BLUNT WORDS ON CELIBACY
WE have been left in no doubt as to where the Hierarchy of England and Wales stands on the celibacy issue. Cardinal Heenan, in dealing with the matter this week, pointed out that the bishops of France, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland had been no less forthright in affirming their unequivocal support for the Pope.
In other times it would have been surprising if any such confirmation had been called for on this particular point. Now, the need is great. Why the sudden change?
The answer is simple enough, The situation has been transformed by the refusal of the hierarchy in Holland—taking its lead from the anti-celibacy vote of the Dutch Pastoral Council—to ratify its accord with the rest of the Church on this issue.
Two dangers immediately arise as a result of this. One is that too much importance can be attached to a highly vociferous but— numerically speaking negligible minority. The other is that rational discussion of the long-term implications of the whole problem should be sacrificed to the short-term requirements of an outwardly united front.
The Cardinal's actual words were tough and pertinent. Some priests may be taken aback by their apparently uncompromising nature. A majority are more likely to be relieved that straight talk is not the preserve of those concerned with special pleading.
For far too long, the extremists on either wing have had disproportionate publicity and an undue influence, at least on the surface, as to problems of this nature. Their net contribution to the general good has been negative rather than positive.
The future of the Church, in these islands and elsewhere, lies in the hands of the sensible and faithful majority, for whom there is a proper place in the Church for both democracy and authority. The "progressives," in practice, sometimes show as little respect for democracy as the "conservatives" do, in many cases, for authority.
The Cardinal's words, if blunt, were not uncalled for. They do not preclude further fruitful discussion. Indeed such discussion should be encouraged, since stifling it would be the surest way to invite dissent. A dispassionate exchange of views, on the other hand, is likely to be the best way of demonstrating that the official view is also the view genuinely held by the greatest number.