22 MAY 1964, Page 16


SIR,—An Anglican theologian in the current issue of the Irish Catholic periodical Doctrine and Life states, 'Episcopal pronouncements and letters to the press seem to be couched in the language of canon law and bishops seem to claim and to be allowed an authority by the majority of the flock which does not give much freedom for discussion.' Fortunately this is not the complete picture. There are Catholic laymen like Bruce Cooper, Norman St. John-Stevas and Denis Rice who are ready to air their grievances and question both the content and timing of the re- cent statement of the English and Welsh hierarchies. There has been, as Mr. Cooper noted, an apparent lack of interest or response on the part of the clergy to his initial article in the Spectator. It may be thought that this indicates what Canon Leclercq of Louvain has called a 'prevalent spirit of apprehen- sion which fears any kind of criticism and thinks it impossible to mention an ecclesiastical institution except to praise it.' May one priest assure the laity that the silence indicates that the clergy fear that they do net have the freedom which the layman enjoys to publish dissenting opinions.

The silence of the clergy may lead to a rift in what Pope Paul has called 'the close and cordial re- lationship between priests and people in England which is the envy of Catholics abroad.' The relation- ship has certainly been strained by the action of the hierarchy. Why did they ask for the opinions of Catholic university graduates on the pill and issue a statement before these opinions could even be collected and evaluated? Such treatment seems to be leading to what a Downside Symposium has called 'a real danger of a vital lack of information about and understanding of their flock by those in authority' (Problems of Authority, ed. J. M. Todd, 1962, p. 155).

Does not the recent statement indicate a lack of awareness of the work of responsible continental theologians? Far from ignoring the natural law, scholars are discussing whether these pills (old and new varieties) are contraceptives 'in the strict sense of the word,' and whether their use does in any way contravene the natural law. If the outcome of these discussions is successful it will go a long way towards solving a problem which causes So much anxiety and stress to the faithful and which has led to so many forsaking the full practice of the faith. These are not 'voices . .. raised to lead our pedple astray.' The discussions may prove to be fruitless, but should the result be arbitrarily prejudged?