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In the recent volume Etica teologica della vita: Scrittura, tradizione, sfide pratiche (Theological Ethics of Life: Scripture, Tradition, Practical Challenges), the Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV) proposes a revolution of Catholic sexual morality, suggesting that, given the right attitudes on the part of spouses, the practice of contraception and homologous artificial procreation can be morally licit, thus directly contradicting the Church’s magisterium as found, for instance, in Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968), in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae (1995), and in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s instructions Donum Vitae (1987) and Dignitatis Personae (2008). The revolution relates to both the content and the way of arguing.

In what follows we will present a critical analysis of the book’s section that makes these claims. Closer inspection is necessary because the text is more subtle than simply saying that Humanae Vitae (as the magisterium’s basic document on contraception) or Donum Vitae (as the magisterium’s basic document on artificial reproductive technologies—the “ARTs”) have gotten it wrong. The authors maintain that by proposing the possible moral liceity of contraception and artificial procreation, they are not going against, but simply beyond the letter of previous ecclesial documents, ultimately bringing to fulfillment the deepest intentions of these magisterial texts.1 Here we are dealing with a novelty. In previous times, people who did not agree with the teaching of Humanae Vitae or Donum Vitae simply said that they begged to differ and gave their reasons. The new approach, adopted by the PAV text, is in fact to state the opposite of the teaching, while at the same time claiming that one agrees.

The Context

The volume Etica teologica della vita gathers the proceedings of a three-day seminar, held by the PAV from October 30 to November 1, 2021, and dedicated to some of the great questions of life and death. The PAV considered the event essentially academic in nature, as it intended also to discuss “controversial aspects of the theological ethics of life,” adopting a method “analogous to the medieval disputations or the quaestiones disputatae.” The difficulty is that by using the dialectic method, which is in itself legitimate and seeks to arrive at the truth by confronting contrary positions, the PAV risks causing scandal, even if its intentions are purely academic. This risk arises on three accounts. First, the PAV applies the dialectic method to a topic that several popes have explicitly declared to be no longer open to debate.2 Second, even if the subject studied were a legitimate disputed question, many ordinary believers may be unfamiliar with this method, falsely taking as the proposal of new ecclesial doctrines what in reality are but theological hypotheses brought up, to be affirmed or denied, in the setting of quaestiones disputatae. Third, the first two points are aggravated by the circumstance that the PAV carries the adjective “pontifical” in its title, and many may be unaware of the fact that it does not enjoy any teaching authority but was founded strictly as a think tank.

Now, during the seminar, twelve specific topics were formulated and a particular session was dedicated to each. In each session, first a basic text was presented, which had previously been elaborated by a commission. Then the floor was opened to the debate. In the published proceedings, there are one or two contributions that discuss the basic text, and occasionally a respondent answers the discussant. The affirmations regarding the possible moral legitimacy of contraception and homologous artificial procreation are made in the “basic text” of Chapter VII, “Le grandi domande antropologiche, etiche e teologiche: nascere, amare e generare” (The Great Anthropological, Ethical, and Theological Questions: To Be Born, to Love, and to Generate). The document extends over some 20 pages and proceeds by numbered paragraphs (nn. 147–173). It consists of two parts. The first is entitled “Nascere e gioia della vita ricevuta” (Being Born and the Joy of the Life Received) (nn. 147–160). The second part is called “Amare e generare: la gioia della vita donata” (Loving and Generating: The Joy of the Life Given) (nn. 161–173).

In its first part especially, the text contains a number of profound ideas, and except for its last two paragraphs, the second part, too, provides many valid thoughts. Throughout the text one can find considerations whose logic strongly goes against contraception and assisted procreation. These condense in paragraph 171, which insists on “the constitutive link between sexuality, spousal love, and generation” along with the gift-character of the child as someone who is not at his or her parents’ disposal.3 It turns out that these thoughtful affirmations only serve their own negation in the final two paragraphs. The fact is that nothing that preceded has prepared the reader for what is coming next: paragraph 172 considers morally legitimate the practice of contraception; paragraph 173 judges morally legitimate the practice of homologous assisted procreation.

Going Beyond the Letter of the Law

We will now look in more detail at the arguments proposed, beginning with paragraph 172 and the issue of contraception. The text begins by affirming the “indispensable requirement inscribed in the formulas expressed by HV 10-14,”4 which are the sections of Paul VI’s encyclical that contain and explain the norm against contraception. Now, according to the authors, a “norm always refers back to a good that precedes and exceeds it,”5 a point that can readily be granted. Things become more problematic when the document claims that the truth of the norm “is irreducible to its literal utterance, … it refers to something that is beyond the literal observance of a law and of a law that would be purely physical, urging the spouses to unite the mystery of generation with the response to that gift.6

It is true that at times one can and must distinguish between the letter of the law and the intentions of the lawgiver. It is thinkable to find oneself in a situation where one can legitimately act according to the mind of the lawgiver while acting against the law’s actual letter, as when a driver takes a forbidden turn so as to avoid colliding with an oncoming vehicle, thus safeguarding the good of life that the lawgiver intended to protect. This logic makes perfect sense when it comes to traffic rules and possibly many other instances of human law. However, it is quite a different matter to apply it to the moral law, and in particular to the moral law’s negative precepts, as we will see.

The plot thickens as the argument moves on: “Responsibility in generation requires a practical discernment that cannot coincide with the automatic application and material observance of a norm as is evident from the very practice of the natural methods.”7 This sentence makes two references: one to Amoris Laetitia n. 304 and one to Pope Pius XII’s Allocution to Midwives. The text from Pope Francis’s Amoris Laetitia cited in the footnotes reads as follows: “It is true that general rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations. At the same time, it must be said that, precisely for that reason, what is part of a practical discernment in particular circumstances cannot be elevated to the level of a rule.” In the footnote dedicated to Pius XII we are reminded that according to him “recourse to agenesis (natural) methods cannot and should not mean that the spouses decide to have sexual intercourse only during periods of sterility, because this would cause an ‘essential defect in matrimonial consent.’”8

Here the text sets out two premises, with a conclusion that will be drawn in the subsequent sentences. The first premise is: “Norms require discernment for their application.” The second premise is: “Even the norm permitting the use of the ‘natural’ methods requires discernment”—it cannot simply be observed “materially,” but rather any couple needs to judge, distinguish, discern whether in their case here and now the norm is applicable and recourse to the “natural” methods is morally permissible or not. These two premises set up the conclusion that the authors will draw shortly: If all norms need discernment for their application, and if even the use of the “natural” methods can at times be discerned to be immoral, why then could not the use of the “artificial” methods at times be discerned to be moral?

