The Archbishop Metropolitan and the Bishops of Ceylon

As your Pastors, we consider it our duty to draw your attention to the recent Encyclical letter of Our Holy Father the Pope, entitled "On the Regulation of Birth", and beginning with the words "Humanae Vitae". To make easier the understanding of this important Papal Pronouncement which we request you to study carefully, we have thought it helpful to spotlight some special points brought up in it.

One of the most beautiful creations of God in the human order is the family. In the family, husband and wife freely bind themselves to each other for life by the bonds of conjugal love. This love is so intimate that it makes them "two in one flesh" (Gen. ii, 24). Such a union by its very nature is ordained to the procreation of children. The Holy Father brings this out clearly (Encycl. n. 9). The duty of educating is a natural consequence of begetting children. For the function of procreation is completed only when the child evolves into a full grown human being.

To enhance the beauty and the strength of the family life, not only did Christ spend the greatest part of His earthly life with His parents at Nazareth, but He enriched the state of marriage with Divine Gifts by raising it to the dignity of a Sacrament. Indeed, Christ so ennobled the State of marriage that St. Paul compares the union of the two spouses by conjugal love to the union of Christ with His Church.

The purpose of the Holy Father's Encyclical is to bring into relief this dignity and sanctity of the married state and point out the natural and the moral laws that govern it, and safeguard its honour. If exercised according to these laws, conjugal relations in lawful marriage become not only licit but they ennoble and sanctify family life. If exercised against them, such relations become illicit and sinful and degrade family life.

Here, not to make this pastoral too long, but at the same time to help you to know clearly and without ambiguity the fundamental points of doctrine in question, we shall straightaway set down briefly what is licit and what is not licit in marriage relations, using the Holy Father's very words where possible.

1. "Marriage and conjugal love are by their very natures ordained toward the begetting and educating of children" (Encycl. n. 9). Deliberately to obstruct this order as determined by the Author of Nature, by positive human interference in any way, is morally wrong, and hence sinful.

II. 1. It must, however, be clearly borne in mind that correct methods of Family Planning are not at all condemned. Correct spacing and limiting of births is not only licit, but not infrequently even imperative. What is illicit is wrong methods of family planning. It is in accepted principle that the end by itself does not justify every means.

2. Hence, there are licit methods of Family Planning: these are:

(a) Recourse to natural safeguards: the use of the safe period "founded on observance of natural rhythm" (Encycl. n. 16). In using this method man does not, by his positive interference, obstruct the natural consequence of the marriage act. Hence, it is licit for valid reasons (Encycl. nn. 11, 16). It is for medical men and other scientists to find easy and secure ways and means of making this method really effective, and not to resort to easier methods that are against the natural law (Encycl. n. 14).

(b) Self-discipline: by the practice of self-discipline, so that births are spaced according to right reason and upright free will. Here especially the spouses by their spirit of self-sacrifice for the sake of the family, of the children they procreate, must imitate Christ in His union with the Church in that Christ loved the Church and delivered Himself up for it (Eph. v. 25). To avoid selfishness and foster true love, a spirit of sacrifice is necessary (Encycl. n. 21). Love based on pleasure alone is a caricature of real love.

III. The illicit methods are the following:

1. The direct interruption of the generative process already begun, and above all directly willed and procured abortion" (Encycl. n. 14).

2. "Direct sterilization, whether perpetual or temporary, whether of the man or of the woman (Encycl. n. 14).

3. "Every action which either in anticipation of the conjugal act, or its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible" (Encycl. n. 14).

The morality of each conjugal act must be determined in itself and not in relation to the totality of conjugal acts which go to make up married life (Encycl. n. 14).

This pronouncement of the authentic Magisterium requires a full and loyal assent—

internal and not merely external, in proportion to the importance of the Authority that issues it (in this case the Supreme Pontiff), and the matter with which it deals (in the present case a matter of the greatest importance, treating as it does of the vexed question of the regulation of birth). This decision binds the conscience of all without any ambiguity (L'Osservatore Romano of 8 August 1968).

"The parents themselves and no one else should ultimately make this judgment in the sight of God. But in their manner of acting, spouses should be aware that they cannot proceed arbitrarily but must always be governed according to a conscience dutifully conformed to the Divine Law itself, and should be submissive towards the Church's teaching office which authentically interprets the law in the light of the Gospel" (Church in the Modern World N. 50; cf. also Encycl. N. 10).

IV. "The Church does not at all consider illicit the use of those therapeutic means truly necessary to cure diseases of the organism, even if an impediment to procreation which may be foreseen, should result therefrom, provided such impediment is not, for whatever motive, directly willed" (Encycl. n. 15).

In bringing out these points, the Holy Father is concerned with the moral aspects of marriage "founded on the natural law, illuminated and enriched by Divine Revelation" (Encycl. n. 4). Against such a position it is out of place to publish comments based on arguments completely outside the moral order as is being done by certain sections of the public press. The Holy Father was fully aware of these "partial" perspectives—whether of the biological or psychological, demographic or sociological orders (Encycl. n. 7).

