Catholics braced for moral crackdown: The Pope is expected to take hard line over church doctrine

Roman Catholics in Britain and Europe are bracing themselves for an uncompromising restatement of the Catholic Church's traditionally authoritarian teaching on morality from Pope John Paul II.

The document is expected, among other things, to reaffirm the ban on artificial contraception which caused a crisis in the Roman Catholic church in the developed world when restated 25 years ago in the encyclical Humanae Vitae.

According to reports in the Italian press, the encyclical Veritatis Splendor (the Splendour of the Truth) has been completed after a long gestation period, and will be published at the end of this month.

Sections of an earlier draft were published in Italian papers at the weekend and suggested that the encyclical will take a very hard line on the issue of papal authority, which many Roman Catholics believe has damaged the papacy far more than what is actually taught.

The Catholic World Report, a right- wing Catholic news magazine with an excellent record for accuracy, published in its latest issue an account of the encyclical letter suggesting that it is largely aimed at clamping down on moral theologians and philosophers.

Well-placed observers within the English Catholic church suggested that the encyclical is not expected to concentrate on sexual morality. Rather, it restates the papal claim to a supernatural discernment in matters of morality generally. As such, it is likely to cause greater ructions among the celibate clergy.

In crude terms, the battle lines are being drawn between an 'objective morality' - according to which certain acts such as abortion are always and intrinsically wrong - and a 'subjective morality', which enables liberal moralists, by taking into account motivation, circumstances, and likely results of an act, to conclude that it was not so harmful after all.

The Catholic World Report claims that the argument of the encyclical concludes with the assertion that 'moral theologians must teach the doctrines of the church and not their own personal theories'.

However, in most of Western Europe and North America, it is almost impossible to find a Catholic moral philosopher who privately believes in the ban on artificial birth control. It is certainly difficult to find any Catholic lay people who do, and the birth rate among middle-class Catholics is exactly the same as among middle- class agnostics.

John Wilkins, the editor of the Tablet, an English weekly Catholic news magazine, says that it is reactionary teaching on authority, rather than on particular sexual practices, which has really harmed the church. In the developed countries, lay people resent being talked down to, 'but even in the developing countries, what they want is evidence that they are being listened to.'

The account in the Catholic World Report says that the real enemy of Catholic truth is a doctrine of liberty now taught in many Catholic colleges and seminaries, which exalts conscience above Church teachings.

However, the encyclical is reported to argue that 'the Law of God and man's true freedom cannot be in conflict, since both are ordained and desired by God'.

'The Church does not deny the freedom of the Christian conscience. But the conscience must be properly formed, free from ignorance and

error,' according to the Catholic World Report.

There has been speculation in this country and elsewhere that the encyclical has been deliberately leaked in order to discredit it before publication, and possibly even to prevent the Pope from signing it - though such a gesture would be unprecedented.

There has been as yet no official comment on these speculations. But both supporters and opponents believe that the encyclical is very authoritarian.

Leading article, page 15

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'