During Pope Francis' recent visit to the Philippines, the spokesman for the Vatican press office, Father Lombardi, invited journalists to read a recently published book by a French Jesuit, Father Pierre de Charentenay. The book was also promoted viaTwitter by Father Antonio Spadaro, also a Jesuit and the director of Civilità Cattolica, for which Fr. de Charentenay writes.
An extract from the book cited by the Vaticanist Sandro Magister in his blog, says that the author compliments the Catholic baptized Philippine president, "Noynoy" Aquino, for having taken off the shelf and pushed through the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act. It is the law on reproductive health which guarantees universal access to contraception and sex education starting from ten years and obliges companies with over 200 employees to provide condoms, birth pills and spirals directly from the company's infirmary, while smaller companies are required to have an agreement with public health facilities.
Father de Charentenay considered the Philippine Bishops Conference opposition to the law by what Pope Francis indicated are the priorities of his ministry, implying that the Philippine Bishops had deviated from them for "reasons of principle."
There are five alleged arguments in favour of the law on contraception according to Father de Charentenay:
1. Opposition to contraception is motivated primarily by the Catholic faith.
2. It is necessary to separate law and morality, to separate religious argument from political reasoning in a context characterized by plurality of faiths and ideas; this requirement was incomprehensible to the Philippine bishops.
3. The use of public funds to allow access to contraception even for the poorest of society amounts to a principle of justice.
4. The diffusion of contraception would "fight" abortion.
5. The diffusion of contraceptives would improve the quality of life of the poorest by reducing the birth rate.
It wouldn't be very surprising if these arguments were being put forward by an official of UNFPA, or some executive from Population Council, Planned Parenthood, Guttmacher Institute or any promoter of so called reproductive health; even if we read this fifty years ago it would also be excusable, but to see it written in 2015 by a Jesuit, called to collaborate with a magazine that has been able to boast a proud history of culture and theological fidelity to the Magisterium is astounding.
This is a reply to his arguments in the same systematic order:
1. The argument that states contraception is wrong, is not religious. If it was, why would the Marxist philosopher, Max Horkheimer, in 1970, have written that the pill would have brought "death to love?" Why would the future Saint John Paul II have defended Humanae Vitae in the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano by starting from Mahatma Gandhi's hostile position to contraception? It is that very law written by God in the heart of man at his creation, which even a non Christian like Cicero recognised and Blessed Paul VI referred to in Humanae Vitae (HV II ) which is sufficient to understand that contraception is evil.
2. It's true that classical doctrine distinguishes moral law from civil law, it is also true that for St.Thomas, law should not be used to prohibit all vices, but only the worst, but if contraception is not a serious problem, Father de Charentenay should explain why S. Augustine called those who used contraception " a husband's prostitute" and a "wife's adulterer." He also needs to refer to St. Thomas who labels them "fornicators" and to St. Paul, to the author of Didaché, to St. Clementine of Alessandria, to St. John of the Cross, to St. Ambrose, to St. Genome. He needs to refer to Pope Benedict XVI who included its prohibition in Cannon law and he mustn't forget to refer to Blessed Paul VI and to the saints Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. He should also refer to all those people who are suffering the consequences of the extended pensionable age and the consequences of the economic crisis generated by the falling birth rate.
It is exactly Father de Charentenay's kind of misled reasoning that led the Jesuits Joseph Fuchs and Richard McCormick, together with reverend Charles Curran, in a meeting held in 1984, to reassure the Catholic Kennedy family that a "Catholic politician can in whole conscious vote in favour of contraception and abortion", and induced the Jesuit Father Robert Drinan, elected member of the Democratic Party, to back the legalisation of abortion even to the point of supporting President Clinton in his defence for partial birth abortion. It is no coincidence that the laws and the judgments in favor of contraception have invariably worked as the conceptual forerunner to pro-abortion legislation. In the US, the world's leading nation of the promotion of reproductive rights, the right to privacy used by Justice Blackmun in the abortion sentence Roe v. Wade had been anticipated by judge Douglas in the sentence pro-contraception, Griswold v. Connecticut.
