More Criticism Than Praise for Proposition on Eastern Churches

103rd General Congregation
October 16, 1964

The proposition on the Eastern Churches got sparse praise and severe criticism, particularly from Eastern-rite prelates, during its second day on the council floor.

The spiritual leader of Rumanians in exile made an eloquent plea for six million persecuted Eastern-rite Catholics and called on the council Fathers to make their plight known to the United Nations.

“Reading the text of the document on the Eastern Churches,” said Bishop Michael Doumith of Sarba, Lebanon, “one finds all hopes for the Eastern Christians vanishing into thin air.”

Bishop Joseph Stangl of Wurzburg, Germany, in an apparent reference to the recent speed in the council deliberations, observed: “Posterity will not ask if we were in session three years or four — but what did we accomplish.”

Four prelates debated whether converts from Eastern Orthodoxy should be allowed to choose their rite when entering the Catholic Church or required to enter the corresponding rite of Catholicism. Two favored freedom; two were opposed. One pointed out that such freedom could lead to “pastoral anarchy” in the administration of the Church.

In the name of the bishops of the Ukraine, exiled Archbishop Josyf Slipyj of Lvov warned Latin-rite Catholics of the dangers of “proselytizing” members of Eastern rites. He said the Eastern rites have suffered much from the attempts by “Latinizers” to make them fit into the cultural pattern of the West.

The 103rd general meeting of the council opened with the concelebration of a Melkite-rite Liturgy (Mass). Concelebrants included Bishop Georges Hakim of Acre, Israel, and two archimandrites: Father Hilaire Capucci, superior general of the Melkite-rite Order of St. Basil of Aleppo, and Father Atanasio Hage, superior general of the Melkite Basilian Order of St. John the Baptist. Presiding at the Liturgy was Melkite-rite Patriarch Maximos IV Saigh of Antioch. The Gospel was enthroned by Melkite-rite Archbishop Paolo Achkar of Lattakia, Syria. The day’s moderator was Giacomo Cardinal Lercaro of Bologna, Italy.

The plea for persecuted Eastern-rite Catholics was made by Bishop Basilio Cristea, delegate of the Congregation for Oriental Church to Rumanian Catholics in exile. He said the six million Eastern-rite Catholics in Rumania and the Ukraine have been subjected to religious persecution and to the deprivation for their rights for years. They are not permitted to practice their religion publicly and many have been deported or forced into labor camps, he said. Their churches have been turned over to secular uses and their schools seized by the state, he added.

Since the suppression of religion by law in Rumania in 1948, he said, six bishops who resisted have been jailed and five of these have since died. Now, not a single Eastern-rite bishop is left there, and other bishops are forbidden to exercise their office, he added.

These Eastern-rite Catholics have “always given brilliant witness to their Faith wherever they have lived, and have made important contributions to the culture of their host nations,” he said.

He asked the council Fathers to keep the plight of these peoples in mind when they discuss religious liberty. He also asked for the institution of a “Day of Prayer for the Suffering Church” as proof of how much the rest of the Church esteems them.

Regarding criticism from some quarters that communities of Eastern-rite Catholics are an impediment to reunion with separated Eastern Christians, he said that those who talk this way fail to recognize the value of the Eastern rites. “What will the separated brethren become after reunion? Is it not what we already are?” he asked.

Bishop Doumith observed that the text of the proposition was completely silent on the “most crucial problem” facing the Eastern Church today — the presence of more than one jurisdiction within the territorial limits of the same diocese. He said that though this system was introduced to solve problems, it has turned out to be against the best interests of the Church, and unless the council corrects this difficulty now, it will be accused of having shelved it forever.

He said the proposition fails to correct long-standing prejudices, such as the insinuation that Eastern rites are “just individual Churches” instead of part of the Universal Church. He said he also felt that much of the text is useless and repetitive and that many of the points treated have been better handled already in other schemas. He said the text was adopted to help the separated Christians — “but it does not work.”

Bishop Stangl said he saw no disrespect for the Eastern rites in treating them separately, but regretted this treatment had been reduced to a mere series of propositions. “Nothing is left of the original text but a skeleton, where there should be a well-built body.”

He wanted the text to be revised so it will not be a mere compilation of canons and directives, but rather a genuine expression of esteem and brotherly love for Eastern brethren. It should also include more on the separated Eastern Christians, he said.

As it stands, the tone of the text is marked by a fear of exceptions, dangers and abuses. It should be one that echoes magnanimity and the kindness of the love of Christ, he declared.

The real question for the Eastern rites today is “to be or not to be,” Archbishop Slipyj said, quoting the famous Shakespearian line in English. Many fine things are said in the propositions, but they do not represent the Eastern rites in the light of the Catholicity of the whole Church.

These Churches have suffered from persecutions in recent years, a fact of which we are all aware, he said. But we must not forget they have also suffered much and often from the imprudence of “over-zealous Latinizers” trying to force Eastern-rite Catholics into the Latin Church. Such pressure not only ruins these rites, but also does great harm to the Latin Church itself, he said.

Archbishop Charles De Provencheres of Aix, France, said he saw a special vocation for the Eastern rites today in promoting Christian unity. He said the Latin rites could also learn much from their manifestation of universality and from their patrimony of liturgy, spirituality, theology and ecclesiastical institutions.

Regarding the exchange of the sacraments between Eastern-rite Catholics and the Orthodox, he said that some degree of this is necessary for the good of souls otherwise deprived of the sacraments.

The Melkite-rite patriarchal vicar for Egypt, Archbishop Elie Zoghbi, agreed with this. He added that legislation on participation in non-Catholic services is based on a false interpretation of decrees of the Council of Trent by those not familiar with the East. He said the new provisions of the proposition meet a concrete spiritual need.

