The Layman and the Council… Does the Layman ‘Belong’?

Romeo Maione, a Canadian with long experience in the lay apostolate is currently international president of the Young Christian Workers. He sends this article from Belgium. He recently visited Rome for meetings in connection with the anniversary of the social encyclicals of Leo XIII and Pius XI. He will return to Canada at the end of this year to become assistant to the director of the Social Action Department of the Canadian Catholic Conference.


A few years ago, a small group of highly regarded theologians met to discuss the role of the layman in the Church. The principal result of their discussion nicely illustrates a central problem in the life of the Church today. For nothing like a consensus on the role of the layman came out of the meeting. The theologians could agree only that the layman is neither priest nor Religious. Around the world. hopes are running high that the Fathers of the forthcoming Ecumenical Council will have something positive to say about the role of the layman. And there is good reason to believe that these hopes are well-founded. In response to the calls of modern popes, laymen have begun to shoulder more and more responsibility for action. Indeed, the question is no longer whether laymen can bear the responsibility of carrying the Christian message into everyday life, but how far to go.

Lay apostles sincerely attempting to “restore all things in Christ” according to the mandate of Pope St. Pius X are asking for clarification of the limits of their responsibility and the extent of their autonomy. In the absence of a consensus on the necessary distinctions, too-easy solutions have often been provided. Those who have advanced near temporal-spiritual distinctions, and would limit the involvement of the Church in our time to the purely spiritual level, have learned that circumstances demand something more. Many questions are heard, but perhaps the most familiar and the most critical could be put this way; “How far can the lay apostolate go into the temporal order without committing the Church to detailed, debatable, political or economic programs?”

The failure to resolve this question led to the division of the vast and well-organized family movement in France in 1950. One element wanted to plunge into the political field to solve the pressing housing problems, while others insisted the movement remain purely educational. The movement finally split, and the French hierarchy set up a new apostolate to insure live spiritual development of the two movements. Other examples of how pressing this particular question can be have occurred in Australia, Italy and Spain. In Australia, a lay apostolate organization called simply “the Movement” did a very effective job of clearing the communists out of the trade unions, then tried to clean up the small minority of communists in the Labour Party The Labour Party asked the Movement to stop its activities. It didn’t. The Labour Party condemned the Movement and, in time, the Movement split the Labour Party. In Italy, the ACLI (Associazione Christiano Laboratore Italiano), one of the major Italian lay worker movements, is facing a crisis because many of its leaders are also members of parliament. The Church has called on the organization to get out of politics. An ACLI leader can no longer take a responsible job in the political field. The Temporal-spiritual division, it appears, is better made in books than in life. The average worker neither has the theological background nor the time to treat frontiers of action as textbook exercises.

He knows that as a lay apostle. he is called to be a good politician. As the leader of an organized movement, it is his job to develop an apostolic spirit among members, encouraging them to take positions on moral issues in political and economic life, the temporal order. 

At least in Europe, the question of the day is, how far can an apostolic movement go into the temporal order? It cannot escape the attention of the Council. 

In Europe, of course, the rural society in which the Church was actively present and very much involved is gradually giving way to a new and industrialized Europe. This evolution is much slower than in the U. S. In America, the “new ideas” about the lay apostolate came to a new country. In Europe, they germinated and grew in a well established order. Today, the Church in Europe is trying to free itself from the “old order” so that it can embrace and bring the good news to the developing new way of life. In an effort not to be identified with the old ways, some advocate that the Church completely remove itself from the temporal order. 

This, of course, would reverse the whole movement of the lay apostolate to date. From a state of suspended animation, the laity has now been awakened, and responding to the Popes, is attempting to meet some of the serious crises of our age. And inevitably, the spiritual and temporal interests intersect. 

It would be difficult to pinpoint the moment in modern history when the laity was awakened. The lay apostolate itself is, of course, not a new thing in the Church. Pius XII pointed this out to exponents of the lay apostolate attending the First World Congress of the Lay Apostolate in Rome in 1950. The apostles used the Roman roads, and laymen in those times did an effective job of spreading the good news of the Gospels everywhere. 

Pius XII repeated the exhortation of Pius XI in asking laymen to exercise an active apostolate in the Church. The words of both these modern Popes gave new life to many traditional lay organizations, and at the same time gave birth to new lay movements like the Young Christian Workers, Young Christian Farmers, the Young Christian Students, the Christian Family Movement, and a host of others. 

