Moral Issues



Norman W. Lower

Quebec (Quebec)

A.D. November 2003


The Church will not be renewed without the renewal of family life.  And the family cannot be renewed  without a return to the truth taught in Humanae vitae.  Ignoring this issue cannot be an option.  In the long run the cost is too high.  Therefore we should make every effort to better understand the importance of Church teaching in this regard, and witness to it boldly and with confidence.


            - Archbishop Charles Chaput, Denver, Colorado; pastoral letter, July 22, 1998.


Objective of this essay

In this essay I express my numerous misgivings concerning paragraph 26 of the Canadian bishop's "Winnipeg Statement" published September 27th, 1968, which was a response to the encyclical letter Humanae vitae by Pope Paul VI.


I am a 69-year-old unmarried layman and retired teacher from an Ontario community college.  I am a convert from Protestantism (United Church of Canada) to Catholicism:  on August 15th, 1959 - the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary - I was received into the Catholic Church by the late Fr. Yves Guerin at St. Joseph's Church in Kentville, Nova Scotia.


Humanae Vitae

On July 25th, 1968, Pope Paul VI signed his encyclical letter Humanae vitae, the great charter of life and love.

As soon as the encyclical was published there arose within some quarters of the Catholic Church - among both clergy and laity - an explosion of dissent against the teaching of the encyclical, a rebellion which persists to this day.  This prompted me as a faithful Catholic to study in depth the Church's teaching on artificial contraception, not to determine if the teaching is correct but to understand more fully why it is correct. There is plenty of evidence now available to confirm the fact that a root cause of the modern-day moral chaos is contraception.  Humanae vitae is indeed a prophetic document.


The Winnipeg Statement

On September 27th, 1968 - two months after the publication of Humanae vitae - the Canadian Bishops published in Winnipeg, Manitoba, a commentary of that encyclical entitled Canadian Bishops' Statement on the Encyclical Humanae vitae.  It has come to be known as the Winnipeg Statement.  It contains a controversial paragraph, n.26:


            Counselors may meet others who, accepting the teaching of the Holy Father, find that, because of particular circumstances they are involved in, what seems to them a clear conflict of duties, e.g., the reconciling of conjugal love and responsible parenthood with the education of children already born or with the health of the mother.  In accord with the accepted principles of moral theology, if these persons have tried sincerely but without success to pursue a line of conduct in keeping with the given directives, they may be safely assured that, whoever honestly chooses that course which seems right to him, does so in good conscience.


I am unable be reconcile paragraph 26 of the Winnipeg Statement with the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church.  I shall explain why but first I wish to point out two important truths:  a) contraception is intrinsically evil, and   b) the teaching of Humanae vitae is set forth infallibly.



a)      Contraception is intrinsically evil


            The Magisterium affirms that all forms of artificial birth regulation, including direct sterilization, are intrinsically illicit:


         Our mouth  proclaims anew:  any user whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with guilt of a grave sin.(1)


         "(E)very action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible" is intrinsically evil.(2)


         Consequently it is an error to think that a conjugal act which is deliberately made infertile and so is intrinsically wrong could be made right by a fertile conjugal life considered  as a whole.(3)


         The Church is consistent when she considers recourse to the infertile times to be permissible, while condemning as being always wrong the use of means directly contrary to fertilization, even if such use is inspired by reasons that can appear upright and serious.(4)


            It is clear that the ban on artificial contraception is a divine ban.  The prohibition against contraception is a moral absolute.



b)      Infallible teaching


            The doctrine of the Catholic  Church on artificial contraception has never been taught with an act which is defining whereby "a truth is solemnly defined by an ex cathedra  pronouncement by the Roman pontiff or by the action of an ecumenical council."(5)  This is also the case for the vast majority of the Church's teachings in moral matters.  Does this mean, then, that a doctrine (on faith or morals) that is not taught solemnly with a defining act is not taught infallibly?  Not at all.  The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith affirms:


In the case of a non-defining act, a doctrine is taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium of the bishops dispersed throughout the world who are in communion with the successor of Peter..... Consequently, when there has not been a judgment on a doctrine in the solemn form of a definition, but this doctrine, belonging to the inheritance of the depositum fidei (the deposit of faith), is taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, which necessarily includes the pope, such a doctrine is to be understood as having been set forth infallibly.(6)



(1)     Pope Pius XI, encyclical Casti connubii, 1930, n.56.

(2)        Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994, n.2370, quotation from Pope Paul VI, Humanae vitae, no.14.

(3)        Humanae vitae, n.14.

(4)        Ibid., n.16.

(5)        Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Commentary on Profession of Faith's Concluding     paragraphs, June 29, 1998, n.9, emphasis in the original.

(6)        Ibid., n.9, emphasis in the original.



            Because the teaching of the church on contraception fully meets the above criteria, it is taught infallibly.  This, of course, includes Humanae vitae which bans all forms of artificial birth regulation.  "Furthermore, Christ instituted His Church as 'the pillar and bulwark of truth' (1 Tm. 3:15).  With the Holy Spirit's assistance, she ceaselessly preserves and transmits without error the truths of the moral order ...". (7)  (See Appendix I.)


            I shall now discuss in the following 24 items the reasons why I am unable to reconcile paragraph 26 of the Winnipeg Statement with the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church.




