In Crossing the threshold of credibility, published as a letter to the editor of THE LANCET, Stephen D Mumford observes:
"Once the nature of the principle of papal infallibility and its origins are understood, it is evident that no solution to the birth control dilemma, short of the demise of the papacy as we know it, is likely."
"Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, now Pope John Paul II, as co-author of the minority report2 of the Papal Commission on Population and Birth Control5 (which was subsequently adopted) recognized that acceptance of contraception meant destruction of the principle of papal infallibility . . . The Vatican cannot change its position on birth control without destroying itself."
Crossing the threshold of credibility
Stephen D Mumford
SIR: In your editorial you repeat Verkuyl’s assertion that “there is little doubt that the next Pope or the Pope after him/her will support family planning”1. Acceptance of Verkuyl’s assertion could cause great harm by postponing the day when the stewards of our planet recognise that confrontation with the Holy See on the issues of contraception and abortion is vital to the survival of our species.
Once the nature of the principle of papal infallibility and its origins are understood, it is evident that no solution to the birth control dilemma, short of the demise of the papacy as we know it, is likely.2-4 In 1966, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, now Pope John Paul II, as co-author of the minority report2 of the Papal Commission on Population and Birth Control5 (which was subsequently adopted) recognised that acceptance of contraception meant destruction of the principle of papal infallibility: “If it should be declared that contraception is not evil in itself, then we should have to concede frankly that the Holy Spirit had been on the side of the Protestant churches in 1930 (when the encyclical Casti connubii was promulgated), in 1951 (Pius XlI’s address to the midwives), and in 1958 (the address delivered before the Society of Hematologists in the year the pope died). It should likewise have to be admitted that for half a century the Spirit failed to protect Pius XI, Pius XII, and a large part of the Catholic hierarchy from a very serious error. This would mean that the leaders of the Church, acting with extreme imprudence, had condemned thousands of innocent human acts, forbidding, under pain of eternal damnation, a practice which would now be sanctioned. The fact can neither be denied nor ignored that these same acts would now be declared licit on the grounds of principles cited by the Protestants, which popes and bishops have either condemned or at least not approved”.2
Pope John Paul II also recognises that destruction of the papal infallibility principle means extinction of the Papacy. In his letter of May 15, 1980, to the German Bishops’ conference, John Paul II said: “I am convinced that the doctrine of infallibility is in a certain sense the key to the certainty with which the faith is confessed and proclaimed, as well as to the life and conduct of the faithful. For once this essential foundation is shaken or destroyed, the most basic truths of our faith likewise begin to break down”.2 The Vatican cannot change its position on birth control without destroying itself. Verkuyl should expect no change.
Stephen D Mum ford
Center for Research on Population and Security, P0 Box 13067, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709, USA
1 Verkuyl DAA. Two world religions and family planning. Lancet 1993; 342:473 75.
2 Hasler AB. How the Pope became infallible. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1081. (Originally published in German under the title, Wie der Papst unfehlbar wurde: Macht und Ohnmacht eines Dogmas. Verlag, Munchen: R Piper & Company, 1979.)
3 Vaillancourt JG. Papal power: a study of Vatican control over lay Catholic elites. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.
4 Murmford SD. The life and death of NSSM 200: how the destruction of political will doomed a US population policy. Research Triangle Park, North Carolina: Center for Research on Population and Security, 1994.
5 Murphy FX, Erhart JF. Catholic perspectives on population issues. Pop Bull 1975; 30:3 31.
SIR Your Feb 4 editorial draws attention to the illogical attitude of the Catholic Church towards the fertilised ovum. In the case of stillbirths (I have had two) the Church does not recognise the stillborn child as a human being. It gives no blessing and makes no ceremony or ritual--in short, will have nothing to do with it. If the fertilised ovum is a human being then the stillborn baby is a dead human being, yet the Church does not recognise its existence. It cannot be concerned with the fertilised ovum and ignore the stillborn baby.
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Vol 345 March 18, 1995