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Pope Benedict on contraception/abortion December 15, 2010

Posted by Tantumblogo in Abortion, Basics, General Catholic, sadness.

From another book length interview with Peter Seewald, Salt of the Earth, then Cardinal Ratzinger addresses the issue of contraception.  My question, to all but especially Steve B and WhiteLily, is the “answer” Ratzinger gives on this subject profoundly modernist in its outlook?  Does this answer below provide a “preview,” if you will, of the Pope’s ‘condom comments’?

Your Eminence, many Christians do not understand the Church’s position on contraception. Do you understand that they don’t understand it?

Yes, I can understand that quite well; the question is really complicated. In today’s troubled world, where the number of children cannot be very high given living conditions and so many other factors, it’s very easy to understand. In this matter, we ought to look less at the casuistry of individual cases and more at the major objectives that the Church has in mind.

I think that it’s a question of three major basic options. The first and most fundamental is to insist on the value o£ the child in society. In this area, in fact, there has been a remarkable change. Whereas in the simple societies of the past up to the nineteenth century, the blessing of children was regarded as the blessing, today children are conceived of almost as a threat. People think that they rob us of a place for the future, they threaten their own space, and so forth.  In this matter a primary objective is to

recover the original, true view that the child, the new human being, is a blessing. That by giving life we also receive it ourselves and that going out of ourselves and accepting the blessing of creation are good for man.The second is that today we find ourselves before a separation of sexuality from procreation such as was not known earlier, and this makes it all the more necessary not to lose sight of the inner connection between the two.

Meanwhile, even representatives of the sixties’ generation, who tried it, are making some astonishing statements. Or perhaps that’s just what we should expect. Rainer Langhans, for example, who once explored “orgasmic sexuality” in his communes, now proclaims that “the pill severed sexuality from the soul and led people into a blind alley.” Langhans complains that now there “is no longer any giving, no longer any devoted dedication”. “The highest” aspect of sexuality, he now professes, is `parenthood”, which he calls “collaboration in God’s plan”.

It really is true that increasingly we have the development of two completely separated realities. In Huxley’,s famous futuristic novel Brave New World, we see a vision of a coming world in which sexuality is something completely detached from procreation. He had good reason to expect this, and its human tragedy is fully explored. In this world, children are planned and produced in a laboratory in a regulated fashion. Now, that is clearly an intentional caricature, but, like all caricatures, it does bring something to the fore: that the child is going to be something that tends to be planned and made, that he lies completely under the control of reason, as it were. And that signals the self-destruction of man. Children become products in which we want to express ourselves; they are fully robbed in advance of their own life’s projects. And sexuality once again becomes something replaceable. And, of course, in all this the relationship of man and woman is also lost. The developments are plain to see.

In the question of contraception, precisely such basic options are at stake. The Church wants to keep man human. For the third option in this context is that we cannot resolve great moral problems simply with techniques, with chemistry, but must solve them morally, with a life-style. It is, I think — independently now of contraception — one of our great perils that we want to master even the human condition with technology, that we have forgotten that there are primordial human problems that are not susceptible of technological solutions but that demand a certain life-style and certain life decisions. I would say that in the question of contraception we ought to look more at these basic options in which the Church is leading a struggle for man. The point of the Church’s objections is to underscore this battle. The way these objections are formulated is perhaps not always completely felicitous, but what is at stake are such major cardinal points of human existence.

The question remains whether you can reproach someone, say a couple who already have several children, for not having a positive attitude toward children.

No, of course not, and that shouldn’t happen, either.

But must these people nevertheless have the idea that they are living in some sort of sin if they …

I would say that those are questions that ought to be discussed with one’s spiritual director, with one’s priest, because they can’t be projected into the abstract.

So, when asked clearly, if a couple with several children develops an antipathy towards having more, the subject of contraception is at the discretion of their spiritual director?  Does Pope Benedict undermine his argument by having a modernist hermeneutic, looking at things from a distinctly ‘modern’ point of view?


1. FrDarryl - December 15, 2010

‘So, when asked clearly, if a couple with several children develops an antipathy towards having more, the subject of contraception is at the discretion of their spiritual director?’

