Moral theology of John XXIII

Moral theology of John XXIII

Although Angelo Roncalli has a reputation as being one of the most liberal Popes in history, a careful examination of the moral theology of John XXIII tends to deconstruct this reputation, given that he was highly critical of abortion, artificial insemination, divorce and the ordination of homosexual seminarians.



In Mater et Magistra, he wrote that “from its very inception, the creative action of God is directly operative. By violating His laws, the Divine Majesty is offended, the individuals themselves and humanity degraded, and likewise the community itself of which they are members is enfeebled.[1]


In 1963, Pope John XXIII established a commission of six European non-theologians to study questions of birth control and population.[2][3] The Pontiff had expressed a prohibitive view of contraceptives in the encyclical Mater et Magistra.[4]

The disagreements within the commission ultimately led to the publication of the encyclical Humanae Vitae.

Euthanasia and infanticide

Pope John was also opposed to euthanasia and infanticide, which were compared to abortion in the conciliar constitution Gaudium et Spes, written in 1963 during the final months of his life.[5]


Regarding divorce, he said that that “We must solemnly proclaim that human life is transmitted by means of the family, the family founded on marriage, one and indissoluble, raised for Christians to the dignity of a Sacrament.” [6]

Ordination of gay seminarians

A 1961 document approved by Pope John was entitled Careful Selection And Training Of Candidates For The States Of Perfection And Sacred Orders. It stated that homosexual men should not be ordained, although this was left to bishops to enforce, and most did not, holding homosexuals to the same standards of celibate chastity as heterosexual seminarians.[7]

Clerical abuse affairs

The document known as Crimen sollicitationis was issued by the Holy Office on March 16, 1962 and was presented by Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani to Pope John XXIII for his approval. It was then sent to all the bishops in the world, who were ordered to maintain a strict confidentiality about any matters of sexual abuse by priests.[8]

Artificial insemination

He also stated that “the transmission of human life is entrusted by nature to a personal and conscious act, and, as such, subject to the all-wise laws of God: laws inviolable and immutable that are to be recognized and observed. Therefore, it is not permissible to use means and follow methods that can be licit for the transmission of plant or animal life.” [6]


  1. ^ Mater et Magistra, 194
  2. ^ Shannon, William Henry (1970). "VII. The Papal Commission on Birth Control". The lively debate: response to Humanae vitae. New York: Sheed & Ward. pp. 76–104. ISBN 0-8362-0374-7. 
  3. ^ McClory, Robert (1995). Turning point: the inside story of the Papal Birth Control Commission, and how Humanae vitae changed the life of Patty Crowley and the future of the church. New York: Crossroad. ISBN 0-8245-1458-0. 
  4. ^ John XXIII, encyc. letter Mater et Magistra: AAS 193 (1961), 457.
  5. ^ Gaudium et Spes, 27 ; 51
  6. ^ a b Mater et Magistra, 193
  7. ^ Careful Selection And Training Of Candidates For The States Of Perfection And Sacred Orders
  8. ^ Commentary on Crimen sollicitationis

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