Wednesday 23 June 2010

Newman, Clifford Longley, conscience, contraception - and abortion

Fr John Fleming has some interesting comments to make about Cardinal Newman (right), contraception and about Clifford Longley's assertion in The Tablet (29th May 2010) "that we just do not know what Newman would have said about ... the standing of Catholics who dissented" from Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI's encyclical on the regulation of birth, published on 25th July 1968.

Fr Fleming's article should be read in full on The Anglo-Catholic blogpost. Here are some extracts:
" ... Well known writer on Catholic affairs and doyen of the liberal party in the Catholic Church, Clifford Longley, seems to have recognised the foolishness of calling John Henry Newman as a witness to the liberal account of ‘conscience’ where contraception is concerned (The Tablet, 29 May 2010). He acknowledges the obvious, that no one knows 'what Newman [died 1890] would have said about Humanae vitae [published 1968]'. But his assertion that no one knows what Newman would have said about the standing of Catholics who dissent from long-standing authentic Church teaching on contraception is by no means so obvious ... "

" ... The Pope was faced with the need to consider traditional Catholic teaching in the light of new developments in contraceptives, specifically the oral contraceptive pill. In the light of the Church’s constant moral tradition the Pope provided that teaching having first sought and taken advice. To suggest, as Longley does, that the Pope was governed by a desire to protect the Church’s teaching authority even though he knew better, represents detraction at its worst. And it is none the better for it having been so self-righteously asserted without a skerrick of evidence cited in support of it.

"What lies behind the Longley piece is the ineffable sense of the infallibility of the liberal ‘intelligentsia’. 'We are right and the Successor of St Peter has got it wrong!' And this in 2010 when we have abundant evidence that the prophecies of social misery that Pope Paul VI (Humanae vitae n 17) warned about have come to pass!

"Indeed contemporary attempts in the UK to impose contraception and abortion based sex education on the young are a graphic reminder of the Pope’s warnings:

"'Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favouring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.' (Humanae vitae n 17) ...

"At the beginning of his article, Longley indulges in a remarkable piece of intellectual sophistry. Both progressives and conservatives are guilty of what he calls the 'fundamentalist fallacy'. This 'fallacy' he describes as 'an assumption that a sort of infallible magic belongs to the words on the page'. But nowhere does Longley provide any evidence at all that the various interpretations of Newman are based on any such assumption. Both sides are attempting to understand what Newman meant when he said what he said. But Longley smugly positions himself as intellectually above all the 'others', although he singularly fails to tell us what is his preferred hermeneutic and why it is better than everyone else’s. Is it that Longley believes that since the author is dead his words can be made to mean whatever we would like them to mean in our present time? He doesn’t say.

"So why not let Newman be allowed to speak for himself on the matter of conscience:

"'Conscience has rights because it has duties; but in this age, with a large portion of the public, it is the very right and freedom of conscience to dispense with conscience, to ignore a Lawgiver and Judge, to be independent of unseen obligations. It becomes a licence to take up any or no religion, to take up this or that and let it go again, to go to church, to go to chapel, to boast of being above all religions and to be an impartial critic of each of them. Conscience is a stern monitor, but in this century it has been superseded by a counterfeit, which the eighteen centuries prior to it never heard of, and could not have mistaken for it, if they had. It is the right of self-will.' (Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, section 5 on Conscience)

"Newman may well have been writing in the nineteenth century, but his words are even more apt in the twentieth century. Humanae vitae may not have been around for Newman to have been able to consider it. But the fundamental teaching of the Church on contraception certainly was, and was widely accepted throughout the Christian world. It was not until 1930 when the Anglicans proposed a weakening of that teaching that the Catholic moral position on contraception was seriously challenged. So Newman would undoubtedly have supported the Catholic moral teaching and would have been surprised that anyone would have thought to associate his name with dissent from it.

"Finally, Longley attributes cowardice to the English bishops who settled, he says, for an easy life by allowing people to make their own decisions in the matter. He sort of excuses their alleged moral cowardice by saying they really didn’t have much choice. 'Sackings of hundreds of dissenting priests and the excommunication of thousands of dissenting laity would have been a disaster for the Church.' A disaster? Really? Why so? Did not hundreds of dissenting priests and thousands of dissenting laity leave anyway? And despite the moral failings of Mediaeval Christians at the time of the Reformation, the Church still continues her faithful witness to the truth ... "
I have often commented on the links between contraception and the culture of death in which are living and, just yesterday I posted a review of an interview with Monsignor Jacques Suaudeau, the scientific director of the Pontifical Academy for Life, on the interrelationship between certain forms of contraception and abortion.

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