Baltimore Archbishop Questions Calling Church-State Separation ‘Regrettable’

Archbishop Lawrence J. Shehan of Baltimore told a press conference here that the phrase “separation of Church and State” has such political and emotional overtones that he has asked the ecumenical council to drop it from the schema “On the Nature of the Church,” now being debated.

Archbishop Shehan was the first American prelate to initiate a special Wednesday press conference sponsored by the American hierarchy, at which U.S. bishops or experts will speak to the press on various phases of the council or allied matters.

At his conference Archbishop Shehan stated that he has introduced two other changes to the schema, one of which would clarify the nature and extent of papal infallibility and a second which would make more precise a section dealing with Scripture and Tradition. He said all three of his steps have ecumenical overtones.

His speech in the council, which he gave in the name of all American bishops, dealt with a passage in the schema’s fourth chapter in which laymen are cautioned against the “regrettable separation” of Church and State.

Unfortunately, Archbishop Shehan noted, there is an ambiguity in the phrase.

He said the problem is this: Do the 10 lines dealing with this passage mean that it is regrettable that any separation of Church and State exists, or does it mean that it is regrettable that the things of the City of God are in conflict with the things of the City of the World?

Archbishop Shehan said that most bishops believe that the second notion was the original intention. But rather than run the risk of having the world misinterpret this phrase, he said that some changes must be made. He stated:

“The word ‘separation’ has become a fighting word for all of us. We want to get rid of the word ‘regret­table’ and, if the section cannot be suitably revised, to eliminate it entirely at this time.”

The Archbishop said that he favors eliminating it entirely because the whole question of the relations of Church and State are “too important to be introduced into the schema obliquely. If it is to be treated, it should be treated thoroughly.”

Regarding his earlier recommendation to revise the schema’s section dealing with papal infallibility, Archbishop Shehan said he was motivated to make it because infallibility is “one of the main sources of difficulties which non-Catholics find in Catholic teaching.” He said that this difficulty is due in great part to the “misconceptions they have of the nature and extent of papal infallibility.”

To clarify this point Archbishop Shehan has proposed that “immediately after the citation of the definition of papal infallibility, this amendment be included which contains the words of Gasser [A German bishop at the First Vatican Council who was active in drawing up the statement of infallibility]:

“‘Such a definition is never to be understood as against the consensus of the Church or without the consensus of the Church, for we cannot separate the pope from the consensus of the Church. For since we believe the pope to be infallible through divine assistance, by that very fact we believe that the assent of the Church will never be lacking to his definition, because it cannot happen that the body of the bishops will be separated from its head and because the Universal Church cannot fail.’”

Archbishop Shehan said his second amendment dealt with a passage in the schema “which states that Revelation is transmitted in its entirety in Scripture or Tradition.”

He said that the problem with this is the “trouble word ‘or’.” He said that the Council of Trent rejected the word “or” because it seemed to imply two separate sources of Revelation instead of one. He added:

“I proposed that whenever there is a question of the use of words denoting the relationship between Scripture and Tradition this council adhere to the usage of the Council of Trent.”

He said that it “should be noted that one source of difficulty which non-Catholics find in Catholic teaching is that our reverence for tradition may overshadow our reverence for Scripture, which they have always held in such high esteem. Therefore, it is important that we emphasize the necessary connection, which now even non-Catholic scholars recognize, between Scripture and Tradition.”

He said that he also recommended distinguishing between the two different ways the Gospels use the word “city.” One means the world man lives in and where he works out his salvation–a world to love–and the other aspect is the world in the prey of the devil where evils abound–a world to abhor.

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