More Debate on Eastern Churches; Council Approves Chapter on Church’s Nature, Wants Revisions on Priesthood Draft

104th General Congregation
October 19, 1964

The council Fathers gave overwhelming approval at their 104th meeting to chapter seven of the schema on the nature of the Church, which concerns the Christian vocation to the happiness of heaven.

They also voted to send the proposition on the priesthood back to commission for revision.

In continuing debate on the Eastern churches, several Fathers reacted to strong criticism at the previous meeting of the schema’s treatment of patriarchs. In the name of the Patriarchal Conference of the Chaldean Rite, Bishop Raphael Bidavvid of Amadiya, Iraq, said that the present document is “entirely satisfactory, combining pastoral solicitude with an ecumenical spirit.” He said the section on patriarchs is especially gratifying since it sets forth their dignity “as truth, justice and ecumenism demand.”

Armenian-rite Bishop Raphael Bayan of Alexandria, Egypt, called the patriarchates an anachronism and asked that they be eliminated, though with the provision that their synods and system of government be honored.

Regarding the document’s provision that converts from the Orthodox churches must join the corresponding rite of the Catholic Church, Auxiliary Bishop Gerald V. McDevitt of Philadelphia called this an “undue restriction of freedom, contrary to the whole spirit of the council in its expressions of concern for religious freedom and the care of souls.” He said the provision for recourse to the Holy See to change the rite is not a sufficient safeguard of liberty and would be looked upon as surprising and cruel — “as if the grace of God could await such recourse.”

According to a new procedure adopted the previous week, the Fathers are now able to decide by lot whether to vote for a proposition immediately after it is discussed on the council floor or to send it back first to the appropriate commission for revision. The latter was the decision reached regarding the proposition on the priesthood. The vote was 1,199 to 930. Archbishop Pericle Felici, council secretary general, announced the Fathers would have three more days to send in further written observations on the text to guide the commission on its revision.

The four articles included in chapter seven of the schema on the nature of the Church all received virtually unanimous approval.

The vote on the first article — giving a description of the Church with emphasis on its completion in heaven — was 2,099 to 20.

The article showing the relation of the Church triumphant to the Church on earth received 2,121 favorable votes.

The one describing the relation of the Church on earth to that in heaven got 2,104 favorable votes.

The favorable vote on the article giving pastoral directives, including proper perspectives in the veneration of saints, was 2,067.

The last three articles each received only 8 negative votes.

During the council meeting, a report on the proposition dealing with Catholic schools was distributed. But discussion on this was not scheduled until after debate on schema 13 on the Church in the Modern World.

Bishop Bayan said in his talk that it is important to distinguish between the dignity and honor of patriarchs and that of the patriarchal synods. He asked that care be taken not to exaggerate the personal power of patriarchs and said that their restoration, on the evidence of history, “would undoubtedly lead to greater abuses than those it is intended to remedy.”

He agreed with the proposition’s provision that converts to Catholicism retain the rite corresponding to the Orthodox rite they leave.

Bishop McDevitt, on the other hand, saw great danger in this provision. He admitted that recourse to the Holy See to change the rite is quite proper for those who are already Catholics, since it avoids bickering and tends to safeguard the preservation of these rites. But in the case of non-Catholics it is basically different, he said. “They stand at the door knocking. Why should the council put obstacles in their path? Why should there be a change in the new canon law promulgated for the Eastern rites as late as 1958?”

The code for the Eastern rites provides that converts are free to choose whichever rite they wish when entering the Church.

Referring to the fact that he spent a decade working in the Apostolic Delegation in Washington, Bishop McDevitt said he is aware that recourse to the Holy See in such matters takes a long time — often from six months to a year.

“Why make the grace of the Spirit wait while recourse is being acted on?” he said.

He referred to a private communication circulated among the council Fathers suggesting that there be a provision that a prospective convert’s rite is to be maintained unless he makes a change of rite a condition of his conversion, in which case no recourse would be needed. Such a suggestion is dangerous, he said, since the condition would impose a burden on the conscience of the convert. He said he wondered if an individual could propose such a condition without sinful bad faith.

He also said he wanted a choice of rite to be available to converts from Protestantism as well as Orthodoxy.

The meeting began with Mass celebrated by Archbishop Joseph Descuffi of Izmir, Turkey. Bishop Peter Saburo Hirata of Oita, Japan, enthroned the Gospel. Giacomo Cardinal Lercaro of Bologna, Italy, continued as moderator of the debate on the Eastern churches.

Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York was present in the council hall for the first time this session. He had arrived in Rome the previous weekend after an extended recuperation from a recent operation.

Rufino Cardinal Santos of Manila presented the report on the amended text of chapter seven of the Schema on the Church before the council voted on its four articles. He pointed out that 17 Fathers had spoken on the subject and another 28 had presented their views in writing to the commission. All but one agreed that this new chapter belongs in a constitution on the Church, he said, which otherwise would be “mutilated and defective.”

He said the amendments added by the commission include greater stress on the function of the Holy Spirit and more ample treatment of the four last things — death, judgment, heaven and hell — with an introduction of statements on purgatory and hell at the suggestion of several council Fathers. Another amendment calls for Catholics to contribute to the progress of the world and the effective restoration of all things in Christ, even before the final glory of heaven.

Leading off the discussion on the Eastern churches, Cardinal Lercaro said this is a question which touches the life of the universal Church. Many of the points in the text, although good and practical in themselves, are not points for universal legislation, he said. There is no need for a council decree in such matters because Eastern-rite Catholics have their own Ordinaries and synods, he added. The council should do nothing which might interfere with their own proper legislative power, he said.

Melkite-rite Archbishop Joseph Tawil, patriarchal vicar for Damascus, Syria, said he felt that the text should be revised to bring it into closer harmony with the schema on ecumenism.

The Latin Church was governed under the patriarchal system for more than 1,000 years, he observed, and like the Eastern-rite bodies, it too is quite a particular church.

He objected to the presence of a Latin patriarch in Jerusalem. In the eyes of Eastern-rite Catholics, he said, “it is the last word in the Latinization of the East, and in this patriarchate, this Latinization seems to have been embodied in an institution.” He asked the council to take precise steps to remedy this situation, and called for a post-conciliar commission to work out the details.

In the opinion of Archbishop Alexandre Scandar of Assiut, Egypt, the text forgets one of the chief purposes of the Eastern rites — to promote union with the Orthodox. He asked that seminaries emphasize the study of Eastern-rite matters, enriching their theology and spirituality from Eastern sources. He also asked that the council order reform in the Eastern-rite sacramental discipline. He said he thought the degree of participation in Orthodox services permitted in the text constitutes a definite danger of indifferentism and a threat to faith and unity.

The president of the Bavarian Congregation of the Benedictine Order, Abbot Johannes Hoeck, strongly supported the patriarchal system as of cardinal importance to the Eastern Church and to ecumenism. In any discussion of unity, he said, the great Orthodox churches of the East will want to know what would be their position within the Catholic Church. “Will they be subordinated to the Roman curia, especially the Congregation for the Oriental Church, and will they be given a secondary role alongside the College of Cardinals?”

He said it was a historical fact that for 1,000 years the churches of the East enjoyed full freedom to choose patriarchs and bishops, and to organize their liturgy and law. The right of intervention by Rome was always recognized but verified only in rare cases. “If this system worked well for 1,000 years, why would not it be feasible today? Any attempt to restore unity with the Orthodox churches must start from the premise that this unity will be on the same principles which existed before the break. It is not a question of recognizing favors or privileges, but of the fundamental structure of the entire Church.”

Bishop Vittorio Costantini of Sessa Aurunca, Italy, urged the Eastern-rite Catholics to make a greater organized effort at educating the world in the riches of their religious and historical patrimony. He called for an institute for the joint study and propagation of Eastern theology to be established in Jerusalem “as a lasting memorial to the kiss of peace exchanged between East and West, between Paul VI and Athenagoras I.”

Retired Archbishop Antonio Vuccino of Corfu, Greece, called the text “basically a disappointment.” He said the initial statement that the Church has always shown great esteem for the Eastern churches is in open conflict with many historical facts. He also asserted that it is a grave mistake to refer to the Orthodox churches as “separated brethren.”

Bishop Stephen J. Kocisko of the Byzantine-rite diocese of Passaic, N.J., said he thought the text should emphasize inter-ritual esteem and cooperation. He suggested that seminarians and laymen be trained in rites and practical norms for the field of inter-ritual contacts. This, he said, would encourage mutual esteem and lasting charity, and would facilitate contacts with separated Christians.

Melkite-rite Archbishop Neophytos Edelby, counselor of the Antioch patriarchate, called for the establishment of an Eastern hierarchy wherever the good of souls demands it, as a vital means of safeguarding the patrimony and traditions of the Eastern churches.

Father John P. Donnelly
NCWC News Rome correspondent

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