 1)        No legitimate exceptions


            The Church teaches that contraception is an intrinsic evil.  The ban on artificial contraception is a divine ban.  Pope John Paul II affirms:  "When it is a matter of moral norms prohibiting intrinsic evil, there are no privileges or deceptions for anyone." (8)


            The Pope affirms further:  "Contraception is to be judged objectively so profoundly unlawful, as never to be, for any reason justified.  To think or say the contrary is equal to maintaining that in human life, situations may arise in which it is lawful not to recognize God as God." (9)


            Thus, by allowing exceptions to the absolute prohibition of contraception paragraph 26 of the Winnipeg Statement is in contradiction to the Pope's teaching.


            One bishop, Most Rev. Glennon P. Flavin (retired, Lincoln, Nebraska), has courageously affirmed in a pastoral letter that "because artificial contraception is intrinsically evil, it may never be practiced for any reason, no matter how good and urgent." (10)



2)         Circumstances and intrinsic evil


            John Paul II affirms:  "No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church." (11)


            By allowing exceptions to the divine ban on contraception "because of particular circumstances they are involved in," paragraph 26 of the Winnipeg Statement is in contradiction to the Pope's teaching.


            The Pope teaches further:  "Once the moral species of an action prohibited by a universal rule is correctly recognized, the only morally good act is that of obeying the moral law and of refraining from the action which it forbids."(12)


(7)        Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, declaration Persona humana, December 29, 1975, n.4.

(8)        Encyclical letter The Splendor of Truth Veritatis splendor, 1993. n.96.

(9)        L'Osservatore Romano, Oct. 10th, 1983.

(10)      A Pastoral Letter to Catholic Couples and Physicians on the issue of Artificial Contraception, Oct.         11/91.

(11)      Encyclical letter The Gospel of Life Evangelium vitae, 1995, n. 62.

(12)      Veritatis splendor, n.67.



3)   "Subjective defense"


            Pope John Paul II affirms:  "Consequently, circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act 'subjectively' good or defensible as a choice." (13)


            Again, by allowing exceptions to the divine ban on contraception by means of a subjective defense of the use of contraception - "because of particular circumstances...whoever honestly chooses that course which seems right to him does so in good conscience" - paragraph 26 of the Winnipeg Statement is in contradiction to the Pope's teaching.


            Subjective criteria can not make what is illicit licit.  "But as she justified her actions," writes novelist Linda Nichols, "she could hear her mama's voice, gentle but stern, cautioning even from the grave that there was no right way to do a wrong thing" (Not a Sparrow Falls, 2002).


            Indeed, how far can one go with the idea of "subjective defense"?  Can the intrinsically illicit acts of adultery, abortion, homosexual activity, etc. be subjectively defended "because of particular circumstances" or intentions and then be practiced "in good conscience"?  Furthermore, what are the "accepted principles of moral theology" (paragraph 26) that allow a subjective defense of committing an objectively immoral action "in good conscience"?  One can begin to see the dire consequences of making exceptions to divine law.  In short, paragraph 26 advocates moral relativism and situational ethics.  The phrase "Whoever honestly chooses that course which seems right to him does so in good conscience" is an attack on objective morality.



4)   Pope John Paul II and dissent


            "Opposition to the teaching of the Church's Pastors cannot be seen as a legitimate expression either of Christian freedom or of the diversity of the Spirit's gifts."(14)


            In 1987 in his address to the bishops of the United States gathered in Los Angeles, the Pope very pointedly declared:  "It has also been noted that there is a tendency on the part of some Catholics to be selective in their adherence to the Church's moral teachings.  It is sometimes claimed that dissent from the Magisterium is totally compatible with being a 'good Catholic' and poses no obstacle to the reception of the Sacraments.  This is a grave error...."(15)


            By opening the door to "dissent from the Magisterium", paragraph 26 of the Winnipeg Statement is in conflict with the Pope's teaching.



5)   A self-contradiction


            Is paragraph 26 itself an oxymoron?  How can a believing Catholic, "accepting the teaching of the Holy Father," do an about-face and practice "in good conscience" that which the Holy Father condemns as being intrinsically evil?


(12)      Veritatis splendor, n.67.

(13)      Ibid., n.81.

(14)      Ibid., n.113.

(15)      Quoted in Bishop Glennon Flavin, A Pastoral Letter to Catholic Couples and Physicians on the issue of Artificial Contraception, October 11, 1991.





6)         A second self-contradiction  


            At the Plenary Assembly of Canadian Bishops on April 18, 1969, the bishops issued a Statement on Family Life and Related Matters.  They affirmed:  "The Catholic knows that he may not dissent from infallible teaching.  In the presence of such teaching he can only seek to understand, to appreciate, to deepen his insights."  Because the teaching of Humanae vitae is set forth infallibly, the bishops' April 18 Statement renders paragraph 26 of the Winnipeg Statement null and void.  Need anything more be said?



7)         A third self-contradiction


            In 1973 the Canadian bishops published an excellent document entitled Statement on the Formation of Conscience.  They clearly affirm:


A believer has the absolute obligation of conforming his conduct first and foremost to what the Church teaches...(n.39).


"To follow one's conscience" and to remain a Catholic, one must take into account first and foremost the teaching of the Magisterium.  When doubt arises due to a conflict of "my" views and those of the Magisterium, the presumption of truth lies on the part of the Magisterium (n.41).


            By allowing exceptions to the divine ban on contraception because of "my" views, paragraph 26 of the Winnipeg Statement is in conflict with the above statements.



