In an interview with the Katholische Nachrichten-Agentur (KNA) in Freiburg, the Freiburg moral theologian Eberhard Schockenhoff (55) comments on the topicality of the passages contained in Pope Paul VI's encyclical "Humanae vitae – On the Right Order of the Transmission of Human Life". discussed topics.
CBA: Professor Schockenhoff, the criticism of the encyclical that has been voiced in many quarters has focused primarily on the ban on artificial contraceptives for birth control. Can the encyclical be reduced to the ie of birth control pills??
Schockenhoff: The encyclical "Humanae vitae" contains great passages about the meaning of conjugal love. In line with the Second Vatican Council, it emphasizes the intrinsic value of love between women and men and the dignity of their sexual communion. Unfortunately, the history of reception in recent decades has been almost entirely overshadowed by the negative attention given to the ban on artificial conception without exception. The encyclical itself has given reason for this by characterizing artificial conception as inwardly disordered and intrinsically reprehensible. From the distance of 40 years one must state that the church teaching authority has not succeeded in convincing its own faithful of this prohibition. At the same time, the advantages of natural family planning must be acknowledged; it is more than just one method among others, but a communicative lifestyle of mutual consideration.
CBA: The Catholic Magisterium continues to prohibit artificial contraceptives. How is that justifiable after the emergence and devastating impact of the immunodeficiency disease AIDS ?
Schockenhoff: The use of a condom with the intention that a spouse protect himself or herself from infection with HIV viruses does not pursue an anticonceptive intention directed toward the prevention of possible procreation. Even if one considers the reasons for the prohibition mentioned by "Humanae vitae" to be compelling for the condemnability of one way of acting without exception, this does not mean that anything has been said about the other way of acting. It is incomprehensible to me why many find it so difficult to distinguish clearly between the two, although there are certainly starting points for doing so within Church teaching. Thus, therapeutic sterilization, which is necessary for medical reasons, is considered permissible, provided it does not have contraceptive intentionality. The protection against a possible HIV infection follows in a comparable way a medical objective, which has nothing to do with the artificial conception regulation in the actual sense.
CBA: Many Catholics did not and do not understand the moral-theological distinction between forbidden artificial contraception and permitted natural methods of regulating fertility in family planning. Is this really such a fundamental difference?
Schockenhoff: If the most important element for the moral evaluation of a concrete action lies in the intention it pursues, it is indeed difficult to see any difference between the two methods of regulating conception. At the level of the means used, however, it can be argued that the intended goal – the exclusion of possible procreation – is achieved in the case of natural family planning through the willing control of the sexual drive and consideration for the woman's natural rhythm, whereas in the other case this is achieved through an artificial means that tends to make the capacity for consideration, self-control and renunciation superfluous. Both Pope Paul VI. as well as Pope John Paul II. was moved by the concern that in the hedonistic culture of modern affluent societies, sexuality could become an available commodity or a consumer good. Even if there are unmistakable signs of such a development in the cultural perception of sexuality in the horizon of the present, the fear of a danger does not yet justify that a responsible handling of artificial methods is excluded from the outset.
CBA: The German bishops, in their commentary on the encyclical, the "Konigstein Declaration," had advised pastors to respect a possible decision of conscience by married couples on artificial contraception. Was and is it a viable way?
Schockenhoff: The Konigstein Declaration had an important pastoral function when it appeared, since it showed the faithful the way out of a dissenting decision of conscience, which at the same time enabled them to preserve their loyalty to the church and the sincerity of their church ties. In doing so, she helped calm the heated debate at the time. However, this pastoral solution did not really solve the ethical problem of inadequate justification of the norm presented. Conscience is not a loophole through which one could escape moral objections, if they are indeed justified, on one's own responsibility. If broad circles of the faithful do not understand the reasons for the prohibition of ecclesiastical contraception and regard it as irrelevant to their lives, this distance cannot be answered merely by tightening the formal obligation character of this teaching and appealing to the believers' duty of obedience. Pope Benedict XVI might have had. Schockenhoff had this disturbed relationship of trust in mind when he spoke of the fact that Christian sexual ethics does not first of all pronounce prohibitions, but presents a positive model. At the beginning of his pontificate, in several speeches, he argued that the "systematic" exclusion of children is contrary to the meaning of conjugal love. This leaves room for the consideration that what matters is the fundamental affirmation of children, behind which the question of the procreative openness of each individual sexual act may recede in importance. Because the willful and permanent exclusion of children is incompatible with the meaning of conjugal love, there can be no such thing as responsible non-parenthood on the ground of a biblical understanding of sexuality and marriage.
CBA: In the past four decades, society and its ideas about sexuality and relationships have changed a great deal. How might a new papal teaching letter respond to this and what emphases might it set?
Schockenhoff: According to biblical understanding, sexuality is a power given to human beings so that they can achieve their most important life goals in marriage and family life. This binding of sexuality to a lasting, reliable love seems to many people today to be an excessive demand. Sexuality should be fun, they say, those who expect more from it only spoil it. Behind this approach is an insufficient understanding of the existential significance of human sexuality. It has not only a pleasure dimension, but also gives important basic experiences of life such as security, faithfulness and the experience of one's own significance for the other; also living together with one's own children and being shaped by the role as mother or father represents an existential enrichment, which belongs to the fullness of meaning of sexuality. That's why Christian ethics wants above all to give courage, courage to form a reliable bond with one another and courage to start a family.