‘Humanae Vitae’ farewell. Here comes the one who will celebrate its funeral

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March 18, 2021 (L’Espresso) — Sandro Magister note: Published as received. The author of the commentary, Thibaud Collin, is a professor of philosophy at the Collège Stanislas in Paris and has written important essays on “gender” theory, same-sex marriage, and political secularism. His latest book, from 2018, is entitled: “Le mariage chrétien at-il encore un avenir?”

The starting point for his reflection is the appointment of Philippe Bordeyne, 61, moral theologian, rector of the Institut Catholique of Paris, as president of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, replacing PierAngelo Sequeri.

The rotation will take place in September. And it will mark a definitive course reversal for the institute that bears the name of John Paul II, but is increasingly distant from the teaching of the pope who founded it and of his predecessor Paul VI.

The earthquake that rocked the Institute in 2018 was unleashed by its Grand Chancellor, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, on a mandate from Pope Francis and with the visible disagreement of pope emeritus Benedict XVI.

But still there as dean was Sequeri – a theologian of recognized talent and not suspected of conservatism – to courageously keep alive an interpretation of Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae vitae” faithful to its original meaning:
> Surprise. Among the Francis Men Is One Who Is Defending “Humanae Vitae”

But now this last levee has fallen as well. For years Bordeyne has backed the supplanting of that encyclical and the rethinking of the theology of the family, which for him – and in his judgment also for Pope Francis – “by no means ends with the little bourgeois triangle of a father, a mother and children,” but “is the place where each individual grows as a person in relationship,” so that “to despise different families would also be to despise this work of socialization” (interview with “La Croix,” April 8 2016).

Professor Collin’s turn.

But then let’s call it the “Amoris Laetitia” Institute

by Thibaud Collin

The announced appointment of Msgr. Philippe Bordeyne, current rector of the Institut Catholique of Paris, as dean of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute is the last stage of the refoundation carried out by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia and Pope Francis of this institution explicitly desired by St. John Paul II and founded by Carlo Caffarra, the future cardinal. That confirms this refoundation is a real and true revolution.

The rich reflection of the Polish pope on the sexual body, marriage, and the family can be understood as a response to the failure of the reception of St. Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae vitae.” Of course, this document does not touch upon the entirety of those themes, far from it, but it can be considered as the touchstone of the whole doctrine of the Church on sexuality and marriage. The contraceptive mentality that the encyclical opposes is in fact objectively the condition of possibility of the social legitimation of abortion, of the technologies of procreation, and of all LGBTQ demands.

Now, the refoundation of the John Paul II Institute begun a few years ago by Archbishop Paglia, passing through the dismissal of most of its professors and the appointment of theologians such as Maurizio Chiodi and Gilfredo Marengo, clearly no longer takes “Humanae vitae” as touchstone. This document is now seen as too “abstract” and “theoretical”; the status accorded to it makes it only an ideal, even if it is described as “prophetic,” as if it were an ornament set on the mantel as decoration and no longer touched. The appointment of Philippe Bordeyne confirms this paradigm shift. It should be judged on the basis of the facts. Here is what he says in a text written on the occasion of the synods on the family of 2014 and 2015:

The encyclical ‘Humanae vitae’ teaches that natural methods of controlling fertility are the only legitimate ones. However, it must be recognized that the distance between the practice of the faithful and the teaching of the magisterium has grown even wider. Is it simple deafness to the calls of the Spirit or is it the fruit of a work of discernment and responsibility in Christian couples subjected to the pressure of new ways of life? The human sciences and the experience of couples teach us that the relationships between desire and pleasure are complex, eminently personal, and therefore variable according to the couples, and evolve over time and within the couple. Faced with the imperative moral duty to fight against the temptations of abortion, divorce, and the lack of generosity in the face of procreation, it would be reasonable to leave the discernment on birth control methods to the wisdom of couples, placing the emphasis on a moral and spiritual education that would make it possible to fight more effectively against temptations in a context that is often hostile to Christian anthropology.

