The schema on the Church in the modern world has suffered in public opinion from an “overaccentuation of the particular points on war and marriage,” according to one of its authors.
Bishop Marcos McGrath of Santiago de Veraguas, Panama, a guest speaker at the U.S. bishops’ press panel Nov. 19, said equally important items in schema 13 have not been given enough attention.
“Among them is the general direction of the entire document — placing the Church in the stream of the modern world and its problems … and applying a Christian vision to concrete situations in a synthesis never before accomplished,” he said.
The value of the document for future generations of the Church, Bishop McGrath said, “is particularly in its diversity … It is a manifestation that the Church in this council has been more universal in its representation than ever before.” Past councils have been representative largely of either Europe or the Near and Middle East, he said, whereas the “preoccupations of the entire world are reflected in this council.”
“The commission in charge of schema 13 would have liked to have had a full year to make more sure of its direction,” he said “but we are surprised at the fruitfulness of the discussions already held and what they have produced. There has been much improvement of imbalances and clarifications of the main direction the text should take, but there have been very few substantial changes.”
Bishop McGrath cited instances of what he called the “feverish activity” of the commission now preparing a final amended draft of the schema before voting on it begins Dec. 4 — just three days before its scheduled promulgation.
In a remarkably short time, he said, 60 members of the commission have organized all the material into indexed file cards. Each member has received copies of all council talks on the subject.
When preliminary voting ended on Nov. 17, he said, the subcommissions continued meetings on various phases of the document’s subject matter. The results of their work were then given to another subcommission charged with coordinating and rewriting. Bishop McGrath is a member of this subcommission.
He said the results were to be submitted to a plenary session of the full mixed commission on Nov. 22 with the hope that the text would be ready for the printers on Nov. 25. Archbishop Pericle Felici, council secretary general, announced the same day in the council that the Fathers would receive this amended document for examination on Dec. 2.
The mixed commission is composed of two council commissions, the doctrinal commission and the commission on the apostolate of the laity.
As many as 3,000 suggested amendments were submitted by Fathers on some points in the document, Bishop McGrath said, but the two-thirds vote of approval on each section during balloting early the same week assured that there would be no substantial changes.
There have been suggestions that the name of the document be changed from a pastoral constitution to a pastoral letter or something else which would indicate that it has less binding force than the Constitutions on the Nature of the Church or on Divine Revelation.
The feeling of the commission, Bishop McGrath said, is that “pastoral constitution is the best possible title because of the importance of the document.”
“The title could change as long as the replacement chosen did not give the impression that the document was reduced in importance,” he added.
Council Fathers have been asked to submit any views they may have on this subject to the commission, Bishop McGrath observed. But he added that the binding force of the various designations for council documents (constitution, decree or declaration) must be established by reference to the thinking of the present council, not by invoking documents of past councils. At the Council of Trent in the 16th century the most important documents were decrees, he said, and at the First Vatican Council in the 19th century the two documents issued were both constitutions.
The practice in the present council has been to designate those documents the Fathers consider most important as constitutions. Decrees are of lesser importance with reference to the supreme teaching authority of the Church, and so finally are declarations. It has been pointed out consistently throughout, however, that none of the documents can be labeled as infallible teachings of the Church—which Pope John said in invoking the “pastoral council” was not his intention. Experts also point out regularly that the significance of a document in the practical life of the Church is not necessarily decided by its label.
Bishop McGrath revealed that Pope Paul’s speech to the United Nations (Oct. 4) has been formally included among the official documents of the council, and has been cited in the references of this document.
In the question period, reporters returned to the much-discussed subjects of war and peace and marriage problems which form part of the document. In answer, Bishop McGrath made the following points:
The statement on possession or accumulation of nuclear weapons has been dropped from the final version because it was decided that “rather than getting into the prudential area of weapons without complete knowledge of military objectives” would be beyond the council’s competence.
“The commission preferred to take a prophetic tone, reflecting Pope Paul’s UN speech,” he said, “while at the same time encouraging international peace talks and attempts at effective world organization. Stockpiling has not been rejected certainly, but it is now looked upon as a strategy which, though it doesn’t make for peace itself, could give governments a time extension” in their efforts toward peace.
“There wasn’t any notion in the commission of undermining troops on the battlefield today,” he said, in obvious reference to criticism by Archbishop Hannan a few days before who said that the present reading could be misconstrued as a condemnation of U.S. policy in Vietnam.
Regarding the document’s treatment of marriage, he said Pope Paul’s move last year of setting up a special commission to study the birth control problem had “released the council’s commission from this matter.”
