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Father Angelo,

Lately I have happened to read conflicting opinions regarding the infallibility of the Humanae Vitae.

A few weeks ago, on Radio Maria fr. Giorgio Carbone maintained that the encyclical letter is infallible because, although it does not include the formula “we pronounce, declare, and define” (which is present, for instance, in the Evangelium Vitae), it fulfils the (three, if I am not mistaken) criteria established by a decree of the First Vatican Council to determine infallibility. Nevertheless, a few days ago on the website “Vatican Insider” I read an article by prof. Gennari (who lectured at the Pontifical Lateran University), who related that when the encyclical letter HV was presented in the Vatican press room in july 1968, the theologian Lambruschini (a former professor of the Lateran University who was later appointed bishop of Perugia), excluded the infallibility of the encyclical letter. According to Gennari, he did so on the indication of the Pope. What are the actual facts?

Kind regards,


The priest’s answer

Dear Alessandro,

  1. In order to evaluate what Pope Paul VI is reported to have said to Monsignor Lambruschini, it would be necessary to read the text with his precise words, which in any case, if said in a confidential way to a theology lecturer, do not constitute an act of the Magisterium. 
  2. For sure, in the Humanae Vitae Paul VI wrote: “Consequently, now that We have sifted carefully the evidence sent to Us and intently studied the whole matter, as well as prayed constantly to God, We, by virtue of the mandate entrusted to Us by Christ, intend to give Our reply to this series of grave questions”(n.6). It is the answer that the Council was expecting from the Pope, because note 14 of the n. 50 of the Gaudium et Spes reads: “Certain questions which need further and more careful investigation have been handed over, at the command of the Supreme Pontiff, to a commission for the study of population, family, and births, in order that, after it fulfills its function, the Supreme Pontiff may pass judgment. With the doctrine of the magisterium in this state, this holy synod does not intend to immediately propose concrete solutions.” 
  3. In the Humanae Vitae, Paul VI did not say explicitly that it was an irreformable doctrine. Nevertheless, he talks about it as the saving doctrine of Christ: “now it is an outstanding manifestation of charity toward souls to omit nothing from the saving doctrine of Christ; but this must always be joined with tolerance and charity, as Christ Himself showed in His conversations and dealings with men. For when He came, not to judge, but to save the world, was He not bitterly severe toward sin, but patient and abounding in mercy toward sinners?” (HV 29). 

It is not a matter of opinion, it is a matter of doctrine.

Now, the Church’s doctrine, in the dogmatic as well as in the moral field, evolves in an even way, keeping the same meaning and the same content (eodem sensu eademque sentita).

  1. In any case, what Paul VI omitted to say expressly was explicitly stated by John Paul II: “The first, and in a certain sense the most serious difficulty (on this matter), is that also in the Christian community, voices have been heard and are heard that call into question the truth of the Church’s teaching. This teaching was expressed forcefully by Vatican II, by the encyclical Humanae Vitae, by the apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, and by the recent instruction The gift of life. In this regard, a serious responsibility emerges: those who place themselves in open contrast with the law of God, authentically taught by the Church, guide spouses on a wrong path. What the Church teaches about contraception is not a matter of free discussion among theologians. Teaching the contrary is tantamount to inducing the moral conscience of the spouses into error” (Address to participants in a study seminar on responsible procreation, June 5, 1987). 
  2. Furthermore, the Vademecum for Confessors issued by the Pontifical Council for the Family on the 12th of February 1997 says: “The Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception, that is, of every marital act intentionally rendered unfruitful. This teaching is to be held as definitive and irreformable. Contraception is gravely opposed to marital chastity; it is contrary to the good of the transmission of life (the procreative aspect of matrimony), and to the reciprocal self-giving of the spouses (the unitive aspect of matrimony); it harms true love and denies the sovereign role of God in the transmission of human life”. (n. 2.4).
  3. We should also remember the distinction between the Magisterium to be held definitively and the divinely revealed Magisterium. 

Divinely revealed Magisterium enunciates dogmas of faith or of morals. Whoever does not accept it, automatically places him/herself outside of the  Church.

The Magisterium to be held definitively does not pose this aut aut: either in or out. Now the Church does not make haste to excommunicate Her children. Her task is not this, but rather to guide them to salvation with the charity of a mother who waits and leaves the door open if someone does not feel to accept her doctrine. 

The Magisterium to be held definitively therefore, even if it is irreformable and infallible, does not pose in front of an aut aut. Whoever denies it is wrong, but is not excommunicated ipso facto. 

  1. Magisterium to be held definitively and divinely revealed Magisterium are not alternative as for infallibility or non-infallibility, irreformability or reformability. As a matter of fact, also the Magisterium to be held definitively is infallible, as remembered by the Second Vatican Council in the Lumen Gentium, 25: “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. This is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church, whose definitions must be adhered to with the submission of faith”(LG, 25).
  2. John Paul II has reminded that the doctrine taught by Paul VI has acquired collegial value, namely the teaching of the bishops in communion with the Pope, especially in the apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio: “for this reason the Synod Fathers made the following declaration at their last assembly: ‘This Sacred Synod, gathered together with the Successor of Peter in the unity of faith, firmly holds what has been set forth in the Second Vatican Council (cf. Gaudium et spes, 50) and afterwards in the Encyclical Humanae vitae, particularly that love between husband and wife must be fully human, exclusive and open to new life (Humanae vitae, 11; cf. 9, 12)’.” (FC, 29). It also explicitly quotes in a footnote the text of Humanae Vitae, n. 11, where we read: “the church, calling people back to the observance of the norms of the natural law, as interpreted by her constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life (ut quilibet matrimonii usus ad vitam humanam procreandam per se destinatus permaneat)”.
  3. Benedict XVI, in the 40th anniversary of the publication of the Humanae Vitae, affirmed: “The Magisterium of the Church cannot be exonerated from reflecting in an ever new and deeper way on the fundamental principles that concern marriage and procreation. What was true yesterday is also true today. The truth expressed in Humanae Vitae does not change; on the contrary, precisely in the light of the new scientific discoveries, its teaching becomes more timely and elicits reflection on the intrinsic value it possesses”. (10.5.2008).
  4. What Father Giorgio Carbone said is not his personal opinion, but the Church’s thinking. Actually, it is rather the doctrine of the Church. 

I wish you all the best, I remember you to the Lord in prayer and I bless you.

Father Angelo

Translated by Alessandra N.