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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.

  • Parasum

    That’s a good argument for the sinfulness of practicing medicine.

  • mollysdad

    Practicing medicine is about putting a malfunctioning human body back into working order as God designed it to be. The purpose of a contraceptive is to cause your reproductive organs to malfunction.

  • Parasum

    By that reasoning, the Jews must be an accursed people, hateful to God, Deicides, blasphemers, etc. For few ideas if any qualify by those standards as infallibly true. Many dogmas don’t even begin to qualify as dogmas by those standards.

    A dogma is only a dogma, by those standards, until the Mag. denies it  – as has happened in this instance. The trouble with current arrrangements is that there is nothing in the logic of Catholicism as at presently constituted to prevent a future Papal announcement that a current dogma is not a dogma at all. It would be a goood to see that problem considered. But only “deviationists” not approved by the “Party” are likely to do that.

  • Ogard

    As I have said Kung is a dissenter. His claim is that the Church is not infallible, and in his book he uses the example of the teaching on contraception, which is in fact erroneous according to his view, and yet meets the LG 25/2 criteria of the Infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium, which criteria constitute what he calls the “Roman theory” of infallibility, which “theory” he, of course, rejects.

    According to his logic, the Church is not infallible, because, according to her own criteria, she teaches infallibly what is in point of fact, according to his view, an error. So he uses this “error” to prove the main point of his book, i.e. that the Church is not infallible.

    The account is helpful, because the evidence he offers to prove that the teaching on contraception meets the LG 25/2 criteria of infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium, is striking. One doesn’t have to read the whole book, but only the first sixty pages (in Collins 1971).

    For more elaborate account: the essay by Ford and Grisez, which has 200 pages. The first part of it is about the genesis of the LG 25/2 doctrine according to the Council’s Acts, then the explanation of the doctrine of which, by the way, many Catholics have no clue (Philothea, for example). And then the actual historical evidence from some hints in the New Testament up to including Paul VI.

  • Parasum

    That last paragraph is so true. But how often does the CC appeal to love rather than fear ?

  • Ogard

    All wrong. As for Kung, see my previous reply to your comment.

  • Parasum

    Fundy atheists are no worse than Fundy Catholics or Fundy Evo Prots. They should all be put in an unlit cellar & left to fight it out, leaving normal people to get on with their lives. Doctrinaire people with an unshakable sense of their own rightness are very poor company. That goes double for institutions.

  • Philothea

    Priceless. Believers in infallibility arguing about whether Hans Kueng (who wrote a book against the notion of infallibility) does or does not support their case! Complete tosh describes it well and inevitable once you accept the nonsense of believing any human beings to be infallible.

  • Parasum

    Christian torturers have not lacked inventiveness. The penalty for high treason inflicted on men of less than noble birth betweeen 1283 & 1753 in England was not uninventive, but very nasty. Regicides in France could on being on torn apart while alive by wild horses, as happened in 1610 to the murderer of Henri IV, and in 1757 to the man who wounded Louis XV. Whatever Christianity did, it seems to have done almost nothing to make methods of execution any more humane.

    As for religious wars, atheist wars are morally superior to Christian ones, aas atheists don’t claim to fight in the Name of a God of love. The CC’s view of the loving activities of Sinn Fein is shown clearly enough by its allowing murderers like Gerry Adams to be Catholics in good standing – at the very time the Irish CC was concealing priestly malfeasance. To be in trouble with the Institution, one has to commit some pelvic fault; but murder is OK.

    Communist lies are less dishonest than Christian ones, because they lack the glorious hypocrisy of those who profess the Name of Christ, while showing by their works whose servants they really are.

  • Julia

    “No one who claims to be a Christian can in good conscience commit the idolatry of contraception.”
    But the ACTUAL FACT is that many do. (Idolatry ??)

    And, by the way, if you believe in the Christian God, you believe that the “liberty of God” cannot be interfered with. This God is omnipotent.

  • Julia

    God must also have “designed” the human body so that it’s able to have cancers and all sorts of viral and bacterial infections and diseases.
    Yet the Church “allows” antibiotics and all the other weapons in the armoury of medicine. It knows full well that trying to stop THAT would even harder (in fact a hopeless task) than trying to prevent contraception.

  • Julia

    “Some claim to know infallibly that infallibility is impossible”
    Well I don’t!
    And the 2+2 thing is ultimately a consequence of logic – as is all maths..

