Attack on the Curia?

  • 1 September 1969
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ON OCTOBER 11th, the second consultative assembly of the world's bishops meets in Rome. Once again the Synod will assemble under the presidency of Cardinal Conway, who will attempt to steer it safely through the troubled waters of episcopal discontent as he did so effectively last time. On that occasion the Curia hadarranged the agenda before the bishops Once again they have arranged the arrived. They had also arranged it so agenda and attempted to fix the that the whole conference was held in representation at the Synod This secret The press was fobbed off with time, however, opposition to their communiques issued daily in curial language.

These merely served the purpose of obscuring rather than elucidating what had happened.
The Synod was given conciliatory subjects to discuss; subjects on which the whole of the Church had previously agreed. What appeared to be useful reforms were declared. These concerned the Canon of the Mass and reforms in the laws relating to marriage. Temporarily, the forces of change were held in peace with the arch-conservative elements in the Church. This time, the arrangements made by the Curia have not, in fact, changed.

Curia doing its Worst
Now all events stand in the shadow of Humanae Vitae.Before the last Synod the Pope's conservative theological tendencies (exemplified in such matters as his encyclical on the Eucharist) stood in contrast to his progressive statements in such an excellent encyclical as Populorum Progressio. Since then, the Curia has done its worst. It has used its complete control of information and access to the Pope to enlist him almost completely on its side. Pope Paul is, by all accounts, a man of indecision and the Curia has ensured that the dilemma of the Church with such a leader, in a time of great change, has been to their benefit.

Humanae Vitae was the opening barrage. It shook the world while the Curia shook with consuming glee, At this vital juncture in world history, when the Church was finally facing the contradictions in the Vatican Council documents concerning the role of the Pope and Collegiality in the Church, the Pope came out unswervingly on the side of the Curia

Since then there has been no detente, and the Curia has attempted the most absurd tricks of all. It attempted to try Dr. Schillebeeck for heresy. Then it attacked the Dutch Cathecism and condemned hierarchies in South America that wavered in any way from American allegiance.

No Conclusions
In its preparations for this Synod, the Curia has shown that its fangs are bared. According to the respected American National Catholic Reporter which measures its accusations carefully, the Curia have lined up what sounds like a meeting of Stalin's parliament in the 1930's. The agenda will ask the bishops of the world to reaffirm (with no mental reservations) the doctrines which suit the Curia: Papal infallibility; birth control; and the Primacy of the Holy See. The agenda does not even offer concessions. Once again it is to be in secret despite flagrant violation of this rule by members of the hierarchy last time. No time is to be allowed for discussion on procedure or on the future of such Synods. The Curia plan is ingeniously simple: they will force the bishops to accept conservative definitions of the role of Italian authority in the Church; they then hope to end the Synod and only with reluctance call such meetings in future.

Issue of Papal Infallibility not opportune
They hope to do this by pressurising the liberal bishops. No bishop is prepared to aeny Papal infallibility or set against the central papal administration the doctrine of independent local churches. Some day this problem will have to be faced, but the time is not now opportune.What the liberal
bishops want to discuss is Canon Law. This is the area where the aberrations of centralised authority can be abolished.

It is clear also that the liberal bishops are prepared to take a stand on this matter. Cardinal Suenens in his controversial interview in The Tablet criticised the arbitrary use of redundant Canon Law to extend the Curia's control. His open stance has created a focus for organising dissent. Another public sign of this new coalition was the public statement of Father Karl Rahner, S,J" where he supported the criticisms made in the Cardinal's article. Therefore a nucleus of semiorganised bishops will attend the Synod with the support of the leading theologian in the world and with the tacit support of practically all others.

