The notion that the Catholic Church retained the ban on artificial birth control in 1968 because it was afraid that “changing its mind” would undermine Church teaching is a myth, says respected Catholic author and theologian George Weigel.
“The real issue was much graver, and touched virtually every question in the moral life,” he states in his May 26 syndicated column, titled “Afraid of change? More myths of 1968.”
Weigel, who is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., used his column to respond to a recent editorial in the London-based Tablet, which makes the false claim. The notion that the Church holds its stance out of fear, “is a distortion of history and the editors of the Tablet … should know it,” he writes.
In 1967, Weigel explains, the Tablet printed a leaked memorandum to Paul VI from members of the papal commission studying the morality of family planning.
“According to that memorandum, a majority of the commissioners had been persuaded that the morality of conjugal life should be judged by the overall pattern of a couple's sexual conduct, rather than by the openness of each act of marital love to conception,” he writes.
However, a close reading of the document reveals that these commissioners “intended to install proportionalism and the theory of the ‘fundamental option’ as the official moral theological method of the Catholic Church,” he continues. Paul VI recognized this, and rejected the proposal.
Pope John Paul II explained and rejected proportionalism in his 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor. "The criteria for evaluating the moral rightness of an action are drawn from the weighing of the non-moral or pre-moral goods to be gained and the corresponding non-moral or pre-moral values to be respected. For some, concrete behavior would be right or wrong according to whether or not it is capable of producing a better state of affairs for all concerned,” the late pope said.
Weigel recounts that “classical Catholic moralists tried to construct a responsible theological case” for artificial birth control. They “found they couldn't do so without opening the Pandora's Box of proportionalism, which blunts the edge of moral analysis and drains the moral life of its inherent drama,” Weigel writes.
“If you want to measure the effects of proportionalist moral analysis on a once-great ecclesial community, you need go no farther than the Anglican Communion, which is being torn apart today because proportionalists,” he writes.