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.
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.
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,
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.
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)
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.
+ Appendix (Handwritten note by Marguerite Fiévez)
Along with his letter to Cardinal Suenens, Cardijn enclosed a note explaining his position.
PUBLICATION OF THE BOOK
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.
Soon after receiving a series of corrections to the book manuscript proposed by Uylenbroeck, Cardijn responded with a note explaining his own position.
REGARDING THE CORRECTIONS PROPOSED BY THE CENSOR AND FR UYLENBROECK
1 On Catholic Action – p. 21 of the proof
I’m afraid that by inserting the proposed note, I’m raising an issue that is completely foreign to my book and my intentions.
2- On the lay apostolate of lay people
I’m afraid that this expression – especially if it’s repeated insistently – might bring to mind changes in structures (social apostolate). It’s more a question of an apostolate of evangelisation, enabling lay people to discover and realise their divine mission, in their own lives, their own environment, their own problems (see Pius XII’s 1957 address to the YCW). This is the aspect of the proper apostolate of the laity that the book aims to emphasise, and that I have emphasised all my life working with young workers.
I have never thought of this transformation of structures when I spoke of the lay apostolate.
+ + + + +
I propose two footnotes
1 – On the use of the expression “Action Catholique” (p. 21)
2 – On itempiai, the aspect of the lay apostolate I deal with in this book
book (p. 23)
+ + + + +
I quote “The Church on mission” several times.
The entire third part of the book deals with the formation of lay people, in view of their entire apostolate.
Humanize before Christianizing: p. 23 (suggested note)
To me, this is not the problem. It’s not about that, nor is it about changing structures. My book is not written with the intention of discussing these problems. I’d rather not talk about them.
Deeply upset by Suenens’ modus operandi (as well as his “notorious” views on Catholic Action and lay apostolate, Marguerite Fiévez wrote a confidential note recording the way in which Suenens’ opposition to Cardijn’s text was made known to him, not directly but through intermediaries, including Cardijn’s adjunct as international chaplain of the YCW, Marcel Uylenbroeck.
These handwritten notes date from March 1963. They refer to the differences of opinion between Cardinal Suenens and Mgr Cardijn, on the occasion of the publication of the latter’s book “Laics en Premières Lignes”.
As is customary, Mgr Cardijn had submitted the proof of his book to the archdiocese in order to obtain the Imprimatur. As it turned out, Cardinal Suenens didn’t share Mgr Cardijn’s views on the laity, Catholic Action, etc. (it was common knowledge), so the Cardinal saw fit to ask Mgr Cardijn indirectly for changes to the text submitted for ecclesiastical censorship.
It happened as follows:
The censor, Mgr Ceuppens, called Abbé Uylenbroeck, Mgr Cardijn’s assistant, to Mechelen to inform him of the points to be changed, inviting him to obtain these changes from Mgr Cardijn. Cardijn would no doubt accept them better in a conversation with his deputy, and above all, the Cardinal would not be implicated.
Cardijn was very surprised and saddened, both by the Cardinal’s desire to obtain changes which affected his own conception of Catholic Action, and by the procedure employed, which in a way deflected responsibility.
Leaving the same day for a tour of Germany, he refused to act without thinking.
The first two points of the handwritten notes are nothing compared to the disarray that had seized him:
Suffering: first time (that he had disagreed with hierarchical authority on the essentials of his thinking)
Apostolate of my whole life (he couldn’t see the possibility of changing anything essential in his text, without denying what he had always affirmed and for which he had been unconditionally supported by the Popes and numerous bishops and theologians).
Please consult the files relating to the edition of the work, for the precise points in dispute.
On his return from Germany, Cardijn went to Mechelen on April 8, where he was once again shocked by the apparently cordial and fraternal welcome he received from the Cardinal, who embraced him, denying that there was “anything” between them.
On 15 March 1963 – having received a copy of the manuscript in October 1962 and after the contract for publishing had been signed, Suenens finally transmitted a list of “remarks” concerning his book manuscript.
