Flurry of Actions Mark Final Working Day of Council’s Third Session

127th General Congregation
November 20, 1964

The final working day of the third session of the ecumenical council ended as a large majority approved the declaration on the Church’s relations with non-Christians, which includes a strong and clear statement on the Jews.

But the Fathers did not have enough time to cast the declaration in its final form for promulgation at this session.

At the same time, it was announced in the name of Pope Paul VI that the decision not to vote on the religious liberty declaration was upheld in order to give the Fathers sufficient time to study it. It was stated that if at all possible it will be the first order of business at the fourth session, which probably will be called for the fall of 1965.

The final working meeting, which was the 127th to be held since the council opened in October, 1962, also saw final voting on the schemas on the Eastern churches and ecumenism, thus clearing the way for their promulgation at the plenary council session in the Pope’s presence on Nov. 21. One other schema became an official act of the council as a result of this third session, the one on the nature of the Church.

At the end of the debate on the document on matrimony, the Fathers voted to send it to the Pope for his action because they felt the problems are so in need of immediate action that it would be wrong to have to wait on the long and complex process of the council and a new codification of canon law.

Three votes were taken on the declaration on the Church’s relations with non-Christians. The entire text was approved 1,651 to 99, with 242 other Fathers voting in favor of the declaration but with reservations. It was the favorable-with-reservations votes that made it impossible to promulgate the declaration at this session, since each of the reservations must be studied by the commission to see if they can significantly add to the final document.

In addition to the overall vote on the declaration, two other votes on its various sections were cast. The first vote was on the introduction and first three articles, dealing with non-Christians in general and particularly with Moslems. These were approved 1,838 to 136. The second vote covered articles four and five dealing with the Jews and the affirmation of universal brotherhood. These were approved 1,770 to 185.

Among the speakers on the document on matrimony were Joseph Cardinal Ritter of St. Louis and Auxiliary Bishop John M. Fearns of New York, who delivered the text prepared for Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York, who had left Rome the previous day. Archbishop John J. Krol of Philadelphia also was among the 13 speakers of the day.

Cardinal Ritter said he was “highly pleased” with the matrimony document, particularly with the provision dealing with mixed marriages. He singled out the document’s proposed change of Church law, which at present requires both parties in a mixed marriage to give promises to baptize their children as Catholics and rear and educate them as Catholics. The document proposed that only the Catholic party be required to make these promises.

“Adaptation of the suggested proposal would strengthen respect for divine law by stressing more emphatically the role of personal responsibility. Responsibility for the security of his own faith as well as for the Catholic education of their children is rightly placed on the Catholic party. In this way, we can lessen the possibility of offense to the consciences of our separated brethren.”

Cardinal Ritter also favored the proposal to authorize certain changes in the form of mixed marriages, which now must be contracted before a Catholic priest only and in the presence of witnesses.

He said the schema “supports the general retention of the canonical form of marriage for validity in such cases” and that, in light of the “high incident of early and hasty marriages with a probability of subsequent divorce,” this retention is justified.

However, he said, “to demonstrate our respect for human dignity and to reduce the principles of ecumenism to practice, it is apparent that in some cases the Ordinary must be empowered to grant a dispensation from the form.” Lastly, he said, “for the sake of honesty and justice those baptized in the Catholic Church who have been reared without a Catholic education must not be bound by the canonical form of marriage nor restricted by any impediments of merely ecclesiastical law.”

Bishop Fearns took the floor immediately after Cardinal Ritter to deliver Cardinal Spellman’s statement in the name of more than 100 American bishops. The speech commended the text when it sought to protect the dignity and sanctity of matrimony, but declared some of the proposals will serve as a vast mandate for sanctioning dangerous changes. Even if the changes might be beneficial in some countries, there is no reason to impose them on other nations, it said.

The council Fathers should have had time to consult their pastors on such important matters, and the commission which drew up this document should have consulted pastors who know the problems. In short, it was declared, the text has so many and such important defects that it should be revised completely.

If dispensation from the marriage form is allowed in mixed marriages, it was stated, a decrease in the peoples’ respect for marriage will result. It will also deprive couples of the counsel and guidance of pastors.

Catholic people demand the presence of the priest at a marriage and do not approve of mixed marriages in non-Catholic churches or civil registry offices, it said. Even state authorities recognize this in the U.S. and couples married in a Catholic church are not required to go through another ceremony elsewhere, it was declared.

The speech also said the text was vague regarding the reasons that could be advanced for asking for a dispensation from the marriage form. It would be enough for one party to object to a marriage before a priest, it said. This deprives couples of pastoral guidance and gives no assurance of the baptism and education of the children, the speech continued. The text does not take into account the good accomplished by the present regulations, and it is necessary for a mixed-marriage couple to appreciate the problems before, not after, marriage.

Archbishop Krol was the third American to speak at the session. He warned of the dangers of indifference and secularism in the U.S. where 60 million people profess no religion or only the vaguest concept of religion.

