but just clicking on Quotations 1948-2013 should give you enough information. Good luck!

  7. John de Waal says:

    As eminent as John Marshall was he was not up with the latest developments in NFP in the. 1970s and 1980s. Sadly, by then many bishops and priests had thrown in the towel and closed their minds to Billings and the Ovulation Method. Hence, generations have grown up without guidance from the Church on these matters.

    Also, I do not accept that Natural Law has failed to explain the Church’s teaching on birth control. Bernard Haring was mentioned in the interview with Dr Marshall – hardly a champion of Natural Law!

    • Iona says:

      John de Waal – Yes, that was my experience. Professor Marshall was instructing me (by post) in the mid-80s, solely about the temperature method. Nothing at all about Billings.

    • John de Waal says:

      I am interested to hear how and why Natural Law was rejected by some of the theologians on the papal commission. This seems to me of vital importance. Whatever our stance on this subject we need to know on what we base our beliefs. The Truth is surely not negotiable. We need to know what the Truth is and why.

      • Quentin says:

        There were two main issues here. One, which was argued most strongly, was that of the Church’s tradition, to which was added the threat to her moral authority resulting from such a change. “How could the Church have been wrong?”

        The second issue was the problem of demonstrating conclusively that the biology of the sexual act of its nature required that no circumstance could excuse the artificial blocking of its inbuilt potential to procreate. The jump from a biological description to a moral imperative, known famously through David Hume as “no ought can be derived from is” could not be overcome.

        It is interesting that Josef Fuchs SJ, writing his text on natural law in 1955 (translated 1966) uses contraception an example of a prohibited activity, was appointed to the Commission as a conservative theologian. However he changed his mind under the influence of Commission discussions – partly as a result of Professor Marshall’s description of NFP in action.

      • John de Waal says:

        Quentin. In reply to your comments about natural law. IfJosef Fuchs SJ changed his mind about contraception and natural law as a result of John Marshall’s description of NFP in action and if, as I believe, John Marshall’s understanding of NFP was limited to the temperature method then this hardly constitutes a refutation of natural law.

        If we consider the purposes of sex as life-giving and love-giving then deliberately frustrating either of these ends is morally wrong. NFP works with the nature of sex,ie. we are not obliged to have sexual intercourse! Whereas contraception,ie.artificial methods, works consciously against nature. This is my understanding of natural law with regard to contraception. Am I wrong? This seems entirely coherent to me. Having said this – and accepting it totally – I think there is much more to be said about individual responsibility. The guilt of a married couple with a large family where they use contraception is surely not the same as a couple who are childless, or single people.

        Paul VI was very wise in foreseeing the many problems that contraception would create – cohabitation, sex outside of marriage – these have been made more accessible because of contraception. Likewise. Homosexual acts – which can be love-giving but never life-giving – are condoned by many on the grounds that they are little different from heterosexual acts when using contraception. The logic is strong – but only if you reject natural law.

      • Quentin says:

        Fuchs explained that he had started to have his doubts in 1963; he withdrew a standard textbook of his which he could no longer support, and stopped teaching moral theology at the Gregorian. So you can imagine that it was a serious reversal of view. Marshall (who had provided the CMAC service on NFP to married couples) I assume told him of the actual problems which married couples encountered. And this was confirmed by other evidence from the Crowleys. Presumably this strengthened his view that the existing teaching worked against the good of marriage.

        I don’t think it is possible to argue that contraceptive intercourse leaves the act unaltered. Thus the position that contraceptive intercourse is not fit to consummate a marriage seems to me to be unassailable. I would argue that NFP should be the prime “Catholic way”. I have received enormous benefits from NFP in my own life, and would always support it.

        The question at issue is whether the indications from the structure of the act should or should not prevail when there is a conflict between responsible parenthood and the full expression of the other, and equal, end of marriage which is the exercise of marital love. The supporters of change believed that this was properly within the province of man’s control over nature. But neither conclusion can be rigorously demonstrated.

        We have to bear in mind that the confusion over the morality of sexual expression outside marriage has occurred in spite of the Church’s actual decision. There are those who argue that the Church was seen as dogmatic and irrelevant as a result, thus disqualifying herself as an influence for the good.

  8. Gerry says:

    Thanks St Joseph. Yes, if the website address on secondsight is clicked, almost nothing comes up. I’ll try to get that fixed but it will take a week or so. If you just go to the internet and type in http://www.gerrydanaher.com it will come up fine.I’ve just tested it.

    John de Waal If modern NFP is so good why is it that in Uganda, (40% Catholic), the population is doubling every 25 years causing extreme poverty and much hunger?

    • St.Joseph says:

      Gerry. Thank you I will look into that.
      When I was a student my tutor was Dr Anna Flynn and John Kelly 2 wonderful researchers in the field of Fertility Awareness. Both deceased now, John Kelly recently. His work in Africa has been a wonderful success on on going research.Enough to call it 100% effective.Even when I studied in 1980. In those days a teaching certificate would only be issued by the Central Board of Midwives before one taught.
      Dr Anna Flynn did scientific research in women’ urine which I am pleased to have played a part in it with the specimens of urine, from the females I taught.which were numerous..
      The reality of NFP and that is the times in every relationship where avoidance of intercourse will be difficult, but that is the nature of life unfortunately we live in a quick fix society where anything that seems difficult to do appears to be automatically bad.
      Restraint is often important and sometimes essential during pregnancy, times of illness etc; It is a good idea to to have some practice before these circumstance arise. So restraint is an important part of relationships whether during pregnancy,illness or during fertile times.
      Such restraint is after all,only a sign of deep respect an love for one another.