Instead o f sending them directly, these remarks “made by His Eminence (were) transmitted by the (Diocesan) Censor and Fr Uylenbroeck.”
As always, Suenens opposed Cardijn’s conception of Specialised Catholic Action and lay apostolate, insisting on lay people playing a separate “active role in the work of evangelisation.”
REMARKS BY HIS EMINENCE
TRANSMITTED BY THE CENSOR AND VIA M. UYLENBROECK
(15 March, 1963) (Handwritten note by Marguerite Fiévez)
1- As far as the terminology used is concerned, the Council, the Bishops and the diocesan authorities consider that General Catholic Action is as fully valid as specialised Catholic Action, and do not accept it being said that CA is essentially specialised CA. This in no way prevents each Bishop from judging the application of local priorities.
2- Instead of saying that the layperson’s proper role is formally the Christianisation of the temporal, he affirms (His Eminence) that the layperson’s proper and formal role is twofold: on the one hand, it is his proper role to take an active role in the work of evangelisation, by preparing, supporting and prolonging priestly action; on the other hand, it is his proper role under his exclusive responsibility — to Christianise the temporal.
3- Instead of saying that evangelising action must first pass through temporal action, he affirms a connection and an independent relationship between the two actions. Cfr. Humaniser pour évangéliser, in L’Eglise en Etat de mission.
Given that Cardijn had not been appointed to the Lay Apostolate Commission, Brazilian Bishop Helder Camara took it upon himself to approach Cardinal Suenens for assistance.
On 7 December, the day before the First Session closed, he wrote to him, noting that a public celebration celebrating Cardijn’s 80th birthday, which had already taken place in November, was drawing near:
Taking advantage of Msgr Cardijn’s (80th birthday) jubilee, please offer the JOC Internationale a broad gesture of understanding and paternity (a letter, a visit, invitation for a dinner). This would crown a task that I have had the joy of sharing, and which has met with resounding success.
Bishop Honoré Van Waeyenbergh represented the Belgian bishops at the rally celebrating Cardijn’s 80th birthday.
He read the following message of the Belgian bishops.
The Belgian Bishops1
It is from distant Rome, from the city of the popes, that the Belgian episcopate sends you, through the voice of its representative, its congratulations on the occasion of your jubilee.
At a time when your collaborators, your friends, as well as countless former Jocists and current Jocists are celebrating you, the bishops had hoped to be able to be present and speak themselves as Pastors ofthe church to pay homage to the father and animator of the Christian Worker Youth.
They would have liked to surround you at the altar of the Lord, and thank God — to whom all honour and glory belongs — for your fruitful priestly career and for your fifty years devoted to the service of the Church’s apostolate.
Providence has arranged otherwise. Detained in Rome by the activities of the Second Vatican Council, but united with you in mind and heart, the Bishops send you, from the Eternal City, their warm congratulations as well as the testimony of their deep gratitude.
In Rome, Monsignor, they feel united to you in a very special way.
Here, several glorious popes have followed with great esteem and supported your life’s work with their paternal encouragement, while honoring you with their trust.
On several occasions, Rome, the heart of the Catholic Church, was the moving witness of your splendid Jocist pilgrimages and of the attachment of a new working youth.
Gathered in Rome around the supreme Pastor, the episcopate of the whole world rethinks the task and the mission of the Church in the world today.
Of these 2,500 bishops, how many have you encountered during your travels around the world!
How many of them have been won over to your ideal by the attractiveness of your personality and the conviction of your words. How have they not become your friends!
How many also accompanied their Jocists during the gathering, in St. Peter’s Square, of young workers from 91 countries of the world when they brought to the Holy Father the enthusiastic testimony of their filial fidelity and their fervent apostolic spirit.
They appeared in Rome as the announcement of a new springtime in the Church, as missionaries of the new times spread throughout all countries, as the seed of a new and more beautiful world, as the rich promise of a working class conscious of its human and Christian dignity.
