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Re-Intepreting Humanae Vitae, Amoris Laetitia Style

On May 17th, Maike Hickson reported a rather shocking revelation from Italian journalist and Vatican expert Marco Tosatti:

In the Vatican, unconfirmed reports from good sources have leaked that the Pontiff is on the verge of appointing – or even might have already formed – a secret commission to examine and potentially study changes to the Church’s position on the issue of contraception, as it was laid down in 1968 by Paul VI in the encyclical Humanae Vitae. That was the last document signed by Pope Montini, and it was the formalization of what the Second Vatican Council had developed on this issue.

We have so far no official confirmation of the existence and composition of this entity; but a request for confirmation, or for denial, which was put forward to the competent authorities, has so far not been answered – which could be a signal in itself – in the sense that, if the report was completely unfounded, it wouldn’t take much to say so.

Today, Professor Roberto de Mattei has revealed the truth of this rumor:

It will be Monsignor Gilfredo Marengo, Professor at John Paul II Pontifical Institute, the coordinator of the commission nominated by Pope Francis to “re-interpret” the encyclical Humane Vitae by Paul VI, in the light of Amoris laetitia, on the occasion of  the fiftieth anniversary of the former’s promulgation, which  falls next year. The initial rumors of the existence of this commission, still secret, reported by Vatican reporter Marco Tosatti, were of a sound source.

We can confirm that there is a commission, made up of Monsignor Pierangelo Sequeri, Head of the John Paul II Pontifical Institute, Professor Philippe Chenaux, Lecturer in Church History at the Lateran Pontifical University and Monsignor Angel Maffeis, Head of the Paul VI Institute in Brescia. The coordinator is Monsignor Gilfredo Marengo, Lecturer in Theological Anthropology at the John Paul II Institute and member of the Steering Committee of the review CVII-Centro Vaticano II Studi e ricerche.

The commission nominated by Pope Francis has the task of procuring from the Vatican Archives, the documentation related to the preparatory work on Humane Vitae, which took place over a period of three years, during and after the Second Vatican Council. The first study group on the matter “of regulating births” was constituted by John XXIII in March 1963 and grew to 75 members under Paul VI.  In 1966 the “experts” delivered their conclusions to Pope Montini, and suggested opening the doors to artificial contraception.

In April 1967 the document reserved for the commission – the one from which the “re-visitation of the encyclical” should start – appeared contemporarily in France in Le Monde, in the U.K. in The Tablet and in the U.S.A in The National Catholic Reporter. Paul VI, however, after two years of wavering, published the encyclical Humane Vitae on July 25th 1968, wherein he affirmed the traditional position of the Church, which has always forbidden the artificial limitation of births.  It was, as the philosopher Romano Amerio said, the most important act of his pontificate.

Reading this, I immediately recalled something I wrote several years ago, before I began OnePeterFive. In a long and wide-ranging post about what I saw coming in this papacy on my (now-stagnant) personal blog, I devoted a significant section to the methods used by the members of this commission on birth control, and how this same playbook was being dusted off again for the then-upcoming Synod on the Family. For the purposes of making the connection, I’ll excerpt the entire section below. Its relevance to today’s news, I think you’ll agree, is undeniable.

The ‘Brake’ has Failed: Humanae Vitae and a Half Century of Dissent

If Paul VI unleashed a great deal of turmoil in the Church by capitulating to the liturgical revolutionaries, he made a tremendous stand — perhaps the one example in his papacy of real courage — with the promulgation of Humanae VitaeWhen John XXIII called the Pontifical  Commission on Birth Control, I don’t know if anyone expected a particular outcome. I think many people’s expectations, regardless what side of the issue they were on, were very much not met. In a grumbling 2011 essay in the National Catholic Reporter, Gerald Slevin describes the controversy within the commission and the unexpected move by Pope Paul to oppose them:

The commission, called by Pope John XXIII in 1963 and later working on the aegis of Paul VI, eventually ended its tenure with a report asking that the church’s ban on all forms of artificial birth control be lifted.

Immediately, a second report, objecting to the commission’s final report, was called for by Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith and a powerful church conservative at the time.

