Council Discusses Priestly Life; Applause Greets First Speech by Layman

100th General Congregation
October 13, 1964

The ecumenical council’s 100th general meeting was marked by discussion of a wide range of topics dealing with the priestly life and ministry and by the first speech delivered to a formal working session by a layman.

Subjects dealing with the priesthood ran the gamut from the spirituality required of a priest to the salaries of rectory housekeepers. Pleas were made for abolishing Church benefices and paying priests adequate salaries and providing medical care and retirement benefits. A special tribute was paid to the country priest, forgotten in a mass urban society.

Patrick Keegan, council auditor from England, addressed the Fathers on the lay apostolate schema even though debate on it had been formally closed by a cloture vote the previous day. He was greeted by a round of applause after he had told the Fathers, in an attempt to “voice the sentiments of the faithful laity throughout the world,” that the document was most warmly welcomed, “giving us a new vision of our active participation in the whole mission of the Church.”

After Archbishop Francois Marty of Rheims, France, had given a report on the proposition “On the Priestly Life and Ministry,” Albert Cardinal Meyer of Chicago led off the discussion. He rejected the draft as unacceptable and called for a full schema and full discussion of the subject, just as there had been for the bishops and the laity.

Though originally scheduled as a schema, it had been reduced to a “proposition” during the interim preceding the present council session. Only recently by a vote of the council Fathers was it decided to give it any discussion prior to voting. Propositions, unlike schemas, are not scheduled to be fully debated by the Fathers.

Another American prelate who spoke was Auxiliary Bishop John A. Donovan of Detroit. He made a strong plea for understanding and care of psychologically disturbed and psychotic priests. He asked that they be given modern treatment rather than confined in “ecclesiastical prisons.”

Twelve other speakers discussed the priesthood after three, invoking the 70-signature rule to speak after a cloture vote, continued the debate on the lay apostolate.

Announcing the 100th meeting, Archbishop Pericle Felici, council secretary general, said that “while the council has reached the centenary mark, it is not growing older — but always growing younger.”

The meeting began with Mass celebrated by Bishop Edoardo Mason for El Obeid, the Sudan. The Gospel was enthroned by Bishop Johann Gunnarson for Iceland. The moderator of the day was Gregorio Cardinal Agagianian, prefect of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.

Archbishop Felici recognized the presence of pastors chosen from various countries to sit in on the discussion of the priesthood at the personal request of Pope Paul VI. He gave them a cordial welcome which was seconded by the applause of the council Fathers.

The Americans present were Msgr. Walter J. Tappc of Santa Rosa, Calif., and Msgr. Joseph E. Emmenegger of Delavan, Wis. Msgr. Gerard L. Frey of Houma, La., and Father Thomas B. Falls of Manoa, Pa., the other two U.S. priests called to the council, had not yet arrived.

In his report on the proposition on the priesthood, Archbishop Marty explained that the title had been changed from “The Priesthood” because its material had been reduced so drastically that such a title was too vast for a simple proposition. He also said the change was dictated by the incorporation of a treatment on the priesthood in the schema on the Church and other council drafts.

The proposition, he said, is the fruit of extensive and concentrated work. The criteria used in drawing it up, he said, were the pastoral needs of the ministry and a positive approach. It stresses the relationship between the priest and the  faithful, not only as Fathers and  teachers, but as brothers among brothers, since both are members of the Mystical Body of Christ, he said.

Not only are the supernatural virtues required of the priest stressed, but the natural virtues are also emphasized, since the priest must deal with the world, Archbishop Marty stated.

The text confirms the law of celibacy and its application to the priest, he said, “in response to various rumors to the contrary.” It also extols the value of the three evangelical counsels of poverty, charity and obedience in the life of a priest and exhorts them to become men of virtue and prayer. It recommends conferences on pastoral problems and life in common where possible, he stated. It asks for a complete revision of the system of benefices “lest the  Church be accused of feudalism and lest it lead to setting up of social classes among priests,” he declared.

Archbishop Marty said the text also encourages personal exercises of piety and interest in vocations. Lastly, he said, since the source of the whole priestly life is the priest’s intimate union with Christ, priests are exhorted to conform their whole lives to this divine model in a spirit of ministration and service. He said it was hoped that the interest thus manifested by the council will be for all priests a great incentive for zeal and the pursuit of holiness.

Cardinal Meyer said that the text is “not too acceptable” because it is not too clear what its aim is. It does not correspond to the aim set forth in Archbishop Marty’s report — “the pastoral needs of the Church today” — since there is no general discussion of this important matter, Cardinal Meyer said. Pointing out that there was a discussion on the apostolate of the bishop and of the laity, he said the latter depends so much on the apostolate of the priest that to do justice to the topic of the apostolate, a full schema on the priest is required, covering all necessary points. This should be accompanied by free discussion, which will show the genuineness and depth of the council’s interest in priests and their needs, he stated.

He also said that the proposition seems to deal only with priests’ obligations, and this in a way will hardly encourage them or inspire them to higher things. There should be an encouragement for their efforts, he said.

His talk was greeted with applause.

Bishop Donovan said that he was happy with the proposition’s reference to proper medical care for priests, and asked that Religious superiors be given the same exhortation.

“Only after a sick priest has had all available expert care can a bishop rest with an easy conscience,” he said.

Referring to priests with mental illnesses which require long treatment or are even sometimes incurable, he noted that such priests often become the occasion of scandal to Catholics, even though they are not morally responsible for their actions. He said the practice of imposing canonical penalties on such priests, or sending them off to houses of penance, should be stopped.

