118th General Congregation
November 9, 1964
Pleas to ban all use of nuclear weapons, and a vote which sent the propositions on the missions back to commission for complete revision, highlighted the ecumenical council’s 118th meeting as it began its second to last week of discussions of the third session.
Bernard Cardinal Alfrink of Utrecht, the Netherlands, called on the council to adopt a statement on nuclear weapons and the end of the arms race as strong as that contained in Pope John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in Terris.
Auxiliary Bishop Alfred Ancel of Lyons, France, went even further and asked the council to propose that all nations renounce the right to make war and entrust weapons of war to an international authority which would have the task of defending individual countries from attackers.
With less than two full weeks to go before the third session is adjourned, the council heard further criticism of the missions document and then closed debate on it. Bishop Stanislaus Lokuang of Tainan, Formosa, presented a wrapup report of the debate and asked the bishops to vote to send the whole document back to the Commission on the Missions for revision.
The request came in the wake of three days of criticism of the propositions, which were contained in only five and a half pages of text, a drastic reduction from the former text. There was also the element of Pope Paul VI’s speech on Nov. 6 in which he expressed the belief that the council Fathers might be able to approve the text easily, although only with revisions.
When the bishops were asked to send it back for revision, they approved this action by 1,601 votes to only 311 votes to accept the document as it stood.
Auxiliary Bishop Fulton J. Sheen of New York said that Pope Paul had recognized the need for revision in his speech, and the bishop asked that the word mission be given a broader concept. He asked it not be limited to the church’s endeavors in non-Christian countries but be extended to all areas wherever true missionary activity is necessary.
During the same meeting, Bishop Floyd L. Begin of Oakland, Calif., rose to urge favorable support of tithing. Speaking on article 24 of schema 13 on the Church in the modern world, which deals with human solidarity, Bishop Begin said the council should not lose sight of the economic system referred to in the Bible as tithing. He said if it were adopted, it would solve the world’s poverty problem.
The meeting opened with Mass celebrated by Benedetto Cardinal Aloisi Masella, Archpriest of St. John Lateran’s basilica, on the Roman feast day of its dedication. The Bible was enthroned by Bishop Thomas Parker of Northampton, England.
The main interest of the day centered on four Fathers who spoke on schema 13’s article 25 dealing with peace and war. Three of these speeches pinpointed the problems raised by nuclear warfare.
Cardinal Alfrink was the first to speak. Citing the example of Pacem in Terris, he called for a council denunciation of the arms race. He also objected to the part of the text which could be interpreted as denouncing the “dirty bomb,” whose effects are not controllable by science, and yet permitting the newly developed “clean nuclear bombs,” whose effects can be controlled.
The Dutch cardinal urged that no room for misunderstanding be left in the final document and that use of all nuclear arms be denounced. He quoted the late President John F. Kennedy that “unless we destroy our arms they will destroy us.”
He also objected to the portion of the text which acknowledged the right of a just war and said it could be implied that the use of nuclear weapons in a just defensive war would be justified.
Bishop Ancel also objected to this “internal contradiction” which seems to affirm the lawfulness of the use of nuclear weapons defensively while condemning the use of nuclear weapons in general.
To remedy the obvious difficulty of how a country attacked by nuclear weapons could defend itself, he offered two propositions. First, for the good of the human family, all nations definitely and absolutely renounce the right to make war, including all weapons, keeping only those necessary for maintaining civil order. Secondly, an international authority should have whatever weapons are necessary to prevent wars and protect the individual nations from aggression. He said these proposals are not in conflict with the schema but only carry it a step further.
Bishop Michel Ntuyahaga of Usumbura, Burundi, said the problems of peace and war can only be resolved in terms of brotherly love. The African prelate said the document should reflect this and asked the council to call for special prayers to be offered throughout the world for peace.
Bishop Jacques Guilhem of Laval, France, said the disproportion of the consequences of nuclear weapons is the greatest injury against God and humanity and urged the council to raise its voice “against this form of genocide.” To achieve success in banning nuclear weapons, it is necessary to have discussion and dialogue, and public opinion must be formed among Catholics to support civil leaders in disarmament.
Before discussion on the missions project came to an end, six speakers took the floor. The first was Bishop Lawrence Picachy of Jamshedpur, India, speaking for all the bishops of India and for others from Pakistan, Burma and Malaysia.
