Draft on Lay Apostolate Faces Difficult Rewrite

The draft on the lay apostolate, which underwent five days of sharp debate, has gone back to the Second Vatican Council’s commission on the lay apostolate for complete revision.

The 64 speeches by council Fathers left not a single section of the draft untouched by criticism, some of it slashing.

Despite the great number of suggestions, the total rewriting indicated by the debate will be a difficult task for the commission. This stems in part from the fact that the work must be done by the same people who prepared the three major drafts on the lay apostolate to date. There is the added difficulty that much of the body of its original material has been eviscerated and given to other commissions.

Most notable of these was the original schema’s section on the layman in the temporal order. This section was taken over entirely by the commission for schema 13 on the Church in the modern world.

The Commission on the Lay Apostolate is already at work, reassessing the wreckage left after five days of almost continuous attack. Five subcommissions are assessing the speeches on the council floor to determine how to meet the criticisms and make use of the many constructive suggestions.

No doubt they will succeed, but probably not in this session. Given a fourth session and therefore more time for reflection, and probably wider lay consultation, the final document has an excellent chance of meeting the Fathers’ approval and, equally important, an enthusiastic acceptance by the laity themselves.

One of the knottiest problems to be solved relates to the organized form of the lay apostolate called “Catholic Action.” Catholic Action is one of the earliest terms used to describe an organized form that closely collaborates in the hierarchical apostolate and has a strict dependence on the hierarchy. It is enshrined especially in Italy and some Spanish-speaking countries.

Many speakers criticized the schema as giving Catholic Action a preferential position. “Favoritism” was the word used by Joseph Cardinal Ritter of St. Louis. This group maintained that the lay apostolate has developed beyond the original limited “defense of the Church” concept of Catholic Action. Not only that, but Catholic Action has unfortunately taken on strong political overtones in some countries. If the name Catholic Action is to be used at all, they argued, it should be employed as a generic term for many types of the organized apostolate.

On the other hand, a number of voices attacked the schema on this same point but from the opposite point of view. The schema did not recognize adequately the special place that Catholic Action has earned, they said.

The resolution of this problem will not be an easy one, and an “open door” compromise will probably be reached.

Closely related to this controversy are several others. The accusation of “juridicism” was heard constantly during the debate. This seemed to center, but not exclusively, around the section which attempted to define the relationship of the laity to the hierarchy. Here too a reference to canon law annoyed many of the Fathers. So did the juridical terms mandatum (mandate) and canonica missa (canonical mission).

The Fathers had just completed debating and approving by an almost unanimous vote the magnificent chapter on the laity in the schema on the nature of the Church, which spoke so convincingly of the dignity, responsibility and “the blessed way of the liberty of the sons of God.” The juridical and formal concept and language of the lay apostolate schema did not in their minds even remotely reflect the theology they had just approved.

The value of the organized apostolate in relation to the value of the individual apostolate was another point-and-counterpoint argument running through a number of the speeches. Some council Fathers strongly held that the former was overemphasized and that the right and duty of every member of the laity to be apostolic as a “natural and supernatural duty” was neglected. The lay apostolate schema was too narrow in approach and had to be broadened and left unlimited, they held.

On the other hand, there were those who seemed to hold that the organized apostolate was not sufficiently encouraged.

There seems to be no essential problem here because obviously both apostolates are of extreme importance in the modern day. Each complements the other. The problem will be one of balance.

A number of Fathers noted what they considered to be a serious omission in the schema, particularly in view of the chapter on the laity in the schema on the Church and the great discussion of the subject in recent years by the laity of the world. What was missing was what has been dubbed “the apostolate of public opinion in the Church.” Their argument was based on the Church schema’s statement that the laity are entitled to and indeed even have the duty to make known their opinions in matters concerned with the Church.

There was no appreciable opposition to this concept so it can be presumed that the Lay Apostolate Commission will see what can be done to meet this new apostolate of the dialogue within the Church. The right kind of a statement will go a long way toward meeting a long-felt need of the Church not only in the United States but around the world.

A fundamental problem facing the drafting subcommissions will be that of giving the text the internal unity which it now lacks. This resulted from the evisceration that took place when parts of the original draft were distributed to half a dozen other schemata, and from the facts that the subject is completely new in conciliar agenda, and that the original broad outline was not appropriate. This outline was discarded, but the present draft still shows the remains of it.

Comparable in importance to internal unity is the problem of external unity. The criticism was leveled that the lay apostolate schema did not seem to have any organic connection with the schema on the nature of the Church (De Ecclesia) on the theological side and the schema on the Church in the modern world on the temporal side. One Father pointed out that if this connection is not made we shall have “apostles of De Ecclesia,” “apostles of the Lay Apostolate,” and “apostles of the Modern World.”

This external linkage should not be difficult to supply now that De Ecclesia has been debated and discussion of schema 13 is underway. The Fathers of the council were reminded during the introduction to the schema that it was written before work had been completed on either of the other two.

Some of the strongest speeches on the floor were aimed at the “clericalism” of the document. This criticism was directed at the fundamental “top down approach” to the apostolate, the “lecturing and sermonizing,” and the “paternalistic approach,” the heavy concern with “relationship to the hierarchy,” the reference to “nothing without the bishop” attitude, and the style of writing. The total effect of the document to many of the bishops spelled out “clericalism.”

This will be difficult to handle for the commission because it is in many cases a very subtle matter. Perhaps one council Father highly sensitive to this matter could be asked to screen the next draft along with a few laymen not tied to any organization.

The word “disappointment” could probably be used to describe the basic reaction of the Fathers. Archbishop Owen McCann of Cape Town, South Africa, put it this way: “The text of the schema could hardly be called a magna carta.” The Lay Apostolate Commission is in a much better position now to write a magna carta. It must be remembered that this schema never before had been discussed on the council floor, that the commission itself listed in the introductory report some of the defects of the schema; and that the council Fathers have almost without exception indicated that they are magna carta-minded.

In summary, it seems that all of the suggestions that have been made, with the possible exception of those recommending that a pre-eminent and favored position be given “Catholic Action,” will be extremely helpful to the lay apostolate in all of its diverse forms, organized and individual in the United States. Together with the other documents of the council that relate to the laity it can be a magna carta for the future.

Martin H. Work

Mr. Work is the executive director of the National Council of Catholic Men, who is attending the third session o f the Second Vatican Council as an aggregate auditor.

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