Teaching Morality About the Population Problem: Assumptions Behind the Catholic Position

Resources »EAPR »East Asian Pastoral Review 1994 »Teaching Morality About The Population Problem Assumptions Behind The Catholic Position

Bernhard, Kieser, SJ.

Only a few remarks can be made about the basic attitudes that appear in the official Roman Catholic statements on the question of population. In connection with these official statements, catholic theologians and ethicists formulate their positions about the question at stake. But what is the quesfi6n at stake? Is it the birth control question or even the use of contraceptives? We should leave for a moment the question of contraceptive means. Our discussion should not be narrowed down to the catholic Position on the morality of various questions on family planning. Our discussion is over population policy. Our question should be: “what is the catholic position on population problems?”


The fast growth of the population especially in developing countries has been recognized by the papal magisterium as a social Problem at a time when the problem ‘Was already recognized world­ wide. In his social encyclical Mater et magistra, Pope John XXIII expressed his conviction: “Truth to tell, we do I not seem to be f aced with an immediate or imminent world problem arising from the, disproportion between the increase of population and the supply of food. Arguments to this effect are based on such unreliable and controversial data that they can ‘only be of very uncertain validity.” (no. 188) "Hence the real solution is ...to be found... in a renewed scientific and technical effort on man's part to deepen and extend his dominion over nature”. (no. 189) Consequently, Pope John XXIII urges respect for the laws of life, the development of science in the service of life. For him it is especially the task of parents to educate the younger generation in a "deep sense of responsibility in life" and "instill in them an unshakable confidence in Divine Providence and a determination to accept the inescapable sacrifices and hardships involved in so noble and important a task as the co­operation with God in the transmitting of human life and the bringing up of children" (no. 195).

In a sense, Vatican 11 shared the optimism of John XXIII and his basic attitude towards the population question. According to the Council, the population question ‑at its core ‑ is a problem of family‑life. Elaborating on "marriage and family in the modern world" Gaudium et Spes (G.S.) says: "In certain parts of the world, problems resulting from population growth are generating concern", (G.S. 47); but "today, more than ever before, progress in the production of agricultural and industrial goods and in the rendering of services is rightly aimed at making provision for the growth of a people and at meeting the rising expectations of the human race" (G.S.64). But at the end, Gaudium et Spes recognizes how serious the problem is for "peoples, who in addition to many other problems, are today often burdened in a special way with the difficulties stemming from a rapid population growth", so that international cooperation becomes "supremely necessary". Since "the minds of people are so powerfully disturbed about this problem", Gaudium et Spes recognizes the rights and duties of government officials regarding the population problem. It mentions that "many people assert that it is absolutely necessary for population growth to be radically reduced everywhere or at least in certain nations" but with a reminder that this should be done ‑by means that do not contradict the moral law and ways which respect the human right to marry and beget children." (G.S. 87).

The Pontifical Commission on Population, Family and Birth (1964-­66) acknowledges in its final report the "immense difficulties and profound transformations that have arisen from the conditions of contemporary life throughout the world and especially in certain regions where there has been a rapid rise in population". But it thinks that "the increase of inhabitants cannot in any way be said to be something evil or calamitous for the human race" and " the great number of people pertaining to a certain nation and constituting the whole human race spread over the globe is the foundation of all social sharing and cultural progress".1 Therefore, the true solution for the population problem has to be sought in "human progress, united in true solidarity and excluding every intention of domination".

Until Humanae Vitae, the question of rapid population growth had in fact very little influence on birth‑control discussions. Documents showed more concern for the parents' human rights against any kind of political repression than for government rights and duties in the question of population growth. These promoted the "service of life" against all kinds of anti‑life tendencies in the efforts of population control. Parenthood should not be limited but should be exercised by responsible parents in responsible ways, not in conflict with the moral law, serving (not limiting!) life.

In Populorum Progressio, Pope Paul VI mentions population growth among the main problems of human development: "The accelerated rate of population growth brings many added difficulties to the problems of development, where the size of the population grows more rapidly than the quantity of available resources" (no.37). Paul VI agrees that there is a nexus between population policy and responsible parenthood, but responsible parenthood does not "tolerate any legislation which would introduce into the family those practices which are opposed to the natural law of God"(Humanae Vitae no. 23). Since Humanae Vitae, the documents of the magisterium had been measuring concepts, and understanding solutions for the population problem in terms of these two basic concerns:

"to safeguard the dignity of human sexuality by respecting its very nature and not separating fertility from expression of unity, and to safeguard the dignity of the human person by protecting people against all kinds of repressive population policies.

