Communications Draft Approved; More Discussion on Christian Unity

28th General Congregation
November 27, 1962

Participants in the Second Vatican Council voiced their overwhelming approval of the substance of a formal statement on mass media of communications and at the same time learned that Pope John XXIII has decided to postpone the opening of the council’s second session until next September.

Bishops of the world line the nave of St. Peter’s Basilica during the Second Vatican Council in 1962. (CNS photo)

The two developments came at the 28th general meeting of the council when the quest for Christian unity occupied much of the discussion.

The postponement was announced to the council Fathers by Archbishop Pericle Felici, secretary general of the council. The regular daily communique said the prelate told the gathering in St. Peter’s that Pope John “in response to wishes of many council Fathers, especially those living a great distance from Rome, and also taking into account reasons of a pastoral character, has fixed the date for beginning of the second session of the council as Sept. 8, 1963, instead of May 12.” Sept. 8 is the feast of the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Following this announcement, a three-part motion was put to the council by the council presidency concerning the draft text on communications media. The text of the motion read:

“1) The project is approved substantially. It is most opportune that the Church should in the exercise of her conciliar teaching concern herself with a problem of such great importance on the pastoral plane.

“2) In consideration of the observation made by the council Fathers, instruction is given to the competent commission to draw from the project the essential doctrinal principles and the more general pastoral directives, in order to give them a formulation which, while keeping the substance, may be more brief and may be submitted to the vote of the Fathers in due course.

“3) It is the express mandate of the council that everything pertaining to practice and execution should be edited in the form of a pastoral instruction by the office spoken of in the 57th paragraph of the project with the collaboration of experts of different nations.”

The bulletin cited the paragraph as follows:

“The council Fathers, adopting as their own the wish of the Preparatory Secretariat for the Press and Public Entertainment, petition the Supreme Pontiff to extend the competency of the Pontifical Commission for Motion Pictures, Radio and Television to all communications media including the press.”

The motion was put to a vote and approved. There were 2,160 council Fathers present and voting and thus under the two-thirds rule a total of 1,440 votes were required for approval. The vote was 2,138 in favor, 15 against, and 7 invalid votes.

Following the voting, Archbishop Felici read a statement in behalf of the council’s Commission for the Oriental Churches. Its purpose was to clear up possible objections which might be brought up in connection with the subject taken up for consideration the previous day, the Catholic Church’s desire for restoring unity with the separated Eastern Churches.

First of all, according to the council communique, it was noted that the draft text’s title, “De Unitate Ecclesiae: Ut Omnes Unum Sint,” could easily be changed. Objections had been raised to the effect that this title (On Church Unity: That All May Be One) did not make it clear that the document under discussion concerned only separated Eastern Christians and did not include Protestants.

The bulletin reported that the statement read by the secretary general also said “in the first part of the project there is the intention merely to illustrate the conditions which have arisen as a result of the separation of the Oriental Christians and that it is not intended to make theological declarations for a constitution of the Church. In the second part, it said, there is the intention of outlining those teachings from which one might draw the means proposed for union, without wishing in the least to treat those matters which pertain to the constitution ‘De Ecclesia’.”

Again referring to the “Ut Omnes Unum Sint” treatise, the bulletin said that the statement by Archbishop Felici noted that it “is addressed to all sons of the Catholic Church that they may use suitable means indicated in it for promoting and achieving union with the separated brothers of the East.”

The council session was presided over by Achille Cardinal Lienart, Bishop of Lille, France, and the Mass was offered by Archbishop Leonardo Rodriguez Ballon, O.F.M., of Arequipa, Peru.

Following Archbishop Felici’s statement, 14 council Fathers spoke. They included Jaime Cardinal de Barros Camara, Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro; Melkite Rite Patriarch Maximos IV Saigh of Antioch, and archbishops, bishops and archimandrites of the Melkite Syro-Malabar and Ukrainian Rites as well as Latin Rite Fathers.

The bulletin reported that the “speeches of the day generally recognized that the project on the unity of the Church is substantially valid and acceptable. However, there were suggestions pointing out the need of reworking the single parts, especially the first, and of giving greater unity to the composition of the whole project.”

Among the points made were that instead of one subject under consideration there were actually three. The first was the one under debate – “De Unitate Ecclesiae: Ut Omnes Unum Sint.” The second was a treatise drawn up by the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity under the title of “De Ecumenismo.” The third was a chapter drafted in the same subject by the council’s theological commission.

The bulletin said the three texts refer to different aspects of an identical problem. It cited the suggestion to unite them into a single text which would synthesize in a single document all the multiple doctrinal, liturgical and psychological aspects of the problem and to suggest the most timely and suitable means for solving them.

The bulletin said that “some of the Fathers noted that the theological and doctrinal premises of the project are formulated in a rather harsh and peremptory manner without an ecumenical spirit and that it might indispose the separated Oriental brothers to whom it is addressed.

“On the other hand, others pointed out the need to avoid every kind of false conciliatory tone, stating that union with the separated brothers should not be sought by being silent about or shelving truth of a dogmatic character, but outlining clearly and calmly Catholic doctrine without using polemical expressions.”

Others held that the proposal did not stress sufficiently “the responsibility on both sides in the course of the centuries for seeking out ways and means of union. There are reasons for all, both Catholic and Orthodox, for reviewing their own positions and for correcting the errors of the past – especially faults of omission.”

It was suggested that there should be meetings between members of the Catholic hierarchy and representatives of non-Catholic Christian communities, and also that there is a need for “greater caution” in the use of terms “which might offend the sensibilities of the Orientals.”

Some speakers said there was a need to distinguish clearly between what separates Catholics from Eastern Christians and what separates Catholics and Protestants. “The elements which unite the Catholic Church with the separated Oriental Churches are in fact greater than those which divide them,” it was stated.

The bulletin said:

“The Oriental Church, it was added, owes its birth, development, organization and its liturgy to the Apostles who founded it and to the Fathers of the first centuries, without owing anything historically to the Latin Church of Rome. This is a fact which must be taken into account when speaking with the separated brothers and which calls for the greatest tact and respect for their traditions and their rituals. It is necessary to assure them that union will never entail uniformity.

“The search for and adoption of the most suitable and efficacious means for promoting union constitutes a serious and urgent effort to which it is necessary to be dedicated with a generous and understanding spirit capable of overcoming all historic and eventual conflict, in which human passions and weaknesses have so great a part.”

It was stated that it is dangerous to underestimate problems which stand in the way of union and it was also suggested that to make it clear that the proposal deals exclusively with the problem of union with the Eastern Churches, its name be changed to “De Unitate Christianorum” (On the Unity of Christians).

James C. O’Neill
NC Rome correspondent

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