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Voices Online Edition
Vol. XVIII No. 4 Christmastide 2003 - Epiphany 2004

USCCB ­ November Meeting Report
Bishops to Produce Teaching Guide on Contraception

On the last day of the bishops' conference, Wednesday, November 12, the bishops considered a proposal to produce a booklet as an "educational tool" on Catholic teaching on contraception and natural family planning, introduced by Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, acting chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

Archbishop Chaput's introductory comments, and WFF's transcription of the bishops' discussion of this key proposal, are presented here.

Archbishop Charles Chaput: Bishop Gregory, my brother bishops, this is an action item from the Committee for Pro-Life Activities. And its a simple request for permission to begin a process. We would like to commission the researching and drafting of an educational resource, a relatively brief and easily understood booklet, that will explain to Catholics, in a positive and appealing way, Catholic teaching on family planning, and on how this teaching is linked to the task of building a culture of life.

The members of our committee, and I am sure many other bishops as well, have been dismayed, not only with the extent to which Church teaching is ignored, but also at the extent to which it is not heard or understood -- or even presented in a way that helps people to hear and understand it. Our Church's teaching on contraception has long been seen by many as a battleground for different views of Church authority. And that debate has obscured the need to come to a fuller understanding of the teaching itself, and its grounding in a positive vision of marriage, sexuality and reverence for the precious gift of human life. More than anyone else our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, has articulated the positive vision of human sexuality in his writings on the theology of the body. At the same time, these writings have a philosophical and theological complexity that can be difficult for the average person to understand.

It would be a fitting tribute to him, in the year of his twenty-fifth anniversary as pope, to help translate this beautiful vision into a language that Catholic men and women in the United States can understand as an encouragement and inspiration for them in their trying to live faithfully the married life.

Our model, in terms of format and readability, is the booklet approved at our June 2001 general meeting to explain the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist. That booklet has a brief introduction to the teaching, followed by basic questions and answers.

In preparing our resource on family planning, the Pro-Life Committee hopes to commission an outside drafter who thoroughly understands the Church's teaching, especially as articulated by the Holy Father, and who can present this vision at a popular level. We will have drafts reviewed by experts, and the Committees on Doctrine and on Marriage and Family Life have expressed their willingness to be of help, as well. We hope to present a final draft for comment, suggested amendments, and approval a year from now at the November 2004 general meeting.

Our proposal has received a positive reaction from the National Advisory Council, whose members also offered some very helpful suggestions. They encouraged us to take account of other developments in the Church on issues related to sexuality when we decide on the final timing for publishing this resource. They also suggested that the booklet explain how the Church's teaching relates to couples who experience infertility, and may be tempted to resort to procedures for having children in a way that is not in accord with Church teaching. These suggestions are welcomed and will be taken into account.

Therefore, I move that the body of bishops approve the request of the Committee for Pro-Life Activities to proceed, with adequate consultation of appropriate committees, toward drafting a pastoral document on the Church's teaching on contraception, linked with the culture of life.

Bishop Wilton Gregory (Belleville; president of the USCCB): All right, this action item comes from a committee, and it does not need a second. Is there any discussion? Bishop Baker, followed by Bishop Gallante.

Bishop Robert Baker (Charleston): I would just like to speak in favor of that proposal. Bishop [Victor] Galeone in St. Augustine, I believe, just recently wrote a wonderful pastoral letter on that subject that received a wider audience and very favorably, and I think was in a very pastoral context. So I certainly endorse that proposal.

Bishop Gregory: Thank you, bishop. We have Bishop Galante, followed by Bishop Sylvester Ryan.

Bishop Joseph Galante (Coadjutor - Dallas): I'm very much in favor of such a statement. I would like, if I may, though, to suggest that a little more of an extensive support of NFP -- natural family planning -- be put into this document. I think so many Catholics, and non-Catholics alike, still think about "rhythm". And there's been such a great development, particularly in terms of relationship. In the whole sense of natural family planning, that I would hope that while we're giving a teaching document about contraception, that we bring out the positive values that natural family planning brings to the unity of husband and wife, to the strength of the family; and how married couples can grow in grace through their adherence to something very much in keeping with God's plan and what we teach.

Archbishop Chaput: Thank you, bishop. We'll record all these suggestions for the committee.

Bishop Gregory: Bishop Sylvester Ryan, followed by Bishop Vigneron.

Bishop Sylvester Ryan (Monterey): I would support very much what Bishop Galante just said. When we write a document of this particular kind I think we have to empower people in some way to be able to carry it out in a context and culture, even among our Catholic people, where contraception is just taken for granted and encouraged by the culture in every particular way.