This revival of lay activity was also marked by the creation of international coordinating bodies, based in Rome, designed to implement the work of lay movements. The Conference of Catholic International Organizations, whose main office is in Fribourg, Switzerland, and the Permanent Committee for the Organization of the Lay Apostolate Congresses, whose offices are in Rome, are both working to develop the lay apostolate internationally.

The Permanent Committee for the Organization of the Lay Apostolate, which has already organized two international conferences on the lay apostolate in Rome, is planning a third to be held just after the Ecumenical Council. 

Although preparations for the Council and the work of its various commissions are shrouded in silence, it is becoming clearer that one of the central themes of the Council will be the question of the lay apostolate. One of the commissions of the Council will address itself exclusively to the problems of the lay apostolate. (It is interesting to note that this commission is the only one which does not depend directly on any of the congregations making up the Curia.) 

The setting up of this commission of the lay apostolate was greeted with great joy by laymen active In the affairs of the Church, although some were less than joyful to find that no laymen are present on any of the commissions, particularly the lay apostolate commissions. 

At a recent international meeting a lay leader was overheard to say, jokingly, “Well, it was the men who discussed the role of women in society and finally granted them the right to vote; it is now the turn of the clergy to release the potential energies of the layman.”)

Many lay leaders, particularly in Holland and Austria, have been openly discussing the absence of laymen in the preparatory work of the Council —and some high Church authorities have promised to bring the matter up in Rome. 

While one may regret the absence of experienced laymen in the preparatory work, one can rejoice at the impressive array of internationally-known clerics with first hand experience of the lay apostolate who make up the Commission which will deal specifically with lay matters. 

Fernando Cardinal Cento, the president of the Lay Apostolate Commission, was once a nuncio in Belgium and has first hand knowledge of the lay movements, especially the worker movements. Monsignor Achille Glorieux, secretary of the commission, was once a Young Christian Workers chaplain in France, and is now chaplain of the Permanent Committee for the Organization of Lay Apostolate Congresses. Monsignor Joseph Cardijn, international chaplain and founder of the Young Christian Workers, and Bishop E. Larrain of Chile, vice president of CELAM, the Latin American Council of Bishops, are two others on the commission.

(It was Monsignor Cardijn, incidentally, who was the first to make the see-judge-act method which Pope John recommends in Mater et Magistra as a central part of the modern lay movement.) 

The general lines of the commission study are apparent; the role of the layman in the Church and the relations between the lay apostolate organizations and the hierarchy, the problem of the limit and extent of the autonomy of the lay apostolate in the temporal order, all these will certainly be on the agenda. 

Many well-informed laymen seem to be reasonably sure that the Fathers of the Council will set up a Congregation for the Laity which will play an active part in the Curia. In any event, the question of the laity in the Church is bound to be taken up by several of the Commissions. 

The Commission on Theological Studies will discuss the doctrinal position of the laity. The Liturgical Commission will discuss the participation of the laity in the liturgy. The Seminaries Commission will approach the problem under the heading of the necessary formation of priests who will be formers of lay apostles. The Missions Commission will surely study the question of the laity when it discusses the penury of the clergy in mission lands, and in a more particular way, Latin America. This will lead to a discussion on the pastoral role of the layman in mission countries. 

Finally, the commission set up to deal with the unity of the Churches will be discussing the laity because of the increasing contacts between Catholics and non-Catholics in everyday life. So the laity will be very much present in the Council, sharpening the awareness expressed by Bishop de Smet of Bruges in a pastoral written in preparation for the Ecumenical Council. 

“Jesus continues His priesthood in the Christian community as a whole,” the Bishop wrote. “It is in it and by it that He offers sacrifice to the Father. It is by it and in it that He spreads His gospel. It is by it and in it that He will realize the consecration of the world. It is false to think that Catholic doctrine reduces the faithful to a passive state. It is inexact to pretend that they are but a flock of sheep, docile and forcibly resigned to being led by their pastors. If you have understood correctly. you will know that the Church is a cooperation of all the baptized who —together— form the royal priesthood of Jesus Christ.”


Romeo Maione, The Layman and the Council… Does the Layman ‘Belong’?, Pittsburgh Catholic, Thursday August 31, 1961 (Catholic News Archive)

Brazil prepares for YCW congress

PETROPOLIS, Brazil (NC) —A technical committee has been set up here to make preparations for the second world congress of the Young Christian Workers’ organization to be held here Nov. 1 to’ 11. Cardinal de Barros Camara, Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, has established the committee. The YCW congress will deal with such subjects as the preparation of young workers for marriage, the training of leaders, and international aid within the structure <of the YCW.