Bishop Donovan also objected to the text’s reference to the desirability of common life for all priests, pointing out that some choose the diocesan priesthood precisely because they do not feel called to a common life.

Archbishop Leonardo Rodriguez Ballon of Arequipa, Peru, paid a special tribute to the contributions of missionary priests in Latin America and asked that national and international organizations be set up to coordinate the work of providing priests for needy dioceses. He said it is important to assure careful training of priests going to strange lands, and said that groups from the same countries should work together in the same areas, provided they do not cut themselves off from others.

He insisted that missionaries acquaint themselves with the customs of the countries in which they work and not try to impose their form of Catholicism on them, but rather to build on what is there. He also asked that missionaries work more closely with the native clergy and help to foster native vocations.

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Hiltl of Regensburg, Germany, called for more adequate salaries for parish housekeepers. These, he said, are demanded by justice and prudence — the latter since the good domestic who is poorly paid will be inclined to find a job elsewhere. He said that he wants norms laid down in canon law to this effect, observing that where the bodily needs of the priest are not taken care of, his pastoral and apostolic works are likely to decline.

Archbishop Joseph Evangelisti, Bishop of Meerut, India, called for more adequate salaries for priests themselves so they can have an opportunity to do works of charity for the whole Church.

He pointed out what he called an inconsistency in the text, saying it speaks of a priest devoting his whole life to souls and then elsewhere treats of retirement pensions. He said it is not proper to talk about the retirement of priests, since so few retire. Instead, he said, the text should discuss pensions only for disabled priests.

He called for intensification of the missionary spirit as part of the priests’ spirituality. He said the Church is essentially missionary. Bishops, by virtue of collegiality, are expected to look out for the welfare of the whole Church. If this is true for bishops, then it is true also for priests, who participate in the episcopal office, he said.

Rejoicing at the presence of at least one rural pastor in the council chamber, Archbishop Giovanni Perris of Naxos, Greece, pointed out that nothing was said in the proposition about country pastors and urged a new proposition extolling their value. Almost all such pastors are diocesan priests rather than religious, he pointed out, and often they are overlooked or slighted as the lowest form of the priesthood.

The archbishop said that the Church has always loved rural and farming people, just as Christ did, Who chose His apostles from among them. He said that we are sometimes so involved in converting pagans that we overlook those who are working to keep the Faith among the baptized.

He also said that migration to the cities often leaves the rural pastor in solitude and poverty. He asked that bishops visit them more frequently and also provide substitute priests so that the rural pastors can have a chance to come to cities more often to renew their spiritual life and pastoral knowledge. Archbishop Perris expressed the hope that international organizations would be set up for the relief of poor parishes and that richer nations would give a giant share.

Bishop Pierre Theas of Tarbes and Lourdes, France, deplored the increased weakness in faith which causes people to look upon priests as ecclesiastical functionaries, rather than “other Christs.” Laymen, he said, are always in increasing need of the priest for their spiritual life, and the text should emphasize that they have the same apostolic mission as bishops and share with them the priesthood of Christ.

Archbishop Julio Rosales of Cebu, the Philippines, in the name of the bishops of the Philippines, said that the proposition was “very  pleasing … containing much in little,” and said that its proposals should be implemented in an eventual pastoral directory or in a revision of canon law.

Bishop Antonio Anoveros Ataun of Cadiz and Ceutra, Spain, said that the schema has been too drastically reduced. He called on the Commission for Revising the Code of Canon Law to provide for a better distribution of clergy throughout the world and to revise completely the system of ecclesiastical benefices, particularly in cathedral parishes, which often are more tourist attractions than real parishes with a proper liturgical life.

Contrary to the views of Bishop Donovan, Archbishop Armando Fares of Catanzaro and Squillace, Italy, stressed the value of the common life for all priests, but especially younger priests. He also asked that emphasis be placed on keeping up with the times in the study of pastoral theology.

Maronite Archbishop Francois Ayoub of Aleppo, Syria, labeled the common effort of bishops and priests in promoting the Kingdom of God as “concelebration.”

He said that the text will not respond to the expectations of the clergy and recommended the omission from it of such questions as distribution of the clergy, adequate compensation and funds in common, since these are more in the domain of the bishop.

Auxiliary Bishop Jacobus Komba for Peramiho, Tanganyika, wanted more stress placed on the value of suffering in the priesthood. He also said that it is not fair to urge priests to avoid vanity in dress and titles when there is no such reference in the draft on bishops.

Returning to the theme of Archbishop Fares, Auxiliary Bishop Guido Casullo for Pinheiro, Brazil, asked that priests keep abreast of modern means in the apostolate, especially for psychological, ascetical, cultural and pastoral reasons.

The day’s final speaker on the priesthood was Auxiliary Bishop Franjo Kuharic of Zagreb, Yugoslavia, who asked that each diocese have a spiritual advisor who would provide unity and stimulus to the priestly spiritual life. He also called on the canon law commission to make it mandatory that priests in their last wills leave their property not to their families but to the good works in the diocese. He also recommended that the system of benefices be abandoned for all those engaged in the care of souls.

Speaking on the lay apostolate before the discussion began on the priesthood were Archbishop Emile Guerrv of Cambrai,  France; Auxiliary Bishop Santo Quadri of Penerolo, Italy; and Melchite Patriarchal Vicar for Egypt, Archbishop Elie Zoghbi.

Bishop Franz Hengsbach of Essen, Germany, who had given the report on the lay apostolate, then made final observations and thanked the speakers for their suggestions, remarking that many of their observations were based more on the choice of wording than on the intention of the draft.

Father John P. Donnelly
NCWC News Rome Correspondent

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