BY MURRAY WHITE
THERE WILL BE NO "witchhunt" of moral theologians in the light of Veritatis Splendor, claimed Cardinal Basil Hume on the launch of the new papal encyclical this week.
The Cardinal, speaking at the Westminster launch of Pope John Paul II's exposition of the principles of Church moral teaching, gave a very positive welcome to the encyclical.
He did not believe that passages which call for bishops to be "vigilant that the word of God is faithfully taught", particularly in Catholic institutions, would result in an excessive clamping down on liberal theologians. It "would be a mistake to blow up out of proportion or take out of context" these references, he said.
The Cardinal said: "We are not engaged in a witch-hunt. We have very good relations with moral theologians in this country. We know our moral theologians are having to deal with problems that are entirely new." Vermin Splen dor was calling for a "dialogue" between the hierarchy and moral theologians, he believed.
His comments sought to soothe fears inflated by press speculation before the publication on Tuesday of John Paul II's new encyclical. The 180-page document calls on moral theologians to give "loyal assent to the Magisterium's teaching in the areas of both dogma and morality", but gives few specific instructions for the disciplining of dissenting theologians.
It only says that bishops have the power to take away the title "Catholic" from Church-related schools, colleges, and other institutions, "in cases of a serious failure to live up to that title".
John Paul II, arguing that moral theology and its teaching are "meeting with particular difficulty today", goes on to write in Veritatis Splendor that bishops have the duty to insist that the teaching of "doctrine in its purity and integrity must always be respected".
Fr David McLoughlin, Theology Lecturer at °sem College, near Birmingham, told the Catholic Herald that the problem of disciplining theologians was not likely to affect British seminaries.
He said: "We haven't got a great history of dissent. It is more related to independent faculties of theology in the likes of Germany and the US."
Veritatis Splendor would "open up a potentially fruitful debate. It is not a closed thing".
Speaking at the Rome launch of the encyclical, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger described the third chapter of the document on the importance of morality in the pastoral life and mission of the Church as "among the most significant texts of the Magisterium of our century".
Last weekend, the bishops of England and Wales sought to counter conflicting press reports by issuing a rare joint pastoral letter to all parishes in England and Wales.
It explained that the encyclical tackled the question of moral issues that are objectively right and wrong, but also stressed the importance of freedom and conscience. "Contrary to some newspaper reports, it is not all about sex, nor indeed about any one particular moral issue," the letter said.
Julie Clague, a lecturer in Moral Theology at St Mary's College, Twickenham, said that Veritatis Splendor inevitably covered a broad range of moral principles that could not possibly sum up the life's work of moral theologians working on the finer points of particular issues. As such, it was inevitable that it would produce reaction and disagreement.
She said: "The encyclical has an assumption of truth about it. The burden will be on those with different views to prove their case."