This position of Humanae Vitae has proved to be at least partially true. According to the reports at the Roman Synod of Bishops in 1980, many bishops in Third World countries had used Humanae Vitae to protect their people against exploitation by their government or by powerful international population, control programs.2Accordingly Familiaris Consortio, the Apostolic Exhortation by Pope John Paul II after the synod on the family, states firmly: "Certainly, the Church knows ... the difficult problem of population growth in various parts of the world and the ethical questions connected with it. But the 'church is convinced, that a ... view of these problems will confirm in a new way the authentic teaching on birth control by the L Second Vatican Council and by the encyclical letter Humanae Vitae." (no. 3l)According to Populorum Progressio, the state has the right and the duty of information on population problems and birth‑control methods, but it has likewise to respect the fundamental human rights of parents to determine the number of their children. The church itself claims the rights to put forward norms on methods of family‑planning, while the decision on the number of children is the exclusive responsibility of the parents. The misuse of birth‑control methods for repressive population‑control programs has even been used as a reason for proscribing artificial birth‑control methods.3

On the other hand (as has been stated already in Mater et magistra!), the problems of development‑ should be solved by, social' and economic progress rather than by population‑control. Populorum Progressio demands ;the search for a new balance between superabundance and need. Pope John Paul II rejects the mechanisms that destroy solidarity and prevent people from participating in the goods of the earth, which are destined for, all. I A new world order of economics should guarantee the rights of all human beings on human life‑conditions.4 While papal teaching stresses that population growth is a socio‑economic and socio‑cultural problem that should be defined by economic concepts, and solved by economic and social means, the norms set by Humanae Vitae and Familiaris Consortio are taken from, the area ofindividual morality. These individualistic norms determine the analysis of the population question in the papal documents.

Sollicitudo Rei Socialis highlights the way of talking about the population problem which should be "in accordance to the norms of Pope Paul's encyclical HumanaeVitae and the Apostolic Letter Familiaris Consortio and which suggests  that there is no real population problem. "Without doubt, there is ‑ especially on the southern part of our planet – such a demographic problem, which causes difficulties for development.. It is incorrect that such difficulties are exclusively caused by the population‑growth and it cannot be proved that any population growth cannot bereconciled with development in order." (no,25)., Consequently,, Centesimus Annusaccuses scientists who are worried about an uncontrolled growth, of a “false understanding of a demographic problem" and birth control programs as "war with chemical weapons that poison the life of millions without protection”. (no.39),


This short review of papal teaching shows clearly the strong ethical stand of the "catholic position" towards the population question and in evaluating the proposed solutions according to the basic concern for the dignity and freedom of human families. Keeping in mind this firm moral concern, we still have to ask whether this the population‑question has been adequately recognized and comprehensively analyzed, so that the societies in question and the people concerned can in fact get to a human solution, that, is, a solution that respects, their human dignity and enables all people to live in more humane conditions.

"Nobody can say, that the church’s  social teaching did not see the population problem, did not discuss it or even suggested that parents should have more children.  Meanwhile (i.e. since the 1980 bishops' synod), the (demographic) situation has dramatically  worsened and many experts regard a future catastrophe as inevitable  (with or without artificial means of birth control) ... Should not all catholics be called to face the problem in time, so that there could not arise a situation that makes such cruel measures (i.e. forced sterilization) necessary?”5

In preparation for the 1980 Synod on the Family, A. McCormack proposed some information on the population question. He reminded people that this problem contains a bundle of related demographic questions: food‑, housing and employment, changing of family patterns and questions on education.6 Is a personalistic concept of the family the suitable framework for grasping the population question? Any moral solution for the population problem should start from an adequate analysis, which cannot be only a value‑free report of figures. This analysis should therefore not be left to non‑christian agencies. An overall analysis with a broader scope than the two issues of Humanae Vitae is still on the agenda of the catholic communities.

Since Populorum Progressio papal documents have been criticizing the modem mentality of its want to have and its want to possess (These tendencies are not so modem at all; they are found also in traditional rural societies!). So the church finds itself criticizing the wish for children, when this wish is to be fulfilled by artificial means and criticizing the wish for limiting the number of children when this is done by artificial birth control methods. It is becoming clearer that the basic problem is not the artificial or non­artificial method, but a human way of limiting extreme wishes for children as well as the indiscriminate and egoistic use of methods for population control.