‘This was a relief since it involved a broader study than our commission could have handled in the context of its work,” he added. He noted, though, that many members of his commission are also on the special commission and that the two have worked together.
The main change in the text on marriage problems, he said, has been “to recast the classroom or institutional approach to marriage to an in-depth study of conjugal love. What can be said at the present about birth control before the papal commission report is released has been said more clearly, and there has been a clearer statement of the Catholic’s obligation to follow the Church’s teaching authority as it interprets teaching on this subject.”
He noted that the text avoids any reference to past teaching of the Church, speaking rather to the present alone.
On the question of women’s role in the Church, he said his subcommission that very day had discussed it as one of the “signs of the times” to be included in the text’s introductory paragraphs. Several women consulted by the subcommission, he said, have insisted that the idea of “mathematical equality” be avoided. One had often asked the subcommission “not to overstate the case” of women’s equality for fear that no specific area of influence be assigned women which is uniquely theirs.
Another panelist, Father John J. King, superior of the Oblate house of studies in Rome, noted the text’s reading on conscientious objection carries with it the demands of public order. “The first posture of the individual conscience shouldn’t be one of opposition to legitimate public authority,” he said, “but rather to weigh the competence of public authority and assume it legitimate until proven otherwise within the individual conscience.”
Msgr. George G. Higgins, director of the N.C.W. C. social action department, observed there would have been “no Nuremberg trials had there been no universal problem regarding conscientious objection.” He said Germans have had “sad practical experience with the dilemma involved in the decision that nobody can commit genocide, even if public authorities order it.”
Bishop McGrath noted that four of the five council Fathers who presented the commission reports on part two of this schema were Germans.
Archbishop Philip M. Hannan of New Orleans said (Nov. 22) statements recently carried in the world press showing opposition between him and the rest of the United States bishops on the issue of peace and war in the ecumenical council’s schema on the Church in the modern world are “completely untrue.”
“I do not know how the press secured the opinion that the American bishops were opposed to the amendments which I suggested,” he told the N.C.W.C. News Service. “Whoever gave the press this opinion was not stating truth.”
Archbishop Hannan said: “I deny absolutely that the American bishops or any American bishop tried to prevent me from submitting amendments for the correction of the texts of paragraphs 84 and 85. Some bishops suggested changes in the wording of the amendments that I had prepared, but only in order to make them more effective. Every American bishop who spoke to me about this matter was completely in favor of the suggested amendments.”
Some press reports had indicated that Archbishop Hannan’s suggested amendments were submitted to the U.S. bishops during their annual meeting in Rome from Nov. 15 to 18, with the implication that he had asked for some kind of “bloc vote” by the American bishops to accept and submit his amendments when they voted on the controversial section of schema 13 in the council meeting of Nov. 17.
Although Archbishop Hannan said the bishops did discuss the amendments he had proposed, he added that “there was no request for such a bloc vote. Several bishops had asked me to rewrite my original suggestions with a slight change of emphasis. After I had done this, most bishops seemed satisfied.”
Each bishop was then free to use his suggested amendments or not in the council voting, Archbishop Hannan said. “There was no amendment presented as the official stand of the American bishops. This could not have been done anyway, according to council procedure, where each bishop has his own secret vote.”
The archbishop had suggested amending the text of the council document’s paragraph 84 where it states that “any use of nuclear arms is absolutely illicit,” and where it says that “it is unreasonable that war should be considered an apt means of restoring violated rights.”
He had also called for amendments in paragraph 85 which, he said, “errs in that it condemns a nation for possessing nuclear weapons farma scientifica, stating that such nations erroneously think that a strategy of the balance of terror secures peace.”
The same paragraph, Archbishop Hannan said, “also refers disparagingly and indiscriminately to the more wealthy nations for causing disorder in the world and neglecting to use adequately their resources for the benefit of the poorer nations.”
Paragraph 85 erred, he said, in “describing the strategy of some nations which have nuclear weapons.” He added that the same paragraph “further errs in stating that making and possessing nuclear arms increases the causes of war.” The causes of war, he said, are “injustice and unjust aspirations, not the mere possession of nuclear arms, which under proper control can prevent injustices and aggression.”
The archbishop further charged that “paragraph 85 ignores the fact that the possession of nuclear arms by some nations has protected extensive areas of the world from possible aggression” and that “protection of these areas would be very uncertain if there were no nuclear weapons.
“This paragraph, while at present condemning the means of protecting these extensive areas, has not suggested any substitute. It has condemned the possession of nuclear weapons as a means of protecting nations and preserving some aspect of peace, but it has suggested no substitute.”