He said the bishops he was speaking for did not approve of the reduction of the mission schema to a series of propositions. He said he wanted stress placed on how much the missions contribute to the whole life of the Church, fostering as they do vitality, fervor and increased awareness of Catholicism.
A Belgian missionary, Bishop Xavier Geeraerts, former apostolic vicar of Bukavu, the Congo, spoke in the name of 75 missionary bishops. He said he wanted more stress on the theology of the missionary apostolate and not just a juridical view of the situation. Moreover, he said, he wanted it made clear that missions are not distinct from the life of the Church in Christian countries but proceed from the living Church.
This unity of the Church and missions was also stressed by Spain’s Archbishop Segundo Garcia de Sierra y Mendez of Burgos who said all bishops have a missionary role even if missionary work is not carried on within the diocese. Such bishops can set up mission seminaries or promote those already in existence. National episcopal conferences are to coordinate these efforts.
Archbishop Elie Zoghbi, Melkite-rite patriarchal vicar for Egypt, recommended that the council take into account the mystique of the Eastern Church, which in its past had a missionary apostolate. The East, he said, considered the missions as an outpouring of faith in Christ, a planting of the seed of the word of God. It is not good to impose a prefabricated Christ on other cultures, but the Church should make it possible through the missions for people to reincarnate Christ in the light of their own cultures, he said.
Ghana’s Archbishop John Kodwo Amissah of Cape Coast called for a complete revision of the document, which, he said, pays no attention to the new phenomenon of the rise of new churches headed by native bishops. He urged religious institutes in mission territories and bishops to work in harmony. Lastly, he said, the mission document should be accorded as much attention as was given the one on the lay apostolate.
Bishop Sheen was the last speaker on the document of missions.
With the close of debate and vote to return the document to committee, the council turned its attention again to discussion of schema 13, resuming debates on article 24 on human solidarity.
The leadoff speaker, Laurean Cardinal Rugambwa of Bukoba, Tanzania, insisted that the principles contained in this section should be more concrete and practical. Real love will always be reflected in concrete action, he stated.
Father Gerald Mahon, superior general of the Mill Hill Fathers, asked for more extended treatment of the problems of hunger, world poverty and the population explosion. He asked for a “clarion call for an all-out war on want” and urged that abolition of world hunger and world poverty be given prominence as one of the main themes.
Father Mahon declared that “today inequalities between nations in the world community are as glaring as they formerly were between classes within nations. Today it is not the proletarian classes but proletarian nations that await the outcome of this council.”
The importance of the statement on emigration was stressed by Archbishop Franjo Seper of Zagreb, Yugoslavia. Many social problems today cannot be solved within the boundaries of a single country, he said. He added that the council should publicly proclaim the right to emigrate, to return later and to be protected against discrimination for having chosen to emigrate for a while.
Bishop Begin stated that tithing was established by God Himself in the Old Testament and no one was excepted. Even the poor had to tithe. Tithing, he said, would help alleviate the world’s misery since much of it is due to the inequitable distribution of goods and wealth.
Moreover, he said, the practice of tithing increases the spirit of penance and abnegation and will develop a host of Christian virtues.
Paul Cardinal Richaud of Bordeaux, France, was the last speaker on article 24. He called attention to the existence of Caritas Internationalis, established by Pius XII in 1950, in which 73 national relief organizations cooperate. He singled out generous examples of the National Catholic Welfare Conference and its Canadian and German counterparts. He urged the council work for the education of Catholics in a spirit of charity and to produce leaders in this field.
Before the discussion began, Archbishop Pericle Felici, council secretary general, informed the council that the agenda for projects not yet introduced to the council floor will come up in the following order — on Religious, on priestly formation, on Catholic education and on matrimony.
Archbishop Felici announced the death of Archbishop Joseph F. Rummel of New Orleans. The council Fathers recited the De Profundis and prayers for the dead.
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At the U.S. bishops’ press panel, Msgr. George G. Higgins, director of the Social Action Department of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, defended the schema’s treatment of war — especially atomic war — from the accusation hurled in the council that it is weaker than Pacem in Terris and should ban nuclear war.
His own impression, Msgr. Higgins said, is that the schema is merely shorter than Pacem in Terris, not weaker.