In various parts of the world, this basic question arises in different ways.7Therefore, moral reflection and moral direction have to be practical (according to the different problems in the various parts of the world); they have to figure out, what could and should be done about rapid population growth. It has to be stated clearly, whether responsible parenthood means an increase or decrease in the number of children and what the socio‑economic and socio-cultural means are to achieve it. These directives can no longer come from the Roman center. Only the local churches and concerned lay people can bear the responsibility for finding these kind of moral norms.

At the end of Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II expresses the principle of every social concern and action: "Announcing the principles for any solution of the labor‑question, Leo XIII wrote: In this crucial question, the efforts of all are needed. He was convinced that the major problems caused by the industrial society can only be solved by the common efforts of all forces. This principle has become a permanent element in the social teaching of the Church." (no. 60). "The cooperation for the development of the whole human being and of every human being is the responsibility of everybody for everybody." 8

Cooperation is the basic principle for the Church's social engagement ‑ but cooperation becomes obsolete, if cooperation means that all others are invited to work together with catholic groups along the principles that have been stated by church authorities. Like any other social problem, the population problem can only come to a solution by the cooperation of all; and cooperation cannot but start byfinding the guidelines for action in cooperation, or at least in communication, with others. At present, the climate does not seem to be very favorable for such a dialogue on the guidelines in the population question. Is this climate so unfavorable only because "liberalism and marxism refuse such cooperation"? 9 The task of creating such a climate and starting the dialogue on moral guidelines is still on the agenda of our communities.

Analyzing the present climate among catholics (with regard, among other things, toHumanae Vitae and birth‑control), P. Hünermann, expresses his concern, that after the first crisis of modernism at the middle of the 19th century and the second one at the beginning of this century, the Church may be heading into a third crisis of modernism. This crisis is ‑ like the previous two about "new problems that are connected with the foundations of a modern, society and the modern understanding of  humanity and creation10.  “It seems, that after the opening of the Church for a critical confrontation with modernity during the Second 'Vatican Council, there is arising a  third crisis of modernism";  this time, according to Hünermann, about the "touchy questions on sexuality and the role of women in the Church.” Perhaps, it is even a crisis in the vital field of basic conditions for human life On this planet.

Hünermann remarks that during the previous s crisis, "traditional patterns of thinking and valuating have been continued in the Church without further explanation and specification; they have even been regarded as essentials of fidelity in faith to the Church and to the Pope."

The previous crises have shown that traditional patterns cannot be maintained by administrative enforcement. In developing the traditional patterns of thought and value and in creating new patterns, we must take into account that

in the face of the crucial problems of humanity, moral ­responsibility means social responsibility, responsibility for human life includes the task to model the human future; responsibility cannot be carried out except by communicative action.


A lot could be said about population problems being understood as basically social problems11 so that solutions for the population problem cannot be but a packet of social measures.12 But our case is more than just moral obligations o n social questions. "More than an individualistic ethic is required: Profound and rapid changes make it particularly urgent that no one...can content himself with a merely individualistic morality ... Obligations of justice and love are fulfilled only if each person, contributing to the common good ... promotes and assists the public and private institutions dedicated to bettering the conditions of  human life" (G.S. 30).

Morality is more than the private concern about the human quality of one's life and deed s; morality is the effort of promoting the common good and creating the conditions of human and humane life for everybody.

It seems important to stress the need for overcoming a mere individualistic morality when considering the fact that catholic thinking in moral theology (also a very recent one) moves in a different direction. One can hardly overestimate "how the Church's development and practice of the confessing of sins has been of profound importance in the making and in the setting of the interests of moral theology".13 The penitential practice during the patristic period of excommunicating and reconciling Church members who have sinned, exerted an even stronger influence on moral thought. This was especially true when the Celtic practice of private confession, which was regulated by the penitential books that determined the tariff of penance for every possible sin, made this penitential practice more frequent.. In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council stated the obligation of "everyone of the faithful of either sex, at least once a year, to confess all their sins in private to their own priest. Otherwise, they are to be barred from entering the church in their lifetime and to be deprived of Christian burial at their death (DS 812)." A series of regional councils enforced this obligation, and summas for confessors were written in abundance.

After the Council of Trent had reinforced this obligation, the Tridentine renewal in moral theology14 meant training of confessors. Even the great probabilism‑quarrel was finally a debate on the question of conscience, i.e., about what should be confessed. In short, the mainstream of theological thinking on morality wasconcerned with the private conscience: the avoidance of sins and transgressions of the moral law, which were proposed and enforced by the religious community. In the catholic tradition, moral thinking was concerned with the individual forgiveness of sins after diligent enquiry through private confession of mostly private sins (especially sin in sexual conduct). Moral theology prepared confessors to become judges and doctors, enabling them to get a clear idea of the penitent's state of conscience, so that they can impose a proper penance as remedy for the conscience's sickness. In April 1950, Pope Pius XII declared Saint Alphonsus Liguori to be Patron of Confessors and Patron of Moral Theologians!

