As rumors abound concerning a Vatican commission to reinterpret Humanae vitae in light of Amoris laetitia, the controversial president of the Pontifical Academy for Life has rejected these rumors.
“I can confirm that there is no pontifical commission called to re-read or to re-interpret Humanae vitae. However, we should look positively on all those initiatives, such as that of professor Marengo of the John Paul II Institute, which aim at studying and deepening this document in view of the 50th anniversary of its publication," Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia told CNA.
Vatican reporter Marco Tosatti first reported in May, citing unnamed Vatican sources, that Pope Francis had, or was about to, form a “secret commission" to examine and suggest modifications to the Church’s teaching on contraception, as laid out in Bl. Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae vitae.
And on Wednesday, Roberto de Mattei of Corrispondenza Romana reported that Msgr. Gilfredo Marengo, a professor at the John Paul II Institute, would coordinate the commission.
Corrispondenza Romana said the commission was composed of Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, head of the John Paul II Institute, Professor Philippe Chenaux, a professor of Church history at the Pontifical Lateran University, and Msgr. Angelo Maffeis, head of the Paul VI Institute in Brescia.
Citing Msgr. Marengo’s previous writings, de Mattei presented the priest as someone who would be in favor of reviewing Bl. Paul VI’s teaching against the use of contraceptives.
Speaking to CNA, Msgr. Marengo dismissed what he described as the “imaginative report" about him heading a commission to review Humanae vitae, and referred to his own writings on Amoris laetitia to “fully understand my theological path."
He has written that Amoris laetitia shows Pope Francis’ path “toward a decentralization of doctrinal issues," and that “whenever the Christian community falls into the error of proposing models of life derived from too-abstract and artificially constructed theological ideals, it conceives its pastoral action as the schematic application of a doctrinal paradigm."
Msgr. Marengo told CNA that “the issue of a conciliation between Amoris laetitia and Humanae vitae is not in the agenda."
“I have found it always harmful to invent answers to useless questions," said Msgr. Marengo, though he added that “theological and pastoral reflection have still a long way to go in order to gain a proper and fruitful understanding of both Paul VI’s and Pope Francis’ texts."
Archbishop Paglia also told CNA that “there is in fact no doubt that the heart of Humanae vitae – the value of human procreation – is a theme on which we all need to reflect with much attention; the breaking of the marriage-family-procreation triptych is a risk which the Church and all of human society cannot take."
The archbishop was appointed head of the Pontifical Academy for Life in 2016, and he has come under sharp scrutiny and criticism from former members who are concerned by his actions.
And while Archbishop Paglia was head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, the dicastery organized seminars on marriage and family life in which many of the participants suggested a “penitential path" that would allow the divorced-and-remarried to receive sacramental Communion while still engaging in sexual relations. The seminars’ lectures were published with a foreword by Archbishop Paglia.
Interest in the reception of Humanae vitae is increasing, as the encyclical nears the 50th anniversary of its publication. In view of the anniversary, papers and studies on the text will be prepared and published.
A source in the Pontifical Lateran University, speaking on background, told CNA there is ongoing research in the university archives on the encyclical’s genesis.
It may be that what has been reported as a “papal commission" is one of the many study groups on Humanae vitae created as its major anniversary approaches.
In fact, the source at the Pontifical Lateran University told CNA that “many studies are underway" and that “Pope Francis has been informed of them, and has encouraged them."