May I thank Mrs Hibbitt and Mr Peters for the interesting things they had to say about my letter of December 30. With reference to their letters (January 13) I would like to make the following comments: I. It is true that a universal principle must apply to all cases; but it is equally true that several universal principles may apply to the same case at the same time; and it is precisely for this reason that we come so often across subjective problems of conscience in our daily lives.
Hence the accepted principle in traditional moral theology; "Particular circumstances surrounding an objectively evil human act, while they cannot make it objectively virtuous, can make it 'inculpable, diminished in guilt or subjectively defensible'," (Document of the Congregation for the Clergy on Washington Case re HV, signed by Cardinal Wright, Oss Rom, English Edition, May 21, 1971).
In liV the Pope enunciates most explicitly the universal principle regarding the objective evil of abortion, sterilisation and contraception.
But, in so doing, he does not mean to suppress other universal principles such as those objective mural norms regarding the formation of a good conscience and the conditions required for rendering one guilty of mortal sin, ie, grave matter, full advertence and full consent.
It is remarkable, for example, that throughout Para 14 of HV, with its subtitle "Unlawful ways of regulating birth," there is not one single mention of the word "guilt".
2. The couples. referred to by the Canadian bishops, do not claim "to be free to act as they choose" or "to decide for themselves what is the right course for them to follow". On the contrary, they are Catholic couples who believe that:
Contraception is always wrong; irresponsible procreation is always wrong; it is always wrung to abstain from intercourse when serious reasons indicate it to be imperative, eg, danger of solitary sin, danger of infidelity, threat of family discord.
At the same time, however, ., they know from their own cx. perience that in their case the natural methods of birth control do not offer a satisfactory solution for reconciling the exigencies of conjugal love with those of responsible parenthood.
When, therefore, they judge that they have serious motives for having intercourse, they clearly find themselves involved in what seems to them to be a subjective conflict of duties.
May they perform intercourse properly — and sin against the virtue of prudence? May they perform it in a contraceptive manner — and sin against the virtue of conjugal chastity? May they abstain — and sin against the virtues of justice and charity?
No matter which course they choose, they cannot see how in their case they can avoid evil. Without any fault of their own, they simply cannot fulfil all their duties simultaneously, for to fulfil one duty they will have to go against another!
What has the Church to say to Christians who find themselves in a dilemma like this?
The Church tells such individuals to fulfil that duty which they judge to be the most urgent, assuring them that if, in so doing, they have to transgress some other duty, such a transgression will surely remain always objectively evil, but they will incur no guilt for it, Why?
Because in their case there will be lacking that freedom of choice which is required to constitute a mortal sin. In view of this, then, it should not be difficult to understand how the French bishops could say without contradicting the teaching of HV: "Contraception can never be a good thing; it is always a disorder; but this disorder is not always a sin". 3. As for Mrs Hibbitt's reference to abortifacients, may I note that no Catholic of good will may ever judge these "to be the right course for him to take" for the simple reason that abortifacients and abortion, like the denial of one's Faith, are actions which one must always avoid, even at the risk of losing one's life.
4. I would like to call our friends' attention to the Catholic doctrine on conscience. Among other things, the Church teaches that each individual has the right and the duty to follow his own conscience, evert if it happens to be invincibly mistaken.
With reference to our case, then, it does mot matter what we think about the perplexed couples' situation. It is what they sincerely think and believe that really matters before God.
If, then, after having seriously examined their situation and prayed over it, they are sincerely convinced that, because of their particular curcumstances, they are involved in what seems to them to be a conflict of duties, we have no right to question their sincerity or to attribute to them selfish and • hedonistic motives.
All we can do is to enlighten them and to show them what is the Church's teaching on the formation of a good conscience in such circumstances.
By the way, has it ever occured to our friends that, for many of these perplexed couples, one of their most harrowing frustrations is precisely the painful awareness that, because of their health, accommodation of financial problems, they cannot afford another baby which they desire so much? 5. HV most certainly forms part of the authentic teaching of the Magisterium. The worst disservice we Catholics can do to the Magisterium in general and to HV in particular, is to read this great encyclical in isolation, treating it as if it were something all by itself. coming to us front outer space. without any link whatsoever with the traditional moral teaching of the Church which good Pope Paul has to constantly and so strenuously defended throughout his pontificate.
(Fr) Alfred Micallef B'Bugia, Malta.
Mr John Peters (January 13) tells us that married couples who reject the magisterial teaching of Humanae Vitae cannot claim to he well informed or to be acting as Catholics.
Presumably Mr Peters accepts that the earth is in orbit round the sun. Yet as a well-informed person he must be aware that in so doing he is opposing the magisterial teaching which denounced Copernican theories as heretical and contrary to the magisterial interpretation of Scripture. Books on Copernican theories remained on the Index of Forbidden Books long after the mathematicians had confirmed them. Does this mean that Galileo was less well informed or less Catholic than the Pope who persecuted him? Humanae Vitae contradicted the idea that a procreative intent is necessary in every act of marital sex, since it accepted rhythm contraception. Yet for many centuries the Magisterium insisted that a procreative intent was necessary in every act if sin was to be avoided. Does this mean that Humanae Vitae was not Catholic or well informed?
The importance of learning from the reversals of official teaching on sex, usury, slavery, scriptural interpretation, salvation outside the Church, etc, is what we must stress 10 years after Humanae Mae. No one can correct a fault without first recognising its existence — a truism which applies to institutions as well as individuals.
We must not falsify history or perform semantic gymnastics to conceal mistakes by the Magisterium: instead we must analyse why the mistakes were made so that we can do better in future. High ecclesiastics must consult the laity seriously; they must consult scientists and financial experts before discussing scientific and financial matters.
Above all, celibates must realise that when pronouncing on sexual matters they ignore the experience of married Catholics at their peril. That is why Humana. Vitae could not afford to ignore the Papal Commission on Birth Control which consulted experts and married Catholics for three years before approving contraception.
Finally, Canon Law and the clerical career structure must not be used to stifle legitimate intellectual freedom in the Church. Only in this way can we avoid repeating errors which have caused so much suffering to Catholics and are such an obstacle to ecumenical dialogue. (Mrs) Millicent McDermott Ilexham, Northumberland, My attention has been drawn to a letter written by Mrs Joyce Dowds of Bristol which appeared in your issue of December 30. Mrs Dowds, who is a student on our current course in Natural Family Planning, requested teachers of ovulation methods to forward their names to her.
For your readers' information the Natural Family Planning Centre in Birmingham, which is officially recognised as the training centre for England and Wales, compiles a register of those persons holding certification as Natural Family Planning teachers. This department is also the Centre selected by the World Health Organisation, in England and Wales, for the pre-testing of their teaching modules, beginning in February on a multi-national scale.
Any inquiries may be addressed to me at the address below.
(Dr) Anne M. Flynn, MRCOG Natural Family Planning Centre, Birmingham Maternity Hospital, Queen Elizabeth Medical Centre, Birmingham, 1:115 2TG.