Imprimatur finally granted

On 9 April 1963, a day after Cardijn had met with Suenens, the imprimatur was granted for his book.

Stefan Gigacz explains:

While there appears to be no written record of the meeting between the two men (Suenens and Cardijn), the outcome was swift. The next day, 9 April 1963, the vicar general, Msgr P. Theeuws, gave his imprimatur, accepting the modifications that Cardijn had made to his text.

Did Suenens blink? Fiévez and Meert certainly thought so, writing in their biography of Cardijn that he ‘stood firm’ despite the pressures that were placed on him ‘to change his emphasis.’ Moreover, while remaining rigidly faithful to his vow of obedience, Cardijn had forced Suenens to face up to his own responsibilities.

The whole episode left a bitter taste in the mouths of Fiévez and other close collaborators of Cardijn who were familiar with what had occurred.

Cardijn was deeply affected, even though he sought to avoid embarrassing Suenens, going as far as asking Fiévez to recover the initial proofs from the typesetter to ensure that these were not circulated.All things considered, Cardijn’s attitude demonstrated almost heroic forbearance.


Stefan Gigacz, The Leaven in the Council, Chapter 8, Suenens vs Cardijn, Lay people in the frontlines (Australian Cardijn Institute)

Suenens meets Cardijn

On 8 April 1963, Cardijn met with Suenens at the Episcopal Palace at Malines.

Fiévez recorded the outcome in her own notes:

Cardijn travelled to Malines… where he was faced [heurté] once again by the apparently very cordial and fraternal welcome offered to him by the cardinal, who took him in his arms, denying that there was ‘anything’ between them.

Stefan Gigacz writes:

Cardijn’s sense of betrayal was palpable. So too was the contrast between Suenens’ backroom modus operandi and that of his predecessor, Cardinal Mercier, who had always had the merit of being upfront.


Stefan Gigacz, The Leaven in the Council, Chapter 8, Suenens vs Cardijn, Lay people in the frontlines (Australian Cardijn Institute)

Negotiations with Malines

Having just returned from Germany, Cardijn wrote to Delarge on 3 April, confirming that he will make himself available for a recorded interview in Paris.

He also notes that the book text is not yet finalised while negotiations over its content continue with “Malines,” i.e. with Cardinal Suenens and the archdiocesan censors.

Brussels, 3 April 1963

Monsieur J.P. Delarge,

Directeur des Editions Universitaires,

72, boulevard Saint-Germain,

Paris, 5ème


Dear Sir,

On my return from Germany, I found your two letters of 27 March, for which I thank you very much.

I think I can confirm the commitment I made for the TV broadcast on the 23rd. And I’m delighted to be able to give you an affirmative answer, in principle, regarding the recording of a record. On both counts, I would like..:

1 – that you wait a little more (perhaps a week or so) to specify definitively the content of the texts to be prepared, given that slight modifications may have to be made to the text of the book, following suggestions from Mechelen, which I am currently negotiating;

2 – that the people responsible for both the broadcast and the recording on disk provide me now with the minimum indications I need for initial preparation; I would then only have to make more detailed adjustments.

Mademoiselle Fiévez has received some of the proofs from the printing works and passed them on to me. She’ll let you know herself what initial reactions we’ve had to them. If necessary, she could go to Paris to reach a more precise agreement with you.

Yours sincerely

Jos. Cardijn,

Chaplain general of the YCW


Corrections added to the manuscript

Taking account of Suenens’ observations, Cardijn prepared a series of revised footnotes and paragraphs to be added to the original text.

These included a footnote making clear that Cardijn was using the expression “Catholic Action” in the sense that it had been used prior to Vatican II and that its future use would be subject to the decisions of the Council.

He also added several paragraphs making clear that the lay apostolate was not limited to temporal action but was “evangelising action in life” and that it must be under the direction of the hierarchy, as Suenens insisted:

It is not a matter of temporal action but of spiritual evangelising action in life, the milieux of life and the issues that it raises. This action requires union with the Hierarchy and the priesthood whose action it extends. This concern for the apostolate in the life of lay people does not exclude other concerns, quite the contrary. A concrete book on the JOC would show it very clearly. The number of priestly, religious (even contemplative) and missionary vocations is an eloquent testimony to this.

He added a footnote adding that the expression “lay apostolate” also had a broader meaning than the meaning that Cardijn had given it in his book as “the lay apostolate proper to lay people.”

And he also added a footnote making explicit that the specifically lay apostolate of lay people was integrated into the apostolate of the whole Church.

These footnotes appear to have been drafted by Marguerite Fiévez.

Cardijn seeks audience with Suenens

On 2 April 1963, Cardijn, who had just returned from a two week trip to Germany, wrote to Suenens asking for an audience, which eventually took place on 8 April.

In his letter, Cardijn insists on his submission to authority but also very politely expresses his frustration at the “misunderstanding” that had arisen over his book.

Brussels, 2 April 1963

His Eminence Cardinal Suenens,

Reverend Archbishop of


Audience: 8 April (Handwritten note by Marguerite Fiévez)

Your Eminence,

Just as I was about to leave for a fortnight’s tour of Germany, I was made aware of Your Eminence’s observations on the manuscript of my book, which were passed on to me by my assistant, Father Uylenbroeck.

I am suffering greatly from the misunderstanding caused by this text to be published, and I would have liked to come to an agreement with Your Eminence before leaving for Germany. I was therefore extremely concerned about the matter throughout my trip. I had hoped for an Imprimatur signed by Your Eminence “ex toto corde”, marking our complete agreement on the substance and passing over the reconcilable nuances.

The principle that has guided my whole life is and will remain to the end: faithful and complete submission to Authority. This is why I dare to write to Your Eminence today to ask for the opportunity to discuss this matter. In the attached short document, I have tried to summarise the situation as it stands, to help clear up the misunderstanding and avoid any unfortunate consequences.

In the meantime, Fr Uylenbroeck has been asked by the Censor to revise and correct his text messages. This work will be submitted to the Censor as soon as possible, as the proofs of the book will be leaving the printing works in the next few days.

I would be most grateful if Your Eminence could fix a time to see me regarding this issue.

Once again assuring you of my most complete submission, I beg Your Eminence to accept the homage of the deepest respect with which I am Your most humble servant.

Your most humble servant.

Jos. Cardijn,

Chaplain General.

+ Appendix (Handwritten note by Marguerite Fiévez)


Archives Cardijn 1777

Cardijn’s explains his position to Suenens

Along with his letter to Cardinal Suenens, Cardijn enclosed a note explaining his position.


Les laïcs en première ligne!

1. This text is first and foremost the story of a journey. It includes a large number of articles published several years ago – sometimes twenty-five years ago – and censored at the time. Most of them have been translated and published in various languages, and are already well known in many countries.

2. I submitted the text of the forthcoming book to archbishops and bishops, and a number of theologians and friends, when I personally handed over a copy to Your Eminence in Rome last November. They all urged me to publish it.

3. I am bound by a contract signed on 12 February with Editions Universitaires, Paris, which includes stipulations concerning ownership of the text and the financial consequences of its publication and translation.

4. Since signing the contract, Mr Delarge, manager of the publishing house, has insisted on interviewing me on French television and on producing a record about the book.

5. Won’t major changes have an impact on these commitments? Above all, won’t they provoke regrettable comments that will do more harm than good, and out of all proportion to the nuances of the proposed corrections?

6. The publisher’s requests regarding the publication date and the TV interview are becoming very pressing, making the need for clarification all the more urgent.

Jos. Cardijn

2 April 1963


Archives Cardijn 1777