Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Juridic Protection of the Church Teaching against Contraception

(Part I)

A RECENT column of Atty. Jose Sison (A Law Each Day, The Philippine Star 8.XI.2010, p.15) caught my attention. Quoting an e-mail he received from a Jose Teodoro Sagalo, he focused on what the latter qualified as “grave error that the Loyola School of Theology has posted in the Ateneo website endorsed earlier by Fr. Nebres, Ateneo President, for reflection, and now endorsed by Roberto Rivera of the John Carroll Institute.” A quick check of the primary source verified the presence of the offensive proposals. My questions are: (1) Does the Catholic Church really teach─in an authentic, infallible, obligatory way─the instrinsic moral evil of contraception, or is this a matter of religious persuasion, therefore admitting of a variety of interpretations in a pluralistic society like the Philippines? (2) If the Church indeed officially teaches the intrinsic evil of contraception, can a Catholic institution─like the Loyola School of Theology─publicly propose otherwise, and get away with it? In other words, is there no provision in Church Law against a Catholic School of Theology teaching something contrary to Catholic Doctrine?

These questions bring to a head something which I had been wanting to address in this forum for some time: the juridic protection of the Word of God. Put another way, indeed there must be something in Church Law that guarantees─with coercive and punitive force─the doctrinal soundness of Catholic institutions. Still put another way, in much the say way that the Republic of the Philippines has the opportune departments to establish standards for what are taught in the centers of elementary, intermediate and higher education, the Church must have the necessary means to guarantee that only sound Catholic doctrine is taught in the officially Catholic institutions of education. To illustrate: if a chemistry professor at the University of the Philippines (my alma mater and my department) were to insist on teaching his students theories of alchemy that had already been long disproven, and if the university students were to allow him to continue deforming his students in that way─with dire consequences in his chemistry practice thereafter─the Republic of the Philippines would have grounds to call the university to task.

Nevertheless, in order to address these questions thoroughly, allow me to first summarize a series of articles I had written in this column regarding the Canonical Protection of the Church’s Magisterium.

1. The Magisterium of the Church

The term Magisterium comes from the Latin magister, meaning “master”, “director” or “teacher”. In Church parlance, Magisterium came to refer to the teaching authority, finally narrowing specifically to the pastoral teaching office of bishops—i.e., the teaching function of the hierarchy. In other words, it refers to the exercise of the munus docendi taken in its strict sense.
Christ, who had been sent by the Father to be a witness of the truth (cf. Jn 18,37), has left to his Church his word and the power to teach with authority. The imperativity of the word of God in itself acts in the internal forum. However, man needs─and the word likewise demands it—an authoritative voice that can bind him in a palpable manner to the truth of the word. Thus, Christ established this authority in his Apostles and in their successors the Bishops (cf. Mt 16,19; 18,18).

“The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium’s task to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abide in the truth that liberates. To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church’s shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals” (CCC, n.890).

2. Types of Magisterium

1) According to the grade of authoritativeness that the teaching office assumes in its teaching, there can be two types:
a) Authentic Magisterium: The Church Magisterium is called authentic because it proceeds from the authentic Teacher, Christ, and is exercised by those who have been given his authority (cf. LG, 25).

A religious respect of intellect and will, even if not the assent of faith, is to be paid to the teaching which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops enuntiate on faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium even if they do not intend to proclaim it with a definitive act; therefore the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid whatever is not in harmony with that teaching (c.752).
b) Infallible Authentic Magisterium: The authentic Magisterium enjoys the note of infallibility in its entirety, and also when in specific formulations the teaching office puts its authority in the highest degree and declares a doctrine with the intention of defining it as belonging to the faith. No doctrine is understood to be infallibly defined unless it is clearly established as such (c.749, §3).

2) According to the form or manner of exercising it, there can be two types:
a) Extraordinary—when it is carried out through a solemn form or manner. Example are the so-called ex cathedra teachings of the Roman Pontiff and that of the Council.
b) Ordinary—when the habitual form or means are used. This in turn can be:
1° Universal—when it is addressed to the whole Church.
2° Particular—when it is addressed to a specific segment of the Church (e.g., diocese or episcopal conference).
3) According to the content, the magisterium can refer to:
1° Dogmas of the faith, which define the truths of the faith.
2° Customs that must be followed.
3° Exhortations regarding Christian life.
4° Moral judgments on temporal questions.

3. Subjects of the Magisterium
1) The subjects of authentic magisterium are:
1° The Roman Pontiff and the College of Bishops, for the Universal Church (c.752).
2° The individual bishops, Episcopal Conferences and Particular Councils, for the faithful entrusted to them. Although they do not enjoy infallible teaching authority, the bishops in communion with the head and members of the college, whether as individuals or gathered in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the faithful entrusted to their care; the faithful must adhere to the authentic teaching of their own bishops with a sense of religious respect (c.753).

Although the canon lumps them together, these three are not on equal footing as far as the exercise of authentic magisterium is concerned. The diocesan bishops (and their equivalents) exercise a primary and direct authentic magisterium over their respective proper flocks, while the Episcopal Conferences and Particular Councils only exercise a secondary and indirect role—i.e., only to the extent that the individual bishops or the Pope empowers them.. Thus, “when the doctrinal declarations of Episcopal Conferences are approved unanimously, they may certainly be issued in the name of the Conferences themselves, and the faithful are obliged to adhere with a sense of religous respect to that authentic magisterium of their bishops. However, if this unanimity is lacking, a majority alone of the Bishops of a Conference cannot issue a declaration as authentic teaching of the Conference to which all the faithful of the territory would have to adhere, unless it obtains the recognitio of the Apostolic See, which will not give it if the majority requesting it is not substantial.

2) The subjects of infallible authentic magisterium are:
1° The Roman Pontiff—when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful, whose task is to confirm his fellow believers in the faith, he proclaims with a definitive act that a doctrine of faith or morals is to be held as such (c.749, §1).
2° The College of Bishops—also possess infallible teaching authority when the bishops exercise their teaching office gathered together in an ecumenical council when, as teachers and judges of faith and morals, they declare that for the universal Church a doctrine of faith or morals must be definitively held (c.749, §2). They also exercise it scattered throughout the world but united in a bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, when together with that same Roman Pontiff in their capacity as authentic teachers of faith and morals, they agree on an opinion to be held as definitive.

Preliminary Conclusion

Just before his Ascension to Heaven, Christ commissioned the Apostles with the words: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world.” (Mt. 28,18-20; cf. Mk 16,15; Lk 24,47)).

As Vatican Council II teaches, the teaching office of the Church is not an optional contribution, but a duty stemming from an imperative mandate of Christ, such that all men may believe and be saved. In fact, the Church itself exists to fulfill this end: to evangelize (cf. Apost. Exhort. Evangelii nuntiandi, nn.5 & 14). Furthermore, this right-duty is exercised by virtue of the sacra potestas which Christ, who has received it from the Father, gave to the Apostles—i.e., the munus docendi is an exercise of the power of jurisdiction.

All this is summarized in c.747, §1: The Church, to whom Christ the Lord entrusted the deposit of faith so that, assisted by the Holy Spirit, it might reverently safeguard revealed truth, more closely examine it and faithfully proclaim and expound it, has the innate duty and right to preach the gospel to all nations, independent of any human power whatever, using the means of social communication proper to it.

At this point, therefore, it seems clear that Church Law does have sufficient means to safeguard the sound teaching of Catholic doctrine. It remains to apply this general principle to the specific case brought up. (To be concluded.)