During this century, several efforts to renew moral theology tried to overcome "the obsession with law" and to make moral thinking even more "personal" ‑ which almost inevitably meant more individual and individualistic. The biblical renewal of moral theology, that was asked for by the Decree on Priestly Formation of the Second Vatican Council, had already started in the twenties and elaborated mainly in "Die sittliche Botschaft des Neuen Testaments" (The Ethical Message in the New Testament) of R. Schnackenburg along the line set by Fritz Tillmann's famous books on "Die Idee der Nachfolge Christi' (The Concept of Following Christ) and "Die Verwirklichung der Nachfolge Christi" (The Praxis of Following Christ). Following Christ meant the basic christian attitudes in moral life, based on grace, answering God's call in Christ. Morality appeared again as living faith, as an existential, and therefore personal experience, of one's relationship with God.

The discussion following A. Auer's "Autonome Moral und Christlicher Glaube"(Autonomous Morality and Christian Faith) focused all attention on the christian foundation of moral thinking and moral action. "Autonomous morality means the effort of catholic moral thinking to take up the challenge of modern thinking on autonomy; by this, autonomous morality could overcome the separation of ecclesial and secular efforts in the foundation of morality. "15 Christian morality was explained as autonomous morality in the christian context of salvation history; and attention remained with the individual as moral subject, acting in autonomous responsibility to God, inspired and strengthened by God's saving grace, guided by a christian vision on the human person. The basic moral question remains: how to act according to God's plan, i.e. the salvation of everyone in Christ? The personal answer in one's individual (though not individualistic) moral decision is the place and moment that salvation history gains actual historical reality.

Only during the last years, did philosophical criticism of the concept of autonomy16 opened a new dimension in theological thinking on morality. Autonomy is no longer understood as a mere realization of one's own uniqueness. Human beings can only experience, understand  and enjoy their own autonomy by recognizing and enablingthe autonomy of other human beings. In reality therefore, autonomous morality cannot be but "communicative action". And 'likewise, autonomous morality in the christian context means autonomous morality in the context of salvation  history. But in salvation history, encounter with God takes place not only in as far as individuals personally answer God's call and live up to God's grace in their personal action as guided by the moral guidelines for action. In salvation history, we encounter God also when we take up our part in God's salvation history by all kinds of efforts that enable others to answer God's grace in freedom. With this the basic moral question changes also.

The question is no longer: how to behave morally  by acting  according to one’s conscience, in response to God’s grace. 
The question of morality is now: How do we, by communicative action, contribute to the history of freedom, to God’s  salvation history?

Morality is not primarily about the subject’s moral well-being.  Rather, in terms of the social teaching of the Church, it is 'about  solidarity as one’s resolution for the common good.


Besides the concept of autonomy,  the understanding of “nature” as source of moral norms is under discussion. According to Familiaris Consortio, the conjugal act is personally true only if it does not interfere in or even change its natural structures.Acting according to nature ensures that acting does not manipulate.  “The resistance by the magisterium against  contraception in grounded in the conviction about the indissoluble unity of these two meanings of marriage: to be a sign of unity and to be a sign of parenthood. According to  Humanae Vitae, this indissoluble connection is determined by God, and  human beings are not allowed to dissolve it. The conjugal act is deprived  of its veracity if one of the constitutive signs is skipped."17 According to Pope John Paul II, “to   give oneself without reserve means giving oneself  without interference to the physical integrity". And the Pope is convinced that "the respect for the woman’s cycle does not only avoid manipulation but can also promote the culture of sexual love. This respect for the natural order of sexuality is regarded as the wisdom of creation that can also contain an actual reserve against fertility." This  is without doubt an impressive witness by the Pope. Theology however may ask some questions for clarification.18

The main question asked by moral theology in this context, is about the identification of the human person's integrity with a certain and  "one‑sided concept of human sexuality." Is there – with regard to sexuality as well as with regard to other areas of human which life – a prefixed nature, specified in detail and unchangeable, which  forms a constitutive part of the human person,  so that interference  in the natural order means manipulation of the human person? The question is about the relationship between the human person on one hand and the human nature on the other.19 Referring to Thomas Aquinas, R. Böckle says:

By understanding and reflection and further interpretation, by constructing a hierarchy of values, the human person shapes its nature, in which the human person subsists.