We need to go to natural family planning in such a way that we not only provide a document, but that we really explore ways to make it possible for people to understand and have an access for that. Especially, of course, for younger couples. Because otherwise all we are doing is kind of putting people in a situation of conflicting their conscience, without giving them -- "here's a way in which you can carry this out in accord with the life of the Church", and in a way of grace that Bishop Galante also spoke about. So I think there really has to be a mechanism here for helping people to have a way of doing the natural family planning, to explore what the problem is in terms of its availability, and to have that as something very concrete and practical as a part of the document.

Archbishop Chaput: Thank you, bishop.

Bishop Gregory: Bishop Vigneron, to be followed by Bishop Martino. At this point I have ten - close it? Thank you. Bishop Vigneron.

Bishop Alan Vigneron (Oakland): I'd like to make a tie-in between this action and what we did earlier today in our approval of a rite for the celebration for Sunday worship in the absence of a priest. A few summers ago, when we were in Milwaukee, we had a presentation on the declining number of priests in the Church. And a young woman I know, the wife of a former student of mine -- they practice natural family planning -- and she said to me: "You know, bishop, we don't have a problem about priestly vocations. We have a problem about all vocations". And I believe that this document will help us get at our problem with young Catholics in our Church accepting their vocation in marriage, which I believe is the more foundational and fundamental difficulty we have in the Church. So I very much support it.

The other point I'd like to address to the committee is whether the committee will consider drafting this document in such a way that it will require two-thirds of us to approve it, and we might seek the recognitio from the Holy See. I'm not saying it should be that way. I would like the committee at least to consider the pluses and minuses of that approach, because with that vote and recognitio it seems to me that in light of Apostolos Suos our document would have a much greater magisterial weight.

Archbishop Chaput: Thank you, bishop.

Bishop Joseph Martino (Scranton): I rise to speak in great support of this initiative. In the medical field they refer to high blood pressure as "the silent killer". I think that this contraceptive mentality, which has been rampant in the last 40-45 years, is certainly the silent killer in the spiritual life realm as well. And I hope that the document will not only be eloquent in and of itself, but I hope that also it will contain specific measures for it to be implemented. We often talk here about documents not containing enough material about its implementation. Because this document is not going to solve what has become a cultural problem, a problem inherent to our Church, rather it needs to be followed up by strong and vigorous pastoral action, preaching and teaching. Thank you.

Bishop Gregory: Thank you.

Archbishop Chaput: I think it's the intention of the committee at this point -- a new committee is being formed, of course, starting tomorrow -- that this will be a popular document that is basically to be put in the pamphlet rack in the back of the church. But to encourage priests and bishops and laity and married couples, everyone to really look seriously at this issue again. So I don't know that it will be as long as might be necessary to do what the bishop suggests. But things can change.

Bishop Gregory: Bishop Boyea, followed by Bishop Trautman.

Bishop Earl Boyea (Detroit): I would merely suggest that the contraceptive mentality that you talk about in your outline be expanded beyond its effects on the family or the couple, but its effects on society as a whole -- what that's done. And I would suggest you might get in touch with Dr. Janet Smith -- she teaches at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit. She's done a wonderful tape on this, which many have probably heard. But she could be of great help.

Archbishop Chaput: Thank you.

Bishop Gregory: Bishop Trautman, followed by Bishop Pfeiffer.

Bishop Donald Trautman (Erie, outgoing chairman of Committee on Doctrine): Thank you very much. I wish to share an observation, then maybe ask a question. I observe that presently three of our Conference committees are preparing documents on sex-related issues: the Pro-Life Committee requesting a document on contraception, the Catechesis Committee having a project on sex education in schools, the Doctrine Committee contemplating ministry guidelines for homosexuals. So I wonder -- a question is, should there be a concentrated effort, a joining of our resources and efforts in, perhaps, producing one document on the Christian understanding of sexuality?

Archbishop Chaput: That's a wonderful suggestion, bishop. I will pass that on to my successor, who's already been elected, Cardinal Keeler. And I think it's something they should look at, so we're not repetitive.

Bishop Gregory: Bishop Pfeiffer, followed by Archbishop Curtiss.

Bishop Michael Pfeifer (San Angelo): I also support the good work of your Committee. And so much of what I was going to say has already been said. The document should give strong focus to a culture of life, to building up the family, building up married life. Today I believe we have to recognize and state more clearly for our people, our married people, that there is a connection between abortion and contraception because more and more contraceptive pills and other contraceptive devices are designed to be abortifacient. And that is another great moral problem for all of us. So I support this good effort and would ask that this dimension be brought into the document in a very clear way, and that this document, or statement, would be designed where our married people can understand it. That is, has a biblical -- a theological -- base, and it's very pastoral and practical for our married people.