Msgr. Mark J. Hurley, chancellor of the diocese of Stockton, Calif., said in comparing the pertinent passages of both the documents, that the only perceptible difference between the two is that the encyclical specifically asks for a reciprocal and effective control in disarmament.
As for the request that the council document brand all nuclear weapons immoral, Msgr. Higgins said the schema aims at achieving a situation where even defensive warfare would be unnecessary.
“Beyond that, it is hard to see what the council could say without being demagogic. It would be nothing short of demagogic for the council to attempt to solve this exceedingly difficult question in a simple conciliar statement of a few words.”
Msgr. Higgins said he knows that a group of laymen who have devoted years to studying this question has sent a letter to the competent council commission, saying it would be naive for the council to speak of nuclear weapons without the necessary refinements. This letter claims the schema does not take into sufficient account the actual state of nuclear weaponry.
Msgr. George W. Shea, rector of Immaculate Conception Seminary in Darlington, N.J., and Father Roberto Tucci, S.J., editor of the Rome Jesuit review, La Civilta Cattolica, pointed to what Msgr. Higgins described as the “crucial passage” of the schema’s section on warfare:
“Although after all helps to peaceful discussion have been exhausted, it may not be illicit, when one’s rights have been unjustly trammeled, to defend those rights against such unjust aggression by violence and force, nevertheless, the use of arms, especially nuclear weapons whose effects are greater than can be imagined and therefore cannot be reasonably regulated by men, exceeds all just proportion and therefore must be judged most wicked before God and man.”
Msgr. Shea and Father Tucci asserted that the schema does not say all nuclear weapons are wrong.
James C. O’Neill
NCWC News Rome Correspondent
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You could have heard a pin drop in St. Peter’s when Bishop Fulton Sheen rose to address the ecumenical council on the subject of the missions.
For days, the bishops of the world had been awaiting the views of the American whose work for the missions has made his name almost universally known.
So when the Auxiliary Bishop of New York who heads the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in the U.S. arose to speak, the other Fathers gave rapt attention. The man who has been a popular radio-TV speaker in his own country made an impassioned plea that the concept of missionary activity be enlarged to embrace not only territories under the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, but also the poor throughout the world, especially in Latin America.
Bishop Sheen used the microphone in the council section where he had his seat. His voice was perfectly modulated, rising and falling in accordance with the exigencies of his text. He followed his custom of accompanying his statements with dramatic gestures. He spoke slowly, using elegant Latin which was perfectly understandable even to those who sometimes experience difficulty following American speakers when they use the council’s official language.
The council Fathers had delayed their usual coffee breaks so as not to miss this famous speaker. When he concluded, the members of his audience — one of a kind he had never before faced —expressed their appreciation by spontaneous applause.
It was the first time Bishop Sheen had spoken during the three council sessions. Although he spoke overtime, the moderator did not cut him off.
Bishop Sheen was the last speaker scheduled to talk about the missions. Immediately after his address, it was decided by an overwhelming vote to send the curtailed missions schema back to committee for a complete rewriting in the light of the critical observations that had been made on the council floor.
The keynote of Bishop Sheen’s talk was when he expressed full approval of Pope Paul’s plea the previous week that the mission schema be polished and developed.
“In place of the theological question, ‘What are the missions?’, I would suggest that we turn to the practical question ‘Where are the missions?’,” he said. He went on:
“Are missions exclusively in those territories where there are non-Christians? Or are they also in those regions where there are few priests, few churches, great poverty? The simple answer is the missions are both.”
Bishop Sheen then explained that it is souls, not territories, that make missions. Then he gave his full support to the proposal that a central council be formed for dealing with all missionary problems. Such a council, he said, should be one “transcending all juridical distinctions about congregations, and giving flexibility to missionary effort according to diverse circumstances.”
With a voice almost trembling with emotion, Bishop Sheen then concluded by appealing to the council that “the notion of poverty be strongly affirmed — the spirit of poverty should be the fruit of this council. If we have an ecumenical spirit to the brothers outside the Church, then let us be charitable about the missions.”
As the bishops filed out of the meeting at noon, Bishop Sheen’s talk was the main topic of their conversation. Said one prominent mission bishop: “This was one of the council’s greatest days, thanks to Fulton Sheen.”
Father Placid Jordan, O.S.B.
NCWC News Rome Correspondent