Delay in Vote on Religious Liberty Draft Draws Wide Protest

126th General Congregation
November 19, 1964

The next to last working meeting of the ecumenical council’s third session exploded in controversy and confusion as Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, dean of the council presidency, announced that no vote would be taken on the document on religious liberty at this session.

This followed the previous day’s contradictory statement by the council secretary general, Archbishop Pericle Felici.

Immediate reaction registered all over the council hall. Albert Cardinal Meyer of Chicago, one of the council presidents, was taken completely by surprise. He left his seat and gathered groups of bishops around him. Joseph Cardinal Ritter of St. Louis, Paul Cardinal Leger of Montreal and Bernard Cardinal Alfrink of Utrecht, the Netherlands, joined him and a protest movement began.

“Almost from nowhere petitions sprouted like mushrooms around the council hall,” an American bishop said afterward. “Before the morning was over, perhaps 1,000 signatures from bishops all over the world had been collected.”

The petition was reliably reported to have asked Pope Paul VI “urgently, more urgently, most urgently” to intervene in the council and assure a vote on religious liberty the following day in spite of the announcement by Cardinal Tisserant.

That such was the will of the majority became clear later at the meeting when Bishop Emile De Smedt of Bruges, Belgium, read according to schedule the report on the controversial document. He was applauded wildly five times during his speech and for several minutes afterwards. The day’s moderator, Julius Cardinal Doepfner of Munich and Freising, Germany, tried to silence the forbidden applause, but soon gave up.

Almost overlooked in the confusion was another milestone of the Second Vatican Council as the Fathers accepted in its entirety one of the council’s most important documents, the constitution on the nature of the Church, by an overwhelming vote of 2,134 to 10. One vote was null. The only step left was a formal vote and its promulgation by Pope Paul at the Nov. 21 closing meeting.

During the meeting, the Fathers also accepted the declaration on Catholic schools for voting and began to vote on its various sections after eight Fathers spoke. Then the report was given on the last document of the council to reach the floor for discussion, that on the sacrament of Matrimony. One speaker, Norman Cardinal Gilroy of Sydney, Australia, praised the document in general outlines before the stormy meeting came to its close.

Cardinal Tisserant’s announcement came after a hurried consultation with other presidents and Archbishop Felici. Then Cardinal Doepfner introduced him.

“Many Fathers have objected that there is not sufficient time to consider the new text on religious liberty before voting,” Cardinal Tisserant said, “especially since the text presents a new structure, which the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity admits.

“It seems proper to the presidency that this cannot be decided by a vote of a general congregation [meeting]. There will not, therefore, be a vote. The Fathers are invited to submit their observations on the text to the unity secretariat before Jan. 31, 1965.”

A council official pointed out that “vigorous applause from a very few bishops” followed the announcement.

That there had been changes in the document since it left the council floor several weeks ago was admitted by Bishop De Smedt in his report. He said the unity secretariat had “amplified the treatment, presenting the practical consequences of religious liberty in a broader setting.” It was presumed that Cardinal Tisserant referred to these.

However, Bishop De Smedt also said “none of the changes affect the substance. It is the same doctrine as before.” On the basis of this, he said, the Fathers can vote wisely, informatively and prudently.

Regarding the declaration itself, Bishop De Smedt said “it cannot but happen that the Church will win over its adversaries among men of good will, not by force or political means, but with the arms of justice and the power of God.”

During the morning the amended text and observations of the council Fathers on the propositions on the Eastern Churches were distributed and it was announced that a vote on these would be taken on Nov. 20.

The Fathers also decided by a vote of 1,457 to 419 to begin voting on various sections of the declaration on Catholic education, following the speeches on it by seven speakers and a summary of the discussion given by Bishop Jules Daem of Antwerp, Belgium. The first balloting covered the introduction and first three chapters, which received 1,592 affirmative votes, 157 negative votes and 140 votes of qualified approval.

Although balloting took place on three other sections of this document, the results were not announced.

The document on the sacrament of Matrimony has the unique title of a “votum” (that is, an expression of the will of the council) and is described as containing suggestions for future canonical legislation on matrimony, to be taken up by the commission for Revision of Canon Law. It was introduced by Benedetto Cardinal Aloisi Masella, president of the council’s commission on the Discipline of the Sacraments.

After pointing out that the text deals only with matrimony in its disciplinary aspects, he listed the subjects on which the preparatory commission had presented its findings. These were matrimonial impediments, mixed marriages, matrimonial consent, the form of celebration of marriage, and the basic principles which should govern a reorganization of the handling of marriage cases. Since the time of the preparatory commission’s work, he said, a chapter has been added on preparation of couples for marriage and on pastoral concern for their conjugal happiness.