The commission’s final report was leaked to and published in the National Catholic Reporter and appeared in other publications in 1967. A year later, after widespread expectations Paul VI would take the commission’s report to heart, he issued the encyclical Humanae Vitae, affirming the church’s official ban on all forms of artificial contraception.

That last part is important: “leaked to and published”. Though Humanae Vitae served as a bulwark against the crushing tide of sexual licentiousness to follow, the poison of the misinformation let loose in the world during the intervening time between the commission’s report and the encyclical’s publication would create a chronic infection in the life of the faith. The dissent of the majority of the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control was widely publicized, creating anticipation that the Church was about to change course and allow Catholics to practice artificial contraception. When Humanae Vitae arrived, it met strong opposition from Catholics — priests, bishops, and laity alike — who had already made up their mind that artificial contraception was just fine.

With the watered-down (and at times outright sacrilegious) liturgical experience, the softening of both Church discipline and teaching that came after the council, the “dialogue as ecumenism” approach to non-Catholics (as opposed to evangelization in pursuit of conversion), a number of syncretistic actions during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, and the absolute lack of discipline for wayward bishops, the faith was already taking heavy damage. But the division over the Church’s sexual teachings that had gained a beachhead in 1967 was where the the wounds that would diminish the Church’s strength really started to fester.

In 2003, 35 years after Humanae Vitae, Kenneth C. Jones published a book entitled: Index of Leading Catholic Indicators: The Church Since Vatican II. In an article for Latin Mass Magazine, the author summarized his many disturbing findings. Among these, the numbers on sacramental life are telling:

In 1965 there were 1.3 million infant baptisms, in 2002 there were 1 million. (In 1965 there were 287 infant baptisms for every 10,000 Catholics, in 2002 there were 154 — a decline of 46 percent.) In 1965 there were 126,000 adult baptisms in 2002 there were 80,000. In 1965 there were 352,000 Catholic marriages, in 2002 there were 256,000. In 1968 there were 338 annulments, in 2002 there were 50,000.

Mass attendance: A 1958 Gallup poll reported that 74 percent of Catholics went to Sunday Mass in 1958. A 1994 University of Notre Dame study found that the attendance rate was 26.6 percent. A more recent study by Fordham University professor James Lothian concluded that 65 percent of Catholics went to Sunday Mass in 1965, while the rate dropped to 25 percent in 2000.

The decline in Mass attendance highlights another significant fact — fewer and fewer people who call themselves Catholic actually follow Church rules or accept Church doctrine. For example, a 1999 poll by the National Catholic Reporter shows that 77 percent believe a person can be a good Catholic without going to Mass every Sunday, 65 percent believe good Catholics can divorce and remarry, and 53 percent believe Catholics can have abortions and remain in good standing. Only 10 percent of lay religion teachers accept Church teaching on artificial birth control, according to a 2000 University of Notre Dame poll. And a New York Times poll revealed that 70 percent of Catholics age 18-44 believe the Eucharist is merely a “symbolic reminder” of Jesus.

Over a decade later, the early results are back from the Vatican questionnaire in preparation for the Synod on Marriage and Family this coming October. And they show continued erosion of core beliefs.


In an unusually blunt report to the Vatican, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., said that even most regular churchgoing Catholics in his diocese find the church’s teaching on artificial contraception no longer relevant.

“On the matter of artificial contraception, the responses might be characterized by saying, ‘That train left the station long ago,’ ” he wrote in a Feb. 7 blog about his report. “Catholics have made up their minds and the sensus fidelium [the sense of the faithful] suggests the rejection of church teaching on this subject.”

Germany and Switzerland:

[T]he German dioceses reported that “‘pre-marital unions’ are not only a relevant pastoral reality, but one which is almost universal,” since between 90 percent and 100 percent of couples who seek a Catholic wedding are already living together, despite church teaching that sex outside of marriage is sinful.

“Many, in fact, consider it irresponsible to marry without living together beforehand,” the report said.


“Many … expressed particular difficulties with the teachings on extra-marital sex and cohabitation by unmarried couples, divorce and remarriage, family planning, assisted human reproduction, homosexuality. The church’s teaching in these sensitive areas is often not experienced as realistic, compassionate, or life-enhancing.”

