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links up with the "back to the basics" platform like one

satellite joining another in space.


The Rockefeller Commission describes the humanities it
has in mind as those studies in which students may "reflect
on the fundamental question: What does it mean to be
human?" More specifically, these include languages, liter-
ature, history, philosophy, religion and those aspects of the
social sciences that use humanistic methods. Studies of this
sort, the commission says, have great social and civic value.
To paraphrase John Stuart Mill, if schools make their stu-
dents into good and intelligent men and women, they will
make themselves into good and intelligent citizens.
But since, as the report says, the particular medium
employed by the humanities is language, a mastery of those
famous basic skills is indispensable. It is not, however,
enough, since the humanities themselves are basic to indi-
vidual and collective well-being. Consequently, the first of
the commission's 31 recommendations is a call to local
public school boards and superintendents "to establish the
humanities as a priority in the ctirriculum of their
districts." But in the unlikely event of this happening, it
could not be described as the recovery of some element in
the populist and pragmatic tradition of American educa-
tion. It would be not a retum but an advance.
The Close
of the
Synod
Rome. Oct. 26. The Synod of Bishops
concluded its meeting in Rome by issuing a
message of "love, confidence and hope" to
Christian families. The pastoral message
did not try to answer all of the questions
raised about marriage and the family, but it
did reaffirm the teaching of Humanae
Vitae that the conjugal act must be "fully
human, totd, exclusive and open to new
life." The synod also maintained the policy
that remarried divorced Catholics cannot
go to Communion unless they separate or
live in complete continence.
But while most of the press attention was
devoted to these topics, the synod did con-
sider other issues. Most importantly the
synod was concerned about the pastoral
application of the church's teaching on
marriage and the family so that those who
could not live up to it would be treated with
compassion and sympathy. The confessor
who denounces a penitent is not following
the directions of the synod and the Pope.
Another important admission of the
synod was its recognition that the church
lacks a positive approach to sexuality.
Rather than merely talking about sexual
sins, the bishops felt that the church should
affirm that sex is good and is a gift from
God. This position of the synod shotild free
theologians and teachers to approach sex-
uality positively without fear of censure.
But for most of the time, Humanae
Vitae hung like a cloud over the synod,
obscuring its other considerations. After
the umpteenth question on birth control at
a press conference during the synod. Arch-
bishop John R. Quinn of San Francisco
said, "I personally feel a great sadness that
this would be the only aspect of the synod
that would be reported or emphasized."
But it was not entirely the press's fault.
Even some of the synodal fathers com-
plained that most of the interventions in the
synodal hall were more about the obli-
gations of marriage than about marriage,
more about marriage than the family. Even
the Pope chose to select birth control and
remarried Catholics as two of the topics he
concentrated on in his address at the con-
clusion of the synod. He left no doubt that
there was to be no change in the church's
discipline on these topics.
While statistics show that many Catholic
theologians, priests and lay persons will be
disappointed with the synod's decisions on
birth control and divorce, observers of the
synod in operation were also disappointed
with its procedures. The lay auditors were
not representative of the church but were in
fact firm supporters and promoters of nat-
ural family planning. The majority of Cath-
olic families, which practice birth control,
were not rqjresented. Nor were dissenting
theologians welcome at the synod. As a
result no true dialogue was really possible.
Any criticism of Humanae Vitae was con-
sidered scandalous. The final message ig-
nored the population crisis. Some bishops
were afraid to say what they really thought
because they feared they would be misrep-
resented by the press or seen as challenging
positions held by Popes Paul VI and John
Patil II. Bishop after bishop stood and
quoted the Pope to himself, which is a
strange exercise for a body that is supposed
to advise the Pope. After all, does he not
know what he has said?
In addition, the first part of the synod
was taken up with over 160 eight-minute
speeches that were very repetitive because
only a few bishops' conferences (the
United States, Canada and Brazil) had or-
ganized their interventions so that each
bishop spoke on only one topic. The last
week of the session, the synod did not even
have time to debate its message and reco-
mendations in the synodal hall. Instead the
bishops voted on each paragraph: placet,
non placet or placet juxta modum (yes, no
or yes with amendment). The amend-
ments were then screened by the same com-
mittees that drafted the original message
and recommendations. Valuable time at
the end of the synod was taken up with re-
ports from Vatican congregations that
were more homilies than informational.
Was the synod then a waste of time? No.
The synod provided the bishops with a
valuable opportunity to exchange views,
compare experiences and share their faith
in the Lord. As one disappointed bishop
said, "After all, we believe in the Lord, not
in the synod." But these valuable aspects of
the synod are difficult to report as they oc-
curred for the most part informally or in
the small group discussions. The bishops'
responsibility now is to try to communicate
that experience to a skeptical audience in
their dioceses, which have probably not
heard much good about the synod in the
secular press. THOMAS J. REESE
America/November 8,1980 281