Belgian Cardinal Wants Emphasis on Church’s Missionary Task

Leo Cardinal Suenens, Archbishop of Malines­-Brussels, has advocated a strong emphasis on the missionary task of the Church in today’s world.

The Cardinal gave information on the ecumenical council’s 17th schema, or draft declaration—the first information to be made public on that schema—during a press conference under the auspices of the council’s documentation center. The 17th schema deals with “The Presence of the Church in the World.”

The Belgian Cardinal asked that both the general and specific aspects of the problems the Church is facing be considered.

On the former, he said that the Council will probably express itself in generic terms. On the latter only certain general instructions are likely to be issued, he stated. Their practical application will probably be studied later on.

He noted that if specific answers to such vitally important questions as peace, social progress and family life were to be provided without first letting such answers mature, difficulties might arise which certainly should not be caused by premature pronouncements. This is particularly true, the Cardinal said, since ample preliminary consultations, especially with lay leaders, will be required.

The Cardinal said that the schema on the Church now being debated will in all likelihood be divided into five rather than four chapters. To his mind, he said, the chapter which deals with “The People of God,” is particularly important for eliminating the widely spread notion that the Church is only the clergy and the hierarchy. In reality, all the baptized are “people of God,” he said.

The Cardinal explained that this is vitally important.

“All the baptized are alike and there is no super baptism for the clergy. Furthermore, both clergy and hierarchy are there to serve the people of God, not to dominate them. This is especially true since all the faithful have missionary tasks and all should realize—in reference to the basic catechism question—that ‘we must not only know God , but also make God known; not only love God, but also make God loved; not only serve God, but also have God served by bringing the Gospel to all creatures.’

“This means that each and every person in the Church has a duty of evangelization to propagate the fullness of the truth in which we believe.”

The Cardinal also referred to the council debate on the collegiality of the bishops.

The collegiality of the bishops means that they as a college, or group, in union with the pope, can act with supreme authority. It means that besides having jurisdiction in his own diocese, a bishop has a responsibility as a member of the college of bishops in the life of the universal Church.

The Cardinal said that the problem of the collegiality of the bishops should not be considered as presenting an alternative—with the bishops acting either “under Peter” or “with Peter,” since they must act both under and with the pope as the Church’s supreme head. This in turn should help to emphasize the ecumenical aspects of the schema on the Church, since the bishops must act in unity with the pope, just as all other members of the Church are called upon to act in unity with their shepherds, he said.

As for the diaconate, the Cardinal said he favors opening the door for it. The problem of the celibacy of deacons is in his view of secondary.

“Here,” he said, “we have a tangible opportunity to practice collegiality by leaving it to the individual bishop to introduce the lay diaconate where it is actually needed but not forcing it upon the whole Church.”

Obviously, he explained, since not enough priests are available in South America, it is only reasonable to enlist the help of lay deacons there.

“We should all help each other as best we can. That is true collegiality among ourselves,” he said.

The Cardinal said he favors incorporating the schema on the Blessed Virgin with the one on the Church; not just as an appendix, but rather as a unit properly related to the whole theological theme of the schema.

He also said that the term “state of perfection” should no longer be used in reference to Religious life because it is now obsolete. The only thing that matters in this connection is the apostolic challenge all Religious face in this day and age, he declared. He added that in the same way the schema on seminaries could be related to the Church schema as a whole. Cardinal Suenens said that he personally favors a more practical clergy formation in seminaries by providing what he called an apostolic training to make aspirants better prepared for the tasks they will face as priests.

“We all,” the Cardinal concluded, “are now animated by much greater optimism than at the first council session. I feel we are making fast progress.”

Father Placid Jordan
NCWC correspondent

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