Europe overall:

 “Belgian Catholics expect the Church to welcome everyone, regardless of differences or mistakes made. This especially true when it comes to gay people and remarried divorcees,” SIR says.

“Belgian Catholics, inspired by Francis, are calling for a mother Church that embraces all: hence the need to grow in the faith and form lively communities,” SIR highlights. The questionnaires also placed an emphasis on the essential role women can play in Church life: “It is they who pass on the faith to children and guide them,” Belgian Catholics point out.


According to Luxembourg’s Catholics, the Church does not offer a suitable solution to problematic family situations. “The doctrine on marriage, responsible fatherhood and the family is rejected in non-ecclesial circles (sometimes even in ecclesial ones),” because the Church is seen as a stranger and as not competent in these areas. In their answers Luxembourg’s Catholics refer to “the suffering caused by the exclusion from the sacraments, particularly in terms of reconciliation.” The rule the Church has regarding access to the sacraments appears inadequate.  They urge the Church “to put the pastoral mission of mercy into practice and create environments where it can be introduced and experienced.” But Luxembourg didn’t express any precise position or offer any concrete indications as to the issue of gay couples. There was simply an appeal to the Church to “accept reality as it is and not try to change it with moral models” and to be welcoming and merciful.

The Religious Information Service also highlights the difference in viewpoint between the German Church and its faithful on issues such as couples living together before marriage, birth control and contraception. The exclusion of remarried divorcees from the sacraments is seen as unjustified and cruel discrimination. German Catholics also ask for same-sex unions to be legally recognised and seen on equal terms as marriage “as a commandment of justice”.

The number one request Swiss faithful made was for remarried divorcees to be granted the right to receive communion. Although Swiss Catholics fully agree on the importance of sacramental marriage and the Christian education of children, they say it is “difficult to accept the Church’s doctrine on the family, marriage and homosexuality.” “An approximately 60% majority is in favour of the Church recognizing and blessing gay couples.” There is also “strongly disagreement over with the [Church’s] rejection of artificial contraception methods.”

Pope Francis recently said of Paul VI’s and Humanae Vitae:

“His genius proved prophetic: he had the courage to stand against the majority, to defend moral discipline, to exercise a ‘brake’ on the culture, to oppose [both] present and future neo-Malthusianism. The question is not that of changing doctrine, but to go into the depths, and ensuring that pastoral [efforts] take into account people’s situations, and that, which it is possible for people to do.”

The idea that Humanae Vitae slowed the cultural descent is, I think, appropriate. But it is now indisputable that this ‘brake’ has failed, and the world’s Catholics have careened at high speed off the cliff of mass apostasy. They no longer believe what the Church believes, or even that the Church has any right to believe it.

The pope says “the question is not that of changing doctrine,” which is the kind of thing one might say when one is readying to make the appearance of doing exactly that.

Later in that same essay, I returned to this theme. I wrote:

More to the point: his [Cardinal Kasper’s] current, ongoing push to find pastoral solutions to provide communion to the divorced and remarried is, I submit, not about marriage at all.

It is about the final destruction of the remaining belief in the Real Presence and the authority of the Magisterium. It is about treating all religions as equally and sufficiently efficacious for eternal salvation and denying the doctrine of Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus. 

This, at last, is the coup de grâce in the century-long onslaught against the Catholic faith that has been waged from within the Church. It is about modernism’s final, momentous triumph.

What the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control could not accomplish in 1967 appeared to be a great victory for the Church. But I have come to believe that Satan and his co-conspirators, so actively at work in the Church, accepted what seemed to be a crushing defeat at the time, knowing that the seeds for a much greater victory had been planted. Dissent blossomed in the Church, with no few bishops leading the charge. Contraception destroyed marriage. Worldwide, it has irrevocably separated the sexual act from procreation, and thus has ushered in the age of virtually ubiquitous extra-marital sex, abortion, pornography, and now same-sex marriage. As the institution of marriage has weakened, the frequency of divorce has increased exponentially. The apparent victory that was Humanae Vitae was not enforced from the pulpits. The faithful were not sufficiently catechized. And now the state of marriage — including Catholic marriage — is in such a bad way that it’s impossible to know how many marriages within the Church were ever valid in the first place. (Ask anyone going through required diocesan marriage prep how many of their classmates are already sleeping together. They’re not shy about it.)