The criteria for acting "according to human nature”  do not come from a "pre‑ existing" nature. They arise from an "anthropological project" which stems from a  transcendental insight into the meaning of life and which is applied to the empirical nature. Acting according to nature cannot be understood as looking for moral guidelines in an empirically analyzed or metaphysically explained nature. Everybody who wants to act according to nature must first of all clarify and justify the anthropological project on which he is working, in the actual status of the empirical nature. Acting according to nature does not mean merely imitating nature but shaping human nature as well. It is the task of moral reflection to formulate the "anthropological project" on which we are working with regard to the population problem. K. Demmer remarks:

"Nowadays natural sciences which are more and more working along models and heuristic projections, challenge our thinking on the normative nature. Should not human nature that is normative for morality, be understood along such modern categories of thinking and interpretation? In the documents of the magisterium partial aspects of the normative nature are often proposed as absolutes, which is probably caused by outdated ideas in the theory of science‑...Data about any empirical nature are ambivalent; nature protects and threatens; nature is well‑ordered and disarrayed. Moral rationality has to reflect on these data, understand and interpret them; moral rationality arranges and determines. And if there is something like a change in paradigm in the natural sciences, the change in paradigm occurs also ‑ in an analogous way ‑ in moral theology. The points of reference for moral evaluation are developing and changing along the history of the human mind."20

Among the questions arising with this paradigm‑change is the question about God, which according to Daecke2l is even more urgent than the many intricate questions put forward in special moral theology. Schuck has shown that the change of concept about God made it possible for Pope Leo XIII to discuss the social questiontheologically as a question of human morality.22 In the framework of neo‑Thomistic thinking, God is understood as the Lord and Foundation of the (autonomous, natural) order of creation as well as the Lord and Source of the (supernatural) order of grace. God created men and women as responsible beings in the natural order and called them to (supernatural) fruition of His Glory. According to this understanding, God encounters human beings whenever there are questions about this natural order.

If the deterministic view on the world as natural order is given up, the concept of God will change also. Demmer suggests: "Together with R. Spaemann we propose: theological anthropology is the preferential place of hermeneutics, where God appears ‑ as it were ‑ reflected in a mirror. God interferes in human history through the conscience of the believer. There, the trusteeship on nature is conceived and worked oUt.',23 God is the Lord of the History of Salvation; human beings in their creative freedom are the co‑workers with the loving God.24


Obedience to the norms of Humanae Vitae has become a strong argument in the discussion about birth‑control and the population question. Any catholic discussion of the population question will have to discuss also the meaning of catholic obedience.25 "In  continuity with the living tradition of the ecclesiastical community throughout history, the Second Vatican Council and the teaching ministry of our predecessor Paul VI, especially by His encyclical "Humanae Vitae", has announced for our time a real prophetic message that clearly confirms and renews the old and always new teaching of the Church about marriage and the promotion of life. Therefore, the Fathers of the Synod have stated at their recent session: This Holy Synod, gathered in the unity of faith with St. Peter's successor sticks to the teaching put forward by the Second Vatican Council (cf. G.S. 50) and later in the encyclical "Humanae Vitae..." (Familiaris Consortio.29). Fidelity and obedience to the teaching by the magisterium. seem to have become a moral value in itself.

At the international Congress of Moral Theologians in Rome (November 12, 1988),Pope John Paul 11 argued: The teaching of Humanae Vitae "has been written by God's creative hand itself into the nature of the human person and confirmed by God in revelation. In questioning this teaching, one refuses the obedience of intellect owed to God, preferring the light of human ratio to the light of divine wisdom, running into the darkness of error and finally attack the very foundations of christian faith." Does obedience to the teaching of Humanae Vitae become a touchstone of faith that binds us even in our most inner conscience? "The ecclesiastical magisterium has been instituted by Our Lord Christ, to enlighten the conscience; therefore, to appeal to one's conscience in order to contest the teaching of the magisterium, one denies the catholic teaching on the magisterium as well as on conscience.,'26 In the aftermath of the Pope's address to the moral theologians, there have been put forward anew several basic insights about the understanding ofreligious assent to the teaching in the Church.

First of all, the question on conscience. In conscience ‑ and only in conscience ‑ we experience the fundamental moral challenge: to do what one has known as good and to avoid what one has known as bad. According to St. Thomas, this principle is the basic rule of practical reason ("constitutum a ratione" 1.11, 94,1), equal to the principle of non‑contradiction that is the basic rule of theoretical reason. There is no morality "outside" of human conscience ‑ and at the same time, it is 'in conscience, that we encounter the Absolute.

