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The Winnipeg Statement is the Canadian Bishops' Statement on the Encyclical Humanae Vitae from a Plenary Assembly held at Saint Bonifacemarker in Winnipeg, Manitobamarker. Published on September 27, 1968, it is the Canadian Bishop's controversial document about Pope Paul VI's July 1968 encyclical on human life and the regulation of birth.


The Catholic Church in Canada had already made moves to dissent from traditional Catholic teaching on contraception. An expert, or peritus, accompanying the Canadian bishops to the Second Vatican Council, Gregory Baum was a prominent dissident on the subject and at the third session of Vatican II Cardinal Leger of Montreal advocated that the duty to bearing children should be a duty pertaining to the state of matrimony as a whole rather than to an individual act, saying that "Confessors are assailed by doubts. They no longer know what to answer."


Published two months after Humanae Vitae, the Winnipeg Statement was an attempt by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops to address widespread concern within the Church about the prohibition of all forms of artificial contraception, and to counsel its members on how to respond to those who have difficulty accepting the directives.

It states that although many Catholics may find it "either extremely difficult or even impossible" to follow all of the teachings of the encyclical, they should not be considered to be "shut off" (or excommunicated) from the Roman Catholic Church. Rather, "the confessor or counselor must show sympathetic understanding and reverence for the sincere good faith of those who fail in their effort to accept some point of the encyclical."

Furthermore, in the controversial "paragraph 26", it states that "In accord with the accepted principles of moral theology, if these persons have tried sincerely but without success to pursue a line of conduct in keeping with the given directives, they may be safely assured that, whoever honestly chooses that course which seems right to him does so in good conscience." (Emphasis added.)

For, the statement asserts, "The unity of the Church does not consist in a bland conformity in all ideas, but rather in a union of faith and heart, in submission to God's will and a humble but honest and ongoing search for the truth."


Although many Episcopal Conferences published statements regarding Humanae Vitae, it is the Canadian Bishops' statement which has been the subject of the most controversy, as it is generally seen by both supporters and opponents as a loophole whereby Catholics may feel permitted to use birth control. Central to the debate is the role and importance of personal religious freedom of conscience.


Some see the statement as an honest pastoral attempt to maintain unity in the Canadian Church. As Bishop Alexander Carter (then President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops) explained, "We faced the necessity of making a statement which many felt could not be a simple 'Amen,' a total and formal endorsement of the doctrine of the encyclical — we had to reckon with the fact of widespread dissent from some points of his teaching among the Catholic faithful, priests, theologians, and probably some of our own number."

Supporters contend that the Canadian Bishops were merely trying to defend those who had not matured sufficiently in their faith, and that they were simply upholding the established doctrine expressed in Dignitatis Humanae, the Vatican II Declaration on Religious Freedom. They argue that it was this document which compelled the bishops "to support the need for personal freedom when dealing with the Church's rejection of artificial contraception... [and to insist] that married couples could only form their consciences in an atmosphere free of coercion."

Some have claimed that the statement was accepted "with satisfaction" by Pope Paul VI. Although this allegation is strongly disputed, it is worth noting that the Holy See has not published an official condemnation of the Winnipeg Statement, per se.


The statement was met with immediate and vocal opposition, which found root especially among conservative pro-life activists. The objections of opponents to the statement are perhaps best summarized in the writings of Msgr. Vincent Foy, who contends, among other things, that the Winnipeg Statement:

Foy further alleges that Cardinal Gerald Emmett Carter, one of the authors, partially repudiated the wording of the most controversial paragraph of the statement, writing in a private letter that "I am not prepared to defend paragraph 26 totally. In a sense, the phraseology was misleading and could give the impression that the bishops were saying that one was free to dissent at will from the Pope's teaching".

Some critics worry that the Canadian Bishops have cut themselves off from Rome by rejecting an official teaching of the Catholic Church and, they feel, advancing the idea of a separate National Church — suggesting that they may have formed "a new non-Catholic church the day they signed this Winnipeg Statement."


Many have called for the Canadian Bishops to officially retract the Winnipeg Statement, but the bishops responded a year later by stating that "Nothing could be gained and much lost by an attempt to rephrase what we have said in Winnipeg. We stand squarely behind our position but we feel it is our duty to insist on a proper interpretation of that position." The calls for retraction continue, though some see the Canadian bishop's December 1, 1973 document, Statement on the Formation of Conscience, as evidence that the Canadian Bishops are trying to distance themselves from the Winnipeg Statement.

In 1998, Canadian Bishops voted on a resolution to retract the Winnipeg Statement by secret ballot. It did not pass.

In 2008, a pastoral letter titled “Liberating Potential” was issued by the Canadian Bishops that was in full conformity with Humanae Vitae and invited all to “to discover or rediscover” its message. This pastoral letter is considered by opponents of the Winnipeg Statement as superseding it and closing the issue[283971].

Also in 2008, Canadian bishops unanimously stated that they were opposed to the attribution of the Order of Canada to abortionist Henry Morgentaler, directly quoting from the compendium of social doctrine, and thus appearing to be distancing themselves from any previous opposition to Humanae Vitae. Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte later announced that he was returning his award over the affair. Moreover, the bishops generally advocate pro-life views through the Catholic Organization for Life and Family, the official episcopal agency dedicated to life issues.

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