8)         Use of evil means


            Pope Paul VI teaches that "it is not permissible, not even for the gravest reasons, to do evil so that good may follow therefrom (cf. Rm 3:8).  One may not, in other words, make into the object of a positive act of the will something that is intrinsically disordered and hence unworthy of the human person, even when the intention is to safeguard or promote individual, family or social goods."(16)


            By allowing the practice of "something that is intrinsically disordered" - contraception - paragraph 26 of the Winnipeg Statement is in conflict with the teaching of Scripture and Pope Paul VI.



9)         Weakening moral truth


            Concerning the Winnipeg Statement Alexander Carter, President of the Canadian Bishops' Conference in 1968, said:  "It was something of an identity crisis.  For the first time we faced the necessity of making a statement which many felt could not be a simple Amen, a total and formal endorsement of the doctrine of the encyclical.  We had to reckon with the fact of widespread dissent from some points of his (the Pope's) teaching among the Catholic faithful, priests, theologians, and probably certain of our own number."(17)



(16)      Humanae vitae, n.14.

(17)      America, October 19, 1968, p.349.



            Bishop Carter's comment is an admission that in the Winnipeg Statement the moral truth of Humanae vitae has been compromised and weakened.  To do so is in contradiction to the teaching of John Paul II:  "In fact, genuine understanding and compassion must mean love for the person, for his authentic freedom.  And this does not result, certainly, from concealing or weakening moral truth, but rather from proposing it in its most profound meaning as an outpouring of God's eternal Wisdom, which we have received in Christ, and as a service to man, to the growth of his freedom and to the attainment of his happiness."(18)  Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap.  (Denver, Colorado), has said that those who teach and preach in the name of the Church must do so fully, zealously, and persuasively, and not edit the Church's teaching to please the audience.  It is true, as paragraph 23 of the Winnipeg Statement says, that Christ Our Lord was intransigent with evil, but merciful towards individuals.  Mercy and compassion, however, do not presuppose a weakening of moral truth as affirmed by John Paul II above.

            Furthermore, to yield to the forces of "widespread dissent from some points of his (the Pope's) teaching among the Catholic faithful, priests, theologians, and probably certain of our own number" is in opposition to the directives of the Apostle Paul:  "I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power:  proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching" (2 Tim 4:1-2).  And the Pope affirms further that "the Church's Pastors have the duty to act in conformity with their apostolic mission, insisting that the right of the faithful to receive Catholic doctrine in its purity and integrity must always be respected." (19)


10)       Pastoral application


            In their 18 April 1969 statement on family life the bishops referred to the Winnipeg Statement as "our pastoral application of the encyclical Humanae Vitae."  Right pastoral application must always be in harmony with the truth.  Does paragraph 26 meet this criterion?  Seemingly not:  26 opens the door to yet another serious sin - the sin of sacrilege.  Bishop Glennon Flavin (quoted earlier) affirms:  "It should be obvious that Catholics who practice artificial birth control and those who cooperate with them in their immoral actions may not receive Holy Communion without committing sacrilege."(20)


11)       Contraception and abortion


            Paragraph 26 makes no distinction between abortifacient and non-abortifacient contraceptives.  When the former are used, the evil of contraception can be compounded by the evil of abortion.  "Throughout the world, an estimated 250 million abortions are caused by the IUD and pill each year."(21)

            When the Winnipeg Statement was written in 1968, the contraceptive mentality in the West was quickly picking up steam and so was the abortion mentality.  The disastrous Roe vs Wade ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court - legalizing abortion on demand - appeared five years later in 1973.  The link between contraception and abortion has, since 1968, been undisputedly established, that "the contraceptive mentality is not the cure, but the cause of the abortion mentality."(22)  Fr. Paul Marx of Human Life International has noted that in the very many countries he has visited, without exception once the contraceptive mentality has been established, pro-abortion legislation follows on its heels.  (See John Paul II, encyclical Evangelium vitae, n.13.)


(18)      Veritatis splendor, no.95.

(19)      Ibid., n.113, emphasis in the original

(20)      A Pastoral Letter to Catholic Couples and Physicians on the issue of Artificial Contraception, October   11, 1991.

(21)      Faith and Facts, Emmaus Road Publishing, 1999, p.114.

(22)      Donald Demarco, The Contraceptive Mentality, Life Ethics Centre, 1982, p.9.  In 1982 Dr. DeMarco was Professor of Philosophy at the University of St. Jerome's College, Waterloo, Ontario


By permitting exceptions to the divine ban on contraception paragraph 26 of the Winnipeg Statement is contributing to the anti-life mentality.


12)       Disobedience


            Paragraph 26 fosters disobedience to papal teaching.  Vatican II teaches:  "This loyal submission of the will and intellect must be given, in a special way, to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak ex cathedra in such wise, indeed, that his supreme teaching authority be acknowledged with respect, and that one sincerely adhere to decisions made by him...".(23)


13)       Vatican II and papal directives to bishops


            Vatican II affirms:  "For the bishops and heralds of the faith...are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach the faith to the people assigned to them, the faith which is destined to inform their thinking and direct their conduct...and with watchfulness they ward off whatever errors threaten their flock (cf. 2 Tim 4:14.)."(24)


            I commend our Canadian bishops in being faithful to this mandate.  It is most unfortunate that paragraph 26 of the Winnipeg Statement, in allowing an exception to the divine ban on contraception, is in contradiction to:  "with watchfulness they ward off whatever errors threaten their flock."


            Pope John Paul II teaches:  "As Bishops, we have the grave obligation to be personally vigilant that the 'sound doctrine' (1 Tim 1:10) of faith and morals is taught in our Dioceses."(25)


14)       "Proper interpretation"


            In their 18 April 1969 Statement on Family Life and Related Matters, the Canadian bishops said:  "Nothing could be gained and much lost by any attempt to rephrase our Winnipeg Statement.  We stand squarely behind that position but we feel it our duty to insist on a proper interpretation on the same."