In conscience one experiences the obligation to form moral decisions on the basis of reasons that are convincing and communicable. Reflecting on St. Thomas'teaching on conscience, L. Honnefelder remarks: "We only act according to our conscience, when we assent to a value by our moral reason ... Only acting the ' at springs from a will determined by reason is really free. Only acting‑that follows reasons is my deed and responsibility.,, 27 As in conscience we experience our moral obligation (do the good – avoid the bad) and we make our moral obligation the last resort of morality. This can never be substituted for. And while a particular decision can be mistaken, the basic obligation can never be called in doubt. This practical unity of both constitutes moral truth. Morally true means: acting according to the rational striving after the good that is obligated on us. Self‑determination according to reason that is obliged to good is the core of human dignity.

For believers in the Catholic Church, conscience can never be an individualistic conscience, without any relation to the Church and the teaching of the Church.28 This is because believing in Christ means precisely to live up to Christ, who is proclaimed in His Church. A christian conscience gets practical orientation from the teaching of the Church.

Second, there is no question about the necessity of moral norms. "We do need binding norms, because they make common responsibility possible, ensure reliability and give orientation for the decision of human conscience... Nobody among catholic moral theologians will put into question the objective value of moral  norms".29 Therefore there is also no question among moral theologians about communicability of moral reasoning and about objectivity of moral decisions.

But "moral norms don't drop from the skies. Norms are the results of reflected experiences and originate from a historical process of culture and revelation, with (the human being) as its responsible subject... Therefore, norms are valid and binding objectively, founded in objective goods and values, but norms are not valid unconditionally. Moral norms are binding generally under the usual conditions."30 For norms, as far as they are practicable norms, are variously mediated3l and it is the task of the moral conscience to concur to the norms and form its own decision according to good reasoning.

Third, there is no question about the task of the Church to put forward the basic principles of moral teaching and to give orientation, in more special questions of morality. This orientation springs equally from insight into the dignity of the human person and from practical perception in particular situations. Although moral teaching gets a new quality for the believer, because it is put forward by the Church, moral norms which "are binding under normal conditions" do not become absolutes (that is: binding under any possible condition), when put forward by the Church.

Likewise, there is no question about the special task of the Church's Magisterium:"In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent of soul." (L. G., 25) Nevertheless, we have to keep in mind that religious assent to the teaching of the magisterium can never be identified with our obedience to God. The pope and bishops speak "in the name of Christ" and in this, they are representing God ‑ but they are representing God in a human way.

In a sense, any human authority represents God's authority in a particular context (parents in the context of the family and even state‑authorities in the context of public good). The value of every authority is related to the aim and goal of the particular community concerned. The bishops "are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice." The teaching of the bishops should "make that faith clear and ... bear fruit" (L.G., 25). Without questioning the foundation of the Church's Magisterium and the Church's authority in putting forward moral norms, one may ask several questions about the effectiveness of the teaching ministry that confines itself to teaching norms.

1. The teaching of the Church always presupposes faith in the hearts of the faithful who are the audience of this teaching. The Church's teaching will be heard and understood only by those who want to believe and who in their faith want to be helped by this teaching. For everyone who wants to believe, there are a lot of questions on faith and morals that need clarification, but this clarification has to occur in freedom and not by enforcing norms and sentences. As a fundamental theologian, K.H. Neufeld asks whether the truth of the Christian faith can be safeguarded by the rules and sentences put forward by the magisterium. He remarks, "Instead of making truth understandable and loved, truth is presented as obligatory; instead of making people experience the convincing vigor of truth, its legal aspect is stressed in such a way, that the whole truth appears only as a law. There is no space left for man to breathe, and one can hardly believe, that through truth the human being will find his way to freedom. This mentality, in proclaiming salvation, which doesn't engage freedom but counts on enforcing laws and sentences, betrays the basic understanding of Christianity”32

On Neufeld's analysis, a moral theology has to add only: Christian life means acting in responsibility, according to one's conscience. Therefore, the main task of any christian teaching authority is to create room for freedom, so that everybody can get to grasp her or his own life, can understand the true meaning of christian hope, enjoy and love his or her ideals and by this, do the truth with all his or her heart.

