Concerning Humanae Vitae
The following article is a compilation of letters written by Fr Thomas Crean to the Catholic Herald in May and June 2010
We should accept that Humanae Vitae is indeed an infallible and irreformable teaching of the Church. Vatican I gave four criteria that must be fulfilled if a pope is to speak infallibly. First, he must speak ‘as shepherd and teacher of all Christians’, not, for example, as a private theologian or as bishop of the diocese of Rome. Secondly, he must be speaking on a question of faith or morals. Thirdly, he must be ‘defining’ a doctrine. The meaning of the word ‘define’ was explained to the Fathers of Vatican I, before they promulgated the dogma of papal infallibility, as follows: the pope is said to ‘define’ a doctrine when he passes judgement directly and finally, ‘in such a way that each and every Catholic can be certain as to the mind of the Apostolic See and of the Roman Pontiff”. Fourthly, he must be speaking to the whole Church, not simply to a portion of it.
All four conditions were fulfilled by Humanae Vitae, when Pope Paul VI, invoking the authority given to him by Jesus Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit (HV 28-9) taught that all forms of abortion, sterilisation and contraception are to be ‘wholly rejected’ as ‘intrinsically wrong’ and whoever disagrees is ‘entirely mistaken’ (HV 14).
There can be no doubt that by this act, Pope Paul, as Pope, intended to settle a matter of morals for the benefit of the whole Church. In July 1968, the faithful had been waiting several years for him to pronounce judgement on the morality of the contraceptive pill. In his encyclical, addressed to all bishops, all other clergy, all laity and ‘all men of good will’ he declared that ‘after mature reflection and assiduous prayers, We now intend, by virtue of the mandate entrusted to Us by Christ, to give our reply to these grave questions’. (HV6)
If he could be wrong on so serious a matter, when expressing himself so solemnly and to the whole Church, the doctrine of papal infallibility would cease to have any practical meaning.
For a pope to have taught infallibly it is not necessary:
1) That the teaching be ‘received’: or
2) That the Pope be seated in St Peter’s Basilica: or
3) That he accompany his definition with anathemas; or
4) That he discipline bishops or theologians who proceed to undermine his teaching.
The bearer of infallibility is the papal teaching act itself, provided the criteria listed by Vatican I are fulfilled. A pope does not need to do anything further to make the infallibility of his teaching evident. It is sufficient that he speak as pope to the whole Church and define that since a certain truth belongs to Catholic doctrine it must be held by all the faithful.
A very full study of the authority of the Pope’s encyclical was published by Fr Ermenegildo Lio in 1986, called Humanae Vitae and Infallibility. Fr. Lio, who was a peritus at Vatican II and helped draft Gaudium et Spes, after analysing the encyclical and surrounding documents for a thousand pages, draws the same conclusion: Humanae Vitae was infallible.