The Roman Catholic Church, plagued in recent years by a host of criticism from within its own ranks, showed a bent last month for recovering its traditionally monolithic character. In significant but unrelated actions, bishops in the United States and in South Viet Nam issued collective statements that set precedents.

So many dissidents have emerged and so many conflicting voices have been raised within Roman Catholicism since the Second Vatican Council that the hierarchy apparently feels an urgent need to reassert the church’s unified front. It may be a futile effort: both priests and laymen are finding less and less upon which they can agree. Some are basking in the truths of newly opened Bibles, but many are falling victim to unwarranted presuppositions of higher criticism and are jettisoning the authority of both Scripture and tradition.

The statement by U. S. bishops came in the form of a 25,000-word pastoral letter, the first ever in American Roman Catholic history. In theory at least it was representative of the views of the more than two hundred bishops in this country. Entitled “The Church in Our Day,” it was described as a “major doctrinal statement,” the first in a series designed to interpret actions of the Second Vatican Council.

The letter is largely devotional in tone and abounds in personal admonition. It steers a delicate course between conservative doctrine and progressive methodology and is openly critical of heretical tendencies.

“A new Pelagianism seeks salvation in the correction of structures rather than in conversion to God,” the letter declares. “A new Gnosticism places all its hope in the apt phrase or the esoteric formula rather than in Jesus Christ Crucified and Risen.”

The bishops leave no doubt about ...

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