Archbishop Krol declared the Church cannot confirm anyone in indifferentism and that it is necessary to go carefully in the matter of mixed marriages. Regarding the form of a mixed marriage, Archbishop Krol said that in general a priest should be present, but that the Ordinary could have the power to dispense from this for ecumenical reasons.

As for the priest who is to be present, he said he wanted a clearer qualification of the type of priest who would be a witness at a mixed marriage. As the text stands, he said, any priest, even an excommunicated one, could officiate. Archbishop Krol asked that the text specify that the priest involved should be at least known to ecclesiastical authorities.

The final session opened with a Mass celebrated by Archbishop John Heenan of Westminster, England, who was also one of the day’s speakers. The Gospel was enthroned by Bolivian Bishop Luis Rodriguez Pardo of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. Julius Cardinal Doepfner of Munich and Freising, Germany, moderated.

Archbishop Pericle Felici, council secretary general, announced that the Fathers were to be given gold medals honoring Our Lady presented by anonymous donors. It was also announced that the Pope had granted faculties to superiors general of congregations and orders similar to those granted to bishops at the end of the last session, giving them increased authority without having recourse to Ordinaries or Rome in various matters.

Copies of the new texts on divine Revelation and on the priestly life were distributed. The Fathers can make observations on them up to Jan. 31, 1965. The Fathers were also informed that one chapter of the schema on the pastoral duties of bishops had been finished by the com- mission, but had not been printed as yet and therefore the schema could not be promulgated at this session.

Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, dean of the council presidency, rose to state that since a number of Fathers were greatly disappointed by the failure to vote on the religious liberty schema, they had petitioned the Pope to bring the declaration to the floor for a vote. Cardinal Tisserant said, speaking in the name of the Pope, that the council presidency in agreeing to delay a vote to permit greater study of the declaration had acted in accordance with the procedural rules.

The delay, Cardinal Tisserant said, also was a sign of respect for the individual Fathers’ wishes. However, the declaration will come up for discussion and a vote at the next session of the council and, if possible, will have priority on the agenda.

This wrote the end to an attempt by hundreds of Fathers, including many Americans, to bring the declaration to the floor before the end of the third session.

Debate on the matrimony schema was begun by Ernesto Cardinal Ruffini of Palermo, Italy, who called for a clear delineation of the respective roles of Church and state in marriage. The state is competent only in what concerns the purely civil effects of marriage, he said.

He added that it may be advisable to abrogate the excommunication — now contained in canon law — of Catholics who go through the marriage ceremony before non-Catholic ministers. But, he said, if excommunication is removed, the text should contain a stringent prohibition against such an act. He further expressed surprise that anyone would propose as valid for Catholics a marriage contracted contrary to the laws of the Church before a civil magistrate or a non-Catholic minister. Such a proposal is at first sight well nigh unthinkable, he stated.

Jose Cardinal Bueno y Monreal of Seville, Spain, took an opposite view. He said that a mixed marriage contracted before a civil magistrate or a minister should be regarded as valid, but that the parties involved should remain outside of ecclesiastical communion until they repent and make peace with the Church.

He also said he wanted it left to national bishops’ conferences to determine such questions as impediments of consanguinity. Furthermore, he said, the impediment of Holy Orders should derive only from priestly ordination and not be applied to subdeacons and deacons or to those with solemn vows.

Cardinal Doepfner proposed sending the whole matter to the Pope. He said that since the question of mixed marriages is extremely urgent and the code of canon law cannot be revised for at least some years, the council should ask the Pope to take steps immediately to implement the legislation proposed in this schema. This was his sole oral suggestion. He submitted his other remarks in writing to save the council’s time.

After all the speeches had been given for the day, the moderators put Cardinal Doepfner’s suggestion to a vote and it was approved by 1,092 to 427.

Following Cardinal Doepfner, Cardinal Ritter, Bishop Fearns and Archbishop Krol took the floor. They were followed by French Bishop Alexandre Renard of Versailles, who spoke of the problems posed by baptized Catholics who have little or no knowledge of their faith or the sacramental character of marriage. Some priests refuse outright to admit such couples to a marriage before the Church, while others sanction these marriages for fear of further alienating the couples, he said. To remedy this, the council should give pastoral directives on the practical preparation of couples for marriage, he urged. Ordinaries should also have the faculty, he concluded, to permit a marriage to be contracted without any religious rite but only in the presence of a priest and witnesses in cases in which the rite would be offensive.

Switzerland’s Bishop Francois Charriere of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg declared that mixed marriages are among the greatest pastoral problems of the day and since the times have changed, the Church’s legislation should also change. He stated that the promises required by the Church should be abolished because they alienate people. Baptism of the children is a divine duty for the Catholic party, he stated.

He said there should be no prohibition against the parties of a mixed marriage after a Catholic ceremony going to the church or the minister of the non-Catholic party, not to enter into a new contract, but to pray for God’s blessing. We must use every means to safeguard family peace in a mixed marriage, he said.

Bishop Paul Yoshigoro Taguchi of Osaka, Japan, agreed that promises should not be demanded of the non-Catholic party and, like the previous speaker, Bishop Charriere, he said mixed marriages should be allowed to take place with Mass. He also said the canonical form should not be essential for the validity of the marriage.

