Letter of Cardinal Heenan of Westminster to the Clergy of His Diocese


Recently the following letter was sent by Cardinal Heenan to all the clergy of his diocese concerning the encyclical "Humanae Vitae".

A few priests have publicly and explicitly rejected the encyclical Humanae Vitae. Others though deeply troubled could not bring themselves as priests to oppose the teaching of the Vicar of Christ. Towards those who have found difficulty in giving whole-hearted assent to the encyclical we must be gentle and tolerant.

A great deal of time, thought and prayer may still be necessary before they are able to see the implications or, indeed, the beauty of Pope Paul's teaching on love in marriage.

Many were led to expect a different answer to the questions so widely discussed in recent years. In their disappointment some seem to have begun to doubt that the Holy Spirit guides the whole Church and its chief pastor.

Some priests weighed down at the prospect of having to solve grave pastoral problems seemed to forget that the same theological principles in assessing culpability apply in this as in any other moral question.

It is the priest's duty in the sacrament of penance to judge with compassion while upholding the principles laid down by the Pope in Humanae Vitae.

All this is clear from a careful study of the encyclical and the bishops' statement. It is evident that no priest in the exercise of his ministry may repudiate the solemn teaching of the supreme authority of the Church which gives him his mandate.

The open refusal of a group of priests to accept the Pope's guidance has caused dismay to their fellow priests who, while being no less aware of pastoral problems, give loyal obedience to the Holy Father. The opposition of these priests to the Pope's teaching has bewildered and saddened loyal members of the laity.

The bishops of England and Wales have no wish to inhibit reasonable discussion nor do they propose to make a return to priestly obedience unduly difficult for those who have denounced the encyclical.

The bishops, however, are not unmindful of their responsibilities—"to the whole flock wherein the Holy Ghost hath placed you bishops to rule the Church of God" (Acts XX. 28).

It was therefore unanimously decided at a Hierarchy meeting last week that each bishop would speak personally to those of his priests who maintain opposition to the encyclical.

Now that the bishops have had time to see the dissident priests, it is opportune to publish the conditions laid down.

Priests are required in preaching, teaching, in the Press, on radio, television or public platforms, to refrain from opposing the teaching of the Pope in all matters of faith and morals.

If a priest is unwilling to give this undertaking, the bishop will decide whether he can be allowed without scandal to continue to act in the name of the Church.

Although he need not be required to cease celebrating mass, a priest may not normally hold faculties to hear confessions without undertaking to declare faithfully the objective teaching of Humanae Vitae in the confessional and when giving spiritual guidance.

A priest who is unwilling to accept these conditions will be maintained by the diocese until he has been able to find suitable employment. This is, of course, in keeping with current canonical practice. Stories of priests in want for the sake of conscience should be accepted with the greatest reserve.

Religious superiors have been invited to make similar proposals to those of their members who have publicly rejected the encyclical. It is the fervent hope of the bishops that all their priests, religious and faithful, united in prayer, will grow in love of God and his Holy Church.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
7 November 1968, page 3

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