2. Morality has always been the place of dialogue between christian faith and the autonomy of the world. "The Church ... goes forward together with humanity and experiences the same earthly lot as the world does. She serves as a leaven and as a kind of soul for human society as it is to be renewed in Christ and transformed into God's family" (G.S. 40). To get the process of communication (that transforms humankind into God's family) started should, therefore, be an outstanding task of the teaching Church in the area of morality, especially, when the Church "is firmly convinced that she can be abundantly and variously helped by the world in the matter of preparing the ground for the gospel. This help she gains from the talents and industry of individuals and from human society as a whole." (G.S. 40.)

Moral theology has to add only the following aspect. At present, the most urgent task of human morality is to reach the basic consensus and to initiate common efforts so that life may continue in a human way. In this, proposing norms with authority can only be the second or third step (after listening and analyzing together!) in a further search for common guidelines in a common practice. In short: there is no question about the formal authority of the Church's magisterium, but about the real moral authority of the Church in the moral process of finding practical ways for humanity.



  1. “Final Report of the Pontifical Commission on Population, Family and Birth (1964‑1966)", in R.B. Kaiser,The Encyclical that Never Was (London, 1987), pp. 16‑17.
  2. Cf. L. Kaufmann, “Ehe und Familie, Beiträge aus der Dritten Welt,” Orientierung 44 (1980), 233. Besides this, Kaufmann quotes also the Archbishop Gordon Anthony Pantin of Port of Spain (Trinidad) saying: “Back in my country, I could tell my congregation what they should not do ... but I could not tell them what they should do…”
  3. Cf. Humanae Vitae no, 12.
  4. Cf. Dives in Misericordia no. 11; Laborem Exercens no. 17.
  5. W. Kerber, Vor neuen Herausforderungen der Menschheit: Sozialenzyklika Centesimus annus Papst Johannes Paulus II (Freiburg, 1991), pp. 166‑167.
  6. Cf. A. McCormack "The Population Problem and the Synod on the Family," Clergy Review 65 (1980), 328‑338; also A. McCormack "Wie steht die Kirche zur Bevölkerungsexplosion? Eine Analysse aus Anlass der römischen Bischofssynode." Herder Kor, 34, 455‑462. The new report on world population (cf. Herder Kor. 44 (1990) 306 ff.) shows that the demographic situation has worsened and makes an active engagement even more urgent.
  7. Familiaris consortio no. 25 has stated that the problem of population growth presents itself quite differently in different parts of the world.
  8. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis no. 32.
  9. Cf. Centesimus Annus no. 60 – The Vatican has taken part in the United Nations International Conferences on Population in Bucharest (1974) and Mexico City (1984). The Vatican Delegation did not join the consensus in Bucharest and did not sign the recommendations for the further implementation of the World Population Plan of Action as well as The Declaration of Mexico City, on Population and Development, mainly because of the moral implications of these documents (especially concerning the right of parents, the use of contraceptives and abortion), cf. "A Report of the Vatican Delegation on theUnited Nations International Conference on Population, Mexico City, 644, August 1984,17: Vidyajyoti 44(1985) 413-417). Robert Whelan, the, Director of the Committee on Population and the Economy (UK) reports on the audience, Pope John Paul II gave to Rafael Salas, the Executive Director of the UN Population Fund. “He (Salas) had apparently expected a talk, man to man, on the nature of his of his work. Instead of this he had sit still while the Pope read him a prepared statement which attacked everything he and his organization were engaging in ... Whatever thoughts Mr.Salas may have had, as he listened to this, he was not given the opportunity to express them to the Pope," Whelan, R., “Population and the People of God. The relationship between the
  10. Catholic Church and the population control movement, Priests and People (1991) 17.
  11. R. Hünermann "Droht eine dritte Modernismuskrise? Ein offener Brief von Peter Hünermann an den Vorsitzenden der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz" Herder Kor, 43, (1989) 133.
  12. All papal documents mention the population problem as basically social (cf. Familiaris Consortio no. 31; Sollicitudo Rei Sacialis no. 25), although these documents are evaluating the social problem with individual‑ethnic‑norms.
