On 24 November 1961, Pope John XXIII appointed Auxiliary Bishop Leo-Jozef Suenens as archbishop of the Archdiocese of Malines-Brussels, succeeding Cardinal Jozef-Ernest Van Roey.
Cardijn was still travelling in Latin America at this time and it is not clear when he learned of this appointment.
Unlike Van Roey, who had long supported Cardijn and the JOC, Suenens was not a supporter of the Specialised Catholic Action movements.
Indeed, in 1958, Suenens had published an article “L’unité multiforme de l’Action catholique” in which he criticised what he characterised as the “monopoly of Catholic Action” by “certain particular forms of organised lay apostolate” by which he meant the Specialised Catholic Action movements.
In addition, Cardijn had also experienced his own difficulties with Suenens, who as diocesan censor had sought to make the JOC chaplain change some of his writings.
Although we have no record of Cardijn’s reaction, the appointment must have concerned him.
In his April 1961 Note 9 prosaically entitled “Reflections on documents Pr. 11 – 12 – 13 – 14 (SC II),” Cardijn once again diplomatically calls into question the whole approach of the Prep Com on Lay Apostolate.
“Isn’t it necessary,” he asked, “to try to define more precisely:
“Christian animation of the temporal order?
“Social Action and Catholic Action in the temporal order, life and the environment (milieu)?
“The relationship between this animation with the Hierarchy?
“The supernatural raising up of temporal activities?”
In effect, Cardijn was challenging the assumed spiritual-temporal framework that the Commission appeared to be adopting.
Offering the JOC as an example, he insisted that a more holistic approach was required.
“Since its foundation, the YCW has specialised in the training of young workers with a view to the Christian animation and supernatural raising up of social action,” Cardijn continued, noting that the YCW had “formed social leaders for all the various milieux and all the problems of temporal life.”
It had “always affirmed itself as Catholic Action” and had been “praised and recommended as such by Pius XI, Pius XII and John XXIII.”
Moreover, “the YCW works closely with private and public, national and international, Christian and non-Christian organisations and institutions in all areas of the temporal and social order.”
And he concluded with the pointed question as to whether “the 2nd Sub-Commission, which is devoted to social action” was “taking this activity of the YCW into account.”
In Note 8, also dated April 1961 and entitled simply “Reflections on the Notes of the Commission,” Cardijn emphasises the task of “animation” in developing the apostolate of the laity.
The very fact that he needs to emphasise is a sure indication that many members of the Commission had little or no understanding of this concept, no doubt being more accustomed to the role of the priest as director.
For Cardijn, therefore, “the question of the spiritual animation of the apostolate in the temporal sphere is the essential problem to be solved with respect to this apostolate, whether individual or collective.”
“Without this spiritual animation, temporal action cannot be apostolic,” he insisted.
“That’s why this animation – including prayer through suffering or sacrifice – cannot be alongside or at any distance from apostolic action and life themselves,” he insisted.
“In order to be the soul as well as the engine and lever of the apostolate, prayer, suffering, sacrifice need to be identified with the apostolate itself, which must in turn become prayer and sacrifice. ‘It is not I who live, suffer, work; it is Christ who lives, suffers and works in me.’ Animation transforms our temporal life into spiritual and apostolic life.
Without a doubt, there is the apostolate of prayer and suffering for those who specially devote themselves to it, as well for all Christians; but I think it is better not to call this “animation” of the apostolate. Let us reserve the word “animation” for the spiritual life which wants and must transform the whole temporal action of the laity into an apostolate for, by and with Christ and the Church. Any separation in this area distorts both the life of prayer and the life of action. A soul without a body and a body without a soul are impossibilities in earthly life, whether temporal or spiritual
Regarding the spiritual animation of the lay apostolate in the temporal order, could we not make three suggestions? ?
1 ° That all catechesis and all pastoral care insist on the importance and the necessity for the apostolate of the laity in the Church and in the world; and this apostolate in the whole (secular) life of the laity, in all aspects and all settings of this life. The whole of catechesis and the whole of pastoral work must demonstrate and ensure the spiritual animation necessary for the realisation of the apostolate of the laity in the temporal world;
2 ° That the revalorisation of the sacrament of Confirmation should express and emphasise the importance of the apostolate of the baptised in temporal daily life, and effectively introduce it into his life as an adult Christian, at the age of learning his proper and irreplaceable apostolic mission;
3 ° That the term “apostolate of the laity” and particularly the term “Catholic Action” be reserved for this proper and irreplaceable apostolate, which is the apostolate of the laity in the temporal. “The first and immediate apostles of the laity in lay life and the lay environment (milieu) will be lay people”. Certainly the laity have an apostolate of prayer, suffering, sacrifice and dedication which they share with all Christians, priests, religious and lay people; but they have their own apostolate, which is not that of religious and apostles, even if the latter exercise it in fact in a supplementary manner, either to initiate or make up for deficiencies, but in which they can never replace lay people, for the good and fruitfulness of the Church.