Brazilians Prepare for YCW World Congress (The Monitor, Volume CIII, Number 20, 18 August 1961)(The Catholic News Archive)

Cardijn seeks support from Mgr Emiliano Guano

On 9 August 1961, Cardijn wrote to Mgr Emiliano Guano, a former chaplain to the International Movement of Catholic Students, at the national secretariat of the Italian Catholic Action movement seeking his support to set up a small team to work on some new proposals for the Prep Com on Lay Apostolate.

He is clearly concerned that his efforts are not cutting through.

He wrote:

May I disturb you by communicating my concerns to you?” Cardijn began. “I had the impression that you also shared these concerns during the last session of our Conciliar Commission. And since we had so little time to exchange our impressions, please forgive me for disturbing you by sending you these few notes.

You will therefore find attached:

1 – A copy of the letter that I have just sent to Monsignor Glorieux regarding proposals 51 and 52 and on the subject of my desire to insist on the importance of the apostolate of lay people in the problems specific to lay life;

23 – Under separate cover, the three notes that I had prepared previously and sent to Monsignor Glorieux concerning the program of our Commission; I don’t know which of these notes you received.

As I have written to Monsignor Glorieux, until the end of November I will be entirely occupied with the International Council of the YCW in Rio de Janeiro and its preparation. But after that date I will be freer and will be able to make the time needed to work with a small team on the finalisation of some proposals concerning the apostolate of the laity, which seem to me essential at the present time.

I apologise for writing to you so simply. Do not see any pretension in it but simply a need for frankness and trust and a desire to serve the Church as best as I can. Time is advancing, the Council is approaching and I would blame myself for not having fulfilled the mandate that the Holy See deigned to entrust to me if I did not try to express all my thoughts, submitting them very humbly to the decisions of the Holy See. Authority.

We may have the opportunity to discuss all of this again at the next session. It is from there that I will leave for Rio…



Joseph Cardijn – Emiliano Guano 09 08 1961 (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)


Joseph Cardijn – Emiliano Guano 09 08 1961 (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Reflections on Proposals 50 and 51

These are the very concrete reflections on the life that Cardijn sent to Mgr Emiliano Guano regarding Proposals 50 and 51 from the Preparatory Commission on Lay Apostolate.


De actione sociali familiali – De apostolatu a familia exercendo

The two texts need to be compared so that they complement each other and meet current needs:

       1. Many young people are prevented from founding a Christian home because of unemployment, lack of family housing, and thus live in an irregular marital life: it is the same for many newlyweds who, for lack of work or family home encounter insurmountable or almost insurmountable difficulties in having a truly Christian married life. The more privileged Christian families have a duty to promote testimonies of community mutual aid and the social institutions indispensable to a truly human and Christian social-family order.

       2. Heads of families – husbands and parents – who hire domestic workers (maids) for their families, have a grave obligation – especially in the case of minors – to take the necessary measures to safeguard their health, their moral welfare and their future and to monitor the conditions that could compromise them: comfortable and safe bedroom, organised work and salary. In some continents, statistics show that prostitutes are ex-servants, who have been poorly housed, badly treated and abandoned. Young domestic workers need protection and above all training appropriate to their profession and their life: protection and training which should be provided through belonging to the JOCF (Girls YCW), either one of its branches or services (1).

(1) This second proposition could be included in the chapter on women (De actione sociali in specie – Pr. 54)



Joseph Cardijn, Refléxions à propos des Propositions 50 et 51 (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library


Joseph Cardijn, Reflections on Proposals 50 and 51 (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Copy to Cardinal Cento

On 8 August 1961, Cardijn wrote to Preparatory Commission president, Cardinal Fernando Cento, enclosing a copy of the letter he had sent a day earlier to Mgr Glorieux in relation to young domestic workers.

“I am taking the liberty of communicating to your Eminence the letter that I have just sent to Monsignor Glorieux concerning my intervention at the last session of our Conciliar Commission, as well as with respect to several other points that concern me,” Cardijn wrote.

Evidently, he was not satisfied with what was being done in response to his concerns and wanted to make this clear to Cento in his usual polite way.

