Archbishop Beck of Liverpool, Britain's largest diocese, answers questions on the Pope's recent encyclical "Humanae Vitae" put to him by Kevin Mayhew.
You have been quoted as saying of the Pope's encyclical on birth control: "There may be some who will say this is hard. If this is something they cannot abide it: their own ,consciences then they must do whatever they think is right." Would you explain what you meant by this, please?
I think I ought to begin by saying that the encyclical has been accepted by many Catholics with relief and gratitude; for others it has been a bitter disappointment; and for some it has been—I think I can only describe it as a moral shock. One must recognise this and in a moral -crisis of this kind I think the only thing one can tell people is that they must do what they think is right. Really this is what I meant by saying they must follow their own consciences, I wouldn't leave it like that in the sense that I think everybody has the duty to form his conscience. and it's part of my responsibility, and part of the responsibility of the teaching Church, to help people to form their consciences. This is the process that is going on at the present time.
For that I think we need a great deal of patience, a great deal of charity, a great deal of gentleness. This has been a pericx1 of shock for many people.
Some of them have been very outspoken in their criticism and we must give the whole Catholic body time to adjust itself and to find its feet.
I think this is probably the most important thing for all of us to try to do, with gentleness and with charity, to adjust ourselves to this new position and to try to see what the Pope is really saying.
Can a person who, in i!ood conscience. comes to a conclusion on contraception which is directly opposite to what the Pope has said still remain a practising Catholic or is this the parting of the ways as some have suggested?
Well. I think it's very much too early to talk about the paring of the ways. I think this is very premature. We need a great deal of thought, as I've said. a great deal of prayer and discussion if necessary to try to clarify what the situation really is. And I think we shall find, if we do this. that there is in this encyclical a very noble concept of Christian marriage: an ideal, many people would call it, that perhaps is very difficult to live up to. But this is something the Church has a duty to proclaim to the world and is part of her witness to Christ's ideal and to Gods purpose for mankind.
What the Pope has done is to set this not in the context of a. couple in love. not even in the context of human society. but in the context of the human destiny of eternity and of happiness. He speaks in several places of man seeking happiness and only being able to find it if he fulfils the law of his nature which has been implanted by God.
This is something which is bound to take a long time for people to appreciate and. I come back to the point. I think it would be quite wrong for me to say that a • person who at the present time is in conscience opposed to the Holy Father's teaching should say: "Well, I must get out of the Church." I'm quite sure this would be a mistake.
It is generally agreed that the encyclical is not an infallible statement and you have just said that we have got ,to clarify what the situation really is. Can I ask you two questions: How binding is this encyclical. and because you have said we must clarify the situation, can you tell me: is this still in a state of debate?
Taking the first point: for that I would like to go back to the Vatican Council to the assembly of all the bishops, not the Pope speaking by himself. in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church where it says that the statements of the Roman Pontiff. the auth entic interpretation of God's law, should be received with sincere adherence. religious adherence, and that they should be given respectful acknowledgement.
. It goes on to say that the adherence to the judgments which the Pope delivers depend on his manifest meaning and intention and I think that this is somethine which is not yet clear to us even with careful reading of the encyclical.
I would want to have expert commentary on it before sayine that we completely understood the manifest meaning and intention of the Holy Father in this matter, especially in the pastoral directives which he gives.
This leads on to my answer to your second point: Is the debate still open? think it is. in the sense that discussion is essential in order to help people to form their ionsciences. There is development too, and. I would say that there has been a move in the teaching of the Pope from the time of Pope Pius XI's Casti Connubii in 1930. What is so striking about this document is that it is a pastoral document which isn't couched in terms of condemnation but is couched in terms of encouragement. There are one or two quite striking sentences in it in which, for example, the Pope speaks of married couples having the duty to tend to self mastery. that the concept of marriage supposes that there will not necessarily be the ideal of this complete self mastery in the beginnine--or even at all, in this human condition — and that there may be lapses before the achievement of perfection in marriage.
In fact, one wonders to what extent the Holy Father is conceiving marriage in terms of something that is progressive in its spiritual and moral development and that there may well be occasions when people are not able to live up to this high ideal. He speaks of failures, not in terms of sin, but as something "unworthy of the human person." This is fully in the spirit of the Gospel. Our Lord presents the ideal that we must be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.
