Leading Prelate Denounces Draft on Church in Modern World, Seeks Major Delay

107th General Congregation
October 22, 1964

Mild criticism but general acceptance of schema 13 on the Church in the modern world as a basis for discussion came to an abrupt end during the council’s 107th general meeting.

In a violent attack couched in some of the strongest language the Fathers have heard to date, Britain’s ranking prelate denounced the schema as a “dangerous … set of platitudes … unworthy of a council.” He asked that the next session be postponed for perhaps four years until it is reworked.

“Having spent such a long time on theological niceties, this council will become a laughing stock in the eyes of the world if it now rushes breathlessly through a debate on world hunger, nuclear war and family life,” Archbishop John C. Heenan of Westminster said. “People will ask, ironically and with good reason, what do we really mean when we call this a pastoral council?”

He also had harsh words for some of the council’s experts, or periti. In what seemed to be a reference to recent widely publicized arguments on birth control, many of them coming from England, the Archbishop said: “The Church of God has suffered a great deal from the writings and speeches of some of the periti.

“These few specialists care nothing for the ordinary teaching authority of bishops — nor, I regret to say, for that of the pope.”

In rejecting the text, he recommended it be given to a new commission including married couples, doctors, economists and scientists, as well as priests with long pastoral experience.

“Then after three or four years let the fourth and final session of the council be convened to discuss all these social problems,” he said.

Several Fathers disagreed with many of his points during the day’s discussion. One even came to the defense of the council experts. Only one of the other 15 speakers rejected the text as a basis for discussion.

Voting was completed on the last two of the seven parts of the proposition on the Eastern Churches. This cleared the way for a vote on the entire proposition after the commission reworks the one part — on the choice of a Catholic rite by converts from Orthodoxy — which was rejected the previous day.

The Fathers approved the part dealing with the Eastern-rite liturgy 2,104 to 22, with 27 voting qualified approval.

On the part concerning contact between Eastern-rite Catholics and Orthodox Christians, the Fathers voted 1,841 to 111 to accept the text. Qualified approval was expressed by 195 Fathers.

The theme of the criticism of the schema on the modern world’s problems continued along the lines of two previous days of discussion. Some wanted a more fundamental theological foundation for the arguments presented. Others stressed the need for the proofs from natural law. The need for more attention to the world’s poor was the preoccupation of one speaker, while two others asked the Church to grapple with the growing problem of atheism, which Bishop Raffaele Barbieri of Cassano all’Ionio, Italy, called the “dishonor of our age.”

The only American speaker was Archbishop Lawrence J. Shehan of Baltimore, who said he accepted the text as satisfactory for discussion. He asked, however, that it be reworked with special emphasis on the first encyclical of Pope Paul VI, Ecclesiam Suam.

Though the deposit of faith and the fundamental structure of the Church cannot change, he said, the Church has progressed — and must continue to do so — both in its doctrine and structure. This is especially true in matters concerning religion in its relationship to man and the temporal order, he declared.

From the beginning, he said, the Church should state that it is considering the nature and destiny of man from a religious viewpoint and from the viewpoint of the revelation God has given concerning man.

Pope Paul’s encyclical contains abundant riches not yet plumbed, Archbishop Shehan said. In it world problems are accurately set down in a profound way. The schema, on the other hand, in some of its expressions is too obscure and lofty in style and would do well to take the lead from the encyclical.

We should not fear if it is objected that we pervert the doctrine of the Church by setting up a dialogue with the world, he said. Authentic traditions must be preserved, but there must also be progress in the application of the Gospels to “signs of the times.”

Quoting from the encyclical, he said: “The Church must progress in its own nature and in its consciousness of its own doctrine.”

Bishop Josef Stimpfle of Augsburg, Germany, who spent several years in a Russian prison camp, cautioned against unreal optimism. Noting the “rapid progress of militant atheism, which has wrecked parishes, imprisoned and killed bishops and priests,” he said the Church cannot afford to remain silent regarding these crimes. But he said that the aim of any dialogue, even with atheism, must be “not to conquer but to persuade.”

Against Archbishop Heenan’s suggestion, he recommended that at least the fourth chapter of the schema be given to the present commission, rather than a new one, and that the commission be given wider powers in dealing with its revision. The fourth chapter reportedly includes proposals regarding race discrimination, marriage, social and economic problems and nuclear warfare.

