ITALIAN EPISCOPAL CONFERENCE PROFESS
SOLIDARITY WITH VICAR OF CHRIST
Council of the Presidency of the Italian Episcopal Conference
The Council of the Presidency of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) issued last week the following communication: met in extraordinary session in Rome and Studied carefully tile recent Encyclical " Humanae Vitae " and the publicly expressed declaration of assent of the Italian Bishops in its regard. Before proceeding to anything else, it professed its full communion of faith and solidarity with the Vicar of Christ and its deep gratitude for his well-weighed and enlightening pronouncement on the problem of the regulation of birth.
The pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes reserved this decision to the Sovereign Pontiff and placed it in the section of the doctrine of Vatican II on matrimony. Consequently, this decision must be received with "the religious submission of mind and will due to the authentic Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when not speaking ex cathedra". The presidency re-affirmed the doctrine of Vatican II: that the bishops, when in communion with the Pope, "are witnesses to the divine, catholic truth." In matters of faith and morals, tile faithful, consequently, must accept their judgment, adhering to it with religious respect because it is given in the name of Christ.
* * *
The Presidency invites clergy and lay people to study carefully these considerations and pastoral directions:
A. The doctrinal consideration of the encyclical must, above all, stress its moral content and its significance in regard to the welfare of the family and of society.
1) Even if the Encyclical is not a complete treatise on man in the sphere of the family and marriage, nevertheless, it interprets the general doctrine of the Church on marriage and applies it to the problem of the regulation of birth. As presented by the Council, marriage is a communion of love between husband and wife and of generous and responsible fecundity.
The Encyclical wishes to protect and promote this communion of love and of life. It teaches, therefore, that the natural order, willed by God, should be respected in the conjugal act and this in all the processes pertaining to it. In fact, it is in this way only that husband and wife can be united in a coherent and unreserved love, which will bear its fruit.
The Church is a benign Mother who understands the difficulties her children face and she wants to help them to bear the burden. She is also a courageous Teacher of ideals, which she must propose in their integrity to all of mankind.
Ii) Moreover, in defending the integrity of conjugal morality, the Church knows that she is contributing to the restoration of a truly human civilization.
Beyond these rational considerations there is in the pronouncement of the Pope an enlightened awareness of the conditions necessary for the common spiritual good, not only of the faithful, but of all humanity. Who can measure the very grave dangers, individual and social, referred to in the Encyclical and which are implicit in the recourse to artificial regulation of birth? If the Church had taught that such means are in conformity to the Will of God, would she not have pushed men into these very perils?
III) The Pope's decision, therefore, appears to us well-weighed, even in its severity, but it is also understanding and humane.
Nor does it ignore the sociological conditions in the world, or the difficulties married persons experience. It is not opposed to a reasonable limitation of births. It indicates the right way to achieve that. It teaches the correct use of therapeutic means. It does not breed discouragement in those who are conscious of their human frailty, but exhorts them to have recourse "with humble perseverance to the Divine Mercy given with such abundance in the sacrament of Penance."
From these considerations it is easy to deduce spiritual and pastoral directives.
I) First, we address all those, not only priests, who have dedicated their study to this problem in the last years.
An opportune "freedom in research" as the recent Letter of the Italian Episcopate on "the Magisterium and Theology in the Church" stated, is granted to theologians. This is all the more lawful today, when Pastors of souls cannot always have the right answer to every problem Christian consciences propose to them, confused as they are by actual conditions in the world of today.
Now that the Vicar of Christ has made a clear pronouncement and has given to the whole Church a solemn and authoritative teaching, theologians must give their loyal assent to it. They must fulfill their task as the same Letter states: "by cooperating with the Magisterium and helping the faithful to understand the words of their Pastors."
"Theologians must interpret their documents to the people, favour the study of them and propagate the doctrine they contain. The duty of the theologians is not ended. They must continue. They must not only develop certain doctrinal points untouched in the Encyclical; but still more, as the Pope himself expressed it, they must clarify its message and make it welcome. They must show in what way this pronouncement enters into "the ample and luminous panorama of Christian living."
II) All members of the clergy must be clearly instructed as to their duty, "which is an eminent form of charity" to expound without ambiguity or discordance and apply the doctrine of the Magisterium, reaffirmed by the Vicar of Christ. This teaching obliges "not only for the reasons adduced, but also because of the light of the Holy Spirit with which the Pastors of the Church are endowed to teach the truth." At the same time, priests must have at heart the recommendation of the Encyclical to use "the patience and kindness" of the Lord who was certainly "intransigent with evil, but merciful towards persons". In particular they must enjoin married persons to frequent the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Penance, and never to be discouraged by their weaknesses.
It would be a serious educational error if, by an excess of commiseration, priests were to favour in married persons a mediocre standard of behaviour or showed themselves easily accommodating. In this, as in every other sector of moral life, no Christian can evade his obligation to fulfill perseveringly and with the help of grace, the Will of God.
III) Finally, a special and fatherly invitation is addressed to married people to meditate attentively and serenely on the Pope's Encyclical. Let them know how to put into practice and value its exhortations and directions, as to the totality, faithfulness and fecundity of their love, as to the "unitive significance" of the conjugal act; the Christian characteristics of responsible paternity. They must receive in a spirit of faith the teaching of the Vicar of Christ on the moral value of the diverse methods of birth regulation. This is an essential element in the formation of their consciences, so that their responsible judgement may be according to the. Will of God.
The Encyclical recognizes that this doctrine will be difficult for many to practise, but enjoins them to welcome these difficulties as God's invitation to share in the Cross of the Lord Jesus. The Cross is the sign of salvation, to which, through the many mysterious ways of God, all are called. They must not be discouraged by their possible failures. It is the mission of the Church to present to men the ideal of perfect goodness. She is nevertheless aware of the natural law of growth in virtue, and that sometimes one passes through stages of imperfection, but this must always be with the aim of struggling on towards the perfect ideal.
Weekly Edition in English
3 October 1968, page 6
L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
The Weekly Edition in English is published for the US by:
The Cathedral Foundation
L'Osservatore Romano English Edition
320 Cathedral St.
Baltimore, MD 21201
Subscriptions: (410) 547-5315
Fax: (410) 332-1069