Prelates Note Flaws in Lay Apostolate Draft; Votes Taken on Ecumenism Chapters

96th General Congregation
October 7, 1964

The long-awaited schema on the lay apostolate in the modern world came under heavy fire on the first day it was discussed in the council hall.

Joseph Cardinal Ritter of St. Louis led off the debate and called for a complete revision of the text. However, he asked the council Fathers to accept the text as a basis of discussion because of the importance of the subject.

Only four Fathers had spoken before the day’s moderator, Leo Cardinal Suenens of Malines-Brussels, asked the Fathers if they wanted to accept the present text as a basis for discussion. A standing vote approved this.

During the 96th meeting, the Fathers approved the ecumenism schema’s chapter two as a whole by a vote of 2,174 to 32, with 564 Fathers voting in favor of the chapter with reservations.

The Fathers also approved by overwhelming majorities three sections of proposed amendments to chapter three of the schema and its newly written introduction after two bishops had presented reports on it.

The first of the votes on chapter three was on article 13. It concerned the introduction, which speaks of the two principal categories of the rift in Christian unity: The rifts in the East (which started at the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon) and the rifts in the West (mainly those started during the Reformation). In some Church groups of the West, Catholic traditions continue to exist in part, the amendment noted.

This was approved by a vote of 2,154 yes to 21 no. The second vote was on a section dealing specifically with the Eastern Churches. It gives a historical outline of relations between Rome and the East and notes that they were happy for many centuries despite cultural and other difficulties. It says that proper consideration should be given this healthy variety in the Church’s daily life.

The section also considers the sacraments and worship in the Eastern Churches. It notes that the Catholic and Eastern Churches have the same Eucharist and venerate Our Lady and the same saints, many of whom are doctors of the Universal Church. It points to the possibility of communicatio in sacris — Catholics actively and publicly joining in worship with non-Catholics of the separated Oriental Churches — since there is a common priesthood and the same Eucharist. In proper circumstances such intercommunion is even recommended. The section emphasizes points of similarity between the Roman and Eastern Churches.

It also deals with discipline in the Eastern Church and the development of theology in the East, with emphasis on the idea that it is complementary to that of the West. It urges consideration of all these factors, and says the re-establishment of unity should not involve needless burdens. It calls for cooperation between the Roman Catholics and Orthodox both in the East and West.

The vote on this section (articles 14 to 18) was 2,119 yes to 39 no.

The third vote was on articles 19 to 24 dealing with the separated Churches and ecclesiastical communities of the West. This section refrains from attempting to describe these Churches and communities. It indicates points of dialogue and contact: faith in Christ, love and veneration of Holy Scripture, and sacramental life (Baptism and Holy Eucharist which, despite the differences of belief surrounding these sacraments, could serve as a basis of dialogue).

The section also points out that much of the social action of these Churches and communities stems from their Christian beliefs. It says there should be no imprudent zeal, but confidence in the Holy Spirit.

The vote on this section was 2,088 yes to 43 no.

The day’s opening Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Aurelio Signora, head of the independent prelature of Pompei, Italy. The Gospel was enthroned by the master general of the Dominican Order, Father Aniceto Fernandez, O.P.

Because most of the meeting was taken up by the reports presented on chapter three of the ecumenism schema and on the lay apostolate schema, only nine Fathers were able to speak.

Two separate reports were made on chapter three. The first was by Ukrainian-rite Archbishop Maxim Hermaniuk of Winnipeg, Man., and dealt with the chapter section treating of Eastern Churches. The second was by Archbishop John C. Heenan of Westminster, England, and dealt with non-Catholic Churches and communities in the West.

Bishop Franz Hengsbach of Essen, Germany, presented a detailed report on the lay apostolate schema before the speakers took the floor.

Cardinal Ritter, as the leadoff speaker, said the schema as it now stands includes almost all the necessary elements for a good and effective council document on the laity. But, he said, he felt it should be revised for three reasons.

First, he asked that flaws in the text be omitted. Among these he listed a clerical spirit, which seems to have a patronizing tone, as if the highest role of the laity were to aid the clergy and not to pursue its own proper role. He also criticized the document’s juridical tone as being improper and nonpastoral in treating relationships between the laity and the hierarchy. Another flaw he cited was the favoritism shown toward Catholic Action to the detriment of many other forms of the apostolate.

The second reason for the revision Cardinal Ritter gave was that the text’s real values should be strengthened and reinforced, while other non-essential elements should be eliminated. There is too much scattered and unconnected material, and the lay apostolate should be presented in its essential relationship to the life of the Church, he said.

Cardinal Ritter added that a distinction between the hierarchy and the laity should be brought out in the light of their different ends and the means they have to attain these ends.

Lastly, he said, a new arrangement is needed to include the theological basis of the lay apostolate that is now expressed in chapter four of the schema on the Church. For this new arrangement he suggested an introduction setting forth the theological basis and then sections dealing with the essence of the lay apostolate, its forms and its sanctification. He said the introduction would conclude with an exhortation to the laity.

Despite his objections to the text, Cardinal Ritter still urged that it be accepted as a basis for discussion because of its importance and the danger that if it were not discussed now, it might be some time before it could be considered.

