Draft on Religious Life Gets More Criticism; Seminary Training Fares Better

121st General Congregation
November 12, 1964

Council Fathers decided by a narrow majority to vote on the propositions on Religious after eight speakers, speaking in the name of hundreds of others, pronounced it inadequate. They then moved on to the discussion of the propositions on seminary training, which fared better at the hands of the day’s speakers.

Three of the speakers on the propositions on Religious were superiors of religious communities and five were bishops. In general they said the text is out of date and avoids the important issues of the exemption of religious orders from episcopal regulation and the modernization of the Religious apostolate.

But in spite of this, the Fathers approved by a vote of 1,155 to 882 a motion to take a vote on the propositions rather than return them to commission for revision. The second vote was to be taken Nov. 14.

Albert Cardinal Meyer of Chicago said much in the seminary propositions is good, but added that he wanted a clearer statement of what is common to all seminary training and what is adaptable to local circumstances and needs. The cardinal, a former seminary professor, said he was pleased that the text makes national episcopal conferences competent to make adaptations for their areas subject to the approval of the Holy See.

To provide for a clear vision of unity for the priestly apostolate, he suggested that the propositions on seminary training be combined with those on the priesthood to form one expanded schema.

The good priest must first of all be a good man, Cardinal Meyer said, strong in the virtues of veracity, sincerity, courage and justice. Therefore it is necessary that norms for all Christian education be applied likewise to seminary training.

He said the grace of the priesthood is grace for others, not medicinal grace for the priest’s own defects, and that the text must clearly reflect this.

Another former seminary professor also expressed pleasure with the propositions. Archbishop Giovanni Colombo of Milan, a seminary rector for 20 years, said the text assures the formation of priests who are mature men and not narrow-minded.

Though the reduction of the text from a schema to propositions has narrowed argument, he said, we still have an effective weapon against two major defects of present seminaries. Against the defect of a lack of organic unity of spiritual, intellectual and cultural formation, the text centers all these disciplines in the “mystery of Christ,” he said. Without the love of Christ there is no genuine progress in training, he added. Against the defect of a lack of “human formation,” he said, the text stresses norms of psychology in formation and provides for the interruption of the curriculum to expand the spiritual and pastoral training of students during their seminary life.

He cautioned against “prophylactic training” in which emphasis on preserving seminaries from the “contagion of the world” leads to passivity toward the world and its problems.

Stressing freedom of choice as an absolute necessity for a priestly candidate, he urged that the Church assure that students will be free to leave the seminary at any time, if they feel they lack a vocation, without the fear of being accused of being unfaithful to the grace of God, disloyalty to the family, ingratitude and the like. To make the transfer easier in such cases, he said, the curriculum, particularly of minor seminaries, should be carefully coordinated with that of other schools.

Another prelate with 20 years of seminary experience called for a clarification of the word vocation. Jose Cardinal Bueno y Monreal of Seville, Spain, said the text is acceptable but that the Fathers must add a clearer notion of vocation as applied to the priesthood, which is distinct from the other vocations. He said the role of the minor seminary is to help youngsters discover whether they have this vocation. He suggested that formation here might be broader so that it would be a preparation for life in the world if the youngster decides he has no vocation.

The 121st general council meeting opened with Mass offered by exiled Auxiliary Bishop Jazeps Rancans of Riga, Latvia. The Gospel was enthroned by Bishop Antonio Bagnoli of Fiesole, Italy. Leo Cardinal Suenens of Malines-Brussels was the moderator.

During the meeting a brochure was distributed containing the qualifications of those who had voted qualified approval on chapter three of the ecumenism schema. It was announced a vote would be taken on Nov. 14 on how the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity had handled these qualifications.

Leading off the discussion on the propositions on Religious, Bishop Gerard Huyghe of Arras, France, set the keynote for the other speakers by branding the text as insufficient.

“It is without a soul, too juridical, too occidental,” he said. “Its doctrine on the Church is precouncil. A new text must be prepared to put religious life in proper perspective in the life of the whole Church.”

This must be done, he said, by showing the relation of religious life both to other states inside the Church and in the outside world. It should not regard the religious life as almost another Church, but should stress its “ecumenical role” within the Church as a witness to the Church’s inner unity in perfection and as an example to all.

Toward the outside world, he said, the text must stress the role of Religious as “soldiers of Christ” in the missionary apostolate, whether their life is active or contemplative. To carry out this missionary task, new forms of religious life are needed, forms which will be simpler, give more stress to poverty and be more flexible regarding residences, clothing and the cloister. Special care must be taken to avoid thrusting Western forms on Eastern communities, he stated.

Calling the present schema “incurable,” he asked that a new one be formulated with the help of the Sisters who are council auditors.

In the name of more than 140 council Fathers, including 43 superior generals of religious congregations, Father Germain-Marie Lalande, C.S.C., also called the text “insufficient.” The superior general of the Congregation of Holy Cross said that if the traditions of the Church must be imbued with a dynamic and progressive spirit, this is all the more true of the traditions of individual institutes.

