The U. S. Catholic hierarchy, an exclusive, mostly-Irish club of 271 members, met last month in a most un-club-like atmosphere. There were unprecedented clergy and laity sit-ins out in the lobby, pickets, 100 hungry reporters, and fringe meetings of liberal, traditionalist, and black lobbies.

Much of this democratic ferment was over birth control, and when the bishops released their long-awaited response to Pope Paul’s July encyclical against artificial methods, both sides claimed victory. It was an odd tribute to the stylish ambiguity of the drafting committee headed by Pittsburgh’s John Wright, leading hierarchy theologian.

The probable results: dissatisfaction on the left, frustration on the right, and confusion among the average laymen in the middle who are accustomed to getting moral instruction without having to look through a glass darkly. Rather than closing the case, the U. S. and foreign developments seemed merely a prelude to a crisis in Vatican authority.

The bishops’ 17,000-word pastoral letter, in the mode of Pope Paul, combined conservatism in birth control with liberalism on peace and international affairs. The U. S. bishops, cautious to a fault on internal church controversies, appear ready to escalate their advice to secular society.

Since the bishops’ statement on birth control followed so closely the substance of Paul’s encyclical, the liberal victory claims may seem far-fetched.

All twenty-one national hierarchies that have issued statements generally endorse the Pope’s decree. What matters is where they go from there. On the eve of the American bishops’ meeting, the French hierarchy professed ritual loyalty to the Vatican, then winked and said:

“Contraception can never be a good. It is always a disorder, but this disorder is not always guilty. It occurs in fact that spouses consider themselves to be confronted by a true conflict of duty.”

In varying degrees, the possibility of letting private conscience overrule the Pope on birth control enters into the statements from Canada, Britain, Austria, Belgium, Holland, West Germany, and Scandinavia.

In contrast with that lineup, the Americans said decisions must be governed by a conscience “dutifully conformed” to divine law and “submissive” toward church teaching. But this is balanced by a quotation of Cardinal Newman’s teaching that conscience can drown out the Pope’s voice—after serious thought and prayer—if a man believes “as in the presence of God, that he must not, and dare not, act upon the Papal injunction.…

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The U. S. bishops conclude that all artificial contraception is an “objective evil,” though “circumstances may reduce moral guilt.” The same paragraph urges birth-control users to “take full advantage of’ penance and the Eucharist, but does not state that use of contraception must be confessed before communion. At a press conference, Wright’s opinion was that confession is necessary.

The pastoral offers a “tribute” to “parents of large families” and advocates income based on number of children rather than on actual work done. It suggests a family allowance system such as is used by underpopulated Canada and Australia.

The four pages on “Negative Reactions to the Encyclical” leave room for doubt by theological experts so long as they are discreet and do not question the church’s teaching authority.

And—in a section clearly aimed at the dissident priests who later claimed victory—the document says those performing a pastoral ministry in the church’s name must faithfully present her “authentic doctrine.”

Whatever comfort the forty-one suspended priests of Washington, D. C., found in this statement issued in their home city, they got little cheer from the rest of the meeting. The forty-one claim they are not against the Pope’s teaching as such but want to respect the consciences of those laymen who disagree. Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle, their bishop, holds laymen who “have made up their minds to go on practicing contraception” should be denied the sacraments.

Some 4,000 persons turned out for a rally to support the dissidents the day before the bishops’ meeting opened. There headliner Senator Eugene McCarthy drily announced, “I am not here to announce the formation of a third party nor of a second church,” then read one of his poems that praised priests “daring as much for man as for God.”

On opening day 300 priests from sixty-one dioceses met to demand “due process” in the O’Boyle suspension cases, and in the drive of sixty-eight San Antonio priests to oust 77-year-old Archbishop Robert Lucey. It sometimes had the flavor of a civil-rights or early CIO rally, as when Boston Father John White said, “When the bishops return to their offices next Monday, I’ll lay 100 to 1 another priest will be brutalized.”

Though some bishops sympathized, the meeting put the immediate demands into the context of the glacial canon-law reform process, and issued a tepid request for suggested improvements.

Spokesmen explained that the national bishops’ conference had no authority to force its way into a local dispute. And embryonic mediation procedures depend on agreement of both parties—a concession O’Boyle is unwilling to make. He named U. S. Catholic Conference General Secretary Joseph Bernardin to iron out the dispute, but when dissidents realized he was not a mediator they asked him to withdraw.

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The bishops also discussed ways to speed action on mounting cases of priests seeking lay status or marriage, and a seminary report showed enrollment of 39,500—a drop of nearly 10,000 in nine years.

