The official website of the Austrian bishops under Cardinal Christoph Schönborn’s watch, as well as his own diocesan website, has published a series of articles in light of the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae. These articles present a major undermining of essential Church teachings as they were laid out in Humanae Vitae, even putting into doubt the abiding unlawfulness of contraception.
Cardinal Schönborn is the “media bishop” of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference and, as such, officially the editor of Kathpress, the news website of the bishops’ conference. He is also responsible, as the archbishop of Vienna, for what his diocesan website publishes.
Kathpress published, on 12 July, a dossier with six articles, most of which undermine an essential part of Humanae Vitae‘s teaching – namely, that artificial contraception is immoral. (None of the articles presents a strong defense of this encyclical’s teaching.)
One of these articles, entitled “Moral Theologian: to Further Develop Humanae Vitae,” is a review of a new book on Humanae Vitae and Amoris Laetitia written by the progressive moral theologian Professor Martin Lintner (Brixen, Italy). Lintner proposes to let go of Pope Paul VI’s proposal to permit only Natural Family Planning as the acceptable method to engage in marital relations while intending not to have children. John Paul II’s attempt to forbid artificial contraception, without exception, was, says Lintner, “not convincing finally.” Lintner now insists that the Church “has to take into account the decisions of conscience on the part of the faithful, and to include their reflections as a possible source of moral insight.” In his eyes, it is legitimate to wonder whether each marital act really has to be open to the welcoming of children. Marriage as such would still, however, have to be open to life in general. If this interpretation were correct, then, according to Lintner, not every marital act that avoids conception would immediately be the same as a violation of its dignity as an expression of love.
With regard to Pope Paul VI’s concern about a coming and pervasive “contraceptive mentality” in the near future – which would also show an increase of abortions – Lintner flatly denies it and says that this claim cannot be proven empirically. He asks whether certain arguments in favor of Natural Family Planning “are sufficient in order to interdict, categorically, the use of artificial contraception.”
This troubling article was also published by Cardinal Schönborn’s own diocesan website, but notably without any reference to Kathpress as its source.
Another Kathpress article, also published by the Diocese of Vienna, is an interview with Martina Kronthaler, general secretary of “Aktion Leben” (“Action Life”), an Austrian non-Catholic counseling organization for pregnant women. For her, it is not obvious which method is to be applied in order to “avoid an unwanted pregnancy” (in the words of Kathpress). Natural Family Planning, as it is recommended by Humanae Vitae, is in her eyes not the right method for every woman. “He who wishes to avoid abortions, has to be informed about all different methods of regulation of conception and of contraception,” she claims. When wondering what remains of Humanae Vitae, Kronthaler explicitly refers to Pope Francis’s Amoris Laetitia (82): “when morally assessing the methods, the dignity of the person has to be respected.”
In a third, quite heterodox article published by Kathpress, Professor Eberhard Schockenhoff (Freiburg, Germany) is interviewed. He is a moral theologian like Professor Lintner, and both are at the forefront of another moral revolution within the Church. Schockenhoff claims that at least since the pontificate of John Paul II, there is to be found a significant restraint of the Church’s Magisterium with regard to the methods of family planning. Benedict XVI and certainly Francis have been much more reticent than their predecessors. “I think one has realized it to be a wrong path” to insist upon Natural Family Planning as the only acceptable method of avoiding conception while still engaging in marital relations.
Schockenhoff also claims that, today, there is much less emphasis placed on the infallibility of magisterial instructions. Francis, for example, has refrained from using “normative precision” as it can be found in Humanae Vitae, and he has limited himself to stressing human dignity with regard to “the regulation of conception” (“Empfängsregulierung”). Moreover, Francis does not make any condemnations, according to this moral theologian. Today, Church leaders are more interested in stressing themes such as conjugal loyalty, respect, and thoughtfulness. This is, in Schockenhoff’s eyes, the “real sense” of Humanae Vitae, which is still being upheld by the hierarchy. “A Pope cannot simply correct his predecessor and say that he was in error, but he simply tries not to demand it [certain moral conduct] with the same loudness and sense of obligation,” says Schockenhoff.
Another article published only on the website of the Archdiocese of Vienna describes the history of Humanae Vitae and its negative criticism, offered independently by several bishops’ conferences, such as the Austrian Bishops’ Conference, which, in 1968, issued the “Mariatroster Erklärung” (Declaration of Mariatrost). These declarations proposed to give more freedom to the individual conscience when it comes to choosing methods of birth control. The Mariatrost document also put into question the infallibility of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical.
It is noteworthy to see that Cardinal Schönborn himself, in 2008 – then under Pope Benedict’s pontificate – made a strong public criticism of that rejection of Humanae Vitae‘s essential teaching, claiming that it led to a weakening of the engagement for life on the part of the Church. The Austrian cardinal and papal adviser then fittingly spoke of Europe’s threefold “no” to its future: rejection of the encyclical Humanae Vitae, the legalization of abortion, and finally the promotion of same-sex partnerships. One should have never said “no” to Humanae Vitae, continued the cardinal.
As can be seen from this recent undermining of Humanae Vitae as published on Austrian ecclesial websites under Schönborn’s own watch, the archbishop now seems to have forgotten his own earlier words, or he has now changed his position. This development is even more regrettable inasmuch as Europe is demographically dying, as Gotti Ettore Tedeschi, the former head of the Vatican bank, pointed out at the 21 May Conference of the John Paul II Academy for Human Life and the Family (Jahlf) in Rome.
OnePeterFive reached out to the president of the John Paul II Academy for Human Life and the Family, Professor Josef Seifert, who is an Austrian Catholic philosopher, asking him for a comment on the recent articles on Humanae Vitae as here presented. In his response, he speaks about the “shocking disloyalty of the Austrian bishops toward Humanae Vitae” and adds that it is “more than sad to see how the Austrian Bishops’ Conference – and also Cardinal Schönborn – react to the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae.” Seifert explains that “Schönborn, back in 2008, finally after many decades of papal admonishments, declared that the Declaration of Mariatrost, with its attenuated and ambiguous praise of Humanae Vitae which truly was a rejection of it, was a mistake.”
Commenting on the recent set of articles as published by kathpress, Seifert says:
Several articles by moral theologians and others on episcopal websites do nothing but attack Humanae Vitae, in spite of hypocritical assurances that it was a prophetical document, etc. They not only put into question the main truth as proclaimed in Humanae Vitae that each act of contraception is in itself evil, but they also try to support their error with even more generally grave and nearly absurd errors. One of them is being presented by the moral theologian Professor Lintner, who claims that the moral law has to be subject to developments – that is to say, when a majority of the people does not follow it anymore and does not act anymore according to Humanae Vitae.
Seifert continues, asking, “Will adultery become good because so many people break their marriages? Is abortion now becoming good or a less grave sin? Is it not anymore a crime that cries to heaven because millions commit it?”
“Is the law to love God above all not any more valid because a large part of the people break it?”
“Nothing could be more absurd than such historical-ethical relativism. And yet we find this absurd error even on episcopal websites on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae.”
For Professor Seifert:
It is to be hoped that the Austrian bishops finally understand the truth of the words spoken by Cardinal Schönborn in 2008 and then unanimously rescind the wrong Declaration of Mariatrost and speak up clearly for the truth of the teachings of Humanae Vitae and Familiaris Consortio.
Reiterating the Church’s moral teaching, he explains that “contraception is for many reasons intrinsically evil,” adding that this is the case “not only because the pill has two effects that cause an early abortion and thus is, in a high percentage in its application, murder,” but also “because contraception separates the procreative from the unitive meaning of the marital act.”
Professor Seifert expresses his indignation over these new articles on Humanae Vitae, saying: “What a shame it is for the Church in Austria to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae with the help of a swarm of its enemies on episcopal websites!” In order to counter these initiatives, the philosopher, a student of Dietrich von Hildebrand, now proposes that the Austrian bishops, as a sort of reparation, publish on their websites articles on Humanae Vitae, as well as invite speakers to a conference on Humanae Vitae, all of whom would “defend beautifully this encyclical, and who are now active in pastoral care which explains its fuller teaching to married couples and to betrothed couples in an appealing way.” As participants of such a positive initiative, Seifert recommends Professor Helmut Prader (Heiligenkreuz), Bishop Andreas Laun (the retired auxiliary bishop of Salzburg), and Bishop Athanasius Schneider (Astana, Kazakhstan).
We may add that, in light of these trenchant words, as well as his own expertise, Professor Seifert himself should also be invited as a speaker at such a conference.