      In other cultures, abstinence does not seem out of place in a normal married relationship. In some African tribes men are expected to abstain from intercourse until after the baby can walk- A chief would tell his sons ‘A child is one who has what he wants when he wants it: a man is one that can wait. When NFP was taught to some of these couples,they were amazed. The women were proud to show the fertile mucus to their husbands, and the men were even prouder to know these secrets of reproduction.
      Perhaps that is the reason why population in Africa as you speak of above.has increased-they did not use it for the right reasons-or perhaps they preferred to have more babies-their choice.

    • Singalong says:

      Gerry, are Ugandans using any method to limit births? It is not clear why you are sceptical about modern NFP.

      I had no trouble in accessing your site from the Blog, and reading the 1948-2013 Quotations. They are certainly very direct, and the problem is very great, but why is NFP constantly ignored or discounted? It seems rather patronising to assume that people cannot manage it. As St. Joseph writes, times for abstinence is already part of many cultures.

      • Quentin says:

        Singalong, one or two contributions recently have, like yours, come to me for moderation because email addresses have been misspelt. The Blog sees them as first time contributors. You have to wait for your message to be posted — and I get an extra job!

    • John de Waal says:

      Gerry. I am not familiar with Uganda. Perhaps many were not practising NFP – or chose to have babies. All I know is that in a good married relationship NFP works. You need to be motivated and willing to cooperate with each other.

  9. John Nolan says:

    Since 1960 total fertility rates have declined rapidly in Asia and central and south America; some Latin American countries, notably Brazil and Chile have TFRs which are below replacement level (usually put at 2.1 in developed countries) and markedly below that of the United States. Apart from Afghanistan the highest TFRs are in sub-Saharan Africa where there are other factors which limit population growth, e.g. AIDS and malnutrition. The fact that 40% of Ugandans are Catholic would not appear to be relevant. If one looks at Europe, the lowest TFRs are Poland (1.31) and Italy (1.4). Spain, which in the Franco years had a TFR approaching 7, now comes out at 1.48.

    Even in Africa there is an ongoing decline in fertility rates. In the industrialized countries, where the decline is most marked, there comes a point where future economic growth and prosperity are threatened. Not only is the population not replacing itself, but the percentage of those who are economically active decreases, putting a growing strain on welfare resources. Japan, with a TFR of only 1.39, has started to identify this as a problem which needs to be addressed.

  10. Vincent says:

    John, are the lowering fertility rates you mention brought about through large scale adoption of NFP; or are they primarily brought about by the contraceptive means which the Church deplores?

    • John Nolan says:

      Vincent, I’m not a demographer. The availability of artificial contraception is obviously important, but is only a means to an end. From what I’ve read, religious belief or practice is not a factor. Even in strictly Islamic countries there is little correlation (Saudi Arabia 2.21 and falling, Iran 1.86 and falling).

      The plunging of TFR worldwide is the most startling demographic change of the last 50 years, and although the myth persists that the Catholic Church’s stance on contraception causes larger families and increased poverty, the figures contradict this strongly. One factor which keeps coming up is the increasing availability of television in the Third World, and better education for women. The presence of women in the workplace reduces family size, and to a certain degree offsets the economic consequences of a TFR below replacement level, but this can’t last for ever.

      Uganda (6.02) is fairly typical for sub-Saharan Africa, but most of these countries have a low population density anyway, and most predict that by 2030 the TFR in all of them will have reduced by a half, putting them fairly close to replacement level.

      I also believe that the current state of the RC Church in the affluent West can’t be blamed on Paul VI’s decision to uphold the traditional teaching on birth control. It’s rather like saying that if the Church embraced divorce, homosexual behaviour, abortion, women’s ordination and all the shibboleths of modern secular ethics (which of course she can’t do anyway) then the churches would be packed. It didn’t work with the CofE.

      • Ignatius says:

        John Nolan:
        “..I also believe that the current state of the RC Church in the affluent West can’t be blamed on Paul VI’s decision to uphold the traditional teaching on birth control. It’s rather like saying that if the Church embraced divorce, homosexual behaviour, abortion, women’s ordination and all the shibboleths of modern secular ethics (which of course she can’t do anyway) then the churches would be packed. It didn’t work with the CofE…”

        Ho ho, very cogent point that! I agree with you on this. Hate to say but I’m not convinced much of this matters really. Given that we agree the vast majority of practicing Catholics who are still of reproductive age use contraception (if they do) then it is pretty clear that the contraceptive issue is not the main reason for not their lack of attendance…how many chats about contraception have you ever heard going on about contraception over coffee and a biscuit after mass? The one or two I’ve engaged in are usually youngish women telling me the church is wrong and that’s that. I don’t personally judge them or have an opinion on the issue but I can see clearly that the thing is ,as they say, ‘a done goose’

        No, it won’t do as an explanation. Better I think is the answer given by our PP at our recent parish discussion about how to implement changes due to local lack of priests; WE have failed to evangelise and WE have failed to share the true joy of the gospel. Personally I agree with him because it does seem to me that if you scratch a catholic, rather than share the joy of knowing God they will begin to winge on about the church. Either that or we are simply going through one of those times when cultural/ moral values shift/decline and change sweeps across the land. The Anglicans see their decline setting in after the first world war and being fairly steady since then. I’m not really sure what ‘decline’ means anyway since we seem to have grown from 12 to 2 billion over 2 thousand years, and thats at a conservative estimate…??

