Deicide, Contraception, Divorce Issues Dominate Council Session

139th General Congregation
September 30, 1965

John Cardinal Heenan of Westminster, England, has suggested to the council that it should omit the entire chapter on marriage from its document on the Church in the modern world since it is unable to give firm guidance on “the really big problem” of birth control, which Pope Paul VI has reserved to himself.

In a similar vein, Agnelo Cardinal Rossi of Sao Paulo, Brazil, suggested that the council might either keep silence on “this burning problem” of birth control or restrict itself to issuing some provisory but practical rules of pastoral conduct.

The ecumenical council’s 139th general meeting also heard a rebuttal of the previous day’s suggestion that the Church might re-examine its adamant stand against the remarriage of the innocent party in a marriage broken by abandonment or insanity. Charles Cardinal Journet, Swiss theologian, asserted that divorce in the Eastern Churches was a mere intrusion of civil law into Church practice.

The long-awaited revised version of the schema on relations with non-Christians, including the Jews, was distributed. It soon became known outside the council hall that the term “deicide” (God-killing) had indeed been deleted from the part of the text dealing with the Jews.

This omission seemed bound to raise another controversy like the one which stormed around the earlier omission of the same term from this text. Council Fathers restored the term “deicide” — explicitly exonerating the Jews from charges of God-killing — by a vote of more than 90%.

An explanation of the reasoning which led to the omission in this latest version accompanies the text of the schema, and several experts on the question agreed that the reasons given are persuasive. Yet it is feared that however strong the reasons given for the omission and however strong the substitute supplied for the term “deicide,” the omission will have a regrettable effect on world opinion.

One reason advanced for this is that the term “deicide” has played a powerful part in the psychology of anti-Semitism and therefore the world will naturally expect the conciliar statement on the innocence of the Jewish people to deal with the term itself.

Another reason advanced is that the very furor raised over the earlier omission of the same term, plus its emphatic reinsertion in the text by an overwhelming vote of council Fathers, has focused the world’s attention on this term itself.

The term thus has become a symbol of the Church’s good intentions with regard to the Jews.

Still another unhappy effect, in another direction, is feared. Council Fathers explicitly ordered the reinstatement of the term when it had been omitted from a previous draft. Its deletion, if permanent, could easily convey the impression that the council’s authority is taken very lightly by other organisms in Rome.

A note in the revised text states that the term has been deleted because it is absurd in itself. (However, some experts on this problem believe another motive for removal of the term may have been to leave the door open to the theological development of the very idea of deicide.)

The revised text emphasizes that the authorities of the Jews at the time of Christ urged His death, not the Jews themselves.

It omits the term “people” in speaking of responsibility for Christ’s death, even in denying that Jews of that time were responsible.

In stating that responsibility for Christ’s death cannot be attributed to the Jews of His day or to the Jews of today, it omits the expression “still less” in speaking of modern Jews.

It inserts the teaching of the council’s Constitution on the Church that the Church is the new People of God. And in stating further that the Jews cannot on this account be reproved, it adds that it would be false to base such a reproval of the Jews on the words of Holy Scripture.

In speaking of how Jews should be treated, the revised schema enjoins Christians to say nothing that would not conform to Evangelical truth and the spirit of Christ.

One of the day’s five votes on the document on the pastoral duties of bishops could have far-reaching effect on the structure of authority within dioceses. By a vote of 2,176 to 13, the council approved the addition of a sentence urging that the institutions surrounding the bishop, especially the chapter of canons, be reorganized and adapted to modern needs.

Bishop Narciso Jubany Arnau of Gerona, Spain, presented the commission’s report on chapter two of this schema. He said that as a result of the approximately 900 amendments in the earlier voting on this schema, the text has been rather fully revised, even in some important passages.

In replying to the speech of Archbishop Elie Zoghbi, Melkite-rite patriarchal vicar for Egypt, Cardinal Journet declared that the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage is the teaching of Christ Himself. He said that the teaching is revealed in the Gospel text: “What God has joined together let no man put asunder.”

The Apostle Paul teaches the same doctrine, Cardinal Journet said, and Paul makes it clear he is not speaking in his own name but rather in the name of the Lord. He cited I Corinthians 7, 10 and 11.

This text, Cardinal Journet asserted, complements the teachings in chapters 5 and 19 of St. Matthew.

Cardinal Journet said this doctrine was followed in the early Church. However, he said, a Justinian law permitting divorce was incorporated into the canons of the Eastern Church and thus divorce entered the Eastern Churches.

In this way, Cardinal Journet said, these Churches found themselves following a human policy rather than Gospel teaching. Yet the doctrine of the Church has always remained unaltered, he said, and the Church has no right to change divine law. Unhappy situations in human life are hopeless only when seen from a purely human point of view without reference to the Gospel or to divine help, he said.

Cardinal Heenan, after stressing the importance of skillful and elegant modern-language versions of a council document addressed to the world, as is schema 13, pointed to the council’s “complete silence” on contraception.

He called this “the controversy which more than any other today exercises the minds of married people everywhere.”

Agreeing that at the present the council cannot be blamed for its reticence on this point, Cardinal Heenan asked:

“Would it not be better to say nothing at all about marriage in this document than to discuss it while leaving the really big problem without mention? If we act in this way, there is surely some danger that the faithful will feel they are being defrauded. It is even possible that some non-Catholic critics will sneer at us and say: The Catholic Church claims to be infallible in teaching faith and morals, yet it cannot make up its mind about this question.

