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Humanae Vitae and the sense of the faithful. Some questions for theologians.

Author: 
Greeley A
Source: 
Critic. 1977 Spring; 14-25.
Abstract: 

The lack of acceptance of the Catholic Church's teachings on birth control on the part of the devout laity of the church raises the possibility that the teachings are wrong, i.e., they do not reflect Catholic truth as manifested through the sense of the faithful. According to a study conducted by the National Opinion Research Center, 87% of the Catholics in the US do not accept the church's position on birth control. Catholic tradition supports the position that infallible Catholic truths can emerge from the sense of the faithful, i.e., that God speaks through the faithful. The church is, therefore, confronted with a dilemma. The leadership, claiming divine guidance, is at odds with the sense of the faithful. Conservative elements in the church dismiss the dilemma by claiming that only those who accept the teachings of the church are true Catholics. Many church leaders believe that the dilemma stems from inadequate pastoral work. They maintain that more intensive pastoral work will eventually convince the laity of the validity of the teachings. Another explanation should at least be considered. Perhaps the teachings are wrong. Perhaps they were arrived at through inappropriate means. This possibility is explored using sociological knowledge about the decision making process in voluntary organization and the study of the historical reception of Catholic teaching by Father Pere Congar. The church can be viewed as a voluntary organization since membership is optional. In a voluntary organization the function of a leader is to promote consensual decision making. Divine guidance is, in reality, the process of promoting a consensus. The leader draws the truth, the Word of God, out of the sense of the faithful. The church is infallible not because it has automatic access to a set of right answers, but because it has the capacity to identify inadequate answers and to work until it has drawn out the truth from the faithful. Furthermore, the work of Father Congar demonstrates that histoircally the council of the church has become effective only after it has been received and accepted by the whole church. If it is not accepted it is eventually abandoned. In summary, ecclesiastical authority may be viewed, not as some automatically given addition ot the Word of God, but as the spiritual discernment of the sense of God in the total community of the faithful. If this argument is applicable to infallible truths then it should also be applicable to the authentic teachings of the Catholic Church, including the birth control encyclical, i.e., the Humanae Vitae.

Language: 
Year: 
Document Number: 
028250
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