Page 6, 13th December 1963

13th December 1963
Page 6
Page 6, 13th December 1963 — COUNCIL AT THE POINT OF NO RETURN

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THE procedural crisis broke towards the end of October. The Moderates wanted to put four test votes to the Fathers on Chapter 11 of De Ecelesia, which would deal especially with the concept of a collegial episcopate.

The Presidents blocked the move. Pope Paul's support for collegiality was made known through Cardinal Suenens' famous sermon of October 28. On October 29, it was announced that, by order of the Moderators, of whom Cardinal Suenens is the obvious leader, the votes would be taken next day.

But in between came the vote on whether the doctrine of the Blessed Virgin should be treated in the De Ecclesia schema or separately.

And, in a notable precedentsetting move, two protagonists were asked to present both sides of the issue. The vote was a victory for the progressives but it was a close thing. only 40 votes separating the two sides.

it soon was shown, however, that the set-back for the progressives was only a temporary one. On the following day. the five test votes were taken and they were overwhelmingly in favour of the progressive attitude.

Since they were the crucial votes of the session, they demonstrated clearly what everyone believed— that the progressives outweighed the conservatives by at least two to one. The course of the council was irrevocably fixed.

Rebuke On October 31, the day before the four-day interval, Cardinal Doepfner, the moderator for the session, showed that the power of the moderators had been established.

In a display of authority, he limited the time of several speakers, stopped two for irrelevancy and changed the voting rules for amendments on the liturgy schema.

It was clear that the moderators had been given authority by the Pope to exercise their authority. It looked at last as if the crisis of authority in the Council had been solved.

This was reckoning without the Theological Commission and especially its chairman, Cardinal Ottaviani, and its vice-chairman, Cardinal Browne. They and other cardinals and bishops close to them, reiterated in their speeches that the Commission was not bound by the five votes.

There did not seem to be any scriptural basis for collegiality, they said. And they criticised it as an attack on the primacy.

So much did they harp on the primacy theme that an American Bishop, exasperated by the repetition, finally publicly rebuked them in the aula. Speaking on the ecumenism schema, he criticised those bishops who spoke as if the text on the primacy was the only one in the Holy Bible.

In every intervention, he said, they argued against the collegiality of the Bishops. "They preach to us and chastise us as if we were against Peter and his successors or as if we desired to steal away the faith of our flocks and to promote indifferentism."

And Bishop Leven of San Antonio. Texas, went on to ask why these bishops who presumed to preach to the council had not better instructed flocks or parish visiting or active parish life. 'It is not our people," he said pointedly, "who miss Mass on Sunday, refuse the Sacraments and vote the Communist ticket".

Bishop Leven was warmly applauded. But his words had little effect on the conservatives. Next day Cardinal Bacci was on his feet to make another of his many interventions suggesting that the progressives were watering down the doctrine of the primacy.

A change

It was clear that the Roman leopard was unlikely to change his spots. But it was not simply a matter of tolerating Cardinal Bacci's ineffective repetition. The real task was to make the Commissions carry out the intentions of the Council.

In the second half of the session, this problem became more and more acute. Despite pressure inside and outside the Council, despite an admonition from Pope Paul himself, it seemed as if the Theological Commission was not reflecting the prevailing opinion in the aula.

When it came to adding a chapter on religious liberty to the schema on ecumenism, the Commission divided 18 to five. The majority were on the progressive

side, but the vote indicated that five members. among whom the chairman, vice-chairman and secretary could certainly be numbered, were very much in the saddle.

More and more the Bishops felt that the membership of the commissions must be changed and that new chairmen and vice-chairmen should be appointed to ensure that they worked more quickly and more in line with the Fathers' intentions.

Certainly, the Commissions should take the minority view into account. But they should not use this as an excuse for upsetting a majority decision or for devising procedural delays.


Towards the very end of the session, Pope Paul acted. He ordered that five new members should be appointed to each of the Commissions, except the Liturgy Commission which had finished its work, the Oriental CoMmission which needed only three new members, and the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity which needed 12 new members to bring it up to the same strength as the others.

It was a welcome move. But many Bishops wondered if it went far enough. They felt that as long as the chairmen of the commissions wielded the power they did. the work of the council would not be done.

On November 5, the Council resumed its working sessions after its "long week-end". The Fathers were plunged straight away into a debate on the second schema to come before the session — on Bishops and the Government of dioceses.

The schema had obvious controversial elements. It dealt with such potentially explosive issues as the membership and powers of the Roman Curia; the authority of national episcopal conferences and their relationship to individual bishops: whether there should be compulsory retirement age for Bishops, and so on.

But the schema did not mention two things which were in the fore

front of everyone's mind—the issue of collegiality which had dominated discussion on the previous schema, and the proposal, made by several speakers in the debate, notably Bishop Holland of Portsmouth, that an apostolic college or "senate" of bishops should be set up to help the Pope in ruling the Church.

