Here is a passage from an authoritative manual of moral theology. It makes interesting reading:
“It is not, as a general rule, permitted to Catholic nurses in hospitals to send for non Catholic ministers to attend non Catholic patients for religious purposes; they must be passive in such cases (Sacred Office March 15 1858). This was further explained (Feb 5 1872) to mean that nurses might tell some non-Catholic attendant that the patient wanted the non-Catholic minister, and this was declared not to be active co-operation. Furthermore, if even this were found impossible, then for very grave reasons and to prevent enmity arising against the Church, nurses might themselves send for the non-Catholic minister if asked to do so.”
This passage comes from Moral and Pastoral Theology by Henry Davis SJ. It is a four volume work, and the 1958 edition. Apparently a nurse might prepare a table with flowers since this was not a specifically religious act but might not join in prayers even those common to Christians.
Now I read that the Catholic Education Service is recommending that Catholic schools should, if possible, provide a multi-faith prayer room for non-Christian pupils. And I think that if a Catholic nurse were to make a fuss about calling a non-Catholic minister to attend a patient, he or she would be regarded as a fundamentalist of the deepest and most unchristian dye.
The basic teaching about the uniqueness of the Catholic Church has not changed, but its exercise has changed quite dramatically. I wrote in my column posted on 20 November “The changes in the Church have taken place over so many centuries and, with some exceptions, by such small steps that we are often unaware of how considerable they have been.”
A question presents itself: if a common prohibition of 50 years ago was taken as orthodoxy, what orthodoxies of today will look grotesque in 50 years time? Have we now got it all right, or are we children of our time – blind to what will one day seem obvious. Who are our prophets?
Interestingly, the Catholic Herald went as far as it dared to be a prophet during the Henry Davis period, and before. But it did so in the teeth of the bishops who often threatened to ban its sales in their dioceses. I know, I was there.
So let us at least attempt to be prophets and make suggestions for the changes which could occur over the next 50 years.