Here in Ceylon, the Government's family planning initiatives express the Government's concern with these same problems, namely over-population, food and housing shortage, etc. Our conscience, as Catholics, does not allow us to accept as moral all the means proposed for birth regulation by such sources. However, the very existence of such agencies tells us of the wide-spread concern for this truly human problem which involves the good of the individual, the family and the nation itself.

It is to investigate all such problems or "perspectives" that the Holy Father took months, nay years, to see if they could in any way be reconciled with the accepted moral order "founded on the natural law, illuminated and enriched by Divine Revelation", a moral order that he himself cannot alter. He cannot alter the moral laws as he is not the author of the moral order. He can only say if certain actions are in accordance with the moral order or not. This effort on his part alone is sufficient proof of his love and sympathy towards those concerned. It was only after all this careful examination and long prayerful thought that he has finally made the present pronouncement in obedience to and "by virtue of the mandate entrusted to him by Christ" (Encycl. n. 6). Those "partial perspectives" must have other solutions and it is the duty of public authorities to investigate and provide these (Encycl. n. 23). Nor can the moral law be determined by a majority vote.

After explaining with courage and firmness the moral law in fulfilment of the duty imposed on him by Christ, the Holy Father's heart expands in all exhortation of sympathy, charity and also guidance to all concerned (Encycl. nn. 19-31). We shall limit ourselves just to a couple of quotations: "The Church, in fact", he says, "cannot have a different conduct towards men than that of the Redeemer: she knows their weakness, has compassion on the multitude, receives sinners; but she cannot renounce the teaching of the law which is, in reality, that law proper to human life restored to its original truth

(i.e. correctness), and conducted by the spirit of God" (Encycl. n. 19).

The second passage is all advice to those of the Faith to have recourse to the help of God in prayer and in the reception of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance to obtain the necessary strength. Let them therefore, he says "implore Divine Assistance by persevering prayer; above all let them draw from the source of grace and charity in the Eucharist. And if sin should still keep its hold over them, let them not be discouraged but rather, have recourse with humble perseverance to the mercy of God, which is, poured forth in the Sacrament of Penance" (Encycl. n. 25). After thus addressing various groups of society, the Holy Father has a special word to Priests:

"Beloved Priest-sons … We now turn to you with confidence. Your first task, especially in the case of those who teach moral theology, is to expound the Church's teaching on marriage without ambiguity. Be the first to give, in the exercise of your ministry, the example of loyal, internal and external obedience to the teaching authority of the

Church. That obedience, as you know well, obliges not only because of the reasons adduced, but rather because of the light of the Holy Spirit, which is given in a particular way to the Pastors of the Church in order that they may illustrate the truth, You know, too, that it is of the utmost importance, for peace of conscience and for the unity of the

Christian people that in the field of morals as well as in that of dogma, all should attend to the Magisterium of the Church, and all should speak the same language. Hence, with all Our heart We renew to you the heartfelt plea of the great apostle Paul: "I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that

there be no dissension among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment" (Encycl. n. 28).

On our part, dearly beloved in Christ, We, as your Bishops, pray God that He strengthen you in your obedience and loyalty to the Vicar of Christ. For, to him has Christ entrusted His lambs and His sheep (Jn. xxi 15-17), that he may nourish their souls with the words of Eternal Life. He holds the place of the Good Shepherd, the mark of whose sheep is to hear His voice (Jn. x 3). To the seventy-two whom Christ sent "before his face", He said "He that heareth you heareth me: and he that despiseth you despiseth Me" (Lk. x 16). How much more will He say that of him whom He has appointed His Vicar on earth? Let us not forget that it is disobedience, i.e. of the First Adam, that brought destruction to the world, and that it is the Obedience of the Second Adam i.e. of Christ, that brought salvation.

May God's Light enlighten you, may His Power strengthen you, and may His Mercy protect you in the path of His commandments that lead to Eternal Happiness.

We remain, Dearly beloved,

Yours devotedly in Christ Jesus and M.I.,

+ Thomas Cardinal Cooray, O.M.I., Archbishop of Colombo

+ Edmund Peiris, O.M.I., Bishop of Chilaw

+ Ignatius Glennie, S.J., Bishop of Trincomalee

+ J. Emilianus Pillai, O.M.I., Bishop of Jaffna

+ Leo Nanayakkara, O.S.B., Bishop of Kandy

+ Anthony De Saram, Bishop of Galle

+ F. Marcus Fernando, Co-adjutor Bishop of Chilaw

+ B. Deogupillai, Auxiliary Bishop of Trincomalee

+ Edmund J. Fernando, O.M.I., Auxiliary Bishop, Colombo

+ Oswald Gomis, Auxiliary Bishop, Colombo.

Given at Colombo, (Ceylon), This 26th day of August, 1968.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
14 November 1968, page 9

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