Pope John Paul II and the Church

By Peter Hebblethwaite | Go to book overview
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Excavating for foundation of infallible Humanae Vitae

( May 4, 1990) Quoting "sources in Rome and the United States," Russell Shaw, press officer for the Knights of Columbus, recently predicted that "before 1990 is out, Pope John Paul II will publish an encyclical on fundamental moral principles."

It is a rule of Roman life that documents are not admitted to exist until they actually appear. However, it is still worth asking how well founded this story is likely to be. For that, we need a potted history.

For many years, Rome has been awash with rumors that Pope John Paul would declare Humanae Vitae retrospectively "infallible." The aim of such a move -- declared impossible by many theologians -- would be to cut the ground from under those who think conscientious dissent from the encyclical defensible.

Advocating the toughest possible measures has been the Pontifical Council for the Family, headed since 1985 by French Canadian Cardinal Edouard Gagnon. Gagnon has never made a mystery of his views.

He has long believed that the church in the United States "is tolerating material schism." In 1983 he said the remedy would be "to change 90 percent of the teachers of moral theology and stop them from teaching, because they are teaching basically principles which lead to sexual abominations." He exhorted the laity to denounce errant theologians and bishops to Rome.

Such views might once have been dismissed as eccentric. But Gagnon's appointment as president of the Council for the Family showed that he had the confidence of the pope.

Gagnon it was who told the U.S. archbishops in March 1989 that ministry to the divorced was degenerating into "dating services for divorced Catholics." He warned against the tender hearts of women religious on marriage tribunals.

He has gathered some powerful allies at the Council for the Family. On the intellectual front, he could call upon Msgr. Carlo Caffarra, who won notoriety by suggesting that it would be "oppor¯


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