The text appears too juridical, he said, and lacks a pastoral spirit and concreteness. Its effect can be no more than an external accommodation on the part of Religious, he stated.

Vocations to the religious life are perhaps in crisis today because these institutions seem too traditionalistic and not in accord with modern times, he said. He added that the text must show how the authentic practice of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience can combat the modern evils of materialism, sensualism, lust for power and riches, and the deification of liberty, or reckless individualism, which is so common.

He called for the appointment of new council experts to the Commission on Religious who are more modern in their outlook and who have greater experience, particularly with youth.

Speaking in the name of all the bishops of Poland, Archbishop Antoni Baraniak of Poznan said that if the present text is passed, “it will slight a large number of men who have undertaken an extensive effort on behalf of the Church. It is thin and faulty and an amputation which leaves only the remains of the former schema.”

He pointed out that atheistic regimes try above all to destroy religious orders in their war on the Church, preventing them from working among the faithful, depriving them of property, schools and even homes. Such hostile aggression shows that Religious are the Church’s “front line” and that this should be recognized in the schema, he declared.

By its “solemn silence” on the Religious who works in the half of the world under atheistic regimes, the council could be interpreted as pronouncing a “death sentence and preparing for burial,” he stated.

He called for a re-examination of the whole concept of the exemption of Religious, observing that it is not right for Religious to disclaim dependence on the local bishop in some things and then come to him for favors in others. He asked particularly that Ordinaries have control over studies of Religious students.

Regarding the text’s statement on poverty, he asked that it be made clear that this does not exclude the right of Religious to own property and institutions. He observed that confiscations behind the Iron Curtain are often based on this excuse.

Father Joseph Van Kerckhoven, M.S.C., superior general of the Sacred Heart Missioners, said the active apostolate is part of the essence of religious congregations (presumably in contrast to the largely contemplative religious order) and that the apostolate should not be regarded as a danger to the spiritual life but rather as a positive means for personal holiness. There is a great danger in separating the spiritual life from the apostolate, he said. Modifications of the religious life should be made according to circumstances, he stated, such as modification of the community life of Religious when they are working in the mission field.

Bishop Pietro Fiordelli of Prato, Italy, urged that more be said on secular institutes than the passing phrase with which the present schema dismisses them. The title of the schema can remain the same despite the fuller treatment of secular institutes which is demanded by their important role in the modern Church, he said.

Bishop Smiljan Cekada of Skoplje, Yugoslavia, after protesting his warm friendship for Religious, launched into an attack on the exemptions given to certain communities (especially the older orders) of Religious. He pointed out that exemptions do not exist in the Eastern Church. He asserted that they occasion many clashes between bishops and Religious because they involve an overlapping of jurisdictions. He said the schema on the pastoral duties of bishops has made a good start in providing remedies and that they should be vigorously pursued.

Auxiliary Bishop James Carroll of Sydney, Australia, requested special treatment in the schema for Brothers and Sisters.

Bishop Carroll said the entirely lay structure of institutes of Brothers need not be altered to provide for the promotion of some members to the priesthood or diaconate. Their flourishing history justifies their lay structure, he said.

He asked that members of such congregations be brought to the council and their opinions be sought in matters in which they are competent by virtue of their work.

Father Paul Hoffer, S.M., superior general of the Marianist Society, who rules a congregation which promotes some Brothers to the priesthood, complained that the schema considers the religious life exclusively under its internal aspect. But many Religious, including teaching Brothers, live the religious life under the aspect of a dialogue with the world, he said.

Teaching Brothers have made the sacrifices of the religious life without the consolations of the priesthood, he said. Their ultimate goal is the conversion to God of their charges and themselves. They aim at giving even the poorest of their pupils the opportunity to achieve perfection, he said. Thus the goal of their lives is not in themselves but in God. Notwithstanding failures, they will always be ready to work for the Church’s interests, he said.

When Cardinal Suenens, the moderator, put the debate on Religious up for cloture, an overwhelming majority agreed to cut off debate. All of the speakers listed to express the mind of several Fathers or more had been heard, and those remaining on the list were scheduled to speak in their own name only.

Before voting on whether to send the schema back to the commission for radical revision or vote on it as it stood, the council Fathers heard a report on the commission’s stand by the schema’s relator, Bishop Joseph McShea of Allentown, Pa.

The bishop stated that many of the reasons put forward in the council for a complete revision of the text had been weighed and rejected by the commission itself. He said its theological aspects had been treated elsewhere, leaving the schema free to restrict itself to more juridical considerations. This, he said, explains the schema’s strong juridical character which was criticized in the council.

As for the schema’s brevity, that can be rectified by restoring many of the things omitted in the process of abbreviating it, Bishop McShea said. He added that there is still no possibility of discussing everything in detail, such as the color and shape of nuns’ habits.

