Morals Text Subverts Humanae Vitae

Anthony Zimmerman
Critique of Morals text published in Special Reports
Human Life International
modified April 2000
Reproduced with Permission

Fr. Marx touched tender nerves with his remark that "seminarians are victimized by rebel theologians, who brazenly reject Humanae Vitae" (HLI Special Report, April 1992). A seminarian had publicly downgraded HV at the HLI Conference in Manila.

Exchanges then revealed that a vicious textbook for seminarians on moral theology is published in the Philippines. The author is Fr. Karl H. Peschke, SVD. The two volume text is perhaps the best systematic and comprehensive course on Moral Theology for seminarians written after Vatican II, and its pages give testimony to the astounding amount of research and hard work of the author. But the section on abortion and contraception in Volume Two, the part which invites our special attention, is a naked catastrophe. The dissenters on these pages leave little room for the Pope. The author mobilizes a Lilliputian army to shoot arrows at Humanae Vitae: Haering, Curran, McCormack, Boeckle, Gruendel, Schoonenberg, Lobo, Dedek, Hellegers, Postrana, Donceel - in short, name a dissenter and you will likely find his opinion hallowed on these pages.

The author, Fr. Peschke, taught in the large Tagaytay Seminary near Manila during 1968-1984. Volume II of his text Christian Ethics has sold over 28,000 copies, a sign of its popularity in seminaries. By examining this book you probably learn what the new priests think who emerge from seminaries now using this text.

Fr. Peschke's work was evidently approved by his Superiors during all these years; Superiors appointed him to form members at major seminaries in Brazil, Germany, and the Philippines. More recently he achieved the high honors of being Professor at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome, whose Chancellor is the President of the Vatican Propaganda Fide. His text appeared in various editions in England, Ireland, India, the Philippines, and Italy. A newsletter (December 1990) featured him as a courageous theologian "following the steps of the Moral Theologian Haering."

Then came the Manila incident, on 2 February 1992, and the clash with a seminarian which triggered quick action by Fr. Marx. What HLI works for, this text works against. Since February things are breaking fast. A criticism of Fr. Peschke's text book was forwarded to the Cardinal Chancellor of the Pontifical Urban University in Rome where he was reported to be professor. An answer came stating that Fr. Karl Peschke "is no longer a professor at the Pontifical Urban University." But HLI is not finished. It asks you to read this exposure and then cooperate until the offensive text is either defanged or is banned entirely from use in all seminaries.

Waffling on Abortion

We should not judge the book just because the author presents the views of adversaries. Major seminarians must become professional theologians of sorts, and should know what the adversaries say; this is standard preparation for future priests whom the Church will send to hear confessions, to preach, to teach, to counsel, to inspire. The Morals Professor, then, has as his first task the apostolate of forming faithful priests who will point the way to heaven, whether his message is politically correct or not. The priest's first duty is to be faithful to the Church which sends him.

But this book's section on abortion and contraception is worm-eaten with compromises. It makes the Pope almost a lone dissenter against an army of self-appointed infallibles. In the pages about abortion, for example, the space of 10 lines is awarded to the Magisterium, but 500 lines to dissenters - a ratio of 1 to 50. Here are examples of the compromises.

The author quotes: "B. Haering reports the case of a pregnant woman who suffered from a tumor of the uterus which caused profuse bleeding. In order to prevent the woman from bleeding to death, the attending physician decided to open the womb and to empty the uterus. Thereupon the uterus contracted and the bleeding ceased. Yet according to the principle of directly and indirectly willed evil effects, this procedure must be considered illicit. The emptying of the fetus from the uterus constitutes a direct abortion, which is unlawful. The circumstance that in this way the uterus could be saved for the woman who was still childless is not a reason which could justify the procedure. But it would be licit to take out the whole uterus as a sick organ, together with the child because this is indirect abortion. Haering justly doubts whether this is sound morality" (p. 362).

And so Haering is permitted to sow doubts about clear Church teachings against direct abortion by using an outlandish case whose authenticity cannot be examined. Is the case not a phony? Why didn't the doctor save both the woman and the child by better medical practice? A doctor today who kills a baby to save the mother may be sued for malpractice.

