Local News Archive
Print Issue: December 9, 1971
A Conversation With Archbishop Donnellan
Editor: Archbishop, the semi-annual meeting of the American bishops was concluded very recently. You've just come back. Could you give us some of your impressions about the work of the meeting, and specifically what major developments may have occurred?
Archbishop: I noticed in last week's issue of the Bulletin you had already listed what were referred to as the highlights of the bishops' meeting. Looking over that list, I would be in agreement with that selection of highlights. For me, of course, the election of a president and vice-president to guide the conference was a matter of great importance and I was certainly very well pleased with the result of the election. As a matter of fact, I would have been quite happy with the selection of any of those bishops who had been nominated but particularly pleased with the two who were chosen as president and vice-president. I feel that this will be a worthy succession to the very fine work of Cardinal Dearden. I think it's a matter of major importance who was to lead the conference.
The other things that I think were of more than average importance were the agreement by the bishops to accept the recommendations made by Bishop McManus, who was representing our ad hoc education committee with regard to seeking federal and state aid for parents of children in non-public schools. The recommendation was that we seek aid through a tax credit system and it was pointed out that the advantages of such aid were, first, that the aid goes to the parents and not to the schools, and second, that there is no "excessive entanglement" of church and state. It's obvious that our Catholic schools are in a very, very grave financial bind and if our Catholic parents are to be able to exercise their freedom of choice with regard to schools for the education of their children, it is very important that they not be priced out of that freedom of choice by increased taxation and increased school expenses.
Editor: Do you feel there is much chance of getting this state aid here in the State of Georgia?
Archbishop: I don't think that the prospects here would be anywhere near as favorable as in such places as New York, where I am acquainted with the situation and know that the state has given substantial aid to non-public schools.
Editor: Have any overtures been made to the state legislature in the past by our system of any of the other private schools in the state?
Archbishop: I'm not aware of such overtures. Certainly, none have been made by the Archdiocese of Atlanta during my time in Georgia, and I'm quite sure none have been made by the Diocese of Savannah because normally we would work together on things like this.
The Vietnam War
With regard to other important items on the agenda of the meeting, certainly the statement of the war in Vietnam caused one of the more heated debates among the bishops. There was general agreement that it was a matter on which we ought to speak, but the nature of the statement caused a great deal of debate. You will recall that three years ago, in the pastoral letter on human life, the bishops of the United States had raised some basic moral questions about the Vietnam War. They asked at that time if we had already reached or passed the point where the principle of proportionality becomes decisive and asked also how much more of our resources in men and money we could commit to this struggle. At this time, it was generally agreed that whatever good we hoped to achieve in involvement in the war is now far outweighed by the destruction of human life and moral values which the war continues to bring about. So that there was general agreement that a speedy ending was a moral imperative. There was disagreement upon what we might say to the government of our own country and to other governments. We certainly have competence to speak about moral principles but there was some discussion among the bishops about whether we were competent to recommend an immediate cease-fire.
Editor: Would the bishops be in favor of the Mansfield Amendment and other efforts that were made in Congress recently to set a "date certain" for Vietnam withdrawal?
Archbishop: Surely some bishops would be in favor of that and some would not.
Editor: What would you say to one who might object that in this matter the bishops are involving themselves in a political question?
Archbishop: Well, I think it's true that we are involving ourselves in a political question, but I don't know that that is a criticism. I think that with regard to presenting moral principles about political questions we certainly are competent and have an obligation.
So then, the key determinant is whether or not the political matter has a moral dimension?
Editor: Were there any other matters from the bishops' conference that you would care to speak about?
Archbishop: I think a very important matter was the vote on opening future meetings to coverage by the press. This was a matter that had come up several times in previous bishops' meetings and last time it was put to a vote, this proposal was roundly defeated. Since that last meeting, a committee was set up to review this proposal, and since that last meeting also, the Holy Father's document on social communications has been issued. I think the report of the committee and the study of this document on social communications had a great deal to do in influencing many bishops to change their vote. So that there is now an agreement to admit the press to all but executive sessions. This has both advantages and disadvantages and in the debate at the meeting both were brought out. Obviously, it will improve what is so often referred to as the "credibility gap." On the other hand, it will also inhibit some of the discussion, and a great feature of the bishops meetings that I have attended has been a very frank and open discussion through which we arrived at decisions. In connection with that report, there was also an agreement to admit as "observers" representatives of other groups, in particular, the representatives of religious men and women, representatives of the priests and representatives of the laity in this county.
Editor: Archbishop, how might those clerical and lay representatives be chosen?
Archbishop: The matter of implementing the decision of the bishops has been left to the administrative board. The bishops merely voted on the principle of admitting observers.
Editor: There has been feeling among some of the bishops that press coverage of their work, collectively or perhaps of their statements personally, has been something less than fair. What is your feeling about this? Do you believe that the bishops in the past have been given a bad deal from the press, secular and Catholic?
