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Thank goodness for Bishop-elect Egan. Humanae Vitae, he says, is infallible

On the other hand, an obituary of my chaplain in the 1960s recalls the encyclical’s very divided reception

By on Wednesday, 8 August 2012

A banner at a papal Mass in Benin (Photo: CNS)

A banner at a papal Mass in Benin (Photo: CNS)

Today I received the Fisher House Newsletter (of the Cambridge University Catholic chaplaincy) for 2012. On the cover’s list of contents it mentioned “Fr Richard Incledon RIP.” He happened to be the chaplain at Cambridge between 1966 and 1977. As I was an undergraduate between 1965 and 1968, we had crossed paths; thus I was interested to read the newsletter’s obituary, written by Peter Glazebrook.

As obituaries do, it said all sorts of kind things, mentioning Fr Incledon’s academic successes (a double First at Oxford), his generosity, his ecumenical spirit and his support for the redevelopment of the chaplaincy. Then came the last paragraph. It stated: “All this came after the publication of Humanae Vitae which, for Richard, as for many other priests, was a turning point. He made no secret of finding its reasoning unconvincing and its authority dubious: a Catholic should consider it carefully, but was not obliged to assent to it. He was summoned to Archbishop’s House. His card was marked and the institutional Church deprived itself of an outstanding (if demanding) seminary rector and a diocesan bishop who would have brought great distinction to the episcopate. Whether Richard saw it this way is not altogether clear. He undoubtedly found much fulfilment, and gained a multitude of devoted friends, as a chaplain and a parish priest.”

All this is rather speculative. Whether the “institutional church” was deprived of an outstanding bishop we will never know this side of heaven. Incidentally, the Catholic Herald of 1968, the year of Humanae Vitae’s publication, took a similar view, according to former editor Gerard Noel. It tried to steer a via media between the Universe, which said Catholics were obliged to assent to the papal encyclical, and the Tablet, for whom it was a very bitter pill: readers, the Herald thought, should make themselves acquainted with what Pope Paul VI wrote and then follow their conscience. I rather suspect this was a polite cop-out.

Alongside the obituary, Fr Anthony Keefe, a former undergraduate who had known Fr Incledon – and who had arrived the autumn after I had gone down – wrote: “In the aftermath of Humanae Vitae, Richard was particularly generous in his support of priests whose superiors had been especially heavy-handed – but then generosity was his watchword. Fisher House was always a refugium peccatorum, yet it was not permitted to be a hiding-hole. Richard demanded of Catholic students that they play their part in the wider world of the university: he disbanded the Fisher Society, which he considered too insular and as encouraging ‘chaplaincy mice’.”

Reading between the lines, this looks as if Fisher House became an unofficial centre of “loyal dissent” as the phrase goes. I also wonder how many Catholic undergraduates were influenced by their chaplain’s line on the authority or otherwise of Humanae Vitae? I mention all this partly through a sad sense of “sic transit gloria mundi” and also because in William Oddie’s recent blog about the new appointment of Fr Philip Egan as eighth bishop for the Diocese of Portsmouth, he adds, intriguingly, that Fr Egan gave a talk in 2009 on the authority of Humanae Vitae “in which he argued that its teaching was proclaimed infallibly from the ordinary magisterium”.

It seems that Fr Egan’s talk took place at St Patrick’s, Soho Square – a centre of loyal assent, I am glad to report – and this is what, inter alia, he said: “It seems to me that there is a persuasive case for believing that the doctrine of Humanae Vitae, regardless of the pastoral difficulty it causes, regardless of the philosophical and theological arguments thrown against it, regardless of the historical conditioning of its neo-scholastic framework, has been, and is being taught infallibly, that is, irreversibly and without error, by the Church’s ordinary universal magisterium.”

I hope very much that Bishop-elect Egan’s appointment will bring distinction to the “institutional Church”. Thank goodness that, for whatever reason – such as his orthodoxy? – his card has not been marked.

  • JabbaPapa

    That “Hans Küng is forbidden from teaching theology” doesn’t mean
    that all he says is wrong, but only those things for which he is
    suspended. The rest of what he says should be judged on its merits.

    In fact, it means that Catholics are forbidden from listening to this man’s theological opinions.