Fifty years have passed since the time when young and ardent curate, you arrived at the parish of Notre-Dame de Laeken. There, in the humble parish ministry, in daily contact with young people, the immense distress of this young worker entering the workplace was revealed to you.
If your heart was painfully wounded by it, the acute perception of this total abandonment, joined to a deep knowledge of the vital resources of this same youth, made mature in you this double conviction: the working youth would find its liberation on the one hand in its own resources, on the other hand in the resources of grace that Christ entrusted to his Church.
Everywhere, in the world, in front of the most varied audiences, by your vibrant words, you have proclaimed it: working-class youth needsthe church, asthe church needs working youth.
You have put your gifts, so rich in intelligence and heart, at the service of this cause. Thus, over the years, you have developed new methods of formation for the apostolate which transform young workers into lay apostles in the heart of the working masses.
The Church, dear Monsignor, is infinitely grateful to you for having had faith, without any wavering, in the possibilities of working-class youth. She is grateful to you for having, for fifty years, tirelessly revealed to them the dignity of their person, the nobility of their heart, the value of their work, their deep desire for a more beautiful and better life; in a word, to have initiated them into their vocation as young Christian workers and to have shown them the immense possibilities of their apostolate.
On the evening of such a full and fruitful life, in the face of such human slowness and the inevitable partial failures, you can say like Saint Paul: Fidem servavi. Yes, despite the trials, I have kept my faith intact in this merciful love, which the Eternal Father has revealed to us in his Son Jesus Christ and which through the Church is addressed as good news to the poor, the humble and to the most neglected of men.
During a press conference, a few days ago, you would have declared with the vitality that characterises you: “I am eighty years old, but my heart is only twenty”.
Monsignor, by your life completely given to the apostolate of the Church, you participate in the youth which is the privilege of our Mother to all. In her, the Lord is always present to enliven her with his Spirit. She too, at the Council, rediscovers her youth and the ardent heart of the first Pentecost.
May the Lord, by his spirit of love, make rise and ripen in hearts what you have so generously sown there. May, everywhere in the world, as the Osservatore Romano said, shine this light of hope which constitutes for the Church, the presence of young Christian workers.
Ad multos annos, Monsignor, may God keep you. As for your work, it is not finished. On a global scale, it has only just begun.
Léon-Joseph Cardinal SUENENS, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels
André-Marie CHARUE, Bishop from Namur
Charles-Justin CALLEWAERT, Bishop of Ghent
Charles-Marie HIMMER, Bishop from Tournai
Emile-Joseph DE SMEDT, Bishop de Bruges
Guillaume-Marie VAN ZUYLEN, Bishop from Liege
Jules-Victor DAEM, Bishop from Antwerp
Rome, 1 December, 1962.
L’épiscopat belge, p. 17-20, in Collective, Un message libérateur, Hommage à Cardijn, Editions Ouvrières, Brussels, 1962, 251p.
1This letter was read by Monsignor Van Waeyenbergh, Rector Magnificent of the University of Louvain who represented the Belgian episcopate at the 2 December 1962 rally.
On 14 November 1962, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani presented the schema on Revelation for debate.
He lauded the pastoral value of the schema since it was based on truth, which remained always and everywhere the same.
Pushback from the Council floor was immediate, led once again by Liénart’s immediate non placet, supported by Alfrink, Frings, Bea, König, Suenens, Léger, Ritter and Patriarch Maximos IV.
Stefan Gigacz sums up the debate:
As deadlock emerged, it was Ancel who proposed that Pope John might appoint additional experts from the opposing school of thought to prepare a completely new schema.42 Now another Cardijn ally took the floor, namely De Smedt, who criticised the lack of ecumenical spirit in the draft schema. In a statement that met with thunderous applause, he warned that ‘if the schemas prepared by the Theological Preparatory Commission are not drafted in a different manner, we shall be responsible for having crushed, through the Second Vatican Council, a great and immense hope.’
