Page 12, 9th October 1987

9th October 1987
Page 12
Page 12, 9th October 1987 — Pope John's divinely inspired Council of 25 years ago

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Locations: Bombay, York, Rome, Bologna, Derby


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Pope John's divinely inspired Council of 25 years ago

TWENTY-five years ago this coming Sunday, Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council. Who could have predicted on October 11, 1962, how many hopes would be raised and shattered, how many misunderstandings stored up, how many prejudices raised by the spectacular ceremony which originated from a chance conversation four years earlier?

Pope John was himself to relate how he was having a discussion with his Secretary of State, Domenico Tardini, toward the end of 1958, when the thought came to him that he shoufd summon a council.

The decision, attributed to an inspiration from the Holy Spirit, was kept strictly secret for the time being. He announced it publicly on January 25, 1959 after a Mass for Christian unity celebrated in St Paul-outside-theWalls. His immediate listeners were the 18 cardinals present. They were stunned by the announcement.

Vatican II would be the Church's twenty-first Ecumenical Council, the first for 100 years and only the second since the Reformation. No council in the history of the Church was more extensively prepared. None was so vast in concept and execution.

The 800 Vatican Council Fathers of 1869 had fittend into one transept of St Peters. In 1962, 2,540 participants filled the entire nave of the great basilica. Excitement, though outwardly suppressed, was at fever pitch. From his throne above the Confession the Pope broke the hushed silence to tell the Council Fathers why they were there.

Their task, he told them, was to bring the Church up to date. Aggiornamento was his cry, a word which was to become internationally familiar after the Pope's Christmas message that same year (see picture).

Battle joined

JOHN denounced the "prophets of doom" and made it clear that the colossal gathering had not come together to condemn heresies but to enunciate Catholic truth. He made an impassioned plea for unity, listened to with rapt attention by the observers from 17 nonRoman Catholic churches and organisations.

All — or almost all — was euphoria and good will. In the next four years, millions of words were to be poured out on every aspect of the life of the "people of God".

Battle was almost immediately joined as to whether Scripture and tradition were two different sources of divine revelation. The arch conservative Cardinal Ottaviani, presenting this first "scema," maintained that they were. Others, such as Cardinal Bea, felt differently. The Pope ultimately set up a special commission to argue out the point and the title of the document was changed to "Revelation."

It was a portent of the future. Many final versions of decrees were compromisingly couched in ambiguous language. The Christian world still debates what the Council "really meant" about controversial subjects. The towering figures personifying, to some extent, the conservative and progressive outlooks, Ottaviani and Bea, are dead. Still alive is a man who sat silently through most of the Council. He was then Archbishop of Tulle and his name was Marcel Lefebvre. On the very day the Council finally ended (December 8, 1965) Lefebvre sat with some friends in a café near St Peter's. He made it clear to them that he would not accept the findings of the Council.

Battle was to begin once more. Prophets of doom are still with us. But so is the spirit of "good Pope John."

100 years ago

LAST week saw the centenary celebrations of the United Services Catholic Association. It started life as the Confraternity for Catholic Soldiers which was founded in Southwark in the year of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee.

Westminster Cathedral had yet to be built. On its eventual site there then stood a women's prison. But St George's Cathedral in Southwark had long been standing. Bishop John Butt of Southwark was concerned that something should be done for Catholic non-commissioned officers and men in Her Majesty's Army. He had been a military chaplain himself and kept in close touch with those who had followed him.

The British Empire still flourished. Rudyard Kipling was 22 and had just begun writing in India. Soon he was to publish Soldiers Three — dedicated to "That very strong man, T Atkins, Private of the Line, in all admiration and good fellowship." What about fellowship among Catholics?

There were then 40,000 of them in the army. But "It was suggested to me," said Bishop Butt, "that there was a great want of confraternity for Catholic soldiers . . . I caused enquiries to be made and these led me to invite a few Chaplains and Officers to meet in December (1886) and discuss the matter . . . It was agreed to found the Confraternity on January 1, 1887."

Its object was to give men "ample opportunity of practising their religion, of avoiding evil and of associating with Catholics." Groups began to flourish in different parts of England and, fairly soon, as far afield as the Cape and Bombay.

