for the Study of Problems of the Family, Population, and Birth Rate

from Janet E, Smith, Humanae Vitae, A Generation Later (CUA Press, 1991) pp. 11-14
Majority Report    Minority Rrport

Three documents were published out of Paul VI’s Papal Commission for the Study of Problems of the Family, Population, and Birth Rate.42 This commission was initially established by John XXIII and was continued by Paul VI to advise him on the issues named in the title of the commission. The proceedings of this commission were to be confidential. The report of the proceedings was to be strictly advisory: it was not to be definitive or authoritative in any way. Written in 1966, portions were leaked to the press and published in the Tablet and the National Catholic Reporter in spring 1967.

The commission, enlarged several times, eventually was com­posed of over sixty individuals: cardinals, bishops, experts on such matters as population, doctors, and married couples. The commis­sion was reconstituted in early 1966 when several bishops and cardinals were added; at that time they became the voting members. Three documents were leaked, only one was a part of the body of the report voted on by the members; the others were added to the report as appendices. The one portion of the final report that was leaked was entitled Schema Documenti de Responsabili Paternitate (Draft of a Document concerning Responsible Parenthood), which was accompanied by a pastoral introduction written (in French) by Monsignor Dupuy. This document was meant to be a draft of a statement on the subject and to he sent to Pope Paul VI; this is the most widely known report of the commission and it is often referred to as “The Majority Report.” Here it will he referred to as “The Schema.” The names of Rev. Alfons Auer, Raymond Sigmond, O.P., Rev. Paul Anciaux, Michel Lahourdette, O.P., Joseph Fuchs, S.J., and Rev. Pierre de Locht were attached to it. Those voting in favor of the full report were Cardinals Doepfner (Munich), Suenens (Malines-Brussels), Shehan (Baltimore), and Lefebre (Bourges) and Archbishops Dearden (Detroit), Dupuy (Albi), Mendez (Venezuela), Reuss (Meinz), and Zoa (Cameroon). Three were reported as opposing the report: Cardinal Ottaviani (Holy Office), Bishop Colombo (Milan), and Archbishop Morris (Cashel, Ireland); three abstained: Cardinal Heenan (Westminster), Cardinal Gracias (Bombay), and Archbishop Binz (St. Paul, Minnesota). Archbishop Karol Wojtyla from Poland was unavoidably absent, though he may have had some influence on the pope’s thinking through written communications. In 1969 he convened a group of theologians to study the norms governing conjugal life; the paper they wrote reads like a response, a very critical response, to the report of the Papal Commission.43

Two of the appendices that were leaked are generally and mistakenly believed to be the primary documents of the commission though they were more accurately simply working papers of the commission; again, they were included with the report as appendices. Documentum Syntheticum de Moralitate Regulationis Nativitatum (Synthetic Document Concerning the Morality of Birth Regulation) was attached to the report as Appendix V. This paper reads like a rebuttal to the Minority Report and will he referred to here as the “Majority Rebuttal”; it was signed by three theologians: Joseph Fuchs, S.J., Rev. Philippe Delhaye, and Raymond Sigmond, O. P.44 Appendix VI was entitled Status Quaestionis Doctrina Ecclesiae Eiusque Auctori­tas (The Status of the Question, the Teaching of the Church, and Its Authority; often known and here referred to as “The Minority Report”). The Minority Report was signed by four moral theologians: John Ford, S.J., Jan Visser, C.SS.R., Marcelino Zalba, S.J., and Stanislaus de Lestapis, S.J.

It is not possible to find a published statement that makes clear the purpose of this commission. It is certainly not clear that it was convened with the purpose of discerning whether the Church’s prohibition of contraception was justifiable. Its original purpose seemed to have been a rather broad study of the Church’s teaching on marriage but came to focus on the question of contraception. It seems possible that Paul VI never really questioned the prohibition against contraception but that he did have doubts about the status of the pill and wanted a more updated defense of the Church’s teaching in light of contemporary problems, such as population.4” His public statements are not very illuminating. In 1965, in a speech to the commission he stated:

These are, dear Sons, the levels on which your researches are situated: on the one hand, a better knowledge of physiological laws, psychological and medical data, population shifts and social upheavals; on the other hand, and above all, the level of the higher light cast upon these facts by the data of Faith and the traditional teaching of the Church. Like an attentive mother, the Church has at all times had an interest and concern about supplying an answer that is adapted to the great problems posed by men. In keeping with the counsel of the Lord, and with this aim in mind, she welcomes nova et vetera new things and old’, in order to provide the divine leaven of the Gospel with all its richness and to obtain for men an abundance of the supernatural life.

In the present case, the problem posed can he summed up like this: in what form and according to what norms ought married couples, in exercising their love for each other, to fulfill this life-giving function to which their vocation calls them? 47

   A statement by Bernard Haering, C.SS.R., indicates what he had been told were the limitations of the commission when he was invited to join it as consultant: “I received from officials on all levels of the Holy Office unequivocal instructions and warnings that I was to keep precisely within the framework of Casti Connubii. However, efforts to restrain freedom of speech were only partially successful. 48 The commission itself reportedly raised and voted on whether the Church’s teaching was “reformable” and, obviously, voted that it was.°The majority reports that came out of the commission were clearly concerned to advance the Church’s understanding of mar­riage but did so largely with a view to justifying contraception.

These documents deserve careful attention because, as McCormick noted previously, they serve to summarize the status of the debate on contraception before Humanae Vitae. Moreover, they were among the documents provided to Paul VI to guide him in his deliberations about the morality of contraception.50 It must be remembered that these were only working papers and summary statements. This may account for the lack of argumentation justifying the positions taken.51 It becomes readily apparent that the documents provided more assertions than arguments. Part of the purpose of the following analysis will be to suggest that these reports were only the beginning of a debate and that much of the work on contraception that followed Humane Vitae involved finding support for assertions that preceded Humanae Vitae.

The analysis of the Minority Report and Majority Rebuttal shows that investigation into the issue of contraception had moved beyond an inquiry among those who shared fundamental principles. These documents exhibit at least four primary areas of disagreement:

1. they differ on the meaning of the constancy of the Church’s opposition to contraception;

2. they differ on the effect that a change in Church teaching would have on Church authority;

3. they exhibit a different understanding on how contraception violates natural law;

4. they have a different assessment of the impact that a change in the Church’s teaching on contraception would have on her teaching on other sexual acts. Let us take up each of these topics separately and see how each of the reports responds.

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