Session Nears End: Council Assured That Ecumenism Chapters Are Still on Agenda

79th General Congregation
December 2, 1963

The second session of the council closed its last working meeting with the assurance that the two chapters of the ecumenism schema, on relations with the Jews and freedom of conscience, are still live issues and will be among the first items on the agenda for next fall.

The second session still had two days to go before its solemn closing ceremonies on Dec. 4. But the assembly of Dec. 2 was its last working session, a session which witnessed four important acts:

—It was announced that Pope Paul VI would issue on his own behalf on Dec. 3 a document extending the faculties of residential and titular bishops throughout the world.

—Instructions were given for the interim period between the second and third sessions of the council.

—Augustin Cardinal Bea, president of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, addressed the assembly assuring the council Fathers that the last two chapters of the schema on ecumenism are still very much alive.

—The opening Mass of the assembly honored the memory of the late President Ngo dinh Diem of Vietnam and his brother, Ngo dinh Nhu.

The Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Pierre Ngo dinh Thuc of Hue for the repose of the souls of his two brothers, who met their death Nov. 2 in the overthrow of the Diem government. It was the “month’s mind” Mass of their tragic deaths, and the council Fathers were invited to join in praying for their eternal repose. Nhu’s six-year-old son, Jean Marc, was present in the council hall and received Communion at the Mass.

There was nothing in the announcement of the forthcoming papal decree — a motu proprio bearing the title “Pastorale Munus” — to indicate what it would contain, but it had been long rumored that the Pope was ready to return to bishops a number of powers which in the present century have been reserved to himself or to the Vatican congregations.

The secretary general, Archbishop Pericle Felici, in the Pope’s name, outlined broadly what would be the work of the interim period between the second and third sessions. He said that the council commissions will hold frequent meetings. All the council Fathers were urged to send, before Jan. 31, their observations on the schemas still remaining to be studied. He said further that the results of the commissions’ work will be communicated to the council Fathers in due time along with instructions for the third session, which is to open next Sept. 14.

Cardinal Bea, the last of the day’s speakers, thanked the assembly for its interest in discussing the schema on ecumenism and for casting the votes which passed its first three chapters by a wide margin. Then he said:

“There have remained, however, the two final chapters of the draft. We all regret that it was not permitted to us to have at least a foretaste of a discussion concerning these chapters too. For in this way our secretariat would have received greater illumination toward making a definitive edition of each chapter. However, as things have turned out, I am sincerely persuaded that even this fact offers us not a few useful things.

“At first sight, indeed, one could ask: Could not a vote have been taken at least to admit these chapters as a basis for discussion? To this one might perhaps answer in the affirmative. Nevertheless, I think we should be grateful to the venerable Fathers, the moderators, because they wished to give ample opportunity for speaking on the three fundamental chapters in order to prevent creating the danger that someone might say that a hasty vote was taken on these three chapters and on the two others which treat matters that are sufficiently difficult, present something new, and are of the greatest importance for the life and activity of the Church in our time.”

(On the day previous, Sunday, Dec. 1, Leo Cardinal Suenens of Malines-Brussels, one of the four council moderators, spoke at the Canadian College, saying among other things that the moderators, who could have insisted that the two chapters be brought to a vote, had decided not to do so. He said their thinking was that, after a cooling-off period and after the issues had been aired in the public print, they felt the vote would stand a greater chance to pass. He said it was their intention to bring acceptance of the two chapters to a vote early in the third session.)

“It is fitting, therefore,” Cardinal Bea continued, “to meditate and ponder everything carefully over and over again, without haste and with a serene and tranquil spirit, so that in the next session of the council they (the two chapters) may be treated and judged with mature consideration. The ancient saying applies here: ‘What is put off is not put away.’

“Therefore, the questions treated in these two chapters remain entrusted to your study and examination, venerable Fathers, during the months to come. The discussion which it was not permitted to accomplish here will be held in the next session of the council and will be properly prepared during the coming months.

“For this reason, the president of the secretariat earnestly asks all, even though there are very many tasks which will almost smother each one as he returns to his diocese, to give attentive consideration to these chapters and, please, to indicate their proposals and corrections to the general secretariat of the council before the middle of February.”

In the course of his speech, although it was not contained in the written text, Cardinal Bea explained that the two chapters had not been brought to a vote “because of insufficiency of time.” He added, repeating it twice: “and no other reason.” A careful reading of the wording of his written text revealed, however, that there may have been other reasons, and that the Cardinal was disappointed that the two chapters had not been submitted to a vote.

(In the American bishops’ press panel session following the council meeting, a unity secretariat aide, Father John F. Long, SJ, of New York, said that there was disappointment within the secretariat that the question of religious liberty had not come to the floor.)

Ernesto Cardinal Ruffini of Palermo, Sicily, the first of the day’s council speakers, seemed to be responding to the attack made Nov. 26 by Auxiliary Bishop Stephen A. Leven of San Antonio, Tex., on Old World opponents of the ecumenical movement. The Cardinal admitted the importance of the ecumenical movement, but added:

“The separation of certain of our brethren cannot be blamed on the Roman Church as such, but on certain of its children who had not sufficiently grasped the full meaning of certain doctrines of the Church. If the children of Rome have given offense to others then they are not to be blamed and all of us should ask pardon.”

The problem of Anglican orders — which were declared invalid by Pope Leo XIII in 1896 — was brought up by Bishop Ernest A. Green of Port Elizabeth, South Africa. He called them the chief problem in ecumenical contacts with Anglicans. He said: “Useful though they may be, local secretariats for Christian unity cannot be expected to solve a problem of this magnitude. It must be resolved on the highest level between the supreme authorities of the Roman Catholic and the Anglican Churches.

“Any discussion of this problem should be under a twofold aspect. The first deals with the validity of the orders themselves. … The second aspect is a very practical one. It would seek out a solution for the cases of converted ministers who are unwilling to renounce either their ministry or the married state.”

Auxiliary Bishop Thomas W. Muldoon of Sydney, Australia, asked deletion from the text “of the brief passage which undertakes to explain too succinctly the origin of Protestant communities.” Holding that the text would open the way to bitter controversy, he said: “If we want peace, this passage should be eliminated. If we want war, leave it as it is.”

The identical point was made by Bishop Vittorio Costantini, OFM, Conv., of Sessa Aurunca, Italy, who said, “the historical situations thus summarized were not as simple as they might seem at first sight.”

Abbot Christopher Butler, OSB, of Downside Abbey, president of the Benedictine Congregation of England, declared: “It is altogether appropriate that there should be special mention of the Anglican Church, which is so widespread, so devoted to patristic antiquity, and has deserved so well of the ecumenical movement.” Abbot Butler is a convert from the Anglican Church.

There was a brief verbal skirmish between Bishop Muldoon and Abbot Butler. Bishop Muldoon had noted that “certain Fathers keep saying we should fall down on our knees and confess our sins and those of our forefathers” for their faults in bringing on the lack of Christian unity.

The bishop said that Pope Paul’s words at the opening of the council session were being misquoted — that the Pope had used an “if” and had not declared the Catholic Church’s guilt as a matter of fact. He concluded: “Those who have spoken so emotionally and tearfully irk us.”

When it came Abbot Butler’s turn to speak, the Benedictine scholar expressed surprise at the sentiments “of our Australian colleague,” and added: “I do not know if the history of the events of the 16th century have yet reached Australia.” According to his reading of history, the Abbot said, there is real need for confession of sins over the split in Christendom and that the Pope’s words are to be taken in their literal and true meaning.

A consideration of the Oriental Churches in the day’s discussion was introduced by Malankara Rite Archbishop Gregorios Thangalathil of Trivandrum, India. Many nice things have been stated in the schema, he said, on the patrimony proper to the Oriental Churches, but it should be made clear that they can enjoy this patrimony only in that unity which was willed by Christ.

A restoration of the position of the patriarchs of the East and recognition of the synodal governments were urged by two Ukrainian Rite prelates from Canada — Archbishop Maxim Hermaniuk, CSSR, of Winnipeg, Man., and Bishop Andrew Roborecki of Saskatoon, Sask.

Said Archbishop Hermaniuk: “This council should authorize the organization of mixed theological commissions — one composed of Catholic and Orthodox theologians, the other of Catholic and Protestant theologians. These commissions would function under the Secretariat for Christian Unity, which would have responsibility for everything referring to unity.

“We should restore to the Oriental Churches the status which was theirs before their separation. This would entail declaring that the patriarchs have the same dignity as was decreed for them by the early councils and which has never been revoked by subsequent councils. Those churches which do not have patriarchs should be given them, and the traditional synodal government of the Oriental Churches should be recognized.”

On the Catholic-Protestant side, he urged that “the Catholic Church find a way to participate actively in the ecumenical dialogue within the framework of the World Council of Churches.”

Czechoslovakian Bishop Frantisek Tomasek, former auxiliary of Olomouc, then said:

“A glaring weakness of our ecumenical discussions is that we are not consulting the other side before reaching our decisions. … The cause of ecumenism would be greatly advanced by the convocation of an ecumenical council composed of both Catholic and Orthodox bishops.”

Armenian Rite Archbishop Georges Layek of Aleppo, Syria, repeated a suggestion that had been made often before — for relaxation of legislation preventing Catholic participation in non-Catholic religious ceremonies and legislation requiring that mixed marriages be performed before a Catholic priest.

The duality between East and West is often mentioned, said Maronite Rite Archbishop Ignace Ziade of Beirut, but it should be kept in mind that the Oriental Church is many churches.

Bishop Leo D’Mello of Ajmer and Jaipur, India, suggested that, before adjourning, the prayer of the Church unity octave be recited by the assembly. Nothing was done about his suggestion.

Msgr. James I. Tucek
NCWC News Rome bureau chief

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