Michael Cardinal Browne, O.P., Irish member of the Roman curia, expressed his general satisfaction with the schema but objected to the terminology it uses and made a series of detailed suggestions for changes.

After the cardinals, two Canadians — Bishops Remi De Roo of Victoria, B.C., and Paul Charbonneau of Hull, Que. — took the floor. Bishop De Roo stated that the text fails to set forth the essential principles of the lay apostolate and, though acceptable as a basis for discussion, it is doctrinally insufficient. Bishop Charbonneau criticized the tone of the document and said it must be declericalized. It must be made clear that the lay apostolate is not merely a remedy for the priest shortage, he said.

Archbishop Hermaniuk in his report on the first part of chapter three of the ecumenism schema said that the aim of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity was to show Catholics that the institutions and forms of both the Eastern and Western churches are of the same essential nature.

Archbishop Hermaniuk stated that it must be remembered that the cardinal legate who excommunicated an Eastern patriarch in 1054 gratuitously attributed all known heresies in the Church to the Byzantine leader. Archbishop Hermaniuk added that today it is recognized that no dogmatic truth was actually involved at that time.

He noted that the role of Catholic Eastern rites in the East is a double one: to be faithful to St. Peter’s successors and to be faithful to their own tradition. Thus they will open the way to dialogue with the separated churches of the East, he said.

He noted, too, that in article 15 provisions for prayers and services in common are provided for.

Archbishop Heenan in his report on the Western separated Christians noted that “separated Christians in the West are not just groups of individual Christians but communities, each with its own tradition and character as a Church.” He said some of these groups refuse to call themselves Churches, so that the schema speaks both of Churches and ecclesiastical communities, but without touching on what is necessary for a Christian community to fulfill the theological definition of a Church.

Archbishop Heenan said the schema describes members of these communities and Churches simply as “separated brethren in the West.” He noted that the schema calls attention to what these have in common with the Catholic Church, including belief in Christ as mediator, veneration of the Bible, the sacrament of Baptism and, lastly, the following of Christ in daily life.

Archbishop Heenan also stated that the text mentions divisive doctrines, but that its aim is to foster unity.

In his report on the lay apostolate schema, Bishop Hengsbach said it did not attempt a treatment of the entire question of the laity in the Church, since a portion of this is found in the schemas on the Church and on the Church’s role in the modern world. He admitted the schema was far from perfect and expressed confidence the Fathers would work to perfect it in the following debate.

Drawing up of a postconciliar directory on the lay apostolate has been left to national conferences of bishops and to the laity, he said.

All interventions and suggestions submitted by the Fathers have been considered in drafting the text, he said, adding that it has been drastically reduced from its original size. After outlining its contents, he noted that the International Commission on the Lay Apostolate to be set up is to assist and help the laity and hierarchy, not to direct activities.

Cardinal Browne said the schema was among the most important to come to the council floor. He said he felt the text universalizes too greatly the concept of the duty of the laity to carry out a specific apostolate. He said he also wanted stress laid on the respect due pastors of individual parishes, of which the laity should be conscious in assisting pastors.

Bishop De Roo insisted on a stronger view of the laity’s role and said laymen should not be considered as mere assistants to the hierarchy, for laymen can enter certain sections of the world where the hierarchy cannot go.

Bishop Charbonneau said what the laity needs to know is the structure and goals of the lay apostolate in the modern world. The Church is a transcendent society within the world, he said, and must show concern for famine, racism and injustice. He said he also disliked the emphasis given to Catholic Action and suggested that seminarians be imbued with real respect for the laity.

Bishop Paul Sani of Den Pasar, Indonesia, speaking for the Indonesian Episcopal Conference, called for better and clearer language. He objected that the temporal order which the laity is called on to restore in Christ is not defined nor is its restoration explained. The lay apostolate is not separate from Catholics’ own daily lives, he stated.

Coadjutor Archbishop Angelo Fernandes of Delhi, India, also said he wanted the doctrinal foundation of the lay apostolate included in the text, and asked that attention be paid to the double life of the Christian who lives in the world, but in a higher world as well. He further urged that the text be in a language which Catholic laymen can understand and that it pay attention to the economic and social problems of Catholics.

Archbishop Leon Duval of Algiers, Algeria, said he thought the text is too individualistic and lacks sufficient stress on the concept of the laity as part of the Mystical Body of Christ and on the mystical and spiritual character of the laity’s cooperation with the hierarchy.

Spanish Bishop Mario Rubio Repulles of Salamanca again called for a doctrinal description of the laity’s role and its twofold vocation in the Church and in the world. He called for active methods as the foundation for apostolic training and said he wanted a clear treatment of the nature and various forms of the lay apostolate.

Complete revision of the text was urged by the day’s last speaker, Archbishop Carlo Maccari, Bishop of Mondovi, Italy. He said the text disappointed the world’s expectations, particularly because of insufficient treatment of Catholic Action. A former ecclesiastical assistant of Italian Catholic Action, Archbishop Maccari said the special apostolate of Catholic Action is almost belittled in the text and that it changes the hitherto accepted notion of Catholic Action in the Church. He warned that was playing into the hands of the Church’s enemies.

James C. O’Neill
NCWC News Rome correspondent

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