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Another Scandal At Rome’s Academy For Life?

December 21, 2022 Frontpage No Comments


Last weekend an important conference was held in Rome. The subject, of all things, was a book! But it was an important book — and a dangerous one as well.
Last summer, the Pontifical Academy for Life, under the direction of Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, published a work entitled Etica teologica della Vita. Scrittura, tradizione, sfide pratiche (“Theological Ethics of Life. Scripture, Tradition, Challenges, and Practice”). The book’s appearance caused an immediate uproar, as commentators argued whether the Academy, founded by Pope St. John Paul II in 1994, was advocating a historic, indeed unprecedented, departure from Catholic teaching on fundamental moral questions.
To address those questions, especially those addressing sexual morality, objective moral norms, and conscience, participants in the Rome conference addressed five vital issues.
First, Archbishop Paglia, in his introduction to the book, mentioned a “radical paradigm change” that also echoed Pope Francis’ 2018 apostolic constitution, Veritatis Gaudium. Does this “radical” change represent a change in educational orientation, in light of cultural changes — as Pope Francis indicates — or is it a change in moral methodology and doctrine?
Second, what is the doctrinal status of the Church’s teaching against contraception? The foundational text of Etica teologica refers to Humanae Vitae. Can any interpretation of that document ever allow for the use of “artificial methods” of regulating birth?
John Paul II certainly didn’t think so. On June 5, 1987, he said: “What is taught by the Church on contraception does not belong to material freely debatable among theologians. To teach otherwise amounts to leading the moral conscience of couples into error.”
Does the Academy’s new book deny this statement by its founder?
Third, how is Catholic sexual morality related to the question of intrinsic evil? In moral methodology, how are we to understand conscience and discernment in reference to actions which are considered intrinsically disordered?
Fourth, how is Catholic teaching on contraception supported by Scripture, Christian anthropology, and the natural law? How is this teaching connected to the beauty of chastity, the dignity of the human person, and respect for nature?
And fifth, how is Catholic moral theology related to contraception, the right to life, gender ideology, including homosexuality, transgenderism? Would a change in Catholic teaching on contraception signal possible changes on these other issues? What are the legal challenges faced by Catholics who wish to uphold Catholic teachings on marriage, sexuality, and the right to life of the unborn?
These questions are of vital importance, and we will address these questions further as more proceedings become available. For now, we consider the views of two participants.

Livio Melina: A Valiant
Defender Of Life

Msgr. Livio Melina headed the Pontifical Academy until 2017, when Pope Francis removed him and appointed Archbishop Paglia in his place. Shortly after his dismissal, Msgr. Melina appeared at a January 2018 conference on Humanae Vitae in Alcalá, Spain. There, he very carefully attempted to reconcile Amoris Laetitia, the 2016 apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis, with the magisterial moral teaching of the Church.
It wasn’t easy. The exhortation presents a serious “pastoral and pedagogical challenge,” he said, continually affirming, in one citation after another, that the exhortation could be reconciled with Catholic teaching only “if” it were read in a particular way (however, of course, like so many of Francis’ writings, the document is vague, contradictory, and sometimes borders on incoherent. Was it intentionally designed to be read in such various, even contradictory, ways?).
Five months later, in June 2018, Msgr. Melina was more direct. Speaking at an Italian conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of Paul VI’s promulgation of Humanae Vitae, he described the profound damage caused by the separation of sexuality from morality, especially in view of its manipulation by secular science and technology. “The English philosopher G.E.M. Anscombe says that those in favor of contraception will have no arguments to oppose homosexual relationships,” he said.
He was right, of course, and that fact was recently affirmed in our own time by the Biden administration’s efforts to both fund the distribution of abortifacient pills and to glorify homosexual “marriage.” Biden’s signing the “Respect for Marriage Act” into law this past week guarantees that federal agencies in all fields — most prominently the Department of Justice and the Internal Revenue Service — will inaugurate a scorched-earth attack on institutions and individuals who refuse to bow to the pagan gods of the Culture of Death, whether the issue is contraception (viz. the HHS Contraception Mandate) or sodomy (coming soon to a parish near you: a transsexual couple demands the they be married in the Church).
Last week in Rome, Msgr. Melina was blunt. As LifeSiteNews reports, “Melina said that the Academy’s arguments were ‘in explicit contradiction to St. John Paul II’s encyclical, Veritatis splendor (cf. n. 78).’ In the Theological Ethics of Life, argued Melina, ‘the authors affirm that it is not possible to specify an act morally only by its object, but that it is also necessary to consider the singularity of the circumstances and the subjective intention of the person acting and apply this principle also to intrinsically evil acts’.”

Common Sense, Anyone?

Dr. Janet Smith’s presentation began with a lucid observation from Gerhard Ludwig Mueller and Stephan Kampowski: “In previous times, people who did not agree with the teaching of Humanae Vitae or Donum Vitae simply said that they begged to differ and gave their reasons. The new approach, adopted by the Academy’s text, is in fact to state the opposite of the teaching, while at the same time claiming that one agrees.”
“Perhaps this description explains why revisionists deny that they are rejecting absolute objective norms,” Smith observes. “It is not that such norms do not exist; it is that it is more important that one act in accord with one’s own values.”
But what are those values? Eternal truths, or sentiments — including vices — “valued” by the individual that may or may not conform to reality and the truth that explains it?
“Conscience here is understood not as the place where the precepts of natural law are naturally known, the place where a person hears the voice of God,” Smith continues. “Rather, it is the repository of the values one has adopted through one’s choices; the moral agent has an obligation to obey his judgment rather than any teaching of the Church, any objective norm, any dictate of God.”
“That means that God dictates that we act in opposition to God’s dictates if our conscience tells us to do so,” she adds, violating Aristotle’s fundamental Law of Non-Contradiction. Here she recites a distressing litany of current violations to illustrate the rampant erosion of common sense in today’s secular culture.
“Church teaching about morality, which basically is that God made an ordered universe and morality is a matter of freely choosing to live in accord with that order,” she explains. “Such is not an imposition on our natures or a curtailment of our freedom. On the contrary, it gives us dignity, and it leads to true human flourishing and to the ability to be free from disordered passions and false values.”
Reality includes the Law of Cause and Effect, and Dr. Smith invokes it to observe that: “contraception leads to the acceptance and practice of promiscuity, to an increase of abortion and divorce, to an acceptance of homosexual relationships and marriage, to the use of pornography, to a desire to produce babies through technology, to harm of the environment, and to a frightening demographic decline.”
“The Pontifical Academy for Life does nothing in its book on life issues to look at the tremendous damage that has been done by the philosophical assumptions that underlie the acceptance of contraception,” Smith concludes, “and by the nearly universal use of contraception in our modern day — nor of the philosophical assumptions that underlie its new view of conscience.”
St. John Paul II, Pray for Us!

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