Attack on Cardinal
The near-crisis nature of this confrontation can be seen in the reaction of the Curia-controlled newspaper Osservatore Romano which on two occasions attacked Cardinal Suenens for his public statements. This represented a complete break with precedent as it has not previously been necessary to number a Prince of the Church among the ranks of organiscrs of dissent. Whether the Curia is prepared to retreat may frame much of Church history in the future. If they do not there will be a revolt. It increasingly appears they will not back down on anything and are determined to smash difficult local hierarchies. Cardinal Suenens openly foresaw this when he claimed that the episcopacy must immediately demand autonomy from Rome in internal matters, and that it must no longer accept that Papal infallibility includes administrative control of local affairs.The extent of Papal dominion, in his view, had been grossly overstressed in the Ultra Montane period of church history and should be re-examined.

Hierarchies ignored" Humanae Vitae"
Every year the centralist forces see their power going and they must be scared by the way they see history annihilating their clique. The crunch came with Humanae Vitae. Whole hierarchies ignored it or disagreed with it. Clearly the faithful were not very impressed and carried on regardless. The Curia knows that if it does not take a stand now the Church will rapidly decentralise. On the other hand, the liberal bishops desperately need to oppose the Curia. The whole birth control dispute, and the absurd plotting of the Congregation of Faith (Holy Office) to extirpate heresy, has opened a credibility gap in most of the sophisticated Catholic countries. But what is worse for the liberals are the extreme impediments put in the way of urgent local reform.

Thus the other demand to be made by the liberal coalition, according to the National Catholic Reporter is that two urgent topics, apart from Canon Law, be discussed.

These are birth control and clerical celibacy. This will be bitterly opposed by the Curia which has got the Pope to condemn such changes and, they consequently then consider the matter closed. But, for the bishops of most countries it is vital that at least the subject of celibacy be openly discussed. Cardinal Suenens, at the preparatory conference for the Synod in Switzerland, denounced a complete ban on clerical celibacy to cheers from journalists and priests in the gallery.

If the Curia remains incalcitrant on this subject there will at least be complete unanimity. All the Third World bishops know that if there is not an immediate change in the law the manpower shortage in the clergy will have disastrous effects. The problem is aCUte in Northern Europe and the U.S,A. is also beginning to feel the same scarcity. All bishops will vote under pressure of overwhelming support for such a change among their clergy.

Counting the votes
In this the Curia cannot win. In other matters it looks as though the hierarchies will act similarly even if more reluctantly. If one judges according to the attitude of national hierarchies on the watershed issue of birth control the voting on agenda will probably be as follows: In Europe the pro-Papal hierarchies will be Eastern European countries, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Scotland and Ireland. The rest will all be against and the really determined reformers will be Belgium, Austria, Holland, Scandinavia and possibly Yugoslavia. South America will be for the reformers in everything except birth control where the issue is made more complex by the activities of the U.S. in respect of aid. Most Asian bishops will take a conservative line on everything except birth control where they are almost unanimous in condemnation of Humanae Vitae. Africanhierarchies will include some proPapal bishops, particularly in Central Africa, while the hierarchies of Zambia, Tanzania, South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, Morocco and Syria will take a strongly pro-reform line. The hierarchies of North America will include a sprinkling of both camps with a majority in favour of immediate change.

Can Reformers mould discontent?
The line-up does not look too gocd for the Curia. If it tries to push its luck there may be a revolution in authority within the Church. This might constitute more local church autonomy and a new set of relations between the Pope and the episcopate, But, as can be seen from the attitudes of the bishops the strong point of the Cardinal Conway-Chairman of The Synod Curia is its organisation. It operates from a set base. Furthermore, it can implement a coherent diplomatic plan. The world hierarchies are united only by a feeling of general discontent. It remains to be proved whether the reformers can mould their discontent into a political entity. This is doubtful, but if they succeed the Church can never be the same again.

It is probable that" neutral" bishops, such as the Irish repre-' representatives, Cardinal Conway and Bishop Daly, together with Cardinal Heenan, Cardinal Doepfner of Germany and some of the U.S,A. representatives will succeed in forcing a detente for at least another couple of years.