“I apologise for disturbing Your Eminence in this way, bringing to your attention concerns of which You are very well aware, but which I again humbly submit to your authorised judgment,” Cardijn emphasises.

And he concludes with reference to the death the day before of Cardinal Van Roey, who was well known to Cardinal Cento who had been nuncio to Belgium from 1946 to 1953.

“Your Eminence certainly shares the mourning which has struck the Church of Belgium with the death of His Eminence Cardinal van Roey. I am struck by the unanimity expressed in this mourning, not only among Catholics, but also among the whole population and the whole of the press. Everyone recognises the righteousness and greatness of the Eminent Primate,” Cardijn concluded.



Joseph Cardijn – Cardinal Fernando Cento, 08 08 1961 (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)


Joseph Cardijn – Cardinal Fernando Cento, 08 08 1961 (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Social and economic defence of young workers

On 7 August 1961, Cardijn wrote to Mgr Glorieux expanding on his proposal for action on the issue of young domestic workers.

“Prior to receiving your letter, I had written the attached short note on Proposals 50 and 51, on the subject of the family,” Cardijn wrote. “The secretariat will decide whether it should still be taken into account.”

“Note Ri 55 seems to address my concerns about the plight of domestic workers, especially younger ones. We should perhaps add the social and economic defence of these young employees. An organisation which brings together and helps young domestic workers, in which they themselves are trained to train and support each other, seems to me very advisable. The JOCF in Chile and Brazil have taken the initiative to launch such an organisation, within the JOC movement itself, with excellent results.”

Moving on, he raised questions – indeed perhaps frustration – about the method of work being followed by the Preparator Commission.

“At the point the work of the Commission has arrived at, would it not be useful to provide its members a copy of all the proposals adopted so far? This would help us to gain an overview of these Proposals in order to be able to evaluate and add to them.”

And he again returned to his primordial concern for the “apostolate of the laity.”

“Personally, I am very concerned with the apostolate of the laity – individual, but above all organised – in their lay life, in their lay environment, at the heart of the problems and institutions that influence them; I am referring to the proper and irreplaceable apostolate that the laity must exercise personally or through their organisations with respect to secular problems.

“Can we not highlight even more the importance and the necessity of this and underline the formation which the laity need, as well as the indispensable collaboration with the Hierarchy, as much for their formation as for their action?” he asked.

And it is an issue that he sees as important in the ecumenical or even inter-religious context as well.

“The problem seems so important to me for the years to come! Catholics and non-Catholics alike expect a clear and definite declaration from the Council on such a fundamental point. This statement needs to make an impact, both inside and outside the Church.

“I apologise for returing to this point so often. I hope that after the International Council of the YCW in Rio (November 1 to 23), I will find more time to put on paper a few moer concrete observations concerning the distinctions to be made regarding the direct and indirect apostolate as well as, apostolic, social and charitable action, collaboration between chaplain and lay leader, relations between the Hierarchy and the laity.

“I will be in Rome from 23 to 28 October and will leave from there directly to Rio de Janeiro. Do not forget us in your prayers!” Cardijn concluded.



Joseph Cardijn – Achille Glorieux 07 08 1961 (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)


Joseph Cardijn – Achille Glorieux 07 08 1961 (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Cardinal Van Roey, foe of Nazis, dead at 87

BRUSSELS, Aug. 10—Requiem Mass has been offered here for Josef Cardinal van Roey, who defied the nazis, battled the communists and brought school peace to his nation after more than a century of Church-State strife.

The Archbishop of Malines died (Aug. 6) at the age of 87. Long a victim of a circulatory ailment, he took a turn for the worse and received Extreme Unction the day before his death.

Belgium’s King Baudouin and Queen Pablóla, whom the Cardinal married last December, were out of the country when he died. They were expected to return for his funeral. Also due to return for the funeral was Belgian Premier Theo Lefevre.

After the Requiem Mass in St. Rombaut’a cathedral, presided over by Archbishop Efrem Forni, Apostolic Nuncio to Belgium, the cardinal was buried in the cathedral’s crypt.

Cardinal van Roey was the third member of the College of Cardinals to die within eight days. Domenico Cardinal Tardini died on July 30 and Nicola Cardinal Canall died on August 3. Their deaths reduce membership in the Sacred College to 81.

