Church, through Pope Paul, is in the process of making a critical decision on the morality of birth control. It has been faced with an outspoken challenge by 500 well-known Catholic lay people.
These are signatories from 18 countries to a document addressed to the Pope and every Catholic Archbishop in the world. The document predicts that if the old directives on birth control are maintained, the Church is likely to split from top to bottom.
The 500 signatories say that a `no change' decision could mean that the laity, equipped with modern insights, might break away from the teaching Church. The result, they feel, would be a break-up of the Church's moral authority.
At first this warning may sound like the wildest harumscarum. But it is signed by some of the most intelligent lay people in the Church.
Whatever decision the Pope makes on modern morality, it is felt by many that the Church is coming nearer and nearer to the point of no return in its teaching of an absolute concrete morality.
Cardinal Heenan, in his Pastoral Letter summarised on
page one, points out : "All Christians have become more conscious of the laws of charity and social justice, but less concerned with rules and man-made regulations."
The issue is this : is it consistent with God's truth to lay down a set of particularised moral laws, for a Church that is developing in a changing world?
If the answer is 'yes', the Church must be prepared to retreat from today's world into the catacombs. For much of the Church's hard-andfast moral teaching, is still based on its mystical insights into human nature, rather than on modern knowledge of men and women in the concrete. And in today's world, mystical insight won't do, where it conflicts with the observable facts.
If the answer is 'no', we shall have to accept that the 'body of Catholic truth' is a much more rudimentary thing than we thought. And it may not be the less true for that.