    Infallibility of a particular doctrine doesn’t mean that “that all
    Catholics must adhere to the doctrine” (that is only a consequence) but
    that it is true, because it is either revealed or intrinsically
    connected with the Revelation, and has been proposed as such by a solemn
    definition (ecumenical council, or pope) or by the Universal Ordinary
    Magisterium (UOM). And it is BECAUSE of this that it demands acceptance
    “Fide Divina and Catholica” or “Fide Catholica” depending on whether it
    is revealed or intrinsically connected with Revelation (see DS 3011).

    You have it upside-down — you imagine the cause to be a consequence, and vice-versa.

    And AGAIN : DS 3011 refers to *all* Authoritative teachings of the Church and the duty of theologians to accept them and teach them all, regardless of whether they may be infallible or fallible.

  • JabbaPapa

    What, on earth is a difference between the “moral theology” and the “doctrinal theology”?

    If you have to ask, then stop pretending that you’re any kind of theologian at all.

    Doctrinal theology concerns itself with definitions, dogmatics, and the underlying relationship between Revelation, Faith, theology, philosophy, science, and all other aspects of the often difficult relationship of human knowledge and intellect with the Divine.

    Moral theology, for which I personally have no special training in nor charism, concerns the relationship between Revelation, Religion, Faith, and individual ethics and morals and real people’s lives and daily concerns at a very practical and human level.

  • Ogard

    Our status vis-a-vis Church authority is not analogous to the Jesus’ status vis-a-vis Temple authorities.

  • Ogard

    “Catholics must adhere to the doctrine” which is proposed infallibly exactly because it is true.

  • Ogard

    I do not adhere to any “protestantism-informed” notion.

  • Ogard

    My killing replies to this are already published.

  • JabbaPapa

    “Infallibiliity is the impossibility of falling into error” (L.Ott p. 297)

    Correct — but please DO understand that this is “Error” in its Latin definition, not English.

    and is the attribute of the Church Magisterium

    … which is made of doctrines.

    I am not confusing anything but following manuals

    book-learning has its limits ; mainly limits that are provided by the near-inevitability of personal interpretation, a trap that you seem to have fell for.

    Luckily, or fatefully, and in any case in His Grace, we belong to the One True Holy Church of God.

    Infallibility is a property of the Faith, not a mortal authority of these or those.

    Still — I’m glad you actually posted something resembling a definition !!!

    But — do you have any Latin ?

    The possesors of infallibility are the pope when he speaks ex cathedra,
    and the episcopate (including the pope) either assembled in general
    council or scattered over the world.

    The only possessor of infallibility is God Himself.

    Still, good thing that He speaks to us through the Holy Church, eh ?

    Magisterium is the name for the teaching office

    In fact, it’s the name for the sum total of all Authority in the Universal Church of the Christ.

    It resides in the Catholic Church, but it is a property of God.

    Pope alone can infallibly teach only ex cathedra.


    The Holy Father teaches infallibly whensoever as he is inspired in his teachings by the Grace of the Holy Spirit to teach a truth of the Faith.

    Plus, you’re *completely* ignoring the fact that everyday simple Catholics teach infallible doctrines to one and all in every single minute of every single day. Is the Pope somehow a weird exception to this reality ????

    For example : Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

    Otherwise, he either does not teach infallibly or teaches infallibly
    together with the episcopate. In the latter case it is either a
    definition of an ecumenical council which similar to an ex cathedra
    definition, or it is an infallible proposition of the UOM. As you admit
    that his assertion of infallibility with regard the contraception is not
    ex cathedra, and it is certainly not a not a definition of an
    ecumenical council, it must be his “non-infallible” teaching or his
    teacing in so far as he is a part of the UOM. Now if the latter is what
    you mean by “the Pope’s participation in the Magisterium” that is
    exactly what Fr. Kung says and you reject. In other words you “make
    teachings based on the forbidden teachings of rebels”.

    What a load of >b-word< !!!

    Your protestant notion that your own personal definitions can deduce what's infallible and what isn't is uncatholic.

