The American Roman Catholic Church is not a democracy and it is not a fund-raising organization, the head of the nation’s bishops felt it necessary to remind newsmen at the close of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ semiannual meeting last month. The two non-definitions are not unrelated.

The newsmen had been pressing the NCCB to open at least a portion of its meetings (at which decisions are made affecting the nation’s 47 million Catholics), and a vote last spring came within a hair of passing. But this time the bishops firmly clanked the doors shut for the foreseeable future by a three-to-one vote, thus keeping deliberations secret except for daily news briefings.

And a small but vocal liberal lay group had been pressuring the bishops for full and open uniform financial reports at all levels of the church. Although some headway is being made in this area, dioceses are still autonomous—and some are superclandestine on financial matters.

The finance squeeze was a dominant theme throughout the five-day conclave in Washington, D. C. The National Association of Laymen (NAL) upstaged the bishops in gaining the attention of the media the day the NCCB convened. Announcing that reluctance to fully disclose diocesan finances “verges on becoming a major scandal,” the NAL issued its own study of the recalcitrant dioceses’ finances and asserted that the Catholic Church hoards vast assets that could be liquidated to “strengthen the church’s credibility” and meet “the spiritual and material needs of the human family.”

Not so, retorted Archbishop Philip Hannan, chairman of the bishops’ press panel, and others, who said NAL “asset properties” were really “deficit-producing liabilities.” And NCCB president John Cardinal Dearden of Detroit insisted that the church need not open full records to the public or its own members.

Meanwhile, the bishops struggled with a projected deficit of $2 million for their 1970 budget of $11.1, and settled for $10.2 million for 1971—a figure that will still require an increase of 50 per cent in diocesan quotas. (Shrinking investment income and a sizable drop in overseas relief collections helped sink income into the red.)

In whittling the budget, another group got what its representatives thought was the ax. The new National Office for Black Catholics (NOBC) asked for $659,000 to work with the church’s 800,000 Negroes; the bishops approved $150,000.

Spokesmen for the NOBC responded angrily that tokenism was “obviously racist,” and declined to take “one cent” of the $150,000. The Mexican-American priests’ group, PADRES, which asked for $125,000, got an undisclosed (lesser) amount.

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On one front, at least, the bishops appeared to be moving toward leniency rather than pulling into defensiveness. Following a Vatican reform effective worldwide on October 1, the U. S. hierarchy dropped the ancient rule that the non-Catholic partner in a mixed marriage must formally pledge not to interfere with the rearing of the children as Catholics. The non-Catholic now promises nothing, but the Catholic spouse must still pledge—orally or in writing—to “do all in my power to share the faith I have received with our children by having them baptized and reared as Catholics.”

Following the action of other national Catholic hierarchies, the NCCB also approved weddings between a Catholic and a non-Catholic in non-Catholic religious ceremonies and even by a civil magistrate or by a representative of a non-Christian religion. A dispensation by the diocesan bishop is needed in each case.

The NCCB document states that mixed marriage is not the ideal but allows for exceptions, and encourages the Catholic priest and other “Christian pastors” to jointly prepare such couples for marriage. A canon-law expert told newsmen past dogma requiring a Catholic priest to officiate at a mixed marriage “ignored some sensitive ecumenical problems.” Said the Reverend Thomas Lynch of the NCCB’s Council on Canonical Affairs: “This [pastoral letter] is one of the more complete … jobs. The tone is much more intensely pastoral and truly ecumenical than anything put out so far.…”

The mixed-marriage norms expressly forbid “two religious marriage services” or a single service using both Catholic and non-Catholic ritual. A Catholic marrying a Methodist, for example, could secure a dispensation, and the ceremony be performed by a Methodist clergyman in his church. Theoretically, at least, Catholics can now marry Mormons, Jews, and even Muslims in their respective rituals and the union will be considered valid by the Catholic Church as long as “the conscientious devotion of the Catholic to the Catholic Church is safeguarded.”

In another ecumenical matter, the 200 prelates approved Catholic membership on the fifty-member National Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission by nine “individuals who represent their churches well.”

In other action the bishops:

• Rejected optional reception of the Communion wafer in the communicant’s hand rather than on his tongue.

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• Issued their strongest statement to date on abortion, calling it, for the first time, “murder.”

• Turned down a recommendation to shift power to laicize clergy wishing to leave the priesthood from the Vatican to themselves.

• Postponed until next April action on a statement upholding selective conscientious objection to war.

• Fired, through its administration board, a former Paulist priest, Dr. Harry McSorley, from a high-level Lutheran-Catholic dialogue team because he left the priesthood (through approved church channels) to marry. (Cardinal Dearden told the NCCB later that he foresees the day when married men will be ordained to the priesthood.)

• Appealed for the first nationwide collection for funds for self-help projects among the poor.

• Heard, through a report, that since 1964 there are now 70 per cent fewer entrants into women’s religious orders, and that the number of nuns leaving orders before permanent vows has increased 267 per cent since 1964. Fewer and fewer of the church’s 160,000 sisters want to be elementary-school teachers, thus hastening the closing of parochial schools, especially those unable to replace the nuns with higher-paid lay teachers.

Evangelical Ties In Manitoba

A three-day meeting in Winnipeg brought together many of Manitoba’s most influential evangelical leaders. Working sessions attracted some 225 registrants from all over the province, and a closing rally drew more than 2,000 to the civic auditorium.

The gathering was the largest cooperative effort ever undertaken by evangelicals in the province. Eighteen denominations were represented.