The problem, of course, is that the authors do not distinguish between positive and negative precepts, a distinction that the pope does not make explicitly in Amoris Laetitia, but which is clearly implied in his insistence on the Thomistic origins of his teaching in the very passage cited by the PAV authors: “I earnestly ask that we always recall a teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas and learn to incorporate it in our pastoral discernment.”9 Pope Francis proceeds by quoting a famous text from the Summa Theologiae, I-II, 94, 4: “In matters of action, truth or practical rectitude is not the same for all, as to matters of detail, but only as to the general principles; and where there is the same rectitude in matters of detail, it is not equally known to all. …The principle will be found to fail, according as we descend further into detail.”

How is it possible for St. Thomas that a practical principle, a moral precept, can “fail” when it comes to “descend[ing] further into detail”? The example he gives in the lines following the passage cited by Pope Francis is very telling. Aquinas speaks of a positive precept: “deposita sint reddenda”—“goods entrusted to another should be restored to their owner” (STh I-II, 94, 4). In the concrete, however, circumstances may arise that make observing this precept unreasonable, if not immoral, such as when the deposit was a weapon and the depositor, in the meantime, has become a traitor who intends to fight against one’s country (STh I-II, 94, 4). It is important to note that this is a positive precept, about what to do in order to protect, guard, and cultivate a certain good. Given the great number of possible circumstances, one will always have to discern, in actual practice, whether positively doing here and now what the precept says really does promote the good that it intends to promote. Positive precepts are valid ut in pluribus—for the majority of cases.

When it comes to negative precepts, however, Thomas’s discourse is different. While he certainly entertains the possibility that a positive precept like “deposits must be returned” can fail in the concrete, he clearly states, for instance, that one must not commit adultery under any circumstance whatsoever, not even in order to save one’s country from tyranny (De Malo, 15, 1, ad 5). Negative precepts do not tell us what to do, but what not to do. Like positive precepts, they are at the service of the good, but their service is of a different kind. They do not tell us what to do in order to promote the good, but what not to do in order not to harm the good. “Do not commit adultery,” for instance, is the expression of the practical truth that by engaging in sexual relations with a person who is married to another, one harms the good of that person’s marital union, and with that the good of the family and ultimately that of society. And this, according to perennial tradition, is always the case. No discernment is necessary about whether or not to choose this act. As Aristotle already said, when it comes to committing adultery, every person is the wrong person, every time is the wrong time, every way is the wrong way.10

Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the great master of discernment, for his part, too, emphasizes that only what is indifferent or good in itself can be the legitimate object of a possible choice, in this way excluding as objects of possible deliberation acts that are immoral in themselves.11 If the choice of contraception falls under this latter category, as Humanae Vitae explicitly states (HV 14), then this choice is not a proper matter of discernment, at least not for Pope Francis, who explicitly exhorts us to recall the Thomistic position and who, as a Jesuit, most certainly also has St. Ignatius’s teaching in mind, particularly when it comes to a topic so central to this saint’s thinking. 

The Problem of Method

The PAV document moves on by stating that “there are in fact practical conditions and circumstances that would make it irresponsible to choose to generate, as the ecclesiastical magisterium itself recognizes, precisely by admitting the ‘natural methods.’”12 That the magisterium admits the need for procreative responsibility is certainly true.  However, one should note the text’s emphasis, here and throughout, on the question of the method used: “natural” vs. “artificial.” In Humanae Vitae, however, this issue is at most marginal. The encyclical’s argument rather turns around the object of the spouses’ choice: “abstaining periodically” vs. “deliberately depriving the conjugal act of its fertility,” a matter about which the PAV text is entirely silent. In fact, in Humanae Vitae’s official Latin version, the term “methodus” does not appear. Not counting the editorial headings, which do not appear in Latin, in the English translation “method” occurs four times. Three times it serves to translate the Latin word “via”—“way” (HV 7, 17). Once, the phrase “use of contraceptive methods” renders the typically Latin construction “usibus conceptioni officientibus”—which literally reads, “the use of those that act against conception” (HV 17). In all four occurrences of the word “method” in the English translation, Humanae Vitae speaks of contraception.

Although, if rightly understood, the idea behind the “natural methods” is perfectly legitimate, the simple fact is that the expression “natural method” does not occur in Humanae Vitae. Its main point, therefore, could not well have been the contrast between natural and artificial methods. There are many ways of going beyond the letter of a law, ways about which people may then agree or disagree. However, the minimal prerequisite would seem to be starting with the letter. The authors of the PAV document have not done as much.

The Contraceptive Mentality

We are now moving to the phrase in which the authors describe the contraceptive choice as morally legitimate. What they say is not at all ambiguous, and at the same time it is worded in a somewhat contorted way that does not make for captivating newspaper headlines. Having pointed out in the previous sentence that the ecclesial magisterium considers the “natural methods” to be morally legitimate, they now continue: 

Therefore, as happens with these methods, which already make use of specific techniques and scientific knowledge, there are situations in which two spouses, who have decided or will decide to welcome children, can make a wise discernment in the concrete case, which, without contradicting their openness to life, at that moment does not foresee it [=their openness to life].13

If anyone still harbored any doubt as to the meaning of these words, the authors come to the reader’s aid in the next sentence, which finally makes everything clear: “The wise choice will be realized by appropriately evaluating all possible techniques with reference to their specific situation and obviously excluding abortifacient ones.”14 To take responsibility for the gift and task of generating, the spouses, as long as they are wise, can legitimately discern “all possible techniques,” which—given the meaning of “all”—logically includes “artificial methods,” as long as they exclude abortifacient ones.

Quite understandably, to the authors a negative moral evaluation of the “artificial methods,” simply on account of their artificiality, seems implausible. To them, the only alternative place to look for moral goodness or badness would then have to be found in the underlying attitude. Thus, they suggest considering the spouses’ mentality, surpassing in this way “the alternative between ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ methods.”15 Indeed, according to them, as we have just cited but offer again here for a new emphasis, the spouses can make a “wise discernment … without contradicting their openness to life” (n. 172, emphasis added). What is being presented here as the criterion for the morally legitimate “choice of method” is the presence or absence of the couple’s openness to life, which is not an act, but an attitude. The document continues along these lines, becoming even more explicit when it states: “These choices are a far cry from the ‘contraceptive and anti-birth mentality’ rightly criticized by HV and FC.”16 The authors’ main concern is the question of mentality. If there is any moral evil in contraception, it needs to be sought on the level of the “contraceptive mentality” which, for them, indeed needs to be addressed, but which is not necessarily linked to the contraceptive choice. The contraceptive choice, then, will be morally licit for as long as it is not connected to a contraceptive attitude.