            What, then, is the "proper interpretation", particularly of paragraph 26?  To my knowledge it has never been supplied by the bishops ("Nothing could be rephrase our Winnipeg Statement").  If words mean what they say, paragraph 26 cannot be reconciled with the Church's teaching on conscience.


15)       Greatest evil in the Church


            In 1992 at a St. Louis, Missouri, conference sponsored by Human Life International on Humanae vitae (the writer of this essay was present), keynote speaker Most Rev. Glennon Flavin (quoted earlier) said that the gravest evil in the Catholic Church today is contraception and that the only way this evil can be rooted out is through prayer and fasting.  Fr. Alphonse de Valk, c.s.b., editor of Catholic Insight (Toronto), writes:  "Fr. John Hardon, S.J., the well-known theologian in the United States, in a talk just before his recent death, said that the greatest evil in the Church today is contraception and its effect, the general dissent in the Church."(26)




(23)      Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen gentium, n.25.

(24)      Ibid. n.25.

(25)      Veritatis splendor, n.116, emphasis in the original.

(26)      Catholic Insight, October 2001, p.18.


            Statistical evidence points to the alarming fact the Canadian Catholics are contracepting at about the same rate as non-Catholics.  Ralph Martin, noted American Catholic evangelist, supplies these disturbing facts:

            In 1963 only 18 percent of U.S. Catholics disagreed with the Church's teaching on contraception.  In 1987,  70 percent disagreed with this teaching.(27)


            In conjunction with the Pope's visit to Denver for the World Youth Day in 1993, more polls were done....87 percent now disagreed with the Church's teaching on family planning.(28)


            Among Catholics in Canada the decline in faith and morality is also quite clear and quite far advanced...Almost 91 percent approve of artificial birth control ....(29)


            This situation is a major impediment to the Church's mission to evangelize.  The effort to restore Catholic truth in Canada is crippled by the barrier of the Winnipeg Statement.  In October of 1987, Archbishop Carney of Vancouver courageously said:  "We will not have deep renewal in the Church until the faithful accept the Church's teaching that artificial contraception is seriously immoral and form their consciences according to that norm."(30)  This renewal necessarily include a recall by the Canadian bishops of the Winnipeg Statement.


            Sadly there continues to exist a virtual "silence from the pulpit" on the issue of contraception and the promotion of natural family planning.  Pro-life activist Father Ted Colleton, C.S.Sp. (Toronto) wrote in 1994:  "I wonder if it might be said with truth that the evil of contraception has flourished in the Church because good priests have said nothing."(31)  And Fr. Matthew Habiger of Human Life International has said that good priests will follow good bishops.


16)       What is the binding force of the Winnipeg Statement?


            "None," writes Msgr. Vincent Foy.  "National hierarchies cannot constitute a parallel Magisterium anymore than can theologians.  The Winnipeg Statement was therefore not a magisterial one.  Nor is the Statement a collegial act, for collegiality supposes unity with the Holy Father.  By withholding assent to the doctrine of the encyclical, the bishops lost the right to be heard (cf. Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, par.22)."(32)


17)       Veritatis splendor


            Pope John Paul II addressed his 1993 encyclical letter Veritatis splendor to his brother bishops.  He stated his purpose in writing the encyclical:



(27)      Ralph Martin, The Catholic Church at the End of an Age (Ignatius Press, 1994), p.36. Source of statistics:  Time, 7 September 1987.

(28)      Ibid., p.36. Source of statistics:  USA Today, 10 August 1993.

(29)      Ibid., pp.39-40. Source of statistics: MacLeans, 12 April 1993.

(30)      Quoted in Msgr. Vincent N. Foy, "Tragedy at Winnipeg," Challenge (Winnipeg, October 1988). Note: Msgr. Foy in Toronto writes extensively about the Winnipeg Statement and its negative impact within the Catholic Church.

(31)      Quoted in the "Forward" to Msgr. Vincent Foy, From Humanae vitae to Veritatis splendor (Vanier, Ontario:  St. Joseph's Workers for Life and Family).

(32)      Msgr. Foy, "Tragedy at Winnipeg."



            In fact, a new situation has come about within the Christian community itself, which has experienced the spread of numerous doubts and objections of a human and psychological, social and cultural, religious and even properly theological nature, with regard to the Church's moral teachings.  It is no longer a matter of limited and occasional dissent, but of limited and occasional dissent, but of an overall and systematic calling into question of traditional moral doctrine, on the basis of certain anthropological and ethical presuppositions.  At the root of these presuppositions is the more or less obvious influence of currents of thought which end by detaching human freedom from its essential and constitutive relationship to truth.  Thus the traditional doctrine regarding the natural law, and the universality and the permanent validity of its precepts, is rejected; certain of the Church's moral teachings are found simply unacceptable; and the Magisterium itself is considered capable of intervening in matters of morality only in order to "exhort consciences" and to "propose values", in the light of which each individual will independently make his or her decisions and life choices (n.4).


            It appears to the writer of this essay that the above statements by the Pope can be applied to paragraph 26 of the Winnipeg Statement as well as to the statement made by Bishop Alexander Carter in 1968 (quoted earlier):  "We faced the necessity of making a Statement which many felt could not be a simple Amen, a total and formal endorsement of the doctrine of the encyclical."