Archbishop Chaput: Bishop, you describe what we hope will be accomplished. We're aware of those issues and we want this document to handle all of those issues.

Bishop Pfeifer: Thank you.

Bishop Gregory: Archbishop Curtiss, followed by Bishop Stephen Blaire, who will be the last spokesman.

Archbishop Elden Curtiss (Omaha): Archbishop Chaput, this past Monday I had a luncheon here with seventeen bishops present with Dr. Tom Hilgers from the Paul VI Institute in Omaha, who is having a major gathering this coming year in Omaha. Great technical breakthroughs in the whole issue of human fertility and sexuality, and the Holy Father has been very supportive of him and his work. And I think we're coming to the point -- he's publishing a new book that he says is going to be a real breakthrough, scientifically grounded, in this whole area. And I would hope that you would be involved with Dr. Hilgers -- the committee that is succeeding -- and that he could be a resource for them because we're on the verge of some very important new kinds of information regarding natural family planning.

Archbishop Chaput: Thank you, Bishop, and thanks to the Archdiocese of Omaha for its work along with Dr. Hilgers.

Bishop Gregory: All right. Bishop Blaire.

Bishop Stephen Blaire (Stockton): For the last couple of days we've been speaking a lot about contextualization, and I think it would be important, if we're going to have a document on contraception, to put it in a proper context. And I would suggest that we go back to the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, where it talks about, clearly, openness to life and then the responsibility that parents have -- responsible decision-making. Then to develop the idea there, here is the Church's teaching on how to be open to life, and how to be responsible in having children. And then contraception is seen as an obstacle to the Church's teaching. And this way I think it gives a much more positive context and approach to human sexuality. I think so often the Church is seen as presenting sexuality or sex in a negative way, so I would suggest a positive approach in accord with the Pastoral Constitution.

Archbishop Chaput: Thank you, Bishop.

Bishop Gregory: Thank you. Having heard the statements and the interventions of the aforementioned bishops, I believe we're ready for the vote. Yes, Bishop Cupich.

Bishop Blaise Cupich (Rapid City): Just a question to clarify. In view of what Bishop Trautman said, given the fact that some committees are looking at a document on human sexuality; and I heard Archbishop Chaput say that they would look into that possibility of combining into one major document. Is a vote for this today obligating the Pro-Life Committee to produce this document? Because would it be open to the possibility that, in fact, there would be one document of the Conference using the resources on the whole idea of human sexuality?

Bishop Gregory: I believe, bishop, that what we would obligate the committee to do is to develop this theme. Whether the publication would be in conjunction with the other works that are under consideration, or not, I think it's something that the chairmen would be able to negotiate. I think that was your recommendation, that the new chairman --

Archbishop Chaput: It is. I think it's important for them to talk, because it's a very important suggestion. But the intention of the present committee is to develop an educational tool, rather than a teaching document. It would certainly contain the teaching of the Church, but there was a popularization to bring this issue before the mind of the whole Church. Now, if this other -- if this joint document would be more of a theologically speculative document that would be, you know, more of a teaching document rather than a popular resource, we probably would question whether we should do it or not. Because we're after that educational tool, to get in the hands of people who go to Mass every Sunday.

Bishop Cupich: Thank you.

Bishop Gregory: Okay. Are we ready for the vote? All those in favor of approving the request that the Committee for Pro-Life Activities proceed -- with adequate consultation of appropriate other committees -- toward drafting a pastoral document on the Church's teaching on contraception linked with the Culture of Life, please signify by saying "Aye". [Large number of "ayes"]. Opposed? [No audible "no" votes]. And we presume, then, that the conversation that you recommended, archbishop, will take place within the Pro-Life Activities.

Archbishop Chaput: Thank you, Bishop Gregory. And before I step down I'd like to thank Cardinal Bevilacqua for leading the Committee over these years, and thank the committee of bishops, which has been a wonderful committee. And most of all to thank Gail Quinn and the staff for supporting us so generously.

Bishop Gregory: And thanks to you, archbishop, for agreeing to carry on the good work. [Applause]


Archbishop Chaput had served as Pro-Life Activities chairman from August 15 (Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, of Philadelphia, resigned as chairman when he retired), until the November meeting. During the meeting the bishops elected Baltimore Cardinal William Keeler as the new chairman of this committee effective immediately. It will be the second time the cardinal has served in that capacity. The chairman appoints the members of the committee.

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