Council Discusses: Should Eating Meat on Friday Send You to Hell? Should Bishops Look Wealthy?

109th General Congregation
October 26, 1964

A Texas-born missionary bishop, telling the Second Vatican Council that he spoke in the name of millions who do not understand the Church’s teaching on hell, deplored a “lack of proportion” between the sin of eating meat on Friday and the eternal hellfire which is its punishment.

By imposing such a heavy penalty for the breach of purely ecclesiastical laws, said Bishop Louis Morrow of Krishnagar, India, the Church puts a man who eats meat on Friday in the same category as an atheist or an adulterer.

The result is a dulling of the moral sense, Bishop Morrow asserted. Sanctions that are too heavy for the sin they punish actually defeat their own purpose, he said.

His appeal to the Church not to impose the pain of mortal sin too easily came during council debate on the introduction and chapters one, two and three of schema 13 on the Church in the modern world.

The same debate also heard a Yugoslav bishop, who had been imprisoned in the early years of communist rule, declare that the Church sometimes works better under an unfriendly government.

The Church should be wary of accepting too many privileges, warned Bishop Petar Cule of Mostar.

Like other speakers, he emphasized that the Church’s activity in the world should be that of a leaven. Also like others, he warned that preaching has a hollow sound if Christians are no better than others.

Like other prelates from behind the Iron Curtain, he emphasized the Church’s duty of proclaiming the primacy of spiritual values and the dignity of the person.

A Brazilian prelate, in a speech at once briskly humorous and passionately earnest, urged the council Fathers to throw off their gorgeous vestments and attend the council’s next session dressed simply in black.

Archbishop Henrique Golland Trinidade of Botucatu noted that the council secretary general, Archbishop Pericle Felici, habitually addresses the council Fathers with the traditional Latin salute, “most adorned Fathers.”

Yes, he said, we are indeed most adorned from top to toe as we walk to the council each morning, and we look like rich men instead of the Fathers we really are.

He emphasized, too, that good example must back up all preaching.

At the end of his speech, he suggested the Church set up a complaint bureau in the form of a “commission for dialogue.” This commission would listen to anything anybody had to say to the Church.

In all, 18 speakers took part in the debate, nine on the introduction and chapter one, and nine on chapters two and three. Chapter one is on the vocation of the whole man; chapter two on the Church in the service of God and men; and chapter three on Christian conduct in today’s world.

The 109th general council meeting began with Mass offered by Archbishop Custodio Alvim Pereira of Lourenco Marques, Mozambique. The Gospel was enthroned by Bishop Baltasar Alvarez Restrepo of Pereira, Colombia.

Leo Cardinal Suenens of Malines-Brussels was the moderator.

Archbishop Felici announced that 12 parish priests were to concelebrate Mass on the sixth anniversary of the election of Pope John XXIII (Oct. 28). His announcement was applauded warmly.

He asked the council Fathers to seek Pope John’s intercession that the council’s work might proceed tranquilly and with full harmony of minds.

He also announced that on Oct. 29, the 25th anniversary of the ordination of Julius Cardinal Doepfner of Munich, Germany, the cardinal would concelebrate Mass with the other council Fathers who would be celebrating the 25th anniversary of their consecration as bishops.

Paul Cardinal Leger of Montreal led off the debate on the schema’s introduction and chapter one.

He said the root of every person’s influence in the world is his vocation. Because the development of this vocation depends on both its natural and supernatural elements, man must achieve a proper balance between the two. It would be a grave mistake to give the impression that a Christian’s first task is to despise the earth and desire only heavenly things, he said. He added that the text should say something on the problem of evil and the Christian concept of suffering.

Auxiliary Bishop Jan Pietraszko of Cracow, Poland, like others before him, urged the clarification of the term “the world.” He also asked for a clearer explanation of man’s vocation through a clearer explanation of the basis of that vocation. The document deals with the natural mystery of the world and the supernatural mystery of the Church, he said. While these are theological ideas, they should be expressed in a language that is not strictly theological, he stated. We must strive to fill the void of theological sense which is growing in the world, he said.

Abbot Jean Prou, O.P., president of the French Benedictine Congregation, urged that a sharper distinction be made by the schema between rational creatures who can be directed to Christ through grace, and irrational creatures which are incapable of grace. The council should carefully avoid prejudging any intricate theological problems, he said.

Auxiliary Bishop Jose Guerra Campos of Madrid said a large part of modern culture is pervaded by the Marxist notion that all religion is a denial of human nature. Without polemics or apologetics, he continued, the Church should make it very clear that religion is the dynamic expression of human perfection. The council should carefully avoid describing Christianity as an ideological system, he said.

Archbishop Josip Pogacnik of Ljubljana, Yugoslavia, suggested the schema could be improved by stating clearly just what the Church does for those living in misery. Referring to the schema’s mention of the Biblical term “signs of the times,” he said special emphasis should be put on atheism as a sign of the times. He said the Church has suffered from atheism both in the East and in the West. He asserted that God has permitted widespread apostasy because of the cosmic dimension of sin and in order to make everyone conscious of his own personal guilt. Resounding pastoral letters will be useless unless they are followed up by concrete action, he said. It is no secret that in some places government officials read Mater et Magistra before many bishops, he stated.

