Bigger Church Role for Women Asked

“The Church must abandon the masculine superiority complex which ignores the spiritual power of women,” said Leo Cardinal Suenens of Malines-Brussels in an interview here.

Asked to elaborate on his now famous council statement of last year that it sometimes seems as if the Church were paying no attention to “half of humanity,” the cardinal, who is one of the four moderators of the ecumenical council, said:

“We must learn to respect woman in her true dignity and to appreciate her part in the plan of God.

“This is my firm conviction and is well founded on the Mariological teachings of the Church, which once again will be reflected in the council schema on the Church as theological principles of transcending importance.

“They also find a tangible expression in the presence of women auditors in council sessions, a presence of deeply symbolical significance inasmuch as it affirms an equality of all the people of God, be they women or men.

“The women auditors by their presence indicate clearly that we are slowly emerging from a state of affairs which was not doing justice to the feminine sex.”

Would this, Cardinal Suenens was asked, also apply to the women Religious?

“Yes, indeed,” replied the cardinal, “for by and large women Religious now have no opportunity to become articulate in the Church, to make their voices heard. This certainly is not in keeping with modern concepts of womanhood.”

How could this situation be changed?

“By activating women Religious,” said Cardinal Suenens. “By making them conscious of their place in the world, by letting them face the realities of life and become mature persons who can exercise a vital apostolate, especially among women, if they are properly equipped intellectually and so trained that they will gain in stature in their own consciousness and therefore be enabled to make contributions of their own toward the development of society.”

The problems of marriage being of immediate concern of most women, what could the council contribute toward their solution, Cardinal Suenens was asked.

“We must be realists in this respect. Christian married couples do not always see things in the same light as theologians, who should be prepared to gain new perspectives in keeping abreast of specific situations.

“This does not mean that we should look for what might be called mechanical answers to so difficult a problem as birth control. We know it is being studied by theologians as well as by

medical men. These studies must continue, and we should not be impatient, if tangible results are not immediately forthcoming. Once such results are obtained, it may well be possible to provide a guidance entirely acceptable by the standards of Church doctrine. In the meantime let us concentrate on what is most important, the kind of education and instruction of our own people which will make them realize more fully the pre-eminent factor of love, a love understood as Christian mutual charity.”

Cardinal Suenens often has expressed the view that the life of the Church should be marked by greater simplicity. He was asked what his thoughts are now in this respect.

“Briefly,” he replied, “I think we could easily do without all the things that smack of the style prevailing at former French imperial courts. Today we call it the curial style. This applies to titles, modes of dressing and other appurtenances not really in keeping with the spirit of the Gospel.

“Of course, I don’t mean to refer to the liturgy of the Church. There solemnity must be preserved in a proper measure.

“In our day-to-day living, however, we should be as modest as possible and adapt our style of life to modern concepts.”

In concluding the interview Cardinal Suenens spoke of the council, its achievements so far and its prospects.

“Clearly,” he said, “the first two sessions were in a sense preparatory. We now begin to garner the fruits of our labors.

“The schema on the Church, once adopted, will be a monumental accomplishment. Naturally, the principle of episcopal collegiality it proclaims will have to be applied in practice before we will experience its full import, and both theologians and pastors will find that for a long time to come it will offer food for thought. However, the groundwork is now done. The Holy Spirit has guided the council so that the high goal to complete what the First Vatican Council had begun could be achieved.

“Once this council is over, the post-conciliar commissions will go to work to implement our decisions, and then there is every reason to expect that the supreme council Pope Paul VI himself envisages as their crowning outcome will be set up to govern the universal Church in close union with the pontiff and under his direction. I personally hope it will not be too large a body, rather more of a working group representative of the whole Church.

“We must not expect spectacular developments. Progress will come about quietly, at times even unnoticed, and we should let things grow in the natural way, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

“Then, of course, there is that tremendously important development of ecumenism. Interfaith relations have gained an incentive through this council we never thought possible. This applies

to our Protestant friends no less than to the Orthodox, although perhaps the prospects for reunion are more immediate in regard to the latter.

“We are now entering the phase of closer contacts with Orthodoxy when the separation that still stands between us will slowly be overcome, when we can talk to each other and understand one another better.”

A last question was raised: how much longer might this council last?

“We will certainly be able to dispose of all that is on the agenda now by Nov. 20,” replied Cardinal Suenens.

“Then the commissions will go to work again, and since they will have a great deal to do reworking such key schemata as the ones on the lay apostolate and the Church in the modern world, to mention just these two, I doubt that the fourth council session, which ought to be the last one, can be held before the fall of next year, probably in October, but it is likely to be short, lasting only four to six weeks.

“By that time I am convinced we will have accomplished what Pope John XXIII wanted us to do and what Pope Paul VI gave us the mandate to bring to a promising end.”

(Giacomo Cardinal Lercaro of Bologna, Italy, another council moderator, said in his council address of Oct. 20 that in his opinion the fourth and closing session of the council should be held in 1966 in order to give ample time to the competent committees to rework the various draft proposals in the light of the recommendations made on the council floor.)

Father Placid Jordan, O.S.B.
NCWC News Rome Correspondent

* * * *

Whether the Church will change its laws regarding abstinence from meat on Friday and church attendance on Sunday, it is already clear that some bishops want at least a change in attitude on these subjects.

This was the reaction of members of the U.S. bishops’ press panel to references made in the council during discussion of the schema on the Church in the modern world.

Discussing the schema, several bishops used the examples of current Church laws of abstinence and Sunday Mass obligation under pain of mortal sin as indicating the need for reform in moral theology.

Father Charles Davis, British moral theologian, pointed out that the bishops’ objection was not to the laws themselves but to the deeper question of the mentality of issuing such laws under pain of mortal sin.

“The simple statement of such binding force represents a primitive approach to morality,” Father Davis said. “There is no recognition of the psychological working of consciences.

“Mortal sin comes about when an action performed embodies a fundamental rejection of God or a fundamental choice against Him. Development of conscience is demanded for an understanding of the positive precepts, which many do not have, and consequently they do not sin gravely in acting against such precepts.”

Father Davis said statements saying that missing Mass on Sunday or eating meat on Friday damn one for eternity are “crude and confused,” since they do not take into account the circumstances which can change the morality of an act and the degree of knowledge of an act’s sinfulness required for sin.

“Hence authorities should not announce mortal sins — only God should do that. Church authorities should rather say they regard this or that matter as serious, something which cannot be ignored without turning away from God.”

Father Francis J. Connell, C.SS.R., former dean of the School of Sacred Theology at the Catholic University of America, pointed out that the Church could change its abstinence and Sunday obligation laws, since they are “purely ecclesiastical, although connected with divine commands to fast and to worship God.”

Regarding objections in the council that the Church should not make such laws, he said he thought that another side to the argument might be the danger of the “wedge principle.”

“If people are told that the obligation of Sunday Mass did not bind under pain of sin, how many would go to Mass?” he asked.

Another panel member, Msgr. George G. Higgins, director of the Social Action Department of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, said he did not think the specific examples used in the council chamber were anything more than examples. The main point, he said, was the theme which they represent—the mentality of binding under mortal sin in such cases. Any specific recommendations have been or will be referred to the commission on the revision of the Code of Canon Law, he stated.

“And I expect the whole system will be revised,” Msgr. Higgins said.

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