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Infallible teaching on artificial contraceptives

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Even before the “limits to growth” hypothesis broke out in the 1970s, as an economist I had always rejected any attempt to resuscitate the completely discredited theory that Thomas Malthus first proffered more than two centuries ago. My training at Harvard under Nobel Prize winners like Simon Kuznets inoculated me once and for all against the Malthusian germ. Over the last half century, the Malthusian theory has been disproved time and time again. Population growth does not lead to mass starvation given the unlimited propensity of the human mind to increase the productivity of the earth’s resources. What limits human resources is the propensity of the human will to evil. But that’s another thing.

No matter how convinced I am about my economic theory concerning population and poverty, however, I try to have the intellectual humility to admit that I could be wrong since economics is a very inexact science. Of course, the population controllers could also be wrong. That is why I want to turn in this instance to a science—theology—in which freedom from human error is possible. I am absolutely sure that the Reproductive Health bill can do much damage to Philippine society because it promotes artificial contraceptives which are intrinsically evil. I have the infallible authority of the popes who pronounced many times that “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil (Humanae Vitae, 14). Under this declaration, contraceptive pills, condoms, IUDs, tubal ligation, vasectomy and other forms of artificial contraception are intrinsically evil from the moral point of view.

Before a few Catholic priests or lay people can object that this pronouncement of the popes is not infallible because it was not made ex cathedra, let me remind them of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council (the 50th anniversary of whose opening we celebrated last Oct. 11).  As any one can read in the document “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” (Lumen Gentium) promulgated on Nov. 21, 1964, “Bishops who teach in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be revered by all as witnesses of divine and Catholic truth; the faithful for their part, are obliged to submit to their bishops’ decision, made in the name of Christ, in matters of faith and morals, and to adhere to it with a ready and respectful allegiance of mind. This loyal submission of the will and intellect must be given, in a special way, to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak ex cathedra (emphasis provided) in such wise, indeed, that his supreme teaching authority be acknowledged with respect, and sincere assent be given to decisions made by him, conformably with his manifest mind and intention, which is made known principally either by the character of the documents in question, or by the frequency with which a certain doctrine is proposed, or by the manner in which the doctrine is formulated (Lumen Gentium, 25).”

In short, the Vicar of Christ on earth, the Supreme Pontiff, is infallible every time he teaches on matters of dogma or morals, even if he does not teach ex cathedra.  His ordinary teaching authority is enough to oblige Catholics to adhere to his teachings.

Some local pundits have made much of the fact that the Pontifical Commission of experts summoned by Pope Paul VI to advise him before he wrote Humanae Vitae had a majority of its members in favor of artificial contraceptives. The Pope’s decision to disregard the majority opinion is actually a dramatic illustration that Jesus Christ appointed one and only one person to hold the key to infallibility, and that was St. Peter and his successors in the papal throne. Moral truth is not determined by majority vote.

I have news for Catholics—whether priests or lay people—who maintain that they can still be good Catholics while rejecting the teaching about the intrinsic moral evil of artificial contraceptives. You may not be excommunicated (considered today as too extreme a solution to doctrinal error). But you are violating the obligation to “submit to your bishops’ decision, made in the name of Christ, in matters of faith and morals.”  You are willfully refusing to adhere to a teaching on morals (not economics or politics) with  a ready and respectful allegiance of mind. In short, you can consider yourself a Catholic of good standing only by a wide stretch of your imagination. If you have influence on others because of your position or social standing, you are doing a great damage to the souls of others.

I am very glad that Catholic bishops in the Philippines have been very vocal about the infallible doctrine concerning the intrinsic evil of artificial contraceptives. As Lumen Gentium further states, “Although the  bishops, taken individually, do not enjoy the privilege of infallibility, they do, however, proclaim infallibly the doctrine of Christ on the following conditions: namely, when, even though dispersed throughout the world but preserving for all that amongst themselves and with Peter’s successor the bond of communion, in their authoritative teaching concerning matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement that a particular teaching is to be held definitively and absolutely.”

Bernardo M. Villegas is senior vice president of the University of Asia and the Pacific. For comments, e-mail bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.


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