  11. Singalong says:

    Quentin, my apologies. On the computer I am using at the moment I have to enter my email address each time, and must have rattled it off, and left out a letter or not pressed firmly enough on a key.

  12. Iona says:

    In countries with no social security arrangements, the older generation – when too old to support themselves – are cared for by their sons and daughters. Also, in “traditional” societies families work together on the family farm or whatever. In both cases, children are seen as a (financial) asset, so having plenty of them is a good thing. In such societies people may well have large families by choice, not because they don’t know how to limit their families.

  13. Ignatius says:

    “Yet there are so many problems. For instance, we are asked to tackle the shortage of vocations through Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Excellent in itself, but it should be
    complemented by a full-scale commission, making use of the Church¹s full
    resources clerical and lay. But I doubt if it will be…”

    On the other hand it is certainly the case that we do well as ‘salt and light’ to the earth and I have no doubt whatsoever that when the reality of things is finally revealed there will be a blaze of glory the like of which has not yet been seen, but most of us keep our light well hidden, believing this is enough and that the gospel should be preached without words, words are the job of the priest after all. Then there is the case that the church is indeed a bewildering place to be for those not born into it. Even so, in Birmingham Diocese there are currently 200 catechumens coming forward for Easter. There are centuries in which the decline of the Church takes place somewhere on earth even as she blossoms on other parts and in different forms, I’m sure some of you are much better informed about this than I am. Personally I think it a mistake to major on the complexity of ‘decline’, we need to get before the sacrament as much as we can and pray that our own lives be transformed and that we be strengthened. I may be wrong in this but I do not see in our own diocese anyone occupying an office of lay ‘evangelist’ given over to encouraging the parishes and setting out mission programmes, to this end I do agree that there is a dire need for focussed use of resources and a kind of renewed sense that the gospel is indeed a fresh and beautiful gift to us all. This period is one of ‘decline’ and renewal, but hasn’t it always been thus since the early church?

  14. John Nolan says:

    Ignatius talks about the decline in vocations. There is a interesting essay by Rodney Stark and Roger Finke, published in 2000. Noting that there was a dramatic decline in the years immediately following the Second Vatican Council, in north America and most of western Europe, the authors argue that as a result of the Council the cost/benefit ratio involved in embracing the religious life, whether as a priest or a male or female religious, shifted suddenly from positive to negative. Previously the costs (celibacy, obedience, and in the case of the religious orders, poverty) were outweighed by the spiritual benefits. Lumen Gentium stressed that all Christians by virtue of baptism were called to holiness, and priests and religious were not in a superior state of holiness, but just like everyone else. Gaudium et Spes called for the religious oders to modernize their lifestyle and participate fully in the secular world. Perfectae Caritatis, one of the last Council documents (October 1965) said ‘the manner of life, of prayer and of work should be in harmony with present-day physical and psychological conditions of the members’.

    Fr Andrew Greeley observed:- ‘Anyone save an academic or a bishop would have anticipated that, if you change that which was unchangeable for 1500 years you are going to create a religious crisis. Attempts to put together a new system of religious symbols were half-hearted, unplanned, and, most of all, insensitive to actual religious needs’. The rewards of vocation were largely nullified, but the costs were not reduced.

    This explains why the ‘traditional’ orders, with their pre-V2 emphasis on community life, liturgical prayer and distinctive dress seem to be able to recruit young people and retain them. Stark and Finke attempted to compare vocations in ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ dioceses in the USA and found a very marked contrast.

    Another way to increase vocations might be to reduce the ‘cost’ side of the ledger. Anglican priests can pursue a career which is adequately paid but more or less unrestricted. This would mean allowing Catholic priests to marry and giving them security of tenure. But this isn’t going to happen; apart from anything else, Pope Francis has made it clear that he doesn’t want ‘careerists’.

    • Ignatius says:

      John Nolan,
      I’ve just come back from 3 days at Ampleforth Abbey, not exactly Centreparc in terms of youthfulness John, I would guess the average age was around sixty at least.

  15. Gerry says:

    Going back to demography: Contraceptive use worldwide is best investigated using the United Nations site. I’ve found their latest “World Contraceptive Use 2012” difficult to navigate (I’m getting on a bit) but here are a few points.
    In almost every developing country contraceptive use is increasing e.g. In Nepal the use has jumped from 2.4% of couples in union using contraception in 1976 to almost 50% in 2011.
    Here are some low figures: Chad 3%, Angola 6%, Sudan 9%, Niger 11%, Nigeria 14%, Afghanistan 21%, Pakistan 27%, Ethiopia 28%, – all heading for big trouble. Some high figures: Tunisia 60%, Indonesia 61%, Turkey 73% USA 73%, Vietnam 77%, Thailand 79%, Argentina 78%, Brazil 80%, Costa Rica 82%, South Korea 80%, China 84%, UK 84% – all prosperous or becoming prosperous.
    No doubt those countries with high contraceptive use and low fertility rates will have some trouble with paying pensions in the future, but this trouble is as nothing compared to the troubles of countries with low contraceptive use and high fertility rates.
    (How Saudi Arabia has managed to reduce its fertility rate to 2.17 while having such a low rate of contraceptive use (23.8%) is a puzzle. It is, of course, a rather secretive country.)
    I write as one who believes that global warming would be easier to manage if the world population was staying at 7 billion and not increasing to 10 billion. Global warming would be even easier to manage if the world population was only one billion!