(At his summer residence in Castelgandolfo, Italy, His Holiness Pope John XXIII went to his private chapel to pray as soon as he was told of Cardinal van Roey’s death. The Pope offered his August 7 Mass for the repose of the Cardinal’s soul.)

Cardinal van Roey was bom in Vorsselaer, Belgium, on January 13, 1874. After studying at the Malines seminary he was ordained a priest on September 18, 1897.

After earning a doctorate at the Catholic University of Louvain, he taught theology there until 1907# when he was made vicar general, of the Malines archdiocese. He was named Archbishop of Malines in 1926 and created a cardinal a year later.

The Cardinal took a special interest in Catholic Action activities and set up a Catholic Action committee in every parish to coordinate the work of various organizations.

The Catholic congress at Malines which he organized in 1936 to give the nation’s Catholics doctrinal direction on religious, social, economic and cultural matters, is a milestone in the history of the Churoh In Belgium.

The rise of nazism in Europe brought the Cardinal perhaps the greatest challenge of his career. His reaction was among his greatest achievements.

Even before the outbreak of war, in Deoember, 1938, Cardinal Van Roey condemned nazi race theories as an expression of materialism. The Cardinal stated: “To consider the will, morality and even religion as coining from the blood is to reduce high values to mere material things.” Such race theories, he added, represent for men “what stockbreeding is for cattle.”

With the fall and occupation of Belgium in the early days of World War II, the Cardinal became a center of resistance to the nazi invaders. His resistance at first was of the passive variety, a display of the silent diplomacy which had earned him a reputation as the “silent Cardinal.” By simply refusing to reply either to friendly overtures or gibes from the nazis, the Cardinal frustrated their efforts to persuade Catholics to collaborate with them.

But when Belgian quislings began a violent attack on the Church, the Cardinal fought back.

“The unjustified invasion of a country,” he declared in an address to a Catholic Action group in September, 1941, “cannot be defended on moral grounds. There are those who say that the Church can adapt Itself to any regime. We must distinguish. The Church adapts herself to any regime that safeguards liberty and does not violate conscience. If a regime violates the rights of conscience, the Church does not adapt herself.”

He added: “It is not licit for Catholics to collaborate in the introduction of a regime of oppression… Reason and good sense will direct us in the way of confidence, or resistance, because we are certain that our country will be restored and will rise again.”

The Cardinal followed his words with actions. He ordered the expulsion from Catholic schools of students who Joined nazi youth organizations, forbade Catholics to read collaborationist papers, refused admittance to churches to uniformed groups of collaborators.

Following the war the Cardinal was quid: to recognize and speak out against the threat of communism. In a pastoral letter to Belgian Catholics he said: “We admired the Russians when they were defending their country and contributing to the collapse of the nazis. Why should Russia now sully its glory by persecuting millions for their faith?”

As Europe strove to recover from the effects of the war, Cardinal van Roey wrote in “While the United States—whose spirit of human solidarity and Christian charity has been admirable all over Europe since the end of the fighting—proposes to offer material help enabling exhausted nations to recuperate, one witnesses this incredible spectacle: Soviet Russia, its satellites and partisans, not only repudiate any help for the peoples that they dominate, but strain every nerve to thwart this kind offer.”

Meanwhile, the Cardinal also warned against a postwar wave of anticlericalism in Belgium, which manifested itself especially in efforts to reduce the subsidies granted by the government to Catholic schools. Typical of his many statements on this subject was his 1957 Lenten pastoral, which declared that such a campaign to impede Catholic education “hurts freedom of conscience and violates equality among citizens.”

His efforts led to the 1958 school pact signed by Belgium’s three main political parties which ended the generations-old controversy over government aid to Catholic schools. The pact doubled the subsidies granted to Church schools and put them on a par with provincial and local-government schools in regard to state aid.

Early in 1960 the Cardinal and Belgium’s Catholics were praised for their efforts to spread the Faith in the Belgian Congo, now an independent nation. The praise came In a letter to Cardinal van Roey from Gregorio Pietro XV Cardinal Agagianlan, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.

At the same time Cardinal van Roey, who had given protection to persecuted Belgian Jews as he fought the nazis during the wartime occupation, again spoke out against a renewed wave of antisemitism.

Last December the Cardinal successfully urged workers engaged in a series of strikes that threatened to paralyze the nation to return to their Jobs. During the same month he officiated at King Baudouin’s marriage.


Catholic News Service – Newsfeeds, 7 August 1961 (Catholic News Archive)