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'Timely' encyclical has 'share of hard-hitting moments.' ('Veritatis Splendor')(reprinted from Philadelphia 'Catholic Standard and Times') (Editorial) (Transcript)

Pope John Paul II calls for a "new evangelization" regarding the church's moral teachings in the 10th encyclical of his pontificate, released by the Vatican Oct. 5. Six years in the making, the comprehensive treatise on the grounding principles that guide Christian conduct is timely and needed.

Addressed to bishops, the encyclical already has been dissected in the secular press. "Liberal" attacks on the "conservative" document have made media headlines, proving the content of this careful teaching will be lost on those who feature raw controversy over nuanced thought.

Not that the encyclical doesn't have its share of hard-hitting moments. One comes near the end, when the pope speaks about the responsibility bishops have with regard to Catholic institutions. He writes: "It falls to them, in communion with the Holy See, both to grant the title |Catholic' to church-related schools, universities, health-care facilities and counseling services and, in cases of a serious failure, to live up to that title, to take it away."

The pope's real intent, however, is to develop basic principles that underpin our moral teaching and the problems that are eroding it.

One of the gravest problems is a relativism that maintains actions are not wrong in themselves but depend on circumstances and the person's intention for acting. Some theologians have gone so far as to teach that sinful acts such as fornication and blasphemy can not only be rationalized as not evil but even justified as good.

The pontiff uses personalist language to affirm the constant church teaching that certain acts by their very nature are always and everywhere wrong, no matter what excuses we use to rationalize them.

Causes contributing to the errors are varied, according to the pope.

* Some today exalt reason to the exclusion of God's revelation as it is transmitted through sacred scripture and tradition and safeguarded by the church's magisterium. While reason is a source of truth, the centuries of failure by philosophical systems to achieve ultimate happiness show that reason needs faith to lead human beings to their heavenly destiny.

* Another problem is a mistaken notion of conscience, which many today perceive as simply "doing what we want or what's best for us." Conscience needs continued forming, which best takes place through participating in the church as she helps us deepen our understanding of the mysteries of our faith.

* A collapse of the moral into the pastoral also has fueled the errors, because some, while acting in loving ways, have ignored church teachings. On this issue, the pope writes: "Genuine understanding and compassion must mean love for the person, for his true good, for his authentic freedom. And this does not result, certainly, from concealing or weakening moral truth but rather from proposing it in its most profound meaning as an outpouring of God's eternal wisdom, which we have received in Christ and as a service to man, to the growth of his freedom and to the attainment of his happiness."

In the end, the pontiff cautions against moral schizophrenia: "No damage must be done to the harmony between faith and life: The unity of the church is damaged not only by Christians who reject or distort the truths of the faith but also by those who disregard the moral obligation to which they are called by the gospel."

To people undergoing personal and parish renewal through Catholic Faith and Life 2000, these words are most telling of all.
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Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Nov 5, 1993
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