3. If what I say is true, and it is true, then I can't accept that by spreading evil and making it transversally accessible can be considered practicing the cardinal virtue of justice. Instead, I suspect it is a formal cooperation with evil.
4. With regard to the alleged claim that contraception prevents abortion, I don't know if the French Jesuit took into account the fact about the pill and spiral, which will be distributed with public money by the Government of the Philippines, that one of the mechanisms is to prevent embryo implantation, these Crypto abortions are not counted but are no less real. Maybe he is not familiar with the data from Bajos in France, Dueñas in Spain, Paton for the UK, the Nobel prize winner Akerlof from USA, which concords that the use of contraception does not reduce the abortion rate, but if anything acts as a promoter to it. I apologize if it seems unrefined, but I would welcome the opportunity to send Fr. De Charentenay a copy of 'The Poisons of Contraception' which provides such a quantity of data, to enable him to reconsider his judgement on the matter.
5. Finally, it is disconcerting and irritating to read that the defense of a piece of legislation openly refers to out of date neo-Malthusian material. If the engine for wealth is based on having as few children as possible, Italy would be the country with the highest number of magnates in the world. The fertility rate in the Phillippines is 3.2 children per woman, a value which if we understand the Pope's words, we can consider a sort of minimum level of procreation. For example, the study by the World Bank economist Levine and Harvard professor Renelt published in the American Economic Review, was conducted on 130 countries over 30 years, demonstrates the direct relationship between population growth and well being.
The study by the University of the Philippines adopted by the supporters of the law was instead conducted on only 3 countries (Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines) over a limited period. The forecast of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation is that the Philippines will become the sixteenth world economy by 2050 primarily because of its manpower and the Wall Street Journal reported in 2012 that the anti-birth policy of the government is likely to put the country in a trap. That there is an association between higher birth rates and more poverty in a given area does not mean that the first is the cause of the second and still less that reducing the birth rate will result in a material increase in wealth.
I conclude with a final consideration. A critique of the thesis of Fr. de Charentenay comes from another member of The Society of Jesus, Fr. Joseph Fessio, a former student of Pope Emeritus and founder of Ignatius Press, the largest Anglo-Saxon Catholic publishing house (click here).
Fr. Fessio's arguments have been stigmatised by the vaticanist Andrea Tornielli in La Stampa and Fr. Spadaro, director of Civiltà Cattolica, commented via Twitter on the letter by the American Jesuit brother, as a "tragic joke."
But what had Fr. Fessio written to cause the much preached about Mercy to be put to the side in his case? This is the thesis of the founder of the American Jesuit's: the effect of contraception is to prevent the existence of an immortal soul created by God, whereas an aborted baby can at least live with God. Fr. Fessio was referring to the anti-life intention which contraception has in common with abortion predisposing it, as emphasised by St.Thomas and by Neo Thomists John Finnis, Germain Grisez, Joseph Boyle, William May, but above all by St. John Paul II in Evangelium vitae (EV 14).
In the same passage the Polish Pope develops the notion that contraception and abortion respectively undermine the positivity of conjugal chastity and the sanctity of innocent human life and therefore states that it is evil with different moral weight. Fr. Fessio, instead by highlighting the inherent anti-life nature of abortion and contraception, shifts the focus on the consequences by taking the same consequential and proportional perspective adopted by Fr.Charentenay, with the difference that his consideration of the supernatural is extensive in order to draw attention to the gravity of the evil of contraception.
Please note that the decree, "Si aliquis" in force from 1234 to 1917, stated that the person who had deliberately used contraception be "treated like a murderer." This does not mean that contraception is murder, but that the anti-life intention underlying it has the same sinful effect and is equally serious. That decree was incorporated in the Roman Catholic Catechism on approval by the Council Fathers of Trento. St. Augustine, expresses in De nuptiis et concupiscientia, Fr. Fessio's argument perfectly when he writes that the "desired cruelty" of contraception, means that the spouses prefer their "child perish before living."
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