Council Fathers Urge Greater Confidence, Trust in Laity

97th General Congregation
October 8, 1964

Bishops from the U.S., India, South Africa, Lebanon and Germany rose in the council hall during the second day of debate on the lay apostolate’s role in the Church to urge that their fellow bishops and priests have greater confidence and trust in the laity.

Bishops must treat “laymen as adults,” was the way the day’s first speaker put it. He was Archbishop Eugene D’Souza of Bhopal, India. He asked the Fathers if they were ready to declericalize their attitude toward laymen and to treat them as brothers.

Auxiliary Bishop Stephen A. Leven of San Antonio, Tex., declared in English that the lay apostolate schema should “be streamlined and given more punch.” There can be no dialogue with the laity if the laity is expected to listen only, he said.

Both prelates suggested practical ways of showing this clear confidence.

Archbishop D’Souza suggested that laymen could represent the Holy See on international commissions and councils, that they could fill offices in the Roman curia and staff the diplomatic corps of the Holy See, even serving as apostolic nuncios.

Bishop Leven called for the establishment in every diocese of a senate similar to the one which, it has been suggested, might be established after the council to assist the pope.

Bishop Leven said that bishops cannot know what laymen are thinking and what they want if they consult only a few people or if they talk only to their doctor and housekeeper.

Auxiliary Bishop Heinrich Tenhumberg of Muenster, Germany, speaking for 83 German-language Fathers, suggested laymen could be placed in diocesan curias to assist the bishops.

The 97th council meeting opened with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Gioacchino Pedicini of Avellino, Italy. The Gospel was enthroned by Bishop Cornelius Chitsulo of Dedza, Malawi. Archbishop Pericle Felici, council secretary general, reminded the Fathers that Oct. 10 was the anniversary of Pope Pius XII’s death and asked for prayers.

During the meeting the Fathers voted 1,843 to 24 to approve the ecumenism schema’s chapter three as a whole. There were also 296 votes in favor but with reservations. The day before the Fathers had approved three sections of amendments to the chapter, which deals with separated Christians. The day’s ballot ended voting on the ecumenism schema.

Eighteen bishops took the floor in the following debate. Archbishop D’Souza took issue with the statement in the draft text that nothing in the lay apostolate field can be undertaken without the bishops. He said this implied that no initiative or project could be begun without a bishop’s expressed approval. This, he said, is not the case. Granting that nothing should be done against the will of a bishop, bishops should not subject everything to their immediate control, he stated.

Bishops, he said, must be careful not to usurp the responsibilities of the laity in such areas as education, social services and the administration of temporal goods. Nothing will be accomplished, he warned, if there is not a radical change of attitudes in the Church. Admitting that some abuses and mistakes could occur, he said these must be endured as the price of growth.

Bishop Leven expressed happiness that the role of the laity has finally come before an ecumenical council. This shows that the Church is not merely a juridical entity but is the living Body of Christ, he said.

The lay apostolate is not a concession made to the faithful but is their right, he said. Every Christian has the cause of Christ at heart and this constitutes the apostolate of Christians, the majority of whom are in the ranks of the laity, he continued.

Bishops can direct this apostolate, but may not forbid it or so hem it in with restrictions as to make it meaningless, he declared. A real dialogue between the bishops and the laity is needed, he said, adding that no dialogue is possible if the laity is expected only to listen.

He said the schema is actually too timid and hesitant. It needs to be streamlined and given more punch. This is most important for areas where laymen are generally educated and are ready to dedicate their time and efforts to the cause of the Church, he said.

There will be little gained if a bishop consults only a few persons, especially if these few are only his doctor and his housekeeper.

It would be desirable, he said, for every diocese to have a kind of diocesan senate, perhaps modeled on the one suggested for the Pope. This group would make it possible for a bishop to maintain contact with different trends in his diocese and give consideration to all reasonable suggestions, he noted. There may be problems because fanatics and crackpots are to be found everywhere, he said, but still it is necessary to take chances because the trend to the lay apostolate is one of the signs of our times.

South African Archbishop Owen McCann of Cape Town declared that laymen are mature and that there is a need for mutual trust between the clergy and the laity. He deplored the text for lacking the inspiration expected of it and said the laity had looked for a Magna Carta, but did not get one.

He suggested that priests should be given special preparation for dealing with the laity and its apostolate, and asked for the establishment of a post-council commission and a director of the lay apostolate.