Auxiliary Bishop Heinrich Tenhumberg of Muenster, Germany, asserted that people often fail to recognize signs of the times because they lack spiritual intuition which, in turn, is due to a lack of practical devotion to the Holy Spirit. In explaining the Church’s mission, the council must not fail to emphasize the task of bishops and of all who exercise authority in the Church, he declared.

Bishop Remi De Roo of Victoria, B.C., said he wanted the schema to instruct Christians to avoid any split between the natural and supernatural missions which are a part of their vocation. Christians should share in the world’s struggles. Nobody can effectively collaborate in developing the Christian community unless he actively participates in building the human community, he stated.

Auxiliary Bishop Santo Quadri of Pinerolo, Italy, said the schema fails to give enough importance to work, whose place in man’s complete vocation should be explained. Work is a biological need, since without it life cannot go on, he said. A Christian must recognize that in working he is collaborating with God. While work is neither the sole nor supreme value in life, we must have a clear notion of its spiritual value, he asserted.

Maronite-rite Archbishop Ignace Ziade of Beirut, Lebanon, urged that the document’s arguments should appeal primarily to reason rather than to authority.

Auxiliary Bishop Alfred Ancel of Lyons, France, began debate on chapters two and three. The schema gives the impression that its sole aim is to build up the earthly city, he said. The schema should therefore take up the Church’s essential mission of evangelization, he added.

Bishop Morrow said the mentality which expects God the Father to damn a man to hell for eating meat on Friday seems more legalistic than genuinely religious and makes the Church a laughing-stock for many.

Auxiliary Bishop Anthony Hacault of St. Boniface, Man., said that while the Church in this world cannot be expected to solve all the problems of all men, we must insist that constant efforts be made in this direction. The Church’s closer contacts with men, a more vital dialogue and a more faithful awakening to the Holy Spirit will make it easier for the Church to complete its mission, which is to lead all men to God through Christ, he stated.

Bishop Cule quoted the 19th-century restorer of the Dominican Order in France, Father Lacordaire, to support his thesis that the Church runs a greater risk from a government which is too kindly disposed toward it than from a hostile government.

Archbishop Francois Marty of Rheims, France, deplored the schema’s insufficient stress on the Church’s vital presence in the world. He echoed Bishop Cule’s point that the Church is a leaven in the world. In the Middle Ages the Church almost absorbed society, to the extent that the Church and society were then co-terminous, he said.

Since the Church’s presence in the world must be truly Catholic, all Western-mindedness should be eliminated from the schema, he went on. The Church’s presence in the world is a duty not of the clergy and the hierarchy alone, nor of the laity alone, but of every member of the Church, he stated.

Bishop Otto Spuelbeck of Meissen, Germany, who holds a doctorate in science, declared that in speaking to scientists the Church often uses an archaic and moribund language. The council Fathers should examine their conscience to see if they are characterized by that ardent study which would enable them to understand today’s problems and give adequate answers, he said.

How can we explain the influence of the late Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin? he asked. We know he was a pious priest, and scientists tell us they felt close to him because he spoke their language. Some individuals today want him condemned, as though they were afraid of a concord between religion and science, he declared. This would be a repetition of the condemnation of Galileo and would not be without fault on our part, he said. Disagreement between science and faith has been caused not so much by ill will as by a lack of mutual understanding, he added.

Religious skepticism is growing among young students and could easily lead them into the ranks of unbelievers, he continued. It is our task to adopt an attitude that will enable us to maintain a spirit of comradeship in intellectual research without harm to the principles of faith, he said.

Bishop Michal Klepacz of Lodz, Poland, approached the achievements of science from a different tack. He said the glorification of scientific research and discoveries has resulted in a genuine apotheosis of man and the construction of a new tower of Babel. Today’s world is characterized by conflicting trends of exaggerated optimism and nihilistic pessimism, he said, and the Church must combat both of these destructive tendencies.

Bishop Rene Fourrey of Belley, France, criticized the schema’s treatment of poverty. He said it is presented in a tone of spiritual exhortation and lacks a Scriptural base. Poverty afflicts not only individuals but countries and peoples, he noted. The Scriptural “Woe to the rich” is addressed not only to rich men but to rich nations, who have a duty to help the poor nations, he said. Yet the schema says nothing about collective poverty. Usury, which the speaker called the exploitation of want for purposes of gain, should be condemned in its many modern forms. Unless the council faces such concrete problems it will be straining out gnats and swallowing camels, he stated. The flower of real poverty is humble service of God and of man, he declared.

A total of 2,007 council Fathers attended the debate, which ended at 12:15 because several speakers did not respond to the summons from Cardinal Suenens.

Patrick Riley
NCWC News Rome Correspondent

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