As is increasingly the case in such meetings, the relation of evangelism and social action claimed the most attention. At times, differences loomed large, and some participants walked out on workshops. Steps were taken nonetheless to establish a permanent evangelical association for the province.

A number of prominent Mennonites were on hand, reflecting growing participation by this group in evangelical affairs.

Beware Revolution, Clade Speaker Warns

The revolutionary element in ethnic groups threatens the spread of the Gospel, a Mexican-American evangelist warned at the first CLADE USA (Congresso Latino Americano de Evangelismo—Latin American Congress on Evangelism). The Reverend Carlos Paredes, a Southern Baptist, told about 350 delegates at the San Antonio gathering last month that revolutionary thrust is a block to evangelism, because hatred is emphasized so much that people hate one another rather than listen to the love of Christ.

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“Not Chicano power or brown power,” Parades implored; “what we need to show people immediately is Christ’s power.” The majority of his audience were Cubans and Puerto Ricans; delegates represented almost all major denominations in the United States and many in Latin America. Though attendance swelled to 1,500 at evening sessions, it was far below expectations of CLADE leaders. The meeting was the first of six follow-up regional conferences patterned after the 1969 CLADE in Bogota, Colombia (see December 19 issue, page 33).

A variety of speakers addressed the congress, including Puerto Rico’s former secretary of state, Dr. Carlos Lastra, now a professor at the University of Puerto Rico, and the Reverend H. O. Espinoza, a 1969 CLADE delegate and a leading organizer of the San Antonio congress. CLADE USA will sponsor regional retreats for Spanish-speaking pastors and laymen in 1971–72 to plan a major evangelistic thrust for 1973.

Chasing Rainbows?

Is there really a $200 million pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for Pearl Choate Birch? So far, only $2,688.66—not enough to pay the undertaker or even dent legal costs—has been found by the Mercantile National Bank of Dallas, Texas, administrator of the estate of A. Otis Birch, California oilman and Baptist benefactor (see October 23 issue, page 45).

But Mrs. Birch’s attorney predicted that an inventory of vast holdings would turn up in a California court.

Having won a three-year legal conflict with several religious organizations once named as Birch beneficiaries, the ex-convict widow will now fight the validity of a will in which Birch’s first wife left her share of the estate to charity. In any case, the second Mrs. Birch will get at least half.

It may all be a vain pursuit, hints an estate administrator. Half of nothing is nothing.


Evangelism Vindicated

A Greek judge climaxed the dramatic trial of an evangelical American mission leader by returning a verdict of acquittal. The defendant, the Reverend Spiros Zodhiates of Ridgefield, New Jersey, president of the American Mission to Greeks, had been charged with “proselytism,” which under Greek law is a criminal act punishable by imprisonment. Local Greek Orthodox authorities had brought the charges.

Zodhiates flew to Greece to appear at the trial, held in the 20,000-population town of Pyrgos. He was allowed to cross-examine his accusers, who didn’t like his mission’s newspaper advertising or his Bible-distribution program.

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Zodhiates preached a sermon in his own defense, distinguishing between proselytism and evangelism. High-school students testified that a local priest had confiscated New Testaments that they had requested from the mission.

Southern Baptists: Institutional Give And Take

On questions of institutional control, Southern Baptists have historically assumed a purse-swinging power-to-the-people stance. The purse hit some institutions but missed others at the thirty Southern Baptist state conventions that met in late October and early November.

Some Virginia messengers (delegates) wanted to lop the University of Richmond from the budget because a new campus policy allows drinking in dorm rooms. President George Modlin, in defense, said there now was less student drinking than before. Delegates settled for a compromise that permits dissident churches to snub the school in their denominational giving.

Mississippi Baptists refused to restrict the power of trustees over their institutions, thus leaving the way open for federal funding—taboo in many Southern Baptist camps. Indeed, Texas delegates instructed the University of Corpus Christi to return a $500,000 federal loan for repairing hurricane damage, and to look elsewhere for the money. Perhaps they could look to Arizona Baptists, who asked for a $500,000 out-of-court settlement to release three hospitals to trustees who are seeking government aid. Ironically, the payoff could be in federal dollars.

Louisiana messengers, meanwhile, with no purse strings attached, for the second time simply gave a financially ailing hospital to its trustees to facilitate government aid. Texas Baptists similarly extricated themselves from ties to Baylor University’s dentistry school.

It’s “time we practice institutional birth control before we must practice institutional mercy killing,” declared a Louisville pastor. Fellow Kentucky Baptists agreed, and rejected a proposed home for the aged. Likewise, the Florida convention refused to adopt Atlantic College into its institutional family but kept its pocketbook open ($300,000) to Stetson University, lambasted last year for theological liberalism. (Atlantic, decidedly conservative, was founded by popular West Palm Beach pastor Jess Moody; more than one-third of its 275 students plan to enter church-related vocations.)

Messengers in at least four states sensed a threat to the very heart of the Southern Baptist institutional empire. They questioned whether to seat delegates from churches that accept members baptized by some church other than Baptist. (Some churches were recently denied participation in denominational politics because of such “alien immersion” practices.) The issue was left unresolved.

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On other fronts, some conventions criticized President Nixon for appointing a personal representative to the Vatican. Nearly half, though, told the President they appreciated his rejection of a presidential commission’s report on obscenity and pornography

Texas Baptists asked for “more realistic” marijuana laws. (In one notable Texas case, a youth was sentenced to thirty years for exchanging a cigarette with a comrade; he has served three years thus far.) The Texans also voted to meet jointly next year with the state’s other Baptist groups, half of which are black. The Houston meeting is expected to attract 50,000 delegates representing three million Texas Baptists.

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