Monday, February 22, 2016

What Will Pope Francis Do Next? Dig Up Pope Paul VI's Body and Put it on Trial?

"You gave contraceptives to nuns!"

If you're not a student of Catholic history, don't laugh. The digging-up-the-previous-pope's-body-and-putting-it-on-trial thing did actually happen once

Make no mistake, the recent statements by Pope Francis and the Holy See Press Spokesman Federico Lombardi on contraception and the Zika virus are a direct attack on Humanae vitae and Pope Paul VI himself.

Though the time and context may have been initially surprising, the attack itself should not have been. 1960's-style dissident Jesuits such as Francis hate Humanae vitae. At the time they thought Paul VI was one of them or at least was controllable. They were to some extent right about that Hamlet pope. But Humanae vitae--perhaps the one case where Paul fully resisted the dissidents--was their great and unexpected defeat, the fly in the ointment, so to speak. They never forgave him for that.

Humanae Vitae was a defeat for them, but it was a defeat that, true to Pope Paul's character, was not followed up. On the main, the dissidents simply ignored the encyclical, or cited it as a typical undemocratic act by a fossilized Church desperately trying to hold onto power against the People of God. Paul never did anything about this. The dissidents continued to hold onto their teaching positions and religious appointments.

John Paul II and Benedict reiterated what Paul had set down in Humanae vitae, often forcefully but, like Paul, generally without any follow through. One might say that the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio was the inevitable result of this unresolved state of affairs, expressed in the debate on contraception as well as other matters. Eventually they would get a pope like Francis.

In Humanae vitae, Paul VI wrote:
Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one...Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good. It is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (18)—in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order... 
In his infamous recent plane interview, Pope Francis seemed to imply precisely the opposite--that on the contraceptive question it is sometimes acceptable or unavoidable to weigh a lesser evil against a greater one--the background case in question being the Zika virus, which allegedly caused a certain birth defect. Those who claimed that the Pope hadn't precisely said that, were then confronted by a clarification from the Lombardi, who set the new position out clearly:
The contraceptive or condom, in particular cases of emergency or gravity, could be the object of discernment in a serious case of conscience. This is what the Pope said.
But according to the earlier Pope, acts that are intrinsically disordered or evil--as all uses of contraceptives are--can never admit of exceptions. Indeed, that passage of Humanae vitae almost seemed to anticipate the very reasoning of Francis before condemning it.

What would make Pope Francis's attack on Paul all the more vicious was his cloying reference to the alleged actions of Paul himself. Paul--who had written against the use of contraception--was cited by Francis as, in effect, handing out contraceptives to (wait for it), yes, nuns!

This blog and others have shown this claim to be a myth, or more strongly, a lie. Just twenty-three years before, a previous Vatican spokesman had publicly denied it. But here was Francis and then Lombardi, who, at least by the time of Lombardi's clarification should have been well aware of the Vatican's previous denial, hurling it at Paul again. They didn't portray it as an attack, of course. "Blessed Paul," that "great" man, was just as merciful as Francis, it was sweetly implied. Sure he wrote Humanae vitae, but he also gave The Pill to nuns.

Some, including at least one Catholic traditionalist, have speculated that Francis and/or Lombardi must be aware of some hitherto secret information in the Vatican archives confirming their claims. That's absurd. Francis has no interest in that sort of thing. He reads La Repubblica for ten minutes a day and that's enough. He's probably afraid that if he tiptoes down to the archives and touches the wrong item, he'll instantly turn into salt.

They might as well dig up the body. Now that Paul is dead he can't defend himself, so why not just be up front about it?

But here's a better idea for the other side, Let's call a council now and put the current pope on trial. Paul VI didn't say anything new in Humanae vitae. Rather, he confirmed part of what had been unchanging doctrine since the second century Church Fathers. Two of Paul's recent predecessors had also confirmed it (here and here) as well as those who immediately followed him. Attacking the central principles of that encyclical is heresy, pure and simple.

For good measure, let's add the charge of slandering a former pope. Can we do that, canon lawyers? If we start now, maybe we can finish things up by the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.


  1. Lombardi and Pope Francis are accountable for the truth of statements they expressed on behalf of the Vatican. If they did not outright lie, they have remained willfully ignorant of the truth. Now caught, when can we expect an urgent correction from Federico Lombardi? Perhaps the mistake suits them better than the truth. March 1 will be a happy day when the reptile Lombardi slithers to his next assignment, which I hope will be of no consequence.

    1. He is staying: Fr Federico Lombardi to stay Vatican spokesman, but retires as head of radio station []
      Hmmm ... I wonder ...

  2. I see a beautiful little convergence here. If the rapeugee tide continues as it has, by this summer every Catholic woman in Europe will plausibly be able to claim to require pre-emptive "emergency" contraception against the danger of rape. If it was good enough for African nuns, it's good enough for them, right?

  3. Who's going to call this Council? The Emperor?
    Whoops! I guess we're stuck and screwed!

    1. considering the catholic religious situation and the islamic invasion of europe, we could use a barbarossa

  4. Francis might know more than we do.