Reform Humanae vitae now German bishop urges Rome
by Timothy Elphick CHURCH teaching on birth control is being ignored by the faithful and needs to be revised, the head of the German Catholic bishops' conference has claimed.
In an interview with the German magazine Quick this week Bishop Karl Lehmann of Mainz said it was an unfortunate fact that in the modern world many Catholics "do not take much notice" of Vatican strictures banning the use of artificial contraception. And while a general consensus existed among Catholics that what the Holy See had to say on the importance of "responsible parenthood" was right, a significant number could not agree with the church over
proper methods of birth control.
"For many the real point of conflict with the church is the ban on the pill in the 1968 encyclical on birth control, Humanae vitae," Bishop Lehmann stressed.
Pope Paul VI's Humanae vitae condemned the use of all artificial methods of contraception, allowing only natural family planning dependent on monitoring fertility cycles of the female partner. Pope John Paul 11 has consistently upheld Humanae vitae, despite strong calls for a less dogmatic approach from influential Catholics in documents such as the January 1989 Cologne Declaration by 163 north European theologians.
"A majority of Catholics, even those who form the solid core in the parishes, act differently from the church's teaching. And they do so having consulted their consciences," said Bishop Lehmann. German bishops did not question the authority of the church's position or doubt that it was wrong. "It is not, as many believe, fundamentally wrong. But obviously it is difficult to make it acceptable in the heads, hearts and and consciences of many believers," he said.
"Perhaps now a thorough rethinking has become necessary. There is undoubtedly conflict within the church over the issue and it cannot be talked away," Bishop Lehmann said.
"The Pope wants to stop the discussion before it starts and says a firm "no" to artificial contraception. He is not concerned with the consequences of such a stance — for example what happens if people take the pill anyway," he said.
And Bishop Lehmann pointed out that members of the German episcopal conference "without wanting to pre-judge the question of the church's teaching see more clearly the real life situations and the pain it causes for the people".
The 1989 Cologne Declaration, signed by leading churchmen including Fr Edward Schillebeeckx and Professor Hans Kung, attacked papal attitudes on birth control as well as Vatican attitudes to theology and procedures for nominating bishops to sees.