Archbishop Zoghbi called for new thinking on the validity of the patriarchal system by the Western Church. Tracing its history from the earliest times, he noted that although the system has been supplanted in the West, still Latin patriarchs were set up in various Eastern Sees. These were generally regarded as intruders and “shadows of the Roman pontiff” and their presence was a constant source of friction, he stated.

He said that until the First Vatican Council, the primacy of the pope, which was the chief source of division between the East and the West, was regarded in the East only as a legislative structure, although the pope was always considered the first bishop of the Church. The decision to proclaim papal infallibility as a dogma was made at a council [Vatican Council I] in which representatives from the East were conspicuously absent, he said.

When the separated Eastern Christians broke from Rome, he said, they attributed no special theological value to the papal primacy, nor did they regard themselves as separated from the Universal Church, whose head is the pope.

The question of what Catholic rite converts from Orthodoxy would be asked to join was given considerable attention during the discussions. Jaime Cardinal De Barros Camera of Rio de Janeiro and Latin-rite Patriarch Alberto Gori, O.F.M., of Jerusalem, both asked that converts be left free to choose their rite.

Patriarch Gori said he felt that the appeal to Rome required for a change of rite hardly takes into account individual needs in matters of such importance to the individual. He said such a “right of appeal” is almost a suppression of freedom in practice.

“It would be ironical that the convert wishing to change rites should be obliged to appeal to the authority of Rome, which he has always been taught to distrust and suspect.” He asked the council to establish the principle that all converts retain their former rite, but leave intact the freedom of individuals to change rites at the time of conversion if they wish.

Two other prelates asked for retention of the provision requiring converts to enter the Catholic rite corresponding to the Orthodox one they leave. Bishop Isaac Ghattas of Thebes, Egypt, said he saw only “pastoral anarchy” in the alternative, since it would intensify the problem of plurality of jurisdictions in the same diocese. With Bishop Doumith he called this situation the gravest problem facing the Eastern rites.

The other council Father to speak against freedom of choice in rites was Armenian-rite Patriarch Ignace Pierre XVI Batanian of Cilicia. He said the individual converted to Catholicism from Orthodoxy is like a “son who has wandered away from the family home. When he returns to his native city, it is natural that he go not to just any family, but to his own.”

Individual freedom is safeguarded, he said, by the section providing for recourse to the Holy See.

Referring to the rule in the Eastern Churches that Catholics can marry merely by mutual consent when no Catholic priest is available, since the Church would not allow an Orthodox priest to perform the ceremony, he said such a practice renders the Church odious in the eyes of the Orthodox clergy and faithful. He called for the adoption of a provision in the appendix of the proposition which would allow an Orthodox priest to perform the ceremony in such cases, since marriage without a priest is “unthinkable” for an Eastern Christian.

Cardinal De Barros Camara called for the recognition by the council of the fact that there are millions of Eastern-rite Catholics living in non-Eastern countries and thus dispersed among Latin-rite Catholics. The Brazilian cardinal, who for 11 years has served as Ordinary of the eight Eastern rites in his country, expressed concern for Eastern-rite Catholics who marry Latin-rite Catholics. He asked that marriage legislation concerning this difficulty be included in the proposition’s text.

He said he wanted all Latin-rite bishops who have Eastern-rite Catholics in their dioceses to show toward them the “same sentiments of esteem and paternal love they show the faithful of their own rite. They should never be simply tolerated as immigrants. Should difficulties, major or minor, arise, the interested parties should get together in a spirit of mutual understanding and settle these questions among themselves.”

During the meeting Archbishop Pericle Felici, council secretary general, announced the distribution of the new liturgical instruction to implement the Constitution on the Liturgy, the first document completed by the council. His announcement was greeted by widespread and warm applause throughout St. Peter’s. The instruction was drawn up by the Vatican Liturgy Commission and issued by the Congregation of Rites.

A report on schema 13 on the Church in the modern world was also distributed, together with an amended text on chapter seven of the schema on the nature of the Church, which deals with the final vocation of Christians to heaven. It was announced that a vote on this chapter would be taken Oct. 19.

In accordance with the decision of the Coordinating Commission, Archbishop Felici said that all schemas reduced to propositions would be voted on immediately after discussion if more than half the council Fathers so decide in standing vote. Otherwise they will be returned to the competent commission for revision and then returned to the council floor for a vote. This was decided in response to many requests from the council Fathers, Archbishop Felici said.

Father John P. Donnelly
NCWC News Rome correspondent

* * * *

While the new changes enacted by the post-conciliar liturgy commission become mandatory and must be observed as of next March 7, the first Sunday of Lent, national bishops’ conferences could get permission to put them into effect earlier, according to Father Frederick R. McManus.

The Boston priest told a meeting of the U.S. press panel that a national body of bishops would only have to apply to the commission for the permission to put all of the changes into effect prior to the effective date.

Father McManus noted in his explanation to journalists that the instruction of the commission involves only changes which can be made easily, without having to alter the existing liturgical books to a major extent. He said, however, that in the future there are to be a number of structural changes which will be much more radical in restoring the purity of the celebration of the Eucharist.

Father McManus noted that while the instruction is the work of the new liturgy commission, it was issued by the Congregation of Rites after review by that body.

The priest pointed out that the instruction provides for use of the vernacular in the Mass whenever there is a congregation. But if a priest is celebrating Mass by himself with only an altar boy present, Latin is to be the language of the Mass.

Father McManus also stated that instructions regarding concelebration of Mass and Communion under both species have been drawn up but have not yet been published. No reference is made to these two aspects of the liturgy in the present instruction, he said.

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