  • Julia

    Loadus bollickes.

  • Julia

    What “natural” power, or power “of nature”, enables a person to make infallible statements?

  • Julia

    No, he was not correct.   Coincidence in time is not causality.

  • Julia

    Of course all people who do not believe in the ancient superstition of theism are not all sweetness and light.

  • Julia

    “Jesus is the Son of God”
    Do you know exactly what that means?
    “Son” obviously cannot have its normal meaning, can it?
    So what does the sentence mean?

    (Oh, of course, “it’s a mystery”. Well, you can say that again!!)

  • theroadmaster

    Of course he was correct. There is no causality about it. Social radicals during the period of the 60′s and succeeding decades lauded the revolutionary nature of the pill, which supposedly allowed women to enjoy the same sexual choices as men. The pill became freely available during this period and facilitated a so called value-free “Sexual Revolution”. Geraldo

  • theroadmaster

    It was the secular state which imposed the death penalty and methods of torture on prisoners across Europe down the centuries.  The Ecclesiastical courts by contrast were more lenient during the Medieval and later Middle Ages periods, but did dispense severe punishments to those found guilty of heresies, and torture was shamefully involved.  But we are speaking from a modern day perspective on religious authorities who acted in a fashion that was considered “just” in their era, which we find morally indefensible now.
    In relation to your comments on Gerry Adams, he was never found guilty of murder before any court, although we cannot doubt his involvement in the Republican movement in Ireland.  The Catholic Church in the part of Ireland effected by the recent “Troubles” consistently condemned the acts of the IRA and other such paramilitary organizations and controversial killings by the security forces.  So you are betraying your ignorance of the record of the Church in Ireland on violence and other matters,  as in your crass and stupid comment ..”
     To be in trouble with the Institution, one has to commit some pelvic fault; but murder is OK.”   I suggest that you do some background reading on the history of the Catholic Church in Ireland and Irish history in general, before making any comments on such subjectsChristians can betray their principles or beliefs like anyone else as we are all too fallible.  Undoubtedly it is hypocritical for people to profess one thing and undermine it by doing the exact opposite.  But this is human sinfulness at work, and Christianity offers the truth, the way and the light as exemplified by Jesus Christ, to lead people who go astray, back to the right road.

  • JabbaPapa

    Some forms of disobedience are mortal sins, but the generalisation “disobedience is a mortal sin” is straightforwardly untrue.

    There are other cases where disobedience is required of us, for example to disobey any laws seeking to force us to accept “gay marriage” as a form of matrimony.

  • JabbaPapa

    Why not just stop your trolling ?

    Not many here are liable to be interested in listening to your naked hostility towards the very foundations of the Christian Faith.

  • JabbaPapa

    No human beings are infallible.

    Only some doctrines of the Faith have been declared as infallible.

    And “infallible” continues not to mean what you obviously imagine it to.

  • JabbaPapa

    atheist wars are morally superior to Christian ones

    Communist lies are less dishonest than Christian ones

    Spoken like a true fanatic.

  • JabbaPapa

    You don’t really know what you’re talking about, do you.

    No doctrine has ever defined the Jews as being an accursed people, hateful to God, Deicides, blasphemers, etc, notwithstanding that some anti-semites may believe such things.

    Your bizarre statements about dogmas are incomprehensible, as they seem to be based on some private notions of your own, having nothing to do with Catholicism.

  • JabbaPapa

    Hans Küng has been forbidden from teaching theology, and should consequently never be listened to.

    Furthermore, it is sinful to repeat and to promote the views of someone whose teachings have been explicitly and formally condemned by the Church, because by doing so you participate in that person’s rebellion or heresy.

    Küng is not just a “dissenter” — there are both licit and illicit forms of dissent, so that the word is far too gentle with Küng. He is a rebel.

    Küng 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, and is instead quite clearly derived from some Protestant conceptions.

    Küng’s opinions on this matter are NOT Catholic teachings, and they must be rejected by all Catholics.

  • JabbaPapa

    Authority.

  • JabbaPapa

    All formally stated teachings of the Church are Authoritative, as a general principle, with the exception of some teachings that are primarily disciplinary or pastoral in nature.

    The exact degree of Authority is derived from the level of Authority that the form of the declarations and teachings are provided of.

  • mollysdad

    The actual fact is that many who claim to be Christian use contraception. Yes, that makes then idolaters.