  13. J. Müller, "Die Zukunft der Weltbevoelkerung. Sozialethische Überlegungen zür Bevölkerungspolitik,"StdZ 109 (1984), 507‑520;  "A historical analysis of population growth shows that there are no such natural laws of population development but only developments that are historically and socially conditioned. Therefore, a conscious and active policy and planning of population seem necessary."
  14. J. Mahoney, The Making of Moral Theology: A Study of the Roman Catholic Tradition, (Oxford, 1987), 1.
  15. Especially through the textbooks of moral theology composed and used at the Roman College and later on through the influence of "the most prestigious of all moral theologians, Alfonso of Ligouri"!
  16. TRendtorf, "Theologische Problemfelder der Christlichen Ethik," dim. Hertz, A. a.o. (ed), Handbuch der christlichen Ethik, 1 (Freiburg, 1978), 214.
  17. E.g. J. Habermas' critique of the concept of autonomy.
  18. K. Wojtyla, Die Menkhliche Person im Kontext der ehelichen Hingabe und Elternschaft,” in:  J. Piegsa,‑H. Zeimentz –(ed) Person im Kontext des Sittlichen: Beiträge zur Moraltheologie, (Düsseldorf 1979) 168. Cf Familiaris Consortio No. 32. ‑ Piegsa shows that this coherence in thinking betweep Kardinal Wojtyla and Humanae Vitae is not  completely by chance because Cardinal Wojtyla had adecisive influence  on the formulation of the encyclical )cf  (Piegsa,J Humanae Viate und die Königsteiner Erklärung, Theologie und Glaube 72 (1982) 19-20.
  19. F. Böckle, "Hurnanae Vitae als Prüfstein des wahren Glaubens," Stimmen der Zeit (115(1990), 5‑6.
  20. K. Demmer, "Das Bioethische Gespräch: Themen- Tendenzen – Fragen,¨in Eid, V.A. Elsässser, G. Hunold (ed), Moraltheologisches Jahrbuch 1, Mainz, 1989, 151-168.
  21. Ibid, 167.
  22. Cf. S. Daecke, "Gott in der Natur? Kontroversen im Dialog zwischen Theologie undNatur wissenchaften,"Evang. Kommentare 20 (1987), 624‑626.
  23. M. J. Schuck, That They Be One: The Social Teaching of the Papal Encyclicals 1740‑1989.(Washington, 1991).
  24. K. Demmer, a.c. 167f.
  25. Familiaris Consortio no. 28 calls the parents "co‑workers'with the loving God and Creator", but it seems, that the actual understanding of this concept by the Roman documents needs further clarification. In a conference at a Seminar, organized by The Catholic University of Milano and the Lateran University, Pope John Paul II (Sept. 18, 1983) explained this cooperation: 'If... by contraception the exercise of conjugal right is deprived of its potential fertility, the parents claim God's own prerogative: the power to decide on coming into being of a human person." Commenting on the Pope's explanation, D. Seeber remarks: "The crucial question in any further discussion will be the concept of man and God, that comes forth from the Pope's explanation. In this concept, man appears less as co‑worker in the creating power, given by the Creator, but more as a guided coerced agent of an abstract divine law, far from the reality of life. And even God presents Himself as rigid, so that in the framework of this concept one can hardly understand God's incarnational acting in salvation‑history through man and one can even hardly explain Saint Thomas Aquinas teaching on secondary causes." D. Seeber, "Personalismus: der Papst und “Humanae Vitae", Herder Kor 37 (1983), 494.
  26. Cf, for instance, recently D. Mieth, Geburtenregelung: Ein Konflikt in der Katholischen Kirche (Mainz, 1990), 27‑63.
  27. Translated from the German text "Die Papstansprache an die Teilnehmer des Moral‑theologenkongresses vom 12 November 1988” in Herder Kor 43 (1989), 125‑127.
  28. L. Honnefelder, "Gewissen und personale identität," in: Gewissensbildung heute, hrsg. v. Arbeitskreis kath. Schulen in freier Trägerschaft in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Materialien 7, Bonn 1988, 33.
  29. Cf. G. D. Coleman, "Marriage: The vision of Humanae Vitae", Thought 58 (1983), 32; A. Winter,"Autorität gegen Argumente? Zwanzig Jahre nach "Humanae Vitae", Communio IKZ 17 (1988), 367‑373.
  30. F. Böckle, "Humanae Vitae als Prüfstein des wahren Glaubens," StdZ 115 (1990)13.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Cf H. Krings, "Norm und Praxis: Zum Problem der Vermittlung moralischer Gebote," Herder Kor. 45 (1991), 228‑233.
  33. K. H. Neufeld, "Lässt sich Glaubenswahrheit absichern? Die begrenzte Aufgabe des kirchlichenLehramts", Herder Kor 45 (1991), 186. John Mahoney has shown how magisterium (leadership in faith!) gradually became the teaching office in the Church, fairly parallel to the developing of a more and more conceptualistic understanding of faith. Especially "teaching them to do all I told you" became more and more "teaching norms" and not "making people act according to Jesus' teaching.” Cf. J. Mahoney, The Making of Moral Theology; A Study of the Roman Catholic Tradition (Oxford, 1987), 116‑120.