Witnesses Recall Joy, Pains of Vatican II

Article excerpt

The Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church is a group that argues the difference between being faithful to Jesus' teachings and being faithful to the specific church structure. It claims that fidelity to Jesus' teaching can require change within the church.

Founded 20 years ago by lay and clerical Catholics in the wake of Vatican condemnations of prominent theologians as Frs. Edward Schillebeeckx, Jacques Pohier, and Hans Kung, the association has worked diligently to assure that every Catholic's human and baptismal rights are secured by a church constitution.

This is not the kind of work that will win the association the accolades of the hierarchy soon. Nor can the organization be easily dismissed. These are committed renewal-minded Catholics.

A year ago several association board members, including Mary Louise Hartman, had the idea of bringing together Catholics whose renewal initiatives dated back to Pope John XXIII, now Blessed John XXIII, and the Vatican Council (1962-1965) he initiated in the name of renewal.

Hartman's efforts paid off Nov. 3 when some 230 Catholics -- nearly twice as many as initially expected -- packed into a conference room at the Midwest Express Center in Milwaukee just before the opening of the Call To Action's annual gathering.

They came to listen to and speak with a dozen Vatican II witnesses, a graying group whose personal recollections become more valuable by the year.

Not surprisingly, some of the warmest personal memories shared by the panelists centered on John XXIII, the pontiff who seems to have become the patron saint of almost everyone in this group. He was remembered as a simple and very personal man, a totally unassuming person with a great sense of humor. Again and again, panelists talked about John's "humanity" and suggested his authority was never demanded and always earned.

New Ulm, Minn., Bishop Raymond Lucker spoke of John's "special warmth and openness." He noted the pontiff's humor. Said Lucker: "Once asked, `How many people work in the Vatican?' John responded, `About half.'"

Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was elected pope in 1958. At the time it was still the practice to carry the pope in and out of St. Peter's on a papal chair. The story was told that John, a rotund man and described as "looking more like a pizza-maker than a pope," immediately after being elected pontiff, gave a raise to the men who had to carry him on his papal throne.

Not all Vatican II memories were warm.

Sr. Ruth Wallace, a member of the California Sisters of the Immaculate Heart, was invited by Belgian Cardinal Leo Suenens to come to the council to organize discussions, reminded the group that Vatican II had "an all-male cast."

"Women who were not auditors," she said, "participated only by attending the Mass celebrated prior to each day's session."

There were only 22 women auditors and approximately 3,000 men at the council. Noted Wallace: "A woman's voice was never heard during the council deliberations. …