BY VIVIANE HEWITT IN ROME CONTROVERSY SURROUNDING POPE
John Paul II's new encyclical, Veritatis Splendor, took a disquieting turn this week with reports in Rome that the encyclical had been leaked not by dissenting theologians but by bishops.
Their action was designed not only as a protest at the current Pontificate's intransigence on moral and social issues but also at the encyclical's obvious attempt to force into line all those within the Church who hold differing opinions.
The group of bishops who decided to leak extracts of the encyclical which some theologians and clergy in Rome are calling Theologorum horror is believed to be predominandy Italian.
It is thought that they first contacted the Italian religious news agency, Adista, to protest at what they see as rebuke to hierarchy as opposed to recommendations for the faithful.
There were warnings in theological circles that the encyclical would spark "an ecclesiastical civil war" and one observer suggested that the text marked the start of what would be "Armageddon" in the Church.
"The battle is now on to decide the Church's future after Wojtyla", he said.
The vehemence of reactions to the document's leaks simultaneously in Rome, London and Washington provoked the comment from the Vati can's official spokesman, Joaquin Navarro Valls, that the passages in question had not been taken from the "definitive text".
And Rocco Buttiglione, one of Italy's leading religious philosophers and an adviser to Pope John Paul II, attempted to minimise the row.
"We should not be interpreting the encyclical through the key-hole, so to speak. The text will offer the opportunity for some new, interesting reflection on contemporary man", he said.
But theologians and several highranking members of the hierarchy see Veritatis Splendor as an indication that a "purge" is under way in the Catholic Church, similar to the antmodernist campaign under Pius X (1903-1914).
"Opposition to the teaching of the pastors of the Church cannot be interpreted as a legitimate expression of Christian liberty or as a differing aspect of the gifts of the Spirit", the encyclical states in one of the leaked passages.
Moral teaching, the Pope goes on, cannot be founded on deliberation procedures and any anchoring of truth to public opinion is unacceptable.
But the one factor dissidents seem to reject outright is the Pope's attempt to condemn "ethical relativism" which they see as a ban on differing viewswithin the Church. "This is therefore a ban on democracy", said one.
The Pope decrees in the document that theological faculties refusing to tow the Papal line be stripped of their qualification as "Catholic" and that theologians in this category be forbidden to teach, hold conferences or publish books.
The Swiss theologian Hans Kung, who in 1979 was deprived of his official licence to teach theology because of his questioning of the doctrine of infallibility, stressed this week the signifcance of the omission of that doctrine from the encyclical. In an interview this week the theologian called the Pope's decision to avoid the term infallible in Veritatis Splendor a "sensational" victory for liberals in the Church.
Earlier drafts of the encyclical, leaked last August, had shown repeated use of the term "infallible".
Following the leaking of the encyclical by The Times last week, Cardinal Basil Hume expressed his "dismay at the premature disclosure" of the encyclical. A senior member of the hierarchy of England and Wales this week reassured the faithful that the encyclical deals with moral choices rather than specific issues.
Mgr Philip Carroll, General Secretary of the Bishops'Conference, told a congregation at Our Lady of Victories in London last Sunday that they should not heed "misleading" reports in some secular newspapers.
Nicholas Coote, the Assistant General Secretary of the Bishops'Conference told the Catholic Herald that the leak raised the question of "whether the press is manipu lating public opinion or whether particular lobbies are manipulating the press".
Mgr Carroll confirmed this week that the Pope might give detailed guidance on subjects such as abortion, birth control and bio-ethics in an encyclical already under preparation.
As far as the faithful are concerned, Veritatis Splendor holds nothing new. It reiterates the concept of natural law, the validity of the Ten Commandments and, citing St Paul, the exclusion from the kingdom of God of the immoral.
Since its inception, Veritatis Splendor has been the target of bitter ecclesiastical criticism. Last year, there were reports in Rome that John Paul wanted to issue a decree of Papal infallibility on moral teaching and that only Cardinal Ratzinger persuaded him of the serious problems such a decision would entail.
Some theologians were saying in Rome this week that the debate to come on Veritatis Splendor after its official publication would be far more polemical than that sparked by Paul Vl's Huinanae Vitae in 1968 prohibiting the use of artificial birth control.
"It will be the culmination of the past five years of controversy under John Paul II, " said one. "This time, however, it is much more serious because the critics are not the usual liberal-minded thinkers in the Church but include some doctrinally impeccable members of hierarchy and of the grassroots clergy",he said.