Thursday, June 28, 2012

Congar at the Council

I just finished reading Yves Congar's My Journal of the Council. I suspect it is the closest we can come to "being there" --in the aula of St Peter's, in committee meetings all over Rome, in the mind of an eyewitness who contributed to the results of that great council!

We read Congar's summaries of hundreds of interventions on the council floor. We attend meetings in which bishops argued about and experts contributed to the formulation of doctrinal and pastoral statements on faith and the future of the Church.

We sense the politics, the back-room machinations, the suspense and surprise of the bishops' votes.

Congar is insightful: "When one persists in one's objection or criticism, one always ends up gaining something" (p. 55). "The further I go, the more I find that the preparation of the Council has been totally haphazard, not to say hopelessly inadequate.." (p. 203). "Without any doubt, Mgr Philips is the architect No.1 of the theological work of the council" (p. 510).

Congar is blunt: "(Cardinal Giuseppe) Pizzardo, who is an idiot and known to be such by all..." (p. 42). "Rahner, once again, monopolized the conversation" (p. 393). "Intervention by Fulton Sheen...He commanded attention, despite a somewhat theatrical and artificial manner. He was applauded (not by me)" (p. 663).

Congar records gossip: "News about the pope (John XXIII) is very bad: two or three transfusions every week" (p. 292)..."Paul VI is constantly besieged by petitions and pressures of all kinds...On the conservative side, attempts are being made to instil fear into him" (p. 426)..."about bishops at the Council having been found in brothels" (p. 720)

Congar was in pain: "I was barely able to walk...I wonder will I be able to keep going until the end of the Council" (p. 95). "At 5:15 pm appointment with a doctor...He examined me for an hour, very carefully. Difficult case, he said: several things are possible. He adopted the hypothesis of myelasthenia, and gave me some strong medication" (p. 397). "Health: VERY bad. During the Mass, unable to make all the gestures, unable to walk. NO strength" (p. 411).

Congar recognized his influence: "I was involved in a great deal of work, over and above a general influence of presence and spoken contributions. I contributed: Lumen Gentium, the first draft of several numbers of Chapter 1 and numbers 9, 13, 16, 17 of Chapter II, plus some particular passages" (p. 871) and to several other of the 16 documents as well.

Congar prayed: "O my God, who have shown me since 1929-30 that if the Church were to change her face, if she were simply to show her TRUE face, if she were quite simply the Church, everything would become possible on the road to unity; raise up effective workers, pure and courageous, for this work which you have undertaken and which I beg you not to abandon!" (p. 204).

Congar's journal records many (but not all) of the major moments in the Council's four sessions. He was there when Bishop Bandeira of Brazil publicly made the preposterous assertion that the council must not touch the Roman rite which, he explained, was instituted by St. Peter himself! (p. 147).

He wasn't there when Cardinal Ottaviani went over his allotted time to speak and the moderator Cardinal Alfrink turned off his microphone, much to the pleasure and applause of many in the assembly (p. 163).

I know I shall consult this journal again and again as I try to understand the workings of the Council and of the Spirit. I shall always be grateful to Congar for taking me there.

While it is our faith conviction that the Holy Spirit breathes where she will, and works in ways that steal past our perception and elude our comprehension, Congar's journal in some measure records the working of that Spirit.

Though I have read the journal from beginning to end, I cannot estimate its full value, even though I consider it a treasure and a legacy to be cherished.

The best I can do for now is repeat what Congar himself wrote: "I am keeping this little journal as a witness. I do not mix in the expression of my personal feelings...My own health problems, the total exhaustion that I have been experiencing these two months, is not this also something in the invisible and mystical history of the Council? I believe so strongly in the Gospel's 'the one who loses, gains.' I believe so strongly in 'Cum infirmor, tunc potens sum' ['When I am weak, then I am strong,' II Cor 12:10)]..."

My thanks to Yves (Cardinal) Congar!

Monday, June 18, 2012

AUSCP Inaugural Convention

Two hundred and forty priests from 55 dioceses across the country gathered June 11-14, 2012, at St. Leo University, northeast of Tampa, Florida, for the first national meeting of the newly formed Association of United States Catholic Priests (AUSCP).

The focus of the meeting was "Vatican II Lives," a call to keep alive the vision and passion of the Council.

Key-note speakers were Dr. Richard Gaillardetz, president-elect of the Catholic Theological Society of America, and Father Anthony Ruff, OSB, teacher of liturgy and Gregorian Chant at St. John's University School of Theology.

The AUSCP was founded in August of 2011 when an organizing committee of 27 priests met and agreed that US Catholic priests need a common voice in their efforts to "celebrate and keep alive the visionary concepts of Vatican II."

Father David Cooper, one of the founding fathers and chairman of the AUSCP board, explained that the association is not positioning itself to be a controversial voice, but a collaborative one.

AUSCP is one of several associations of priests around the world, including Ireland, Austria, Australia, and the Philippines.

The convention began with  a session in which priests were invited to verbalize their "laments" about their ministry, their perception of the Church, their struggles with living the priestly vocation.

The intent was to spell out what a priest can control, what he can influence, and what are the facts of life he cannot change.