The idea which had been widely discussed in Council circles was that the chairmen of the national episcopal conferences should come to Rome once or twice a year for a month or so at a time to take major policy decisions with the Pope.

In this way, it was felt, the overcentralisation of power in Rome and in the hands of the Roman Curia would be broken and the collegiality of the Bishops manifested in a clear and practical way.

The debate on the schema had gone on for three days before the biggest explosion of the Council came. It was precipitated in a quietly-spoken but highly-dramatic speech by Cardinal Frings of Cologne.

The German prelate, who is almost blind, first took the Theological Commission to task for its evident refusal to accept the Council's decision on collegiality. This, he said tartly, seemed to insinuate that the Commission had sources of truth unknown to the other Council fathers.

Applauded half-way through his speech—the first time this had happened in Vatican II—Cardinal Frings went on to give the Roman Curia the most severe drubbing it has ever received in public.

Specifically naming the Holy Office. whose secretary is Cardinal Ottaviani, he declared that its procedures were out of harmony with modern times, a source of harm to the faithful and of scandal to those outside the Church. As he ended, the aura of St. Peter's was loud with applause.

Later that morning. Cardinal Ottaviani, his anger clearly evident, described the criticisms as coming from "lack of knowledge, or worse", a remark which quite obviously reflected the behind-thescenes struggle of wills.

Mass media

He turned the attack on the Holy Office into an attack on its head, the Pope, and denied that the collegiality thesis had been proved. He got some applause, part of it perhaps from those who did not agree with him but who respected his capacity to stand up for his convictions.

With a month to go before the session ended, it became clear that the Council would not get through many more schemata. That on Bishops and the government of dioceses finally ended and another one on mass media of communications was introduced.

This had been briefly discussed in the first session, when it impressed few. Cut down and amended, it had come back to the Council. Most of the Bishops did not bother to read it. And when the Moderators suggested it should not be discussed but merely voted on, no one objected.

It was only after the schema had passed that the doubts arose. They arose mainly because the journalists outside the Council had finally got a summary of the schema, seen its many faults and approached their bishops about it.

Two weeks later when the vote was taken on the schema as a whole there were as many as 503 votes agaiW it. But it had received 190 votes more than the two-thirds minimum and it was passed. The lesson was learned that Speed is not always in the interests of better Council working.

One more schema remained to be dealt with in the session. In many ways it was the most controversial. For it treated of the ecumenical movement, an issue which went deep to the roots of the division of outlook among the world's bishops.

De Smedt

For the progressives it represented the fundamental test of the new thinking. Had the Council opened the minds of the Fathers to the aggiornatnenio? The ultimate aim of the Council, as laid down by Pope John was Christian unity. How far and in what way was the Church prepared to go to seek this goal?

The conservatives distrusted the schema, not because they were against Christian unity but because they had always regarded the Council's main purpose as to issue a firmer statement of Catholic teaching. In ecumenical dialogue they saw the danger of watering down the faith and of leading Catholics to indifferentism and 'false irenicism.

From the start, the controversy did not centre on the text of the schema itself, which seemed to please most bishops. But many objected to including two chapters treating on the Catholic attitude to the Jews and of religious liberty.

Wisely the moderators decided that the vote on accepting the schema as a whole for discussion should be divided.

First of all the Fathers were asked to vote on the first three chapters of the schema which dealt with the principles of ecumenism, practical directives for the ecumenical movement and treatment of the Orthodox and other Christian Churches. The vote for accepting or rejecting Chapters four and five was left over.

The discussion, however, produced some of the outstanding speeches of the Council. First—in time at any rate—was that of Bishop de Smedt of Bruges in introducing the chapter on religious liberty. It was a brilliantly

argued speech and was greeted by the longest and loudest applause of the whole Council.

For many people, however, the most significant speech was that of Archbishop Heenan of Westminster. England was, in some ways, a key area in the ecumenical movement. Hitherto. she had not made any great mark in it. Her ecumenical image was blurred.

The importance of Archbishop Heenan's speech was that it committed the country firmly to ecumenism. He spoke in the name of the hierarchy of England and Wales and he pledged the Bishops, collectively and individually, to do everything, short of denying the faith, to the ecumenical movement.

The speech produced the biggest impact England had made at the Council. At last, an image was in the making.

The speeches went on and the working days of the session run out. It ended as it began with a heartening speech from Pope Paul. Those who had begun to doubt the Pope's capacity for action were reassured. He would act in his own good time.

What were Vatican II's main achievements? Who have been its outstanding personalities?

The answers to these questions must be basically subjective. But I think that few of those inside or outside the Council chamber would deny that the outstanding issue of the second session has been that of collegiality.

The question of whether the Theological Commission will write into the schema the substance of the four votes of the Council on this issue is hardly in doubt.

The Council Fathers have made their mind very clear and the Commission, while it may delay embodying it in the schema, will not be able to avoid doing it finally.

