Academic journal article Theological Studies

Some Early Reactions to 'Veritatis Spendor.' (Encyclical Letter Signed August 6, 1993)

Academic journal article Theological Studies

Some Early Reactions to 'Veritatis Spendor.' (Encyclical Letter Signed August 6, 1993)

Article excerpt

VERITATIS SPLENDOR has elicited a broad range of reactions, both favorable and unfavorable. In this article, I shall first review comments on, responses to, and studies of the papal letter, and then outline what appear to be critical issues in the encyclical or associated with it.


The encyclical letter Veritatis splendor(1) was signed by John Paul II on August 6, 1993 and released the following October 5. Addressed to all the bishops of the Catholic Church regarding certain fundamental questions of the Church's moral teaching," it understandably got a reading far beyond episcopal ranks. At the outset I want to glance at some reactions from around the world, both in the media at large and within the Church. I realize that sound bites are hardly adequate to a long and complicated papal letter. They can, however, convey a tone.

The Press

The journal 30 Days gathered a sampling of journalistic reaction. For example, the widest circulating Polish daily, Gazeta Wyborcza, referred to the letter as "an encyclical of the counter-reformation for a Church in crisis." Rome's La Repubblica asserted that "Wojtyla wants a silent Church." Its summary stated that "the Pope's final effort introduces only one great innovation: the abolition of theological dissent." Milan's Corriere della sera found nothing new in the encyclical. "Nor is the call to obedience directed at theologians new: it merely reproduces an 'Instruction' of 1990." The Frankfurter Allgemeine had a different tone. It saw in the encyclical "a point of reference for believers and moral theologians alike." The Times (London) spoke of the risk of schism. The Guardian judged the document fundamentalist and inspired by nostalgia for pre-Vatican II days. The French Catholic daily La Croix viewed the letter as "the most important of the pontificate of John Paul II." The Spanish daily El Pais wrote that "even the most inveterate detractors will have problems presenting this intellectual effort in sensational tones, however polemical the static nature of the document may prove to be."(2)

Episcopal Statements

With few exceptions episcopal statements followed a fairly predictable pattern. Cardinal Roger Mahoney praised the encyclical for its "magnificent vision of the Christian life" and its "stunning" insight that "the moral life is a response to the gift of faith and a path to perfection."(3) Cardinal Bernard Law said that it "presents a teaching which has to be pondered and appropriated at a deeper level of consciousness."(4) Bishop Donald W. Wuerl called the letter "a beacon that shines in the midst of the gloom of confusion."(5)

At the press conference for the release of the encyclical, Archbishop J. Francis Stafford pointed up its emphasis on natural law and called it "an outstanding contemporary presentation of the Catholic natural law approach to moral reason."(6) Archbishop Adam Maida stated that he was most impressed by the pope's reflections on Jesus'dialogue with the rich young man.(7) Somewhat mysteriously Archbishop Elden Curtiss referred to the encyclical as "a discernment made by the Church's magisterium (the body of bishops in the world under the leadership of the Pope) with regard to certain modern positions and controversial problems in moral theology."(8) Most of us would judge that a letter to the world's bishops is hardly a product of their own magisterium, as indeed it was not.

Archbishop John Quinn noted that "a supremely important emphasis in the encyclical "is its insistence that the foundation of Christian morality lies in the paschal mystery of Christ.(9) Cardinal James A. Hickey stated that it warns about the "grave pastoral dangers of flawed theologies ... and of public dissent."(10) Bishop Daniel P. Reilly asserts that "the basic concern of the Holy Father is that in much of today's thinking the exercise of human freedom has been separated from its essential relationship with truth. …

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