Lay Apostolate Draft Subjected to Intense Debate

98th General Congregation
October 9, 1964

Warnings against clericalism, divergent views of the nature and forms of Catholic Action, and concern for missionary countries were the dominant notes of the third day of the council debate on the lay apostles’ role in the Church.

Nineteen speakers took the floor during the 98th council meeting and most were critical of the lay apostolate schema that the Fathers have accepted as a basis for discussion.

By far the most critical speaker of the day was Canadian Bishop Alexander Carter of Sault Sainte Marie, Ont., who called for a complete revision of the text which, he said, was “conceived in the sin of clericalism.” Agreeing in general with him were Fathers from Yugoslavia and Syria.

The role and nature of Catholic Action found Antonio Cardinal Caggiano of Buenos Aires and Leo Cardinal Suenens of Malines-Brussels taking different points of view. Cardinal Caggiano called for a strict definition of this form of the apostolate. Cardinal Suenens urged that the term Catholic Action be used generically and not be limited only to those organizations that have been given that title in the past.

Insistence on references in the text to the lay apostolate’s particular importance in missionary countries came from Bishop Stanislaus Lokuang of Tainan, Formosa, and Bishop Sebastiao Soares De Resende of Beira, Mozambique.

Two practical suggestions were proposed. Bishop Soares De Resende called for the establishment of an international training center for laymen and priests, particularly those from missionary countries, and Yugoslav Archbishop Franjo Seper of Zagreb suggested that every parish should have an obligatory weekly meeting of all adults of the parish to provide training in the lay apostolate and foster an exchange of opinions between the clergy and the laity.

The meeting opened with a Sacred Liturgy celebrated by Chaldean-rite Archbishop Zaya Dachtou of Urmya and Salmas, Iran. The Gospel was enthroned by Chaldean-rite Bishop Stephane Bello of Aleppo, Syria. Cardinal Suenens was the day’s moderator.

Discussing Catholic Action, the day’s first speaker, Argentine Cardinal Caggiano asked for the inclusion of the definition of Catholic Action given by Pope Pius XI and perfected by Pope Pius XII. This would stress the necessity of Catholic Action. Its omission from the text is unjust and out of order, Cardinal Caggiano said.

Training for the lay apostolate and Catholic Action must be complete and begin early and be well grounded in theology, he added. It must be presented not only as theory but also in its practical aspect. This requires effective and reciprocal trust between the clergy and the laity, he said.

Cardinal Suenens, on the other hand, said he did not want Catholic Action to be limited to a few organizations that have already been given that title. He said he wanted many of the newer forms of the apostolate to be included under the title of Catholic Action or, if not, then a new title should be evolved covering all forms of the lay apostolate. He also stated he thought bishops are free to accept or reject various forms of the apostolate in their dioceses, but that once they accept one form or another they are not free to change its nature or essence.

A third prince of the Church, Laurian Cardinal Rugambwa of Bukoba, Tanganyika, said it is necessary for the text to explain further the freedom, spontaneity and initiative that are to be guaranteed to Catholics in the lay apostolate. It is necessary to avoid the twin excesses of authoritarianism and monarchism, which in past centuries have been like pestilences in the Church, the African Cardinal declared.

He said it must be acknowledged that the Holy Spirit can act as He wishes even outside of organizations. Catholics should not be treated like minors, for each has his responsibility and must be free to carry it out, he stated.

Bishop Carter said he called for a complete revision of the schema, principally because its text is lacking in unity and its doctrinal basis is not clear. He said this was due to the great reduction of the original text. He added: It was not compressed; it was gutted.

The clerical tone of the text is due, he said, to the fact that the original commission was composed of clerics and that, when laymen were finally added, it was too little and too late. He said the present text does not respond to the expectations of the people and no dialogue is provided for. Rather, there is too much emphasis on organizations and organizational forms, he concluded.

Archbishop Seper agreed with Bishop Carter and said the text does not exclude that horror of the laity which has been behind clerical thinking of recent years. He said the text seems to be referring only to an elite, whereas training for the apostolate is for all laymen. There should be opportunities for dialogue between the hierarchy and the laity, but these are not provided for by the text, he said.