Archbishop: The trouble with the use of the word "fair" is that it tends to imply motivation. I don't know that I'd be qualified to speak about the motivation of reporters. I have no reason to believe that they have deliberately been unfair. I think that they seek items that are newsworthy and their judgment about what is newsworthy may not coincide with ours. I think, in the past, the coverage has frequently emphasized matters of lesser importance and tended to neglect things of greater importance. But that's not saying that the coverage is unfair. I have no particular case that I could cite to say that coverage was unfair. I certainly have made judgments that coverage was not to my satisfaction.
Editor: The first meeting of the bishops open to the press in the way that you described is going to be held in Atlanta next April. Could you tell us how it happened that Atlanta is going to be the host city for this next important meeting of the bishops?
Archbishop: As you know, it has been the custom to have just one annual meeting, which was always held in Washington, D.C. With the agreement that there was too much material to be covered in that meeting, there was a decision several years ago to hold a spring meeting of a shorter duration and this was to be held in different parts of the country. In the past few years, we've had such spring meetings in Houston, Detroit, San Francisco, and usually several years in advance several names are proposed with an attempt to give us a good geographical coverage. In other words, we try to spread it over different regions in the country. I was very happy several years ago when the proposal came up that the meeting should move to the Southeast and Atlanta seemed to be a very popular choice with the bishops. I am exceedingly happy that Atlanta is going to give the Southeast an opportunity to have the bishops' present.
Editor: Will the meetings be held in one of our local hotels?
Archbishop: Yes, Bishop Bernardin's office is in charge of the arrangements and they got in touch with us and we inquired of four or five of our hotels. There is some difficulty in making arrangements for conventions in Atlanta because there are so many of them, and the time that was chosen, namely April, is a very busy convention time here. We were very fortunate to obtain reservations at the Sheraton-Biltmore. Members of the committee have already visited here and set up the arrangements. We will be asked in the archdiocese to take on a great deal of accessory local arrangement.
Editor: Do you have any fear that perhaps there may be too many newsmen coming to this meeting inasmuch as it will be the first chance for open coverage?
Archbishop: I haven't given it any great consideration. I feel that that will be taken care of by the administrative committee which sets up the credentials.
Editor: Another one of the developments of the meeting was the approval of new ethical directives for Catholic hospitals. Of course, we have three in our diocese. In the press, I've noticed some criticism of these new directives from this standpoint that they do not really say anything new, but rather are a re-statement of ethical directives which have long been in use. Could you comment on this perhaps?
Archbishop: I have discussed this at some length with my old friend Bishop Guilfoyle, who was in charge of the committee preparing the directives. It is certainly true that they don't say a great deal that's new. They do make very clear that a great deal that has been said in the past is still valid and is to be observed, and the directives in their issuance make clear that there will be constant attempts to consult with theologians and medical experts. There are many situations that are arising now that are not covered by the directives and we know that we are going to have to do a lot more study on them. Such things as transplants and the establishment of the time of death depend a great deal on up-to-date medical knowledge. And there were many bishops who expressed themselves as exceeding grateful that the directives had come at last because the delay had caused much confusion in hospitals in their area.
Editor: The state of the environment was declared to be a moral question. I am presuming, in light of what you said earlier, that here again we have an example of a political question that the bishops judged to have moral implications. Am I correct?
Archbishop: I'm not sure I'd agree that it is a political question. I think it is a fairly obvious deduction from moral principles that if a man must take care of life and must be a steward of God's creation that his obligations to God's creation very obviously include a care for the environment. I think this is a fairly obvious deduction and I don't think it is anything startling that the bishops should say there is some moral responsibility to take care of the environment.
Editor: Would not the care of the environment bring us into clash with the advance of technology today?
Archbishop: Yes, I'm sure that it would. The fact that it does is not anything to regret. Technology can do a great deal for the benefit of the human race and can do a good deal for our world, but it certainly must be directed according to he principles of the common good. Sometimes advances in technology are going to interfere with the common good and sometimes we're going to have problems.
Editor: Two weeks ago, Bishop Evans stated that he could see no objection to the ordination of women priests. Not in his lifetime, he said, but sometime in the not-too-distant future. I noted that Bishop Joyce of Vermont last week said the very same thing. Would you be in agreement with these bishops that they day of priestesses might sometime soon be upon us?
Archbishop: I have read the remarks of Bishop Evans and Bishop Joyce and they are to be commended for their concern for the rights of women. Whether women have a right to priestly ordination is a theological question that bears a good deal of study. The present law of the Church is clear. The Code of Canon Law states that "only a baptized man validly receives sacred ordination." The tradition of the Church over the last two thousand years is clear; Our Lord chose men only as is apostles.
Editor: How do you think congregations would accept women priests?
Archbishop: Your guess is as good as mine. I believe the theological question should be resolved first.