Online Edition, October 1998: Vol. IV, No 6
More Strong Teaching From Holy See
"Year of Holy Spirit" Inspires Documents Clarifying Authority, Responsibility
by Helen Hull Hitchcock
There is an "essential bond between freedom and truth", Pope John Paul II told a group of American bishops on June 27. He spoke of the "crisis of moral culture" in contemporary society, and enjoined the bishops (from Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas) of their "essential task" to proclaim the truth as teachers and witnesses – especially urgent for the new evangelization.
The Holy Father said that "the great event of grace by which the Holy Spirit has prepared the Church to enter the third Christian millennium", and he asked the bishops for their "personal commitment to effective episcopal leadership in the new evangelization" by focusing the attention of the faithful on the truth.
This address of Pope John Paul II to American bishops in Rome for their ad limina visits shows as have many other such addresses, that as chief shepherd, he intends to set an example of "effective episcopal leadership". During the past few months the Holy See has issued several important documents intended to make very clear that wholehearted assent to Catholic teachings is absolutely necessary; that structures (such as national bishops’ conferences) must be unified in their forthright proclamation of the moral and doctrinal truth of the Catholic faith; and that every Catholic must be fortified with the strength and splendor of that truth — in worship and in order to help accomplish the evangelical mission of the Church to a world suffering from a crisis of belief and a crisis of moral culture.
Indeed, 1998, the Year of the Holy Spirit has been the occasion of intense doctrinal catechesis from the pope. The longest of the recent papal documents was the Apostolic letter, Dies Domini. This remarkably detailed document on observing and celebrating the Lord’s Day was issued on Pentecost, May 31, though it was not released by the Vatican until July 7. (The first section of Dies Domini, the Introduction and Chapter 1 of the 5-chapter letter, appeared in the July-August 1998 issue of AB.)
Only a week earlier, and three days after his talk to the American bishops (June 30), the short but important document, Ad Tuendam Fidem (To Defend the Faith) was released. It was a motu proprio, issued by the pope’s own authority, signed on May 18, and it made significant and similar revisions to the Code of Canon Law and the Canon Law of the Eastern Churches.
The point of the document was to make impossible any confusion whatsoever about the necessity for every Catholic to give assent "of the intellect and will" to the "universal and catholic" teaching of the Church. It referred to the 1989 Professio Fidei (Profession of Faith) which was intended to make unmistakeably clear the requirement to give full assent to all Catholic dogmas and doctrines — especially for those Catholics whose vocation is to teach the Catholic faith (theologians, for example).
Released simultaneously with the Holy Father’s motu proprio, Ad Tuendam Fidem, was a Doctrinal Commentary on the concluding paragraphs of the 1989 Profession of Faith by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
And on July 23, barely three weeks after Dies Domini, a surprising document bearing on the authority of bishops’ conferences appeared: Apostolos Suos, signed by Pope John Paul II on the feast of the Ascension, May 21.
Thus three significant teaching and legislative papal documents were dated within the space of two weeks in May. The Holy Father dated a long apostolic letter on Sunday worship on Pentecost — the same day as thousands from various movements within the Church gathered in Rome for a special Mass at Saint Peter’s.
But the actual release of all three was delayed, and none of them appeared until after the American bishops’ conference, at their "Spring Meeting" in Pittsburgh June 12-14, where they voted overwhelmingly to accept the Vatican’s interventions on the scriptural and liturgical texts (the vote was 196 to 6 in favor of acceptance of the Holy See’s revisions).
(Helen Hull Hitchcock is Editor of the Adoremus Bulletin and founder of Women for Faith and Family.)