137th General Congregation
September 28, 1965
A growing disquietude over the ecumenical council’s draft document on the Church in the modern world bubbled to the surface of debate again at the council’s 137th general meeting.
There were renewed demands for a more emphatic and more explicit condemnation of atheism, especially in the politico-economic form of communism. A further question was raised as to whether this document deserved the title of a conciliar constitution. And more suggestions were advanced for reorganizing the document, simplifying it, making it more logical and more theological, and reducing its length.
Outside the mainstream of debate was an appeal by Bishop Sergio Mendez Arceo of Cuernavaca, Mexico, for recognition of the role Freudian psychoanalysis can play in every field of pastoral activity. He compared the discoveries of Freud to the discoveries of Copernicus, who revolutionized man’s concept of the universe.
Perhaps the most dramatic moment of the debate came when a youthful Slovak bishop, appealing for fuller treatment of atheism in the schema, spoke of his own experience in a communist concentration camp. Bishop Paul Hnilica, S.J., said:
“I and 700 priests and Religious, thrust into a concentration and labor camp, discerned in atheism a certain pseudo-mystical body of Satan. We realized that the true Mystical Body of Christ must oppose it, and that from this both parts might be made one.”
“Venerable Fathers, I have seen and even experienced the Church’s martyrdom. I have discerned the vast evil brought by atheism to the Church and to souls, but I have also seen and understood the hope of fruitfulness and better times.”
Bishop Sebastiao Soares de Resende of Beira, Mozambique, demanded that the document expressly condemn the various forms of persecution and violence perpetrated systematically against bishops, priests and laity merely because they do not adhere or give insufficient support to an economic and political regime.
Archbishop Francois Marty of Rheims, France, said the document could not avoid condemning atheistic political regimes. However, he said, atheists themselves deserve respect as men and should be invited to the dialogue.
The day’s meeting opened with a Mass celebrated by Josef Cardinal Beran of Prague, Czechoslovakia, who like his compatriot, Bishop Hnilica, had been a prisoner of the communists and of the Nazis as well.
The first speaker, Armenian-rite Patriarch Ignace Pierre XVI Batanian of Cilicia, complained that the schema’s introduction is longwinded. He said that because the introduction presents a summary of the schema’s doctrine, it should not only propose problems but also indicate the basic principle of their solution, which is Jesus Christ. He asked for a more logical format for the schema.
He said the schema’s title would gain clarity and precision if it were called “a pastoral consideration” instead of a pastoral constitution.
Patriarch Batanian further requested that a paragraph be devoted to situation ethics, which he stigmatized as one of the most serious deviations of modern times.
Bishop Manuel Llopis Ivorra of Coria-Caceres, Spain, asked for the omission of a passage praising nations which regard religious liberty as an element of the common good. Schema 13, he said, deals with the respect due to the human person and not with the problem of religious liberty, which is the subject of another schema. While he agreed that respect for the human person rightly implies that he be free from any constraint to embrace the Catholic faith, he denied that it implies that every form of religious liberty is an unmixed good. He said that for him it is a good only in such areas where Catholic unity does not exist.
Bishop Mendez styled the schema as praiseworthy but lacking a deep foundation in the science of man. In answering the big question — what is man? — the Church cannot ignore the discoveries of Sigmund Freud, he said. There is no field of pastoral activity where psychoanalysis is not useful, he said, describing psychoanalysis as a deepening of psychology. This science provides a useful method of purifications, he added.
(In a Benedictine monastery in his diocese all monks save a few elderly ones either have undergone or are undergoing psychoanalysis.)
Bishop Mendez said a full understanding of what man is will enable the Church to answer better the questions of man’s confrontation with the absolute.
Bishop Hnilica asserted that the pastoral duties of the council demand a deeper and broader treatment of the question of atheism. He called for an attempt to educate Catholics to a true community spirit and to the ideal of the Christian equality of all men, lest communism exploit divisions among Christians.
The Church of Silence contributes immensely to the good of the entire world, he said.
Faith must be seen in the lives of Christians because, the bishop insisted, communists and non-communists alike regard practice as the criterion of truth itself.
Bishop Hnilica said he spoke in the name of bishops who cannot come to the council, some of whom he was in prison with.
Archbishop Marty asked for a realistic treatment of communism as it is actually found among men, not as it is vicariously found in textbooks. He said Catholics are rubbing shoulders with atheists day in and day out.
(As superior of the Mission de France, the problem of atheism in society is a pressing problem for him. The mission was founded to bring back to the Catholic faith some largely de-Christianized and heavily Marxist segments of French society. The headquarters of the mission — at Pontigay — is in the midst of a once-bustling center of Christian life and education which now has a very small proportion of practicing Catholics.)
Archbishop Marty asserted that the present document will rightly or wrongly be regarded as a basis for the work of the Vatican Secretariat for Non-Believers (which Pope Paul set up partly to initiate a dialogue with non-believers). However, the present text, according to Archbishop Marty, sounds like a condemnation and opens no doors to honest unbelievers. He asked that article 19 be revised by the Secretariat for Non-Believers.
Christians should realize, he said, that an open dialogue with atheists is capable of purifying their own faith.