On 25 March 1961, Fr Ernest Michel, national chaplain to the French-speaking (Walloon) Belgian JOC, wrote to Cardijn, who had sought his views on the pastoral letter then being drafted by Bishop Emile-Joseph De Smedt of Bruges.
“Here are the few suggestions that I think you could make to Bishop De Smedt regarding his letter,” Michel wrote.
“In the chapter: Living in union with Christ, Reigning in his people, from page 10.
“Stress the possibility and the need for Christians to collaborate with all people of good will – even those who are non-Christian – in the construction of the world.
“Similarly, underline with a little more force the need for Christians to get involved in organisations to carry out their temporal mission (organisations which, in fact, do not always need to be confessional).
“This is what is now often describes as ‘temporal engagement,’ a term that does not appear as such in the letter.
In relation to Catholic Action, Michel suggested that the letter should indicate “that very often specialised Catholic action, especially when it works in dechristianised environments, is that impactful Catholic action of which he speaks.”
On 5 March 1961, Cardijn composed Note 6, which he entitled “Reflection on the note “DE MISSIONE CANONICA ET MANDATO HIERARCHIAE” of Rev. Fr. Papali O.C.D.”
In this he sought to dispel some of the (many) misconceptions surrounding the meaning of “canonical mission” and “mandate” that were then in circulation and to present his own conception of how these terms applied to the JOC and other Specialised Catholic Action movements.
In relation to “canonical mission,” he asks: “Could the meaning of this term not be extended to a mission which of itself belongs to lay people in the Church, which is proper to them, but the organisation of which is mandated by the Hierarchy?”
In other words, lay people have a mission of their own without the need for any sort of superadded canonical mission. On the other hand, the term was applicable to organisations which had been mandated by the local bishop or bishops.
Secondly, he insisted that any hierarchical mandate granted to a Catholic Action organisation was limited to the “mission confided.”
“It does not give a monopoly, nor does it give an international organisation a power above the power of the local Hierarchy,” he insisted, repudiating the accusation made by then-Bishop Léon-Joseph Suenens of Brussels that the movements were seeking a monopoly.
Rather, ” it is more an order of mission, than an encouragement or an approval, in order to officialise a private mission and to guarantee it to the subordinated hierarchies, who maintain all their power of jurisdiction and to stimulate the members of the organisation,” Cardijn explained.
Nor was this a personal mandate.
“As a general rule, the mandate as the mission is given to the organisation as such; to the leaders named as such, the ordinary leaders, the leaders and members only participate in a relative manner, depending on their authority, their competency and their activity in the movement,” he continued.
“The mission or the mandate increases the responsibility of the leaders and members and is a stimulant to vigilance and the spirit of conquest and sacrifice.
“This mission or mandate officially inserts the apostolate and the organisation within that of the Church and makes it an apostolate of the Church, an apostolic institution of the Church,” he concluded.
As clear as Cardijn’s explanation was, it was not easily accepted by his opponents.
In March 1961, Bishop Emile-Joseph De Smedt of Bruges consulted Cardijn on the drafting of a proposed pastoral letter on “the priesthood of the faithful.”
And he does not fear to correct De Smedt, characterising one phrase as simply “erronée” – erroneous or incorrect.
Whereas De Smedt appears to have mentioned “les fidèles” or “the faithful”, Cardijn insists on speaking of the “lay faithful.”
In typical fashion, he is concerned that ordinary people will be able to understand the document, questioning terms such as “ministerial” as in “ministerial priesthood.”
Nor does he approve of the term “corporation” used by De Smedt to distinguish between the “corporation of priests” in the Church and the “corporation of all the baptised.”
He emphasises the “missionary apostolate.”
And he insists that priests are “animators” and “not just administrators.
Specialised Catholic Action
Also highly significant is Cardijn distinction between Specialised and General Catholic Action
Specialised Catholic Action is concerned with “the whole of life, all the problems of life,” he says.
On the other hand, he views “General Catholic Action” as a “coordination of all Specialised CA organizations.”
Moreover Catholic must be more concerned with having an “impact” than providing “services,” Cardijn argues, adding characteristically that it must be organised “at the parish, diocesan, national and international level.”
