Marriage and the Family

Author: Frank Sheed


"One of the tasks before the Council was to re-examine Church legislation on mixed marriages and the prescribed form of marriage. Cardinal Dopfner of Munich called for major changes. . . . The Cardinal Moderator after one days' debate called upon the Council to renounce its right to treat the matter any further and instead to transmit it immediately to the Pope for appropriate action. . . . adopted. . . 1592 to 427.

The desired decree. . . did not appear until after the Council. . . . It altered the legislation but not substantially as Cardinal Dopfner had wished, and it was clearly a victory for the English-speaking Bishops. Had they been as well organized throughout the Council as they were on this issue, the Second Vatican Council might have taken an altogether different course.

The doctrinal aspect of marriage was dealt with in the schema on the Church in the modern world. . . . The Moderator, Cardinal Agagianian announced on October 28, 1964 that 'some points' had been reserved for the Pope's special commission on birth control. Those points were, in particular, the progesterone pill. . . and in general, 'the problem of birth control.'

On October 29, 1964. . . Cardinal Leger of Montreal said that many theologians believed that the difficulties regarding the doctrine of marriage had their origin in an inadequate exposition of the purposes of marriage. He advocated that fecundity be called a duty pertaining to the state of matrimony as a whole, rather than to an individual act.

He was pleased that the schema avoided applying the expressions 'primary purpose' to procreation and 'secondary purpose' to conjugal love. But the avoidance of words was of little use, he said, if afterwards the schema did not refer to conjugal love except as related to fecundity. . . . the marriage act was 'legitimate even when not directed toward procreation.'

Cardinal Suenens also spoke on the first day of debate. . . . That commission, he said, would have to 'examine whether we have kept in perfect balance the various aspects of the church's doctrine on marriage.' Perhaps, he suggested, so much stress had been placed on the words of Scripture, 'Be fruitful and multiply' that gradually another phrase, which was also the word of God - 'and the two become one flesh' -had been disregarded. Each was a central truth, said the Cardinal, and each was contained in scripture. They should therefore clarify one another.

Pope Paul VI was so distressed by Cardinal Suenens' intervention of October 29, that he requested the Cardinal to come to see him. Some days later, on November 7, Cardinal Suenens interrupted the debate on the schema on the missions to deny publicly that he had questioned authentic Church teaching on marriage. . . . .

After the third session. . . the schema was so thoroughly revised that it had to be debated once again. . . . Another revision was prepared. . . . This new version could be interpreted as leaving it to the spouses to decide whether or not to use artificial contraceptives. . . provided their ultimate aim was the fostering of conjugal love.

On November 25, Pope Paul took action and. . . sent four special amendments on the marriage section to the joint commission. Each commission member was given a copy, but before hand the "periti" were asked to leave the room. Tension immediately mounted and Cardinal Leger sprang to his feet in angry protest. . . . the members were informed by another letter on the following day that they were not free to reject the amendments, but only to determine their phrasing.

The first. . . called for the insertion of two words 'artificial contraceptives' among the 'deformations' detracting from the dignity of conjugal love. At the same time the Pope called for a precise footnote reference to two pages in Pope Pius XI's encyclical, "Casti connubii" where the use of artificial contraceptives was condemned. The commission excused itself from introducing 'artificial contraceptives', used instead 'illicit practices against human generation, ' and omitted the reference to "Casti connubii."

The second called for the deletion of the word 'also' from the statement that the procreation of children was 'also' a purpose of marriage.

The third called for the substitution of the words 'it is not lawful' for the words 'should not' in the prohibition to 'sons of the church' to use methods of regulating procreation 'which have been or may be found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church. A footnote was to be added here, calling attention both to "Casti connubii" and to Pius XII's allocution to midwives. . . .

The joint commission adopted this third amendment in substance, but failed to refer to the statements of Popes Pius XI and XII. . . .

The fourth and final amendment. . . referred to the temptation to married couples to use artificial contraceptives and even abortion. It called for the insertion of a sentence to the effect that, in order that the spouses might overcome such temptation, it was 'altogether necessary that they sincerely practice conjugal chastity.' This amendment was retained in substance, but inserted in another part of the text.