            The Church consists of a divine element and a human element.  The latter can be a stumbling block to the truth at the local level in the Church.  An essential condition for the faithful to be "obliged to submit to their bishop's matters of faith and morals"  (Lumen gentium, n.25) is that "bishops...teach in communion with the Roman Pontiff" (ibid.).  It can and does happen that because of the human element at work in the Church, national hierarchies of bishops get themselves "into hot water" over certain issues should their decisions be at odds with papal teaching and/or papal directives.  I believe this is what has happened in the case of the Winnipeg Statement.  Msgr. Vincent Foy writes:  "To bishops, Pope Paul VI said in Humanae vitae:  'consider this mission as one of your most urgent responsibilities at the present time' (n.30).  As we know, Catholic bishops chiefly responsible for teaching Humanae vitae have been the primary factors in its rejection.  Following dissenting theologians the teaching of the encyclical as to virtually destroy it.  Among the worst offenders were the Canadian bishops by the Winnipeg Statement of September 1968.  As night follows the day, Canadian Catholics now live in the dark Culture of Death."(33)


            John Paul II urges:  "I address myself to you, Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate, who share with me the responsibility of safeguarding 'sound teaching' (2 Tim. 4:3), with the intention of clearly setting forth certain aspects of doctrine which are of crucial importance in facing what is certainly a genuine crisis, since the difficulties which it engenders have most serious implications for the moral life of the faithful and for communion in the Church, as well as for a just and fraternal social life."(34)


18)       A cardinal's misgivings


            The late Cardinal Emmett Carter (Toronto), a principal author of paragraph 26 of the Winnipeg Statement, eventually had misgivings:  "I am not prepared to defend paragraph 26 totally.  In a sense, the phraseology was misleading and could give the impression that the bishops were saying that one was free to dissent at will from the Pope's teaching."(35)  Indeed, one may well ask:  How many of the Catholic faithful have, and are, interpreting paragraph 26 as being "free to dissent at will from the Pope's teaching" because of "circumstances they are involved in"?



(33)      Msgr. Foy, "Contraception and abortion:  the Nineveh solution, "Catholic Insight, Oct. 2001, p.21.

(34)      Veritatis splendor, n.5, emphasis in the original

(35)      From a private letter dated June 15, 1995, quoted in Catholic Insight, Oct. 2003, p.25.


19)       Philippine and Austrian bishops


            In a 1990 pastoral letter, the bishops of the Philippines apologized for their failure to promote the Church's teaching on artificial contraception and to promote natural family planning:  "Afflicted with doubts about alternatives to contraceptive technology, we abandoned you to your confused and lonely consciences with a lame excuse:  'follow what your conscience tells you.'  How little we realized that it was our consciences that needed to be formed first.(37)


            Is this not precisely what paragraph 26 of the Winnipeg Statement is doing:  abandoning Canadian Catholics to their "confused and lonely  consciences"?


            The Austrian bishops, recognizing the negative consequences of their 1968 Statement on Humanae vitae, announced its withdrawal of March 29th of 1988.


20)       "Cannot Fly"


            The Winnipeg Statement was written a long time ago - 35 years.  At that time there undoubtedly wasn't available the detailed  knowledge we have now concerning the disastrous moral and social consequences of contraception:  that abortion is a direct consequence of the contraceptive mentality, that contraception can be abortifacient, that contraception is a serious stumbling block to the stability of a marriage because it erodes mutual love and respect, that it is a major contributing factor in the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, etc.  Pope Paul VI warned in Humanae vitae (no.17) about the serious consequences of the methods of artificial birth regulation, and what he warned about has come to pass.


            In the light of present knowledge and particularly in the light of recent papal teaching - notably Veritatis splendor - the writer of this essay is convinced  that paragraph 26 of the Winnipeg Statement simply "cannot fly".  It is in serious contradiction with the authentic Church teaching.  Msgr. Vincent Fly has written extensively about the negative effects of the Winnipeg Statement within the Catholic Church:  the corruption of many texts and marriage preparation courses, the increase in the tolerance for dissent, erroneous confessional directives, a corrosion of the respect for the Canadian bishops, that the widespread practice of contraception among Catholics leads to suicidal birth rates that leave the Church without adequate vocations to the priesthood and religious life, etc.  Fr. Alphonse de Valk (quoted earlier) writes:  "At 87 years of age, Msgr. Vincent Foy of Toronto continues to drive home that, where principles of faith are concerned, time alone does not bring healing.  The error itself must be eradicated."(38)


21)       "Guilty silence"?


            If it is indeed true that paragraph 26 of the Winnipeg Statement is in serious contradiction with authentic Church teaching, and if the Canadian bishops take no corrective action, what then?  Could the stern warning of Pope Pius XI in Casti connubii (1930) find application here?  Concerning the matter of contraception he taught (n.57):


            We admonish, therefore, priests who hear confessions and others who have the care of souls, in virtue of Our supreme authority and in Our solicitude for the salvation of souls, not to allow the faithful entrusted to them to err regarding this most grave law of God; much more, that they keep themselves



(37)      Quoted in Janet E. Smith, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, February 1996, p.71.

(38)      Catholic Insight, October 2003, p.20.



            immune from such false opinions, in no way conniving in them.  If any confessor or pastor of souls, which may God forbid, lead the faithful entrusted to him into these errors or should at least confirm them by approval or by guilty silence, let him be mindful of the fact that he must render a strict account to God, the Supreme Judge, for the betrayal of his sacred trust, and let him take to himself the words of Christ:  "They are blind and leaders of the blind:  and if the blind lead the blind, both fall into the pit" (Mt 15:14).