What the authors present as their original contribution and deepest insight is the idea that a couple can make a contraceptive choice without necessarily having a contraceptive mentality. While this point seems true, it is not new, and it does nothing to justify the contraceptive choice, at least not according to the mind of Paul VI, who anticipated the PAV’s argument in HV 3. There he raises the question of whether one could not admit “that procreative finality applies to the totality of married life [corresponding to an attitude] rather than to each single act [corresponding to a choice]?” The answer he gives is “no.” Indeed, for him, “every marital act”—each one, that is, every single one—“must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life” (HV 11).

Significantly, the authors claim that the “contraceptive mentality” was criticized by Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae and John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio, which is only partially correct. In Humanae Vitae, the phrase “contraceptive mentality” does not appear. For Humanae Vitae the issue of contraception is not primarily a problem of method or attitude. For it, the problem is on the level of the contraceptive choice, which it defines as “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” (HV 14). Later on, in the same paragraph, Humanae Vitae describes the contraceptive choice as the choice of a conjugal act that “has been deliberately deprived of its fecundity” (“sua fecunditate ex industria destitutum,” our own translation). Nothing is said here yet of why the encyclical considers this choice morally illicit. On this we find considerations in HV 12 and in HV 18, for instance. But the formulation of the norm is here, in HV 14, and the norm declares morally illegitimate the choice of a concrete, well-definable type of act, not a general mode of acting (“artificially”), nor an attitude (the “contraceptive” or “anti-birth” mentality). 


Why did the authors of the PAV document choose to ignore what Humanae Vitae says? One may surmise that an engagement with the encyclical’s actual statements would have revealed a much deeper disagreement, no longer about one concrete issue of sexual morality, but about a problem belonging to fundamental moral theology: the question of whether there are types of acts at all, i.e., whether human acts, the objects of our deliberate rational choices, have natures or species at all and to what extent one can morally judge an act on the basis of this species alone. The position that denies that acts have natures or species is called nominalism. Although the authors of the PAV’s document lay no explicit claim to being nominalists, what they write becomes much more intelligible when read from this perspective.

For St. Thomas, in contrast, acts do have species. Very importantly, he differentiates between an act’s moral species and an act’s natural species.17 To speak of “sexual intercourse,” for instance, is to refer to the act’s natural species. It is to move at a level of abstraction that does not yet express anything about the act’s moral goodness or badness. The moral species—also going by the name of the act’s “moral object”—refers to the way that reason presents the act to the will and therefore includes circumstances relevant to reason: “having relations with a person not married to another while not being married oneself,” “having sexual relations with someone married to another,” “having relations with one’s spouse.” These acts, in the moral tradition, have respectively been called by the names of “fornication,” “adultery,” and “conjugal relations.” Though they belong to the same natural species, for the tradition their moral evaluation differs greatly: The first two are gravely sinful, the third is morally good and laudable. 

The PAV document fails to make this simple and evident distinction and criticizes the Church’s tradition in a rather surprising way: The commandment “do not commit adultery,” it states, “goes well beyond [the norm, the precept] ‘do not commit impure acts,’ as if sex were impure.”18 The fact of the matter is that “sex” is neither pure nor impure and that no one ever chooses just to “have sex.” One chooses either conjugal relations, which are good and noble, or sexual acts outside of this context, which, for the Church’s tradition, receive a negative moral evaluation, and yes, also the predicate “impure”—but “impure” not because they are sexual acts, but because they are sexual acts without a promise or in violation of a promise.

The idea that acts have no species is in many ways the necessary presupposition for the PAV text to become intelligible in its claims and procedures. According to this position, the notion that “the morality of the human act depends primarily and fundamentally on the ‘object’ rationally chosen by the deliberate will,” as John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis splendor puts it, is meaningless. If there are no specific kinds of behavior, then it will be impossible to say with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, cited by Veritatis splendor, that “there are certain specific kinds of behavior that are always wrong to choose, because choosing them involves a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil” (CCC 1761; VS 78). If acts, having no nature or species, cannot be wrong in themselves, then the moral evaluation of our behavior must center exclusively on the attitudes with which we act: Do we have a “contraceptive mentality”? Do we act egoistically or altruistically? In acting, do we mean to make the world a better place? Obtaining clarity about one’s motivations, and perhaps also at times challenging them, will then be the main task of one’s conscience and the principal object of moral discernment.

One can understand how on this understanding, the human person, in his or her conscience, “is alone with God,” to speak with Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes. In the same passage, however, the Pastoral Constitution also says that “in the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience.” On a nominalist account, this affirmation, in contrast, becomes rather hard to see. If what one needs to judge is not whether one is doing something good or bad but only whether one is acting with the proper attitude, then ultimately, in one’s conscience one does not find a law that one has not given to oneself, but one finds only oneself.

Nominalism is of course entirely counterintuitive. To be coherent, one would have to abolish society’s entire juridical system. Courts can reasonably judge the nature of acts, but they will modestly have to abstain from passing judgment on persons’ motivations, a task to be left to God alone. If acts have no nature (such as, for instance, murder or perjury), courts have nothing on which to pass judgment. But more than this: Our whole lives are structured around the presupposition that our acts carry meaning in themselves, apart from our attitudes. If our attitudes were not mediated by our choices, then we could never know who our friends and who our enemies were. Judas became an enemy of Jesus by betraying him. Even on the hypothesis that Judas actually did what he did in order to challenge Jesus finally to take up the throne of Israel—that is, ultimately acting for Jesus’s “good”—his act would still have to be called an act of betrayal, at least for an approach that allows for acts to have species.   

The Inseparability Principle

Supposing, then, that acts do have species or natures, where is the specific evil in the kind of act described by Humanae Vitae as the choice of deliberately depriving conjugal acts of their inherent fecundity? There is, for one, the consideration offered by Paul VI in Humanae Vitae 12 about “the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.” The PAV document shows awareness of this passage in n. 163, without expounding on it. It is important to emphasize that Paul VI does not intend here to formulate a norm but to give the reason for the norm. In his days, he did not see any need to argue further for it, but believed, perhaps somewhat optimistically, “that our contemporaries are particularly capable of seeing that this teaching is in harmony with human reason” (HV 12).

