Licit Dissent/Contraception

So today I learned about the Norms of Licit Dissent in the statement from the USCCB titled Human Life in Our Day from 1968.

They say that dissent is only okay for non-infallible teachings. Then they go on to explain how to go about said dissent in a responsible fashion. (It does appear to only apply to theologians, but nonetheless I found this interesting).

There seems to be some debate about what counts as infallible when you try looking it up. I’m sure everyone here has their opinions (most here probably feel that the contraception ban is an infallible teaching), but the fact is there is no infallible list of infallible teachings, so don’t bother going into it.

What I find interesting is that this statement from the USCCB, considering it’s about Humanae Vitae, includes this section on licit dissent. It’s as if though the USCCB did not believe that the teachings in the encyclical were infallible. Otherwise, why bother mentioning the licit dissent on non-infallible teachings thing?

I was just curious what y’all thought of that?

Note who these norms apply to in professional theological work:
There exist in the Church a lawful freedom of inquiry and of thought and also general norms of licit dissent. This is particularly true in the area of legitimate theological speculation and research. When conclusions reached by such professional theological work prompt a scholar to dissent from non-infallible received teaching the norms of licit dissent come into play.
…When there is question of theological dissent from non-infallible doctrine, we must recall that there is always a presumption in favor of the magisterium.

Yes, I noted that in my OP when I said it appears to apply only to theologians. However, what I’m intrigued by is that it appears the USCCB was implying that the contraception ban was a non-infallible teaching… Maybe I should have titled my post differently, sorry.

So, what do you all think? Were the bishops saying what I think they were saying? That the contraception ban is non-infallible. (Note, I’m not asking if you believe it is infallible or not, I’m not asking for another source to agree or disagree with, I’m just asking about the interpretation of this particular source.)

It states:
It presents without ambiguity, doubt or hesitation the authentic teaching of the Church concerning the objective evil of that contraception which closes the marital act to the transmission of life, deliberately making it unfruitful. United in collegial solidarity with the Successor of Peter, we proclaim this doctrine.

Yes, I understand that the contraception ban is a doctrine of the Church and that the USCCB supports and agrees with the doctrine. That wasn’t my question, though.

I’m asking: Does this statement (“Human Life in Our Day” 1968) from the USCCB indicate that at that time they believed that the doctrine on contraception is non-infallible?

I suspect that it does indicate that, because they themselves inserted the whole section on norms of licit dissent of non-infallible teachings. Inserting that into their statement would make very little sense if in fact they thought the teachings in HV were infallible. I would like other opinions on my interpretation of this document.

The US bishops were replying to a document by the Canadian bishops on contraception and Humanae Vitae (the Winnipeg Statement). The Canadian bishops proposed that faithful dissent from HV was possible (n 16-17), as HV did not define any teaching to be believed “with divine and Catholic faith” (a phrase referring to infallible teachings). The U.S. bishops replied, in effect, that some licit dissent was possible from non-infallible teachings, but within limits. The implication was that the Winnipeg Statement exceeded those limits.

But as of the present time, the magisterial teaching on contraception clearly falls under the infallibility of the ordinary and universal Magisterium.

“Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held.” LG 25

Successive Popes and the body of bishops dispersed in the world have taught that contraception is intrinsically evil and gravely immoral; this is now the universal teaching of the Magisterium. So the Church’s condemnation of contraception is infallible, even if HV by itself only taught non-infallibly.

Thank you for the history lesson, I’m too young to know these things.

What I gather from your response is that the US bishops felt that the dissent demonstrated by the Winnipeg Statement was not licit (I’m assuming mainly because of it’s public nature). That is good to know and understand.

It still doesn’t address my question, at least not clearly enough, and I’m sorry if I’m being obtuse… But you made it clear that the Canadian bishops did not believe that HV was infallibe. I’d like to know, did the US bishops believe that HV was non-infallible?

You mentioned that at the present time HV is considered infallible and you went on to explain why, but I’m interested in understanding (out of sheer curiosity) if in 1968 when Human Life in Our Day came out - if at that time, the US bishops believed the teachings in HV to be non-infallible?