Bishop Sebastiao Soares de Resende of Beira, Mozambique, observed that genuine poverty would increase the credibility of the Church. If the Church presents itself not merely as the Church of the poor, but as a poor Church, then it will have a greater claim to being listened to, he said.

“This depends on all of us,” he told the bishops at the council. “We could begin with the garments we bishops wear on various occasions. Why do we need all this dignity and all this show?”

He also asked that the laity be urged to take an active part in politics, “which is not to be regarded as forbidden fruit or something of little or no importance.”

The day’s meeting opened with Mass celebrated by Archbishop Benedictos Printesis of Athens. American-born Bishop John Taylor of Stockholm, Sweden, enthroned the Gospel. The day’s moderator was Julius Cardinal Doepfner of Munich, Germany.

During the meeting, medals were distributed to council Fathers to commemorate the opening (Sept. 14) of the third council session.

Joining Archbishop Heenan in rejecting the text as a basis for discussion was Archbishop Denis Hurley of Durban, South Africa. Its basic defect, he said, is that it was composed before its purpose was clearly determined. It provides too theoretical a solution for problems which are extremely delicate in practice, and it contains at least apparent contradictions and obscurities, he said.

He cited the schema’s statements that “defensive war is lawful” and that “nuclear warfare is criminal.”

“Does this mean defensive nuclear warfare is condemned?” he wanted to know.

To put into proper light the true value of the natural order and its relation to man’s final end, he suggested the use of the “splendid religious and scientific insight which characterized the illustrious and faithful son of the Church, Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.”

It was an obvious reference to the fact that Jesuit Father Teilhard’s works were for some time under a cloud of theological suspicion. Only after his death was permission granted to publish his scientific writings, and then permission to read them, even in his own order, was slow to come.

Archbishop Hurley had a kind word for council experts to counteract Archbishop Heenan’s attack. Suggesting that a small group of them be organized to rework the schema, he admitted “there are still some good ones left.” In the name of 10 Hungarian bishops, Archbishop Endre Hamvas of Csanad departed from the prepared text to thank the Pope for the new accord between the Holy See and the Hungarian government which allows the Church more freedom to pursue its work in that communist-controlled country.

Regarding the schema, he said, it is encouraging to see the Church under Pope Paul VI continuing the difficult task of acting as mother and teacher of the world in the abiding spirit of Pope John XXIII. He said he saw schema 13 as opening the Church to the world, but asked for greater stress on the visibility of the people of God.

“We cannot wait four years,” said Bishop Andre Charue of Namur, Belgium, in answer to Archbishop Heenan’s proposed delay regarding the fourth session. “This schema must be published next year.”

In his defense of the council experts, Bishop Charue said: “The commission has good periti at its disposal. If necessary, they can get others and work will proceed.”

Bishop Charue then added that .the human race has made more progress in the last 50 years than in the previous 2,000, and with this progress man becomes increasingly conscious that he is collaborating with his Creator.

It is wrong, he said, to insinuate that all evil comes from the body and all good from the soul. The Gospel ignores any such division. The world has its own law which the Church must observe.

Archbishop Maurice Roy of Quebec said he wanted the schema addressed not only to Catholics or Christians but to all men. Its language must be intelligible to everyone and be in the “language of man to man,” he said.

“This means avoiding all pompous phrases,” he added. We should start with what is better and more easily known, in regard to both fact and principle, and only then proceed to what is proper to Catholics. Among those things more easily known, he said, are the dignity of the human person, basic justice, and the nature of true progress.

The basic error of today, said Coadjutor Archbishop Pablo Munoz Vega of Quito, Ecuador, is disregard or contempt for the human person and human dignity. It is extremely important, therefore, to develop a high level of Catholic culture.

The text should not omit extolling the contribution made in the life of the Church by present-day martyrs, he said.

By failing to present the traditional doctrine of the subordination of civil society to the Church, Brazilian Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer of Campos said, the text runs the risk of falling into secularism. Besides, he stated, the text presupposes good will in all men, and this does not correspond to fact. The schema should also warn against dangerous secret societies, and make some mention of the mass media, he said.

