Pope Takes Celibacy Issue Off the Table at Council

146th General Congregation
October 11, 1965

Pope Paul VI informed the Second Vatican Council that he intends not only to preserve the ancient law of celibacy of the clergy of the Latin-rite Church, but also “to reinforce its observance.”

The Pope thus in effect removed the subject of celibacy from the competence of the council. His decision was revealed in a letter read to the council during its 146th general congregation (Oct. 11) by the secretary general, Archbishop Pericle Felici. The letter was addressed to Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, first of the council presidents. In it, the Pope said he was aware that some council Fathers had asked to speak on the law of clerical celibacy in the Western Church when the schema on the priestly life and ministry came up for debate.

The Pope said that “without impeding in any way the liberty of the Fathers,” he wanted to express his own opinion.

“Public debate is not opportune on this subject which is so important and which demands such profound prudence. Furthermore it is our intention not only to maintain this ancient, sacred and providential law with all the force of which we are capable, but also to reinforce its observance, calling on priests of the Latin Church to recognize anew the causes and reasons why today, especially today, this law must be considered most suitable. Through it priests are able to consecrate all their love completely to Christ and to dedicate themselves exclusively and generously to service of the Church and to souls.”

The letter ended with a statement that Fathers still wishing to express their views on the subject could submit them in writing to the council’s presidency for transmission to him personally for his “attentive examination before God.”

The papal announcement was met with prolonged applause, according to a council spokesman. The only parallel for the move since the council began was the Pope’s decision last year to remove the subject of birth control from the agenda and turn it over to a special commission appointed by himself. The conclusions of this commission still have not been published.

The law of celibacy requiring all Latin-rite sub-deacons, deacons, priests and bishops to take a vow not to marry is not of divine origin, according to Church teaching. But it has been in force for many centuries in the Western or Latin Church. Among Eastern-rite Catholics, however, deacons may marry before being ordained to the priesthood. But married priests may not become bishops.

During the same session that the Pope’s decision was announced, the majority of the 11 speakers who spoke on the subject of the Church’s missionary activity asked for a clearer statement of the role of the visible Church established by Christ in providing for the salvation of all men.

Though all admitted the possibility of salvation outside the visible Catholic Church — a matter of Church doctrine — several thought the schema should state clearly that “the ordinary way to salvation is within the Catholic Church.” Consequently, there should be no talk of lessening the Church’s missionary aim of preaching the Gospel to all men, but rather of intensifying it.

“It is indispensible to insist on this concept,” Franziskus Cardinal Koenig of Vienna said, “to avoid equivocation and errors regarding the necessity of the missionary activity of the Church. Without the grace of Christ, nobody can be saved, and the visible Church constitutes in the world the sacrament of salvation for all.”

Membership in the visible Church thus constitutes the ordinary way to salvation “toward which all grace granted outside that Church is directed,” Cardinal Koenig said. He warned, however, against imposing the Church’s teaching, calling rather for a fraternal program in which Christians themselves would practice what they preach, and thus dispel prejudice.

Other speakers asked for a clearer definition of the role of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, one cautioning against overcentralization in that Vatican body charged with coordinating missionary activity.

Bishop Marcos McGrath, C.S.C., of Santiago, Panama, asked for clarification of the bishop’s role as the center of all sacramental life in a mission area and at the same time stressing the missionary responsibility of all the people of God. He called for elimination of the Church practice of placing priests — usually members of missionary religious orders — in charge of some mission territories. All such mission authorities should be consecrated bishops, he said.

In the course of the day’s meeting, the Fathers approved the entire text on the renovation of Religious life by an overwhelming vote of 2,126 to 13. It now awaits only the formal vote in a public session of the council and promulgation by the Pope. Council officials have suggested this might take place Nov. 1, when other completed documents might also be promulgated.