  • JabbaPapa

    The phrase “absolutely excluded” provides this specific teaching in the document with the charism of infallibility — although the document then proceeds to detail some exceptions whereby the mortal sin of disobeying the teaching is either reduced to venial, or even in some cases accepted as an exception to the basic teaching.

    For example : Lawful Therapeutic Means
    15. On the other hand, the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever.

    hmmmmm I ALMOST wrote down after this that this section of Humanae Vitae could be used to justify the use of condoms to prevent the spread of infection by venereal diseases — refrained — but then the Pope went ahead and did THIS :

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/the-pope/8148944/The-Pope-drops-Catholic-ban-on-condoms-in-historic-shift.html

    :-)

  • Philothea

    Statements and definitions are made by human beings. If some of these are held to be infallibly true, how can this not mean that the Catholic Church thinks some people have the power of making infallibly true statements? Since Catholics habitually  misunderstandinfallibility to mean anything the Pope says must be regarded as gospel truth (the well-known creeping infallibility), it might be wise to drop the whole notion and be content  with the infallibility of God alone.

  • Alan

    The “profound point” I am trying to make is that you cannot judge the morality of an act by the societal consequences which may arise from abuses of that act by some people, and I gave the example of alcohol.  If contraception is immoral, it has to be immoral in the case of, for example, a couple with several children where the woman’s infertile period cannot be ascertained, and where enforced celibacy is likely to threaten the marriage.  Unless that can be established, it is hard to see why contraception is always immoral (unlike abortion, which is clear-cut).

  • JabbaPapa

    Moved

  • JabbaPapa

    Since Catholics habitually  misunderstand infallibility to mean anything the Pope says must be regarded as gospel truth

    That is NOT what infallibility means — and that’s usually a NON-Catholic misunderstanding of what the doctrine meansd.

    It means that the Authority of a doctrine is so defined that no Catholic may deny the doctrine.

    The word “fallible” means “may be contradicted” — the word “infallible” is the opposite of that.

    The doctrine of infallibility makes no claims that anyone except God Himself has any abilities to provide absolute truth.

  • JabbaPapa

    No — it makes them sinners, same as everybody else BTW.

  • Ogard

    The reply missis my point and is irrelevant. The value of
    the first 60 pages of Kung’s book is in the objective and well substantiated
    evidence that the doctrine on contraception has been infallibly proposed by the
    Ordinary Magisterium. His view that, in spite of that evidence, the teaching on
    contraception is nevertheless erroneous should, of course, be dismissed, as well as his objections to the infallibility of the Church. – It is not necessary to list the names of those commenters
    who do not differ from Kung: they, like him, reject both the doctrine on
    contraception and the doctrine on Infallibility. Or worse still: they have no
    clue what the latter is all about. – The writings of the recent popes on the matter of
    contraception, from Pius XI onwards, have to be studied conscientiously, and not
    commented on the basis of tabloid information. Likewise, the doctrine on
    Infallibility is contained in Magisterial documents from Vatican I onwards, as
    well as accounted for in classic manuals of dogmatic and fundamental theology;
    and all that should be studied. For a contemporary Catholic there is no other
    way.

  • Ogard

    My reply is above:I have mistakenly pasted it in the wrong place. I do not know why the layout has turned out messy, nor do I know how to delete or correct it.

  • Ogard

    I suggest: read the book, and peruse the earlier comments.

  • theroadmaster

    People can become addicted to alcohol and this can have devastating personal and familial consequences. People can have a genetic disposition to addictive behavior which may require medical and psychological intervention. Others may indulge in alcohol intentionally to cause mayhem as in abusing others verbally or physically. The latter is an example of behavior which has serious societal consequences. I can understand your point about severe pressure brought on marriages by enforced celibacy or uncertainty regarding a woman;s fertile periods. This requires understanding and a lot of discipline. But people in general find that alternatives to artificial contraception like Natural Family Planning, bring them closer together and it is a known fact that divorce rates for people who avail of this method is only around 4-5 % on average, as opposed to a 40-50% divorce rate for some western societies e.g GB and US. Contraception in general does have negative consequences for society. For example, it has been shown in surveys across the states, that the majority reason given for women acceding to abortion is failed contraception. Some might argue that these are two separate issues, but in reality they are not, as one seems to be intrinsically connected to the other. They are all symptomatic of an anti-life mentality which has made a woman’s womb an unsafe place for children to be born in many minds Geraldo

  • Ogard

    Perfectly correct. The historical evidence of unanimity, and by that very fact infallibility, is overwhelming, and is the reason why Paul VI dismissed the proposal of the “Majority” of his commission saying that “…certain approaches and criteria for a solution of this question had emerged which were at variance with the moral doctrines on marriage constantly taught by the Magisterium” (HV No.6).

