( April 29, 1983) We now have a full and official account of the secret meeting held in the Vatican Jan. 18-19. It is the work of Fr. Jan Schotte, secretary of the Pontifical Justice and Peace Commission. A Jan. 25 memorandum from Archbishop John J. Roach and Cardinal Joseph Bernardin adds some more details.
The U.S. bishops insist they were not being called on the carpet for their views on nuclear weapons. The specific conclusions in the second draft of their pastoral letter, they say, "were not criticized, questioned or addressed." This is hard to believe, because the meeting's entire purpose was "to hear the concerns of the European bishops and to receive guidance from the Holy See." What concerns? Guidance about what?
Moreover, the U.S. bishops are congratulated in the Schotte report on their "courage and humility" in agreeing to go to Rome for this "open exchange." They can have displayed these virtues only if they were under some attack. Courage was needed to face criticism, humility to accept it.
If, afterward, they preferred to describe the consultation as "a positive and helpful exchange of views," one feels bound to attribute this to ecclesiastical diplomacy, born of a reluctance to admit that real divisions exist.
The Schotte report, however, makes clear that disagreements existed and what they were about. The most serious and radical objection came from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, whose opening shot was that the National Conference of Catholic Bishops ( NCCB) was not competent to write such a pastoral letter.
He said, "A bishops' conference does not have a mandatum docendi (a mandate to teach). This belongs only to individual bishops or to the college of bishops with the pope."
This is a disconcerting remark. Common sense suggests that a group of bishops, provided they work a bit, are likely to produce more effective teaching than bishops in lonely isolation. Memories of Vatican II confirm that an episcopal conference carries more