Is Francis about to try to change the Church's infallible teaching on sexual morality? It's beginning to look more and more like it. How long, O Lord, How long?!
By Michael Haynes
‘It is legitimate to ask if Pope Francis will give us a new encyclical or apostolic exhortation on bioethics that might be called ‘Gaudium Vitae,’’ wrote La Civilta Cattolica.
VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — A Vatican approved publication has published an article asking if Pope Francis might write “a new encyclical or apostolic exhortation on bioethics” in line with a recent document from the Pontifical Academy for Life which undermines certain aspects of Catholic morality.
On July 2, Father Jorge José Ferrer, S.J. published an article in Jesuit-run publication La Civilta Cattolica entitled “Re-reading the theological ethics of life.” La Civilta Cattolica is notable for having its content reviewed by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State before publishing.
The article summarized and promoted the Pontifical Academy for Life’s (PAV) new book which proposes both contraception and artificial insemination as morally acceptable, and which was published by the Vatican’s publishing house Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
Ferrer wrote that the book comprises “an interesting attempt to imagine a path that favors the renewal of bioethics based on the role of discernment and the formed conscience of the moral agent.” This is “[i]n coherence with the teaching of Pope Francis,” wrote Ferrer.
But U.K. catechist and author Deacon Nick Donnelly described the work as a “paradigm shift” from Catholic teaching on IVF and contraception.
‘A new encyclical’
Ferrer’s article, which summarizes the book and its significance, closes by stating: “It is legitimate to ask if Pope Francis will give us a new encyclical or apostolic exhortation on bioethics that might be called ‘Gaudium Vitae’.”
Fr. Ferrer’s suggestion of a new encyclical is of no small significance, given that not only is he a professor of moral theology at the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, but also a member of the International Theological Commission, which advises the Congregration (now Dicastery) for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
Indeed, in promoting the book – which is a product of a three day symposium organized by the PAV in 2021– PAV Prefect Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia told Vatican News that the book’s aim was “opening up a space for dialogue that makes research possible and encourages it.”
Both Ferrer and Archbishop Paglia highlighted Pope Francis’ controversial writings as a backdrop for the shift in theology which the PAV’s book proposes.
“If we consider Evangelii gaudium, Laudato si’, Amoris laetitia, and Veritatis Gaudium in this perspective, we realize that the proposals contained therein open up a new horizon for theology and for the task of theologians, with a strong emphasis on dialogue and the mutual enrichment between different types of knowledge,” said Paglia.
This process is necessary, wrote Ferrer, “if you want to seriously practice synodality.”
LifeSiteNews contacted officials at the Holy See Press Office seeking further information on the possibility of a new encyclical but did not receive a response.
New encyclical to be contrary to Catholic morality?
Reporting on Ferrer’s suggestion of a new encyclical, dissident Jesuit-run America Magazine theorized that such a document would “spark a wide-ranging reflection on the ethics of human life that could lead to a new and definitive papal teaching document on issues as polarizing as contraception, assisted procreation and palliative care.
Indeed, the PAV’s book (on which such a potential encyclical could be based) opens up debate on topics which have already been settled by the Church and condemned by Pope Paul VI in Humane Vitae. These include artificial contraception, artificial insemination.
Writing that “responsibility in generation requires a practical discernment that cannot coincide with the automatic application and material observance of a norm, as is evident in the very practice of natural methods,” the book argued that couples could practice artificial contraception as long as the methods used were not “abortifacient ones.”
“It is essential that innovative and still debated themes be proposed, if we want to advance theology, and in particular theological bioethics, which must always be in dialogue with the changing realities of human life,” wrote Ferrer in his summary of the book.
“The quaestio disputata does not claim to supplant the authentic magisterium, but to open new horizons, which always remain subject to the final judgment of the pastors, in particular to the magisterium of the Roman Pontiff.”
However, such disputed questions would indeed fly in the face of numerous pronouncements on the topics discussed by the book and by any future encyclical based on the book.
Indeed, defending the book against criticism from concerned Catholics online, the PAV wrote that theology requires “progress” as part of a natural process.
“Be careful: what is dissent today, can change,” wrote the PAV.
At that time, senior editor for the National Catholic Register Jonathan Liedl slated the PAV, writing: “A Vatican organ lazily comparing Humane Vitae to geocentricism in order to undermine decades of post-conciliar teaching on sexual ethics.”
The Academy re-affirmed this message of openness in theological discussion a few days later, saying that it was following Francis’ manner of being “a Church of mercy and dialogue.”
In comments to LifeSite, Deacon Donnelly decried the potential undermining of Catholic teaching in a new encyclical, saying it “leaves me feeling desolate.”
Like many other Catholic couples, obeying the Church’s prohibition of in vitro fertilization has entailed for my wife and I life-changing sacrifice. But it is a worthy sacrifice because nothing can stop IVF being ‘gravely immoral’ — it removes the conception of a baby from the sanctity and safety of a mother and father’s embodied love, leaving him or her totally vulnerable to the intrusive, dehumanising manipulation of medical technicians.
“Nothing Pope Francis can say will overturn this truth,” Donnelly added. “But the possibility that a pope no longer respects or supports our extremely painful sacrifice leaves me feeling desolate.”
The PAV has been described as being permeated by “heretical gnosticism” after it was overhauled by Pope Francis beginning in 2016. The Pope released new statutes for the PAV in November 2016, in which members were no longer required to sign a declaration that they uphold the Church’s pro-life teachings, while also expanding the PAV’s mandate to include a focus on the environment.