The text then proposes that direct abortion is sometimes permitted. [So forget that the Church and God forbid this crime!] "The anticipated death of a fetus constitutes a lesser evil and offends against a lesser right than the death of mother and child together... In view of such considerations J. Dedek judges that a sufficient reason for a therapeutic abortion 'would be to save the physical life of the mother or, what I would think equivalent, her mental sanity.' A similar view is held by C. Curran..."

Note how the text gives place of honor to sundry famous dissidents, while failing to counter them with direct quotations from the Pope. The text continues, after making provision that children ought not really be killed just for the mother's mental health:

"Other recent Catholic authors who consider therapeutic abortion permissible in order to save the mother's life are R. Springer, J. Noonan, B. Haering, the Belgian bishops, W. May [now changed], J. Stimpfle, H. Rotter, L. Janssens, F. Boeckle, J. Gruendel, and L. Cornerotte" pp. 363-364). [And where is the Pope, among these preferred authorities? Should seminarians be taught to be loyal to a counter-Magisterium?]

The assertion quoted on page 354 that 40-50% of fertilized ova get lost and are naturally expelled is very likely wrong. It appears that 8-12% is closer to the truth. The author grasps straws of doubtful evidence to erode the clear condemnation of direct abortion.

The author's treatment of the "mother or child" dilemma is antique. If a doctor wants to save both the child today, he can do so in almost ever case. The correct answer to the "mother or child" dilemma is almost always: "If your doctor can't save both, go to another doctor." Or tell your doctor that he should save both mother and child.

When a gynecologist at the central Red Cross Hospital in Tokyo wanted to abort a mother who was bleeding, a head nurse was present who had attended HLI conventions with Fr. Marx; she put her foot down and firmly said "NO!" to the doctor. "We're going to save this baby!" The baby's father had also attended HLI conventions. So the doctor prescribed medication and bed rest instead of an abortion. When the bleeding stopped the mother returned home, and the birth was routine. Fr. Marx held Akira Saito in his arms on his next visit to Japan, and told him to be a good boy. Akira is blessed to have escaped the gloomy, outdated, and deadly heresy of this text book. Akira, now in grammar school, can thank God that Fr. Marx does not use the Christian Ethics textbook at his conventions.

For genuine cases of mother or child - if such still exist - the text would do well to cite the holy and heroic example which Pope Pius XII told to the audience of the Family Front, 26 November 1951. The expecting mother was told that a therapeutic abortion was necessary without delay to save her life. She answered: "I thank you for your merciful advice; but I cannot suppress the life of my child! I cannot, I cannot! I feel it already throbbing in my womb; it has the right to live; it comes from God and should know God so as to love and enjoy Him." She bore the child, but her condition worsened. When the time came, she once again saw her little child who was growing healthily under the care of a robust nurse; her lips broke into a sweet smile and she passed away peacefully. The child became a Sister, who, remembering her mother, totally dedicated herself to the care and education of abandoned children. The strength and heroism of this woman stands in vivid contrast with the flaccid theology of the SVD sponsored textbook.

Delayed Hominization?

The text states that delayed hominization - 14 days after fertilization - is a proposition that "has indeed much in its favor" (p. 355). "This view has been adopted by P. Schoonenberg, J. Donceel, J. Gruendel, C. Curran, B. Haering, G. Lobo, G. Postrama." St. Jerome had caustic words for texts scintillating with famous names: "An ugly crow trying to adorn itself in borrowed plumes."

The author concludes that "one could not speak of abortion in the strict sense before the elapse of a period of about 14 days. Consequently one could also not simply classify the IUD or those medicaments and pills that possibly or certainly hinder the fertilized ovum from implantation as 'abortive means,' as J. Grindle rightly observes" (p.355). Which is scientific nonsense, as the readers of this Report know from other HLI reports. For example, the testimony of Dr. Jerome Lejeune, that the baby who is alive on day 14 after fertilization was already alive on day 1.

The Church teaches that the life of a human being is inviolable from the beginning: "From the moral is clear that, even if there be some doubt whether the entity conceived is already a human person, it is an objectively serious sin to expose oneself to the danger of committing murder: 'He who will be a human being is already a human being' (words of Tertullian)" (Declaration Against Abortion, 18 November 1974, No. 13; The Pope Speaks, 1975, p. 257). To do the author justice, he admits that the Congregation's Declaration "advances that interruption of a pregnancy even during the first days after fertilization was nevertheless always considered a grave offence by Catholic moral teaching" (p. 356). But he then adds a very wrong statement, putting into the mouth of the Church the very opposite of what she proclaimed. Fr. Peschke states that the same declaration "admits the possibility that the state may refrain from legal sanctions in certain instances of interruption of pregnancy." That is not true. Such a statement is absolutely not to be found in that document. On the contrary, the document warns against working for a law which approves abortion in principle.