            Does not paragraph 26 of the Winnipeg Statement "allow the faithful err regarding this most grave law of God"?



22)       Disappointing response


            In 1993, the 25th anniversary of the publication of Humanae vitae, the writer of this essay wrote to every bishop (active and retired) listed in the 1993 calendar of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.  I spoke about the evil of contraception of the Catholic Church and encouraged the bishops to speak out against contraception and to actively promote natural family planning.  The response was most disappointing.  Only 17 per cent of all the bishops I wrote to acknowledged my letter and of these answers some were non-committal.


            How else can I perceive this poor response but as a malaise among the Canadian bishops concerning the issue of contraception?


            By way of interest I have attached a copy of a very touching reply I received in 1994 from the late Archbishop Joseph Wilhelm of Kingston.



23)       Lack of incentive for Catholics to defend the truth


            The following is from a submission (concerning same-sex union legislation) made in July, 2003, by Brian Moccia, President of the Precious Blood & Life Apostolate (Toronto) to Tom Reilly, General Secretary for the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops:


            Precious Blood & Life Apostolate maintains that contraception is the worm in the Catholic apple.  We're also convinced that...if most Catholics are defying their Church's clear and unambiguous teaching on the evils of contraception, then they won't step forward at crucial times such as this current outright attack on the traditional family and the very definition of marriage.  Why?  Perhaps it's because they intuitively sense...that they are immersed in the culture of death themselves...


            It is PBL's position that if contraception is morally permissible, if it is permissible to engage in sexual activity deprived of procreative meaning, there is little ground for condemning other forms of sexual activity.


            PBL's position is seemingly sound.  If contraception can be morally permissible "because of particular circumstances they are involved in," then paragraph 26 of the Winnipeg Statement is feeding into the problematical situation described by Mr. Moccia.

24)       Rejection of the sufficiency of grace


            The statements  in paragraph 26:  "because of particular circumstances they are involved in" and "if these persons have tried sincerely but without success to pursue in line of conduct in keeping with the given directives" are in contradiction to the Church's constant teaching about the sufficiency of God's grace.  The encyclical Humanae vitae spells out the means of grace in Section III.  And concerning this matter paragraph 26 is in opposition to what John Paul II affirms in Veritatis splendor:


            Keeping God's law in particular situations can be difficult, extremely difficult, but it is never impossible (no.102)....Such understanding (of human weakness) never means compromising and falsifying the standard of good and evil in order to adapt it to particular circumstances.  It is quite human for the sinner to acknowledge his weakness and to ask mercy for his failings; what is unacceptable is the attitude of one who makes his own weakness the criterion of the truth about the good, so that he can feel self-justified, without even the need to have recourse to Goo and his mercy (n.104).


            Paragraph 26 refers to the teaching of Humanae vitae as "directives."  They are not mere directives but divine natural law which, being a universal norm, it possible of observance by everyone through God's grace.




To sum up:  an appeal to the Canadian bishops


            The bishops are to be highly commended for their 30 June 2003 statement - through the Canadian Organization for Life and Family - that clearly endorses Humanae vitae.


            I respectively appeal to the Canadian bishops, as shepherds of the faithful and guardians of the truth, to:


            - Recall the Winnipeg Statement because its continued presence - particularly paragraph 26 - can only be sword of Damocles undermining the bishops' 30 June 2003 statement and future efforts of renewal in the Church.


            - Patiently but firmly oppose the voices of dissent against Humanae vitae (cf. Rm 16:17-18) and actively proclaim the truth of the encyclical.  (I suggest that unconditional acceptance of Humanae vitae is a valid litmus test for identifying the orthodoxy of Catholic theologians and for hiring professors in seminaries.)


            - Promote natural family planning according to the teaching and instructions of John Paul II:


(I)t is part of the Church's pedagogy that husbands and wives should first of all recognize clearly the teaching of Humanae Vitae as indicating the norm for the exercise of their sexuality, and that they should endeavour to establish the conditions necessary for observing that norm.(39)


            With regard to the question of lawful birth regulation, the ecclesial community at the present time must take on the task of instilling conviction and offering practical help to those who wish to live out their parenthood in a truly responsible way.(40)



(39)      The Christian Family in the Modern  World Familiaris consortio, 22 November 1981, n.34.

(40)      Ibid. n.35.


            I concur with Msgr. Vincent Foy:  "We ought to pray for our bishops, by divine providence successors to the Apostles and guardians and transmitters of the Truth of Christ.  The great majority of living Canadian bishops had nothing to do with the Winnipeg Statement.  May God strengthen them to reject it.  Catholics justly beg that the Truth of Humanae vitae be taught in Canada, because it must be taught and known and loved before it is lived."(41)


Postscript concerning the laity


            It is not the role of the laity to establish Church doctrine in matters of faith and morals.  This role belongs exclusively to the Magisterium.(42)  Meanwhile, if it should happen that some layperson has good and serious reasons for believing that a particular bishop or group of bishops are not teaching "in communion with the Roman Pontiff" (Lumen gentium, n.25) on some issue - as is the case with the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre - then that person should respectfully communicate his or her concerns to the bishops (s) in question.  “They [the laity] have the right, indeed at times the duty, to the in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church” (Canon 212, New Code).

Should the misgivings of the layperson be unfounded, then the bishops, who are our shepherds and teachers, can supply any necessary corrections. 


