U.S. Prelates Urge Council to Better Explain Church-State Issues

54th General Congregation
October 23, 1963

A full and accurate treatment of the question of Church and State was called for by the American hierarchy at the ecumenical council.

Archbishop Lawrence J. Shehan of Baltimore, speaking in the name of the U.S. bishops, said at the 54th general meeting of the council that “the question of Church and State is entirely too important and too delicate to be treated only in passing, almost casually, in a discussion of the apostolate of the laity.”

Another American, Bishop Ernest J. Primeau of Manchester, N.H., said that the bishops are obliged to hear lay experts, particularly the intellectuals in the Church, “since it is necessary to acknowledge their right to freedom of investigation and freedom of intellectual initiative.”

The U.S. prelates spoke as the council Fathers continued their discussion of the chapter dealing with laymen of the schema “On the Nature of the Church.” The Fathers also continued to vote on amendments to the liturgy schema.

In the double flow of council activity, more progress seemed to be made in the silent second part of voting on the liturgy schema. The second set of amendments, those on the breviary, was passed.

At the U.S. bishops’ press panel it was noted that, once the entire liturgy schema is approved by the council and Pope Paul VI, the bishops will have powers to grant permissions which up to now were reserved to the congregations of the Roman curia.

The day’s work began with celebration of Mass of the Holy Spirit by Archbishop Shehan, the first American council Father to celebrate the opening Mass of a council meeting since the council’s opening in October, 1962.

It was remembered, too, in the private celebration of the Masses of the individual council Fathers that this was the feast of St. Anthony Claret, the only bishop of the First Vatican Council (1869-70) who had been canonized.

Joseph Cardinal Lefebvre of Bourges, France, was first to speak. He expressed his pleasure that the dignity of the laity should be made to consist chiefly of its priestly character. He noted, however, that “this priesthood of the laity must be carefully distinguished from the ministerial priesthood of the hierarchy, without thereby weakening the bonds of union between the priests and bishops of the Church and their flocks…. The two priesthoods cannot be separated. Together they will make the hierarchy and people one heart and one soul.”

A suggestion was made by Chaldean Rite Patriarch Paul II Cheikho of Babylon that the non-Catholic observers be given an opportunity to be heard in the council hall at least once a week. He remarked how they “assist reverently at Mass each morning and give evidence of their good will and patience.”

Father Georges Tavard, A.A., of Pittsburgh, a council expert, commented on this at the U.S. bishops’ press panel, saying that he discussed this matter with several observers after the morning’s council meeting. They appreciated the fact, he said, that they were not permitted to speak in the council since they were not given that power by the Church associations they represent.

Father Thomas Stransky, C.S.P., of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, added that regulations of the council as they now stand do not permit observers either to speak or to vote. However, the secretariat has organized regular meetings for them every Tuesday at which minutes are kept. These are sent to the Secretariat General of the Council and are transmitted to whatever council commission the observers remarks concern.

Speaking on the council floor, Patriarch Paul II said that the role of the laity as expressed in the schema would be “understood only with difficulty by the Oriental Churches, for which there is only one priesthood, namely, the one shared in by those who have received Holy Orders.”

Bishop Manuel Larrain Errazuriz of Talca, Chile, repeating the already much repeated, said that greater emphasis should be placed on the “prophetic function of the faithful, their role as evangelizers through the living testimony of their Christian lives.”

The advisability of including in the text something on the value of human suffering was urged by Bishop John Healy of Gibraltar. He said that “such a declaration would be an effective kind of opposition to the growing favor of euthanasia. It would provide much consolation for sick and suffering members of the Church.”

Bishop Joao Przylenk of Januaria, Brazil, questioned whether a non-theological definition of the layman should be part of a dogmatic constitution such as the one under consideration. He declared that “in this dogmatic text doctrinal ideas are intermingled with disciplinary and pastoral considerations. Either the text should be purified of these non-dogmatic elements or the constitution should not be called dogmatic.”

A new logical arrangement of the material in the chapter was suggested by Bishop Biagio D’Agostino of Vallo di Lucania, Italy.

An entirely new manner of stating the material was called for by Auxiliary Bishop Rafael Moralejo of Valencia, Spain, who said that “since most men, whether within or outside the Church, know the Church only from its externals, our mode of presenting this schema should be in keeping with present-day thinking. As it stands, it is not. The text should be revised so as to present a document perfectly adapted to the mental habits of the people of today.”

Bishop Guillaume van Zuylen of Leige, Belgium, complained that “the language of the schema is too intricate and too complicated for general consumption.”

It was at this point that Archbishop Shehan rose to demand that the schema give a fuller treatment to the matter of Church and State. Since his request to speak followed immediately after a meeting of the U.S. bishops and since he was said to be speaking in the name of the American hierarchy, it appeared that the contents of his speech resulted from that meeting.

He said that the question of Church and State “should be placed in a context where it can be treated with the fullness and accuracy which it needs. Likewise the text should clarify the meaning of the term ‘the world.’ After the example of Christ, we should distinguish the world in its disparaging sense and the men who live in the world. This will give a better idea of the mission of Faith and the scope of Catholic Action. It will also clarify our pastoral preaching on ‘the world’ and provide a better understanding of the Christian vocation to holiness.”

At the U.S. bishops’ press panel, Bishop Victor J. Reed of Oklahoma City and Tulsa said that the American bishops do not want to speak of Church and State in the present schema, but prefer that it be developed in schema No. 17, which is on the Church in the modern world.

Archbishop Shehan presented the matter at the council, he said, because the suggestion already had been made that the subject be treated in the schema under discussion.