In this perspective, the Church could admit a plurality of paths for responding to the general call to maintain the openness of sexuality to transcendence and to the gift of life. […] The way of natural methods that involves continence and chastity could be recommended as an evangelical counsel, practiced by Christian couples or not, that requires self-control in periodic abstinence. The other way whose moral legitimacy could be admitted, with the choice entrusted to the wisdom of the spouses, would consist in using non-abortive methods of contraception. If the spouses decide to introduce this medicine into the intimacy of their sex life, they would be encouraged to double their mutual love. Only this latter is capable of humanizing the use of technology, at the service of a human ecology of procreation” (“Synode sur la vocation et la mission de la famille dans l’Eglise et monde contemporain. 26 théologiens répondent,” Bayard, 2015, pp. 197-198).

This quotation is a summary of what a large number of theologians and episcopates have said about the ethical norm recalled by St. Paul VI and founded by St. John Paul II anthropologically in the catecheses on the “theology of the body” and morally in the encyclical “Veritatis splendor.”

But now the circle is closed: the ecclesial spirit of the seventies has ended up conquering Rome! But why has the “distance” been so “widened” if not because most pastors, not having wanted to embrace this good news on birth control, identified as an unbearable burden, never really passed it on to those who had been entrusted to them? At that point why even speak of “deafness” to the calls of the Spirit as if His voice had actually reached the ears of the faithful?

The reality is that most of these have had no inkling of the Church’s doctrine on this issue except from the dominant media. Since the transmission work has not been done, it is not surprising that there has not been assimilation.

It is therefore quite a stretch to say that this document, not having been accepted, needs to be sifted through the human sciences and the “wisdom” of couples. Circular reasoning that allows it to be discreetly cashiered. Making natural birth control the object of a choice reveals that the sacrament of marriage is no longer perceived as oriented towards the holiness to which all the baptized are called.

How can we fail to see that these statements gravely relativize the teaching of the magisterium and mislead couples of good will, who consequently see this ethical norm not as a way to happiness but as an almost inhuman ideal? The doctrine of “Humanae vitae” certainly needs to be embodied in pastoral practice and in a “moral and spiritual education,” but this need not be measured by the human sciences, unable by their nature to grasp the truth of the language of bodies. The purpose of education is adequate subjectivation, meaning the free realization of the true human good.

Pastors and lay people engaged in the pastoral care of marriage must therefore work to make lovable the good to be realized in the free acts through which the spouses signify in the language of the body the truth of their conjugal love. Affirming that the choice of birth control methods should be left to the conscience of couples reveals that the ethical norm is applied externally, without engaging the person as a whole; in short, in a manner that is already technical, a bit as if I were asking myself: “I have to go to that place: do I take the bike or the car?” Hence that very revealing expression which is the “humanization of technology through love,” when instead the very introduction of technology ends up obscuring the gift of self, making the union of bodies a sort of lie, which no longer objectively signifies the communion of spouses. The height of confusion is reached when it is indicated that this humanization of technology must be placed at the service of human ecology!

Only the virtue of chastity, intrinsically linked to the good of conjugal communion and the source of temporary continence while however not being reduced to this, can safeguard, in the unity of the person in body and soul, the truth of love. Only chastity raises the sexual life of the spouses to the height of the value of the person and avoids reducing this to its sexual values alone. In the field of love, technology cannot and will never be able to replace virtue.

Finally, it is amazing to think of contraception as a kind of bulwark against abortion, when all the studies show on the contrary that the advancement of the contraceptive mentality actually encourages abortion, not to mention that today many pills are also abortifacient.

In short, the appointment as manager of a figure like Philippe Bordeyne confirms that the John Paul II Institute, in full hemorrhage of students, should for the sake of intellectual honesty change its name. It could be called, for example, the “Amoris Laetitia” Institute.

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