    • John Nolan says:

      Gerry, although Pakistan has (according to the figures you cite) a low rate of contraceptive use, its TFR has declined in the past thirty years from 6.5 to 3.5. Of those women who had 6 children or more, 37% claimed that they used contraception as opposed to 24% who claimed they didn’t. The main factor in limiting family size seems to be the age at which girls get married – those who married at 19 or over were far more likely to have fewer than four children. Where socio-economic conditions lead to smaller families, then contraceptive use increases, as a means to an end.

      But it doesn’t take a mathematical genius to work out that a country with a TFR well below replacement level is going to have serious long term economic problems, and it’s not just a question of funding pensions.

  16. Geordie says:

    What if mankind has nothing to do with global warming? Climate change has always occurred, with and without human beings. The climate has never been static. It is dynamic.

  17. Gerry says:

    I see your point. Today’s dramatic UN report on global warming is very definite that it is happening and happening fast. It is less specific about the causes. On the other hand, all through the report they presume that this particular global warming is due to human activity, and I’m happy to go along with that.

    • John L says:

      I’m not, Gerry.
      To claim that humanity can interfere, positively or negatively with the natural cycle of climate change (it has ben warming since the Thames used to freeze over) always strikes me as one of the more startling examples of arrogance which is a feature of our race.

      • John Nolan says:

        Indeed, John L. No-one expected the UN to do anything else but exaggerate anthropogenic global warming. ‘All through the report they presume … ‘ . As if presumption is a good basis for objective research.

        It’s rather like Catholics who refuse to blame Vatican II for the present crisis in the Church. The ‘conservatives’ blame a false ‘spirit of the Council’ which distorted its message; the ‘liberals’ claim that reactionary elements thwarted the Council’s true intentions. Neither side is prepared to look at the objective reality.

      • Nektarios says:

        John L
        I totally agree with you. This issue of the planet warming up as a whole is a fact. Causes,
        really are unknown or the dynamics of it.
        There are just too many vested interests jumping on the `global warming’ bandwagon
        for my liking.
        We are prone to believe so-called experts, but they are like havng economists together, one can never get them to agree, project or see anything for certain.
        Man on the planet of around 7 billion souls are responsible for it? 7 billion people are mere specks on the the total land mass of planet Earth. There are billions more termites and they produce more global warming gases than all human activity put together.
        Fear. is the tool of the global warming alarmists use, stats galore. A lot of costs, and lots of what could happen.
        Certainly, we need take heed of changes if they are indeed long term changes.

      • Alan says:

        The experts tell us that they are pretty confident that we are contributing significantly to the warming trend on the planet. I suspect that other factors will not have escaped their collective attention. I would guess that the methane produced by termites will have been a relatively stable factor over the past few hundred years or so as compared to our own. The 11 year old girl who made popular this particular source of greenhouse gas was right … as far as that goes.

  18. St.Joseph says:

    Apart from the fact that the contraceptive pill once conceived acts as an early abortion-also the effect of artificial hormones going into the water system,and it is known that whale and fish are being affected by changing their sexuality and also making them infertile,what else they do -is a great concern.
    How do we know that it is not affecting humans especially males as well .It must be against the natural Law.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Some interesting notes from my NFP files.
      An article by Dr R.E.J. Ryder in the British Medical Journal,September 18th 1993, and the correspondence that followed it, brought the natural,non- contraceptive, methods of family planning to public attention as never before. The editor wrote that he has ‘had to overcome’ his previous prejudice because the evidence that NFP is effective is so overwhelming.

      The Catholic Church teaches that,because it separates the loving and the procreative dimensions of that gift which God bestowed on us so that husband and wife will become ,two in one flesh,’ and share with Him in the creation of His sons and daughters, contraception is a serious offence against both the Author of Life and our own human human nature, created in His image to be the Temple of the Holy Spirit.

      Fr L E Whatmore FRHS, in the first part of his ‘The Continuity of Papal Teaching on Contraception’, traces the devlopment of the church’s teaching from St Justin Martyr (cAD150) through the early Fathers, to the Pastoral Law of Pope St Gregory the Great, brought to England by St Augustine in AD 597 and translated by King Alfred. He concludes by saying that by the end of the sixth century ‘by no stretch of the imagination can place be found for a future doctrinal development in favour of contraception.

      The Church’s condemnation of contraception does not mean that Catholic’s are requires to have as many children as possible. Section 10 of Pope Paul V1 ‘Humanae Vitae’ whilst praising those who prudently and generously choose to have a large family, tells us that those for for serious reasons and with respect for the moral law decide to limit the size of their families also exercise Responsible Parenthood .

      The World Health Organisation’s Five Nations Survey showed the Billings Method to be 97.8% effective when properly used to avoid conception. Just as importantly’ it showed the need to keep to the ruses of the Method; effectiveness fell to 79% when those who did not keep to the rules were include in the count. (By comparison Drs Tietz and Lewit have shown that the birth control pill 98.5% effective under laboratory conditions, is only 76.6 effectiveness when taken according to instruction. No contraceptive is 100% effective.

      I was teaching the Sympto-Thermal method as that is I would say 100% effective when used properly..
      I apologise this is so long -I do have filing cabinet full of info I expect it is not new to you,however will be to most people.