Permanent home

IN 1902 the Confraternity was transformed into the Catholic Soldiers' Association. Sufficient funds were raised for the setting up of a permanent memorial in Westminster Cathedral. This was achieved in 1925 when the names of members killed in the Great War were inscribed on tablets in St George's Chapel.

In 1939 the CSA became the United Services Catholic Association with membership open to Catholics in all three services. After the war, thanks to Major General Lord Michael FitzAlan Howard, then GOC London District, the USCA found a permanent home in the Duke of York's Headquarters.

The President of the Association is Bishop Francis Walmsley, Bishop-in-Ordinary to HM Forces. This Bishopric is just over a year old. The Bishop writes in the Association's Centenary Bulletin that "In the space of a year we have transformed ourselves from a Vicariate, a temporary, quasimissionary Church, into a permanent ecclesial structure, which is equivalent in law to a diocese."

This gives the Bishopric a most significant status and means that young men can seek a vocation to the priesthood within the context "To all our Catholic people in the Forces," says Bishop Walmsley, "Many happy returns!"

Baby snatching

I HAVE been asked to give what barristers call "further and better particulars" of the case of the baptised Jewish child which attracted the attention of Sir Moses Montefiore (Charterhouse, October 2).

It occurred in the year 1858 and caused a sensation at the time. The name of the child was Edgar Mortara and the family -lived in Bologna. He was secretly basptised by his Catholic nanny who disclosed the fact to her parish priest.

On June 23 of that year the Papal police, acting on the instructions of the Holy Office, removed the child from the custody of his parents. He was placed in a Dominican school to be educated as a Christian.

The child's father applied in vain both to the Holy Office and to the Pope for his restitution, and his mother died of grief.

The affair created a panic among the Jewish population of Italy and created violent indignation throughout Europe. Remonstrances were addressed to the Papal government by the great powers, but without success.

As a last resort Montefiore decided on the virtually hopeless course of a personal appeal to the Pope, Pius IX. In April of 1859 he went to Rome for this purpose. But he was refused an audience.

The Pope would do no more than agree, through Cardinal Antonelli, his Secretary of State, to receive Montefiore's petition, but otherwise remained inflexible. Mortara was duly educated as a Catholic and eventually entered the priesthood.

Whig dishing

LAST week's leader remarked that nineteenth century Conservative governments often stole the clothes of their reforming opponents. How true. The phenomenon, a timehonoured sport, was known as "dishing the Whigs."

The expression was first used by Disraeli. "The Whigs are dished — dead," he wrote to Lord John Manners in 1848.

In 1867, on a more important occasion, the phrase was repeated by Britain's least well known or written-about Prime Minister, Edward Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby. And yet he was the first of all premiers to have more than two separate terms of office.

A convert from Whiggery, he persuaded a reluctant House of Lords to accept the Second Reform Bill. It was on this occasion that he "dished the Whigs." His leader in the Commons was Disraeli, for whom Derby's last administration paved the way.

Derby, on his feet in both Houses, spoke with a mixture of music, fire, rapidity and irresistible dash. Such oratory had seldom been heard before at Westminster. It was compared to the fighting style of the formidable Prince Rupert of Bavaria.

He described his great Reform Bill as a "leap in the dark." It was to presage much future light. We are all in his debt. Bulwer Lytton immortalised him in the lines.

"One after one the Lords of time advance, / Here Stanley meets — how Stanley scorns the glance! / The brilliant chief, irregularly great, / Frank, haughty, rash, the Rupert of Debate."

Changing roles

THE Catholic Stage Guild has a new Chairman and a new Chaplain. That splendid actor/director, Lionel Jeffries, has taken over from Michael Williams as Chairman. The latter, after a very long stint in the chair, becomes a Vice-President.

To follow the popular Fr Jim Brand of Allen Hall, Fr Columba takes over as the Guild's National Chaplain. Fr Columba is the Dominican brother of our evergreen resident cartoonist, John Ryan.

Both these busy men will be in action for the Guild next Sunday. At I lam, at London's Corpus Christi Church, Maiden Lane, Fr Columba will celebrate the annual Guild Mass and Lionel Jeffries will be one of the readers.

The Mass will be followed by a reception at the Concert Artistes' Assocation in nearby Bedford Street. I am told that all Catholics or interested parties will be welcome.

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