Archbishop Gabriel Garrone of Toulouse, France, approached the problem of atheism from a different angle in the hope of giving the schema a more systematic way of proceeding. The document’s entire argument, he said, is rooted in the doctrine of creation. No one, he said, should have greater esteem for created things than Christians. In this regard, Archbishop Garrone cited St. Francis of Assisi, who derived a wealth of spiritual values from Brother Sun and Sister Flower. He said that at the Last Judgment the charity animating the created world will be made manifest.
Auxiliary Bishop Eduard Schick of Fulda, Germany, followed Archbishop Garrone in order and also in approach, emphasizing like him the role of the doctrine of creation in the document.
Like Bishop Mendez he also said the question of man’s nature is central to the document.
He said the Church’s answer to the question — what is man? — hinges upon the doctrine of man’s creation in the image of God. This fact confers on him a pivotal place in creation and gives him domination over other creatures. Bishop Schick said the man who observes God’s commandments ennobles himself and that his dignity depends largely upon his real and concrete dependence upon God.
Ukrainian-rite Auxiliary Bishop Michele Rusnack of Toronto said militant atheism in the form of a politico-economic system affects Eastern-rite Catholics very deeply. It lacks respect for man’s dignity, elaborates its own theories of knowledge and establishes its own principles of social and political government, he said. If the schema were to say only a few things on this problem, it would do better to keep silent. To speak out is a real act of charity, he declared.
He pointed to the history of the Church in Czechoslovakia under the communist regime. During a single night all religious communities in Czechoslovakia were effectively suppressed, with their members arrested and herded into concentration camps. Priests were removed from their parishes and not replaced. Only two of Czechoslovakia’s 15 seminaries remain, he said.
Bishop Rusnack said it would be a scandal if the Church of the 20th century were to leave in darkness the phenomenon of communism, which holds sway over half the world’s land. He said the council should not keep silence for fear that outspokenness will worsen the lot of Christians behind the Iron Curtain. Experience shows that communists yield to forceful public opinion, he concluded.
Bishop Soares de Resende echoed this plea for a forceful and express condemnation of communism.
Solemnly asking for the attention of all council Fathers — cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops, etc. — he urged the council to issue a definition of the universal brotherhood of all men. He asked council Fathers to petition the Pope to this effect.
Archbishop Justinus Darmajuwana of Semarang, Indonesia, praised the remarks on communism of Franjo Cardinal Seper of Zagreb, Yugoslavia.
He had little praise for chapters three and four of the text, asserting that they needed complete revision. He asked that they be shortened and invigorated.
Like several others, the archbishop emphasized the role of creation in the document.
Archbishop Cesar Mosquera Corral of Guayaquil, Ecuador, asked for more emphasis on the role of the layman and more light on his part in helping men look to heaven. This, he said, would be of great importance in the struggle against creeping materialism. He said the separation of life and faith is the scandal of the age.
Auxiliary Bishop Franjo Kuharic of Zagreb said that in speaking of liberty, the council must lose sight neither of man’s responsibilities nor of God’s power to judge men. He said the Church should ask pardon for all scandals committed throughout its history and should exhort men to holiness.
Archbishop Alfred Bengsch, Bishop of Berlin, branded the schema’s treatment of atheism as inadequate and even erroneous. He too called for a shortening of the schema.
However, far from blaming the schema’s inordinate length upon the commission which drafted it, he said the commission had done its work only too conscientiously. The commission had included in the schema all that the council had ordered it to include. Thus he laid the blame on the council itself, and called upon the council to reverse itself and order a briefer schema. He also requested a better arrangement of the material.
The council, he said, can undertake only a part of the dialogue between the Church and the world, even if this is a fundamental part. The Pope, bishops, theologians, priests and laity all have their part to play, he said. The council should simply set down briefly and clearly general rules to enable the dialogue to continue.
Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Cracow, Poland, in the name of Poland’s bishops, said he doubted that atheism can be properly treated in a document such as the present one because the problem is so complex.
He said the schema should draw a clear distinction between an atheism which springs from personal conviction and an atheism which is imposed. In this way, he said, the present document would be a complement to the document on religious liberty.
He also suggested that the document be called a “consideration” instead of a constitution, since a constitution implies a conciliar declaration of faith.
Like others, he pointed out that the problem of atheism affects the whole man, heart, mind and the rest.
Bishop Felix Romero Menjibar of Jaen, Spain, suggested changes in the order of the document. He said the section from articles 40 to 51 inclusive (dealing with the role of creatures and of the Church) would be better in the introduction. He said some details of the Church’s activity in the world are taken up without previously establishing the Church’s role in the world.
Julius Cardinal Doepfner of Munich, Germany, the day’s moderator, announced that the list of speakers on the first part of the document was exhausted and that the council would therefore proceed next day to debate the second part.
The council secretary general, Archbishop Pericle Felici, announced at the opening of the meeting that three days of voting on amendments to the schema on the pastoral duties of bishops would begin Sept. 29.
Archbishop Felici pointed out that the text of this schema and its amendments, which was distributed to council Fathers that morning, contains an additional article dealing with the Pope’s creation of a Synod of Bishops.
He announced the death of retired Archbishop Ernest Tweedy of Hobart, Australia.
The Gospel was enthroned by Bishop Michael Moloney of Bathurst, Gambia.
NCWC News Rome correspondent