Catholic Action a ‘non-doctrinal’ matter

Sebastian Tromp S

While Cardijn worked away in the Prep Com on Lay Apostolate, Yves Congar joined the corresponding Theological Commission.

To Congar’s disconcertment, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani opened the 15 November plenary meeting announcing that there were to be five pre-determined sub-commissions to look at the various proposed schemas.

“We will be told what the members of the Commission have said and we may express our opinion, but it is not a question of writing a treatise,” Congar noted in his diary.

“We must confine ourselves to specific and necessary points,” he added, explaining the limitations on his own role as a theologian in the commission, limitations that evidently also applied to Cardijn in the PCLA.

More positively, Congar notes that the Commission will be unable to commence work on “matters of social morality” because the drafting of an encyclical for the 70th anniversary of Rerum Novarum is under way.

Intriguingly, he also adds that in the view of the conservative Dutch Jesuit, Fr Sebastian Tromp, who was the secretary to the Theological Commission, “Catholic Action and the laity are almost entirely PRACTICAL questions to be dealt with by a non-doctrinal commission created ad hoc.”

What this would mean for the Prep Com on Lay Apostolate was not clear.

SOURCE

Yves Congar, My Journal of the Council, ATF Press, 2012, 25-35.

Tromp, Sebastiaan Peter Cornelis (1889-1975) (Huygens Ing)

The PCLA starts work

After the pomp and ceremony of the previous day, finally the first plenary meeting of the Preparatory Commission on Lay Apostolate (PCLA) began on 15 November 1960.

No doubt Cardijn and his colleagues must have felt a sense of anticipation if not excitement to learn more about the task that they had been given.

They did not have long to wait because, after analysing the vota, i.e. the responses received from bishops conferences around the world, the Central Commission had decided upon the three major subjects the PCLA would tackle.

These were:

I. The apostolate of the laity:

Determine the domain and the goals of this apostolate and its relations with the hierarchy. What are the best means for the apostolate of the laity to respond to current necessities?

II. Catholic Action:

1. To determine the notion, the domain and its subordination to the hierarchy;

2. Review its constitution in order that it be better adapted to our times;

3. Determine the relations between Catholic Action and the other associations (Marian congregations, pious unions, professional unions, etc.)

III. Associations:

To study how the activity of existing associations could better respond during our time to the ends that they propose (charitable and social action).”

Whatever sense of elation Cardijn felt at the opening of the session must have quickly evaporated upon reading these terms of reference.

A stark contrast

Just nine years earlier in October 1951, he had opened the First World Congress on Lay Apostolate with his landmark keynote speech “The world today and the apostolate of the laity.”

Drawing on his Three Truths dialectic and See Judge Act method, he had laid out the problems and issues facing the world, which ranged from demographic challenges to industrialisation, changes in the workforce, racism and colonialism as well as to cultural transformations and the arms race.

He had contrasted this reality with the Christian vision for humanity based on the “Creator’s plan of love.” And finally Cardijn had set out his own conception of a transformative, organised Christian lay apostolate:

“· Christians who intensively live their Christianity, their belonging to Jesus Christ ; who consciously live His message, His Gospel, in all their personal life, in all its worldly demands . . .

· Christians who are conscious of an explicit mission, who know that they are called to work for the extension of the reign of God . . .

· Christians who penetrate all the sectors, all the aspects, all the institutions of the modem world, as witnesses of Christ, carrying the doctrine of the Church with them . . .

· Christians who understand the whole importance of forming apostolic communities, of having an organised apostolate …”

And Cardijn’s 18-page 30 October note on “The apostolate of lay people” prepared specifically for the Prep Com further expanded and developed this vision.

Yet how little of Cardijn’s vision was reflected in the tasks given to the Commission.

At best, a faint echo of his concerns can perhaps be detected in the first question submitted to the commission: “What are the best means for the apostolate of the laity to respond to current necessities?”

Clearly, however, there was much greater concern over relations between laity and hierarchy and ensuring the “subordination” of Catholic Action movements as well as to pacify tensions between Catholic Action groups and others with a more “pious” orientation.

Nor did the reference to “charitable and social action” come anywhere near Cardijn’s vision of Christians living the Gospel in their “personal life,” working to “extend the reign of God” or penetrating and transforming the various sectors and institutions of the modern world.

From Cardijn’s point of view, the mission given to the PCLA was not back to the future but back to the past.

After the earlier misunderstanding (and disappointment) over a sub-commission involving lay people, it was not a promising start.

SOURCES

Ferdinand Klostermannn, “Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity,” in Herbert Vorgrimler (ed.), Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, Herder and Herder, New York, 1969,273-404.

Joseph Cardijn, The Three Truths (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Joseph Cardijn, “The world today and the apostolate of the laity,” World Congress on Lay Apostolate, October 1951 (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Archbishop Gabriel-Marie Garrone

Gabriel-Marie Garrone

An undated and unidentified press clipping in the JOCI Archives, probably from the French Catholic paper, La Croix in September 1960, notes the appointment to the Preparatory Commission on Lay Apostolate of Archbishop Gabriel-Marie Garrone of Toulouse, “one of the French prelates who had taken a very keen interest in the Action Catholique Ouvrière,” the Workers Catholic Action movement.

Press clipping (Archives JOCI)

Originally a priest from the Diocese of Chambéry in the French Alps, Garrone had been an early and ardent supporter of the JOC and other Specialised Catholic Action movements.

In 1958, he published a short book entitled “L’Action catholique,” explaining the importance of the Specialised Catholic Action movements.

SOURCE

Press clipping (Archives JOCI)

Gabriel-Marie Garrone, 50 years of Church life (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Gabriel-Marie Garrone (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Gabriel-Marie Cardinal Garrone (Catholic Hierarchy)

Gabriel-Marie Garrone (Wikipedia)

Clarify Catholic Action

Himmer to Tardini 1

On 26 October 1959, Bishop Charles-Marie Himmer of Tournai, a long-standing proponent of the JOC and Specialised Catholic Action, wrote to Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal DomenicTardini, with his reflections for the Ante-Preparatory Commission.

He first sought clarification on “moral” issues, particularly marital questions. He also raised the issue of using vernacular language in the mass and the use of more appropriate scriptural readings.

Finally, he sought clarification of the notion of Catholic Action, which had been under challenge in various quarters.

He wrote;

“Rogatur ut conceptus actionis catholicae a Pio XI traditus elucidetur et servetur ad rite secernendam hanc apostolatus laicorum formam nostris temporibus maxime adaptatam ab aliis speciebus apostolatus in quibus laici sese devovent.”

Rough translation based on Google

It is requested to clarify the concept of Catholic Action that Pius XI regarded as especially adapted to our times for the promotion of the apostolate of lay people…

SOURCE

Archives Himmer (Diocèse de Tournai)