The Roman Catholic Church, plagued in recent years by a host of criticism from within its own ranks, showed a bent last month for recovering its traditionally monolithic character. In significant but unrelated actions, bishops in the United States and in South Viet Nam issued collective statements that set precedents.

So many dissidents have emerged and so many conflicting voices have been raised within Roman Catholicism since the Second Vatican Council that the hierarchy apparently feels an urgent need to reassert the church’s unified front. It may be a futile effort: both priests and laymen are finding less and less upon which they can agree. Some are basking in the truths of newly opened Bibles, but many are falling victim to unwarranted presuppositions of higher criticism and are jettisoning the authority of both Scripture and tradition.

The statement by U. S. bishops came in the form of a 25,000-word pastoral letter, the first ever in American Roman Catholic history. In theory at least it was representative of the views of the more than two hundred bishops in this country. Entitled “The Church in Our Day,” it was described as a “major doctrinal statement,” the first in a series designed to interpret actions of the Second Vatican Council.

The letter is largely devotional in tone and abounds in personal admonition. It steers a delicate course between conservative doctrine and progressive methodology and is openly critical of heretical tendencies.

“A new Pelagianism seeks salvation in the correction of structures rather than in conversion to God,” the letter declares. “A new Gnosticism places all its hope in the apt phrase or the esoteric formula rather than in Jesus Christ Crucified and Risen.”

The bishops leave no doubt about where they feel ultimate authority for the interpretation of doctrine rests:

“The Catholic Church sees infallibility as Providence, as grace, a gift she receives in humility for the sake of her Master and for the salvation of her sons and daughters. It is not in arrogance but in wonder that she claims infallibility for her substantive teaching and guidance.”

The letter was prepared by a committee of bishops under the direction of Bishop John J. Wright of Pittsburgh. It was approved for January release by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops at their meeting in November.

Initial reaction among Catholic commentators was generally favorable. But the National Catholic Reporter voiced reservations, complaining that the document failed to break any new ground.

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The letter was said to have been drafted for the bishops by a 35-year-old theologian, the Rev. Anthony Padovano, of Immaculate Conception Seminary, Ramsey, New Jersey.

In South Viet Nam, Roman Catholic bishops issued a surprising statement after a three-day meeting. They called for a halt to the bombing of the north and an end to the infiltration of arms into the south. Even more startling was the bishops’ unprecedented criticism of “laziness, hypocrisy, and corruption,” which could hardly be interpreted as anything but an indictment of South Vietnamese officials who are themselves Catholics.

The bishops appealed for negotiations to end the war. This was ironic in that some observers contend that highly placed Catholic prelates had a lot to do with the events that precipitated the war. While Roman Catholics make up less than 10 per cent of the population of South Viet Nam, they have long dominated the public life of that country. President Nguyen Van Thieu is a Catholic and so is a large bloc that consistently supports him in the national legislature.

In the past, the bishops have generally refrained from criticizing the government. Their influence has been indirect, and it was generally associated with a hard line against the Viet Cong.

The new statement on the war quotes Pope Paul VI extensively, and it may be that it is the pontiff who is responsible for the shift. Vatican sources greeted the statement favorably. One was quoted as saying that the Vietnamese hierarchy had finally gotten the message.

The Shelves Are Sagging

A new medical center is being established in northwest Congo by the Paul Carlson Foundation on land donated by the government. It’s located in an area where an estimated 88,000 persons are afflicted with leprosy and will be used as a rehabilitation facility for leprosy patients.

The Paul Carlson Foundation is named after the American medical missionary who died in the Stanleyville massacre of 1964. Its program for the center also calls for a specialty and research program in various phases of medicine as resources permit and medical personnel became available. First workers are Dr. and Mrs. Wallace Thornbloom.

The foundation recently sent to the Congo drugs valued at more than half a million dollars. The drugs were donated by drug companies and sent with the aid of the Congo Protestant Relief Agency and the Medical Assistance Program.

“The shelves are sagging,” said Jody LeVahn, who worked as a nurse under Carlson. “Dr. Paul would really be thrilled to see this.”