The fact is that for many people today the principle’s rationality is not immediately obvious. How to understand it? The fundamental claim would seem to be that a conjugal act, once it no longer has “procreative significance,” will cease to have “unitive significance” as well. The distinguished English philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe interprets Paul VI’s expression “procreative significance” as referring to the type of act: An act has “procreative significance” if it is of the generative kind.19 It does not have to be actually generative in order to be of the generative kind, any more than a dog actually needs to bark in order to be an animal of the barking kind. For the sexual act to be of the generative kind, and thus to have procreative significance, it is enough that it takes place between a man and a woman who are using the appropriate organs and have not deliberately deprived this act of its fecundity. They may even know that, on account of the woman’s infertile period, the act will not now result in the generation of new life. They are still performing the kind of act that as such is apt for procreation. This is precisely why they have abstained the previous week, let us say.

The “natural methods” of family planning are entirely diagnostic in kind.20 No woman has ever avoided a pregnancy by measuring her temperature or by inspecting the consistency of her vaginal mucus. What avoids conception is the act of periodic abstinence, which, beyond being a simple act of renunciation, is also a “conjugal” act inasmuch as the two have to perform it together. The “natural method” is periodic abstinence, which, beyond the diagnostic techniques, is entirely dependent on virtuous self-mastery and ongoing dialogue. The spouses abstain precisely because they consider themselves the potential source of new human life, a potential that, for reasons of procreative responsibility, they do not want to actualize here and now while not wanting to renounce their conjugal relations altogether. When they come together in the woman’s infertile period, they still encounter each other as potential father and mother of their common children. This is precisely why they had previously abstained. They are still performing a generative kind of act, an act that sometimes leads to the conception of a child and sometimes does not.

Even if they know with the certainty provided by the diagnostic methods that they will not now conceive a son or daughter, simply engaging in an act of this type is deeply significant and highly bonding. What greater unity is there for two persons to achieve on this earth than to become father and mother of their common children? Here, in their children, they truly and quite literally become “one flesh.” The relation: father-and-mother-of-the-same-children is one that is truly indissoluble, and it is also here that one of the deepest reasons for the indissolubility of marriage is found. In every conjugal act that maintains its procreative significance, even if now known to be infertile, a man and a woman encounter each other as potential father and mother of their common children, that is, they encounter each other precisely as husband and wife; they perform an act of marital love that has a profoundly unitive meaning.

Things are different when it comes to the contraceptive choice. When husband and wife deliberately deprive their sexual act of its fecundity, they cannot well claim to be performing an act that has procreative significance. Now the contraceptive choice is the choice of sterile sex, even if, biologically speaking, due to contraceptive failure, it could well lead to the conception of a new human being. By deliberately depriving their sexual act of its potential fecundity, the partners choose their sexual act as an act that is inherently incapable of generating new human life. Thus, on the intentional level, that is on the level of what is actually chosen, one can say with Elizabeth Anscombe that the difference between the contraceptive choice and the choice of same-sex acts is one of aesthetics and taste alone: In both cases, the objects of one’s choice are sterile sexual acts.21

But even if the above be granted, one may still ask, “Where is the problem with the choice of sterile sex?” The first thing to be said is that the choice of sterile sex trivializes our sexuality. This choice deprives our sexuality of any kind of transcendence, of any kind of mission, and it does so in each and every single act, not only on the level of the general attitude. Uniting in sterile sex, the two remain alone with each other, living for the moment. Whether these two are of the opposite sex or of the same sex is accidental, as is, incidentally, the fact that they are two. In this way, one loses the sense of what is proper to the love between man and woman, along with the deepest meaning of sexual difference. Already back in 1984 Augusto del Noce suggested that homosexual love has become the paradigm for how our societies think of love.22 We can also say it in the words of Benedict XVI: “The fundamental separation between sexuality and fecundity ... means, in fact, that in this way all forms of sexuality are equated.”23 The choice of sterile sex is the choice of something trivial, and even if it were limited to a married, opposite-sex couple, by its inner logic it cannot account for this limitation and in fact “equates all forms of sexuality.”

While the PAV document uses Familiaris Consortio as a witness to the problem of the “contraceptive mentality,” the authors fail to mention, let alone expound on, a much more central point John Paul II makes in his apostolic exhortation. In fact, he claims that the difference between the use of contraception and recourse to periodic abstinence involves “two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality” (FC 32). What are these two irreconcilable concepts? Where do we find the idea of this fundamental difference in Humanae Vitae? Here it is useful to look, for instance, at HV 16 and HV 18. In the former paragraph, Paul VI underscores that the practice of contraception and that of periodic abstinence “are completely different” (HV 16), even though “it cannot be denied that in each case the married couple, for acceptable reasons, are both perfectly clear in their intention to avoid children and wish to make sure that none will result” (HV 16). While the intention to avoid conception is the same in both cases, there is a most relevant difference in this, namely that only in periodic abstinence “husband and wife are ready to abstain from intercourse during the fertile period as often as for reasonable motives the birth of another child is not desirable” (HV 16). With these words Paul VI in fact interprets the contraceptive choice not simply as a choice for the use of “artificial methods,” but as a choice against periodic abstinence, and with that, one can add, a choice against virtuous self-mastery.24

This interpretation becomes even clearer in Humanae Vitae n. 18, where Paul VI maintains that with her teaching on the immorality of the contraceptive choice, the Church “defends the dignity of husband and wife” (HV 18). How, according to him, does the contraceptive choice violate the spouses’ dignity? The pope understands the contraceptive choice as a betrayal of the human person’s “personal responsibilities by putting all his faith in technical expedients” (HV 18). Thus, in his judgment, recourse to contraception means refusing to take responsibility for oneself in a way that is proper to persons, abdicating personal responsibility to technological means. His words to this extent are admittedly very shorthand, and if one reads Humanae Vitae with the preconceived notion that for the document the relevant contrast is between “natural” and “artificial,” then one can easily overlook this point, a point that leads us to the core of the encyclical’s concept of the person and sexuality.

In his Wednesday catecheses on human love in the divine plan, John Paul II elaborates on this issue. In the section dedicated to the interpretation of Humanae Vitae, he asks about the very “essence of the teaching of the Church about the transmission of life in the conjugal community.”25 From this formulation one can gather that something important will follow. In his answer he takes up the encyclical’s notion of the difference between taking personal responsibility on the one hand and putting one’s “faith in technical expedients” (HV 18) on the other. John Paul II writes that “the problem lies in maintaining the adequate relationship between that which is defined as ‘domination ... of the forces of nature’ (HV 2) and ‘self-mastery’ (HV 21), which is indispensable for the human person. Contemporary man shows the tendency of transferring the methods proper to the first sphere to those of the second.” For the Polish pontiff, extending to human beings the means properly used for “the domination ... of the forces of nature” (HV 2) “threatens the human person for whom the method of ‘self-mastery’ is and remains specific.” If, when it comes to taking procreative responsibility, one does not take personal responsibility, that is, one does not recur to virtuous ‘self-mastery,’ but rather puts all one’s “faith in technical expedients” (HV 18), then one “breaks the constitutive dimension of the person, deprives man of the subjectivity proper to him, and turns him into an object of manipulation.” The core of John Paul II’s explanation of Humanae Vitae seems to be that by practicing contraception, the partners—by the very structure of their act—treat each other as forces of nature, i.e., as objects that need to be manipulated to avoid the worst and not as subjects capable of exercising self-control.