Bishop Giuseppe Carrera of Verona, Italy, gave the report on the revised schema on priestly formation [seminaries] which received preliminary approval last year. He pointed out that since it had been approved, the council commission on seminaries ignored later suggestions by some council Fathers calling for substantial revision.

Rather, he said, the commission confined itself to clarifications and minor additions so as to make it more acceptable to the majority.

The mind of the commission, he said, was to “maintain an open door policy” on things pertaining to seminary formation in the light of last year’s debate. Efforts were made to emphasize the importance of coordinating seminary formation with the needs of the present day, he said.

It was the anniversary of the opening of Second Vatican Council by Pope John in 1962. The Mass was sung by Abbot Ignace Gillet, O.C.S.O., the Trappist abbot general. Bishop Stefan Kuijpers, C.SS.R., of Paramaribo, Surinam, enthroned the Gospels.

During the working session, the Fathers received a summary of the lengthy report on the final schema on the council agenda for debate — on the priestly life and ministry. The commission had agreed, Archbishop Felici said, to present the report in summary only, because of the length of the full report printed in text. Another report was distributed on the schema on the Church’s attitude toward non-Christians, which was scheduled for final voting the same week.

Archbishop Felici told the Fathers that the voting procedure on the Christian education document had been revised for a second time following requests by several Fathers. The expanded number of votes, he said, would result in greater leeway to exclude particular amendments from the revised schema without eliminating other related amendments which formerly would have been grouped together in the same vote. He said the revised procedure would be distributed the following day and voting would remain scheduled for Oct. 13.

The day’s first speaker on the subject of missions was Ernesto Cardinal Ruffini of Palermo, Italy, who hailed the council’s document as a potential “Magna Carta for the missions.” He said, however, that the use of Scripture in the present text was subject to “serious criticism,” and some theological points were obscure and imperfect. For instance, he said, the text seemed to confer on the laity a role which is uniquely that of bishops. He asked for more emphasis on the need for prayer to God through Mary, Queen of Missions, for effective missionary work.

A missionary going to a foreign country should adopt that country as his fatherland, Cardinal Ruffini said.

The superior general of the Foreign Mission Society of Paris, Father Maurice Queguiner, M.E.P., said the text was good and could be most useful for the Church’s missionary activity. He asked that the Church firmly reject the theory that Christ envisioned a “small chosen people” rather than that He intended His Redemption to be applicable universally. But he also wanted rejected the notion that non-Christian religions are “adequate means of salvation.”

Though missionary activity is the duty of all in the Church, it is especially that of bishops in virtue of the doctrine of collegiality, he said. Before this doctrine was explained sufficiently, the missionary impetus came from the popes, who discharged the obligation largely through religious institutes and missionary orders, according to Father Queguiner. Now, he said, the tension between these and local bishops needs to be resolved “by mutual understanding and, if need be, by free renunciation of acquired positions.”

He asked for precautions to forestall “excessive centralization” in the new organization of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith as suggested by the text. He asked for a more flexible system of “incardination” — legal attachment of priests to a diocese — providing for permanent incardination at home and for a temporary arrangement in a mission area. He also suggested that missionary seminarians begin their training in diocesan seminaries.

Pleading the cause of the “one-third of the human race” to whom it is impossible to preach the Gospel because of persecution, Bishop Andrea Sapelak, S.D.B., apostolic visitor for Ukrainian-rite Catholics in Argentina, called for greater utilization of mass communications media, particularly radio, to reach them.

In his native Ukraine, he said, the Church has been persecuted for the past 50 years. Churches and schools have been closed and members of the young generation are growing up atheists. Therefore radio courses in catechism and broadcasts of liturgical services should be beamed “beyond the frontiers of the kingdom of militant atheism to … prepare the way for the coming of the Lord.” He praised the work of Vatican Radio along these lines as of inestimable service to the Church in Silence.

Provisions made in the text for reorganization of the Propaganda Fide congregation, he said, should safeguard the authority of the Congregation for the Oriental Church in those territories in which it exercises jurisdiction.