Maronite-rite Archbishop Ignace Ziade of Beirut, Lebanon, also urged priests to have greater confidence in their people. He also asked that all references to canon law and the Commission for the Revision of Canon Law be removed from the text because these excluded the Eastern rites.

Bishop Tenhumberg declared that the lay apostolate is necessary but should not be looked on merely as a solution of the priest shortage. He also objected to the text’s phrase “canonical mandate” in referring to the apostolate as smacking of a juridical and clericalistic outlook.

Belgian Bishop Emile De Smedt of Bruges spoke on a different aspect of the text, asking that there be insistence on the religious freedom of non-Catholics with whom lay apostles are in contact. He warned against the use of pressure or moral force and against injudicious zeal and exaggeration in dealing with non-Catholics by the lay apostolate. The task of the lay apostle is to assist non-Catholics in reaching the truth and to help them to come to their own conclusions, he said.

Bishop Biagio D’Agostino of Vallo di Lucania, Italy, echoed a demand heard several times in the opening debate of the previous day — that a clearer statement of the theological basis of the lay apostolate be incorporated into the text. He said he also wanted stress on the idea that the lay apostolate really depends on the action of priests, because laymen get their spiritual training from priests.

This idea found support from Archbishop Cesar Mosquera Corral of Guayaquil, Ecuador, who complained that the text did not give sufficient attention to the special spirituality of the laity and that priests must guide laymen in achieving a deep spirituality as a basis for their action.

Two Polish prelates were among the day’s speakers. Bishop Stefan Barela of Czestochowa said he wanted more and better use of quotations from the Bible. He said those now in the text are mostly ornamental. He also asked for a clarification of the section of the text dealing with the lay apostolate’s possible cooperation with non-Catholics in certain fields. He said he wanted to know exactly how this was to apply to atheists whose ultimate aim is the destruction of human and religious values.

Obviously referring to circumstances in his communist-dominated country, Polish Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Cracow said he was pleased with the schema for dealing with the universality of the apostolate and not with its forms and organization. He said this pleased him because a personal sense of the apostolate is necessary in regions where organization is not possible. He said there should be insistence on the natural right of Catholics to exercise the apostolate and that care should be taken to exclude from the apostolate those who are using it for their own ends.

The spiritual foundation necessary for the lay apostolate was discussed by Auxiliary Bishop Luigi Bettazzi of Bologna, Italy, who said laymen must give spiritual witness. He also said bishops must be inclined to overcome some of their personal ideas regarding the lay apostolate and recognize that there has been too great a sense of guardianship over the laity.

Pointing out that two-thirds of the world’s population are younger than the council Fathers, he stressed the need for providing for the training of those who will govern the Church in the future.

Bishop Antoine Caillot of Evreux, France, stressed the apostolate’s close connection with the daily life of Catholics and said Catholics’ example can open the way to the conversion of nonbelievers. Catholic Action can be regarded as a means of conversion, he said.

Speaking in the name of the Dutch bishops, Bishop Gerardus De Vet of Breda said that the text should allude to the fact that the lay apostolate is already being carried out and that it should not be regarded as a necessary evil. The world is the proper place for the laity to work in because they are of it, he said.

Concentration on youth was the special concern of Irish Archbishop William Conway of Armagh. He objected that the text overlooks youth completely and fails to be aware of the restlessness of today’s youth, which reflects the world’s restlessness.

Youth demands ideals, not material satisfaction, he said. Let the council give them the ideals they crave, he added. Sanctification is the basis of the lay apostolate and the world has respect for genuine sanctity, he concluded.

Bishop Albert de Vito of Lucknow, India, declared that laymen have to some degree a share in the task of teaching, governing and sanctifying the Church. But he complained that the doctrine on the apostolate in the text is insufficiently presented and is too brief.

Pope Paul VI’s private sacristan and the vicar general of Vatican City, Bishop Peter van Lierde, objected to omissions in the text. He said there are no references to the use of free time, to the practice of justice, to true patriotism and to the apostolate of the intellectuals. He also asked why the council has not treated at all the status and role of the secular institutes which have sprung up in recent years.

Spanish Archbishop Vicente Enrique y Tarancon of Oviedo claimed the text is confused in many things and said he wanted it stated that laymen who dedicate themselves to the apostolate are doing it in their own right and not by virtue of a benign concession from authority. He said he also wanted it clearly stated that the activity of the laity differs from the activity of the clergy.