This. it seems to me, is what the Pope is saying when he speaks of married couples turning to God for grace through the Eucharist and, if sin still persists, of making use of the Sacrament of Penance to obtain God's mercy and forgiveness.
I think that all this context needs to be considered very carefully before we cen say that the debate is closed absolutely. I'm sure the Pope hasn't shut the door and bolted it.
From what you have been saying I have got the impression that the Pope means his encyclical to be more of a set of guide-lines rather than the black and white. open and closed statements one came to expect from the Vatican.
It's rather more than that. I think this would be depreciating the Papal teaching to the extent of making it a matter of opinion. I think the Popeis teaching here. He is teaching with authority. What exactly he is teaching is something which is, first of all, an ideal of Christian marriage in the context of the Christian living and the Christian law.
I think he is also teachine us that this is something which is to be aimed at and, therefore. presumably. would not always easily be obtained.
You have already spoken of the Confessional as a help to people in difficulty over the encyclical and the Pe..pe and some bishops in this country, seem to have suggested that those who pract ice contraception should continue to go to Confession. Up to now, as a plain statement, this has not been acceptable because one has always presumed that a firm purpose of amendment has been necessary. Is this a new understanding of Confession or is it that a firm purpose of amendment isn't quite as rigid as it was. Can a firm purpose of amendment be a very long term thing?
We're all human beings in this. We all know that a firm purpose of amendment
at the moment of confession or at the moment of contrition can be something that is very firm in the will, but tends to wear with the passage of time or the difference of situations so that, although we want to do the good, we find ourselves in circumstances where in fact we don't do it, and we need to come back again to be refreshed, to be given further strength in order to try to live up to this ideal.
I think that we mustn't be too rigid about the concept of a firm purpose of amendment as something which automatically goes into action and stays in action all the time.
I think we must distinguish here between those who accept the Pope's teaching and say that this is something which is very difficult to live up to and those who reject the Pope's teaching because if this teaching is rejected then it seems to me that there is no ground for Confession. People are saying this is not sinful for me. I think the Pope is making clear that he is pastorally advising those who accept his teaching, even though they may say this is a very high ideal for us to live up to.
What about the people who don't accept it and therefore don't think it is a subject for Confession?
Again. I would come back to the point I made: I think that it's important for us to give time to this and to give thought to it and to try to help people to form their consciences as far as we can.
Would you ad v i se people who cannot accept the Pope's ruling, in good conscience, to continue going to Confession without confessing this particular thing and to continue with Communion? Should they continue with the Sacraments or wait for a time until everything becomes clearer?
This is something which they must decide. I think we must give people plenty of time to make this decision. After all, the Pope took four years to come to
his decision as to what the teaching of Christ in this matter was, even though he had the guidance of his predecessors.
It is understandable that people who have received this teaching will take a long time—four years, perhaps—before they can get adjusted to the Papal teaching. 1 think one must recognise this, arid, as the Pope says, show gentleness and goodness and patience with them.
in other words no purpose at all is served by saying "well now I'm out of the mainstream of Catholic thought so I'd better get out."
This is very much a matter for each person's decision, isn't it? One can't penetrate the mind and conscience of another. But if people came to me for advice I would say: "Stay where you are for the moment and don't make any hasty decisions in the matter."
The widespread division and feeling that has been aroused by this encyclical seems to indicate that the decision does not represent the mens ecclesiae. Do you see this as a case of the Holy Spirit working through the Church?
This is important. It opens up the whole question of how the living and developing Church guides us in a here and now situation. The answer I would give today would not have been the answer would have given twenty years ago on this matter. I think we've all seen. particularly through the Vatican Council. through the Dogmatic, Constitution on the Church, that it is the Church which is infallible. and it is the Church which will not make a mistake.
This is guaranteed to the Church through Papal infallibility. But the teaching of the Church is not only the magisterium of the Pope: it is also in the totality of the Body of Christ. It's the Council that says that: "The universal body maclp tip of the faithful whom the Holy One has anointed is incapable of failing in belief." This is the universal body of the faithful.