Bishop Ernesto Goncalvez da Costa, O.F.M., of Inhambane, Mozambique, asked for more emphasis on the role of the entire People of God in the Church’s missionary activity. He also suggested revising the order of presentation to begin with the doctrinal and theological foundations. He wanted greater stress on technical and scientific training for missionaries and more accent on the value of prayer in aiding their work.

In the name of more than 50 bishops “of various nations,” Archbishop Joseph Cordeiro of Karachi, Pakistan, also spoke on the need for stressing the Church’s unique role in providing for the salvation of all men.

A problem in this regard has arisen from “new clarifications in theology” and from the growth of the ecumenical spirit, Archbishop Cordeiro said. While recognizing that men can be saved without union with the visible body which is the Catholic Church, he said, the council cannot deny that even in these cases, men thus saved must have faith. The task of the Church is to bring the Faith within the reach of all men, he said, and God is fully glorified only when all men live consciously in the Faith of Christ. This, he said, is the goal of all missionary activity.

Bishop Stanislaus Lokuang of Tainan, Formosa, warned against “undue optimism” regarding the “implicitly Christian” state of non-believers to the extent that missionary activity would seem almost unnecessary. Although the possibility of salvation without even hearing the word of God cannot be denied, he said, it must be remembered that this is the extraordinary way to salvation. The Church is the ordinary way, he added.

Speaking for the episcopal conference of Indonesia, Bishop Paternus Geise, O.F.M., of Borgo also stressed the necessity of missionary activity without denying the possibility of salvation for those who never hear the Gospel. But he called this a “kind of internal salvation,” whereas, he said, salvation cannot remain purely internal but must be realized in certain external and visible ways. Otherwise it would be imperfect and incomplete, whereas salvation within the Church is the perfect form, in full harmony with man’s human condition.

Bishop James Corboy, S.J., of Monze, Zambia, spoke in the name of 74 other council Fathers. He said the concept of missionary activity as set forth in the text is not in full harmony with the council’s documents on the nature of the Church and on the apostolate of the laity, in which the missionary nature of the Church derives from the very nature of the People of God. Bishops have their role of sanctification, he said, but lay people also have their special role in the Church’s over-all mission. He too asked for clearer treatment of the necessity of the Church for salvation, which he said provides the solid foundation for its missionary activity.

The final speaker of the day was Archbishop Joseph Attipetty of Verapoly, India. He described the text’s recommendations for reorganization of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith as “giving the impression of an excessive use of collegiality,” as though the council were trying to impose on the Pope its own method of reorganizing what in reality is the Pope’s personal secretariat. He suggested instead a vote of thanks for the congregation’s accomplishments.

Father John P. Donnelly
NCWC News Rome correspondent

* * * *

The ecumenical council cast nine votes on the schema on seminaries:

Vote one — on the introduction and statement that the text applies to Religious as well as to diocesan seminaries — yes, 2,125; no, 11; null, 2.

Vote two — on an expanded treatment of the question of priestly vocations — yes, 2,119; no, 119; null, 1.

Vote three — on minor seminaries — yes, 2,046; no, 95.

Vote four — on the necessity of major seminaries — yes, 2,038; no, 88; null, 1.

Vote five — on proper preparation of seminary faculties — yes, 2,054; no, 3.

Vote six — on seminary spiritual life and the mind of the Church and union with the Pope — yes, 2,020; no, 3; null, 1.

Vote seven — on training in the positive approach to priestly celibacy — yes, 1,971; no, 16; null, 2.

Vote eight — on character formation and training in human virtues, and the spirit of initiative and self-discipline — yes, 1,975; no, 6.

Vote nine — on the age for ordination and the possibility of a period of active diaconate before priestly ordination — yes, 2,011; no, 11.

Seven more votes on amendments to the seminary document remained to be taken in order to complete the council’s work on this subject.

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