It was during this debate that a purported opposition between ‘doctors’ (teachers) and ‘pastors’ began to be articulated. This drew a swift response from the French bishops, who, aware that they were regarded as favouring the pastoral approach, wanted to eliminate any misunderstanding. ‘The separation between doctrine and pastoral is inadmissible,’ stated Archbishop Guerry in an interview with La Croix:
It is a mistake. It weighs like an ambiguity on the Council because it risks ending up by dividing the Council Fathers into two groups: on one side, those who faithfully safeguard and defend doctrine; on the other, pastors concerned primarily with fulfilling their pastoral (mission)…’
Or to put it in terms of the Cardijn dialectic, the point was not to oppose ‘truth of faith’ and ‘truth of reality’ but to identify a method to reconcile them.
On 29 October 1962, Cardijn wrote to his bishop, Cardinal Suenens, to inform him of his plan to visit Rome from 18-21 November, i.e. during the First Session of the Council.
In a file note signaling possible topics of discussion with Suenens, Cardijn mentions
1. An office for the International YCW in Rome for the duration of the Council
2. Publication of the book on the laity (?)
The book referred to is of course Cardijn’s long awaited book.
In his letter, Cardijn diplomatically avoids all mention of the Council itself, explaining his objectively as simply “to contact some Council Fathers who wish to speak to me about the international YCW.”
In addition to the 160 elected bishops, John XXIII added nine appointed members bringing the total number in each commission to twenty-five.
Although there was no Jocist ‘ticket,’ the results revealed a significant representation of movement-linked bishops in nearly every Commission.
This was particularly so in the all-important Doctrinal Commission on Faith and Morals (Doctrinal Commission) and in the Lay Apostolate Commission (LAC), which now had the clumsy, formal title of Commission on the Apostolate of the Faithful, Press and Public Spectacles [sic], each of which each included at least eight such bishops.
Gabriel-Marie Garrone, longstanding proponent of the JOC Joseph Schröffer, who participated in the IYCW Rome pilgrimage in 1957 Alfredo Scherer, a JOC supporter from Brazil Paul Emile Léger, a Canadian proponent of the SCA movements André-Marie Charue, who had links with the Belgian JOC back to 1924 Marcos McGrath CSC, Holy Cross father and JOC patron in Panama Maurice Roy, pioneer JOC chaplain, cousin of Quebec JOC founder, Henri Roy
Bishop Georges Pelletier, Canadian bishop closely linked to the SCA movements
Lay Apostolate Commission
Manuel Larrain, pioneer of Specialised Catholic Action in Chile Franz Hengsbach, bishop of Essen, seat of the German JOC/CAJ Jacques Ménager, bishop responsible for Catholic Action movements in France John E. Petit, an English bishop close to the YCW Joseph Blomjous, of Dutch origin, supporter of the SCA movements in Tanzania Paul Yu Pin, JOC pioneer in China before coming to Formosa (Taiwan) Gerardus De Vet, director of (Specialised) Catholic Action, Breda, Netherlands
René Stourm, an early JOC chaplain in France
This gave the Jocist bishops close to a third of the numbers in each of these commissions, with the former responsible for the future Lumen Gentium, and both responsible for the eventual Gaudium et Spes.
Other members of the LAC also supported the JOC and Specialised Catholic Action to varying extents, including Cardinal Raul Silva Henriquez, the Salesian archbishop of Santiago, who admired Cardijn, Emilio Guano, a former International Movement of Catholic Students (IMCS-Pax Romana) chaplain from Italy, as well as Castellano and Luigi Civardi from Italian Catholic Action.
The Doctrinal Commission also included Vienna Cardinal Franz König, who had known Cardijn for decades particularly through the Pax Romana network.
A notable absentee in the LAC, however, was Cardijn’s Belgian ally, Charles-Marie Himmer, whose nomination had been opposed by Suenens, who confirmed this in a 16 October 1962 letter to Veronica O’Brien of the Legion of Mary:In any event, the 65 Belgian missionary bishops are behind me – which is not the case for the seven here (i.e. the seven diocesan bishops)… I felt this in De Smedt’s manoeuvres which aimed to place Himmer on the list of candidates for the Catholic Action Commission (i.e. Lay Apostolate Commission). I told him privately that I did not agree with the idea but he publicly returned to the charge for him to be included on our list.