Then Archbishop Joseph Schneider of Bamberg, Germany, gave the official report, explaining that the present form of the document was a “result of directives received from higher authority.”

He said the text was intended to list various points on which it is necessary or advisable to adapt matrimonial legislation to the needs of the times. Several Fathers, he said, had found the original text too brief and not sufficiently concrete, and for this reason the commission had recast the text at a meeting held on Oct. 14. The result of this revision was the text presented for consideration, he said.

Noting that several Fathers had asked for treatment on birth control in this document, he said the commission had decided that subject was beyond its competence, since the subject pertains to faith and morals and not to the discipline of the sacraments.

Birth control had already been debated on the council floor during the discussion of the schema on the Church in the modern world, and was sent back to commission for revision and further discussion.

Praising the document’s practical suggestions aimed at avoiding frequent invalid marriages, Cardinal Gilroy added several suggestions of his own. He said the impediment of disparity of cult, forbidding marriages between a Catholic and non-baptized person unless a dispensation has been granted, should no longer invalidate a marriage.

He asked for a stronger statement urging Catholics not to contract mixed marriages but suggested there be no absolute prohibition unless there is danger to the faith of the Catholic party. Regarding the promises required in a mixed marriage, he suggested they be made before the local pastor to insure moral certainty that they are sincere.

Civil marriages, even of Catholics, should be recognized as valid, although unlawful, he said, provided the civil ceremony can be proven with documents. But even so, a couple should be denied the sacraments until they have taken steps to rectify their situation.

For mixed marriages, he suggested a nuptial Mass be allowed, but not prescribed.

The 126th general meeting of the council opened with Mass celebrated by Bishop Joseph Ijjas, apostolic administrator of Csanad, Hungary, one of the five Hungarian bishops recently appointed and consecrated in Budapest. It was the feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. The Gospel was enthroned by Bishop Charles Lemaire, P.I.M.E., superior general of the Paris Foreign Mission Society.

Archbishop Felici announced the death of Bishop Augustin Olbert, S.V.D., former Bishop of Tsingtao, China.

A mimeographed sheet was distributed in the council hall indicating certain modifications introduced by the unity secretariat over and above the formal reservations on the ecumenism schema which would be given a final vote the following day. A council press office bulletin said these modifications had been made “conformable to authoritative suggestions made by competent persons.”

(At a meeting of the U.S. bishops’ press panel the same day, Father Thomas F. Stransky, C.S.P., a member of the unity secretariat, said these changes were actually made by the Pope “acting as the head of the council.”

(The unity secretariat cannot have approved them, he said, because it has not held a plenary meeting since the suggestions were made. In all, 19 changes have been submitted. They will be incorporated into a printed text to be passed out to the council Fathers on Nov. 20. They will not be voted on as such, but simply included in the entire text to be voted on, Father Stransky said. If the Fathers disapprove of them, they will have to vote against the entire schema.

(He added that most of the changes are “definitely clarifications” and a few of them on “very subtle points.” Some deal with points which the council has already altered through qualified votes. One has to do with the way non-Catholic Christians find — or seek to find — God speaking to them in Holy Scripture, he said, and another with the Eucharist and non-Catholic Christians.)

The first speaker on Christian education was Bishop Johannes Pohlschneider of Aachen, Germany. The document should have been the kind that makes history, he said. He added that he wondered why it had been reduced to a few propositions. He urged that it be prefaced by a theological and Biblical introduction and that it stress man’s twofold task of subjecting the earth to himself and of reaching his eternal goal through a Christian life.

The state should follow the principle of subsidiarity in the field of education, he said, and the text must clearly affirm that distributive justice obliges the state to support all private schools provided they attain the same standards as public schools. Secularism in state schools must be avoided at all costs, he said. It is the “great heresy of our times.”

Though the state is entitled to control the external aspects of education, such as housing, public health and the like, he said, it must leave internal principles and religious foundations to the consciences of parents.

Bishop Godfrey Okoye of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, observed that the aim of marriage is the procreation and education of children. Since parents cannot provide alone for proper education, schools become necessary, he said, and the quality of education is of supreme importance.

The school must include some spiritual and religious training in order to serve as a continuation of the home, he said, and the state has no right to impose on parents schools which they may regard as harmful for their children. The state must provide assistance for the schools chosen by parents because they pay taxes; therefore the text should strongly affirm the right of the Church to found and direct schools and the right of parents to financial assistance, he concluded.