What will flow from this is likely to change the whole form of government ' of the Church. National and regional episcopal conferences will have a greater place while the "Senate" is almost certain to be set up before next summer.

The centralisation of power in Rome will end and the stranglehold of the Curia on the administration of the Church will be ended.

Bishops will have a new dignity. They will he seen as leading their flock in charity, sanctifying the church and sharing responsibility for it.

Their mission will be not merely to rule, but also to teach and to sanctify. The doctrine is not pew but it has been restated in a way which clarifies it.


The laity's mission in the church is also stressed in a theologically satisfying way. The layman is no longer seen in a passive role but as an active co-operator with the hierarchy in the task of sanctifying the church. He does it in his own right, with his own gifts and in his own milieu.

The concept of the Church as the people of God is of first-rate importance. It brings out a new relationship between man and man, layman and hierarch, the church particular and the church universal. As its ideas penetrate throughout the Catholic world, its impact can be great.

The ecumenical movement has also received a great impetus. It is no longer suspect but to be encouraged. True. it has its dangers and enthusiasm is not always a

good substitute' for prudence and knowledge.

But the Catholic Church has opened itself to new lights from outside the fold in her search for a fuller expression of her truths. The distant goal of Christian unity has been brought immeasurably closer.

Above all. the spirit of the aggiornamento has been slowly spreading through the ranks of the world's bishops. Liturgy has converted the Americans, the Australians, the Canadians.

Ecumenism has made a deep impact on the English. Even the Italians and the Spanish are opening up to the new influences. The Holy Spirit's working is almost tangible.

For behind all the divisions of opinion, the maneouvrings, the occasional asperity there is a great search for truth and a great charity and understanding, The Vatican Council is not a political occasion or a parliamentary session. One is sometimes inclined to forget that in describing the tensions and the crises which undoubtedly exist.

But the fundamental truth remains that it is the work of the Holy Ghost and that out of it Christ is working the renewal of His Church for His greater honour and glory.


The outstanding figures in the Council have undoubtedly been Cardinal Suenens of MalinesBrussels, with his commanding presence and fine mind: Cardinal Ottaviani. a brilliant speaker and formidable opponent: Patriarch Maximos IV Saigh, of the Melchite Rite, who refuses to speak anything but French and does so with logic and incisiveness; Cardinal Frings of Cologne for his outright attack on the Curia; Bishop de Smedt of Bruges for his brilliant. oratory and magnificent theology: Cardinal Lercaro of Bologna for his perceptive suggestions which often go unrecognised until long after he has spoken them.

And as the second Session comes to a close, one must inevitably ask: Has Vatican II achieved much?

The answer is that it has achieved a great deal, perhaps not as much as we first anticipated but a substantial amount nevertheless. Its published decisions may seem to he very much a compromise between what the conservatives were made to yield and what the progressed were prepared to be satisfied with.

Neither viewpoint was completely overlooked, nor was either altogether dominant.

It is in its overall effect that Vatican H must be judged. And from this standpoint it has been a tremendous success. It has opened the window into the Church, let in the fresh air and blown away most of the cobwebs.

It did not tackle too many questions nor go too deeply into them. What it did do was, as an American peritus put it, "to nail down the advances we have made in the past forty years. It gives us a chance to advance from there from now on".

The main achievement is that the Church has been given a new orientation. The old scholastic method of thinking—that truth had to be expressed in absolutes, from which theology and law could be • deduced syllogistically—has been abandoned.

The Church, like John XXIII, is now thinking existentially, tackling the world as it is in fact and not as it might be in abstract. It is not so much a new idea as a new way of finding ideas. The Catholic faith is being presented now not as a passive and static body of dogmas, but as a living force, a spirit which can change the world.

From this stems one big effect. The Roman Curia has lost the presumption of being right. It is being questioned. As soon as an authority is questioned it is no longer authority. The stress is now being put on the Bishop and on the idea of episcopal collegiality.

For all time

These ideas have not been worked out completely but they are certainly going to be at the basis of much theological and practical thinking in the Church for the next 50 years.

It is an exciting time to be a Catholic and to see the aggiornamento taking shape.

But it would be a mistake to think that the Church can now sit back and let things go their course. The big lesson of Vatican II has been that the Church needs constant renewal. It is not enough to have an ecumenical council once every 100 years.

The schemata which Vatican II has been dealing with go further than anything in the past. But in a sense they are already outdated. Just as a teacher basically teaches his own reform of what he learned 30 years previously, so the Council is now "baptising" ideas which first came to light 30 years or more ago.

Many things arc being discussed now which have not been incorporated in the schemata. Many ideas are being ventilated which seem irrelevant, incongruous or even wrong now. Some of them will certainly he material for the third Vatican Council.

For the Church can never isolate the germ of truth and preserve it in essence. It must continue to seek new ways of bringing to light the truths it possesses, expressing them in ways which will have contemporary meaning, bringing them up to date. The aggiornamento is for all time and it must go on.

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