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'Veritatis Splendor' draws cheers and jeers; some moral theologians say it misses the mark.

Some moral theologians say it misses the mark

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Veritatis Splendor, conceived six years ago, repeatedly revised amid episcopal pressures, mounting speculation and press leaks, was finally unveiled Oct. 5 at a noon press conference in Rome.

It quickly - and somewhat predictably - brought both jeers and cheers from leading Catholic figures.

At the press conference marking the new encyclical's official release, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, said, The moral question has become, more clearly than ever before, the question of mankind's survival ... (the encyclical) is an expression of concern for man."

He said there is an "abyss of relativism" in the modern world, where individuals think they can decide for themselves what is right or wrong depending on the circumstances and hoped-for outcome.

"For example," Ratzinger said, "when individuals or whole groups think violence is the best means to better the world, then individualism and relativism in moral matters leads to the destruction of the foundations of human coexistence and, indeed, the endangerment of human dignity.'

The pope's encyclical, he added, recognizes a need to take into account motivations and consequences when evaluating moral guilt, but the fact remains that some actions in and of themselves are good or evil.

Ratzinger and many U.S. and European Catholic bishops have responded favorably to the new encyclical. Several U.S. bishops released lengthy statements extolling its virtues.

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago said he welcomes the encyclical at a time when people throughout the world seem to have lost a sense of direction, a sense of true purpose." He cited random killings in U.S. cities, political violence throughout the world, cultural violence caused by drugs and moral failings within the Catholic faith community. The encyclical, Bernardin said, "calls individuals to rise above the limits of selfcentered or self-defined morality and to live in accord with this objective moral order, which can be expressed in specific moral norms that have a universal and permanent character.'

In Canada, the encyclical is also winning praise from Catholic church leaders. Archbishop Adam Exner of Vancouver said it"can help the church in Canada to rebuild the moral fiber of its members. In this way the encyclical can also make significant contributions to rebuilding and restrengthening the moral caliber of our country."

Critics, condemnations

Veritatis Splendor is not going over as well with some moral theologians, who see it as a condemnation of moral theories and trends. Some have said the encyclical would have done better to describe these as problems of modern secularized culture instead of calling them errors in Catholic theology.

Fr. Charles E. Curran of Southern Methodist University - whom the Vatican declared ineligible to teach as a Catholic theologian in the 1980s because of his arguments for less-absolute Catholic positions on certain moral issues - said he saw himself depicted in one place in the encyclical That was where the encyclical said theologians were wrong in accusing the church of "physicalism" in its absolute prohibitions against premarital sex, homosexual activity, autoeroticism, direct sterilization, artificial contraception and artificial insemination.

It was that list of issues. Those were the issues they got me on,' he said.

In terms of theoretical positions and methodologies the encyclical condemns, Curran said he found neither his views nor those of any other Catholic moral theologian. "No Catholic theologian I know advocates relativism or subjec- tivism" or various other positions that are condemned, he said.

At a televised press conference in Washington introducing the document, Dominican Fr. Joseph A. DiNoia, director of the U.S. bishops'Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Research and Practices, said it would be a big mistake ... to treat the encyclical as a catalog of errors" aimed at cracking down on certain theologians.

"It describes and implies a collaboration between bishops and theologians,' he said. Accompanying him on the panel, assembled just hours after the document was released in Rome, were Bishop Alfred C. Hughes, bishop-designate of Baton Rouge, La., and chairman of the bishops' committee on doctrine, and Dominican Fr. Benedict M. Ashley of Aquinas Institute in St. Louis, a theological consultant to the committee.

Criticism as well as praise has not been limited to the United States and Canada. In Europe, the encyclical has been reproached strongly by various prominent religious figures.

Swiss-born Catholic theologian Fr. Hans Kung, for example, said the encyclical represented a return to an Inquisition mentality. "We thought the spirit of the Inquisition was dead,' he said.

Papal rigidity is due more to worry over infallibity than preoccupation with sex, he added. In the Vatican they don't want to make a critical evaluation of infallibility, because they believe they cannot correct themselves."

Speaking of sex

Some European Christian leaders are speaking out in opposition to Veritatis Splendor, especially as it relates to sex.

Massimo Aprile, a Baptist leader in Italy, said the encyclical shows the tendency to reduce things to obedience to Catholic teachings and the church's "intolerance of every form of organized dissent."

The encyclical shows the "antimodernistic character of this pope" on sexual ethics, said Aprile, vice president of the Italian Evangelical Baptist Union. "It does not help the ecumenical dialogue of the church of Rome with the Protestant world"

The Rev. Hans Philippi, a Lutheran pastor in Rome, said he would not recommend the 179-page document to his 18-year-old daughter because of its sexual teachings. I wish for her a life with friends, without excluding even the experience of love and sexuality, an experience without fear and without a mother watching over her, even if this mother were a church," he said. I do not believe that the encyclical says something useful to my daughter, to my homosexual friends and to all of those who simply want to live as men and women without fear and without a sense of obligation to apply abstract rules.'

Meanwhile, Cardinal George Basil Hume of Westminster, England, is claiming the encyclical is getting a bad rap.

"This encyclical is about fundamental moral principles," he said. It is a pity that there has been a tendency-to concentrate on one issue, namely sex, and in particular on the difficult and sensitive issue of contraception."

More r=ors

Now that the text is published for all to read, the persistent rumor in Vatican corridors is that this document is the first of a one-two punch: The next encyclical, on the protection of human life, would apply the general principles of Veritatis Splendor to some of the most controversial topics of the modem age, including abortion and euthanasia.

The pope was asked to write sucb a document in 1991 when the world's cardinals were caued together in an extraordinary session to discuss threats to hfe. Ratzinger confirmed that such a document is still a working bypothesis, following a worldwide consultation between the pope and bishops. There were thousands of responses, and they are being studied,'he said.
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Title Annotation:papal encyclical
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Oct 15, 1993
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