Maronite-rite Archbishop Antoine Abed of Tripoli, Lebanon, said the need for schools flows from the very nature of the Church’s educational mission. He said he wanted included in the schema a declaration of criteria whereby a truly Catholic education can be recognized. It cannot be a purely commercial institution, he said, but must have moral aims as well and meet the needs of the whole person and community. The text should demand for private schools the same type of assistance provided for government schools.

He called for an international commission to study educational problems and draw conclusions which will “prescind from any one state or form of government.”

Bishop Anthony Nwedo of Umahia, Nigeria, asked that lay instructors replace priests as far as possible in Catholic schools, so that priests can give more time to the “ministry, strictly so-called.”

There should be no blanket prohibition against Catholic students attending non-Catholic schools, he urged, since this is often the only place they can get the particular education they want.

“In a pluralistic society, our students must learn to live with everyone and thus there will be less danger of perversion in faith when they reach the university level.”

By a standing vote the council then decided to cut off debate on education, but three more speakers were allowed to address the council Fathers since they were speaking in the name of more than 70 others.

The first of these was Father Aniceto Fernandez, O.P., master general of the Dominican Fathers, who spoke for 120. He objected to the use of the phrase “Catholic university,” since it puts all other universities under the purely negative heading of “non-Catholic universities.”

He said that it was helpful to study natural and sacred sciences in one and the same university center, and asked that in every Catholic university philosophy and theology be taught according to the principles of St. Thomas Aquinas. He observed, however, that devotion to his fellow Dominican “is not devotion to a person but to things; it is not a question of who but of what.” This, he said, saves the Church from the danger of being a “one doctor church.” St. Thomas (a doctor of the Church) did not preach himself, Father Fernandez said, but ideas.

In the name of the bishops of Poland, Auxiliary Bishop Bohdan Bejze of Lodz said that the fate of the world depends on youth, and the fate of youth is closely bound up with its education. The schema needs to be reworked by qualified experts, he said, in order to face serious challenges of the world today. Included in this, he said, should be an attempt to frame a curriculum characterized by a certain progress in the sciences and by emphasizing the harmony between faith and reason.

The aim of all study should be to arouse in students the desire for what is divine, he concluded.

The former rector of Belgium’s Louvain University, Auxiliary Bishop Honore Van Waeyenbergh of Malines-Brussels, said that the mission of the Catholic university demands progressive coordination in the light of the unity of truth. The Church must always make it its duty to serve the cause of human knowledge, he said, and he called for a briefer, clearer and more concrete text.

In his summary of the debate, Bishop Daem recalled that the first title of the schema had been “On Catholic Schools,” and that it had been changed only when the new form of the schema had been “imposed on the commission.” He said that the observations of the speakers clearly showed how varied conditions are in different countries, and that this fact emphasized the wisdom of the commission’s decision not to attempt a definitive statement in the council, but to leave more detailed declarations to the postconciliar commission.

In the name of the commission, he proposed that the council Fathers call for a more complete document from the postconciliar commission, accept the present schema as the basis for further and more complete work by the commission, with a view to restoring the text to the original form, and make concrete suggestions by attaching them to the vote in different propositions.

Father John P. Donnelly
NCWC News Rome Correspondent

* * * *

With wave after wave of irresistible applause, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council thundered their support for the redrafted declaration on religious liberty despite an earlier announcement that because of doubts it would not be voted on at this session.

The applause punctuated a report on the new draft delivered by the representative of the commission which drew it up, the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, headed by Augustin Cardinal Bea, S.J. When Bishop Emile De Smedt of Bruges, Belgium, finished delivering his report — which amounted to an impassioned plea for the right of men to worship God according to their best lights — council Fathers broke into the loudest and longest clapping heard during the council’s three sessions.

The day’s moderator, Julius Cardinal Doepfner of Munich and Freising, Germany, holding up his hand for order, seemed like a new King Canute trying to hold back the waves of the sea. With the storm of applause bursting over his head, even the iron-willed German cardinal admitted defeat. He watched passively while the applause at length spent itself.

Bishop De Smedt’s report — although prepared long before the announcement by Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, dean of the council presidency, that it had decided to delay the vote on the text — anticipated the very argument given to justify this delay.

Cardinal Tisserant — like Archbishop Pericle Felici, council secretary general, the day before — said several council Fathers had complained that the text was entirely new and therefore more time was needed to study it.

Bishop De Smedt’s reply was that although the text had been rearranged and reconstructed, it incorporated the same substantial teaching. He pointed out further that it had been redrawn along lines suggested by the council Fathers themselves in their written “modi” or proposed amendments.

