Saturday, September 24, 2016

Wijngaards Declaration: Catholic Scholars Respond to Humanae Vitae on Use of Contraception — Implications for Gay Catholics

As the fiftieth anniversary of the Catholic encyclical Humanae Vitae, which reiterated the Catholic magisterium's ban on the use of artificial contraception, approaches, Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research has released a statement of a group of Catholic theologians calling on the pastoral leaders of the Catholic church to reassess this teaching, which has not been received* by lay Catholics. Regarding the natural law argument that Humanae Vitae makes as its primary reason for ruling that the use of artificial contraceptives is gravely wrong, the statement notes:

§1. The main argument of HV . . . can be summarized as follows: 
§1.1. The biological "laws of conception" regulating human reproduction show that sexual intercourse has a “capacity to transmit life” (HV §13). 
§1.2. For that reason, each and every act of sexual intercourse has a procreative "significance" (HV §12), "meaning and purpose" (HV §13), "finality" (HV §3), and an "intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life" (HV §11). 
§1.3. The above mentioned "laws of conception" have been established by God. Therefore, intentionally thwarting the procreative capacity, significance and finality that said laws have endowed each and every act of sexual intercourse with "frustrates His design […] and contradicts the will of the Author of life" (HV §13).

The theologians writing the Wijngaards statement respond to this natural law argument, which claims — along with Catholic natural law theology in general — to be based on careful observation of how nature behaves, and which claims to derive its moral norms from reflection on this observation of how nature behaves:

§3. HV's argument is not supported by the relevant evidence. 
§3.1. HV's argument is that because the biological "laws of conception" reveal that sexual intercourse has a "capacity to transmit life" (HV §13), each and every act of sexual intercourse has a "procreative significance" (HV §12) and "finality" (HV §3), and an "intrinsic relationship" to procreation (HV §11). 
This misinterprets the biological evidence. The causal relationship between insemination and, on the other hand, fertilization, implantation, and ultimately procreation, is statistical, not necessary. The vast majority of acts of sexual intercourse do not have the biological "capacity" for procreation, and therefore they cannot have procreation as their "finality" or "significance."

You see the point the Catholic theologians are making here, don't you? It's that what the magisterium chooses to see as it looks at nature is not even an accurate picture of how nature behaves. In nature, as it actually is and moves and has its being, the vast majority of acts of sexual intercourse do not have the biological "capacity" for procreation, and therefore they cannot have procreation as their "finality" or "significance."

In nature, as it actually is and not as some of us choose to see nature, every act of sexual intercourse does not, in fact, move towards conception. Nature is designed in such a way that every act of human sexual intercourse does not move towards the birth of a human being months down the road from the act of intercourse.

It's designed, in fact, so that a large percentage of fertilized ova do not implant in the uterine wall, but naturally abort. The God to which natural law theology points us as the designer of the system of nature would appear not to wish for the kind of automatic "transmission of life" as the goal of each act of sexual intercourse that the magisterium sees as the sole purpose of sexual acts — since the system of nature has been set up by its Creator to behave in a quite different way.

This is, of course, a more than pedantic discussion, when one considers that one of the implications of this magisterial natural law teaching about human sexuality is to condemn homosexual acts — each and every one of them — on the same ground by which it is condemning heterosexual acts that thwart the "natural purpose" of human sexual acts. (On the connection of the Wijngaards statement to the discussion of the place of gay** people in the Catholic scheme of things, see Francis DeBernardo at Bondings 2.0; and see Michael Boyle's valuable commentary in this Bilgrimage posting).

It is a more than pedantic discussion when one considers, too, that the condemnation of the use of artificial contraception, and the natural law reasoning it employs, also link to the Catholic magisterial teaching declaring by fiat that every conceptus is a full human being, and that aborting a conceptus is a heinously immoral act, since it is taking the life of a full human being.

The magisterium has not been willing to permit any open discussion of these issues, or of the (pseudo-) scientific evidence on which magisterial teaching rests. Theologians, including at least one of those signing the Wijngaards statement — i.e., Charles Curran — have lost their jobs, been disciplined and silenced, precisely for calling for this kind of discussion. And when so much hinges on keeping the teaching articulated by Humanae Vitae in place — namely, the continued hostility of Catholic pastoral leaders to gay** human beings, and the continued attempt to enshrine Catholic teaching about abortion as secular law by coercive means — I don't see it as very likely that Catholic pastoral leaders will respond in any positive way to the Wijngaards statement's appeal for dialogue.

Do you?

* (I'm adding this note as a later [25 September] addendum: "Received" has a technical theological meaning here. As many theologians have noted, an essential part of the process of verifying the truth claims of magisterial teachings is the matter of "reception." When a magisterial teaching, such as the teaching about artificial contraception, is not "received" by large numbers of lay Catholics, the truth claims of that teaching are called radically into question.

** Gay = LGBTQI.

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