Here, then, are the two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality: The contraceptive choice is a choice against virtuous self-possession and self-mastery. The underlying concept of the human person is that of a being governed by instincts and drives, let loose like a tornado, a force of nature whose operations themselves cannot be controlled. One can only take prudent measures, apply technical expedients, so as to limit any possible harm. The concept of sexuality implied is that of a brute force, incapable of being integrated into the order of reason—and with that the order of freedom and love. On this view, integrating and moderating this force, taking personal responsibility for its undesired effects by abstaining from its exercise, must not be proposed to anyone, as such attempts are potentially harmful. The idea is that the most one can achieve is to repress one’s sexual impulse, which may then erupt at any time like a volcano, the eruption being the more violent the more one had previously denied the impulse any outlet. The view of human sexuality, practically implied in each and every single contraceptive choice, finds its starkest formulation in the words of the great prophet of the sexual revolution, Wilhelm Reich, who famously claimed that “medical experience with sexuality teaches us that sexual repression causes disease, perversions, or lasciviousness.”26

The choice of periodic continence, in contrast, implies a view of the human person as a being capable of self-possession. As John Paul II puts it, “man is person precisely because he is master of himself and has dominion over himself.27 Having dominion over themselves, possessing themselves, human beings can then also give themselves, with an inner freedom that is necessary for there to be a true gift of oneself. They are capable of modifying their (sexual) behavior should love, informed by reason—and reason, informed by love—demand it. They are capable of true responsibility for what they do. They take procreative responsibility by modifying their actual sexual behavior, and not just by taking prudent measures to avoid negative consequences of a behavior not effectively under their control. Sexuality itself is seen as a force that is open to being informed by reason and integrated into the order of interpersonal love. Sexual acts can truly be acts of love. But to be so, they need to be free, that is, they must not be the result of inner compulsion. One would also have to be able to abstain should love demand it.

That sexuality is not a brute force but can be integrated into the order of love and reason, that spouses are truly able to make a gift of themselves and to receive each other with the very freedom of this gift: This is good news. That our sexuality includes, in the very words of the PAV document, a Gabe and Aufgabe, a gift and a mission (n. 168)—this, too, is good news. That there is a proper context in which to receive this gift and live this mission, namely the institution that marital love gives to itself, which goes by the name of marriage: This is good news. The solution to the Church’s current problems—from the abuse crisis to the decline in the number of marriages and baptisms, from the near absence of adult conversions to the increasing numbers of people turning their back on Christ’s Mystical Body—is not in giving up the good news she has, but in finally starting to proclaim it with confidence, especially and precisely in the realm of human sexuality. As Elizabeth Anscombe once said, “What can be done? If you want to repair the situation, you will have to preach chastity, the whole doctrine of the Church: the whole package. For it all hangs together.”28 Yes, everything hangs together. The above considerations will hopefully have shown that the question of contraception is not just a minor issue within a delimited field of special moral theology. Rather the entire ecclesial teaching on sexuality, marriage, and family stands or falls with it: from the moral evaluation of same-sex acts, the issue of pre-marital and extra-marital relations, the meaning of marriage, and the possibility of celibacy for the Kingdom of Heaven.

Homologous Artificial Procreation

There remains for us to discuss, much more briefly, the final paragraph of the PAV’s basic text, in which the authors propose as morally legitimate homologous assisted procreation, i.e., artificial reproductive technologies, of whatever kind, as long as in producing the human embryo, they use the gametes of both husband and wife and avoid the creation of so-called “surplus” or “spare” embryos. In contrast, the text maintains that heterologous assisted procreation—which, for producing the embryo, makes use of at least one gamete of a donor outside the couple—is illegitimate. We will now look at this section in closer detail.

It is in paragraph 173 that the authors express their approval of homologous ARTs.29 They do so in a rather subtle way, making their case in the following two phrases, after which they will immediately proceed to criticize heterologous ARTs. It is all here, not at all ambiguous, although some unpacking will be necessary. We read: 

Thus, in the various forms of homologous assisted procreation, obviously avoiding the creation of “surplus embryos,” generation is not artificially separated from sexual intercourse, because the latter is “in itself” infertile. On the contrary, technique operates as a form of therapy to remedy sterility without substituting itself for intercourse, but allowing for generation.30

As the reader will have noticed, here the authors do not say “we consider the use of homologous ARTs morally legitimate.” They simply make the rather audacious claims that homologous ARTs do not artificially separate sexuality and procreation and that these procedures do not substitute the conjugal act. The authors also, accurately, point out that the creation of “spare” embryos can on principle be avoided, although they remain silent on the additional strain on the woman’s health that this implies, on account of which the actual fulfillment of the requirement becomes practically unrealistic, at least the moment one sets out on this path in the first place. 

An Implicit Dialogue with Donum Vitae

By the way it presents its case, the PAV document enters into an implicit dialogue with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s instruction Donum Vitae. The authors list at least some of the main reasons for why the instruction judges the ARTs, including the homologous ones, morally illicit. The PAV text claims that these reasons do not in fact apply to homologous ARTs. The unstated, though logically necessary conclusion, is that for the authors homologous ARTs can be morally approved. Although Donum Vitae is not cited, its language is used, and more so, its affirmations are the necessary backdrop for there to be any argument at all. After all, “not artificially separating generation from sexual intercourse” is not a synonym for “being morally legitimate.” An entirely moot point will be made unless one reads the argument in the context of an implicit dialogue with the Congregation’s instruction.

Donum Vitae proceeds from the principle that “The moral relevance of the link between the meanings of the conjugal act and between the goods of marriage, as well as the unity of the human being and the dignity of his origin, demand that the procreation of a human person be brought about as the fruit of the conjugal act specific to the love between spouses” (DV II, B, 4, c). On the basis of this principle, the instruction passes a negative moral judgment on homologous in vitro fertilization and embryonic transfer: “In conformity with the traditional doctrine relating to the goods of marriage and the dignity of the person, the Church remains opposed from the moral point of view to homologous ‘in vitro’ fertilization” (DV II, B, 5, original emphases). Here, it is a question, among others, of separating sexuality and procreation.