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The new center, called “The Loko,” is located on a 5,000-acre tract on a picturesque plateau. “Included also are python and elephant in the wooded areas for food for patients,” said the foundation’s announcement.

“There are no government doctors north of the Congo River,” a foundation spokesman said. “This is a strategic time for us medically and spiritually.”


The resignation of Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani as the Vatican’s chief doctrinal watchdog last month signals the most important turn in Catholicism since Vatican II adjourned. His replacement, Franjo Cardinal Seper, 62, of Yugoslavia, could hardly represent more of a change:

• Ottaviani’s office handed the recent Synod of Bishops a negative catalog of doctrinal errors (see October 27 issue, page 38). Seper was elected by the bishops to head the group that prepared a more moderate, “pastoral” document on belief.

• Ottaviani is one of the strongest anticommunists in the Curia. Under the coexistence-minded Seper, church relations with the Tito government have warmed remarkably, leading to the first concordat with a Communist regime. Two days after he appointed Seper, Pope Paul met with Yugoslav Premier Mika Spiljak.

• At Vatican II, Ottaviani was virtual floor manager for the traditionalists and Curia administrators against the religious-freedom decree and other changes. Seper spoke in favor of religious freedom, as well as decentralized authority and the declaration on Jews.

• Ottaviani has hardly been regarded as an ecumenical figure. His office a year ago forbade Catholics in Rome to join Christian unity services with Protestants—a decision later overruled by the Pope. Seper has spoken for limited liberalization on concelebration of the Eucharist. Last year his diocese was the site of Billy Graham’s first preaching service in a Communist nation.

• In doctrine, Ottaviani personified the disciplinary spirit of his agency, once called the Sacred Congregation of the Universal Inquisition. His office has disapproved work by such eminent theologians as Yves Congar, Karl Rahner, the late John Courtney Murray, and—perhaps with more cause—the late Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. In recent years, procedure has mellowed so that accused thinkers have a chance to defend their work, and the Index of Forbidden Books has disappeared.

Seper, by contrast, is considered “fairly open” in theology, Religious News Service said. He has favored an approach to atheism that shows more understanding of its causes, and more freedom for bishops to handle localized theological disputes.

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Although Ottaviani has been branded as the Curia conservative (his campaigns against birth control and against psychoanalytic research by Mexican priests last year are cases in point), he has urged total condemnation of war and establishment of “one world republic.” Nearly blind for several years, the 77-year-old cardinal is considered a warm and gracious man in person. He spends much of his limited free time with orphans.

Ottaviani was the tenth of an Italian baker’s dozen children. He joined the Curia in 1929 and has served there ever since. Such long terms are less likely under Pope Paul’s Curia reorganization plans. Ottaviani not only headed the Congregation of the Faith but is a member of six of the other congregations (major offices). As conservative strategist during Vatican II, he won many tactical battles but lost the war. Vatican speculation is that he was a major candidate for the papacy when John was elected, and he was the man who crowned Paul in 1963.

The career of Seper (pronounced Shay’-pair) has been more obscure. He is a Croatian who has lived most of his life in Zagreb, the cultural center of Yugoslavia. He spent much of the 1950s in the touchy job of assistant to Cardinal Stepinac, who was under house arrest. Since Seper became primate in 1960, Yugoslavia has exchanged ambassadors with the Vatican, approved mass pilgrimages of Slavs to Rome and the Holy Land, and revived suppressed church publications. Last year the government permitted the return of émigré priest Krunoslav Draganovic, who had been pursued as a “war criminal” for twenty years.

Catholic liberals were worried when Pope Paul postponed for three months the Curia reorganization that was supposed to begin this month. The Seper appointment was balm, but some were worried again the next day when aging Cardinals Larraona and Lercaro resigned their potentially competing posts as heads of two Curia offices on liturgy. Lercaro’s office was created in 1964 to carry out Vatican II worship reforms and, apparently, to circumvent Larraona. But “new Mass” experiments under Lercaro were criticized at last fall’s Synod of Bishops. The two agencies will now be merged under Benno Cardinal Gut, 70, a Benedictine abbot in Switzerland who has been a cardinal only seven months.

