American Bishops Want Council to Condemn Race Prejudice

55th General Congregation
October 24, 1963

A declaration against racial discrimination was requested by an American bishop speaking in the name of all members of the U.S. hierarchy at the council meeting of Oct. 24.

The 55th general meeting of the ecumenical council took three other major steps:

It passed as a whole Chapter IV of the liturgy schema, which deals with the breviary.

It closed discussion of Chapter III of the schema “On the Nature of the Church,” which deals with the laity, by a unanimous standing vote.

It passed the first five of 10 amendments to Chapter V of the liturgy schema dealing with the liturgical year.

The question of racial inequality was raised by Bishop Robert E. Tracy of Baton Rouge, La. He began by noting that the text of the schema states that there can be no inequality among members of the Church because of national origins, social class or sex. He asked that the text be amended to include race.

He declared: “The inclusion of this point would emphasize that equality which is enjoyed by all the members of the people of God in the Christian economy. No discrimination based on racial considerations can be reconciled with the truth whereby we believe that God creates all men equal in rights and dignity. Such an addition would also make clearer the text in which St. Paul states that among Christians there can be no distinction between Jew and Greek.

“The terms ‘Jew’ and ‘Greek’ in this context are to be understood as referring more to distinctions based on religion, culture and race rather than on strict national origin.

“If this change is made it will be easier for bishops to provide their faithful with the proper instruction on the question of race prejudice. It would also reassure those who have been humiliated or have been deprived of natural rights because of racial prejudice. In addition it would serve as a basis for important future declarations of the council.”

At the U.S. bishops’ press panel, Bishop Tracy said that he was actually speaking in the name of the entire American hierarchy. He said he had been authorized to do so at the American hierarchy’s meeting of Oct. 21. He explained that the “147 bishops of the U.S.” mentioned in the council press office communiqué referred to the actual signatures of bishops affixed to a petition which was attached to his speech when he presented it to the council secretariat.

Bishop Tracy explained to the journalists that his speech concerned the line in the text of the schema which says:

“There is no inequality in Christ and in the Church arising from nationality, social condition or sex.” The burden of his speech, he said, was to add “or race.”

He said that the insertion involved two problems: first, the idea of race is not easily expressed; and second, Latin has no real word for race, for the Romans did not have a race problem. So, he said, he used the Latin word “stirpe,” which is close but not precise. In order to be sure that the council Fathers understood his meaning, he said, he had repeated the word “race” in his speech in French, Italian, English and German.

Council Fathers also prepared to indicate by vote (probably Oct. 28) whether the schema on Our Lady would or would not be included in the schema on the Church.

In presenting the whole of Chapter IV of the liturgy schema for a vote, the council secretary general, Archbishop Pericle Felici, requested council Fathers to be sparing in casting their votes “juxta modum,” saying that “such votes are a real cross for the members of the commission.

A vote “juxta modum” is a vote that is in favor of a proposal but with reservations. Such votes have been used successfully as a parliamentary device by voting blocs of council Fathers to force reinsertion of elements into a schema which had been dropped by council commissions.

Technically, a “juxta modum” vote is a favorable vote. When such a vote is cast, the one so voting is required to attach a note explaining his objection. A sufficient number of such votes could prevent a schema from passing and would compel a commission to examine the objections, rewrite the schema accordingly and return it to the council for another vote.

Therefore, if a bloc of “juxta modum” votes were strong and steady, it could keep returning the schema to the commission until the desired elements were inserted in the text of the schema.

Word had gone around that a bloc of “juxta modum” votes was ready to prevent passage of the fourth chapter of the liturgy schema. Apparently the secretary general’s appeal was heard, since the number of “juxta modum” votes was not sufficient to return the schema to the commission.

The tally of votes on the fourth chapter of the liturgy schema was: 1,638 for; 43 against; and 552 for with reservations.

After this, the presiding moderator, Julius Cardinal Doepfner of Munich and Freising, Germany, asked for a standing vote on closing debate on Chapter III of the schema on the church. The vote passed.