“Shouldn’t more importance be given to studying its development” he asks in conclusion.
In his third note (Note 3) dated 15 December 1960, Cardijn offers his “Reflections and Suggestions” in response to the proposed plan of work of the Preparatory Commission on Lay Apostolate as outlined by its secretary, Mgr Achille Glorieux, during the first plenary meeting of the commission in November.
A theoretical framework
Framed very abstractly, the program read as follows:
1. Notions and definition of the lay apostolate
2. Forms and methods
3. Formation for the lay apostolate
4. Submission to the hierarchy
5. Priests and laity
6. Catholic Action
7. Relationship between the various forms of the lay apostolate
8. Charitable action
9. Drafting of texts to be presented to the Central Commission.
Many comments could be made about this framework, beginning with the fact that it appears to assume the objectives of the lay apostolate are clear and well understood.
Notable also is the fact that the issue of “submission to the hierarchy” features prior to discussion of the roles of priests and laity, a completely top down conception of the Church to say the least.
Strangely, while “Charitable action” and “Social action” are listed, there no mention of “Evangelisation”, which was the subject to be studied by the first sub-commission to which Cardijn had been appointed.
Two initial realities: Church and life
Despite the politeness of his response, it is evident immediately that Cardijn is not happy with this framework. He therefore suggested:
“In order to clarify the concept and definition of the apostolate of the laity, we can began with two initial realities :
“1. The Church, its mission, its composition: the Hierarchy and its collaborators consecrated by means of a sacrament or a vow (priests and religious), their own mission; all the other faithful, members of the People of God who are the Church and who may be called laity in the ecclesial sense – hence the apostolate of the laity in the Church.
“2. The life, the needs of all people, created by God and who have a mission and a vocation received from God : a mission, vocation and apostolate that they fulfill in their own life, with all other people and in all human institutions, to use the whole of creation for their divine destiny. The apostolate of the laity in the ecclesial sense is necessary with respect to all other people and in all human institutions in order to enable people to discover and realise the mission of humankind and the world.”
As usual, Cardijn thus refuses to focus on the Church on its own or by itself. Instead, he seeks to confront the twin “realities” of
a) the Church and its mission with
b) the life and mission of the people “created by God” and the world they live in.
The contrast with the approach proposed by the PCLA could barely be greater.
Apostolic formation based on the see-judge-act
Cardijn further develops these ideas in his comments on the subsequent paragraphs of the draft plan.
The forms and methods of lay apostolate must be “appropriate to the life, milieux as well as to the problems and institutions of life, they will give birth to the specialised lay apostolate, which by its effectiveness and competence acquires a power of penetration and representation not only within a limited local field but also at national and international levels,” he argues.
Formation “is essentially apostolic,” he continues. “There can be no deep religious formation without formation for the apostolate. Humankind has received a divine mission from God; It is by recognising it and fulfilling it that it truly gives glory to God, collaborating in the establishment of his Kingdom, “on earth as in heaven.” Prayer, sacraments, liturgy, worship and interior life cannot be separated from apostolic life, just as the latter cannot be separated from the sources and expressions of religion.”
The jocist method educates the individual to see, judge and act “as a person, and as a Christian and apostle,” he insists.
“Could the Council insist on the urgency of integrating the apostolic formation of the laity at the heart of all religious formation, especially during the age of vocation (14 to 25 years)?” Cardijn proposes.
Regarding “submission to the hierarchy,” he recognises the primacy of the clergy in doctrinal and sacramental matters but insists on limiting this in other areas.
“Temporal, professional, social and cultural matters, submission to the Hierarchy will be expressed by virtue of and to the extent of the competency of the latter,” he argues.
“This submission must never be or appear to be a form of tutelage, an impediment to the initiative and responsibility of the laity,” Cardijn warns. “On the contrary, it must be and must ppear to be a guarantee of authenticity, an encouragement and support for all initiatives, all efforts and often all the sacrifices that are necessary for the extension of the Reign of God and for the salvation of people.”
Collaboration across the board
Concerning the relations between priests and laity, he emphasises the need to determine “the proper role and the complementary link between the priestly apostolate and the lay apostolate in the mission of the Church, both for the formation of the laity in their apostolate as well as in the permanent collaboration between priests and laity in the exercise of this apostolate.”
He calls for clarification of the notion of Catholic Action and insists on the need to find ways for Catholics to cooperate “with all the various non-Catholic and non-Christian lay organisations and institutions, whether private or public, governmental or non-governmental, local, national and international.”
