67th General Congregation
November 14, 1963
Council Fathers have ended discussion of national bishops’ conferences (Nov. 14) and moved on to debate the final chapter of the schema on bishops and diocesan government which deals with the revision of diocesan boundaries.
The meeting also heard the first hint of a date to be set for the third session of the council.
In the preliminary announcements, the council secretary general, Archbishop Pericle Felici, advised council Fathers that council affairs will be so arranged that the bishops will be able to attend the next International Eucharistic Congress, to be held in Bombay from Nov. 28 to Dec. 6, 1964.
There was no specific date set for the third session, but many bishops in the council hall took this to mean that the third session will be scheduled for a time prior to the Eucharistic Congress, probably from early September to November.
The order of the day included two votes to be cast on the amended schema on communications media. Before the balloting Archbishop Rene Stourm of Sens, France, reported on the schema, saying that, according to the directives given by the Fathers last year, the schema was shortened while preserving its substance and adding 82 amendments.
The vote on the introduction and first chapter of the schema passed with 1,832 in favor, 92 opposed, and 243 in favor with reservations. The second chapter passed with 1,893 in favor, 103 opposed and 125 in favor with reservations. The schema will now incorporate the suggestions attached to the “favorable with reservations” votes and will be returned during the week of Nov. 18 for a final vote on the schema as a whole.
In the course of the U.S. bishops’ press panel session following the council meeting, Father Gustave Weigel, SJ, said that the general significance of the promulgation of the communications media decree will be that its contents will become the authentic teaching of the Church. Up to this point, he said, much that is contained in the decree has been taught by Catholic professors, scholars and those engaged in the communications media. But with its promulgation, the decree will become teaching sealed with the stamp of the Church.
Father Weigel pointed out, however, that the term authentic does not mean defined doctrine. It is official but could be changed by the Church in the course of her evolution.
The Jesuit theologian from Maryland’s Woodstock College added: “The decree does not strike me as being very remarkable. It is not going to produce great changes. It does not contain novel positions, but gathers and officially states a number of points previously stated and taught on a less official level.”
In the opinion of Father Bernard Haering, CSSR, “the whole document has an importance in that it urges the Church and Catholics to use the press and all other media of communications.”
A great part of the discussion during the panel session centered on the question of censorship. In the opinion of Father Weigel, the pertinent parts of the decree intend neither to affirm nor deny censorship. Father Francis McCool, SJ, explained the parts of the decree as one in which the Church should defend just freedom of the press, and a second stating the duty of civil authorities to exercise their powers to protect the well-being of citizens.
The discussion of Chapter III on bishops’ conferences continued with 10 speakers before the presiding moderator, Julius Cardinal Doepfner of Munich and Freising, Germany, called for termination of debate.
The first speaker was Giuseppe Cardinal Siri of Genoa, Italy, who urged that the chapter be reduced to a few general principles along the lines already proposed by Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York, Albert Cardinal Meyer of Chicago and Joseph Cardinal Frings of Cologne, Germany.
The next speaker, Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, Primate of Poland, gave the meeting an intimate glimpse into the Church of Silence with his description of the organization of the National Conference of Polish Bishops. He told first of all how it had been organized in 1917 and had met two or three times a year in the beginning. He continued:
“Today’s circumstances demand more frequent meetings and these have been held as many as six times annually. … The sessions of the national conference are prepared by a special committee of nine who arrange the agenda, propose the general outlines of pastoral letters and examine the status of the Church, especially in its relationships with civil authorities. For matters touching relationships with the government there is a mixed commission of two bishops and two ministers of state.
“The bonds uniting the members of the conference are more moral than judicial. Still, all the bishops have been obliged to attend the meetings in order to seek out common protection against the common danger of militant atheism confronting them all. The Church in Poland has been able to maintain its positions in the face of grave difficulties thanks to the united efforts of its bishops through their national conference.”
Warm applause greeted the Cardinal at the end of his speech.
Bernard Cardinal Alfrink of Utrecht, the Netherlands, followed, noting that several Fathers had spoken as if national episcopal conferences are a reflection of episcopal collegiality. He said:
“This collegiality is a characteristic of the entire body of bishops and can never be transferred to any national gathering. No national conference represents the whole body of the Church’s bishops and thus it cannot reflect collegiality in a strict theological sense. It is clear that the national conferences do not derive their authority from that power which belongs to the whole body of bishops. There should be no conciliar definition of such terms as ‘body’ or ‘college.’ It is sufficient to set forth our Catholic doctrine on the power of bishops in union with the Roman pontiff.”