This essay is a consequence of my sincere belief that I have an obligation to speak up concerning the Winnipeg Statement. If any of my observations or misgivings concerning paragraph 26 of the Winnipeg Statement are inaccurate, I respectfully request and welcome from any bishop the required corrections.


            I am reminded of what British novelist P.D. James wrote:  "I do believe we have to search for (the truth) however unwelcome it may be when we find it" (Death in Holy Orders).


(41)      Msgr. Vincent Foy, "Fifty reasons why the Winnipeg Statement should be recalled, "Catholic Insight, October 2003, p.25.

(42)      "But the task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone" (Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Divine Revelation Dei verbum, n.10).


The Infallible teaching of Humanae vitae


            On pages 5 and 6 we discussed the fact that the teaching of Humanae vitae is set forth infallibly.  In 1991 address Msgr. William Smith, American moral theologian, discusses the infallibility of that teaching(43):


The core teaching of Humanae vitae, namely on the intrinsic evil of artificial contraception, is in fact the formal and solemn teaching of the Catholic Church, and has been since the year "one".  More recently, Casti connubii in 1930 said and taught the same thing.  That same formal teaching comes up verbatim in Humanae vitae (in 1968).  It's repeated again in Familiaris consortio in 1981.  Every pope in this century, or any other century, has taught the same formal teaching.  Now when the pope together with the Catholic hierarchy throughout the entire world all teach the same thing, and all everywhere teach the same thing,...that actually establishes infallible teaching, not by an extraordinary exercise which is definition (i.e., an "ex cathedra" definition), but by what we call the ordinary universal magisterial teaching of the Catholic Church....The encyclical (Humanae vitae) is not an "ex cathedra" definition of faith and morals:  that is true.  But the given encyclical presents, represents and simply teaches again what is already true teaching, and indeed infallible teaching.


There's not all that much of our teaching which is infallibly defined in the most extraordinary form, say of an "ex cathedra" definition.  In fact, since that definition of 1870 (re papal infallibility, Vatican Council I), as far as I know it's been only exercised once, in 1950, in November, when Pius XII "ex cathedra" defined the bodily assumption of the Blessed Mary Virgin into heaven....Very little is infallibly defined in the most extraordinary form, but many things are infallible teaching in the ordinary universal form.  Therefore, the precise theological note on the teaching of Humanae vitae is obviously not determined simply by mentioning its encyclical form.  Serious and weighty theological efforts have been put forward to demonstrate the infallibility of this teaching by reason of the ordinary and universal magisterial teaching which is to be held on this matter by everybody.


            Of interest is the later 1998 statement by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (quoted on page 5) which clearly confirms what Msgr. Smith says.  We repeat that quote in part:


Consequently, when there has not been a judgment on a doctrine in the solemn form of a definition, but this doctrine, belonging to the inheritance of the depositum fidei (the deposit of faith), is taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, which necessarily includes the pope, such a doctrine is to be understood as having been set forth infallibly.(44)



(43)      Partial transcript from an address "Dissent, Humanae vitae, and infallibility" delivered by Msgr. Smith      in April, 1991, at a conference in Santa Clara, California sponsored by Human Life International.

(44)      Commentary on Profession of Faith's Concluding Paragraphs, June 29, 1998, n.9.



Did Pope Paul VI approve the Winnipeg Statement?



            The principal argument for claiming that Pope Paul VI approved the Winnipeg Statement is a letter dated 21 October 1968 sent by Archbishop E. Clarizio (Apostolic Delegate) to Bishop Alex Carter, then President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops:


Your Excellency,


The Apostolic Delegation promptly transmitted to the Holy See a copy of the declaration made by the Bishops of Canada during their general assembly at Saint Boniface (Winnipeg) on the encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae.


Now I am happy to notify Your Excellency that His Eminence, Amletto Cardinal Cicognani, Secretary of State to his Holiness, has just communicated to the Delegation that the Holy Father, Pope Paul VI, has taken cognizance of the document with satisfaction.


With every best wish, I am


Sincerely Yours in Our Lord

+ E. Clarizio

Apostolic Delegate


            What are we  to make of this letter?  Can it be used as conclusive evidence that Paul VI approved the Winnipeg Statement?  But more generally, did the Pope actually approve the Statement?  Msgr. Vincent Foy has published an in-depth essay concerning this issue.(45)  The following excerpts from his essay concern his conclusions:

We do not know what the Pope said to the Secretary of State (Cicognani).  We do not even know what the Secretary of State said to Archbishop Clarizio.  We have only the letter of Archbishop Clarizio concerning a letter he received from the Secretary of State.(46)


The ambiguity of the phrase "has taken cognizance of the document with satisfaction," the fact that we do not know what the Pope said, and concomitant circumstances yet to be addressed, lead one to the inevitable conclusion that the not was one of diplomacy without doctrinal implications.  This was the opinion of some bishops and many others with whom I have spoken.(47)


To sum up, according to a letter from the Apostolic Delegate (Clarizio), the Holy Father acknowledged receipt of the Canadian Statement with "satisfaction."  This letter was based on a letter from the Secretary of State (Cicognani).  According to the same Secretary of State, the Holy Father received my critique, which strongly condemned the Canadian Statement, with "gratitude" and "appreciation."  Does not this indicate that the former was a more diplomatic acknowledgment?(48)


I think it significant that Cardinal Cicognani's office, which sent the diplomatic note of acceptance to Canada, did not consider the Winnipeg Statement worthy of publication in L'Osservatore Romano.(49)


The question "Did Pope Paul IV Approve the Winnipeg Statement?" is an important one and I believe it has been shown that the answer is "No."(50)