What I ask then is, what is understood as a “non-infallible” teaching?

If we look at this, only categories 1 and 2, that is, de fide and fides ecclesiastica? Because there it states that only categories 1 and 2 are infallible, however, 5 (sententia communis) is “Teachings which are popular but within the free range of theological research”. :confused: Presumably those below it, 6, 7 and 8, would also allow this “free range of theological research”…

So my question is, what then of categories 3 and 4, sententia fidei proxima and sententia certa? They don’t appear to be infallible, yet there isn’t a “free range of theological research”…


I’m sure those are interesting points of discussion, but I personally was only asking about the document from 1968 from the USCCB titled Human Life in Our Day.

I interpret that document, based on it’s inclusion of the section Norms of Licit Dissent, to indicate that those bishops that wrote it did not believe at that time that HV was infallible. I have no interest in getting into what is and isn’t infallible because like I said in my OP there is no infallible list of infallible teachings. There are many different opinions on the internet about what constitutes an infallible teach and whether or not the distinction even matters.

Again, I’m just curious, when you read that 1968 document, does it give you the impression that they were indicating HV was not infallible? Does anyone interpret that document the same way I do? If not, how do you interpret it, and why?

They did not say, specifically. But their argument is predicated on the teaching of HV being non-infallible. No one at the time, as far as I know, proposed that HV was an act of papal infallibility. Even today, HV – considered by itself – is non-infallible. But since the same teaching has been universally taught by the Popes and Bishops, the teaching is now infallible.

Germain Grisez argued that, even at the time of HV, the teaching against contraception was infallible under the ordinary and universal Magisterium HV then and now] But the case for infallibility under the OUM is much stronger now.

Because there are people who will try to find a loophole rather than accept Church teaching. Catholics are obliged to follow Church teachings, not try to find a way to get around them. There are actually people who are so disingenuous that they will take something as unambiguous as the statement from that document, to wit “It presents without ambiguity, doubt or hesitation the authentic teaching of the Church concerning the objective evil of that contraception which closes the marital act to the transmission of life, deliberately making it unfruitful. United in collegial solidarity with the Successor of Peter, we proclaim this doctrine,.” and attempt to present spurious arguments that it states the opposite (that it is open to debate), it is not open to debate and it is completely specious to state otherwise.

Contraception has been known to be an intrinsic evil since before the time of the Apostles. It is one of those things that have always and everywhere been taught and is, therefore an infallible teaching of The Ordinary Magisterium. Contraception was condemned in Catholic Church documents as far back as the 1st century and that has never been changed.

Okay, thank you for addressing my question.

No, because they state “It presents without ambiguity, doubt or hesitation the authentic teaching of the Church concerning …”

It seems to me that a key factor in this is that the bishops have to be “in agreement on one position as definitively to be held.” I’ve seen this stated elsewhere that the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium is made up of those teachings that have been held “semper ubique et ad omnibus” (always, everywhere, and by all).

IIRC a number of bishops on the Birth Control Commission were not in agreement with the idea that contraception is ‘intrinsically evil.’

It also seems that a number of bishops after HV was promulgated were not in agreement with this, or, at least, were not in agreement that the prohibition was absolutely binding. (see, e.g. the Canadian bishops’ Winnipeg Statement, and similar statements by other national bishops’ conferences).

Isn’t this difference of opinion sufficient to indicate that the teaching against contraception has not been universally held and is therefore not infallible?

No. Absolute universal agreement, such that no bishops at all disagree is not required. Similarly, an Ecumenical Council does not require a unanimous vote of the attending Bishops, nor attendance from all Bishops worldwide, in order to exercise infallibility with the Pope.

At the present time, each successive Pope and nearly every Bishop as well as every Bishops’ Conference has condemned contraception as intrinsically evil. So that teaching falls under the OUM. All that is required is that the Pope (or Popes successively) and the body of Bishops generally agree on one position definitively to be held.

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