FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT IN ROME
MAJOR problems concerning the Church—they may include birth control, priestly celibacy and mixed marriages—are believed to be on the agenda for a history-making series of discussions in Rome next week. Taking part in them will be Pope Paul and the heads of all the national and regional conferences of Bishops in the world.
The meetings will take place while the Vatican Council goes into a week's recess. This was decided in order to give the various Commissions time to amend the Council documents along lines suggested by Bishops in oral and written interventions.
Faced with the necessity of making urgent decisions on a number of key controversial topics. Pope Paul has decided to use the occasion for a top-level meeting with the presidents of the 51 episcopal conferences in the Church. The agenda is secret, but authoritative sources in Rome say that besides birth control, mixed marriages and priestly celibacy, it includes the working of the permanent diaconate, the fast and abstinence laws and the question of indulgences.
All these topics have come into prominence in recent years, and Bishops throughout the world are pressing for urgent answers. Only this week the Pope intervened personally in the Council to prevent any discussion in St. Peter's on the question of marriage for priests. He said that the celibacy rules should be "retained and strengthened".
A Papal motu proprio on mixed marriages is known to be ready for publication. Reports that it advances little beyond the present Church law. however. have caused anxiety in some countries like Germany and Holland, and it is believed the Pope wishes to consult the Bishops again before issuing it.
Some topics, it is believed, will be discussed with the representatives of all the Bishops' conferences. Others which have a particular local significance — and the mixed marriage question may come under this heading — will be reserved for discussion with individual hierarchies.
The Pope himself is understood to be anxious to consult the Bishops on the laws of fasting and abstinence. Several Bishops have called in Council speeches for their abolition. But the Pope is reported to be considering how they could he presented in a way which would make them more meaningful for modern times.
A Papal statement on birth control is expected by many Bishops before the end of the Council. This, too, is expected to figure in next week's talks.
Meanwhile, the Council itself is corning rapidly to the end of its discussions. Having finished with Schema 13 — The Church in the Modern World — the Bishops went on to debate the missionary nature of the Church.
Discussions on actual documents will end with a final debate on the schema dealing with priestly life. The remainder of the daily meetings will be taken up largely with voting on the amended versions of the various documents.