A Reading of
John J. Conley, S.J.
THE RECEPTION OF VERITATIS SPLENDOR has been a curious affair. For months preceding publication of the encyclical, the popular media insisted that two issues would be prominent. First, the key topic would be contraception. Second, the pope would define the Church's doctrine on contraception as infallibly proposed. Newsweek's account of the letter was typical: “The Pope intends … an expansion of infallibility…The Pope's goal is to demonstrate that all forms of moral reasoning theologians use to justify contraception are unacceptable.”1 When the Vatican released the document on October 5, 1993, the press was clearly perplexed. The encyclical makes no mention of infallibility. It cites contraception once, and then brusquely, in its 40,000 words. Certain journalists, such as Peter Steinfels of The New York Times, implausibly attempted to claim that infallibility and contraception were the hidden “subtext” of the encyclical.2 The majority of journalists simply evinced their bafflement before the letter's opening biblical meditation and the lengthy discussion of proportionalism. The quick disappearance of the document from popular discussion indicates how thoroughly the text stumped the press, avid for a sex-and-power shoot-out.
The reception of Veritatis Splendor by the academy was more
1 Rod Norland, “Next, A Tougher Stand on Birth Control,” Newsweek (Aug. 23, 1993): 58.
2 See Peter Steinfels, “A New Encyclical,” The New York Times (Oct. 6, 1993): Al.