    DS 3011 is a Vatican I doctrinal account of what is a dogma in the
    strictest sense. The assertion that it applies “to all simply
    authoritative doctrines” displays a theological diletantism. In fact, it
    doesn’t even applies to “all infallible doctrines”, but only to those
    of them that are contained in the Revelation. But you don’t understand
    what I am talking about because of diletantism.

    This is straightforwardly untrue, both in generals and particulars.

    In fact, it’s arguably a formally heretical statement — though because it does not concern an infallible, that does not mean I’m accusing you of any kind of formal heresy.

    You’re just in a state of Error ; as all of us mortals are, ultimately.

    Your notion that DS 3011 “doesn’t” apply to all even *infallible* doctrines is nevertheless straightforwardly incompatible with the very principles of the Catholic Religion.

    DS 3074 refers to ex cathedra definitions, which, once proposed, have the consensus Ecclesiae already built into it

    … which, as I keep on repeating to you, is completely irrelevant to my objections to your statements.

  • JabbaPapa

    The statement: “HV describes contraception as to be absolutely excluded”
    is itself a statement, which says nothing about its own status

    riiiiight — “absolutely excluded” says “nothing” about the statement…

    In fact, it was a statement by our Pope that contraception is to be absolutely excluded from the morals of the Catholic Faith and Religion.


    Do you need a link to a dictionary ???

    Are you aware of the fact that our Pope is the sole and final arbiter of the proper interpretation of doctrine ?

    If you fail to understand that this statement of the doctrine includes a statement of its own infallibility, then just STOP pretending to have a clue about doctrinal theology …

  • JabbaPapa

    No. The only way a pope, on his own, can exercise infallibility is by formal, solemn definition

    You falsely assume that Humanae Vitae is a monograph.

    Besides — the Pope is not alone.

    Can. 749, para 3 says: “No doctrine is understood to be infallibly defined unless this is manifestly demonstrated”.

    It is manifestly demonstrated by use of the phrase “absolutely excluded”.

    What the pope said on contraception in HV is infallible not on the basis
    of his own theaching but his teaching itself was part of the teaching
    of the UOM

    If you weren’t acting like such a nincompoop, you would have realised a very long time ago that I have no disagreement at all with you on this point.

    But even if it were as you believe, all that Kung would have had to
    do was to replace his 60 pages’ account with what you say, and he would
    have had the same basic argument for assertion that the Church is not
    infallible because it teaches as infallible what is de facto an error.

    Incomprehensible gibberish, by virtue of the appearance that you’ve failed to properly understand my statements.

    I’ve no idea what such a phrase as “what you say” is even supposed to signify.

    to show to those who like you (in earlier contributios) do not believe
    that the doctrine on contraception has been proposed infallibly

    Ridiculous — I’ve NEVER made any such claim !!!

    to show that the infallibility is not restricted to doctrines that are solemnly defined


    Again — do you understand Latin ?

  • JabbaPapa

    You have not answered my question.

    Not surprised.

  • JabbaPapa

    I do not adhere to any “protestantism-informed” notion

    Right — apart from your protestantised notions of sin and infallibility, of course.

    Nor your strange notion that DS 3011 is not applicable to even all of the infallible doctrines.

    I mean what ?? Planning on nailing up who knows how many theses on some wall or other ?

  • JabbaPapa

    You’re deluding yourself, laser-brain.

    You do NOT understand the nature of Authoritative doctrines.

  • JabbaPapa

    Catholics must adhere to ALL Authoritative teachings of the Church.

  • Ogard

    “Several doctrines exist which are infallible for essentially disciplinary reasons” — What is this all about? Could you provide few examples?

    “several other doctrines exist which must be held as true, but have not been provided with the charism of infallibility”. – I am courious to learn more.

    “the fact that the ordinary Magisterium must be considered in its entirety as being infallible does not require that every single doctrine provided in that Magisterium is therefore infallible.” – Could you quote Kung? I know nothing about it.

  • Ogard

    “Only some doctrines of the Faith have been declared as infallible”. What does “declared infallible” mean to you? Are you suggesting that the Faith consists of one A4 sheet of text?

  • JabbaPapa

    You evidently do not know what the Kung’s book is all about

    Infallibility ? An inquiry” ???

    Are you honestly suggesting that I should read a work that has been condemned by the Church ?

    I’d far rather read my new Bible.