Official minutes brought out of the secret meetings showed an annual budget of $10.9 million for the U. S. Catholic Conference, the hierarchy’s national administrative office. One morning the bishops refused to reveal anything about their discussions. National Catholic Reporter reports that the touchy topic was a paper from New York’s Archbishop Terence Cooke recommending that dioceses release limited financial statements, on the argument that church members have a “right” to know how their money is used.

The bishops favored organization of farm labor but refused to echo the National Council of Churches’ endorsement of the grape boycott, and ordered a study of the growing “pentecostal movement” within their church.

Nearly overshadowed by the birth-control dispute is the pastoral’s remarkable chapter “The Family of Nations.” It urges outlawing of all wars; condemns unlimited war and wars of aggression; and says peace is development, not a mere balance of power between enemies. The bishops favored Senate ratification of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty as a first step in arms reduction; opposed even the “thin” anti-ballistic missile system planned by the United States; questioned the security value in maintenance of U. S. “nuclear superiority”; favored a U. S. volunteer Army to replace the draft; hoped for the United Nations as a “universal public authority” to keep the peace; called growing nationalism and isolationism a “peril”; urged increased U. S. foreign aid; raised grave doubts about the Viet Nam involvement, which the bishops had previously justified; and favored conscientious objection to particular wars.


At age 79, when most men are ready to rest, Augustin Bea began a remarkable and vigorous new eight-year career that ended at his death last month.

Pope John XXIII made Bea the first Jesuit cardinal since 1946, then named him to set up the unprecedented Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. In the Vatican II years, Bea was credited with a key role not only in the ecumenism decree but on also in the statements on religious liberty and on attitudes toward the Jews.

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More than any other personality, Bea symbolized and stimulated the Vatican’s increasingly friendly attitude toward Protestant and Orthodox Christians. He did this not through compromise of Roman doctrine but through a practical search for appropriate points of contact.

And one of the best was the Bible. Last year he told United Bible Societies leaders that “the Holy Spirit is surely at work drawing us together through the Bible; through the effort to translate the sacred Scriptures together and through the work of distributing the Sacred Scriptures together.” He also set up a social-action agency to work with Protestants and Orthodox.

Bea had a scholar’s devotion to the Bible. After lengthy academic study, he taught in Holland and Germany, then moved to the Biblical Institute in Rome, where he was rector from 1920 to 1949. In those years he also acted as personal confessor to Popes Pius XI and XII, and had a key role in the 1943 decree liberalizing Bible study.

Bea, the only child of a German carpenter, had frail health as a boy. Yet late in life, the slight-statured cardinal undertook an ambitious travel schedule in the cause of ecumenism. He visited the United States three times. He met the World Council of Churches staff in Geneva and the Archbishop of Canterbury in Lambeth. He went to Greece to return relics of St. Andrew to the Orthodox, and to Turkey to meet the Ecumenical Patriarch.

Bea caught a cold in August and appeared to recover, but fell ill again in October with influenza complications. His death November 16 was attributed to strain on his heart from respiratory ills.

Along with eulogies from his own and other churches came this assessment from Religious News Service: “The cardinal may come to be regarded as one of the most important churchmen of this century by future historians.” Noting Bea’s opposition to intercommunion and other premature moves, RNS said “he gathered around him a smooth-working, knowledgeable team able to cut through red tape and established routine. Its success was the result of careful timing and a keen sense of what was possible and what was not. It carried off with finesse some extremely delicate programs that could have set back the ecumenical movement for years, for both Catholics and Protestants, had they gone sour.”

What The Bishops Said

Salient excerpts on contraception from the U. S. Catholic bishops’ November 15 pastoral letter, “Human Life in Our Day”:

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“[Quoting Vatican II’s Church in the Modern World] ‘Sons of the Church may not undertake methods of regulating procreation which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority.…’

“[Paul’s Humanae Vitae] is an obligatory statement consistent with moral convictions rooted in the traditions of Eastern and Western Christian faith; it is an authoritative statement solemnly interpreting imperatives which are divine rather than ecclesiastical in origin. It presents without ambiguity, doubt, or hesitation the authentic teaching of the Church concerning the objective evil of that contraception which closes the marital act to the transmission of life, deliberately making it unfruitful. United in collegial solidarity with the Successor of Peter, we proclaim this doctrine.…

“We feel bound to remind Catholic married couples, when they are subjected to the pressures which prompt the Holy Father’s concern, that however circumstances may reduce moral guilt, no one following the teaching of the Church can deny the objective evil of artificial contraception itself. With pastoral solicitude we urge those who have resorted to artificial contraception never to lose heart, but to continue to take full advantage of the strength which comes from the Sacrament of Penance and the grace, healing, and peace in the Eucharist.…

