|St Vincent of Lerins|
'Where such doubt [sc. that infallibility has been invoked] does exist, infallibility is not relevant to the argument. And it certainly exists in the case of Humanae Vitae. How else could Cardinal Walter Kaspar have said this month: "The Church is clearly not against birth-control at all"? Outwith the formulas of dogmatic definitions, such as of the Assumption, it is difficult to see where and when and how such certainty can be acquired that infallibility has been invoked.'
As is always the case with Loftus, one falsehood is hidden inside another. One is what Cardinal Kasper actually said. Loftus is quoting a radio interview, and no one has produced a full transcript (though you can listen to the whole thing here); nevertheless the key passage is this:
It is perfectly evident that, while Cardinal Kasper did not want to be drawn into a discussion of the details of the teaching, his remark 'the Church is not against birth control' means nothing more than 'the Church does not prevent people limiting their family size: certain methods of doing this are licit'. He clearly has Natural Family Planning in mind. He doesn't want to say more. In the context of an interview that is understandable; once you get onto condoms you can never get off the subject again. Perhaps there is a hint also that there can be a gap between the Church's teaching and what people actually do, in conscience: however that is a way of avoiding a denial of Church teaching, not of making a denial of it. Whatever more complicated views Cardinal Kasper may turn out to have, Loftus' selective quotation is entirely dishonest.
The other falsehood is about the nature of infallibilty. The teaching of Humanae Vitae is infallible, not because of the authority of the document in which it is contained - an encyclical, as opposed to an ex cathedra decree - but because it reiterates the constant teaching of the Church, and the constant teaching of the Church is infallible. The Pope has the gift of picking out and clarifying the constant teaching of the Church, the 'Ordinary and Universal Magisterium', and in doing so we find passages, in encyclicals, like this.
Paul VI, Humanae Vitae 14, on abortion and contraception:
Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary.
Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.
St John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae 62, on abortion:
Given such unanimity in the doctrinal and disciplinary tradition of the Church, Paul VI was able to declare that this tradition is unchanged and unchangeable. Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops—who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine—I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church's Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.
St John Paul II, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis 4, on the ordination of women:
Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church's judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force.
Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.
These are infallible statements, as St John Paul makes particularly clear, on the basis not of the Extraordinary Magisterium but the Ordinary Magisterium. Since the last of these statements continued to be contradicted on the basis that it was not clearly infallible, its status was clarified by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under Cardinal Ratzinger, as follows.
This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium 25, 2). Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith.
What Loftus does not want his readers to understand is that it is above all the Church which is infallible. The Pope and the Councils exercise 'extraordinary' acts of infallibility from time to time, but it not necessary for them to reaffirm in this way every single thing which the Church teaches. It becomes necessary, generally speaking, only when heresy has disturbed the Faithful and the teaching is being denied, or, less often, when, as with the Immaculate Conception, the necessary connection between what was understood by all since forever and the theological consequences of that, need to be made explicit and clear to everyone. The fact that the Church has never, ever, allowed contraception, abortion, or the ordination of women, and that these things have been condemned every time they have been proposed, by every kind of council and by innumerable Popes, tells us enough. The Church has spoken. If it needs reiterating, the Pope can do so, by his special gift and duty of 'confirming the brethren', through an ordinary encyclical letter.
The idea that, unless nailed down by the Extraordinary Magisterium, no theological proposition can be regarded as beyond doubt by Catholics, is dizzying. As Loftus would be the first to point out, the number of propositions nailed down in this way is very limited, even if you include (what he ignores), the anathemas of General Councils. No: we don't have to back up every assertion that 'the Church teaches X' with a reference to the Canons of the Council of Trent or of Lateran IV. We can just say: this is the constant teaching of the Church. To deny it is to put yourself outside the Church. St Vincent of Lerins (d.445) expressed it in a way which has ever since been regarded as definitive:
Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense Catholic, which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors.