90th General Congregation
September 29, 1964
The two-day debate on the historic declaration on the Church’s relations with the Jewish people closed at the council’s 90th meeting with a majority of the day’s 21 speakers favoring a strong positive council statement.
At the same meeting, a proposal to allow young men to be ordained deacons without an obligation of celibacy failed to gain the two-thirds majority needed. In fact, for the first time in the council’s history the “no” votes of the Fathers were a majority. In this case, only 839 Fathers voted “yes,” while 1,364 voted “no.”
However, two other votes on the diaconate were passed by slender majorities. One approved locating authority for the introduction of the separate order of deacons in national conferences of bishops with the approval of the Holy See. The other approved conferring the order of deacon on older married men.
Among the speakers on the closing day of discussion of the Jewish declaration were three Americans, one of whom won applause when he declared he was yielding his right to speak because his points had been adequately covered by other speeches. He was Archbishop Lawrence J. Shehan of Baltimore. The other Americans who spoke were Auxiliary Bishop Stephen A. Leven of San Antonio, Tex., and Archbishop Patrick A. O’Boyle of Washington.
With completion of the debate — unless some bishops secured the signatures of 70 of their colleagues so that they could speak later on the Jewish declaration — the next schema on the council agenda was scheduled to be the one on Divine Revelation. This was to be introduced Sept. 30.
Bishop Leven launched a strong appeal for the insertion of a clear statement that the Jews should never be called deicides or killers of God. He said that perhaps this statement had been eliminated from the present text on the basis that, as a philosophical or theological consideration, it is impossible to kill God.
But he pointed out that what the council is considering is not a matter of words. Rather it is a question of a sad reality, he said. The Fathers must make sure that the term “God-killer” is never again used against the Jews. Any silence on this would be an offense against justice, he declared.
Bishop Leven said that he was speaking in the name of almost all U.S. bishops and proposed two textual changes in their name.
The first was the clear repudiation of the charge of deicide against the Jews. Secondly, he asked that the present text be revised and called for a return to the earlier text. The present text says deicide must not be attributed to the Jews of modern times. The earlier text favored by Bishop Leven states that the crime cannot be attributed to the Jewish people as a whole of all times.
Archbishop O’Boyle took the floor to speak as a council Father from the country which has the largest Jewish population of any nation in the world. While supporting the declaration, he made a number of recommendations aimed at clarifying and strengthening the document.
He stated that the text should be ecumenical in spirit and that it should be intelligible to the Jews. It must be precise, accurate and inspired by wisdom and charity, he said. He added that it is directed to an ecumenical end and consequently, without hiding any facts, it should avoid giving offense without cause.
As it stands, he said, the document does not comply with this norm. As an example, he cited the passage in which is expressed the concept of the ultimate joining together of Jews and Christians. This, he said, immediately brings to the minds of many Jews the memories of past persecutions, forced conversions and forced rejection of their faith. This raises the prospect of proselytism in Jewish minds, he said.
Archbishop O’Boyle stated that certainly conversion is an object of the Church, but that this aim should be stated in a sober manner and in a way that does not offend. There should be no hint of pressure or other means that would disrupt fruitful dialogue between the Church and the Jewish people.
Moreover, he said, the text seems to be lacking in truth and charity in its partial absolution of the Jews of modern times of deicide. It does not mention the innocence of the Jews at the time of Christ, he said.
Archbishop O’Boyle asked that the full truth be set forth in clear terms and said that only by doing this would the Jews be freed of all injustice of this accusation.
A great majority of the day’s 21 speakers favored the statement on the Jews, although many had various suggested changes to make.
Archbishop Joseph Descuffi of Izmir, Turkey, however, asked that the declaration be dropped and that the council simply issue an anti-Semitism statement.
Archbishop Descuffi and Archbishop Pierre Sfair, ordaining prelate in Rome for the Maronite rite, both warned of the consequences in the Arab world if too great attention is centered on the Jews. He said he issued his warning in view of the long aversion between the two peoples.
Bishop Yves Plumey of Garoua, Cameroun, joined them in turning attention to the Moslem considerations. The African prelate proposed setting up a separate secretariat for dealing with the Moslems.
Archbishop John C. Heenan of Westminster, England, supported the removal of the passage from the text that has been interpreted as a proposal of conversion. He also asked for a clear statement against the deicide charge.
The archbishop, who is a member of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity and who helped draw up the original text, told the Fathers: “The wording of the document now in your hands is not precisely ours. I have no idea which theologians were charged with drawing up the final draft of this declaration.”
While not questioning the good will of the theologians who drew up the final text, Archbishop Heenan said they possibly had little experience in ecumenical matters, which require great delicacy, especially when “dealing with the Jews, whom frequent persecution has made particularly sensitive.”
Archbishop Heenan rejected the notion that the text’s citing of St. Paul was a call for direct conversion. He said: “It is my view that the Jews are mistaken in regarding this text as a summons to give up their religion.” However, since it has been badly taken by the Jews, Archbishop Heenan continued, “for me this is sufficient reason for removing the quotation from the declaration.”
Archbishop Heenan warned that the original text on deicide was clear and publicly known, and that to temporize or water it down would be a great mistake. “I humbly plead that this declaration of ours shall openly proclaim that the Jewish people as such are not guilty of the death of Our Lord,” he said.
The 90th council meeting opened with Mass celebrated by Archbishop John Kodwo Amissah of Cape Coast, Ghana. The Gospel was enthroned by Bishop Leon Lommel of Luxembourg. Since he is the only bishop of his tiny country, there was joking comment that it was the first time the Gospel had been enthroned by an entire national episcopal conference.
At the meeting’s outset Archbishop Pericle Felici, council general secretary, announced the distribution of the introductions on chapters four, five and six of the schema on the nature of the Church. These concern the laity, the universal vocation to sanctity and Religious.
On Sept. 30 two votes were scheduled to be taken on chapter three on the hierarchical constitution of the Church. The wisdom of the decision to split that vote into two was obvious from Sept. 29’s three votes, which revealed widespread disagreement with the amendments having to do with the diaconate.
Amendments and votes were as follows: Amendment 37 – that the authority to introduce the diaconate is entrusted to national conferences of bishops with the approval of the Holy See – “yes,” 1,523; “no,” 702.
Amendment 38 – that the diaconate may be conferred on older married men – “yes,” 1,598, “no,” 629.
Amendment 39 – that the diaconate can be conferred on younger men without the obligation of celibacy – “yes,” 839, “no,” 1,364.
Archbishop Felici told the council that all written statements of objections or suggestions that will be submitted with the voting on each chapter will be read very carefully, even if they treat of matters which have already won a two-thirds majority approval. He also made the point that even when a matter is approved by a vote of the council, it is improper to speak as if it were closed, since the council’s act can only be considered carried when it is voted on in its final form in the presence of the pope and with his approval.
The day’s first speaker was Jose Cardinal Bueno y Monreal of Seville, Spain. He said that since the dialogue of the Church should not exclude anyone, it would be deplorable if the declaration were not adopted.
Referring to the observation by Ignace Cardinal Tappouni, Syrian-rite Patriarch of Antioch, at the previous session regarding the difficulties the Church would encounter in the Arab and Moslem world if the declaration were approved, Cardinal Bueno said they were worthy of grave consideration. However, he declared that if the council makes it clear that political considerations are not involved, it does its duty and must proceed even if some accuse it of taking sides.
He also asked that the title be changed to include all non-Christians and also that the text be altered to stress the closeness of the Jews to Christianity. As for references to guilt and deicide charges, he asked that they be omitted altogether because the very idea is offensive.
Archbishop Franjo Seper of Zagreb, Yugoslovia, also rejected the political charges and said that persecution against the Jews demands the action of the council. He also called for revision of the text to provide a basis for more contemporary dialogue with the Jews, since Christians and Jews alike have the same history of salvation. As practical steps, he suggested drawing up a directory or guidebook covering Church-Jewish relations and establishing a permanent Jewish section within the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity.
Bishop Plumey said the Moslems should be discussed immediately after the Jews. Noting that they adore the one God, venerate Christ as a prophet, refer to the Patriarch Abraham as Father and Mary as the highest and noblest daughter of Abraham, he said the Church and the council should hold Moslems in the greatest respect.
Bishop Sergio Mendez Arceo of Cuernavaca, Mexico, stated he preferred the earlier text and asked that an explanation of the passages of Sacred Scripture which are used and abused by anti-Semites be inserted. He also called for clarification of the condemnation of persecution.
Japanese Bishop Laurentius Satoshi Nagae of Urawa, speaking in the name of all the Japanese Bishops, asked that the declaration’s title be changed to include all non-Christians. He warned against a completely negative attitude toward paganism and asked Fathers not to reject all the elements found in pagan culture and to pay attention to the way in which the Church treats non-Christians.
Bishop Edmund Nowicki of Gdansk, Poland, called for changes in the terminology of the Latin words used in the text. He pointed out that it uses “vexatio” instead of “persecution” for the word “persecution.” He spurned the explanation that Cicero used “persecution” in a legally restricted sense. “Vexatio,” he said, means badgering and does not give the weight of persecution. He also called for complete omission of the question of guilt or non-guilt of deicide because it can cause either confusion or bitter reaction.
Vietnamese Bishop Nguyen van Hien of Dalat said the consideration of non-Christians is not only timely but also urgent. He pointed out that a majority of the world is neither Christian nor Jewish. He also said that there should be some reference to Moses, the law giver. Urging the Church to respect good elements in non-Christian religions and countries, Bishop Hien said that many missionary magazines publish pictures and articles reflecting no honor in the countries they are writing about.