Indeed, Suenens was ‘very isolated among the Belgian bishops on account of his ideas of the lay apostolate,’ as Congar noted, although he remained undeterred in his campaign against the alleged ‘monopolisation’ of Catholic Action.
Promisingly, every other commission also included a Jocist presence.
Bishops and Government of Dioceses
Emile Guerry, another French JOC pioneer Pierre Veuillot, previously in the Holy See, connected to France’s Mission ouvrière
Discipline and Sacraments
Alexandre Renard, Liénart protégé, involved in the Ecole Missionaire du Travail in Lille
Discipline of the Clergy and the Christian People
Guillaume Van Zuylen, bishop of Liège, Belgium Agnelo Rossi, JUC/JIC chaplain from Brazil François Marty, JOC/JAC chaplain in France Thomas Cooray omi, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Gerard Huyghe, bishop of Arras, another Liénart protégé and promoter of SCA Jean Janssens SJ, the Jesuit Superior General and close friend of Cardijn
Guy Riobé, bishop of Orleans, JAC chaplain and promoter of JOC and ACO Jean Zoa, bishop of Yaoundé, Cameroon, former JOC chaplain Cardinal Manuel Gonçalves Cerejeira, a Cardijn disciple since the 1930s
Henri Jenny, Sillon sympathiser from Lille, and auxiliary bishop to Guerry at Cambrai Joseph Malula, JOC chaplain from Congo Kinshasa Enrique Rau, former national chaplain of JOC Argentina Bernardo Fey Schneider, former national chaplain of JOC Bolivia Seminaries, Studies and Catholic Education Ramon Bogarin, JOC founder in Paraguay Denis Hurley omi, Cardijn disciple from South Africa Emile Blanchet, participated in 1950 JOC Internationale congress, Brussels Justin Simonds, Melbourne co-adjutor and long-time JOC supporter
Christian Unity Emile-Joseph De Smedt, former JOCF chaplain and close to Cardijn
On 24 September 1962, the first list of 201 Council periti was published.
Surprisingly, Cardijn was included on that list.
What had happened?
Stefan Gigacz writes:
After his prodigious efforts in the Preparatory Commission on Lay Apostolate and the success of Mater et Magistra, he now found himself excluded from the Council’s work.
Was it an oversight, a deliberate decision, or simply the fact that Cardijn, who had never claimed to be a theologian, was about to turn eighty? Who made the decision? Was it the Council secretariat, the Central Preparatory Commission or even Pope John? Was Suenens involved?
Whatever the reason, it was a huge disappointment that emerged as the JOCI Executive Committee was about to meet in Berlin, a venue strategically chosen to make an impression on the German bishops.
At its meeting on 18-19 June 1962, the Central Preparatory Commission finalised its review of the Schema on Lay Apostolate.
Criticisms included “unclear” principles, an “overly negative concept of the laity,” “insufficient stress on the dependence of the (lay) apostolate on the hierarchy,” as well as the schema’s “concept of priesthood” and the “unsuitability” of mentioning charisms of the laity.
The most significant proposed change, perhaps in a nod to Suenens’ views, was for the term “the apostolate of the laity” to become the “genus proximum” for all lay apostolic organisations, while Catholic Action, as well as other religious, charitable and social organisations, would be regarded as the various “species of the apostolatus officialis laicorum.”
Naturally, this did not please Cardijn, who continued to fight for recognition of a “specifically lay apostolate for lay people,” writes Stefan Gigacz.
Even so, the most critical comments from within the CPC came, unsurprisingly, from the now-Cardinal Suenens, who expressed “regret that the schema had not adopted a renewed understanding of Catholic Action.”
According to Ferdinand Klostermann, however, Suenens’ suggestions were “unambiguously rejected” by the PCLA, which held firm.
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.
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.
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.