Surprise Move: Council Commissions to be Reorganized

72nd General Congregation
November 21, 1963

With only days to go before the end of the second session of the ecumenical council on Dec. 4, Pope Paul VI has authorized a reorganization of all the council commissions.

Reorganization of the council commissions provides:

—That membership in each commission be increased from 25 to 30.

—That each commission, after increasing its membership, elect a vice president and a vice secretary.

The surprise move, announced at the Nov. 21 council meeting, was generally interpreted here as having two aims:

The first, and more certain, is to hasten the task of rewriting the schemas being sent back to the commissions.

The second, and less certain, is to forestall a delaying action which, reports say, is holding up revision of certain highly controversial schemas.

There are two exceptions to the provision for increasing membership of council commissions. They are in the Commission for the Oriental Churches, which already has 27 members and in the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, which has only 18 members.

Of the five members to be added to the other commissions, one will be designated by the Pope and four will be elected by the council Fathers.

Inasmuch as the Pope has recently added two members to the Commission for the Oriental Churches, the three necessary to complete the number of 30 will be all elected.

Of the 12 to be added to the secretariat, four will be named by the Pope and eight will be elected by the council Fathers.

The presidents of national bishops’ conferences were asked to meet as soon as possible to prepare lists of no more than three names for each commission. A deadline of Nov. 25 was set for presentation of the names by the presidents of the national conferences.

On Nov. 27 the council Fathers were to be given printed lists of the names thus turned in. It was announced that the Fathers would be free to vote for any one of their choice independently of the names on the lists submitted. Voting for commission members was to take place on Nov. 28.

Before opening discussion on the schema’s Chapter meeting, Father Bernard Haering, CSSR, council expert, said that reorganization of the commissions will have two immediate effects: First, the election by the assembly of four members to each commission will increase the majority representation in the commissions, and secondly, the commission will be able to work better and faster with additional competent help.

At the Nov. 21 council meeting, voting continued on two schemas and discussion of the schema on ecumenism passed from its general acceptability to its first chapter.

Voting was on the revised Chapter III of the liturgy schema and on the general acceptability of the schema on ecumenism for chapter-by-chapter discussion. All passed.

Three changes in Chapter III of the liturgy schema were submitted to a vote. The changes were:

1. To authorize unrestricted use of the vernacular in administration of the sacraments and the sacramentals, conforming to the provisions of article 36 of the schema. Favorable, 1,848; unfavorable, 335.

2. To determine in what sense certain blessings are to be reserved to Ordinaries. Favorable, 2,084; unfavorable, 96.

3. To authorize selected laymen to administer certain sacramentals with the permission of the local Ordinary. Favorable, 1,972; unfavorable, 132.

Two other votes were cast on this chapter. One gave overall approval to the modifications made in the remaining article of Chapter III, and the other approved the chapter as a whole.

The council Fathers were expected to conclude voting on the remaining chapters of the liturgy schema on Nov. 22. There would be one more vote on the entire schema and it would be done once and for all.

Seven speakers were heard on the discussion of the schema on ecumenism in general. The presiding moderator, Giacomo Cardinal Lercaro of Bologna, Italy, then informed the Fathers that in the judgment of the moderators the general acceptability of the schema had been sufficiently discussed. His request for a standing vote to close discussion brought an unmistakable majority to their feet.

Before opening discussion on the schema’s Chapter I, the Fathers were asked to vote overall approval of the schema independently of Chapters IV and V on relations with Jews and religious freedom. The vote was 1,996 in favor and 86 opposed.

Chapters IV and V were obviously held out for a separate vote because they are the most debated. The taking of a vote in this manner would preserve the first three more easily acceptable chapters without jeopardizing them by the possible failure of the final two chapters. The Fathers were informed that “at a later date” separate votes would be taken on the last two.

At the press panel, Msgr. George G. Higgins, director of the Social Action Department of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, said that detachment of Chapters IV and V in the voting was no sign that they would be scuttled. He pointed to the applause, the loudest to date, which greeted the presentation of the chapter on religious freedom as a sign of the Fathers’ feeling on the subject.

Father John Long, SJ, of New York, an official of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, expressed some concern that no specific date has been set for the vote on two chapters. He said that if no vote is taken on them at this session, it could give rise to misunderstanding in the minds of those watching the council.

Continued discussion on the general acceptability of the schema on ecumenism opened with a speech by Bishop Jaime Flores Martin of Barbastro, Spain, who said the text should lay down the general principles of peaceful coexistence with the separated brethren in brotherly love and mutual aid. He asked that “the widest possible latitude be allowed for participation in non-Catholic religious services in order to avoid the struggles which are all too common among those who should be living together in peace.”