He insists on the need for collaboration between the various forms of lay apostolate as well as emphasing the importance of both charitable and social action.
A declaration by the Council
Finally, in relation to the drafting of conciliar documents, Cardijn proposes “a kind of solemn declaration by the Council insisting on the current importance of the apostolate of the laity, its growing necessity before the current problems of the world to which the Church must and desires to provide a response.”
“This declaration would also be addressed to non-Catholics and non-Christians, recalling the divine mission of the whole of creation and the whole of humanity, expressing how much the Church desires to collaborate with all people and all human institutions against the terrible scourges that threaten the world and in favour of the complete progress of the human race,” he explains.
“This union of all people in a common effort to overcome obstacles to human freedom and to promote genuine progress responds closely to the desire of the Creator and the Redeemer,” Cardijn explains.
“The Church desires to be the leaven of this union in peace for the respect, raising up and happiness of all,” he concludes, offering his vision of a Church acting from within society rather than from on high.
“The Church’s call to the faithful, members of the Church is also addressed to all people who are all created by the same God and saved by the same Christ in order that together they may be united at this decisive hour for the peace of the world and the salvation of the human race,” he notes in a final appeal for the Council to look beyond the confines of the Church itself.
Cardijn had only been back a month from the first plenary meeting of the Preparatory Commission on Lay Apostolate (PCLA) in Rome but he was already on the move again, this time to Africa for an important leaders training session of the International YCW.
Before leaving, he hurried to complete two more notes for the Commission numbered as Note 2 and Note 3. Note 3, entitled “Quelques réflexions et suggestions (A few reflections and suggestions) and dated 15 December 1960, offered a detailed response to the PCLA’s proposed plan of work.
Note 2, again entitled simply “L’apostolat des laïcs” (The apostolate of lay people) and dated 16 December 1960, explained what Cardijn characterised as the “two essential, primordial and inseparable aspects” of the lay apostolate, namely “its relationship with God, Christ and the Church; with the plan of God in the work of Creation and Redemption,” and on the other hand “its relationship with the fundamental problems of man and the world, with their influences and their depth, in their total dimension.”
Seeking theological counsel – but not in Brussels or Louvain
Before sending these notes to the PCLA, Cardijn therefore sought to get feedback from a trusted confidant and theologian, namely Mgr Désiré Joos, the vicar-general of the Diocese of Tournai in the industrial south of Belgium. Why Mgr Joos rather than say Mgr Gerard Philips, a recognised expert on the theology of the laity at the University of Louvain whom Cardijn had previously consulted?
Cardijn does not explain of course. Nevertheless, he had previously come into (theological) conflict with Philips during the preparation and holding of the Second International Congress on Lay Apostolate in Rome in October 1957 where the latter was a keynote speaker. Moreover, Philips appeared to have allied himself with the Malines-Brussels auxiliary, Bishop Léon-Joseph Suenens, who had also criticised Cardijn’s approach.
Indeed, Suenens had published a major 1958 article in the Belgian Jesuit journal, Nouvelle Revue Théologique, entitled “L’unité multiforme de l’Action catholique” (The multiform unity of Catholic Action) in which, without mentioning Cardijn, he accused the Specialised Catholic Action movements of seeking a “monopoly” of Catholic Action.
Mgr Désiré Joos and Bishop Charles-Marie Himmer of Tournai
Cardijn’s choice of Mgr Désiré Joos from Tournai was therefore highly significant. Just 20km from the northern French city of Lille, Tournai lies in the middle of the coal mining belt that extends across Belgium and into France.
Its bishop was Charles-Marie Himmer (photo above), originally from the neighbouring Diocese of Namur, who had been a JOC and Specialised Catholic Action chaplain from the 1930s. As a bishop, he had already made himself known for his closeness to the working class.
In 1952, he had organised a Social Week that began with an enquiry carried out in every parish of the diocese into the “economic and social problems” in each parish. Addressing JOC chaplains at the conclusion of this enquiry, he took as his subject “Le problème ouvrier” (The worker problem), emphasising the importance of the work of the JOC in educating young workers to enable them to face up to the issues that had emerged.
“J’ai pratiqué à plein la méthode de Cardijn : voir, juger, agir,” Bishop Himmer also said on another occasion. “I fully practised the method of Cardijn: see, judge, act.”
“J’y suis resté fidèle, et j’y crois toujours,” he continued. “I have stayed faithful to it and I still believe in it.”
