Center for Ethics and Leadership

Monday, November 10, 2008

Retired Cardinal Reflects on Alienation of Catholics after Humane Vitae

Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the Jesuit former cardinal of Milan has said in a long retrospective interview that Paul VI's 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which found artificial contraception to be intrinsically evil, distanced many Catholics from their church and caused them not to take the Church's sexual teaching seriously. While the cardinal did not specifically discuss the morality of contraception, he thought the Church would benefit from further discussion of contraception from a more pastoral perspective.

The encyclical's effects continue to be a point of conflict within Roman Catholicism. Defenders often allege that many of society's ills, from STDs to the dramatic increase in divorce over the last forty years can be traced to artificial contraception. Critics accuse the encyclical of understanding the moral act of sexual intercourse in terms too narrowly biological that do not take into consideration the full range of human moral concerns. At the height of the controversy, Charles Curran, a priest of the diocese of Rochester, NY, and prolific scholar, was removed from his position on the ecclesiastical faculty of The Catholic University of America for his public opposition to it.

Cardinal Martini, now retired, was once considered papabile, that is, a possible candidate for the papacy.


  • Doubt he would be considered for the papacy today. I sometimes fault formal religion for failing to keep pace with the times, and I feel that the argument against contraception in really dated, and not very scripturally based (but I would probably be considered poorly indoctrinated). Birth rates decline with prosperity - should sex, with in marriage or outside, also decline with varying economic circumstances? There are certainly no limits to the 'gifts' that the creator can bestow upon us, children as gift-like as they may be are responsibilities, and responsibilities would be better if they were not be gifted, but rather consciously pursued. I also can't prove it, but I am not sure that STDs are any more common now than before the use of artificial contraception became more widespread.
    For teenagers and for minorities, children, particularly if delivered as teen agers correlate to poverty, it is difficult to support a church based policy that destines so many young lives to the margins of society. I think revisiting the issue would be wise, I hope it doesn't have to wait for a centennial anniversary of the original publication. (Maybe it is too bad the Cardinal didn’t get elevated to the position of Pope.)

    By Blogger kobe2, At November 15, 2008 8:10 AM  

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