Contraception: "Not a Grave Matter"

"Artificial contraceptives are not necessarily gravely sinful" intones the author on page 476, before he wades through reams of quotations by dissidents who waffle on contraception. In the section on abortion the author had given the Pope 10 lines of space before burying his teaching under 500 lines assigned to dissenters; in the section on contraception the author grants the Pope 14 lines before assigning about 400 lines to dissenters. Such cavalier treatment of Magisterial teachings is not well designed to teach obedience to the Magisterium to malleable seminarians.

If the author does not approve contraception, then the sentence on page 356 lacks logic: "Contraceptives which prevent a fertilized ovum from implantation cannot simply be put on a par with other contraceptives. There is greater reason to avoid them." Greater? May we then allow other contraceptives with lesser reason? That conclusion seems inescapable, and can certainly confuse seminarians.

We look in vain in this text for the in season and out of season teaching of the Pope against contraception. For example: "Contraception and sterilization for contraceptive purposes are always gravely illicit" (Caracas, 17 January 1985).

Again, the Pope said to the American Bishops: "It is sometimes reported that a large number of Catholics today do not adhere to the teaching of the Church ... notably about sexual and conjugal morality, divorce and remarriage. Some are reported as not accepting the Church's clear position on abortion... It is sometimes claimed that dissent from the Magisterium is totally compatible with being a good Catholic and poses no obstacle to the reception of the sacraments. This is a grave error" (16 September 1987, Los Angeles, Meeting with USA Bishops).

Ignoring this serious admonition of the Pope, the author lightly serves seminarians what the Austrian Bishops once said, namely that they may receive Holy Communion while contracepting (see below). The Austrian bishops later withdrew that statement, but this text continues to use it brazenly, in the face of the Pope's admonitions. When the worthy reception of the Sacraments and the eternal salvation of souls is in question, we expect moral theologians to be humble enough to teach faithfully what the Church teaches.

The universal pastor of souls also admonished that contraception leads to abortion: "The invitation to contraception ... promotes in the last analysis that mentality out of which abortion arises and from which it is continually nourished" (To Austrian Bishops 19 June 1987). The text teaches none of this to seminarians.

"People Against The Pope" Magisterium?

Many priests miss the point that the law of God against contraception is made in heaven, and that no Pope can change it. They seriously but naively expect that the next Pope will permit contraception. The devilish conclusion which some priests reach, tragically dangerous for the eternal welfare of souls, is that "What the next Pope will allow, we can permit in anticipation." This text by no means discourages such dreaming.

Page 473 serves another novelty from the unholy gospel according to Haering: "Only a couple who act out of egoism in refusing the service of life without any reasonable motive can be compared with Onan whose sin God punished with death (Gen 38:9f). A great injustice would be done to married people who follow the fundamental principle of responsible parenthood with the greatest generosity, if in their case an interrupted intercourse were to be called 'onanism.'" (Read: Just find a reason, then it's alright.) Better than Haering's erring is this passage from Humanae Vitae: "Similarly excluded is every action that, either in anticipation of the conjugal act or in its accomplishment or in the development of its natural consequences, would have as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible" (Humanae Vitae 14).

The author subtly hints that the law against contraception is now controverted, or even changed by popular vote: "Until recently [!] the use of all artificial means of birth control was - supported by the Magisterium of the popes - judged gravely sinful. But since these means are of rather recent origin, this moral doctrine does not look back on a long tradition. The encyclical Humanae Vitae simply states that they are illicit. The number of theologians and bishops rejecting the traditional qualification - namely that the use of all these means without further distinction is gravely sinful - is at any rate very considerable today" (p. 473). (But truth is not determined by the ballot. When "Aaron had let the people get out of control" (Ex 32:25) God did not change the ten commandments.)