The day’s last speaker was Coadjutor Archbishop Pierre Veuillot of Paris, who said the schema was acceptable but called for a clear definition of the word “apostolate.” He also asked that a special effort be made to clarify the proper responsibility of the laity. This responsibility differs from that of bishops, which is on a higher level. Yet both types of authority should be reconciled, he said.

* * * *

Archbishop D’Souza’s speech roused something like a debate at the U.S. bishops’ press panel following the day’s meeting.

Msgr. George G. Higgins, director of the Social Action Department of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, asserted that while he agreed with the speech, most of what the Archbishop said had already been incorporated into the treatment of the laity in the schema on the Church. He pointed out that where Archbishop D’Souza urged bishops to look upon laymen as brothers, this very exhortation came from the Church schema.

Msgr. Mark J. Hurley, chancellor of the Stockton, Calif., diocese, taking up Archbishop D’Souza’s suggestion that laymen be employed in many offices of the Roman curia and diocesan chanceries, pointed out that many of the larger dioceses are moving to appoint laymen to full-time jobs. He said the major obstacle is cost, since laymen’s salaries are bigger than priests’ salaries.

Father Robert Trisco of Chicago, professor of Church History at the Catholic University of America, said the number of jobs laymen might hold in the Roman curia is limited by the nature of the work itself, which often involves judgments about sacraments and other things proper to the clergy. Father Trisco also picked up Archbishop D’Souza’s suggestion that apostolic nuncios and other diplomats of the Holy See could be chosen from the laity. He said this would involve difficulties since a nuncio is not only the pope’s diplomatic representative to a political state, but also the pope’s representative to a nation’s hierarchy.

Bishop De Smedt’s warning that Catholics in the apostolate should avoid anything remotely resembling moral coercion elicited comment from Bishop Allen J. Babcock of Grand Rapids, Mich., who said: “We are continually warning our people against interfering in things that do not have any real relationship to moral matters.”

Martin Work, executive director of the National Council of Catholic Men, commented that lots of Catholic Action groups in the U.S. have “gone much too far in pressuring theaters and bookshops.”

Where the council debate touched the question of when and how the Church and its bishops should speak out on social questions, Msgr. Higgins commented: “I would be very suspicious of anyone who claims he has an absolute answer to that dilemma.”

He said this is the problem of the schema on the Church in the modern world. He said it was his impression that most of the pressure on bishops to speak out on social problems comes from the laity, while most of the reluctance to speak out comes from the clergy. He styled this as “inverted clericalism.”

Msgr. Higgins cited the problem of race relations. He said that if the Church fails to make a statement on the moral issues involved, it is charged with dereliction of duty. He said the same question has risen lately concerning the problems of war and peace. “The hierarchy is in the delicate position of not wanting to interfere in the temporal order, yet of being expected to speak where moral principles are involved,” he said.

Bishop Leven, commenting on his council speech suggesting diocesan and parish parliaments where bishops could keep in touch with trends in their dioceses, said that in his experience the diocesan boards of the National Council of Catholic Men and the National Council of Catholic Women “work out as very good senates.”

Bishop Leven pointed out that South Carolina’s pioneer Bishop John England wrote a constitution for his diocese with a House of the Clergy and a House of the Laity. He said Bishop England did this at a time when bishops elsewhere in the U.S. were having troubles with the system of lay trustees. He said he has suggested to the dean of a non-Catholic history faculty that an investigation be made into this phase of Church history.

Martin Work said just one state north in North Carolina, Bishop Vincent S. Waters of Raleigh has created an advisory committee of 100 laymen. He said there are also lay-coordinating committees in New York and Los Angeles.

“The question is what these bodies conceive their task to be and how the bishop himself looks at it,” Work said.

Msgr. Higgins took up the plea by Bishop Leven and Archbishop Wojtyla for more dialogue within the Church between the clergy and the laity. He said that while he welcomed this idea, he warned that too much emphasis on dialogue between the laity and clergy in the schema on the lay apostolate could imply that the task of the lay apostolate is to help the clergy.

He also said: “I want to say emphatically that whatever the defects of the schema, they are not the result of any deliberate attempt on the part of the curia to weaken the schema. I think the schema will be radically revised.”

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