Yesterday, the Catholic University of America hosted a press conference for the release of the document “Affirmation of the Catholic Church’s Teaching on the Gift of Sexuality”, which was signed by over 500 Catholic scholars with doctoral degrees in theology, medicine, law and other fields. The document opens by stating: “We, the undersigned scholars, affirm that the Catholic Church’s teachings on the gift of sexuality, on marriage, and on contraception are true and defensible on many grounds, among them the truths of reason and revelation concerning the dignity of the human person.” As the CNA/EWTN report explained:
Signatories of the document included Fr. Wojciech Giertych O.P., the theologian of the papal household; John H. Garvey, president of Catholic University of America; Tracey Rowland, Dean of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage & Family in Melbourne, Australia; Sister Prudence Allen, philosophy professor at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver; Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., academic dean of the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.; and Helen M. Alvaré, law professor at George Mason University.
The scholars charged that a new U.K.-based statement opposing Church teaching “offers nothing new to discussions about the morality of contraception and, in fact, repeats the arguments that the Church has rejected and that numerous scholars have engaged and refuted since 1968.”
The statement in question, organized by the U.K.-based Wijngaards Institute, claims there are “no grounds” for Catholic teaching against contraception. It questioned the idea that openness to procreation is inherent to the significance of sexual intercourse, and said that “the choice to use contraceptives for either family planning or prophylactic purposes can be a responsible and ethical decision and even, at times, an ethical imperative.”
Yesterday’s press conference at CUA included panelists John Grabowski, Catholic University associate professor of moral theology and ethics who served as an expert at the 2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family; Janet Smith, who holds the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit; and Mary Hasson, director of the Catholic Women’s Forum at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Late yesterday I e-mailed with Dr. Smith, who has also edited and authored several books, including Why Humanae Vitae Was Right: A Reader for Ignatius Press. Here is our written communication:
CWR: To what degree is the recent “report” by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research at the U.N. a continuation of the widespread dissent that followed upon the release of Humanae Vitae in 1968?
Dr. Smith: It is not really a continuation for that might suggest something new-ish. This is stale, regurgitated stuff that is rather pungent for its agedness. It shows absolutely no knowledge of the brilliant, biblically-rooted defense of Humanae Vitae by Saint John Paul II in his Theology of the Body. It is like someone found a time capsule with a bunch of theologians in it who have no knowledge of what has happened in the last thirty years.
CWR: How has dissent against, or views about, Humanae Vitae changed within Catholic universities over the past few decades?
Dr. Smith: Thirty years ago it was very difficult for a faithful Catholic theologians to get position in a most every Catholic college and universities. Fidelity is no longer a black mark. Most every place is more open to faithful scholars and some places have radically reformed. The dissenters still run some places and some of the major professional organizations and journals but they are losing ground fast. They are no longer getting disciples.
CWR: What has been the response to the “Affirmation of the Catholic Church’s Teaching on the Gift of Sexuality”?
Dr. Smith: It has been stunning. The promoters of the Winjgaards Statement have had much longer to gather signatures. They got 147; we have 500+ and they are pouring in. When we reach over 650 I am going to have another celebration since that, I believe, is the number Charles Curran got on his statement of dissent in 1968. Usually numbers are not that important, but in this case they carry a special weight.
These are smart people who don’t do things because of blind obedience. They have come to understand and accept the Church’s teaching on contraception and they live it. That is the kind of witness that really counts. it is to early to tell what long term influence it will have. But one DRE has already said she will use it in her RCIA classes. There is another document going up: “Self-gift: The Heart of Humanae Vitae” which uses the language of Saint John Paul II to explain Humanae Vitae. Some might find that helpful too.
Here is more about the “Affirmation” statement and details of yesterday’s conference.