'Veritatis Splendor' Draws Cheers and Jeers; Some Moral Theologians Say It Misses the Mark

National Catholic Reporter, October 15, 1993 | Go to article overview
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'Veritatis Splendor' Draws Cheers and Jeers; Some Moral Theologians Say It Misses the Mark


Some moral theologians say it misses the mark

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Veritatis Splendor, conceived six years ago, repeatedly revised amid episcopal pressures, mounting speculation and press leaks, was finally unveiled Oct. 5 at a noon press conference in Rome.

It quickly - and somewhat predictably - brought both jeers and cheers from leading Catholic figures.

At the press conference marking the new encyclical's official release, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, said, The moral question has become, more clearly than ever before, the question of mankind's survival ... (the encyclical) is an expression of concern for man."

He said there is an "abyss of relativism" in the modern world, where individuals think they can decide for themselves what is right or wrong depending on the circumstances and hoped-for outcome.

"For example," Ratzinger said, "when individuals or whole groups think violence is the best means to better the world, then individualism and relativism in moral matters leads to the destruction of the foundations of human coexistence and, indeed, the endangerment of human dignity.'

The pope's encyclical, he added, recognizes a need to take into account motivations and consequences when evaluating moral guilt, but the fact remains that some actions in and of themselves are good or evil.

Ratzinger and many U.S. and European Catholic bishops have responded favorably to the new encyclical. Several U.S. bishops released lengthy statements extolling its virtues.

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago said he welcomes the encyclical at a time when people throughout the world seem to have lost a sense of direction, a sense of true purpose." He cited random killings in U.S. cities, political violence throughout the world, cultural violence caused by drugs and moral failings within the Catholic faith community. The encyclical, Bernardin said, "calls individuals to rise above the limits of selfcentered or self-defined morality and to live in accord with this objective moral order, which can be expressed in specific moral norms that have a universal and permanent character.'

In Canada, the encyclical is also winning praise from Catholic church leaders. Archbishop Adam Exner of Vancouver said it"can help the church in Canada to rebuild the moral fiber of its members. In this way the encyclical can also make significant contributions to rebuilding and restrengthening the moral caliber of our country."

Critics, condemnations

Veritatis Splendor is not going over as well with some moral theologians, who see it as a condemnation of moral theories and trends. Some have said the encyclical would have done better to describe these as problems of modern secularized culture instead of calling them errors in Catholic theology.

Fr. Charles E. Curran of Southern Methodist University - whom the Vatican declared ineligible to teach as a Catholic theologian in the 1980s because of his arguments for less-absolute Catholic positions on certain moral issues - said he saw himself depicted in one place in the encyclical That was where the encyclical said theologians were wrong in accusing the church of "physicalism" in its absolute prohibitions against premarital sex, homosexual activity, autoeroticism, direct sterilization, artificial contraception and artificial insemination.

It was that list of issues. Those were the issues they got me on,' he said.

In terms of theoretical positions and methodologies the encyclical condemns, Curran said he found neither his views nor those of any other Catholic moral theologian. "No Catholic theologian I know advocates relativism or subjec- tivism" or various other positions that are condemned, he said.

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