    I do not care about the personal opinions of rebels against the Faith.

    and what in fact he was forbidden to teach


    He was certainly not forbidden to say that there was such thing as the infallibility of OUM.

    That sounds suspiciously like theology. Isn’t he forbidden from teaching it ?

    It is not sinful to promote those views of his which articulate the Church doctrine in an orthodox way

    Well then go ahead and post some of his “orthodox” views then !!!

    I woulf suggest that attacking persons for their views if these are not to one’s taste is sinful

    Take a good hard look in your mirror then …

    If you find that he “is deliberately promoting an understanding of both
    the nature of infallibility and its area of application that is
    inaccurate as to the Catholic conception of doctrinal infallibility”
    could you enlighthen us by quotations from his writing, precisely what
    he is “promoting”, which doctrine is at stake, and what the CDF has
    judged to be wrong with it. If you can’t, it is plainly a calumnly.

    Cripes !!!!

    You’re about as far away from understanding theology as you could possibly be …

    Here is his syllabus of errors :

    what proof can you offer that what you consider to be the “Catholic
    Faith” is really the Catholic Faith. I do not want any product of your
    fantasy, any tabloid article or popular book, but the quote from the
    Church documents, or at least from an approved author of fundamental,
    dogmatic or moral theology.

    This is a ludicrous request.

    Just to humour you though :

    Kung’s account of the doctrine on infallibility

    … is heavily protestantised, and it is very naïve not to understand this.

    But, according to you, even the Code of Canon Low is influenced by Kung and should not be read or promoted.

    What a steaming pile of >b-word< !!!!

    Your historical analysis, while interesting, has nothing to do with the fact that you still do not understand the basics of doctrinal authority.

  • Ogard

    Of course, but only those that are proposed infallibly are to be adhered as De Fide; to others one gives “religious assent”, a degree of which depends on the degree of firmness with which such docrine are proposed which is the matter of theological interpretation.

  • Ogard

    “Are you honestly suggesting that I should read a work that has been condemned by the Church ?” – By no means, particularly because of your poor uderstanding of theology. But if  you don’t read you can’t assess the merits/demerits, and it is ridiculous to make public judgment on his writings; in other words, the worth of your views about him is zero.
    “I’d far rather read my new Bible.” – Reading Bible without a competent and orthdox commentary is more dangerous than reading Kung. It is a typical Protestant prooccupation, and sinful for biblically incompetent people.
    “Theology”, (he was forbidden to teach). I meant particular doctrine. He was not forbidden to write, nor were his writings put on anything like Index. And, as I said: he is completely orthodox in his account of the UOM.
    “That (i.e. Infallibility of the UOM) sounds suspiciously like theology. Isn’t he forbidden from teaching it ?” – No. It is orthodox theology. And at the time he wrote the book he was still a recognized teacher of theology.
    “Well then go ahead and post some of his ‘orthodox’ views then !!!” – I can’t, apart his account of the Infallibility of the UOM. As he was suspended for some false views, as you claim, it is up to you to list them. It goes beyond saying that he was not suspended for what he was not suspended.
     “Here is his syllabus of errors.” – You don’t know what is in (or you do: what a sinful act of reading Kung!), and still venture to promote it throughout the world thus helping this poor and frustrated man to humiliate the Holy Father.

    Yet that is not what he was suspended for – you simply do not know what he was suspended for, do you. And yet, you are addressing him as “rebel” and doing it throughout the world. What is the difference between that and the calumny?
    For your information (to discourage you from committing mortal sin of reading the “syllabus”) there is nothing there about the topic of our dispute, i.e. the doctrine on Infallibility of the UOR.

    And you have encouraged me to read it myslef which is sinful according to your view. An incitment to evil and active cooperation with it. Mounting evil acts one on top of another.
    And what do you mean, in this context, by the “historical analysis”, and by the “basics of doctrinal authority”? (If anything, that is.)

  • Ogard

    “you have no understanding whatsoever of how infallibility is provided to doctrines” – Could you enligthen us?

  • JabbaPapa

     Bible :

    “historical analysis” = what you wrote

    “the basics of doctrinal authority” = the dogmatic teachings of the Church

    I’m done wasting my time addressing your bad faith and contumely