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U.S. laity, Vatican are more than ocean apart.

Regarding Veritatis Splendor ("Splendor of Truth"), few U.S. Catholics last week ventured opinions. Virtually no one had seen it or had read it. The U.S. bishops began receiving copies midweek. The European bishops received copies a week earlier. Some shared copies with European journalists. To the surprise of few, stories about the encyclical began to appear in the European press. U.S. editors then began to write reports, based on the European reports.

NCR secured a copy of the encyclical last week. We are publishing Peter Hebblethwaite's analysis to coincide Oct. 5 with the encyclical's official unveiling at the Vatican.

Footnote to a footnote: The encyclical's footnotes include references to the new universal catechism. Interesting, because the catechism has yet to appear in English -- despite publication in France and Italy last December. The U.S. text awaits final Vatican approval and, we are told, will be published at the end of the year.

A few thoughts on the encyclical: Moral theology, of course, is complex and technical. I pretend no expertise. Experience, however, tells me human nature abhors complexity on matters of personal concern.

Pope John Paul II appears to have weighed in for the "simple" or clear moral answers in the encyclical. "Objective" right and wrong on certain moral matters comes from an understanding of the dictates of natural law, as defined by the Catholic magisterium, the papal document reasserts.

The course of this path, however, denies decades of modern Catholic moral theology. So it will not go down well with certain bishops or theologians. Additionally, because of the encyclical's unyielding claim to certitude, based on natural law, on noninfallibly defined moral "truths," many bishops are also likely to flinch. The document could even quietly divide them. This may be the cause of greatest concern. Such a division would not easily become apparent. It would be manifested in inaction rather than action, by an unwillingness of bishops to "enforce" the document. If so, it may be the ecclesial theologians, not the moral theologians, for whom Veritatis Splendor will prove to be the greatest challenge.

Complicating matters, the laity are not listening much to their bishops, as the NCR/Gallup Poll in the second section of this issue reaffirms. Are they tuning out because they don't find the pronouncements relevant to their lives? Or is it the result of cultural or secular influences?

Last summer, I spent some time in Washington with NCR Publisher William McSweeney and the sociologists who drew up the survey. We explored some of these issues. Some answers appear in the tables and essays in the special section.
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Title Annotation:'Veritatis Splendor' papal pronouncement
Author:Fox, Tom
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Oct 8, 1993
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