The instruction’s judgment on homologous artificial insemination is more nuanced: “Homologous artificial insemination within marriage cannot be admitted except for those cases in which the technical means is not a substitute for the conjugal act but serves to facilitate and to help so that the act attains its natural purpose” (II, B, 6, original emphases). The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith does not want to exclude the possibility of techniques that aid the conjugal act in achieving its natural finality without actually replacing it: As long as the technology does not replace the conjugal act, its use is morally licit. The concern is that the source of generation needs to be the conjugal act, since otherwise the one conceived is treated as a mere product and injured in his or her deepest identity.

Donum Vitae also denounces the production of “spare” embryos (DV, II). At the same time, the Congregation declares that it intends to “conduct its ethical study,” and ultimately pass its moral judgment on the ARTs, “abstracting as far as possible from the destruction of embryos produced in vitro” (DV, II).

Here, then, in sum, is what Donum Vitae says: Except in cases, difficult to imagine but not to be excluded a priori, of specific forms of assisted insemination, even the homologous ARTs separate the conjugal act from procreation, replace the conjugal act with a technical means, and violate the dignity of the child which requires that he or she “be brought about as the fruit of the conjugal act specific to the love between spouses” (DV, II, B, 4, c, original emphases). Conceiving a child apart from a conjugal act means instrumentalizing the child, treating him or her as a mere product. And here, in contrast, we read once more what the PAV text says: “In the various forms of homologous assisted procreation … generation is not artificially separated from sexual intercourse. … Technique operates as a form of therapy to remedy sterility without substituting itself for intercourse, but allowing for generation” (n. 173). We can see that the texts mirror each other, the PAV document explicitly denying the affirmations of the instruction. What is curious is that the two documents are contradictory not only in questions of moral judgment, a realm where we are used to hearing conflicting opinions, but in a matter that should be an objective description of the relevant facts. How is it possible to arrive at this state of affairs?

Separating and Replacing: An Equivocation

Let us examine more precisely what the PAV text is doing. Seemingly, the document makes its own the criteria presented by Donum Vitae on the basis of which the instruction formulated its (negative) moral judgment on the ARTs: 

1) Generation must not be separated from the conjugal act.

2) The conjugal act must not be replaced by techniques. 

3) No spare embryos must be produced.  

The PAV document then grants 3) and equivocates on the meaning of 1) and 2) in order to be able to claim that these criteria are in fact fulfilled. We need to speak of equivocation here because there are actually two ways in which one can separate sexual acts and generation, and the PAV text merges these into one. One can have “sex without babies” or “babies without sex.” The first occurs in contraception, when a couple deliberately deprives the conjugal acts of their inherent procreative capacity. The infertile couple does nothing of this sort, since their infertility is not of their choosing. Thus, in this sense, the PAV text would be correct in saying that “generation is not artificially separated from sexual intercourse.” But it would be right in saying so only if the topic under discussion were that of infertile spouses having intercourse, a question not at issue here. But what is at stake is rather the other way of separating sexual acts and generation: to have “babies without sex.” This occurs in the ARTs. The undeniable fact remains that the couple taking recourse to these technologies chooses to have a child apart from sexual intercourse. This is the very definition of the ARTs. Here it is simply not true that “generation is not artificially separated from sexual intercourse,” i.e., in the moment the infertile spouses make a baby apart from intercourse by artificial means—which is the topic under discussion. We will now confront the texts in greater detail to sustain the point we have just made.

When Donum Vitae speaks about “the link between procreation and the conjugal act” (DV, II, B, 4, c) its topic is the moral repercussions of having “babies without sex.” The text refers to a child’s right to be conceived in an act of love, a concrete, physical, loving embrace between his or her father and mother. To separate procreation and the conjugal act will then mean to deprive the child of this right and to bring about conception through a technical, medical act that is not a conjugal act. Why is it not a conjugal act? In fact, the protagonist, the one acting, is the medical doctor. The husband looks on while the physician impregnates his wife, using, hopefully, the husband’s sperm but, from the very nature of the procedure, a mix-up cannot be excluded. Whatever the spouses’ intentions or attitudes, if actions have any meaning in themselves, then the act of a physician impregnating the husband’s wife cannot be called a conjugal act. Even if the medical doctor uses the husband’s sperm in artificial insemination, the act is much closer to an act of adultery than to marital intercourse. Generation and the conjugal act are clearly separated.

What do the PAV authors mean when they write that in homologous ARTs “generation is not artificially separated from sexual intercourse” (n. 173)? Given the above considerations, such a claim must sound aporetic. However, they immediately provide a consideration capable, if not of convincing the reader, at least of boggling his or her mind. With a sleight of hand, the authors provide considerations truly suitable—for a different topic, namely that of having “sex without babies.” Indeed, according to them, generation and the conjugal act are not artificially separated from each other “because the latter”—sexual intercourse—“is ‘in itself’ infertile.”31 What the authors say here is that the spouses do nothing to render their conjugal acts infertile. In their case, given their very condition, the sexual act is already separated from generation. Here, then, to separate sexual intercourse and generation means deliberately to deprive the conjugal act of its fecundity—which is the definition that Humanae Vitae gives of the contraceptive choice. It is a question not of having “babies without sex,” but one of having “sex without babies.” What follows from the PAV’s argument is that infertile couples can legitimately engage in conjugal acts without separating the two meanings of the conjugal act, since their infertility is not of their making. Nothing is said about the legitimacy of having “babies without sex.”

The question of having “babies without sex” is one that does not refer to what the spouses do or do not do in order to render themselves infertile. Rather, it bears on the child’s condition, that is, the conditions under which a child is conceived. Donum Vitae affirms that fully to respect one’s sons and daughters as persons, it is necessary to conceive them in a conjugal act, an act of conjugal love, and not in an act of technical production. If children are conceived apart from a conjugal act, they will be the product of their parents’ fabrication, not the fruit of their love, whatever the origin of the couple’s inability to conceive children in their conjugal act. 

Children of Desire

The considerations presented by Donum Vitae continue to stand untouched by the PAV’s equivocation. It is noteworthy that the authors of the basic text themselves provide some reflections that serve to sustain the instruction’s fundamental argument. In paragraph 165 the authors point out with some concern that “the desire to have children … is easily transformed into the ‘child of desire’ and the ‘right to a child.’”32 The authors do not mention Marcel Gauchet’s essay of the same title, that is, “L’enfant du désir” (The child of desire) which, at least in France and Italy, has been widely read in academic circles and is almost certainly on their minds.33 “Children of desire” owe their being to their parents in a most radical way. Parental desire becomes the very principle of their being. And the PAV, in the final words of its final paragraph 173, is certainly right in saying that heterologous ARTs are practiced “in the name of an absolute claim of the desire for a child, the child that in this way becomes the child of desire.” 