    Likewise Pius XII, referring to Pius XI says that the latter “solemnly proclaimed anew” what is “as valid today, as it was yesterday, and it will be the same tomorrow and always” (Address to midwifes). Pius XI proclaimed “anew” the teaching that “has been handed down uniterruptedly from the beginning” (Casti connubii).

    Those who are interested to learn about the evidence of this tradition should consult the essay by Ford and Grisez, and the first 60 pages of Kung. I referred to both in my earlier comments.

    It also might be of interest that Fr. Ford was one of the “Minority”, and Professor Grisez was his right hand during the sessions of the papal commission. Grisez’ personal witness of the events can be accessed on his web page (Google: The Way of the Lord Jesus, click Home page, click on the pink coloured text to go to the documentataion).

  • Ogard

    I am afraid that the comment displays a hopeless misunderstanding of the doctrine on Infallibility.

  • rjt1

    About 2+2. It is something about which one cannot be in error, i.e. that can be known without the possibility of being in error, that is to say infallibly. That it is a matter of logic is also true.
     
    My point was that infallibility is not such an outlandish idea as some people  seem to think. It is therefore not, per se, ‘surely nonsense’.
     
    Relativists do claim (with a tacit assumption of infallibility) that there is no such thing as truth, but only ‘my truth’ and ‘your truth’ or ‘the truth as it appears to me’ etc.
     
    I suppose the question in the realm of religious truth is whether infallibility is both possible and reasonable. I think it is both indicated in Scripture and Tradition and necessary for salvation. A long argument which no doubt appears in many books and places on the internet, for which I’m not sure I have the stamina!

  • rjt1

    The point of the medicines to cure cancer etc is to restore the body to normal functioning. The point of contraceptives is to stop it functioning normally.

  • JabbaPapa

    Nope.

  • JabbaPapa

    The doctrine on contraception in Humanae Vitae is specifically described in such a manner as leaves no room for doubt concerning its infallibility.

    That is why it’s infallible, not for any other reasons.

  • JabbaPapa

    Infallible and inerrant are two different words with, consequently, two separate meanings.

    That people frequently confuse.

  • rjt1

    As I understand it, infallibility is a matter of the Pope (or bishops teaching in union with the Pope) being preserved from error under certain conditions.

    Of course, it would be wrong for me as a Catholic to set myself against such teaching.

    I find it odd to talk about infallibility in connection with disciplinary or pastoral matters, though I do, of course, acknowledge the obligation of obedience in those areas.

  • Philothea

    I did read it, some time ago. These days I find it enough that God alone is infallible. Alongside that the endless to and fro of human arguments is not that interesting.

  • rjt1

    If that were the case, then Websters dictionary must be confused:
    infallible
    1. Incapable of failure or error; “an infallible antidote”; “an infallible memory”; “the Catholic Church considers the Pope infallible”; “no doctor is infallible”.[Wordnet] 2. Not fallible; not capable of erring; entirely exempt from liability to mistake; unerring; inerrable

    and the Catechism seems to be saying that the purpose of this charism is to give the faithful ‘the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error’. (para 890) 

    If someone can teach or believe without error, then in that respect they are inerrant.

  • Ogard

    Wrong again. On its own, out of contaxt of the Ordinary Magisterium, the teaching on contraception in HV would be authoritative, but not an infallible teaching, and would command what is techinically referred to as a  “religious assent” (LG 25/1), not an assent of Faith which is due to an infallible teaching ((definition by an ecumenical council (with the pope), or by the  pope alone, or the universal teaching of the Ordinary Magisterium (with the pope, of course)). That is the reason why the HV must be read in the context of the universal, constant day-to-day teaching of the Ordinary Magisterium (bishops with the pope), which is the usual way of infallible teaching (LG 25/2). The point is well explained in the two works (Kung, Ford/Grisez) I referred to earlier.  

  • Ogard

    Incompatible with the Catholic Faith