So it’s little surprise that he would also choose a vicar-general cut from the same jocist cloth. Thus, Mgr Joos, who served as Himmer’s vicar-general from 1954 to 1977, was also responsible for the Specialised Catholic Action movements in the diocese.
Mgr Joos was therefore clearly a man in whom Cardijn had great confidence and who shared his vision of the lay apostolate, particularly among workers.
“You are aware that I am a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Apostolate of the Laity in preparation for the next Ecumenical Council. I had to take an oath to maintain secrecy concerning all the documents I receive – and I believe this also applies to the meetings,” Cardijn wrote, clearly vexed by these restrictions.
“However, I need to consult with people more competent than myself or seek the assistance of collaborators in relation to many issues,” he continued.
“I am not able to type and I don’t understand Italian!” he lamented. “Moreover, other collaborators are also bound to the same secrecy as I am!”
“Given these circumstances, could I ask you to read and evaluate the next two notes that I would like to send to the Commission soon,” Cardijn requested. “I also enclose the first note which I sent earlier prior to the meeting that took place last November.
Cardijn’s twin concerns: Church and world
Apologising for several repetitions in the notes, Cardijn now moved to the crux of his concerns, namely “the relationship of the lay apostolate with God, with Christ, the Church and the Hierarchy in the Church; and on the other hand, the relationship with the problems to be solved by the laity and the apostolate of the laity in our modern world.
“This second relationship is often overlooked, if not ignored, particularly in the statements and definitions. Is there a way to overcome this?” Cardijn asked. “This problem really haunts me.”
Behind his polite language, Cardijn was in effect accusing the PCLA was ignoring the world and focusing only on the Church! What kind of conception of the apostolate of the laity could there be that ignored this issue?
“The Council is a unique opportunity which will not come again for a long time,” Cardijn warned. “And by then, the problems will have been solved either by us or despite us.”
Although he does not name Bishop Himmer, we can surmise that Cardijn also wanted Mgr Joos to relay these concerns to his bishop to the extent that this was possible without compromising Cardijn’s oath of secrecy.
“By the time you receive this letter,” Cardijn concluded, “I will have left for Africa where I will remain until 24 or 25 January. On 30 January, I need to be in Rome for the second session of the Commission. However, the note needs to reach the secretariat without delay (by December 22, it seems!). Could you entrust your precise remarks to Mademoiselle Fiévez who will take care of the sending the documents once the typing is finished?
“But after my return from Africa, perhaps I could see you for a moment just before my departure for Rome and discuss all this with you again.
Please excuse me for bothering you in this way. But you will me doing me a great service. And if in your view my request seems to contradict the oath that I have taken, please feel free to reject it,” Cardijn wrote.
In an eight page typed document dated 10 December 1960 and entitled “Votum de laicis eorumque loco in Ecclesia,” (Vote on the place of lay people in the Church,” Congar sought to summarise his views in response to the Theological Commission’s outline schema on the Church.
The Church’s primary mission was the salvation of all people, Congar noted.ù
However, it also possessed a secondary mission, as he explained:
“A secondary mission of the Church (deriving from the primary mission to which it was connected): tends towards ‘consecration of the world,’ thus influencing the temporal social order a) to accord with God’s justice and charity, as far as possible, and b) ordained to God,” Congar wrote.
Each person participated in this second mission in accordance with their own state in life, Congar continued. The mission of the hierarchy was to move and direct, he noted.
However, the role of the laity was to act as a “leaven the dough, because unlike priests and monks, the lay faithful live fully in the world, were engaged in issues and thus were able to act to direct human affairs towards and for God,” Congar wrote.
Monopoly of Catholic Action?
Congar also noted the controversy that had arisen from Bishop Léon-Joseph Suenens article alleging that reserving the term Catholic Action for certain organised kinds of the lay apostolate tended to create an impression that these organisations had a monopoly over the field of Catholic Action.
Congar thus sought to set out a series of criteria for Catholic Action.
“Catholic Action existed when the hierarchy, 1) Accepted that any enterprise or work of the faithful that was undertaken either voluntarily or at the instigation of the hierarchy, fulfilled at least in part some functions that had been given to the heirs of the apostles whom the Lord had sent to “teach all nations.”
2 °) Took upon themselves to cooperate with this organisation or movement and
3° ) consequently, it gave it more specific and more active guides and studies.
“In this way, the organisations or movements of Catholic Action joined with the action and directives of the hierarchy (directives that were not despotic but policy and philosophical principles) with Catholic lay people directly and immediately responsible.”
Yves Congar, Votum de laicis eorumque loco in Ecclesia (Archives Gerard Philips, 154, Leuven)