Dr Frank Mobbs' recent letters have prompted what must be a record number of responses for the AD2000 letters section. Many readers are obviously sensitive to any real or implied criticism of Pope Paul VI's encyclical, Humanae Vitae.
However, it is my impression that some of the letter writers have misread the points Dr Mobbs was making in his response to Anne Lastman's article in that they fail to distinguish between the document's doctrinal and spiritual status and the practical, social and human consequences said to follow from observance or non-observance of Church teaching forbidding contraception.
Understandably, given the wide-spread opposition, disregard or ignorance surrounding this teaching, those anxious to defend or justify it tend to emphasise the marital benefits said to result from observing the teaching, and the evil fallout from a "contraceptive mentality", as evidenced in the massive worldwide increase since the late 1960s in the number of abortions and broken marriages, plus the acceptance of homosexual acts and calls for "gay marriage" to be legitimised.
Dr Mobbs argues that the precise fallout resulting from observance or non-observance of the Church's teaching, as set out in Humanae Vitae, is a matter for debate, is difficult to establish and can be exaggerated along the lines of "post hoc, ergo propter hoc". That is, the sexual revolution since the late 1960s is the result of many factors, not just contraception.
The key focus should be on the doctrinal status of Humanae Vitae, and the Church's moral teachings in general: that they are consistent with Christ's divine mandate to bind and loose. Alongside this, the assessing of any fallout from observance or non-observance is, in a sense, incidental, even if it could be established with any accuracy.
The same line of argument could be applied to Church teaching on marriage and divorce. If this teaching is true, being based on Our Lord's words, "What God has joined together, let no man put asunder", then claims as to the good or bad consequences of allowing divorce are again incidental, although useful if one is arguing the case with a non-believer.
Defenders of easy divorce will claim it is better for children that violent or abusive parents be separated. Opponents of divorce will mount a case, based on social research, that the children of divorced parents often suffer serious consequences.
Much of the correspondence following Dr Mobbs' letters seems to regard any questioning of the above fallout claims as tantamount to rejection of the doctrinal status of Humanae Vitae itself.
While observance of Church teachings, apart from their obvious spiritual benefits, will, hopefully also lead to positive consequences like happier marriages, the key focus should be on the soundness of the doctrinal basis for these teachings.
To have Church teachings stand or fall primarily on their practical consequences could be a slippery slope.
Meanwhile, the sad reality is that for most of the world's population, and indeed most of today's Catholics, contraception has ceased to be an issue.
WALTER H. KIRK