There were still seven speakers listed to speak on the topic of the laity, which had just been closed. The first of these was Giuseppe Cardinal Siri of Genoa, Italy.

Replying to previous objections on this point, Cardinal Siri said that it is necessary to speak of the subjection of the laity to the hierarchy in this chapter for the sake of right order.

Cardinal Siri then turned to attack exaggerated emphasis on charisms. He said: “Charisms can have a place in the Church, as is evident. If they are extraordinary, the Church must be prudent because of the danger of deception in the persons allegedly favored and those whom they may influence. No one denies the possibility of manifestations of the Holy Spirit, but they must always be subject to judgment by the teaching authority of the Church. There is no room for a church within the Church and the danger of illusions.”

A good field for the cooperation of the laity, suggested Father Aniceto Fernandez, O.P., Master General of the Dominican Order, would be in the organization of associations for charitable purposes. He suggested an international center commission for coordination of such activities.

The “sense of faith” spoken of in the schema’s text should be understood to include necessarily relationships with the authoritative teaching power of the Church, according to Bishop Pedro Cantero Cuadrado of Huelva, Spain. “It must be remembered,” he said, “that the Church is not fully clerical in its organization, nor is it fully democratic.”

Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Muldoon of Sydney, Australia, said he wanted to eliminate the whole chapter. “It is becoming increasingly evident,” he complained, “that the contents of the chapter are not worthy of an ecumenical council. As it stands, the chapter is a shapeless mass of ideas. … It has no basic theological principle which could serve to organize and unify all its component parts. The text mixes up theological and practical ideas. Disciplinary and pastoral and practical considerations have no rights of citizenship in a dogmatic constitution.”

On the council floor, Auxiliary Bishop Alfred Ancel of Lyons, France, corrected the impression that Catholic Action is a modern invention. He cited episodes in the Gospels which, he said, were examples of true Catholic Action.

Melkite Rite Bishop George Hakim of Acre, Israel, complained, as many Eastern Rite Fathers before him, that the council is really ignoring the Eastern Rites. He said:

“This is really a council of the 21st century and it should aim to be a genuine ‘epiphany’ of the Church in the world today. Consequently we should not speak as though we were alone in the world. The schema seems to have been conceived as a confirmation of ecclesiastical power and not as a text which would be acceptable to the greater part of the world. …

“Too little attention has been paid to those outside the Church and to members of the Oriental Churches. Even in this council hall certain observations on the possibility of married deacons in the Latin Church were made, apparently with no thought that what was being said could easily be interpreted as a reflection on the Oriental Churches and as almost contempt for the many holy and zealous married clergymen in other churches.”

The debate on Chapter III of the schema on the Church was now closed. Cardinal Doepfner next announced that several council members had requested that the doctrine on Our Lady should be made a chapter of the schema on the Church rather than stand alone as a separate chapter. By agreement of the moderators and the president of the Theological Commission, Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, he said, it had been decided to hear two members of the commission present the pros and cons concerning this proposal.

Rufino Cardinal Santos of Manila addressed the assembly urging a separate schema for Our Lady. Franziskus Cardinal Koenig of Vienna followed with a review of the reasons favoring incorporating it into the present schema on the Church as a special chapter. A vote was to be taken on the proposal on Oct. 28.

Bishop John J. Wright of Pittsburgh, who is a member of the Theological Commission, explained the origin of the proposed vote at the press panel. He said that prior to the council many bishops had written in and asked that a schema on Our Lady be incorporated in the schema on the Church. After an exchange of views in the council hall, the commission took the question under advisement and again there was disagreement within the commission. It was then decided to resolve the debate by an appeal directly to council Fathers, asking for their opinion by a vote.

Bishop Wright described the current activity of the Theological Commission by showing how it is attempting to incorporate the wishes of the council Fathers into a revised schema. Since the beginning of the council, he said, the Theological Commission has considered 1,200 suggested changes in the schema.

Msgr. James I. Tucek
NCWC Rome bureau chief

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