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Falling into the Darkness of Error

In this section of our November issue (“Is the Pope Looking to Lambeth?”), we asked a pressing question: Is it Pope Francis’s intention to revisit, and possibly reinterpret, Humanae Vitae in light of what he calls “the new pastoral challenges to which the Christian community is called to respond”? Now, just a few months on, we are getting further indications that this is the case. Kudos to veteran Italian journalist and longtime Vatican-watcher Sandro Magister for doing the heavy lifting for us by documenting the steps taken recently that indicate that the Pope is indeed well into the process of dismantling the work of Bl. Pope Paul VI’s watershed 1968 encyclical, which affirmed the Church’s teaching on the use of contraception (sometimes oddly referred to as “artificial methods of birth control”). Magister’s recent observations lead him to conclude that Humanae Vitae “is now giving way to a radical reinterpretation, to a ‘paradigm shift’ undoubtedly desired and encouraged by Pope Francis himself” (L’Espresso, Jan. 30).

An authoritative go-ahead for this “paradigm shift,” says Magister, has been given by Maurizio Chiodi, one of Francis’s most favored theologians. Fr. Chiodi, a newly appointed member of the Pontifical Academy for Life (recently dismantled and reassembled by Francis; see our New Oxford Note “A Pontificate of Mercy — or a Merciless Pontificate?” Oct.) and author of a 2006 book advocating the moral legitimacy of contraception, was a keynote speaker at a December 14 conference at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University dedicated to the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae. In his lecture, entitled “Re-Reading Humanae Vitae (1968) in Light of Amoris Laetitia (2016),” Chiodi asserted that responsible parenthood can obligate a married couple to use artificial birth control. Yes, obligate! In other words, he is not only claiming the legitimacy of using contraception; he is saying that in certain cases it is actually required. And, of course, Chiodi uses Francis’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia to justify his assertion.

Magister points out that Avvenire, the official newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, prominently featured Fr. Chiodi’s lecture. According to Avvenire (Jan. 28), Chiodi’s “reflection” is to be understood as “a proposal that is intended to represent the development of a tradition. And a tradition, in order to be alive and to continue to speak to the women and men of our time, must not be fossilized but rendered dynamic, which means to be in keeping with a society that is changing. Fr. Chiodi has the courage to define the problem that is raised by some theologians and experts on pastoral practice. Are natural methods really to be understood as the only means possible for family planning?”

You read that right. Not only does the voice-piece for the Italian bishops’ conference appear to approve of the lecture, its feature defends Fr. Chiodi’s “reflection” by asking us to believe that his ideas somehow represent “the development of tradition” so that Humanae Vitae doesn’t get fossilized! Moreover, Avvenire suggests that Chiodi has “courage” for rhetorically asking if Humanae Vitae isn’t out of date.

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