In his article The Magisterium, Biblical and Pastoral Aspects, Fr. John F. Wealon writes:

I know of no wiser treatment than that of the German bishops in a pastoral letter of September 22, 1967. The pastoral says: "At this point we must soberly discuss a difficult question, which in the case of many Catholics today, much more than in the past, either menaces their faith or their spontaneous confidence in the doctrinal authority of the Church. We are thinking of the fact that in the exercise of its office, the doctrinal authority of the Church can be subject to error and has in fact erred. The Church has always known that something of the sort was possible. It has stated it in its theology and developed rules for such situations. This possibility of error does not affect doctrines which are proclaimed to be held with absolute assent, by a solemn definition of the Pope or of a General Council or by the ordinary magisterium. It is also historically wrong to affirm that errors of the Church have subsequently been discovered in such dogmas. This of course is not to deny that in the case of a dogma growth in understanding is always possible and always necessary, the original sense being maintained while previous possible misunderstandings are eliminated. And of course the problem in question must not be confused with the obvious fact that there is changeable human law in the Church as well as divine and unalterable law. Changes in such human law have nothing to do with error, but simply raise the question of the opportuneness of legal dispositions at different times. As regards error and the possibility of error in non-defined doctrinal pronouncements of the Church, where in fact the degree of obligation can vary very widely, we must begin by accepting soberly and resolutely the fact that the whole of our human life in general has also to be lived simply 'according to the best of our knowledge'. We have to follow our conscience according to our lights, which cannot be justified with absolute intellectual certainty but still remain here and now the valid norms to be respected in thought and action, because for the present there is nothing better. This is something which everyone knows from his own experience. It is a truth accepted by every doctor in his diagnosis and by every statesman in his judgment of a political situation and the decisions to be taken in view of it. The Church too, in its doctrine and practice, cannot always allow itself to be faced by the dilemma of either giving an absolutely binding doctrinal decision or simply remaining silent and leaving everything to the personal opinion of the individual. To safeguard the real substance of the faith, the Church must give doctrinal instructions, which have a certain degree of obligation but not being definitions of the faith, have a certain provisional character, even to the extent of possible error. This is a risk which must be taken, since otherwise the Church would find it quite impossible to preach its faith as the decisive reality of life, to expound it and to apply it to each new situation of man. In such a case, the situation of the individual with regard to the Church is somewhat like that of a man who knows that he is bound to accept the decision of an expert, even though he knows that this is not infallible. "There is no place, at any rate, in sermons and religious instruction for opinions contrary to such provisional doctrinal pronouncements of the Church, even though in certain circumstances the faithful should have the nature and the limited scope of such provisional pronouncements explained to them... The Christian who believes he has a right to his private opinion, that he already knows what the Church will only come to grasp later, must ask himself in sober self-criticism before God and his conscience, whether he has the necessary depth and breadth of theological expertise to allow his private theory and practice to depart from the present doctrine of the ecclesiastical authorities. The case is in principle admissible. But conceit and presumption will have to answer for their willfulness before the judgment-seat of God".

Where may I find the 1967 pastoral letter of these "German bishops" from which the above was extracted? Is it available in English? If not, German O.K.


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