Bishop Leven, in his statement on deicide, said: “We are not dealing here with some philosophical entity but with a word of infamy and execration which was invented by Christians and used to blame and persecute the Jews. For many centuries and even in our own, Christians have hurled this word against the Jews and because of it they have justified every kind of horrible excess and even their slaughter.”
Bishop Leven then declared: “It is not up to us to make a declaration about something philosophical but to reprobate and damn a word which has furnished so many occasions of persecution through the centuries. We must tear this word out of the Christian vocabulary so that it may never again be used against the Jews.”
Referring to limiting the lack of guilt to the Jews of modern times, Bishop Leven said: “Obviously many of the Jews of the time of Christ, especially in the diaspora, never heard of Him nor could they have consented to His death. It is as absurd to accuse all the Jews of the time of Christ of His death as it would be to blame all Romans of that time for His death, because the Roman, Pilate, delivered Him up and Roman soldiers nailed Him to the cross.”
Coadjutor Bishop Leon Elchinger of Strasbourg stressed that many Jews today are authentic witnesses of Sacred Scripture and practice the virtues of the Bible. Cooperation between Jews and Christians could be a great means to combat atheism, he said.
He added that the council should ask forgiveness from the Jews for past injuries. Lastly, he said, he favored the original text rather than the present one.
Auxiliary Bishop Bernhard Stein of Trier, Germany, argued that there is no Scriptural basis for proposing the divine fatherhood of all men. All men are related to God as their Creator, he said, but in the proper sense God is the Father of the Jewish people and through Christ of Christians.
Bishop Antonio Anoveros of Cadiz and Ceuta, Spain, warned that Catholic publications should beware of offensive treatment of other religions, and that Catholics should work with others in the fields of brotherhood, social work and civil order as a prerequisite to real dialogue.
Archbishop Heenan’s intervention came next, and he was followed by Archbishop O’Boyle of Washington. Archbishop Sfair insisted on positive relationships between Islam and Christianity. He cited the teaching of St. John Damascene, who called Islam a Christian heresy, and warned against glorifying Jews and thereby arousing Arab animosity and difficulties for bishops in their lands.
At this point Archbishop Shehan won applause for passing his turn to speak and submitting his comments in writing to the secretariat.
Two Indian archbishops urged more development of the declaration’s treatment of non-Christian religions.
Malabar-rite Archbishop Joseph Parecattil of Ernakulam noted that remote longings for Christ can be found in the sacred books of Hinduism which speak of God as director and liberator. The Church, he said, must affiliate to itself whatever is good in every culture.
Archbishop Joseph Attipetty of Verapoly wanted the declaration to state that Christians owe the same charity not only to themselves, but also to all men of all religions according to the spirit and command of Christ.
Stressing the non-political nature of the declaration, Bishop Donal Lamont of Umtali, Southern Rhodesia, said it should be clarified that the declaration is a result of the earlier one on religious liberty.
He asked that the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity be made a permanent body at the end of the council. He also objected to an impression of anti-Semitism in the Church which, he said, could result from the text’s warning to preachers and to catechists to avoid injurious expressions.
Argentine Bishop Jeronimo Podesta of Avellaneda stressed the religious significance of the declaration and its lack of political significance.
Bishop Joseph Tawil, patriarchal vicar for Damascus, Syria, of the Melkite-rite patriarchate of Antioch, said he wanted the council to scrap the declaration. He suggested that it substitute a simple statement on anti-Semitism.
He said that the pastoral aims of the council demand that the declaration be suppressed as a source of harm to the Church.
The last speaker of the day was Archbishop Descuffi. He said the declaration would help vindicate the memory of Pope Pius XII, and that it comes from the inspiration of divine faith and should not give rise to any bitterness.
He stressed points of contact between Christianity and Islam and said the document should reflect this. He said Islam was closer in many things to Christianity than Judaism.
A member of the American bishops’ press panel, commenting on the council Fathers’ rejection of the ordination of young deacons not obliged to remain unmarried, recalled that some bishops had feared that if deacons were free to marry then priests might seek the same freedom.
Father Francis J. McCool, S.J., said the council’s Sept. 29 decision to admit older married men to the diaconate would be unlikely to lead to a relaxation of priestly celibacy.
The day before paving the way for ordination of married older deacons, the council Fathers gave initial approval to a statement on the function of deacons within the Church. By a vote of 2,055 to 94, they went on record as holding that deacons may administer Baptism solemnly, give Holy Communion, solemnly witness the sacrament of Matrimony, give the nuptial blessing when there is no wedding Mass, bring the Viaticum to persons in danger of death, read and explain the Holy Scriptures, and officiate at burials. Elsewhere, council documents refer to deacons as administering certain of the temporal affairs of the Church, as in the Acts of the Apostles.
A member of the Christian Unity Secretariat, Father John F. Long, S.J., cited the problem arising in the Eastern Churches, in which a strong tradition allows men to marry before being ordained priests but not afterwards. He said the death of a priest’s wife often means that their children must be raised in a motherless household.
James C. O’Neill
NCWC News Rome correspondent