“There exist in the Church a lawful freedom of inquiry and of thought and also general norms of licit dissent. This is particularly true in the area of legitimate theological speculation and research. When conclusions reached by such professional theological work prompt a scholar to dissent from non-infallible received teaching the norms of licit dissent come into play. They require of him careful respect for the consciences of those who lack his special competence or opportunity for judicious investigation.… The expression of theological dissent from the magisterium is in order only if the reasons are serious and well-founded, if the manner of dissent does not question or impugn the teaching authority of the Church and is such as not to give scandal.…

“Even responsible dissent does not excuse one from faithful presentation of the authentic doctrine of the Church when one is performing a pastoral ministry in Her name. We count on priests, the counsellors of persons and families, to heed the appeal of Pope Paul that they ‘expound the Church’s teaching on marriage without ambiguity’ …”

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Strategy At The Front Of The Bus

“Marsh Chapel never rocked like this before” was the consensus regarding a rollicking gospel song fest in the Boston University chapel from ten to midnight November 8. The occasion represented a pause to celebrate a new stage in the mobilization of black churchmen through a consultation organized by black students in Boston and held at the university’s School of Theology.

The consultation attracted over two-thirds of the approximately 300 blacks in accredited seminaries across the country, and welded them into what will prove to be a strong pressure group for seminary reform.

The consultation originated in January with a group of black seminarians at Andover Newton, who, according to steering-committee chairman McKinley Young, “were concerned over the plight of black students enrolled in predominantly white seminaries. The feeling was (and is) that in terms of curriculum studies there has been no significant consideration given to black institutions and practices—historically, theologically, and sociologically. Furthermore, it was noted that in terms of the overall seminary experience, black students find themselves alienated as well as excluded from the mainstream, and white institutions do not provide adequate training for an effective ministry within the black community.”

Speakers spanned the spectrum of black leadership from moderate to militant. Included were Philadelphia pastor Leon Sullivan, founder of Opportunities Industrialization Centers; the Rev. Wyatt Walker, Harlem pastor and former associate of Dr. Martin Luther King; the Rev. Albert Cleage, pastor of Detroit’s Church of the Black Madonna; Muslim minister Louis (X) Farrakhan; Episcopal urban-worker Nathan Wright; and Director Charles S. Rooks of the Fund for Theological Education.

Key results of the conference were:

Realization of an “operational unity” with focus altered from the former concern for equality, which characterized King’s era, to working toward equity and enabling of black communities to secure for themselves their share of the economic and political pie; as Boston pastor Vergil Wood put it: “when we moved from the back of the bus to the front of the bus, we didn’t move very far, because Whitey still owns the bus.”

Beginning of a National Association of Black Students that will organize in Pittsburgh in January.

Acceptance of an invitation for a pilgrimage to Black Muslim leader Elijah Muhammed, indicating a strong step toward Muslim-Christian dialogue.

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More confrontations with seminary administrators for changes in style and curriculum.

The attitude seemed to be that the students could be true to their black heritage and Christian at the same time, in that the Christian ministry still provides the best channel for ministering to the needs of people today. However, this ministry would be characterized by “dehonkified” theology that emphasizes some black distinctives present in the early centuries of the Christian Church.

The white church was regarded as sick and sterile, laden with the guilt of having long perpetrated a gospel of oppression. The word for the white church was that it should “do its own thing,” that is, leave the ghetto to the black leadership and work within the white community to remove racism and find paths to repentance and wholeness.

On the last day of the conference, Rooks, while confessing skepticism about the willingness and ability of white seminaries to respond, nevertheless urged black students to keep trying.

“But,” he warned, “we should not keep waiting forever for response.… Either these white situations are reformed or we make the hard decision to go our own way.” “Keep the pressure on,” he added, “Don’t let anyone tell you that your ideas are impossible.”


Record Seminary Enrollment

Enrollment in accredited seminaries in the United States and Canada reached a record 28,033 this fall, an increase of 946 students over last year. It is a significant upturn from the doldrums of 1964, when enrollment was 21,025.

The American Association of Theological Schools—stressing its figures do not include fourteen Roman Catholic and two other seminaries that joined in the past year—said this represents an increase of 3.75 per cent over 1967. AATS did not speculate on whether the shift to drafting of non-seminary graduate students is aiding enrollments.

The AATS analysis showed little change from last year in the type of curriculum. In both years, 62 per cent of the students were in the standard professional B.D. program or its equivalent. Other student categories were: Christian education, 5.7 per cent; interns, 5.9; and graduate, 17.7.

