This is an English translation of the speech by Archbishop John C. Heenan of Westminster, England, at the general session of the ecumenical council on Oct. 22 on the schema of the Church in the modern world.
It would be most ungracious if we were not to praise the efforts of the commission which has produced the document we are now considering. There can be no doubt that the council Fathers concerned and their advisers have worked hard and have done their best. It is nevertheless quite obvious that the document they have presented to us is unworthy of a general council of the Church.
If we are to speak at all about the Church in the world of today we must do so in clear, unmistakable and down-to-earth terms. For some years not only the faithful but non-Catholics and even unbelievers have been awaiting from this council wise advice on many grave problems. The Holy See itself has suggested that the Second Vatican Council will make some attempt to solve the complex social problems of our day. The document now before us will therefore be studied with eager hope.
What sort of judgment, venerable brothers, do you think the world will pass on this treatise? On some questions, as we know, it is better to say too little than too much. On the subject of world problems, however, it would have been much better to say nothing than produce a set of platitudes. I would like you to call to mind the number of sittings we had when the question of the sources of Revelation was so fiercely debated. The theologians, of course, rightly regarded this as a highly important topic. But to the citizens of the wide world, whether Catholic or non-Catholic, a debate of this kind seems like wasting time and beating the air. Having spent such a long time on theological niceties this council will become a laughing-stock in the eyes of the world if it now rushes breathlessly through a debate on world hunger, nuclear war and family life. People will ask ironically and with good reason what do we really mean when we call this a pastoral council?
I must speak plainly. This document is going to dash the hopes of everyone who has been awaiting it. Its authors do not seem to realize even to whom the message should be directed. Here is an example of their way of writing: “Christians,” they say, “are ready to engage in a dialogue with all men of good will.” But surely this is a pointless thing to say. Christians should be ready to conduct a dialogue with anyone whether or not he is a man of good will. The whole treatise reads more like a sermon than a document of a council. Continue reading