With the advent of Seper, two of the three major posts in the doctrinal office are held by non-Italians. (The number-three man is Monsignor Charles Moeller of the University of Louvain, Belgium, regarded as a liberal.) And the reorganized Curia will be led by three Italians and eight non-Italians, a remarkable shift from the traditional Italian domination. Besides that, several other top Curia figures are expected to resign shortly, particularly Secretary of State Amleto Cardinal Cicognani, 84. Under the reorganization (see September 15 issue, page 47), the secretary of state becomes virtual prime minister, Curia terms are limited to five years with reappointment up to the pope, and a retirement age of 75 is set.

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The 1968 edition of the Yearbook of American Churches, published last month by the National Council of Churches, omits the customary total of U. S. Protestants and provides only a figure for the constituency of the NCC. Also missing are inclusive totals for Eastern Orthodox and for Catholic churches not in communion with Rome.

The new Jewish membership is 5,725,000. The Roman Catholic total, 46,864,910, represents a growth rate slightly faster than that of the population, while Protestants and religious groups as a whole run slightly behind the population increase.

Another change in the first Yearbook edited by Lauris Whitman is separate lists for “current” statistics for 1966 and for the 117 groups with “non-current” reports, perhaps an NCC nudge to keep them up to date. The ranking of the largest denominations on the current list is:

Of these groups, membership losses from the previous year were reported by the Methodists, United Presbyterians, United Church of Christ, and Christian Churches.

The 1966 reports from north of the border were Anglican Church of Canada, 1,292,762 members, and United Church of Canada, 1,062,006.

Major groups not supplying 1966 reports ranked as follows:


The National Council of Churches, in a brief filed with the U. S. Supreme Court January 17, asks that refusal to sell homes to Negroes be made illegal. A group of two dozen Roman Catholic cardinals and bishops said they would also file. The court is currently considering the case of an interracial couple who say they were victims of racial discrimination when they sought unsuccessfully to buy a home in suburban St. Louis.

The NCC friend-of-court document said “Jim Crowism” in housing is “a badge of slavery,” and the Catholic brief said the “constitutional right to purchase a home without discrimination” is grounded in “the very nature of man.”

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Two new religious periodicals appeared in January. A third was due February 1.

The Presbyterian Layman, a monthly published by the Presbyterian Lay Committee, Inc., had a six-page first issue, Life-sized but in tabloid newspaper format. It features conservative commentary on current church issues.

The United Church of Christ began publication of Colloquy, described as “an ecumenical magazine to explore, clarify, and criticize church education.” Its first issue abounds with pictures of Negroes in ghettoes. Text matter is liberally salted with profanity.

Religion and Society, Inc., a nonprofit organization in Bayport, Minnesota, announced it would unveil a new magazine “to state the religious presuppositions of society.” Writers for the magazine will be such conservatives as Howard F. Kershner, Russell Kirk, Irving E. Howard, William F. Rickenbacker, Samuel J. Mikolaski, and Edmund A. Opitz, the announcement said.


The Rev. J. Paul Driscoll founded Mid-City Baptist Church in a New Orleans barber shop back in 1943. “On the first building,” he recalls, “we dug the ditches ourselves.”

Now the church has 4,700 members and is the largest Southern Baptist congregation in the city. Latest statistics showed the church ranked third in baptisms in the whole Southern Baptist Convention, second in total property value, and third in missions giving. But 1968 dawned with a cloud over Mid-City: The Securities and Exchange Commission has court action pending against the church, charging fraudulent sale of bonds. The SEC complains the church used money from bond sales to make payments to previous investors.

Driscoll attributed the church’s problems to “doing business with people who proved to be unreliable.” Mid-City is among twenty-two churches that have filed suit to recover several million dollars for bonds delivered to two Texas companies that are in receivership. The two firms held four million dollars’ worth of bonds that Mid-City had issued to finance a high-rise apartment building and hotel. The original plan was for the church to construct a sanctuary or auditorium on the ground level and to conduct intensive evangelism among the hotel-apartment tenants. Mid-City is strongly evangelistic.