    • Peter Foster says:

      The first 43 responses have not addressed the key points for discussion which as I see it are:
      “The commission, urged on by the growing scientific knowledge that only a small minority of acts of intercourse could lead to conception, had begun to consider whether the issue should change its focus from the old categories of the primary and secondary ends of marriage and its sexual expression, to the community of love in the marriage.”
      “we concluded that the foundation is married love which expresses itself ideally and most fully in the generous procreation of children, both in their conception and continued care. Taken within this perspective the need for every marriage act to maintain its structural openness to conception is not necessary and may, in many circumstances, run counter to the virtue of prudence.”
      “He took the view that it was man’s vocation to invent or discover ways of bringing order to creation. The use of the safe period was just such a control of nature, as were barrier contraceptives or the temporary suspension of fertility through the Pill. All such methods reduced the fullness of the sexual gift in a sense but, used responsibly, served the higher end of marital love.”
      The responses up to now discuss birth rates and demography, population stresses and global warming, removal of restraints to intercourse outside marriage, and personal preferences for NFP. These are irrelevant to whether contraception is “intrinsically evil”. Humanae vitae was not an ex cathedra statement and after conscientious consideration (Are we granted that integrity?), we are entitled to disagree with it. Cardinal Heenan said it did not constitute a test of membership of the Church. The stunning silence from the majority of bishops together with Cardinal Hume’s strategy to emasculate reference to HV in the speeches written for Pope Paul’s visit to England (Described in the Tablet about ten years ago) says it all.

      • St.Joseph says:

        When Pope Benedict visited the UK the then Archbishop Vincent Nicholl’s had the perfect opportunity to speak up for Natural Family Planning when he was taking part in a discussion on the TV,however when asked the question regarding contraception he never mentioned NFP
        A few years ago I wrote to every Bishop and Cardinal what Marriage Care was teaching in their Diocese on Fertility Awareness, I received about 10 replies Not very encouraging.
        However I am more confident now that it is being taken seriously so there is hope for the future please God.. Although I seem to thing Marriage Care don’t teach it, as usually one time it went around away back to me to teach them..Although I am still a foundation member I have not got the energy or health to teach now, but still get the info from NAFPT . That is what is needed ‘teachers’It was the late Bishop Mervyn Davis who encouraged me in 1980 to study it.He did have the insight in 1980.It is really up to the laity now! We have to be responsible for our actions and not keep blaming Holy Mother Church.
        I would be helpful if the married priests and Catholic Deacons led the way!

      • John Nolan says:

        Peter Foster,

        Pope Paul did indeed visit England, but long before he was elected pope. Ex Cathedra pronouncements are rare, being part of the Extraordinary Magisterium, but the universal and ordinary Magisterium is no less infallible. In any case, the Catholic Church in the 21st century exists in a very few places. Your conscientious dissent is reflected by most of your co-religionists, so you have at least the consolation of being in a majority. But are you right?

  19. St.Joseph says:

    I was teaching a couple one time when the wife was menopausal .
    Her husband could not believe how simple it was and understood it very well . He said to me in great dismay,why have I not known the fertile time before now, as we used condoms unnecessarily all our life. What a waste!! I would not let my wife take a the Pill to endanger her life.!

    Another reason-‘would a husband want to put his wife under that risk’?
    I don’t see it the way most seem to-to me it makes sense,I can see the natural law -even if the Church changed the teaching.
    I taught more non-catholic’s than catholic’s.who did understood the reality of knowing ones fertility It is not only a case of obedience.

    • John Nolan says:


      I fear you are ploughing a lonely furrow. As for married priests and deacons, strictly speaking they should practise continence after ordination.

      • St.Joseph says:

        John Nolan.
        I wonder what the Church teaches regarding Anglican’s married clergy who become ordained – and .ordained Deacons.regarding family planning,?? That is kept very silent!

  20. St.Joseph says:

    April 1st at 4.11 My comment. Should read =
    It was the late Bishop Mervyn ALEXANDER of Clifton, not Davis.

  21. St.Joseph says:

    Your comment April 1st at 9.56.
    Can you explain what you mean when you say . ‘The supporters of change believed that this was properly within the province of man as control over nature’.

    I believe that marriage as a Sacrament allows husband and wife to have sexual intercourse in communion with God as explained in the article Eucharistic and Holy Communion.
    When we speak about nature or natural,we as humans have been lifted up from the animal world with the understanding of Gods nature in relationship with Him..
    It is not something that can be compared to ‘passion’ must have now sex!
    We must be able to associate our relationship with the Holy Family-it is not all about sex-,
    If marriages break up because of that-there has been a problem in the first place.

    • St.Joseph says:

      P.S Holy Communion,Eucharist and Marital by J F Kippley, if anyone interested it is a perfect example of the Lords way for our salvation with the help of the Sacrament.
      It does help!

    • Quentin says:

      “The supporters of change believed that this was properly within the province of man as control over nature’.”

      That man has a vocation to control nature is plain. We do it all the time. The question is: when is it right or wrong to do so? The argument went like this: in order to plan a family responsibly it is OK to control our level of fertility through using our ingenuity to identify times of ovulation and to avoid them. That is an artificial procedure. Why therefore is it wrong to control fertility through direct means, if that suits the expression of their marriage best? Those who oppose direct means must show why these are wrong. They have so far not done so.

      As you know, I do not think of NFP as just one alternative amongst others. I believe that it is the prime Catholic way, reflecting the fullness of sexual intercourse and respect for our nature. I think that every married couple should be using it as a matter of course. But there will be some couples who, either always or in certain circumstances, will find it not helpful for their expression of marriage. They then must decide what is the right thing for them to do in their situation.

