Back in TIME…

Here is part four of “Catholic Freedom vs Authority” from TIME magazine, November 22, 1968

Vulgar Objects. Like Maritain, the Pope firmly believes that the tradition of scholastic philosophy is a timeless mode of expressing the truths of the Christian faith. His encyclical on the Eucharist contended that the late-medieval word transubstantiation was the only way of expressing the mystery of the consecration, when the bread and wine at Mass become Christ’s body and blood. His new creed, promulgated last July, was a disappointingly unimaginative restatement of doctrinal orthodoxy that differed only in minor details from the language of the Council of Trent. His argument against contraception in Humanae Vitae rested on a traditional understanding of natural law–the theory that the function of human organs is defined by their nature. This particular interpretation has been abandoned by most Catholic philosophers as crude and mechanistic.

Despite Paul’s admirably progressive reform of the Curia, the men who administer it are still for the most part conservative. The Secretary of State is the venerable Amleto Cardinal Cicognani, 83, and his chief assistant is the equally reactionary Archbishop Giovanni Benelli, 47. A brilliant administrator, Benelli is gradually emerging as one of the most important men in the Vatican–largely because he is considered the principal pipeline for information from the outside world to the Pope. At the same time, some liberal prelates named by Paul to the Curia have found themselves stymied by conservative peers.

“Pope Paul has tried liberalism,” says one official in the Curia, “and found it wanting.” In terms of the men he trusts and consults, that is unquestionably true. During the council, Paul frequently relied upon the advice of such progressive non-Italian prelates as Leo-Joseph Cardinal Suenens of Belgium, Julius Cardinal Dopfner of Munich, Franziskus Cardinal Konig of Vienna. Apparently, all three have been dismissed from favor as unsympathetic. Today, the Pope’s most trusted adviser is Bishop Carlo Colombo, 59, who is a knowledgeable master of standard textbook theology. Another confidant is Dominican Father Luigi Ciappi, the Pope’s official theologian. Both Colombo and Ciappi advised Paul during the writing of Humanae Vitae.

The querulous tone of his public statements tends to obscure the rare personal qualities of Pope Paul, which have been amply visible on his pilgrim voyages. Even his critics concede that Paul displayed considerable courage in issuing a birth-control decision that ran counter to the wishes of most of the faithful. Although he lacks the obvious warmth of John XXIII, Paul is an impressive and sympathetic figure before small audiences. “He is a man of anguish who communicates his anguish to others,” says one Chicago priest. Unlike the aloof Pius XII, Paul almost never dines alone; unlike even John, who affected a quaint Renaissance mode of dress, Paul seldom wears anything more elaborate than a simple white cassock. On busy days he may meet aides with his collar open; sometimes, with cassock doffed, he is in shirtsleeves. Like Pius XII, he often pecks out short memos and private letters on a battered Olivetti portable.

It appears to be Paul’s view that the Second Vatican Council marked the limits of possible reform. For many Catholic progressives, the conciliar decrees were just a starting point. Vatican II, for example, established the principle of collegiality-meaning that bishops share ruling power over the church with the Pope. Many theologians argue that Paul’s unilateral decision on birth control makes a mockery of this principle. And they further argue that collegiality ought to be extended downward to encompass the entire church.

The Catholic crisis has led some thinkers to wonder whether the church is not ripe for the convening of Vatican III. “So much has happened that the fathers of Vatican II could not have anticipated,” says Publisher Dan Herr of Chicago’s bimonthly Critic, “that another council cannot be delayed.” One obvious topic for the agenda would be a new ruling on contraception to reflect the consensus of the faithful. Another, suggests Theologian Gregory Baum of Toronto, would be a definition “of the limits of papal authority and the freedom to be given local churches.” It is taken for granted by those who dream of Vatican III that priests and laymen would be represented, as well as bishops. Philosopher Novak half-seriously proposes that the proper setting would be the catacombs, rather than the baroquely splendid nave of St. Peter’s. Unfortunately, Pope Paul will almost certainly not call another council in his lifetime, although Vatican sources hint that he will summon a second Synod of Bishops next year.

Chairman of the Board. Not even the most far-out Catholic radical favors replacing the Pope with, say, a committee of theologians. On the other hand, there is widespread feeling in the church that the office of the papacy must be stripped of most of its monarchic pretensions and its right to govern all aspects of the church’s life. Thomas Schick, 28, of Cincinnati, an ex-seminarian turned journalist, suggests that the Pope in the future should be regarded as a kind of board chairman–a primus inter pares who would be a symbol of faith rather in the manner of an Eastern Orthodox patriarch.

“Recent Popes have acted as if they were entitled to behave in an autocratic manner,” says Leslie Dewart. “But it is an ancient tradition that the faith is the faith of a community.” In his view, it is impossible today for the hierarchy to order what people should believe.

“You can’t teach people by telling them what’s true.” Callahan argues that the pronouncements of church authority do not exist outside and apart from the community. They are binding only insofar as the community accepts them as binding.” He adds that “it used to be that if the authority said it was true, then it was true. It is legitimate to say today: ‘The authority has spoken. Now is it true?'” In the church of the future, as envisioned by many reformers, authority would speak out only in consultation with all the faithful and only to articulate a dogmatic stance that was a felt need ofthe universal church.

Toying with Heresy. By issuing an encyclical that is simply not acceptable to a large segment of the Catholic community, Pope Paul has inadvertently raised the question of papal authority for open debate. He has done so, warns one Roman observer, at a time when the church was already suffering from an unhealthy polarization of its progressive and conservative wings. And there is a danger that both sides are overreacting to the crisis. Already, many Dutch Catholic thinkers are suggesting that their national church might have to become as autonomous as Anglicanism in order to preserve its soul. A creative renewal movement within the church is not likely to be encouraged by Roman efforts to silence dissident theologians like Dominican Father Edward Schillebeeckx (TIME, Oct. 4).

Perhaps because it involves so personal a question as birth control, the present dissension in the church has a disturbingly visceral quality. The Pope has been criticized in abusive bumper-sticker slogans, and Bishop Donohoe correctly notes that some comments on Humanae Vitae were expressed in a tone of dogmatic certainty that would have been too majestic for even an ex cathedra decree. “They seem to have infallibly decreed,” he says, “that their views will not be put aside.” Millions of Catholics, who never practiced birth control during their lives, would have found it hard to accept an encyclical decreeing that contraception was no longer a sin. For some, birth control is a symbol of the inerrancy of the church. If previous Popes have been wrong on this question, they could have been wrong on everything else. And where would the church be then?
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Mmm, yes indeed. Well, the Church was there then and it’s here now. Did it strike you as bizzare when you were reading that, that there were folk who seriously expected a “Vatican III” even before the ink was dry on the decrees of Vatican II. Weird. Tune in again soon for episode 5!

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1 Response to Back in TIME…

  1. Rob says:

    Thanks for these postings. It seemed to me that the “rebellion” must have begun in earnest before the new liturgyn and this article demonstrates the validity behind that idea. I used to buy into the trad idea that the ancient liturgy was a guarantee of orthodoxy. But you’ve clearly shown here that in 1968 we were Tridentine but wacky nonetheless.

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