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Does Humanae Vitae Need To “Mature”?

June 16, 2018 Frontpage No Comments

By CHRISTOPHER MANION

Who wrote better stories than C.S. Lewis? Everybody loves his Chronicles of Narnia. They present in fiction many themes also addressed in his Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity, but in a winsome way that only storytelling can. Take The Great Divorce. Who else could call divorce “great,” I thought, when I first ran across the book in my parents’ library years ago.
Surprise! The story the book tells is not one of a broken marriage; rather, it is an allegory of a broken cosmos, sundered by a “Great Divide” greater than the breadth of the universe itself. That “Divorce” separates Heaven and Hell.
Enjoying this captivating story requires that we set aside the Gospel passage where Dives, the rich man, gazes from afar as Abraham comforts Lazarus, the beggar whom angels have carried to paradise. There we see Dives asking Abraham for a drop of water to soothe his tongue parched by the fires of Hell. Abraham has to demur, and explain that “between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us” (Luke 16:26)
A sidebar: The Vulgate calls this chasm a “chaos magnum.” And a scholarly Latin dictionary defines chaos as “The boundless, empty space; as the kingdom of darkness, the Lower World.”
Back to our story.
Lewis asks, “Well, imagine: if those in Hell were able to cross that chasm, would it change anyone’s eternal destiny?”
To consider that prospect, Lewis describes the voyage of a tour bus that picks up passengers in Hell and drops them off on the outskirts of Heaven to look around. They can even stay if they want to. Things don’t turn out too well. In fact, it is chilling.
As the tourists from Hell alight from the bus, they are greeted by old friends from Earth, now saints, sent there by angels to convince them to repent — and stay. Alas, they find it’s a hard sell. Lewis presents us with a particularly tough case, a bishop (in his earthly life) who lost his faith and died an apostate. Will he repent? Will he stay?
No. His Grace clings belligerently to his dissent: “Honest opinions fearlessly followed — they are not sins,” he roars to his old friend.
Not sins? Why not?
He followed his errant conscience, the bishop brags. His conscience was, after all, his god, bowing before no one.
As they converse, the bishop is increasingly flustered by his friend’s invitation. Why not embrace and enjoy Heaven’s limpid reality, the Eternal Fact of God?
Suddenly it becomes clear: The bishop suddenly realizes that his friend actually wants him to repent. He recoils.
“Of course I can’t stay with you,” he stammers, “I have to be back next Friday to read a paper.”
In Hell there are apparently countless scholarly papers being given all the time. In this case, the bishop will speak on what a mature Jesus would have taught, had His life not been tragically cut short. Why, had it not been for the “disaster” of the cross, Jesus could have reached His “full stature!”
And off he goes, heading for the bus ride back to Hell.

Resolution? Or Revolution?

This year, an influential group of dissidents is lobbying for a “more mature” Church. They are writing and giving endless papers. They are demanding that the Church reconsider the nature of marriage and family, and they’re placing their bets on Pope Francis.
Specifically, they’ve pinned their hopes to the “new paradigm” that the Pope introduces in his apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. Pope Francis has progressed far beyond his rigid predecessors, they explain. “He has moved away from the Catholic obsession with sex and birth control toward the beauty of a virtuous, just, and loving marriage,” they insist.
They are sure that, under Pope Francis, the Church will experience a “maturing of Church teaching” that “will lead to the revision of some absolute sexual norms” — norms like the prohibitions of adultery and contraception.
Of course, this movement has been seething for fifty years, almost without interruption, ever since Blessed Paul VI promulgated his encyclical on July 25, 1968. This latest effort to “update” Humanae Vitae was intended to use its golden anniversary to lay it to rest. However, early on, it confronted a strong pushback. Many clerics and prelates rose to the defense of the Church’s teaching, but happily, the support from the laity was even stronger.
This resounding support for Humanae Vitae could not be ignored. As a result, “update” advocates have retreated into careful prose meant to reassure the faithful that nothing of importance was going on at all. “Nothing to see here, move along.” Meanwhile, of course, they left the barn door wide open to a “maturing.”
One prominent figure in the discussion is Professor Gilfredo Marengo, of the Pontifical Theological Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. For over a year, Marengo has been chairing a secretive “study group” on Humanae Vitae at the Vatican. He recently insisted that Blessed Paul’s encyclical “needs no updating” — a term he did not define — but he added a curious hint. Pope Francis “has invested a lot” to achieve “the resolution of polarization between pastoral and doctrinal issues,” he said.
And since when have pastoral duties and doctrinal truths become “polarized”? In the Church’s long history, haven’t they been in harmony?
Yes they have. But the revolutionaries of our age routinely hijack words and convert them into their opposites to create conflict. It’s the same old tawdry, tiresome dialectic that flows from Hegel to Marx to Teilhard. So when Professor Marengo says we have to “go beyond the polarization,” he relies on the dialectic to magically create a false conflict that in reality doesn’t exist at all.
But that’s fine with the dissenters. That “conflict” gives them the opportunity to be “peacemakers,” offering a “solution” that goes “beyond” the “polarization” they have themselves concocted.
The revolutionary’s Orwellian word games constitute nothing more than an intellectual shell-game that does its best to conceal the ultimate question: How can they please both those who want to preserve the Church’s timeless teaching, and those who want to change it?
A curious happenstance might help to explain the situation. Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, a member of Marengo’s study group, now heads Rome’s John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family.
Two years ago Sequeri replaced Msgr. Livio Melina at the Institute. And while the Marengo-Sequeri “study group” seeks to “go beyond the polarization,” Msgr. Melina has repeatedly made it clear that an objectively errant conscience, even if accompanied by a purported “pastoral care,” cannot condone a reversal of the Church’s moral teaching. That is the only way that Amoris Laetitia can be read, he insists. Period.
So we wonder: Why did Pope Francis remove Msgr. Melina and replace him with the more liberal Msgr. Sequeri — around the same time that the “study group” took shape?
Was Msgr. Melina’s removal a signal that the longed-for “resolution” would reaffirm Humanae Vitae in teaching and in practice? Or did it mean that it would indeed not be “updated,” but simply left in place — and easily ignored?
Time will tell. But it’s clear that the latter option would leave the barn door open so wide that even a bus could drive through it.

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