      • St.Joseph says:

        So what would you suggest as an alternative to a women knowing her fertility as a family planning method-for spacing etc?
        I know ‘your thoughts’ but how would you instruct others who did not believe in NFP..
        The Billings method only use the temperature-they don’t use the 4 indices of sympto-thermal which is accurate. At least I don’t believe they do. Perhaps someone will tell me otherwise.

        As far as I can see it is the only natural way of all.
        Of course a person must decide what is right for them in their situation, hence the need for proper instruction and not let one be confused with the old Rhythm Method. Things have progressed since then.
        It is Natural however understood by science.,
        Sometimes it is only a case of convenience-it is easier to take a pill-not that I am against taking pills, I take 12 a day to keep me alive. However certain pills will kill one even babies,!
        Marriage breakdown can not be blamed on NFP when artificial contraception is used more.
        If it is caused by NFP then as I said above it is lack of love and understanding.
        When I held a Clinic in my home I had people from the so called Green enthusiasts who did not wish to use pills or condoms, not because they were religious,but they had common sense.
        As far as I am concerned if a couple need to us a condom-it is entirely up to them.If it improves their marriage relationship. So be it! I did not teach NFP for any moral reason I leave that to their conscience. It is not the only sin.

  22. St.Joseph says:

    I am surprised that no one has told me of my mistake- Only reading now I noticed .
    The Billings uses the mucus only- not the temperature.!!
    I would also like to know if someone other than Quentin could tell me what they would suggest for spacing children, if not the knowledge of ‘fertility awareness’ . I ask this for the reason to ‘ask myself’.is it ‘that unpopular now or popular?

    • Quentin says:

      St. Joseph, help me here! I have checked several internet sites on the methods of spotting the onset of returning fertility while breastfeeding. What I have read does not give me much confidence. Advice is given on ways of doing this but they appear to be only ways of improving the situation rather than a definite answer. Not enough, I think, for a mother who doesn’t want (or can’t risk) a speedy new baby. Do you have information on this?

      • St.Joseph says:

        I seem to think this was discussed some time ago on SS..
        When I studied NFP obviously all things had to be understood.
        LAM -The Lactational Amenorrhea Method-is a method used world-wide by breastfeeding mother to prevent pregnancy naturally.
        I have a lot of leaflets that I can post you one is A4 double sided so can not be put on the blog. I also have a 5 page booklet A4 LAM. the same adapted from the guidelines of the Institute for Reproductive Health, George Town University, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 2115 Wisconsin Avenue,NW, 6th Floor Washington DC, 20007..All from the NAFPTDid you look on their web site?
        Whether you will be able to find. anything from that I don,t know.
        If I had the time I would search for you,however I have hospital appointments to-day and tomorrow and I am picking up my grandson from school and getting ready to go on a weeks holiday to Ireland with my daughter by Coach.
        Tell me if you would like me to post these to you.
        Obviously you will understand-reading is good info but no where near the personal teaching method.

      • Quentin says:

        St Joseph. thank you for looking this out. Yes, I had read full instructions on LAM at

        http://www.fertilityet.org.uk/pdfs/Breastfeeding-and-NFP.pdf .

        Their summary reads:

        a woman must fully breastfeed, with no supplements being included, no long gaps between breastfeeds etc.

        She must experience no more bleeding /spotting after locchia stops for the first six months of the baby’s life

        But this still leaves a quandary because breastfeeding regime must be rigorously followed (not always easy) and the warning signs of next ovulation are only ‘usual’ . I deduce from this that, as a practical measure for a woman who dare not have another baby, NFP needs to be supplemented by another method. Do you agree?

  23. St.Joseph says:

    The proper web is http://www.nfpta.who I studied with.

  24. St.Joseph says:

    http://www.nfpta.org.uk if you get into Tutorials it will tell you all about LAM-the above was a long way around-I would like to know if it gives you enough info.

  25. Peter Foster says:

    Of course I meant Pope John Paul II who visited the UK in 1982. Before which:
    ,” papal advisers agreed to allow very substantial British input in the briefing of the Pope and the preparation of his addresses. This enabled some careful downplaying of one or more of the most sensitive matters. It was widely felt among English Catholic leaders, for instance, that if the Pope went round the country berating the population for the looseness of its sexual morals, especially in the use of contraception, the visit would rapidly turn into a public relations disaster.” (Tablet p.7, 27 November 1999)

    Basil Hume and Archbishop Derek Worlock agreed to allow a public debate on contraception at the National Pastoral Congress in Liverpool in 1980. This resulted in denunciations to Rome. Worlock complained that these papers had gone to Rome without the bishops being given a chance to comment on them.

    In the event, after some discussion, 322 delegates in this section, 93 per cent of the total, voted for the proposition: “There is a widespread lack of understanding and widespread disagreement amongst Catholics about the present teaching on contraception”; 281 (81 per cent) voted for: “The Church’s teaching on marriage is at an impasse because of confusion, uncertainty, and disagreement over contraception, which affects the whole sacramental life of many Catholics”; and 299 (87 per cent) for: “The Church’s teaching on marriage can only develop through a fundamental re-examination of the teaching on marriage, sexuality and on contraception.” The proposition that “Non-contraceptive intercourse is the ideal for which everyone should strive” received only 52 votes. (Tablet p.8, 20 November 1999).