Their lamentations included recognition of a climate of fear, a distortion of Vatican II, the return of legalism and clericalism, the manner in which women are treated in the Church, stretching priests to the breaking point, struggles with the hierarchy, and loneliness.

The exercise served as a kind of release valve, a letting go of negative energy, recognizing that "mourning can move into kairos" as Psalm 42 implies.

Gaillardetz's key-note presentation described Vatican II as the construction of a new set of walls around the old Church. The old remains (continuity with the past is maintained) but the new construction enables the old to relate to the world of today.

He urged the AUSCP to insist on the "facticity" of the Council (Vatican II happened, and it was an ecumenical council), and at the same time to engage in "holy conversation" (avoid demonizing those who disagree).

In his key-note Ruff addressed the issue of the translation of the Roman Missal, noting that the responsibility of episcopal conferences for translating into the vernacular, as spelled out in Vatican II's Sacrosanctum Concilium, has been reclaimed by the Curia.

He believes that Liturgicam authenticam, the 2001 instruction from the Holy See calling for exact, word-for-word translation of the Latin, should be withdrawn. In effect an office in the Vatican is translating the Mass prayers in a language foreign to the people who are to pray them.

Three sessions of the conference were devoted to business: 1) approval of by-laws/constitution, 2) acceptance of the board of officers, and 3) consideration of several proposals.

Among the proposals passed by the assembly were a letter of support to the LCWR (the Leadership Conference of Women Religious), and the acceptance of all US bishops (retired and active) who apply for membership in the AUSCP.

The median age of the priests in attendance was about 70. Most consider themselves "Vatican II priests." One celebrated his 86th birthday during the convention. Among the younger clergy was a priest who had been ordained for one year; he assessed the association as a threat to the Church.

Retired Bishop Rembert Weakland, who led a workshop on liturgy, and  retired Bishop Tom Gumbleton were present.

Father Hans Bensdorf, a representative of the Austrian Priests Initiative, and Father Luis Alfonso Contono, from El Salvador and a representative of the COOPESA for priests, spoke briefly to the assembly and audited the sessions.

Other presenters were Cleveland diocesan priest Father Don Cozzens (author of several books, including The Changing Face of the Priesthood) and Father Peter Fink, SJ (author of Worship: Praying the Sacraments).

In a general assessment of the conference, a number of priests were vocal: this is an intelligent, pastoral and fun group... this has nourished my hope... I realize I am not alone... "thank you" to the leadership team... this was good "holy conversation"... we must go forward, not back to the 50s, not back to the 70s, but forward... Vatican II was a gift and it is our job to be faithful to the gift God has given us.

The next AUSCP national convention will be held June 17-20, 2013; location to be announced. 

Membership inquiries can be made at AUSCP, PO Box 263, Calumet City IL 60649, or online at As of June, 2012, there were 650 members.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Priests Convocation

Every five years, by custom, the Archbishop of Cincinnati "convokes" his diocesan priests for a three-day gathering of talks, discussions, prayer, and fellowship. The most recent convocation was held June 4-7, 2012, in Columbus, Ohio.

The theme for the conference was "Claiming Our Common Sense of Purpose as Priests of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati."

The underlying motive for the theme was concern over the gap or rift between older and younger clergy.

It is common to refer to these two "cohorts" as Vatican Two Priests and John Paul the Second Priests.

The divide seems to be centered on how the priests in each group view their ministry and vision of Church.

One analysis of the differences notes that the older clergy think of themselves as servant leaders and the younger clergy think of themselves as spiritual fathers.

Perhaps a further distinction can be drawn between the older clergy's perception that the Church must enter into and learn from the world, while the younger clergy tend to find the world an environment that threatens the Gospel and the life of the Church.

Not all of the older or younger clergy fit nicely into those categorizations, and some would disavow such distinctions.

The talks or presentations focused on the history, charism and spirituality of the Cincinnati presbyterate (Bishop Joseph Binzer), on the history of the Cincinnati presbyterate (Father Robert Obermeyer), a review of the Cincinnati presbyterate as one of the older clergy sees it (Father Gerald Haemmerle), a look at the Cincinnati presbyterate as a younger priest hopes to see it (Father Daniel Hess), and a layman's view (Miss Emily Bissonnette and Mr. Joseph Ollier).

Reception of the various presentations varied.

Questions and comments were surfaced about clerical dress (some younger clergy wear collars or cassocks whenever in public while some older clergy seldom or never do).

It was reported that in one of the small group discussions a younger priest said he considered the ministry of the "senior priests" to be a failure.

It was said by some older priests that clerical clothing does not make a man a priest, that a priest is known by his character and ministry not by his clothing.

Such differences or observations, however, did not disrupt the overall civility and patient listening of the priests as a body. A truly Christian spirit prevailed.

Final presentations focused on upcoming diocesan initiatives and programs, plus a brief summation of the diocese's financial well-being.

The final presentation was a "question and answer" session with the Most Reverend Dennis Schnurr, the Archbishop of Cincinnati.

Once compiled, the evaluation forms filled out by those in attendance will provide a more encompassing picture of the efforts and effects of these three days.