Page 3, 29th August 1980

29th August 1980
Page 3
Page 3, 29th August 1980 — How the bishops set out the nature of the Church

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Organisations: Church's mission, Congress
Locations: Liverpool


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How the bishops set out the nature of the Church

THE bishops have gone out of their way to stress that their 'message in light of the National Pastoral Congress' should be seen as much more than a response to the particular recommendations made in Liverpool in May, In this special report, John Carey outlines some of the basic theology in the document and explains how the message was drawn up and — below Christopher Howse looks back at the life of Bishop. Richard Challoner, the man hailed by the bishops as a prophet who foretold the coming of `the New People' in England and Wales.

THE MI:::,SAGL containing the bishops' reactions to the National Pastoral Congress is far from being a simple document. Inevitably attention last week was focussed primarily on whether or not they had accepted the specific recommendations put forward in Liverpool. But that formed only one part of an extended theological relfection.

The message draws heavily on the actual experience of the Congress, but its main theological inspiration lies in the teachings of Vatican II and in particular on those contained in Lumen Gentium, on the Constitution of the Church. and Gaudium et Spec. on the Church in the modern ssorld.

Its most obvious feature is its attempt to set out in the British context a proper understanding of the nature of the Church. It summarises several different models of the Church which it says are "inadequate in themsel‘cs" but which taken together build up some understanding of the Church's "mystery".

These include: • The People of God: "This idea of the Church as a people, founded and protected by God, owing allegiance to him and loyalty to his purpose, is one hich is especially attractive and enlightening today in a world grown increasingly sensitive to local. national and political loyalties but whose fraternal responsibilities transcend all manmade boundaries."

• The sharing Church: "We are offered by God in a share in his love in order that we may share it with each other and with all our fellow men and women."

• A Pilgrim People: "Wc are not alone in our pilgrimage of faith. We discern fellow Christians of other Churches moving in the same direction as ourselves and in the same Spirit as ourselves."

• The prophetic Church: "We have to show mankind that justice. lose and peace can exist among men and women on this earth ... This is a model of the Church asi a living, visible and effective sign to all men of our shared humanity and of mankind's union with God."

• The Church as a family, with its stress on the qualities of "unity love and mutual acceptance."

In laying great stress on the importance of the local Church the bishops say it is right that the British characteristic of pragmat ism should he reflected in the aay change is introduced! "This means there may well be room for some variations within our territory and that we should keep open minds about further reorganisation as the relationships we desire to see arc themsches developed."

The authority of the bishops to take certain decisions is upheld hut, as Cardinal Hume said last week, "the conference of bishops is not there as a kind of master of the local Church."

The crucial significance of baptism is repeatedly underlined as the proper theological basis for the involvement of the laity in the Church's mission. Baptism is seen as the sacrament which confers "a fundamental equality and the shared vocation to worship and work together in society."

But the bishops stress that the unity in Chirst which baptism gives does not mean that all Christians have the same "graces, gifts, functions and ministries": the distinctive role of the priest, for example. is portrayed as being enhanced and riot diminished by a more active laity..

In these passages, as elsewhere, clear attempts have been made to help some of the more conservutive Catholics to come to terms with Vatican II.

I he message alludes to dilliculties in changing attitudes caused by "latent loyalty and respect for tradition ...

particularly if the thinking behind the change has not been understood." But it affirms that change and development is essential and goes to some length to clarify the relationship between the local Church and the magisterium.

In Archbishop Warlock's view these are perhaps the most crucial sections of the whole message. The bishops accept that the final judgment in identifying the mind of Christ regarding the content of faith rests with the Church's magisterium. But they also emphasise that "identifying that mind often requires the contribution of all."

On "infallible definitions". they note that "the last unmistakable one was in 1950 (on the Assumption of Our Lady). "Official" teaching. the message says, is "obviously in principle subject to revision": indeed. the bishops and the Pope have to teach and guide continuously in response to the changing needs and cultures of the People of God."

This has clear implications for future policy, and not least for the re-examination of teaching on contraception. In effect, the bishops seem to be saying: "We remain true to the teaching in Humanae Vitae, but Humanae Vitae is not infallible. And since it is not infallible there is room for development in correctly identifying the mind of Christ on the matter. And identifying_the mind of Christ is a matter for everyone. including the laity."

• All 43 bishops are committed to the final text of their joint Congress message although no vote was taken on the document as a whole.

• That was the point underlined by Cardinal Hume and Archbishop Worlock in response to questions at last week's press conference. Two or three bishops had had to leave before the end of the special meeting in July but previously approval had been given to the individual sections of the message. Archbishop Worlock said that these had been accepted and that the final document "binds all members of the conference."

Immediately after the Congress ended, Archbishop Worlock and three helpers — "a secular priest, a religious. and a lay women" — set about collating all the material, This included the seven sector reports and reports from the 34 topic groups and more than 100 discussion groups, Arehbishop Worlock said it soon became obvious that it would be "restrictive" merely to answer every point which had beep made: instead it was necessary for the bishops to "produce their own message creating their own tapestry out of the various strands which had emerged."

By the end of June they had produced a draft and they then called in representatives of various disciplines to look it over; these included women, a religious, a missionary, a theologian and an ecumenical expert.

At the beginning of July the final draft was sent out to all the bishops for about 10 days' consideration before the special . bishops' meeting.

On the first day of the conference in mid-July between 300 and 400 amendments were submitted. These were considered the following day by the bishops working in groups of about 12 and on the final day they were submitted for acceptance by the whole conference.

A final. definitive record of the Congress will he published in the autumn. It will contain all the previously unpublished topic reports produced in Liverpool, the full sector reports, the bishops' message and a history of how the Congress came about.

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