Before beginning the debate on the propositions on priestly formation, which is a highly compressed and reworked version of an earlier schema on seminaries, the council Fathers heard the commission’s report on it.

The reporter, Bishop Giuseppe Carraro of Verona, Italy, called attention to the close connection between these propositions and the teaching of the schema on the nature of the Church. He said the mystery of Christ cannot be understood without the priesthood of Christ; not only in the constitutive order but even in the practical order. The titles sometimes applied to a priest — man of God, good shepherd, wise master and so forth — all demand a solid formation for the priest if he is to live up to them. Everything in the formation of a priest depends on the spirit in which it is imparted, be said.

He added that elements of the schema include accommodation to modern times, accommodation to persons and places, and a balanced synthesis and timely renovation.

He concluded by stating that while the commission is fully aware that its work must be perfected through the observations of the council Fathers, the Fathers are requested not to load the commission down unduly with suggestions.

Besides Cardinals Meyer and Bueno and Archbishop Colombo, only one other speaker was heard on priestly training before the meeting closed. Auxiliary Bishop Jozef Drzazga of Gniezno, Poland, complained that the principles laid down in the text were too abstract and therefore insufficient for today’s needs. Local authorities, he said, are not in a sufficiently good position to establish norms for seminary training. These norms should come from the Holy See, he stated. Subsequent discussion, he said, would throw light on the text’s basic defects.

Father John P. Donnelly
NCWC News Rome Correspondent

* * * *

Obstacles mounting in the path of the Vatican Council’s ecumenism schema and its related declarations on the Jews and religious liberty made the promulgation of these documents less and less likely as the third session of the council neared its final week of work.

One problem with the religious liberty schema itself was that a key passage is based on the concept of collegiality, and collegiality itself still had not been brought before the council Fathers in its final form. The crucial third chapter of the schema on the Church, the chapter outlining the doctrine on collegiality, had been bottled up in committee for weeks. There was still doubt it would emerge in time for the final two votes — private and public — by the council Fathers.

The text on religious liberty had been printed as the next to the last week ended, and there seemed to be time for voting on it in the final week. However, the possibility loomed that some bishops would demand a fresh debate since the new text has a strikingly different structure. However, this new look had been given the text as a result of the demands of the council Fathers themselves.

Of the three, the text on Christian-Jewish relations seemed farthest behind on the road to promulgation. It was behind the religious liberty declaration in the printing schedule, but of course could catch up on voting. One advantage it held over the religious liberty document was that it had been assigned a place in a broader document on non-Christians, while the religious liberty schema still had not found a home. It seemed quite possible the religious liberty document would not be attached to any other bigger document, but would be proclaimed separately. However, to make this decision could consume enough time to require postponing promulgation until the next session.

Father Thomas F. Stransky, C.S.P., a member of the unity secretariat, suggested that the Theological Commission might want to include the text on religious liberty within the schema on the nature of the Church. If this schema were promulgated this session, the religious liberty text — the dark horse — might cross the finish line on the coat tails of De Ecclesia before the texts on the Jews and ecumenism itself.

Father Stransky told the U.S. bishops’ press panel that the new text on the Jews is “stronger” even than the original. This presumably meant that the passage acquitting the Jews of the charge of deicide, which had been omitted from the schema that was put before the third session, had at last been restored.

Patrick Riley
NCWC News Rome Correspondent

* * * *

Interfaith relations have gained considerable incentive during the third session of the ecumenical council, but it remains to be determined how the various Christian denominations will be able to cooperate in the future.

This was stated by Dr. Lukas Vischer of Geneva, the official observer-delegate of the World Council of Churches at the council, in a talk at the German press center here.

“Clearly a new situation in interchurch relations has arisen,” he said, “inasmuch as changes of far-reaching import have taken place in the Catholic Church and as its desires to meet with other Christian churches become constantly more articulate.”

Vischer stressed that the Catholic Church now recognizes the necessity of its inner renewal and that it has something to learn from other churches. Although dividing issues remain, especially regarding papal primacy, Vischer said all churches are now convinced they no longer dare to remain in isolation, and non-Catholic churches realize they need to examine their own consciences to bring about renewal.

“The ecumenism schema,” said Vischer, “is really only a beginning. We must undertake a dialogue about the dialogue, as it were. Now that we are closer to one another, the vista through the doors that are half opened must lead to our opening them altogether in a joint effort.”

At a press conference, Prior Roger Schutz of the Protestant monastery in Taize, France, suggested the publication of an “ecumenical edition” of the New Testament of which a million copies could be distributed in Latin America.

Prior Schutz described the ecumenism schema as “a new spring,” but he stressed it should be implemented by Christian solidarity in the relief of world poverty, such as proposed by the American layman James J. Norris on the council floor the previous week. Norris is assistant to the executive director of the Catholic Relief Services-National Catholic Welfare Conference.

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