The pastoral situation that the bishops are now facing as they consider the question of communion for the divorced and remarried is of their own making. And I submit for your consideration the idea that this happened not by accident, but by design. With marriage all but destroyed, finding a “pastoral” solution is necessary. It just so happens that this pastoral solution razes the infallible teaching of the Church on the Eucharist as it is implemented. [emphasis in original]

It comes up again time and again in conversations I have with other Catholic writers and academics as we attempt to comprehend the direction of the Church under the current leadership: what is the endgame?

And time and again, the only answer that makes sense is that they are seeking to destroy the Church; to annihilate the faith as we know it and replace it with something of their own making. Daily, we see truth deconstructed. From the pope’s own tirades against hypocrisy as he endlessly contradicts himself to papal spokesman Fr. Antonio Spadaro’s assertion that in theology, 2+2 can make 5 to the redefinition of mortal sin via Amoris Laetitia until the concept loses all meaning, the violation of the principle of non-contradiction has become a weaponized tactic of the Bergoglian regime.

As Hilary White recently said to me, “It’s like I’m saying, ‘Here’s a nice cup of coffee’ and then I hand you a hammer. Drink up!”

Or as she said a little further back, What does Amoris Laetitia mean? “It means what I say it means. It means shut up.” It takes very little imagination to replace the words “Amoris Laetitia” in that sentence with “Humanae Vitae.” And the world’s Catholics, tragically, are only too eager for a chance to be affirmed in their overwhelming use of contraception.

Returning to today’s news, it will not surprise the astute reader to see the continuation of this theme. De Mattei again:

Monsignor Gilfredo Marengo, the prelate Pope Francis has entrusted with the task of re-reading Humane Vitae, belongs, on the other hand, to the category of prelates who are convinced they are able to reconcile the irreconcilable.  In September 2015, commenting in Vatican Insider on the work of the Synod on the Family, he suggested “abandoning  a conception of the doctrinal patrimony of the Church as a closed system, impermeable to questions and provocations of the here and now, in which the Christian community is called to justify its faith, through its proclamation and testimony:”

In a more recent article in the same Newspaper (Vatican Insider, March 23rd 2017) with the significant title, Humane Vitae and Amoris laetitia, Monsignor Marengo asks if: “the polemical game – the pill yes – the pill no, like today’s – Communion to the divorced  yes – Communion to the divorced no – is only an appearance of discomfort and strain, [which is] much more decisive in the fabric of ecclesial life.” In fact, “every time the Christian community falls into error and proposes models of life derived from too abstract and artificially constructed theological ideals, it conceives its pastoral action as the schematic application of a doctrinal paradigm.” “A certain way of defending and acknowledging the teaching of Paul VI – he adds – was, probably one of the factors for which – he cites Pope Francis at this point – we have presented a  too abstract theological ideal on marriage, almost artificially constructed, far from the concrete situation and the effective possibilities of families as they really are. This excessive idealization, above all when we have reawakened trust in grace, has not made marriage more attractive and desirable, but quite the opposite.”(Francis).

Got that? Don’t feel bad if the word salad didn’t paint a clear picture. I’ve read it at least five times, and it’s a masterpiece of Jesuit-level opacity and semantic obfuscation. But the key takeaway here is that just like we’ve been told over and over again that Christian marriage is an all-but-unattainable ideal, so if you messed up, no big, enjoy your adultery and by the way, here’s some Holy Communion, this is a mapping of that same “you’re never going to live this so why even try” ethos onto the question of contraception.

