From Mr Tom McIntyre
SIR – When both conservative and liberal insist that Humanae Vitae is an infallible pronouncement, one wonders what moderates think. The same extremes flanked our apostle of moderation, John Henry Newman. For Küng, read Döllinger. For Crean, read Manning.
Newman was disturbed by Cardinal Manning’s 200-page pastoral letter extending papal infallibility to traditional aspects that Pastor Aeternus had left – deliberately, according to Bishop Gasser, relator of Vatican I’s deputation de Fide – unresolved. So Newman got Ambrose St John to translate Fessler’s True and False Infallibility. Here Bishop Fessler, the ultramontane Secretary to the Vatican Council, had refuted the “Old Catholic” interpretation. Just as wide as Manning’s, this was intended, like Hans Küng’s, to demolish the decree by reductio ad absurdum. Pius IX endorsed Fessler’s circumscribed interpretation.
By Fessler’s and thus Newman’s moderate criteria, Humanae Vitae is not defined as infallible. The Holy Spirit guides popes, and in that sense there are thousands of infallible pronouncements. But there are very few defined as such. Pope Paul says that he has Christ’s commission to speak, and that it is his duty to reiterate a teaching based on divine and human first principles. But he defines nothing, and omnino respuendam is far short of anathema sit. Even damnandum he applies only to sterilisation. Other papal pronouncements on moral error, as opposed to heresy, quite as weighty as Humanae Vitae (eg on usury) have proved fallible. Catholics at the time were religiously bound to obey them – but never when informed Catholic conscience said an absolute no.
Yours faithfully, TOM McINTYRE Frome, Somerset