The faithful sons and daughters of the Church should accept the teaching of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium. We should not reject any encyclical in which the Magisterium teaches from Tradition and Scripture, or from natural law. But many Catholics do, sinfully, reject much of what the Magisterium teaches. So I ask you, which encyclical is most often rejected by the laity, or even by many priests and theologians?
Humanae Vitae is a top contender for this dubious honor. Very many Catholics use contraception, on various excuses, such as conscience, or good intentions, or difficult circumstances. Some even openly reject the teaching of the Magisterium, saying that the Church is simply wrong. Others merely ignore Church teaching on contraception.
However, many Catholics support the teaching of Humanae Vitae. There are many defenses of Humanae Vitae to be found in Catholic discussion and in various publications by Catholics. Although some priests and theologians misinterpret Humanae Vitae on certain points, it is not entirely rejected.
But I suggest that the encyclical of Pope John Paul II called The Splendor of Truth (Veritatis Splendor) is the most often and most thoroughly rejected teaching document. Veritatis Splendor teaches the faithful on the subject of the basic principles of ethics. Subsequent to the publication of this document, moral theologians should have incorporated this teaching into the very foundation of their approach to morality. But the vast majority have not done so. Many moral theologians completely ignore Veritatis Splendor. Some will quote from Veritatis Splendor on a few particular points, but the document’s teachings on the basic principles of ethics are not relied upon in any systematic or foundational manner.
In online discussions on ethics, in Catholic blogs and forums, Veritatis Splendor is rarely mentioned at all. And even if it is mentioned, its teaching is not the fundamental basis for the moral analysis of the vast majority of commentators. Many Catholic blogs deal frequently with questions on morality, and yet they feel free to analyze the morality of various acts on any basis that they see fit, without little or no regard for the teachings of Veritatis Splendor on the basic principles of any moral analysis.
Few moral theologians, other than myself, have given Veritatis Splendor its proper place as the preeminent magisterial document on ethics. My work of moral theology, The Catechism of Catholic Ethics, is thoroughly based on the basic principles of ethics taught in Veritatis Splendor, especially the three fonts of morality. The traditional principle of double effect and the traditional approach to cooperation with evil are understood and explained in terms of the three fonts of morality as taught by Veritatis Splendor. Even the teachings of the Catechism of the Catholic Church are viewed in terms of the three fonts of morality. For Veritatis Splendor offers a full in-depth presentation on basic principles in ethics, whereas the CCC has only a terse summary on particular points. (Excessive reliance on the CCC, in isolation from Veritatis Splendor and other magisterial documents on ethics, is a common problem among the faithful today.)
The rejection of the encyclical Veritatis Splendor by theologians, priests, lay teachers, commentators, and the laity in general is one of the gravest problems threatening the Faith today. Why has a controversy arisen about whether, in particular cases, an act is direct abortion or indirect? It is because most moral theologians and most Catholic hospital ethicists, physicians, and administrators do not based their moral analysis on Veritatis Splendor. Why has a controversy arisen about whether contraception is moral outside of marriage, or whether it might be moral in marriage in some circumstance or with some intentions? It is because the teaching of Veritatis Splendor has not been incorporated into the daily moral thinking of the faithful. Why are there so many disagreements among priests, theologians, and the laity in general about questions of morality? It is because they have rejected the common ethical framework offered to them by the Magisterium in Veritatis Splendor.
Given a choice between the Splendor of the Truth from Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium, and the splendor of deciding good and evil for themselves, most Catholics are choosing the latter.