The fact is, however, that “children of desire” are the result not only of heterologous ARTs but of the homologous variety as well. It is true that in the latter case the couple somewhat respects the unity of their marriage (without counting the intrusion of the medical doctor who impregnates the wife). But the fact remains that children brought about artificially have precisely one reason for their being: their parents’ desire. They are the products of their parents’ will; they exist for the sole reason that their parents wanted to have them. In this way, however, there is a heavy burden on them. As Marcel Gauchet puts it, “The desired child is also, by definition, the rejected child.”34 “Children of desire” exist conditionally, and they know it. What if their parents cease to desire them? What if they do not live up to their parents’ expectations, given that these expectations were the very reason for their existence?

Managing one’s expectations of and desires for one’s children is one of the most important lessons for successful parenting. To make one’s desires the principle of one’s child’s existence is not a good start. We find a most convincing argument against the use of any kind of artificial reproductive technology in the PAV text’s paragraph 171: “Generating is welcoming a child, who, though coming from us, does not belong to us.”35 And during gestation in particular, it is finally a matter of recognizing him or her as “a guest”—not, that is, the product of our wishes, not the result of our desires. We—the parents say—are for our sons and daughters, not they for us.

The problem with the ARTs, the reason for the moral illegitimacy of seeking to have “babies without sex,” has its core in the repercussions these procedures have on the parent-child relationship and in the respect that is owed to the child as a person, as someone who has dignity. Even if homologous ARTs infringe less on the unity of marriage, and therefore have “less ethical negativity” attached to them (DV II, B, 5), it is still true that simply having “less ethical negativity” does not render a practice a good one. The main argument provided by Donum Vitae applies to artificial procreation in all its varieties, including the homologous ones: It “entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person. Such a relationship of domination is in itself contrary to the dignity and equality that must be common to parents and children” (DV II, B, 5). 

Sexuality and Our Desire for True Love

Here then are our considerations regarding the recent publication by the Pontifical Academy for Life on a “Theological Ethics of Life” and, in particular, on the section dedicated to “The Great Anthropological, Ethical, and Theological Questions: Being Born, Loving, and Generating.” Apart from its final two paragraphs, the basic text might have been a very valid starting point for academic ecclesial discussion. In those two paragraphs, however, the document directly contradicts the Church’s received teaching without even making attempts at engaging this teaching on its own terms. These two paragraphs are a potential source of grave scandal, in the sense of having the capacity of leading people into sin, precisely in a realm where all of us are most vulnerable and where so much of our vocation, mission, and identity as human beings and Christian believers is at stake: a vocation to be loved as sons and daughters; a mission, as husband and wife, to become fathers and mothers; an identity to know where we are coming from and where we are going to, to have an origin and a destiny. All this is at stake in our sexuality. Sexual activity is not something to be toyed with, but it deserves a special context: marriage. It also merits special attention on the part of the pastors of souls, not to tear down and lead to sin, but to build up and accompany on the path of virtue, as Jesus did with the Samaritan woman: “He addressed her desire for true love, in order to free her from the darkness in her life and to bring her to the full joy of the Gospel” (AL 294).

Gerhard Cardinal Müller is former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. 

Stephan Kampowski is professor of philosophical anthropology at the Pontifical Theological John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family Sciences, Rome.


1 For distinguishing between authentic development of doctrine, which brings out more clearly the deepest meaning of previous doctrinal formulations, and the corruption of doctrine, which contradicts perennial teaching, see Gerhard Cardinal Müller, “Development or Corruption? Can There Be ‘Paradigm Shifts’ in the Interpretation of the Deposit of Faith?” in The Power of Truth: The Challenges of Catholic Morals and Doctrine Today (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2019), 23-35. The text presents the insights of St. John Henry Cardinal Newman, who unfolds several criteria or “notes” serving this purpose. Thus, “in his fourth note, Newman speaks of the necessity of a ‘Logical Sequence’ among the different steps of a development. For a development to be healthy, it must proceed in logical continuity with the teachings of the past” (Müller, Power of Truth, 32).

2 See Pius XII, Allocution to Midwives, October 29, 1951: “Any attack by spouses during the performance of the conjugal act or in the development of its natural consequences, an attack having for its purpose to deprive it of its inherent force and to prevent the procreation of a new life, is immoral and … no ‘indication’ or necessity can change an intrinsically immoral action into a moral and lawful act. This prescription is in full force today as it was yesterday, and will be so tomorrow and always, because it is not merely a precept of human law, but the expression of a natural and divine law” (our own translation). The text was originally delivered in Italian and can be found in ASS 43 (1951), 843.  

Also see John Paul II, Discourse to the Participants at the II International Congress of Moral Theology, November 12, 1988: “In the post-synodal exhortation Familiaris Consortio,...[I reproposed], within the wider context of the vocation and mission of the family, the anthropological and moral perspective of Humanae Vitae as well as the consequent ethical norm to be drawn from it for the life of spouses. It is not, in fact, a doctrine invented by man: it has been inscribed by the creative hand of God into the very nature of the human person and has been confirmed by him in revelation. To question it, therefore, is tantamount to refusing God himself the obedience of our intelligence” (our own translation). The text was originally delivered in Italian and can be found in ASS 81 (1989), 1207.

3 Vincenzo Paglia, ed., Etica teologica della vita: Scrittura, tradizione, sfide pratiche (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2022), 303: “La questione, altamente simbolica e tipicamente ‘personalista’, posta da HV, è il nesso costitutivo tra sessualità, amore sponsale e generazione. Si tratta di una verità antropologica irrinunciabile, inscritta nell’esperienza comune a tutte le culture.” The text continues a little further down on the same page: “Generare è accogliere un figlio che, pur venendo da noi, non ci appartiene.”

4 Paglia, Etica, 304: “Alla luce di questa alleanza generante, che esprime amore e responsabilità, si comprende l’istanza irrinunciabile inscritta nelle formule espresse da HV 10-14.”

5 Paglia, Etica, 304: “La norma rimanda sempre a un bene che la precede e la eccede.”

Paglia, Etica, 304: “La sua verità [della norma] e irriducibile all’enunciato letterale ... Essa rimanda oltre l’osservanza letterale di una legge e di una legge che sarebbe puramente fisica, sollecitando gli sposi a coniugare il mistero della generazione con la risposta a tale dono.”

7 Paglia, Etica, 304: “La responsabilità nella generazione richiede un discernimento pratico che non può coincidere con l’applicazione automatica e l’osservanza materiale di una norma, come è evidente nella pratica stessa dei metodi naturali. 

