FROM OUR ROME CORRESPONDENT
THE disciplining of 19 Washington priests for publishing their opinions on birth control is becoming a test case for the principle of "due process of law" in the Catholic Church. The Vatican sources said it appeared the principle would be rejected by the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy, which is now reviewing the case.
The priests were suspended or otherwise disciplined by Cardinal O'Boyle for signing a manifesto saying they would be obliged to respect the consciences of individual Catholics
who could not accept Pope Paul's ban on artificial contraception contained in the 1968 encyclical Humanac Vitae.
Traditionally the Cardinal
would have had the last word
in such a dispute. But the priests argued they had the right to a legal 'hearing of their side, and appealed all the way up to the Pope.
HEARING REFUSED Earlier, Church courts in Washington and Cleveland refused to hear the case because they said they were not able to judge the actions of a Cardinal. Only the Pope, who warmly praised Cardinal O'Boyle for his support of the birth control ruling, could do this.
After receiving the priests' appeal in February, the Pope handed the case to the Congregation for the Clergy. which is headed by Cardinal Wright. former Bishop of Pittsburg. After a dispute between Cardinal Wright and a nine-man "Committee of Concerned Canon Lawyers" representing the 19 priests, the Congregation now has begun its investigation.
But Vatican sources said the Congregation was treating the case on theological grounds rather than on the juridical grounds the priests wanted.
The sources said the 19 were seeking to invoke the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which reads in part: "No person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law."
One sources aid: "The American Constitution has nothing to do with theological disputations." In this case, theological doctrine of the Church is at issue, not life, liberty or property."
Since the Congregation for the Clergy is not a juridical body there was little likelihood of it judging the case on legal grounds, the sources said, although it could if the Pope specifically authorised it to do SO.
In a letter to Cardinal Wright, the Canon Lawyers' Committee said it was considering taking the case to the people because "the law and the power are on Cardinal O'Boyle's side."
The lawyers also gave a warning that the National Federation of Priests' Councils in the United States contemplated taking the issue "to every senate and association in its membership to solicit their support."
To this, Cardinal Wright replied that the lawyers were planning a "publicity campaign" and added: "I do not work under threat . . . and I could not, in honour, ask the Congregation to take a case in an atmosphere of threat."
However. Vatican sources said the lawyers wrote back assuring Cardinal Wright that they were not contemplating a publicity campaign, and the Congregation has therefore gone forward with its investigation.