Archbishop Heenan of Westminster on the Council in 1964
From the Irish Independent, 23rd October, 1964:
The Archbishop of Westminster, Most Rev. Dr. Heenan, said in the Vatican Council yesterday that the Council must speak out on the contraceptive pill, but should shelve the problem for three or four years.
He criticised a draft decree on the Church in the modern world as a “set of platitudes.”
He declared that the Council “will become a laughing stock in the eyes of the world if it now rushes breathlessly to a debate on world hunger, nuclear war and family life.”
Most Rev. Dr. Heenan singled out the draft decree’s section on birth control for attack and said that it did not state the Church’s teaching on the contraceptive pill. The draft decree should be handed to a new Commission composed of specialists from the laity and priests with long pastoral experience.
“Then, after three or four years, let the fourth and final session of the Council be convened to discuss all these social problems,” he suggested.
He assailed the theologians who had composed the draft decree. He said: “These eminent men may hardly know the world as it really is…certainly they are simple as doves, but they are not always wise as serpents.”
Most Rev. Dr. Heenan, who was applauded, went on: “If you are looking for examples of all this, you need only study the section on matrimony. Everyone knows that doctors all over the world are busily trying to produce a satisfactory contraceptive pill.
“This special kind of pill is to be a panacea to solve all sexual problems between husbands and wives. Neither the treatise itself nor the supplements hesitate to prophesy that such a pill is just round the corner.”
He continued: “Meanwhile, it is said, married couples, and they alone, must decide what is right and wrong. Everyone must be his own judge.
“But, the document adds, the couple must act according to the teaching of the Church. This is precisely what married people want to be told — what is now the teaching of the Church?
“To this question our document gives no reply. For that very reason it could provide an argument, from our silence, to the theologians after the Council who wish to attack sound doctrine.
The document blandly told husbands and wives “some practical solutions have made their appearance and there are more to come. This is no way for a document of the Church to be composed. When our children ask us for bread we should not give them a stone.”
He warned, however, “one thing is quite certain. It would be a scandal to rush this debate now that we have at last come to really pastoral problems.
The Archbishop criticised the theologians who advised the Council and helped to draw up its documents.
He maintained: “Between sessions of this Council, the Church of God has suffered a great deal from the writings and speeches of some of the specialists. They are few in number, but their sound has gone forth to the ends of the earth.
“These few specialists care nothing for the ordinary teaching authority of the Bishops — nor, I regret to say, for that of the Pope.
“It is idle to show them a Papal Encyclical, in which a point of Catholic doctrine is clearly laid down. They will immediately reply that a Pope is not fallible when writing an Encyclical.
It really does not seem worthwhile for the Pope to write any more Encyclical letters, since they can apparently no longer be quoted in support of the Faith. We must protect the authority of the teaching Church.”
Most Rev. Dr. Heenan went on to criticise specifically the Council Commission which drew up the draft decree on the Church in the modern world. He said: “When you are dealing with the problems of social life, you need to consult those who know and live in the world.
“Now, let me ask, how many Parish Priests, how many of the Faithful, how many husbands and wives, how many doctors, economists, scientists — especially experts in biochemistry and nuclear physics — were at work on this Commission?
“It is useless in these matters to seek advice only from those who, since their youth, have spent their lives in monasteries, seminaries or universities.
“These eminent men may hardly know the world as it really is. The world can be unpleasant and cruel. These scholars often have a child-like trust in the opinions of men in the world.”