Debate sparked over infallibility of ‘Humanae Vitae’

infallibility of ‘Humanae Vitae’

The Vatican’s top body on life issues has caused a stir for suggesting that one of the church’s most influential and controversial magisterial documents, Humanae Vitae, is not covered by papal infallibility.

Over the weekend, a tweet sent from the Pontifical Academy for Life’s official Twitter account suggested that St Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae was not covered by the doctrine of papal infallibility.

This means it can be subject to change.

“History records by Archbishop Lambruschini confirmed that Paul VI said to him directly that Humanae Vitae was not under infallibility,” the Pontifical Academy’s official Twitter account said on 6 August.

The academy’s now-deleted tweet generated considerable backlash and speculation online.

Many commentators interpreted the statement as suggesting that the landmark encyclical could become the subject of papal review or reform.

The debate began last month with the publication by the Pontifical Academy for Life of a new volume titled Theological Ethics of Life: Scripture, Tradition, Practical Challenges. It includes papers delivered during a conference sponsored by the academy last year.

In the book, some theologians appeared to suggest that in certain limited circumstances couples might be justified in choosing artificial contraception or methods of artificial reproduction.

The academy defended the volume, saying its role as a pontifical academy is to facilitate dialogue among the top theological thinkers of the day about contemporary issues of key interest.

However, critics argued that it was inappropriate for an official Vatican entity to include voices questioning some of the church’s core moral teachings.

Ever since Humanae Vitae first appeared in 1968, there’s been an active debate over exactly what level of authority it possesses and, by implication, whether one can dissent from it and still be a good Catholic.

The context of Humane Vitae is about using contraception inside marriage.

And, despite what some think, everything the pope says is not infallible.

For a statement to be infallible, the Pope needs to make it clear that he is speaking infallibly and so far no pope has spoken infallibly on moral matters.

Catholic theologians agree that both Pope Pius IX’s 1854 definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary and Pope Pius XII’s 1950 definition of the dogma of the Assumption of Mary are the only instances of papal infallibility.

Both followed wide consultation with the bishops as to whether these doctrines were already believed worldwide.


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