Curia Reform, New Commission of Bishops to Assist Pope Approved by Council

114th General Congregation
November 4, 1964

The council’s 114th meeting approved proposals to establish a central commission of bishops to assist the pope in Church government and to reorganize the Roman curia in the light of present-day needs.

The council Fathers, back from a four-day break in daily meetings, were asked by Pope Paul VI to pray for the success of the Pan-Orthodox Conference in Rhodes. They also heard strong pleas for a clear declaration on the necessity of liberty for scientific research.

Approval of the so-called senate of bishops and reorganization of the curia were voted by overwhelming majorities during a series of votes on amendments to the schema on the pastoral duties of bishops.

The Fathers, however, showed disfavor with one change that had been made in the text dealing with the collegiality of the bishops.

As expressed in chapter three of the schema on the nature of the Church, the text reads that the college of bishops together with the pope exercises “supreme and full power over the universal Church.”

However, as several members of the U.S. bishops’ press panel pointed out, this was not the text quoted in the present schema on the duties of bishops. Rather, another text from the schema on the Church was used which omits the word “full.” The council secretary general, Archbishop Pericle Felici, said the omission was made so that the text used in this schema would correspond to the phrasing found in the schema on the Church.

What was not explained immediately is why the verbatim quotation from chapter three of the schema on the Church was not used instead of the other quotation from another section of the same document, which some Fathers regard as ambiguous.

As a result, many Fathers chose to vote with reservations on the schema on bishops when the entire introduction and first chapter came up for a vote. The vote was 1,030 in favor, 77 against, and 852 in favor with reservations.

This was the largest number of favorable-with-reservations votes in the history of the council. One council spokesman said the great majority of the reservations centered on the omission of the word full. As a result of the vote, Archbishop Felici announced, the chapter must be sent back to commission and the Fathers’ reservations studied. The chapter will again have to come before a general council meeting after it has been processed by the commission.

The meeting began with Mass in the Ambrosian rite celebrated by Milan-born Efrem Cardinal Forni of the Roman curia in honor of St. Charles Borromeo’s feast. The Ambrosian rite is a Latin rite used only in the Milan, Italy, archdiocese. It is named for St. Ambrose, fourth-century bishop of the See, which was also headed centuries later by St. Charles. The Gospel was enthroned by Bishop Charles-Marie Himmer of Tournai, Belgium. Giacomo Cardinal Lercaro of Bologna, Italy, was moderator.

Coadjutor Archbishop Pierre Veuillot of Paris reported on the amendments to the schema on bishops before the voting took place. He noted that 102 bishops had made more than 400 suggested changes. He said that the policy guiding the commission in revising the schema was to set down principles rather than provide for specific details. The aim was to supply principles for pastoral activity and the role of the bishop in the world today.

The theological basis of the schema is to be found in the schema on the nature of the Church, he said. Such problems as suggestions to abolish titular Sees were not dealt with, he said, as they are not concerned with pastoral activities of bishops.

Bishop Joseph Gargitter of Bolzano-Bressanone, Italy, delivered the report on the first chapter of the schema dealing with relations between bishops and the Roman curia and with the principles relating to the role of bishops in the universal Church. In referring to collegiality, Bishop Gargitter said that the present text has omitted repeated references to the authority of the pope because this has been clearly stated from the outset.

The concept of a central commission of bishops, he said, has been included in the amended text. It should not be regarded as a representative body of bishops, he noted, but rather as a symbolic sign of the council Fathers’ desire to cooperate with the pope.

The text, he said, now urges reorganization of the Roman curia in view of modern needs, but it does not make explicit recommendations for such offices as the Congregation of the Holy Office or apostolic nuncio and delegates because it was the mind of the drafting commission that all these matters would be within the competence of the reorganizing committee.

After these two reports, five series of votes were taken on the revised schema on bishops. The Fathers also continued debating the schema on the Church in the modern world. Voting results were:

Vote one — on the introduction and articles one to three regarding the general contents of the schema: yes 1,908; no 101.

Vote two — on article four regarding the application and exercise of collegiality: yes 1,782; no 225.

(It was in this article that the word full was omitted, but the Fathers decided to register their disfavor with the omission not in the vote on the article itself, which would have meant an outright negative vote, but to wait until the overall vote was taken which permits favorable-with-reservations votes.)

Vote three — on articles five to seven regarding the establishment of a central commission of bishops to assist the pope and its role in the Church: yes 1,912; no 81.

(Bishop Gargitter in his report said that in article six a phrase which described the college of bishops as “successors of the apostles” had been omitted. This omission, he said, was not deliberate and was due to a typographical error.)

Vote four — on article eight regarding the authority of a bishop in his diocese: yes 1,880; no 81.

Vote five was the vote on the chapter as a whole: yes 1,030; no 77; yes with reservations 852.