Bishop Reed continued by making the point, which Archbishop Shehan himself had covered in his council speech, that the U.S. bishops object to the phrase “regrettable separation” contained in the text because “our experience in the U.S. in relations between Church and state has been very good. The phrase would not be an expression of the true feeling of the American hierarchy or of American Catholics.”

Auxiliary Bishop Jose Da Silva of Lisbon asked in the council for a fuller definition of the apostolate of the laity.

A view of the importance of the laity behind the Iron Curtain was seen in the remarks of Bishop Joseph Americ of Sibenik, Yugoslavia. He said: “The doctrine on the priesthood of the laity is of the utmost importance for areas where the Church cannot function and where its Catholic Action organizations are not permitted to carry on their work of deepening Christian life both within and outside the family circle. In many localities the Church is engaged in a struggle, not merely against atheism but actually against anti-atheism, if the term can be used.

“In protecting the freedom of the Church’s spiritual activity, the laity will draw great inspiration and courage from the realization of their dignity in the Church and their consciousness of what they can do to carry on the mission of Christ.”

Another definition of layman was suggested by Bishop Manuel Fernandez-Conde of Cordova, Spain: “A baptized Christian living in the world with the mission of sanctifying it without leaving it.”

Archbishop Ermenegildo Florit of Florence, Italy, objected to the use of the word “charism,” saying that it requires careful distinctions. It can refer to extraordinary gifts or to ordinary functions in the life of the Church, he said, but the text seems to refer only to extraordinary gifts. He suggested the word “gifts” instead.

Bishop Primeau followed and said that the laity should be encouraged to have a greater share in the life of the Church by means of a “genuine dialogue between the hierarchy and the laity.”

He continued: “It is a fact of experience that in many fields members of the laity are much more competent than the clergy or the hierarchy. They have a genuine love for the Church and are animated with the spirit of reverence for their superiors in the Church. They want to do their part.

“Unless this council determines the respective roles of liberty in the laity and authority in the hierarchy, there will be great danger that dedicated laymen may lose interest in the mission of the Church, give in to discouragement and even eventually fall away.

“The obligations of the hierarchy in this respect have particular importance when dealing with intellectuals in the Church, since it is necessary to acknowledge their right to freedom of investigation and to intellectual initiative. Our text is too negative and too clerical. It might be said to sum up the duty of the laity as being: believe, pray, obey and pay.”

Coptic Rite Bishop Alexandros Scandar of Assiut, Egypt, ended the day’s speeches by saying that “in any discussion of the mission of the Church we must pay special attention to the importance of Catholic schools. Such schools are essential for the proper training of youth in the understanding and practice of their Faith.”

Meanwhile, as the second session of the council neared its midway mark, the fatigue of the council Fathers began to take its toll, and rumors regarding the progress and continuation of the council began to flow.

Among many rumors, two were being repeated often and were heard even in usually reliable areas.

The first said that a difference had developed between the council’s secretary general and the moderators on the matter of controlling repetitious speeches. Another said that the Pope is prepared to use his authority to terminate the council as an assembly of physically present bishops and continue it as a kind of “council by correspondence” with only the council commissions preparing all schema for a final session.

Substance was added to the rumors when on the same afternoon that they began to circulate, Vatican Radio announced as one of its news items that a meeting would take place that same night (Oct. 23) in the offices of the Papal Secretary of State, Amleto Cardinal Cicognani, which would be attended by the cardinal members of the Council Presidency and the Coordinating Commission, the four moderators, the secretary general and the five undersecretaries.

Members of the Council Presidency are: Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, Dean of the College of Cardinals; Achille Cardinal Lienart of Lille, France; Ignace Cardinal Tappouni, Syrian Rite Patriarch of Antioch; Norman Cardinal Gilroy of Sydney, Australia; Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York; Enrique Cardinal Pia y Deniel of Toledo, Spain; Joseph Cardinal Frings of Cologne, Germany; Ernesto Cardinal Ruffini of Palermo, Italy; Antonio Cardinal Caggiano of Buenos Aires; Bernard Cardinal Alfrink of Utrecht, the Netherlands; Albert Cardinal Meyer of Chicago; Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski of Warsaw; and Giuseppe Cardinal Siri of Genoa, Italy.

Members of the Coordinating Commission are: Cardinal Cicognani; Cardinal Lienart; Cardinal Spellman; Giovanni Cardinal Urbani of Venice; Carlo Cardinal Confalonieri, secretary of the Sacred Consistorial Congregation; Julius Cardinal Doepfner of Munich and Freising, Germany; and Leo Cardinal Suenens of Malines-Brussels.

The four council moderators are Gregorio Cardinal Agagianian, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith; Giacomo Cardinal Lercaro of Bologna, Italy; Cardinal Doepfner and Cardinal Suenens.

Archbishop Pericle Felici is the council secretary general.

Undersecretaries of the council are: Melkite Rite Archbishop Philippe Nabaa of Beirut, Lebanon; Archbishop Casimiro Morcillo Gonzalez of Saragossa, Spain; Coadjutor Archbishop Jean Villot of Lyons, France, Archbishop John J. Krol of Philadelphia, and Bishop Wilhelm Kempf of Limburg, Germany.

Msgr. James I. Tucek
NCWC Rome bureau chief

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One Response to U.S. Prelates Urge Council to Better Explain Church-State Issues

  1. Father Ron says:

    It is fascinating for me to recognize names of many of the Council Fathers. Some, like Spellman, are far more astute than I gave them credit for. Shame on me! Most, if not all are now dead – God rest them!

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