Final action on a statement on war and peace has been postponed until next year by U.S. Roman Catholic bishops because of heavy response to the preliminary draft, church officials said this week.
The statement, which says there are virtually no circumstances under which nuclear war is morally permissible, was to have been voted on by the nation's bishops at their annual meeting in November.
But in a letter to the 376 American bishops, Archbishop Joseph L. Bernardin, head of the committee that drew up the document, said "an extended period of consultation and discussion" is necessary because of "the magnitude" of reaction from the bishops to the committee's first draft.
Russell Shaw, the chief spokesman for the U.S. Catholic Conference, acknowledged that the preliminary draft has provoked wide "disappointment" from both sides of the issue. But he said that the decision to defer action on the document in no way represents "a backing away from the question."
The committee's aim, Shaw added, "is not to make everybody happy, but to achieve moral unanimity among the bishops so there can be a forceful teaching on the subject."
At a private meeting of the drafting committee last week in Spring Lake, N.J., Bernardin and four other bishops studied more than 700 pages of responses and suggestions to improve the first draft.
That 66-page draft, sent to each of the country's bishops in June, also was the subject of prolonged discussion when more than 250 of the prelates were cloistered in a closed meeting in Minnesota later in June.
The first draft of the proposed statement condemns any first use or threat of first use of nuclear weapons, calls for a ban on deployment of nuclear weapons against civilian populations, even in retaliation, and also urges a ban on deployment against military targets if "massive" civilian casualties would result in a strike.
It also proposes an immediate multilateral freeze in production and deployment--without using that politically sensitive label--and urges experimental unilateral disarmament steps by the United States.
But it does not flatly rule out all use of nuclear weapons and says that it is "marginally justifiable" to possess nuclear weapons for deterrence.
Bernardin, archbishop-designate of Chicago, said the revised timetable calls for a second draft of the statement to go to the bishops in mid-October, just a month before their November meeting, as well as to "a wide spectrum of theologians and others" for their comments.
The second draft, together with the theologians' comments, will be debated at the November meeting and the committee then will develop a third draft of the statement.
In November, Bernardin said, the bishops will be asked whether they want to put off action on the third and final draft until November 1983 or hold a special session in the spring of 1983.
In addition to Bernardin, the drafting committee includes Bishop Daniel Reilly of Norwich, Conn.; Auxiliary Bishop George Fulcher of Columbus, Ohio; Auxiliary Bishop John O'Connor of New York, who functions as a pastor to American Catholics serving in the armed services; and Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit, a professed pacifist and president of Pax Christi, a Catholic peace organization.