Strong pleas for declarations on the freedom of scientific investigation and study were voiced during the debate on the schema on the Church in the modern world by Auxiliary Bishop Leon Elchinger of Strasbourg, France, and by Mexican Bishop Manuel Talamas Camandari of Ciudad Juarez.

Bishop Elchinger said the schema’s section dealing with the Church’s relation to culture will appear to learned men as mere pious exhortations, since many leaders of cultural movements of the present time have for the most part abandoned Christian beliefs or are actively opposed to them.

To overcome much of public opinion’s distrust of the Church’s attitude toward culture, he said, it is necessary to overcome “dogmatic imperialism,” a tendency to judge all things as if theology gives a universal competence over all other fields of human learning. The Church is too bound up in classical and Western culture and shows too little openness of mind, he said.

As an example, he cited the case of Galileo. He noted that this year is the celebration of the fourth centenary of the birth of Galileo, but pointed out that there has been no retraction on the part of the Church of his “miserable and unjust condemnation.” To offset this, he said, the Church must take a positive approach to the problem of culture and view it with an open and benevolent mind, recognizing freedom of investigation and study even in the religious sciences.

Bishop Talamas called for a declaration of the freedom of study and research as means of refuting the charge that the Church favors obscurantism. Even when it appears that a scholar is at variance or in conflict with Revelation, the Church should not condemn him or force him to make a retraction, but should rather encourage investigation until all facets of the matter are completed. This, he said, would work toward a synthesis of science and philosophy and closer collaboration between Church and scientists.

The day’s first speaker was Giacomo Cardinal Lercaro of Bologna, Italy, who spoke on article 22 of the schema on the Church in the modern world. Article 22 treats of the Church’s relation to culture. It was Cardinal Lercaro’s contention that the Church should place greater stress on evangelical poverty.

He stated the Church has many riches and treasures from other ages that do not fit in the modern world, such as the medieval philosophy and terminology coming from the culture of the past. While they have value and significance, the Church should not boast of these as if they are all it has to offer to the world today.

He called for greater magnanimity toward the culture of today and urged the Church to go back to the treasures of the Bible and the early Fathers, who were bishops and teachers in the true sense. Man today does not want a philosophical system but a supernatural and spiritual dynamism from the Church, he said.

Italian Bishop Luigi Carla of Segni said the schema was incomplete in describing culture and put too much stress on material things, without warning of the dangers that can arise from modern culture. Among these dangers he listed “technicism,” in which man is often considered only a tool within the larger social unity and also the danger of the suffocation of true culture by technicism, which leaves man passive.

Archbishop Charles De Provencheres of Aix, France, also warned of the dangers and weaknesses of modern culture which are brought about when the more backward cultures of newly emerging countries clash with richer cultures which are strongly influenced by technical advance and progress.

Archbishop Jean Zoa of Yaounde, Cameroun, criticized the schema for having no sense of the objectivity of the world. Therefore, he said, it would have significance for modern Africa. What Africa needs, he declared, is for the institutions of the Church to free the African people from superstition by legitimate science. Moreover, the need for a deeper sense of God should be an element of culture, he declared.

Ecuadorian Bishop Leonidas Proano Villalba of Riobamba, speaking in the name of 70 bishops, said he wanted great stress on the need for basic education. He said that in Latin America 80 million people out of a total population of 200 million are illiterate and that 600,000 teachers are needed today to combat this situation. He appealed to the council to work “to remove this crying shame.”

After Bishop Proano finished, discussion was shifted to the schema’s article 23 which deals with socioeconomic matters.

Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski of Warsaw, speaking for the Polish bishops, said they had sent detailed suggestions on this portion of the schema to the drafting commission earlier, but that he wanted to repeat that the Church must protect Catholics against civic and economic systems which are wrong or oppressive. He said the methods and modes of some economic systems cannot be accepted since they are harmful to the individual and nation. They are systems that spread atheism, and the Church must show more concern for the poor and the working classes.

Paul Cardinal Richaud of Bordeaux, France, said he wanted more attention paid to the problems of workers’ security and unemployment. He called for a condemnation of exaggerated profits from speculation and blamed many social problems on the inequality of the distribution of riches. The Church should face these problems with justice and without fear, he said.

Bishop Angel Herrera y Oria of Malaga, Spain, also expressed concern about the workers’ plight. The social question cannot be passed over in silence, he said, and the council must take its stand by issuing concrete directives and norms. He called for the collaboration of workers, management, the state and the Church in social activity to be carried out in the charity of Christ.

Colombian Bishop Raul Zambrano Camader of Facatativa stressed the Church is not bound to one economic system and that economic systems are not fixed and unchanging but are constantly undergoing alterations. He also asked that the document repeat the basic concept of property which has been taught by the Church in the past.

James C. O’Neill
N.C.W.C. News Rome Correspondent

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