The master general of the Dominican Order, Father Aniceto Fernandez, O.P., said the greatest dignity of human nature is that it has been assumed by the Divine Person. With man thus lifted, the whole universe is brought along, he went on. He asked for an expansion of the schema’s theology based on the theology of the Incarnate Word.

Archbishop Leon Duval of Algiers, Algeria, said he thought the text was too long, too scholastic and too ecclesiastical. He said he wanted it to include a condemnation of all social and racial discrimination and asked the Fathers to try to approve a text which would make war impossible in the future.

Archbishop George Beck of Liverpool, England, said the schema may well be the second most important document produced by the council and that it therefore merits full discussion, at least in general, as a basis for further consideration. With the council’s most important document, that on the nature of the Church, it will constitute a double foundation for the updating of the Church so much desired by Pope John XXIII, he stated.

This work, he said, “is a pastoral duty which falls on the Fathers of the council as distinct from the periti. It is our duty to offer practical guidance in moral questions to all men, and with the full authority which serves to affirm and vindicate the objective moral law.”

Bishop Frane Franic of Split and Makarska, Yugoslavia, said he felt the text lacks a clear purpose and should pinpoint specific errors such as atheism and materialism. This is of extreme pastoral importance for those living under Marxism, he said. Therefore, he continued, the schema should go into such things as the binding force of the natural law “because even some of our own people today seem unconvinced or uncertain.”

Wider use of laymen and specialists in drawing up new council documents and in revising the ones already debated is a very likely result of such speeches as Archbishop Heenan’s.

That was the opinion expressed by Msgr. Mark J. Hurley, chancellor of the Stockton, Calif., diocese, during a meeting of the U.S. bishops’ press panel following the council meeting at which the British prelate said that true specialists did not play a big enough part in drawing up the directives on family life, nuclear warfare and world hunger. At the same time, the archbishop denounced too much reliance on the experts “who, since their youth, have spent their lives in monasteries, seminaries or universities.”

Msgr. Hurley said it has been a mistake from the start to limit the experts almost completely to priests versed in theology or canon law. Msgr. Hurley, who is an expert for the commission which drafted the proposition on Catholic schools, said his commission is contemplating much greater use of educational specialists and other laymen when it comes time to rework the proposition, which has yet to be introduced before the council.

What is needed, he said, are more scientists, demographers, educators, chemists and other specialists, because the job before the commission dealing with the schema on the Church in the modern world is too big for canon lawyers and theologians alone.

Italian Father Roberto Tucci, S.J., director of the Jesuits’ Rome periodical, Civilta Cattolica, agreed with Msgr. Hurley that work on the draft schema needs to be enlarged and that consultation with specialists needs to be extended. He said that a number of lay specialists were consulted in the early preparatory phases.

He stated that Archbishop Heenan’s charge that the experts guiding the drafting of the text were inexperienced was not completely true and partly unjust.

The panel members commented at length on the British archbishop’s fear that theologians and specialists would be the ones who would explain what the bishops mean in their council documents.

Father Frederick R. McManus of Boston, canon law professor at the Catholic University of America, and Msgr. George G. Higgins, director of the Social Action Department of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, pointed out that it was a mixed commission of members of the council’s Theology Commission and Commission on the Lay Apostolate that drew up and approved the schema for presentation to the council. Therefore, they noted, an attack on the schema is an attack on the mixed commission, headed jointly by Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani and Fernando Cardinal Cento.

English theologian Father Charles Davis, a temporary member of the press panel, pointed out that a great part of theologians’ time is spent interpreting acts of past councils and popes.

Father Francis J. McCool, S.J., of New York, a professor at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, said that while it is the bishops who have the teaching power, they are forced in fact to rely on theologians, since it is the theologian’s function to teach by the mandate of their superiors and to break new paths with prudence. A theologian has to see what Divine Revelation has to see what divine revelation has to say on a particular point and, ultimately, it is often from the work of the theologian that bishops proceed to declarations and teachings.

Father John P. Donnelly
NCWC News Rome Correspondent

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One Response to Leading Prelate Denounces Draft on Church in Modern World, Seeks Major Delay

  1. Bishop Tobin of RI can take pride in being a spiritual son of Cardinal Heenan.

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