In line with the upswing, most of the major denominations showed increases at their affiliated seminaries. Among them were the biggest, the Southern Baptist Convention (up 338 students): United Presbyterian (172); Lutheran Church in America (150); United Church of Christ (129); American Baptist Convention (100); Southern Presbyterian (63); and United Methodist (39).

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Seminaries of the smaller evangelical denominations also posted gains, including Bethel, Calvin, Conservative Baptist, Nazarene, North Park, Trinity Evangelical, and Western.

Among denominations with shrinking enrollments were the Christian Church—Disciples (down 80); Missouri Synod Lutherans (45); Canadian Anglicans (23); U. S. Episcopalians (22); and American Lutheran Church (2).

The category of twenty interdenominational schools—which includes some of the most conservative and most liberal seminaries—also showed the usual increase. Exceptions to this trend were declines at Harvard and Vanderbilt.

Dissecting ‘Courage’

Surprisingly, no one quoted Pericles’ “the secret of freedom is courage.” But there was no lack of other citations and approaches from wildly conflicting speakers at a symposium on “An Anatomy of Courage” last month at Roman Catholic Barat College in suburban Chicago.

In an electrically charged atmosphere of fundamental disagreement, conservative Russell Kirk asserted that courage was impossible apart from commitment to the transcendent. Staughton Lynd, radical pacifist and spearhead of the Mississippi Freedom Schools, ignored the transcendent and spoke of courage as an “elemental” phenomenon to be realized in social action, not in “academic discourse” or in the kind of “afternoon symposia” Barat organized.

Michael Novak of the State University of New York, Roman Catholic existential death-of-God theologian who is a vocal opponent of American involvement in Viet Nam, denied the existence of the transcendent realm entirely, claimed that all value-systems are competing myths, and set his own version of Tillich’s “courage to be” (“in creative existential despair we can pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps”) over against the “basic American myth of happiness.”

Chicago assemblage artist Harry Bouras assembled a concept of “initiative” courage (derived from dynamic action, vs. the common artistic variety of passive, “responsive” courage). And Bruno Bettelheim, University of Chicago psychiatrist who survived German concentration camps, castigated the liberals on the program for their naive conviction that they were “on the side of the angels” (“ ‘We shall overcome’ gives me the creeps,” he said). He argued that courage is seldom more than the projection of the hero’s inadequacy-feelings, and called for a “moving ahead of human evolution by the intellectual activity of the mind.”

The fundamental cleavage was in methodology: conservatives relied on intellectual argumentation, while liberals endeavored to win the audience through existential-emotional appeal. Thus Kirk employed Burke, Joad, Carlyle, Stevenson, Graves, Newman, Waugh, Bernard of Chartres, Shaw, and C. S. Lewis in a high-flying defense of transcendent, communal values. And Bettelheim performed a veritable biopsy on northern civil-rights workers in the South and the demonstrators at the Chicago Democratic Convention:

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“They have not been able to put themselves in the place of the poor Southern white or the Chicago policeman. Instead of seeing their opponents as basically like themselves, they compensate for their own shaky identity by a posture of superior righteousness. Therefore they compound the social problem instead of solving it.”

In contrast, Lynd affirmed the non-articulate, personal dimension of liberal social action. His presentation consisted of examples of people “from whom he had received courage”—such as Bob Moses, who “hated to go up on a platform, and when he did, he would ask the audience questions,” and Father Berrigan, just sentenced for destroying draft files.

In the same vein, Novak set forth a remarkable series of Delphic-oracle-like emotive judgments: “It is more important to be a decent human being than a Catholic believer.” “American industrial and militaristic society crushes our emotions (contrast European reactions in a traffic jam) and is preparing now for new Viet Nams.” “Military spending is not even debated in Congress.” “Our give-away programs are geared to help the upper classes, not the underprivileged.” “By using black to symbolize sin in parochial schools, we condition our children to racism.” “We are incurably optimistic: the word ‘up’ occurs more in American than in British English.” “The whole purpose of suburbs is to avoid confrontation with misery.”

Novak and Lynd shrewdly criticized Bettelheim for “intellectual utopianism” and “psychological reductionism,” but their own retreat into the emotional, existential realm hardly satisfied the desire of the audience to discover the meaning of true courage.

Bettelheim penetratingly analyzed the problem as getting the lion and the lamb in human nature to lie down together, since “courage”—not just etymologically—centers on the heart (Latin, cor).

But how? In a reference to Luther at Worms, Bettelheim argued that courage does not depend on anything but the necessity of our own inner being: “I can do no other.” But Luther himself engaged in an even deeper analysis when he said on that occasion: “My conscience has been captured by the word of God.”


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