Regarding his suggestion for a weekly parish meeting for adults that would be obligatory like Sunday Mass, he said such meetings are necessary in countries where religious freedom is restricted to permit a priest to form his people.

Another Father reacting to the clerical tone of the document was Father Hilaire Capucci, superior general of the Aleppine Melkite Order of St. Basil, who stated that in the Eastern rites there has always existed an intimate association between the clergy and the laity not marked by the distance between an aristocratic-like hierarchy and a laity bound to it by obedience. The whole Church is missionary, he said. The whole Church is under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The Church must be careful to turn away from clericalism and open its doors wide, he said.

Another Father who called for a complete revision of the text was Archbishop Denis Hurley of Durban, South Africa. Calling the text disordered, verbose and lacking a logical process of thought, he said that various concepts are confused in it as a result. He asked that theological references to the lay apostolate found in the schemata on the nature of the Church and on the Church in the modern world be brought together in an introduction to avoid factions and disagreements in the future.

Archbishop Adam Kozlowiecki of Lusaka, Northern Rhodesia, said the text’s definition of the apostolate is narrow, one-sided and inaccurate, since it gives the impression that the laity’s role is only to help the clergy in preaching the Gospel. The laity’s works of suffering, sacrifice and prayer are true actions of the apostolate, and it would be best to avoid reducing the lay apostolate to too great a dependence on the hierarchy, he said.

Italian Bishop Luigi Barbero of Vigevano distinguished two senses of the apostolate. In the wider sense, he said, it means the fulfillment of one’s duties. In the stricter sense, it means collaboration with the hierarchy and assisting it in special tasks. The latter sense implies gifts of God such as intelligence and zeal and also requires at least an implicit call or summons on the part of the hierarchy, he stated.

Panama’s Bishop Marco McGrath of Santiago-Veraguas, speaking for more than 30 Latin American bishops, said the mission of the laity is not clear in the text and that there is a need for clearer insistence on the divine foundation of the lay apostolate. Since the laity are involved in secular matters, it is up to them to establish Christian points of reference within the secular life and at the same time it is up to priests to form the Christian conscience of the laity, he said.

Formosa’s Bishop Lohuang wanted inserts on the missionary requirement for the lay apostolate because they had been omitted from the new text and because the council missionary proposition, which is still to be considered, omits any such references. This is important, he said, because stress on the laity’s role is needed for those countries where the Church is not free or is in sad circumstances.

Bishop Bernardo Cazzaro for Aysen, Chile, asked for an insert saying that the lay apostolate is a consequence of the spiritual life. He also said it is necessary that the laity work hand in hand with the clergy and not at a distance.

France’s Bishop Louis Rastouil of Limoges was the first of two bishops to stress that the lay apostolate’s role comes as a consequence of Baptism and Confirmation. He said he wanted a clearer statement on the rights, duties and powers of the laity in the Church.

The same idea was expressed by Bishop Antonio Quarracino of Nueve de Julio, Argentina, who cited Baptism and Confirmation as a source of the role of the laity in the Church’s apostolate. He also suggested that the laity could be given some representation in the election of Church officials and in the administration of its temporal goods.

Applause greeted the announcement by Bishop Ignacio de Orbegozo y Giocoes of Vauyos, Peru, that everything he intended to say had been said and therefore he was relinquishing his turn.

Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo Pironio of La Plata, Argentina, urged that the text be written in a more Biblical and patristic style. He objected that there is not enough stress on the prophetic mission of the laity nor on the value of the liturgy.

A warning that the present text may disappoint many was voiced by Bishop Stefan Laszlo of Einsenstadt, Austria. He complained that the text gives the impression that the Church appreciates only those works and activities that contribute directly to its own mission and that there should be a better explanation of the laity’s role in the restoration of the temporal order.

The last speaker of the day, Bishop Giuseppe Ruotolo of Ugento-Santa Maria Di Leuca, Italy, said the text should state clearly the obligation of the laity to become members of apostolic associations. After tracing the rise of the lay apostolate to combat hostile secret societies, he said the text should emphasize the value of meetings and annual retreats to perfect apostolic training.

James C. O’Neill
NCWC News Rome correspondent

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