Archbishop Heenan welcomed the proposals for future celebration of mixed marriages. “Until now in many places the ceremonies of a mixed marriage were so stripped of solemnity and joy they were more suitable for a funeral than a wedding. There was no ring, no candles or flowers and — what used to make the bride burst into tears — there was no organ.”

By sanctioning more ceremonies, the Church will show it is concerned not only for the Catholic but also for the non-Catholic party. Regarding the usual promises, he said that in general he favored retaining them since the non-Catholic partner is rarely an active member of any religious community and therefore the promise to bring the children up as Catholics rarely causes difficulties.

However, in cases involving non-Catholic partners who cannot in good conscience bring up their children as Catholics, there should be no coercion.

He said it is enough for the non-Catholic party simply not to object to that promise being made by the Catholic party.

He also agreed with the idea that there should be no objection in mixed marriages if the couple, after marriage in a Catholic church, goes to the church of the non-Catholic partner to pray and receive a blessing.

Speaking in the name of the Dutch hierarchy, Bishop Petrus Moors of Roermond, the Netherlands, said the Church should try to harmonize its marriage laws with the civil law of the country when possible. He cited the minimum age as an example and asked that no worldwide age be set down because of different conditions throughout the world.

Archbishop William Conway of Armagh, Northern Ireland, declared that the Church’s tendency should be to prohibit mixed marriages rather than favoring them in any way. Saying that he was born and raised among the Protestants of North Ireland, he added that non-Catholic Christians share this viewpoint on the inadvisability of mixed marriages for the same reasons as do Catholics. He said it was not a matter of kindliness or diplomacy but of the essential welfare of the Church.

He cautioned against being too hasty in introducing changes in canonical form and promises. He objected that the Fathers had hardly more than a few hours to discuss such a grave problem and said no parliament in the world would act so hastily to change serious and traditional law. Applause greeted this last declaration.

The last speaker of the session was Archbishop Adrianus Djajasepoetra of Jakarta, Indonesia, who said the main element to be stressed about marriage is not the contractual element but rather the element of permanent association for life. Many do not marry for love, but are in love because they are married. Love cannot be regarded as the main element because very often the chief reason for marriage is the aim to have a family.

Midway through the list of speakers, Augustin Cardinal Bea, S.J., president of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, was called to the rostrum to deliver a report on the declaration on non-Christians. One of his main points was that the declaration is to be attached to the schema on the nature of the Church as an appendix. He said this decision stresses the declaration’s religious character and frees it of political aspects and also stresses the importance which the Church accords to other religions.

During the final session, several series of votes were taken. Also announced on Nov. 20 were the results of three votes taken on the Christian education schema on Nov. 19, when the results of only one out of four votes were announced. The remaining three were announced Nov. 20 and all registered great majorities.

The vote on the complete text on ecumenism was 2,054 “yes,” 64 “no,” and 6 “favorable with reservations.”

There were also three votes on the document on the Eastern churches. The first vote — on the introduction and articles two, three and four — was “yes” 1,841, “no” 283. The second vote — on the approval of the general amendments — was “yes” 1,923, “no” 188. The third vote was the overall vote on the document. It passed 1,964 “yes” to 135 “no” and one “favorable with reservations.”

The declaration on non-Christians which the council approved at its final meeting of the third session is like the mustard seed in that it has grown from a brief statement on the Jews into a treelike document in which all non-Christian religions are finding their place.

That is the way Cardinal Bea described the evolution of the declaration that is to be promulgated at the next session in 1965.

Promulgation was held up because approval came only on the last day of the third session and there are still some 200 written commentaries that have to be studied before the final form is given to it.

Cardinal Bea reported that the council presidency, the Coordinating Commission and the council moderators wanted the declaration to be closely coordinated with the schema on the nature of the Church. But since that schema was to be promulgated at the plenary meeting closing the third council session on Nov. 21, it was decided to add the declaration later as an appendix to the dogmatic constitution on the nature of the Church.

Cardinal Bea said the declaration now has a broader scope than it had in its early forms, since it aims to take in the whole field of relationships of the Church with non-Christian religions. Cardinal Bea acknowledged it was not possible to please everyone, but said that in the declaration the Fathers are dealing with God’s plan of salvation, recognizing His benefits, condemning past hatred and injuries and avoiding the same in the future. Thus the Church too, and not just the council, must carry out its mission and may not remain silent.

Cardinal Bea said it is of the greatest importance that the Church, the Christian world and public opinion should have their attention called to the problems set forth in this declaration. The importance and extreme value of the declaration are found in the fruits that are to be hoped will come out of it in the future, he said.

For the first time in the history of ecumenical councils, the principles dealing with non-Christians are set forth in solemn form. The Church has a serious obligation to initiate a dialogue with the one billion men who do not know Christ or His work of redemption, he said. It is the task of the Church to assist them in reaching a full share in the riches of Christ, he concluded.

James C. O’Neill
NCWC News Rome Correspondent

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