And yes, you’re being condescended to. They think so little of your ability to exercise your intellect and your free will in cooperation with God’s grace, that they whip up statements like, “every time the Christian community falls into error and proposes models of life derived from too abstract and artificially constructed theological ideals, it conceives its pastoral action as the schematic application of a doctrinal paradigm.” My forked-tongue to English translator renders that as, “when the Church screws up and makes doctrine that’s too hard for people to follow, smart people like us come up with ways around the doctrine and call it ‘pastoral’.” (He left out, “Just like Jesus always did,” but I’m sure he was thinking it.)

De Mattei continues:

It should be noted that Monsignor Marengo does not propose to read Amoris laetitia along the lines of the hermeneutic of continuity. He does not deny the existence of a contradiction between the two documents: he admits that Amoris laetitia authorizes what Humane Vitae prohibits. But he retains that every theological and doctrinal antithesis should be relativized and superseded in a synthesis which is able to reconcile opposites.  The true dichotomy is that between the abstract and the concrete, between truth and life. What counts, for Monsignor Marengo, is to immerse oneself in pastoral praxis, without bending to “too abstract and artificially constructed  theological ideals.”

Oh, there’s a hermeneutic of continuity at work all right. You can draw a straight line from the tactics of the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control right to the doorstep of Monsignor Marengo’s “pastoral action”. These jackals were interrupted in their theological march of sexual progress by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. They had to endure 35 years of delays while two unexpected popes in a row failed to get with their particular program. Are we really surprised, then, that the Sankt Gallen mafia worked so hard to get Benedict out and their man Bergoglio elected?

In 2014, when I originally quoted Pope Francis on Paul VI and Humanae Vitae as cited above, I admitted my suspicion, but I did not have the benefit of two synods and an exhortation through which to filter my concerns. Now, with Amoris Laetitia as an interpretative key, a much clearer picture emerges from the semantic jiu-jitsu Francis has become infamous for. What at first sounds like a defense of Pope Paul’s landmark encyclical instead takes on an entirely new dimension when read in light of AL, and of Francis’ newly announced plans to re-evaluate and most likely entirely re-interpret HV:

Half a century after Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” can the Church take up again the topic of birth control? Your confrere, Cardinal [Carlo Maria] Martini [the late Archbishop of Milan] believed it was now time. [NB – Martini is believed to have been the leader of the St. Gallen Mafia; SS]

Holy Father: It all depends on how the text of “Humanae Vitae” is interpreted. Paul VI himself, towards the end, recommended to confessors much mercy and attention to concrete situations. But his genius was prophetic, as he had the courage to go against the majority, to defend moral discipline, to apply a cultural brake, to oppose present and future neo-Malthusianism. The object is not to change the doctrine, but it is a matter of going into the issue in depth and to ensure that the pastoral ministry takes into account the situations of each person and what that person can do. This will also be discussed on the path to the Synod.

He says Paul VI recommended “mercy” and “attention to concrete situations.” Our Amoris Laetitia secret decoder ring tells us that means, “If you follow your conscience, you can do whatever you like.”

He says “the object is not to change the doctrine”. Our Amoris Laetitia secret decoder ring tells us that means, “We don’t need to change the doctrine when we can do an end-run around it.”

He says the Church needs to “ensure that the pastoral ministry takes into account the situations of each person and what that person can do.” Our Amoris Laetitia secret decoder ring tells us that means, “if a doctrine is too hard, we’ll make an exception to it by means of ‘pastoral care’ and ‘personal discernment’.”

He says that Paul VI “had the courage to go against the majority” and “to defend moral discipline”. Our Amoris Laetitia secret decoder ring tells us that means, “If the majority wants to uphold the doctrine of the Church, we have the courage to pursue our agenda anyway and ensure they don’t prevail by rigging the process.”

Professor de Mattei has his own thoughts about courage when it comes to this new commission on Humanae Vitae: “Will there be any priest or theologian faced with this program of the ‘reinterpretation’ of Humane Vitae, [who] have the courage to utter the word ‘heresy’?”

We echo his question. They’re coming for Humanae Vitae and its proscriptions against contraception, and they’re not going to stop until they get what they want. If you’re a cardinal, bishop, or priest and wish you had spoken up sooner when they steamrolled their program through at the synods, and then again through the iron-fisted implementation of AL, you’re being given another chance.

Don’t mess it up this time. The faithful are counting on you.

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