After raising questions about the morality of contraception, and then leaving the raised questions unsolved, the author moves on to medical indications. Some contraceptives are contraindicated medically. "In principle the sterilizing drugs should not be taken without previous consultation of a physician. All these factors have to be considered in a moral psychological and medical evaluation [sic] of the various artificial means" (p. 474). Should both doctor and priest be consulted about use of artificial contraceptives? Has the teaching of moral theology come to this?

Page 474 presents the obsolete theory that the Pill may be used to regulate the cycle, something medically disproved long ago. Next the text discusses use of the Pill during lactation to supplement nature's tendency to make the mother infertile during this time. This should be updated to state: "Doctors advise against use of the Pill during lactation for medical reasons; and God forbids contraception during lactation as well as at other times." Nature itself eliminates both estrogen and progesterone during lactation. If mothers nurse the baby day and night according to the needs of the baby, ovulation is suppressed for some months, at least. The Pill's contents are somewhat poisonous for the nursing baby.

Humanae Vitae Called Into Question

"The encyclical Humanae Vitae" urges the author, "received a very divided echo and is probably the most controverted encyclical ever written... Many theologians and lay people are convinced that at least under certain circumstances their use (artificial means of birth control) is not contrary to moral law. They find themselves in conflict with the teaching of the encyclical. How is this conflict to be resolved?" (p. 475). The text proposes, incredibly, consultation of dissenting bishops' conferences. First comes the Austrian conference with unorthodox advice [corrected later]:

"The Holy Father does not speak of mortal sin in his encyclical. If therefore someone should offend against the doctrine of the encyclical, he need not necessarily feel himself separated from God's love and is therefore also allowed to receive Holy Communion without previous confession... However if somebody excludes offspring from his marriage for fundamentally egoistic reasons, he cannot consider himself free from grave sin" (quoted on page 476). The text states that the bishops conferences of Italy, England, Brazil and Japan followed the same line of teaching [but note the collapse of religious practice and family morals in these nations]. A citation of the French Bishops' Conference follows, about "choosing the lesser evil in conflicts of duties" (p. 477). And on pages 478-479 he cites the bishops' conferences of Belgium, Germany, Austria, England, Canada, and Scandinavia on a "right to follow one's conscience if it dissents for weighty reasons." The last line is from the Scandinavian Bishops: "In such an instance perhaps no sin is committed which must be confessed or which excludes from Holy Communion" (p. 479). After reading this, will seminarians still support Humanae Vitae?

Actually, more Bishops Conferences supported the Pope fully than those which did not. We ask: Why did the author pick only the wavering responses and omit the supportative ones which were a majority? What is he trying to teach the seminarians?

Instead of waving the red flag of dissenters before the seminarians, the author might have quoted Fr. Marcellino Zalba, S.J. who gives a balanced picture of responses by Bishops' Conferences to Humanae Vitae: "The great majority of conferences stated either explicitly or in a manifestly implicit way their total agreement with the Pope. Some also expressed their profound gratitude for the support he gave to their concerns (Latin America and the Third World in general). Others assured the Pope of their firm support and urged the faithful to do so (United States, Mexico, Poland, East Germany, southern Europe). Others were concerned about restraining and remedying the resistance they feared would follow, without however, calling in doubt the validity of the papal document (Belgium, Austria, Scandinavia, England, Canada). Some were at least ambiguous or confusing on certain points, but without claiming to disagree (France, Austria, Indonesia, South Africa)...

"In fact, some conferences (Canada, Australia, Indonesia, Mexico at a later date) [add Austria] subsequently explained their thinking when faced with mistaken interpretations...

"If we look at the number of pastoral letters and of bishops, the group openly declaring that they support the encyclical is by far the larger" (Marcellino Zalba, in Natural Family Planning: Nature's Way-god's Way, De Rance, Milwaukee, 1980, General Editor Fr. A. Zimmerman, SVD; pp. 217-218.) None of this is in the text in question, whose bias is all in the other direction.

Page 468 argues for birth control in view of the "national needs conditioned by limited resources." It is a slap in the face at parents of large families in general, and is contrary to Church doctrine which approves large and well ordered families (GS 50). The text here is a falsification of Church teaching, apt to mis-educate seminarians.


After consultation with Cardinal Ratzinger the author changed the text considerably in a subsequent edition. Nevertheless it remains still an "uncertain sound of the trumpet," too weak to call seminarians into battle on the side of the culture of life against the culture of death.