“I say in all humility that it would be better to leave out this entire chapter on marriage until the Pope, having received the guidance he has sought from scientists and theologians, is ready to make a proclamation on this subject.

“Otherwise we can give no clear advice to the faithful who so badly need it.”

Cardinal Heenan also suggested the insertion of “a short passage on the altogether praiseworthy practice of adoption.” He said:

“Orphans and illegitimate children more often than not are deprived of that priceless inheritance of childhood, family life at the domestic hearth. It is true that in countries enjoying religious freedom these unfortunate children are lovingly received by nuns who open wide their arms and receive them with Christian love. But no matter how beautiful and spacious the orphanage, it can never take the place of home.

“Childless couples should be warmly exhorted to adopt children — especially those who are sick, handicapped, half-caste or for any reason not sought after.”

Cardinal Rossi then made his suggestion of either remaining quiet on the subject of birth control or issuing practical pastoral directives.

William Cardinal Conway of Armagh, Northern Ireland, approving chapter one as a good synthesis of Catholic doctrine, echoed the appeals of other speakers for a change in the status of the document. He suggested calling it a pastoral letter to the world.

He said the text, where it states that married couples have a right to “determine” the number of their children, should add: by “methods in conformity with the law of God.”

Another Irishman, Michael Cardinal Browne of the Roman curia, said the schema’s treatment of matrimony is perplexing. He asked for a more exact theological treatment, distinguishing clearly between marriage’s primary end (the procreation and education of children), and its secondary ends (mutual aid and satisfaction of the senses), which are intimately connected with the essential end itself.

Cardinal Browne, a former Master General of the Dominican Fathers, defended St. Thomas Aquinas’ understanding of the role of love in marriage: respect and mutual support. Such love naturally flows over onto children, he said. Cardinal Browne declared that the very nature of matrimony demands the predominance of such love, which tempers the senses.

Archbishop Adrianus Djasasepoetra, S.J., of Jakarta, Indonesia, speaking in the name of the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference, complained that the text’s presentation of the Church’s doctrine is not well adapted to regions where special customs prevail. He said that in the West people marry because they are in love, while in the East they love one another because they are married. He urged the council to undertake the admittedly difficult task of rendering the document suitable for every culture.

Bishop Frantisek Tomasek, apostolic administrator of the archdiocese of Prague, said a vast international relief program should be launched in the moral field as well as in the economic field. This, he said, would call for widespread coordination between such agencies as the International Red Cross and the World Bank. Young married couples need loans to start their married life, and the council should declare its approval of relief projects ranging from individuals to international associations, he said.

Archbishop Francisco da Silva of Braga, Portugal, said moral theology nowhere gives sanction to married couples to determine the number of their children on their own responsibility. The text’s language in this regard, he said, favors hedonism. He, like Cardinal Heenan, suggested that the council be silent on this question.

Bishop Remi De Roo of Victoria, B.C., said that the conjugal union cannot be fully understood without the realization that marital intimacy creates a unique communion between the partners, infusing their entire lives and persons. Parents must be a source of more than physical life: they are the source of love for the entire family. Physical attraction alone fails to define married love, nor can pleasure alone define it, Bishop De Roo held.

“We should not hesitate,” he continued, “to recognize also the healing values of marital intimacy. Husband and wife find it is often indispensable when spirits are dejected, when a partner labors under some extreme difficulty, when home life has lost the serenity so necessary for children’s welfare.”

Archbishop Joseph Urtasun of Avignon, France, said the Church and the world are in basic agreement on some points at least, and these points should be emphasized in the schema’s treatment of marriage.

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Reuss of Mainz, Germany, said the text should not treat the problems of marriage as if they were already solved.

In a vein similar to Bishop De Roo’s, he spoke of two goods of marriage — procreation and love. Love, he said, can be both a good and an end of matrimony. However, conjugal love cannot be identified purely and simply with the conjugal act, he held.

Because the dignity of marriage is founded on the dignity of the human person, Bishop Reuss said, the dignity of the conjugal act resides in its intimate union between the husband and wife in a movement toward the person loved and eventually toward God. He said he regretted the absence of the word “responsibility” in the text.

Coadjutor Bishop Herbert Bednorz, of Katowice, Poland, in a speech clearly reflecting social conditions in Poland, said efforts should be made to improve the economic conditions of family life (especially for mothers), so that the family can better perform its duty to educate its children. Man is fundamentally a familial being — born in a family, living in it and eventually creating his own family, he said. He held that so-called free love introduces anarchy into the family.

Bishop Bednorz stressed the benefit of family prayer, such as preached by Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., through his international Family Rosary crusade.

According to Bishop Franz von Streng of Basel and Lugano, Switzerland, the text appears to leave the way open to a false interpretation on abortion. He requested greater clarity in the text to make the evil of abortion more explicit. This is needed, he said, because the Catholic idea of abortion can differ from medical and civil concepts of abortion.

Spanish-born Bishop Ignacio de Orbegozo, head of the prelature nullius of Yauyos in Peru, asked for revision of chapter I to show that marriage is a real vocation to charity in its perfection. Such a clarification, he said, would forestall the danger of a certain minimalism in the morals of marriage.

The day’s general congregation opened with Mass celebrated by Bishop Joseph Martin, W.F., of Bururi, Burundi. The book of the Gospels was enthroned by Bishop Luigi Magliacani, O.F.M.Cap., vicar apostolic of Arabia. The moderator of the session was Leo Cardinal Suenens of Malines-Brussels.

Patrick Riley
NCWC News Rome correspondent

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