Bishop Gerard Coderre of St. Jean de Quebec, in the name of 45 Canadian bishops, declared that references to the relationships between national conferences and the Holy See should take into account the traditions of the Oriental Church.
Bishop Edmund Peiris, OMI, Chilaw, Ceylon, complained that words like “nation” and “national” are dangerous. He suggested that “region” and “regional” be used in their place.
The rights of minorities in national episcopal conferences should be provided for in the text, said Archbishop John Garner of Pretoria, South Africa.
Bishop Frane Franic of Split, Yugoslavia, noted that “if the provisions of the chapter were carried to their logical conclusions they would call almost for the erection of some kind of national curia. We all need some kind of direction from the top, but experience teaches that a superior near at hand is often more difficult to deal with than one who is far away.”
Archabbot Benedict Reetz, OSB, superior of the Benedictine Congregation of Beuron, Germany, suggested “mixed conferences” between bishops and major religious superiors in provincial and plenary councils. He said: “If we are to encourage dialogue with our separated brethren, with still greater reason should we make efforts at dialogue with those who are our brethren in Christ and the Church.”
The decrees of national conferences should have juridical binding force,” said Bishop Antonio Santin of Trieste, Italy, “only in very rare cases involving very serious matters and only with the approval of the Holy See.” Bishop Luis Cabrera Cruz of San Luis Potosi, Mexico, recommended that, when a matter before a national conference has not received a two-thirds majority vote, it should be left to the decision of a permanent episcopal committee, to an apostolic nuncio, or to an apostolic delegate.
At this point Cardinal Doepfner proposed a standing vote to close debate on Chapter III. The motion carried by a decisive majority. Cardinal Doepfner then strongly suggested that any Fathers arranging to speak with the support of five bishops after the termination of discussion not take the council’s time by being repetitious. The suggestion was strongly applauded.
Discussion on the council floor now moved to Chapter IV which concerns the revision of the boundaries of dioceses and ecclesiastical provinces. Its intent is to eliminate excessively large or small dioceses, and to try to bring ecclesiastical provinces into line with civil divisions. Since it has already been decided that Chapter V dealing with the erection and reorganization of parishes will be turned over to the Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law, this was the last chapter of this schema to be discussed.
Maurice Cardinal Feltin of Paris was the first of six speakers to discuss Chapter IV under the moderatorship of Leo Cardinal Suenens of Malines-Brussels, Belgium. Cardinal Feltin proposed a military ordinariate transcending normal territorial limits.
What was clearly to be the chief point at issue in this chapter — the revision of ancient diocesan boundaries — was opened by Bishop Alexandre Renard of Versailles, France.
Speaking in terms of his own nation, he said: “There have been few changes in the diocesan structure of French dioceses since the time of Pius VII and Napoleon. It is true that the Church is eternal, but time and living conditions often move faster than the decrees of ecclesiastical authority. Changes are needed in diocesan structure in such a way as to ensure the presence of the Universal Church in particular localities. For this there cannot be any one overall criterion. We must provide for the vitality of a new diocese through a sufficient number of priests, actual and prospective, through a proper number of Religious and through sufficient financial resources. The diocese cannot be so vast as to prevent the bishops from regular visitation.”
The problem as it is seen in Italy was expressed by Bishop Aurelio Sorrentino of Bova. He said: “In Italy there are too many small dioceses. The redrawing of diocesan lines is essential because nothing substantial along this line has been done in Italy since the year 1000. And there have been rather substantial changes since then. Some of the presently existing dioceses are anti-historical and anti-geographical and make no contribution to the essential mission of the Church.”
Contrary to the notion of the two previous speakers, Bishop Franciszek Jop for Opole, Poland, held that “the principle that all small dioceses should be suppressed is not acceptable. Many of them have great historical significance. But in many cases several such dioceses could be grouped together without the necessity of brutal suppression.”
Bishop Francisco Peralta y Ballabriga of Vitoria, Spain, said that the text of the schema in his judgment is incorrect in its assumption that large modern cities cannot be divided for the more effective exercise of the pastoral ministry.
The final speaker said that “the only principle in this matter can be: What will contribute best to the salvation of souls?”
It was announced to the assembly that the Abbot General of the Trappist Order, Abbot Gabriel Sortais, had died unexpectedly on Nov. 13. Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, dean of the Sacred College, led the Fathers in prayers for his repose.
Msgr. James I. Tucek
NCWC News Rome bureau chief