    The unwillingness to discuss this and other issues has crippled the intellectual life of the Church in England. It was already in difficulty owing to the low propensity of Catholics to enter higher education in the mid-20th Century coupled with the education of priests outside the universities.
    How can we expect the faithful to be able to promote the Gospel in such a strangled culture?

    The only firm foundation for HV is tradition. But what tradition? An over intellectualised Western tradition in the view of the Japanese Cardinal Fumio Hamao where the faithful are mostly unaware of HV. The Indonesian Cardinal Darmajuwono also opposed to the absolute ban on artificial contraception.
    I am fortunate to know and have known priests who radiate Christ’s message. Nothing could be further from the arcane theories promoted by the fearful HVers.

    • John de Waal says:

      I was a delegate at the National Pastoral Congress and was in the Sector on Marriage. I was involved in the debates and votes referred to. I kept notes at the time – not from the Tablet. I have no recollection of the votes mentioned by Peter Foster. In fact, there was a vote calling for change to Church teaching which – according to my notes at the time – amounted to 35 percent in favour. I put forward a motion calling for support for Humanae Vitae which received 45 percent in favour.

      The matter was in danger of be a stitch-up. A priest-moral theologian tried to insert another pro-contraception motion without following due procedure. I was able to thwart this attempt. There was a cabal – there is no other word for it – of insiders from the various national commissions who were quite blatant about their opposition to Pope John Paul II. There was talk at the Congress of the Pope visiting the following year. “Why does he have to come here?” A leading layman said over a pint in the pub one evening,”We have our own bishops.”

      Publicity was subsequently given to the pro-contraception views in the press reports, but not to my motion in support of Church teaching. The final report: the Easter People, made no mention of NFP in spite of the Sectir on Marriage overwhelmingly coming out in support of it. Our bishops stayed silent.

      As I have written before on this blog; when Cardinal Hume and Archbishop Worlock were about to represent our bishops at the Synod in Rome on Marriage and Family they failed to speak up for Humanae Vitae or NFP. This, in spite of the fact that an Australian doctor who collaborated with John and Evelyn Billings was visiting London just before the Synod and contacted the Cardinal with an offer to brief him on the latest developments. His offer was not taken up. The Cardinal and Archbishop were not as well informed as they might have been. We have been badly served by many of our bishops.

      Humanae Vitae does reflect Tradition, yes, but that Tradition is based on Natural Law which is so denigrated or ignored by so many. On what moral foundation is contraception based? It seems to me that the alternative to Humanae Vitae is the path to undermining marriage and chastity.

      • Peter Foster says:

        There were about 2000 delegates to the National Pastoral Congress, one for each 1000 of mass attendances per diocese. There was voting in small groups and topic groups, (some of which John de Vaal may have missed or does not remember), but not in the seven final theme reports.
        The final report, Sector C Marriage and Family Life (Tablet p.20, 7 June 1980),
        “… stressed that intercourse can be a life-giving act between a married couple, even when, as on the vast majority of occasions, it does not produce a new human life. It is an act which can sustain and heal the relationship by which a married couple make Christ present to one another.”
        “They called for a fundamental re-examination of the teaching on marriage, sexuality and contraception. A majority felt that such reexamination should leave open the possibility of change and development in the Church’s teaching.”

        A few weeks before the Congress, a striking editorial in the Clergy Review of May 1980 stated that “Love fruitful and responsible: that is the criterion by which the methods of family planning used by particular couples must be judged. Contraception by artificial means may be distasteful and by no means something one wishes to practice for its own sake, like taking medicine or undergoing surgery. But to declare it intrinsically evil and that therefore contraception must in all circumstances be banned is to go beyond the evidence of Scripture, of philosophy and of experience.
        “If John Paul II were to endorse this line of thinking he would have much of the Church with him.” (Bishop Butler on the editorial board did not share John Nolan’s [1 April 4.26 pm] view of universal infallibility)

      • John de Waal says:

        Peter Foster. I can assure you that I was very much involved in the Congress Sector on Marriage. It may sound uncharitable but, in my opinion, there was a lot of dissembling among many of those in charge of the Congress – especially the Sector on Marriage. I remember sharing experiences with fellow delegates and in every sector but that on Marriage motions for voting were printed out so that delegates knew exactly what they were voting for. In the Marriage Sector we had to listen to them as they were read out – often long and complicated. I believe many in influential positions – lay and clerical – had made up their minds long before the Congress (indeed, probably before Humanae Vitae) and were not open to debate. The tragic outcome was that the reasons for Church teaching were seldom heard. I was fortunate in that I was in the Sixth Form in 1968 and we had a particularly good RE teacher who took us through the teaching in great detail. I still have my annotated copy of the encyclical.

        What we should be concerned about is the Truth. To paraphrase Chesterton “Humanae Vitae has not been tried and found wanting – it has not been taught!”

        As milliganp says : we should look at the outcomes of the rejection of Humanae Vitae. By their fruits you shall know them.

  26. RAHNER says:

    The reality is, that for most Catholics, Humanae Vitae is dead and buried. And no amount of verbal gymnastics about the meaning of the Natural Law is going to change that…..

    • John de Waal says:

      What is your foundation of morality?

      • Quentin says:

        John, you are surely right that natural law is the basic approach to moral judgment. Without it, we would only have authority and Revelation. The difficulties arise in certain applications.

        The deduction of a moral principle from physical evidence (e.g., the structure of the sexual act) has long been used as a basis for an imperative principle which must hold irrespective of any other circumstance. But this is now an open question in moral theology. Why should physical evidence be the final criterion?