            Msgr. Foy  points out - and I agree - that any official Vatican approval of the Winnipeg Statement must come not through someone's private conversation with the Pope or from an ambiguous diplomatic letter, but through a statement made by the Pope himself or through a statement made by an authoritative organization such as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  In a 1977 letter to Bishop Emmett Carter, Msgr. Foy wrote:  "I personally do not think that any such statements (a private conversation with the Pope) should be published or used to justify a position unless they are made by the Pope himself."(51)


If in my essay my misgivings over the Winnipeg Statement are founded, then it is inconceivable that Pope Paul VI could have approved the Statement because, as Msgr. Foy points out in his essay, "If Pope Paul VI had approved the Winnipeg Statement, he would have been guilty of the ultimate dissent - dissent from himself."(52)



(48)      Ibid., p.35.

(49)      Ibid., p.37.

(50)      Ibid., p.47.

(51)      Ibid., p.22.

(52)      Ibid., p.14.



The absolute necessity of preserving unity with the successor of Peter



            The Second Vatican Council teaches:


The college or body of bishops has for all that no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter's successor, as its head, whose primatial authority, let it be added, over all, whether pastors or faithful, remains in its integrity.(53)


Bishops who teach in communion with the Roman Pontiff are to be revered by all as witnesses of divine and Catholic truth; the faithful, for their part, are obliged to submit to their bishop's decision, made in the name of Christ, in matters of faith and morals, and to adhere to it with a ready and respectful allegiance of mind.(54)


            Thus, all the faithful - clergy, religious, laity - must preserve a bond of unity with the successor of Peter.  An essential condition for the laity to be "obliged to submit to their bishops' matters of faith and morals" is that "bishops...teach in communion with the Roman Pontiff."  Should there be a problem here, there is an excellent remedy:  in the words of  Bishop (later Cardinal) Emmett Carter, "Keep your eyes on the bishops of the Church, and, if there is any doubt, then look to Peter for guidance" (previously quoted, section 18, p.14).


            Ironically, Bishop Carter appeared to have difficulties himself with papal teaching on contraception and issued directives at odds with Church doctrine.  This is described in the following excerpts from an article "Gerald Emmett Cardinal Carter 1912-2003."(55)  Please note that this is not an indictment of the Cardinal but a statement of apparent fact:


Long before the encyclical Humanae vitae was issued on July 25, 1968, Bishop Carter was convinced that the Church would change her teaching on contraception.  In this he was probably influenced by Cardinal Leger, Cardinal Suenens, and theologians like Hans Kung, Bernard Haring and Gregory Baum.


On February 7, 1967, he issued Confessional Directives for the priests of London, his Diocese.  He wrote:  "Because of the doubt in the practical order, no priest can refuse absolution to persons using the pill, unless their motive is clearly sinful.  If doctors can be confused about the scientific aspects of the pill, then priests should be confused about the morality of the use of the pill."  Meanwhile, Pope Paul VI had already reaffirmed the traditional teaching of the Church against contraception in 1964 and 1966 (emphasis added), calling it a time of study and not of doubt.(56)



(53)      Lumen gentium, n.22.

(54)      Ibid., n.25. Concerning obedience to religious leaders, see Jesus' instructions in Mt 23:1-3.

(55)      Catholic Insight Staff, Catholic Insight, May 2003, p.14.

(56)      Bishop Carter's 1967 Confessional Directives were in opposition to the teaching of Vatican II in 1965:  "In questions of birth regulation the sons of the Church, faithful to these principals, are forbidden to use methods disapproved of by the teaching authority of the Church in its interpretation of the divine law" (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et spes, n.51).


Not too surprisingly then, Bishop Carter considered Humanae vitae a "tragedy", to use his own words.  His reaction on first reading the encyclical was:  "We felt that this was going to be a major problem."...


It was a spirit of dissent and rebellion which gave Canada the Winnipeg Statement of September 27, 1968.  Bishop Carter stayed up most of the nights of September 25 and September 26, 1968, helping to formulate the more difficult paragraphs.  So we have the pastoral disaster of paragraph 26....Later, he would forbid his London priests to speak on Humanae vitae.


            We have previously discussed Cardinal Carter's later misgivings concerning paragraph 26 of the Winnipeg Statement.


2 South Front St.,#503

Belleville, Ont.,

Jan. 6, 1994





Dear Mr. Lower:

                        Your letter and enclosure of almost a month ago, has been awaiting a reply or even an acknowledgment, for overtime I meant to get to it, something happened to intervene -including the death of my sole surviving sister miles from here...


                        Your treatment of the 'contraceptive culture' of the day is pertinent and so needed in its rebuttal, that it is heart-warming to find a person of standing such as yourself, undertake to do something about I always say when encouraging good lay people to carry out their convictions into action, it means so much to heave this coming from you - people expect priests and Bishops to take a stand on moral matters, but when lay-people do so, it is all the more impressive.  Thank God there are many such found in many fields of endeavor today, so that through the Gospel imperative is being heard.


                        As a retired Bishop of advanced years, I do not have the opportunity of preaching or teaching or even doing much on these matters, except to encourage worthy efforts such as yours and to assure them of my prayers for the success of their efforts.


                        Be assured then, of my sincere good wishes and congratulations on the efforts you are making to point out and correct this anti-natal philosophy which has taken such hold on most people, with the result that they feel it is their right to use any means to carry out their own desires...


                        Yours In Our Lord,




                        Archbishop Emeritus of Kingston



Norman W.Lower,