Paglia, Etica, 304n15: “Già Pio XII ricordava che il ricorso ai metodi agenesiaci (naturali) non può né deve significare che gli sposi decidano di avere rapporti sessuali solo nei periodi di sterilità, perché questo provocherebbe un ‘difetto essenziale del consenso matrimoniale.’”

9 Unless otherwise noted, all English translations of ecclesial documents are taken from the Vatican website: 

10 Cf. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, II, 6, 1107a.

11 Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans. Louis J. Puhl, S.J. (Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1959), n. 170, p. 72: “It is necessary that all matters of which we wish to make a choice be either indifferent or good in themselves.”

12 Paglia, Etica, 304-305: “Ci sono infatti condizioni e circostanze pratiche che renderebbero irresponsabile la scelta di generare, come lo stesso magistero ecclesiastico riconosce, appunto ammettendo i ‘metodi naturali.’”

13 Paglia, Etica, 305: “Perciò, come accade in questi metodi, che già si servono di tecniche specifiche e di conoscenze scientifiche, ci sono situazioni in cui due sposi, che hanno deciso o decideranno di accogliere figli, possono operare un saggio discernimento nel caso concreto, che senza contraddire la loro apertura alla vita, in quel momento non la prevede.

14 Paglia, Etica, 305: “La scelta saggia verrà attuata valutando opportunamente tutte le tecniche possibili in riferimento alla loro specifica situazione ed escludendo ovviamente quelle abortive.”

15 Paglia, Etica, 305: “Nella prospettiva che abbiamo delineato si supera l’alternativa tra metodi ‘naturali’ e ‘artificiali.’”

16 Paglia, Etica, 305: “Queste scelte sono ben lungi dalla ‘mentalità contracettiva’ e antinatalista giustamente criticata da HV e da FC” (emphasis added).

17 Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I-II, 1, 3, ad 3, where he speaks about “killing a man” as a given act’s natural species, as opposed to “safeguarding justice” or “satisfying one’s anger” as the act’s moral species. In STh I-II, 18, 5, ad 3 he applies the distinction to the act of sexual intercourse, albeit without using these specific terms: According to him, “the conjugal act and adultery, as compared to reason [=the moral species], differ specifically,” although “as compared to the generative power [the natural species], they do not differ in species.”

18 Paglia, Etica, 300-301: “Una delle ‘dieci parole’ riguarda il rapporto tra uomo e donna nel matrimonio. Questo comandamento, ben più del ‘non commettere atti impuri’, come se il sesso fosse impuro, o del semplice ‘non fornicare’, tutela la qualità etica della reciprocità sponsale.

19 Cf. G.E.M. Anscombe, “On Humanae Vitae,” in Faith in a Hard Ground: Essays on Religion, Philosophy and Ethics by G.E.M. Anscombe, edited by Mary Geach and Luke Gormally (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2008), 194.

20 The authors wish to acknowledge their debt for many of the subsequent considerations to Martin Rhonheimer, “Sexuality and Responsibility,” in Ethics of Procreation (Washington DC: CUA Press, 2010), 33-132.

21 Cf. G.E.M. Anscombe, Contraception and Chastity (London: Catholic Truth Society, 2003), 32-33: “If contraceptive intercourse is permissible, then what objection could there be after all to mutual masturbation, or copulation in vase indebito, sodomy, buggery … when normal copulation is impossible or inadvisable (or in any case, according to taste)? It can’t be the mere pattern of bodily behaviour in which the stimulation is procured that makes all the difference! But if such things are all right, it becomes perfectly impossible to see anything wrong with homosexual intercourse, for example.”

22 A. del Noce, Lettera a Rodolfo Quadrelli, January 8, 1984, reproduced in M. Tringali, Augusto Del Noce interprete del Novecento (Aosta: Le Chateau, 1997), 142: “Today’s nihilism … always understands love homosexually, even if it maintains the man-woman relationship” (our own translation). Original: “Ma il nichilismo oggi corrente […] intende l’amore sempre omosessualmente, anche quando mantiene il rapporto uomo-donna. 

23 Benedict XVI, La vera Europa. Identità e missione (Siena: Cantagalli, 2021), 8: “La separazione in termini di principio tra sessualità e fecondità […] significa, infatti, che in questo modo tutte le forme di sessualità sono equiparate. 

24 For this and the following, see Rhonheimer, “Sexuality and Responsibility,” 104-107.

25 John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, trans. Michael Waldstein (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2006), 630 (General Audience of August 22, 1984).

26 Wilhelm Reich, The Sexual Revolution (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974), 66 (original publication in German in 1936).

27 John Paul II, Man and Woman, 632 (original emphasis).

28 G.E.M. Anscombe, “Contraception, Chastity and the Vocation of Marriage,” in Faith in a Hard Ground, 209.

29 The authors speak of “tecniche di procreazione medicalmente assistita (PMA),” which literally translates as “techniques of medically assisted procreation.” In our translations of passages from the PAV text, we will however follow the established English terminology, which refers to the same reality under the title of “Artificial (or Assisted) Reproductive Technologies” (ARTs). 

30 Paglia, Etica, 305: “Cosi nella procreazione assistita omologa nelle sue varie forme, ovviamente evitando di ottenere ‘embrioni sovrannumerari’, la generazione non viene artificiosamente separata dal rapporto sessuale, perché questo è ‘di per sé’ infecondo. Al contrario, la tecnica agisce come una forma di terapia che permette di rimediare alla sterilità non sostituendosi al rapporto, ma permettendo la generazione” (original emphases).

31 Again: Paglia, Etica, 305: “La generazione non viene artificiosamente separata dal rapporto sessuale, perché questo è ‘di per sé’ infecondo.”

32 Paglia, Etica, 299: “Si può dire che il desiderio del figlio, anche oggi, non è andato radicalmente smarrito … ma che facilmente esso si trasforma nel ‘figlio del desiderio’ e nel ‘diritto al figlio.’”

33 Marcel Gauchet, “L’enfant du désir,” Le Débat 132 (2004): 98-121. In Italian the essay was published as a chapter of a volume collecting some of Gauchet’s articles. It inspired the book’s title: Marcel Gauchet, Il figlio del desiderio. Una rivoluzione antropologica (Milan: Vita e Pensiero, 2010), 49-90.

34 Gauchet, “L’enfant,” 109: “L’enfant désiré, c’est aussi, par définition, l’enfant refusé.”

35 Paglia, Etica, 303: “Generare è accogliere un figlio che, pur venendo da noi, non ci appartiene.

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