Driscoll says “it looks like almost twenty-five years of hard work might be lost. But even if we have to dig ditches again and have to work twenty-five more years, I’m convinced the Lord will see us through.”

Riot Report To Hit Churches

America’s churches, which are getting blamed for most everything these days, apparently are in for more of the same—from the government.

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Katherine Peden tipped off a Louisville audience last month that the country’s religious organizations will get a going over when the President’s Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders issues its report soon.

“I think we are going to hear some uncomfortable things, and I think some of you will squirm when you see what we have to say about the service or lack of service of our nation’s churches,” said Miss Peden, prominent Kentucky political figure who is one of the eleven members of the commission.

Although she refused to elaborate, Miss Peden implied that she thought that the churches were not doing enough to stem urban unrest.

The problem of black power and urban unrest promises to be in the forefront of the churches’ concern this year. In Washington, Martin Luther King made plans for a mass demonstration in the capital during cherry-blossom time. Stokely Carmichael also was making plans there for a new coalition of Washington Negro leaders.

A group of Negro churchmen, the Committee of 100 Ministers, promptly denounced Carmichael’s plan as “an unholy alliance.” A day later Carmichael attended services in a Baptist church whose pastor is chairman of the committee. Dr. E. C. Smith greeted him publicly and explained later that the criticism of the coalition “was nothing personal” against Carmichael.

It turns out that Carmiobael had taught a youth group at the church while attending Howard University several years ago. Actually, however, Carmichael allowed, he’s a Methodist and not a Baptist.

In Detroit, black power took on a more ominous note when the Rev. Albert B. Cleage, Jr., turned down a $100,000 Ford Foundation grant because he claimed conditions put on the grant were a denial of self-determination. The rejection may have triggered an end to the coalition of black and white leaders formed to rebuild the city after last summer’s riots. Cleage, pastor of Central United Church of Christ, which worships a “black Jesus,” was offered the money for a black separatist group he heads. The group has pulled out of the coalition because “whites have tried to absorb blacks paternalisticailly and then on terms set by whites.”


The air of peace and good will was temporarily suspended during Eastern Orthodox Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem.

A midnight procession in the Basilica of the Nativity was attended by Dr. Angus Campbell MacInnes, Anglican archbishop in Jerusalem, in an ecumenical gesture said to have drawn much favorable comment from Orthodox leaders.

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But the Monophysite churches had a brief, sharp dispute on Christmas afternoon at the Altar of the Circumcision, which is owned by the Armenian Church. Priests of the Syrian Church, chanting evensong at the altar with the permission of Armenian authorities, complained that their fellow Monophysites of the Coptic Church at a neighboring altar, also owned by the Armenian Church, had offered incense beyond what is considered the dividing line. The Armenian Chief Dragoman Darabit, on whose permission both ceremonies depend, quickly settled the issue.

An Israeli military officer reportedly was overcome by the heavy odor of incense in the Grotto of the Nativity and, near to fainting, had to be given first aid by a Greek Orthodox priest.


In Afghanistan, a remote Asian land with a population of 15,000,000, there are probably fewer Christians than in any other country on earth. But under Prime Minister Mohammed Hashim Maiwandwal, policies against Christians have eased somewhat, and the government is giving permission for construction of a Protestant church in the Afghanistan capital of Kabul.

The church, planned to go up this year at a cost of $255,000, is the dream of J. Christy Wilson, Jr., a United Presbyterian minister who has been in Afghanistan for fifteen years. Wilson is the government-appointed chaplain to Protestant embassy personnel. The new building will house his Community Christian Church (forty-six members, weekly attendance of 200) as well as smaller congregations of German-speaking Lutherans and of Anglicans, who get periodic clergy visits. There are three other Protestant congregations in Afghanistan for foreigners, but none has ever had a building of its own.

Although several Christians from Muslim lands have been assigned to embassies in Kabul, Wilson knows of no citizen of officially Islamic Afghanistan who publicly professes Christ. A few Afghans attend his services out of curiosity. Many more learn about Christianity from Radio Voice of the Gospel, the Lutheran shortwave station in Ethiopia, which provides the only Persian-language Christian broadcasting available.

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