No, he’s saying any such antipathy – and by extension, its etiology – is a matter for pastoral discernment, not (adjudicatory) discretion.

‘Does Pope Benedict undermine his argument by having a modernist hermeneutic, looking at things from a distinctly ‘modern’ point of view?’

That’s a complex – i.e., ‘loaded’, and hence fallacious – question. You must first demonstrate the plausibility of the claim that Pope Benedict’s hermeneutic is ‘modernist’ – and in what sense – before proceeding to ask whether such an attribution undermines any putative argument.

I read ‘Light of the World’ a couple weeks ago and ISTM he was simply saying that – in the abstract – the desire of a man to protect someone from contracting AIDS by using a condom indicates an element of moral docility which can lead to real conscience formation. No did not condone condom use as such.

tantamergo - December 15, 2010

That’s what I’m asking opinions of, whether people think his comments are informed, perhaps, by a spirit of modernism. But, to me, the blanket agreement that children, in our modern times, pose some kind of burden they did not in prior times, is a modernist outlook (“In today’s troubled world, where the number of children cannot be very high given living conditions and so many other factors, it’s very easy to understand”). Why immediately grant, if you will, the assumption of the world that having a large number of children is an untenable burden? This same kind of thinking informed some of the reasoning in Humanae Vitae, which seemed to actually be arguing against itself at times with repeated statements of the burden children pose and the dread threat of overpopulation. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger seems to be giving a whole lot of ground to those who take issue with the Church’s teaching on contraception, before refuting those who disagree with that Doctrine by appeals to a more “practical” assessment of the benefits of children, the unitive aspect of the marital act, and (the “third point) a desire to live a more moral life, or making decisions on such issues informed by the Church’s moral doctrine. Nowhere does he mention the glory of raising new souls up to God through the miracle of the procreative act, and how frustrating this act is what constitutes the grave moral issue. Certainly, Casti Connubi by Pope Pius XI gave a deep reflection on this element of contraception, and its something that, at least in this interview but also in others I have read involving him, Pope Benedict seems to not address. In fact, by seeming to cede the argument that it is indeed very difficult to have a “very high” number of children (who knows what number he is thinking here – 5, 7, 3?), he seems, to me, to be in essential agreement that it may be necessary to limit the number of children married couples may have, he is only in disagreement on the means by which that limitation is achieved.

It’s the whole crux of the argument around which everything which follows turns, and I paraphrase – “certainly, having “too many” in these times is impossible” that seems to me informed by modernism, a sense that somehow times are now different than ever in the past and thus a new reponse is needed (something which informs much of the hermeneutic of rupture of which Pope Benedict speaks frequently). While he does not agree that a new response is needed, his thinking does indeed seem, to me, colored by a certain sense of modernism, a certain agreement with the received conventional wisdom, such as it is.

tantamergo - December 15, 2010

Regarding what the Pope said on condoms, you know what he meant, and I know, but the “impression” has been radically different. It will take much effort to stamp out this very mistaken impression, even within the Church, even among those who should no better. Already, we’ve had an Opus Dei priest (Opus Dei!) stating that even the wordly interpretation of the Pope’s comments is fine, and that condom use even in heterosexual encounters can be “moral” because it may reduce a greater evil, such as impregnating someone who is not your spouse, and that condoms can be used with abandon by married couples where one of the partners is HIV positive! So even in the Church, even among many, MANY people who should know better, either the somewhat convoluted nature of the Pope’s statement, or the reader’s own preconceived preferences, have led to a situation where many people are out there arguing for exactly the opposite of what we believe (and pray) the Pope intended.

As I said, this statement is going to take a great deal of work to refute the misinterpretations thereof, which, I am sorry to say, really probably should have been anticipated.

For what I find to be a good deconstruction of the Opus Dei’s arguments in favor of condom use, go here.

2. FrDarryl - December 16, 2010

Something tells me this is the last such interview to which His Holiness consents.

I will say his use of the terms ‘option’ and ‘fundamental’ leave him severely open to critique on the moral nature of individual acts.

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