A similarly favorable position was taken by Archbishop Juan Aramburu of Tucuman, Argentina, who said that “ecumenism should not be treated as a problem but should be elevated to the dignity of a mystery.” He suggested the development of a “theology of ecumenism.”

The schema is acceptable, said Maronite Rite Archbishop Ignace Ziade of Beirut, Lebanon, because it pays more attention to what unites us than to what divides us, because it makes it clear that we must all accept the riches of the traditions of the separated churches, and because it preserves unity in diversity.

Bishop Endre Hamvas of Csanad, Hungary, while expressing approval of the schema, gave the Fathers a new insight into what ecumenism means in his communist-ruled nation. He said:

“Hungary, on the borderline between the East and the West, favors ecumenism and has shown signs of its activities. … Catholics and non-Catholics have been brought together by the common danger of atheism and materialism. All confessions have something to learn from the others and can help one another.”

Bishop Joseph Hoeffner of Muenster, Germany, favored the schema but urged giving more attention to those who are losing their faith altogether. He divided non-Catholics into two classes: those for whom separation from the Church means only entrance into some other Christian community, and those for whom separation from the Church entails drifting into indifferentism and ultimate loss of all religious faith. He said that the big difficulty “is not the reform of the Roman curia or the division of dioceses but the mass movement toward infidelity.”

Archbishop Ermenegildo Florit of Florence, Italy, was the strongest voice in opposition to the schema among the day’s speakers. According to him, the elements held in common with separated Christians are not a sign of unity but rather they emphasize division.

He held that the treatment of the Jews would be more appropriate in the schema on the Church. The chapter on religious liberty, he said, would be better in the schema on the Church in the World, since it pertains more to the affirmation of human rights than to ecumenism. This latter point was repeated in a later speech by Bishop Juan Hervas y Benet, Ordinary of the independent prelature of Ciudad Real, Spain.

On the matter of religious liberty, Archbishop Florit asked:

“When we say that every man has a natural right to the profession and exercise of religion according to his conscience, do we mean to imply that this involves a natural right to diffuse a false religion? … All error is against the common good. However, this common good can vary according to circumstances, and it may at times be better for the common welfare to allow the diffusion of a false religion than to prohibit it publicly and officially.”

It was at this point that the presiding moderator, Cardinal Lercaro, closed discussion on the schema in general and began considering it chapter by chapter. The remaining five speakers of the day spoke on the first chapter: “The Principles of Catholic Ecumenism.”

Archbishop Enrico Nicodemo of Bari, Italy, underlined the first chapter’s exposition of the conditions necessary for the unity of Christians.

Bishop Hermann Volk of Mainz, Germany, declared that “Catholic ecumenism must rest on the certainty that only the Catholic Church fulfills perfectly the promise of Christ to His Church. This supposes the Catholic Church to be really catholic in doctrine and practice. Consequently, all Christian truth and all genuine Christian values can find a legitimate place in the Catholic Church.”

Asked at the press panel about “Catholic ecumenism,” Father Long said: “Some bishops feel that there is only one ecumenism and that is Catholic ecumenism. Others feel that the ecumenical movement is apart from the Church and that it is a question of what place the Church will have in it and what its approach will be. Those who talk solely of a Catholic ecumenism often mean another form of convert making.”

Ecumenical discussions are necessary, said Bishop Manuel Talamas Camandari of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, but Catholics should be prepared for them.

“The text,” he said, “should indicate the necessity of education under Church guidance in order to obviate all danger of confusion in the minds of Catholics. Thus, when the council urges Catholics to promote mutual knowledge and esteem for non-Catholics, the faithful must have an enlightened and solid faith.”

“We should pay more attention to the elements of truth possessed by our separated brethren,” Maronite Rite Bishop Antoine Abed, of Tripoli, Lebanon, said. “When speaking to our separated brethren we should stress such ideas as the reflecting of Christian conscience in morals and Christian hope in the risen Christ.”

Bishop Luigi Carli of Segni, Italy, repeated the point made before that the text should explain terms carefully because ecumenism has different meanings for Catholics and non-Catholics.

The Mass which opened the day’s meetings was celebrated by Bishop Andrew G. Grutka of Gary, Ind. The Mass was in the Roman Rite but in the Old Slavonic language.

A discussion at the press panel on future possible sessions brought out the fact that many bishops believe that only one more will be necessary. Father Robert Trisco, council expert from the Catholic University of America, quoted Amleto Cardinal Cicognani, Papal Secretary of State, as having said that he thought one more session would be enough, perhaps not to complete all the work, but to complete the matters at hand with the remainder to be worked out by other means later.

Msgr. James I. Tucek
NCWC News Rome bureau chief

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