Dr. John Haas, a former member of the Pontifical Academy for Life and president emeritus of the National Bioethics Center, delivered a speech last Saturday in Rome, in which he took on recent moves to undermine the Church’s teaching on intrinsically evil acts, especially with regard to contraception.
The May 19-20 conference organized by the Jérôme Lejeune International Chair of Bioethics took place at the Augustinianum Patristic Institute, and among its speakers where high-ranking prelates of the Church, such as Cardinal Luis Ladaria (Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), and Cardinal Matteo Zuppi (head of the Italian bishops’ conference). The conference, which was entitled “’My body, my choice…’ Humanae Vitae: the audacity of an encyclical on sexuality and procreation” discussed the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI and its implications for today.
Dr. Haas’ speech was delivered on May 20 and was entitled “The beauty of Humanae Vitae 50 years on and its future challenges.” Dr. Haas kindly provided LifeSite with a copy of his presentation.
In his speech, the American theologian in part takes on a 2022 book, On Theological Ethics of Life, published by the Pontifical Academy for Life which had been the cause of much controversy since it appeared to argue in favor of certain forms of contraception.
Haas returns to this book right at the beginning of his speech:
Last year a book was published by a Vatican editorial house that called into question the Church’s teaching on contraception. The editor of the book wrote of contraception: “The wise choice will be realized by appropriately evaluating all possible techniques with reference to their specific situation and obviously excluding abortifacient ones.” [Etica Theologica della Vita, ed. Vincenzo Paglia, Pontifical Academy for Life.]
But for Dr. Haas, it is clear that “there is no ‘wise choice’ with contraception. I would like to show why contraception is unreasonable and why it inevitably leads to abortion. Allow me to make use of philosophy which ultimately is refined common sense.” In defense of the Church’s traditional stance against contraception, this moral theologian insists: “The use of contraception by married couples has always been considered morally illicit by the Church. Indeed, it can quite convincingly be argued that it has been infallibly taught by the Church.”
In order to argue on the basis of reason on why the Church’s traditional teaching is entirely reasonable, Dr. Haas quotes from the 1917 Code of Canon Law which defined marriage in terms of the ends of marriage: “The primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of children; the secondary end is mutual support and a remedy for concupiscence.”
Explains Dr. Haas: “Marriage is defined in terms of its own inherent ends toward which it is naturally ordered and which, thereby, tell us what it is.”
The good of marriage, and the end of it, is the procreation of new life. Dr. Haas insists that one may not depart from this truth as also taught by Humanae Vitae. “The human person cannot break the bond between the unitive and procreative ends of marriage,” Haas says in light of that encyclical, “since they constitute the very definition of what marriage is. And man and woman are naturally drawn to those ends precisely because they are good.”
Further pointing out the evil of contraception as a violation of the end of marriage, the moral theologian goes on to state:
Now, human beings are not obliged to realize all the goods of which they are capable; it would be impossible. However, they do have an obligation never to act against a good as though it were an evil because that would be unreasonable; it would violate their very nature. To act against a good as though it were an evil would violate synderesis, the first principle of human action, “Do good; avoid evil”. It is here, I believe, that one encounters the immorality, the unreasonableness, the disorder of contraception.
Dr. Haas does not shy away from calling contraception evil: “Contraception always involves an act other than the marital act, and that other act is directed specifically against one of the goods (or ends) which actually make sense of the marital act, i.e., the procreative good, the child. The name of the act itself describes its malice; it is contra, against, the procreative good.”
In light of this teaching and truth, Dr. Haas then returns to Archbishop Paglia’s introduction to the 2022 Vatican book and specifically his quote on contraception and rejects Paglia’s claim:
Are all these the kinds of techniques [of contraception] which ought to be weighed, as the editor [of the 2022 book] quoted before said, in order to lead us to make a “wise” choice about contraception? But each of these actions is different from, other than, the marital act, and each has no other purpose than to be directed against the realization of one of the ends or goods that make sense of, indeed make possible, the marital act.
Dr. Haas also makes clear the “inextricable link between contraception and abortion.”
“If we consistently act against the procreative good inherent in the marital act as though it were an evil,” he explains, “when it does appear, despite our best efforts, we take action to eliminate it.” When one tries to avoid life, and when it does come to us, one sees then the need to kill it. States Haas: “That action, of course, has come to be abortion. It is a natural sequel to induced sterility if the sterility fails and the evil of fertility manifests itself.”
Dr. Haas also sees the logical consequence of a teaching that makes exceptions when it comes to intrinsically evil acts: “I am not suggesting that there is a slippery slope from contraception to abortion. I am maintaining that when one can morally justify the commission of an intrinsically evil act, which the Church has always taught contraception is, we are already at the bottom of the slope and virtually any act can be justified,” he insists.
If we make an exception on the question of contraception, why not on other matters, as well?
“To accept the morality of contraception,” the moral theologian concludes, “is virtually to accept a false understanding of the human person which leads to the support of other aberrant behaviors which undermine human flourishing.”
Making here a strong stand against an attempt at relativizing the Church’s ban on contraception, Dr. Haas expounds at the end of his presentation that “one challenge to Humanae vitae now and in the future is certainly the trivialization of the immorality of contraception, as though it could be a ‘wise decision,’ whereas it is the very gateway to an anti-life mentality and the horrors of abortion.”
It might be worth noting that Archbishop Paglia, in an interview with Vatican News about Humanae Vitae in light of the recent May 19-20 conference on this encyclical, insisted on incorporating and “updating” Humanae Vitae with the help of Amoris Laetitia. He said: “What I would like to see is an approach that integrates Humanae Vitae with the encyclicals of Pope Francis (and St. John Paul II) and with Amoris Laetitia, and that opens up a new era of integral humanism.”
hus, Dr. John Haas’ speech on this matter of the immorality of contraception is pointing us right back to these very fundamental questions of the Church’s moral teaching. The undermining of the teaching on intrinsically evil acts seems to be a linchpin of the current situation in the Church: if this “radical paradigm shift” successfully takes place and is being implemented, anything goes and no moral law will remain standing.