Even while Bishop De Smedt spoke, council Fathers were feverishly collecting signatures for a petition to be taken to Pope Paul VI himself. This asked the Pope to countermand the council presidency’s decision to put off the vote on the religious liberty document until next session. Ironically, the leader among those collecting signatures was Albert Cardinal Meyer of Chicago, a member of the presidency in whose name Cardinal Tisserant had spoken.

As if to stress the urgency of the document, Bishop De Smedt said the world is watching and waiting for the Church’s reply to the great question of religious liberty.

Religious liberty, he said, is necessary in modern society if the Faith is to make progress.

The effective test of the truth of the Gospel, he said, will be if the Church puts its faith in its truth by espousing religious freedom.

The Church will win its adversaries over to its side, he said, not by force, not by political means, but by the arms of the justice and the power of God.

Bishop De Smedt, widely considered to be among the council’s handful of genuine orators, summoned all his rhetorical powers in defending man’s right to freedom from coercion in matters religious. Several times his voice, surcharged with emotion, seemed about to break.

But at the end his voice dropped to a virtual whisper when, as if replying to the argument that the document had been presented too late, he ticked off a list of dates.

On Oct. 16, he said, the president of the Coordinating Commission, Amleto Cardinal Cicognani, gave the order that the teachings of the already-prepared document be examined by five members of the Doctrinal Commission. (Four of the five approved the document, while one withheld his approval.)

On Oct. 24, the unity secretariat gave its final and unanimous approval to the declaration on religious liberty.

On Nov. 9, at the order of Cardinal Cicognani, still acting in his capacity as president of the Coordinating Commission, the document was examined by the entire Theological Commission.

(According to American Father John Courtney Murray, S.J., the vote was 12 for approval, 9 for qualified approval, and 8 for disapproval. This meant approval by well over the required two-thirds majority.)

Bishop De Smedt’s meaning was clear: the document had been ready in plenty of time, but had been subject to administrative delay. The unity secretariat, said Bishop De Smedt, had complied with changes suggested by the Theological Commission where these changes did not run counter to the expressed will of the council Fathers as conveyed in qualifications of votes. The schema, thus amended, had been ready but was not brought before the council when ready.

In the body of his report, Bishop De Smedt said that objections to the previous text fell into two categories — objections against the presentation or against the arguments sustaining the doctrine, and objections against the doctrine itself. He said these objections were answered in another part of his report, which he did not read but which was contained in the printed text circulated to the council Fathers.

The declaration avoids the question of Church-State relations. It avoids inquiry into the theological problem of the Church’s right and duty of preaching the Gospel.

It also avoids moral teaching on the standards guiding the Christian in his contacts with non-Christians. On all these points, said Bishop De Smedt, the Church’s teaching must be faithfully carried out.

To modern man’s question about the Church’s attitude toward modern systems of religious pluralism, the schema answers that no man can be coerced by others in religious matters. Religion is above the competence of the state, it declares. The state must recognize and defend the free exercise of religion by all its citizens.

On the difficult question of the limits to the right of external manifestations of religion, the reporter said that it is difficult to find formulas which cannot be abused by public authority. The schema states two principles, one moral and one juridical.

The moral principle asserts that in the external exercise of religious liberty no one may violate the rights of others. The juridical principle is that no one may exercise his religion in such a way as to cause a great disturbance of public order.

Bishop De Smedt defended the Church against the charge of opportunism — that it is proclaiming religious liberty simply because such a declaration happens to be advantageous to the Church now. Civil authorities, he said, have shifted their ground on this matter.

The sum of the bishop’s reply to such an accusation was that the Church recognizes the maturing of the human conscience and approves the religious liberty claimed by society.

The affirmation of religious liberty does not prejudice the Church’s rights, Bishop De Smedt asserted, for what is more dignified than that the Church should carry out its divine mission freely and independently.

Nor does it prevent the Catholic Church from having a privileged status where Catholics are in the majority, he said, since such privileged status is not opposed to religious liberty provided that non-Catholics are not coerced.

Bishop De Smedt’s peroration brought rousing applause. He said the Church does not put its trust in the power of the civil authorities. In its difficulties it must not run to them for help. The Church’s most effective witness to the truth of the Gospel will be in putting its confidence in the power of truth itself.

However, in his spoken address Bishop De Smedt omitted one significant line from his printed report. This line said that despite the delays to which the schema had been subjected, “not all hope has vanished” for a vote on religious liberty in this session.

Patrick Riley
NCWC News Rome Correspondent

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