"This is a property which belongs to the people as a whole. A supernatural discernment of faith is the means by which they make this property manifest when 'from bishops to the last layman' they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals."
Now this seems to me to be a factor one needs to take into consideration in this matter and I wouldn't be opposed to the idea that working in this way now in the fashioning of the mens ecclesiae.
We still haveand it's interesting that the current
number of the English edition of the Osservatore Romano has an article which touches on this point—need for a much easier line of communication between all members of the Church.
I think we have gone away from the concept of the Church teaching and the Church taught to a realisation that these two are organically so closely connected that they must form one — the whole people of God.
What is needed now, more than ever, is dialogue among laity, priests and the episcopate and the Holy Father so that this fashioning of the mind of the Church may come about. The Holy Father has given a lead in this matter. I said I don't think he's closed the door absolutely and, perhaps, with careful thought to what he has said there may be a movement in the mind of the Church to a full realisation of Christ's purposes in the whole institution of marriage.
What advice are you giving to your priests who feel they cannot accept the encyclical?
Again 1 would say that we must be patient, that it would be unwise to make any hasty decision. We need prayer and thought and discussion in order to be quite clear as to the Pope's meaning and intention in this encyclical.
I would go further than that and say that I would advise my priests to maintain the ideal in principle —they would be bound to do that because this is what the Holy Father is teaching but that they must consider individual cases with great compassion. We must put into practice the cornmon law of pastoral theology about the circumstances which lessen guilt and lessen responsibility, and be prepared to apply these to cases of this kind just as we do in other matters in the Confessional.
It's manifest that here we have the end of a period of four years in which there has been some confusion on the morals of this use of marriage and it seems to me that even the most willing will need time to adjust themselves and to form a firm conscience. This has got to be a matter where we must refrain from being too severe in our judgments. where there must be no denunciations either privately or publicly, but as the Holy Father puts it, the priest must be an echo of the voice of Christ, and the love of Christ in what he does for his people.
Could you put this encyclical into perspective? There have been encyclkals in the past — like "Poptilorum Progressio"— where everybody said: "Yes, jolly good idea" and then did nothing about them. The liturgy encyclicals are a good example of docuntents which have never been put into operation."
Yes. I suppose this is true. I think an encyclical letter is not a programme of action. It is a statement of the Church's teaching. There it stands as a landmark and a signpost.
The use that is made of it will depend upon the extent to which this is a current problem. Its easy enough .to bypass so many of the things that are concerned with social justice because many of them don't affect us personally.
I think it's true that the encyclicals on marriage and on the use of marriage come home much more to people because it concerns the great majority of mankind in their intimate domestic lives. This gives it an added importance. But it isn't intended to be, I'm quite sure, a practical programme of action so much as an indication, as clearly as the Pope wants to make it, of what the law of God, the law of the Church is.
And you think this is the Pope's mind on this: that he's put the beacon up there at the top of the hill and few people will get there but this is what we should he striving for?
This is one of my impressions of the encyclical. I think one has still got to go back and read it again and think about it again carefully. But I'm quite certain that his ideal of Christian marriage in the whole context of man's destiny is really a nieble one and I think that most people would accept it as the ideal. This was important to state.
You have said: Take 'it easy,. wait, see what happens next. Can yOU give some practical pointers about forming one's conscience on this matter to those people who are worried about the encyclical? What would you say to the married couple with this problem?
I am bound to say that I must set before them the ideal that the Pope has put to all of us. I think he has made it clear that in the Christian life. quite apart from marriage, we shall have to practise self-denial. There's no easy way; he speaks about the hard road and the narrow gate that leads to eternal life and he comes back to Our Lord's reminder to us that we haven't a lasting dwelling here and that we are due to go to our Father in heaven.
All this background is something that we need to remind people of so that they don't get caught up in merely the material aspects of living and of domestic living particularly.
I would then go on to say that the Pope has made quite clear that the use of marriage is something which must be fitted into this context and this is something that I must teach them and that their priests must teach them.
How they would take it and where they would go, well, as I've said, one must give them time to consider this and to adjust themselves to this teaching, particularly in view of the period of waiting which for many people has been a period of expectation of a much more liberal view of the use of marriage.