Encyclical on morality leaves no room for ethical ‘opinions’



VATICAN CITY (AP)—Pope John Paul II’s encyclical proclaiming that morality is not a matter of opinion has prompted dissent from church liberals even before its publication.

Reports say the document, despite some liberals’ hopes for changes, does not deviate from the church’s longtime bans on contraception, birth control, divorce, abortion, premarital sex and homosexuality.

The encyclical will be released Oct. 5. The reported text reflects John Paul’s long-stated theme that the church is not a democracy.

According to several news reports, the pope writes:

‘‘Opposition to the teachings of the pastors of the church cannot be seen as a legitimate expression of Christian liberty or of a diversity in the gifts of the Spirit.

‘‘Dissent, in the form of well-orchestrated protests and polemics conducted in the mass media, is in opposition to ecclesiastic communion.’‘

Reports say the encyclical calls on bishops to be ‘‘vigilant’‘ against those who part from the Church’s doctrine, and that those who violate Church teaching should be removed from their positions.

The encyclical, titled ‘‘Veritatis Splendor’‘—Latin for ‘‘The Splendor of Truth’‘—has been six years in the making and will likely be considered one of John Paul’s most important achievements.

As its publication neared, numerous leaks have emerged in the press. Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro has discounted the reports as based on unofficial texts.

Nevertheless, liberal voices in the church have been quick to react.

The document is appropriately addressed to bishops because ‘‘lay Catholics would simply stamp it ‘Return to Sender,’‘’ said Frances Kissling, president of the Catholics for a Free Choice, an abortion rights group based in Washington, DC.

In a statement faxed to news organizations, Kissling said the encyclical will be used as a ‘‘justification’‘ to punish dissenters.

Leading liberal theologian Hans Kueng of Tuebingen University said an earlier draft had described the encyclical’s doctrine as presented ‘‘in an infallible way’‘ by the pope and bishops.

But the reference was later pulled because it would have meant accepting what he called ‘‘the impossibility of bridging the chasm’‘ between the ‘‘practices of the overwhelming majority’‘ of Catholics and church teaching.

Kueng, in an interview, called the encyclical ‘‘nothing new on the moral front from Rome.’‘

In commenting on reports about the encyclical, Dutch religion professor Walter Goddijn of the University of Tilburg expressed exactly the view the document rejects.

‘‘Moral problems are always part of personal conscience,’‘ he said in a telephone interview.

Though the church’s rules on sexual behavior have alienated many Roman Catholics over the past decades, it would be unlikely that the pope would depart from those positions. He has stated them publicly, and repeatedly, throughout his papacy.

One of his central messages, whether preaching in the former Communist world or affluent Western democracies, has been the principle of a universal, objective morality, and condemnation of subjective values placed over church teaching.

The heads of national bishops conferences in countries with the most dissenting theologians have been called to the Vatican in recent weeks to discuss negative reactions to the encyclical, the Italian news agency AGI reported.

Among the prelates on a Vatican panel to answer questions about the document is Monsignor James Francis Stafford, archbishop of Denver. The United States has been a leading source of theological dissent, and polls show many American Catholics ignore the Church’s ban on contraception.