        In the case of contraception we are talking about two values: the procreative element and the characteristic sexual expression of love in marriage. As human beings we are not merely physical beings and, so the argument goes, our judgment of circumstances must guide us.

      • RAHNER says:

        That which makes for human flourishing. (Though this is irrelevant as regards the assessment of the degree of acceptance/rejection of HV.)

    • milliganp says:

      I think it is worth examining the fruits of the rejection of HV and the ubiquitous use of artificial contraception. As someone who talks to young people preparing for marriage, the overwhelming general consensus is:-
      1) It’s a good idea to live together before marriage to ensure you’re compatible with each-other.
      2) Most couple come to live together AFTER they have been sexually involved for some time.
      3) Sex is just another bodily function like eating and having sex with someone you “fancy” is little different to trying out the latest Chinese restaurant.
      4) Most people take for granted that the person they settle down with will have a sexual history. At present the “average” is 7+ previous sexual partners.

      Whatever we may say about Natural law or tradition, I cannot see how we can present this outcome as in some way reflecting the plan of our Creator or a living out of the Gospel. It can hardly be presented as the Genesis vision of Humans, male and female imaging the creative love of God in lifelong commitment to each-other.

      John tells us that , after Christ’s discourse on the Eucharist (chapter 6), many left Him. He doesn’t tell us that Christ ran after them saying “sorry, you didn’t understand, – it’s just going to be a bit of bread”. Christ allowed this teaching to draw a line in the sand of dicipleship, perhaps HV is another, similar line.

      • Singalong says:

        Milliganp, you have expressed perfectly how I think about this matter, as does my husband, and I assume that it is Catholic couples (or one would be) whom you are preparing for marriage. We are trying not to give up hope, and we think of the impossible task faced by the apostles when they were inspired at the first Pentecost to begin their mission of spreading Christ`s true teaching to the whole world. Could anything have seemed less likely to succeed?

      • Singalong says:

        PS I wonder if you ever manage to change the views of the young people you are preparing for marriage? Perhaps some of them think yours are an ideal which can never be attained?

      • Vincent says:

        There seems to me no doubt that the refusal of HV has been a major factor in the ensuing rejection of much Church teaching on sexual matters. But then there are two alternatives.

        1. That HV truly reflected the will of God. In that case, the refusal was a tragedy — which will no doubt be mitigated eventually by the witness of the Church’s fidelity.

        2. That HV simply got it wrong. In that case it was a double tragedy, which has reduced the Church’s ability to speak relevantly to its own members, and to society on such questions.

        Take your pick.

      • RAHNER says:

        The acceptance of HV is not central to the faith. To compare it with belief in the Eucharist is absurd.

      • milliganp says:

        Rahner, the church’s vision of marriage is central to the faith. How can we use phrases like “the wedding feast of the lamb” or “the bride of Christ” without an understanding of marriage as “love open to life”. We cannot talk about the home and family as “the domestic church” if our vision of what constitutes a family is utterly fractured. This is not to exclude or condemn but, if part of the human vocation is to become perfect as our heavenly father is perfect, we need some concept of perfection. In marriage and family life In this search chastity and continence should not be seen as an uneccessary inconveniences or impossible goals.

      • Peter Foster says:

        Milligamp, although artificial and NFP contraception can facilitate those activities by avoiding pregnancy, each of your four examples can be discussed and argued against in their own right. They do not bear on the fundamental issue which is whether artificial contraception is “intrinsically evil” in itself.

      • milliganp says:

        Peter, I agree that trying to disentangle the many social changes of the second half of the 20th century is a fraught process. We could blame the effects of the 2nd world war, the decline of industrialisation and the two favourites of conservatives, Vatican II and the European Union. Whatever the cause, we find ourselves amidst Chesterton’s “indisputable dirt”.
        In finding a way back out of this, the enabling effect of contraception on promiscuity is an indisputable link. I agree that this, of itself, does not indicate that the use of artificial contraception within marriage to manage family development is an intrinsic evil. However I would say that, much like abortion, once one cause is good enough (e.g. rape) there is inevitably a decline to universal application.

  27. RAHNER says:

    “the church’s vision of marriage is central to the faith.”
    Then why did it take so long for marriage to be expressly and formally understood to be a sacrament?

    • milliganp says:

      You could equally talk about the doctrine of the Trinity. The fact that doctrines develop does not invalidate later developments.

      • RAHNER says:

        So acceptance of HV is as central to the faith as belief in the Trinity?

      • milliganp says:

        Rahner, give up. I have NEVER stated that I regard HV as doctrine at the same level as the Trinity. What I have said is that contraception has utterly undermined marriage and family life – which is integral to Catholic understanding of humanity, male and female imaged in the likeness of God. Within that likeness the ability to create new human life, imbued with an immortal soul is how we most reflect God’s creativity. To incapacitate this creativity has to be contrary to the will of God.
        Using a condom may be no more sinful than getting drunk but like getting drunk we cannot present it as virtuous behaviour. I don’t class getting drunk as heresy and don’t believe that disagreeing with HV is intrinsically heretical, but it is part of a structure that undermines our vocation to do God’s will on earth.

  28. Ignatius says:

    According to our Canon Law lecturer in the assent of faith there are three layers of truth:

    1) Revealed: Truths pertaining to the creed.
    2) Truths definitely proposed (but debatable)
    3) Proposed doctrines (including devotions)

    I would guess HV to be in the second layer and therefore debatable.

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