Monday, April 25, 2011

Commentary : The ‘Pact of the Catacombs’

By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Posted date: April 20, 2011

AS VATICAN Council II drew to a close in 1965, 40 bishops met at night in the St. Domitilla Catacombs outside Rome. In that holy place of Christian dead they celebrated the Eucharist and signed a document that expressed their personal commitments as bishops to the ideals of the Council. Later another 500 bishops signed the document. Forty six years later, Google knows about this Pact of the Catacombs. But most Catholics I talked to, including Jesuits and a person working in a religious news agency, knew nothing about it.

The bishops were led by Archbishop Helder Camara of Recife, Brazil, one of the widely respected 20th-century
champions of justice and peace. Cardinal Roger Etchagaray, who later served as honorary president of the Pontifical Council, Justice and Peace, also signed.

The content of the Pact is not as dramatic as its setting in the catacombs. It spells out in some concrete detail how the bishops intended to live Vatican II as bishops.
The bishops promised to live as ordinary people in matters of housing, food and means of transport. They will avoid any appearance of being rich men, especially in matters of dress. They will not own real estate or bank accounts in their own name, but will place everything in the name of the diocese or of charities and social works.
They asked to be addressed simply as Father, and not with titles which signify prestige, such as, Eminence, Excellency or Monsignor.

They will, whenever possible, entrust the financial and material administration of their dioceses to competent lay people. “We wish to become less administrators and more pastors and apostles.” They promised they will not pamper the rich in order to get their donations.

“We will dedicate whatever is necessary of our time, reflection, heart, means etc. to the apostolic and pastoral service of people and groups of workers and of the economically weak and underdeveloped, without prejudice to the other people and groups in the diocese.”

They promised to do their utmost so that “those responsible for government and public services make, and put into practice, laws, structures and social institutions required by justice and charity, equality and the harmonic and holistic development of all men and women, and by this means bring about the advent of another social order, worthy of the sons and daughters of mankind and of God.”

They promised to help poor dioceses around the world and “will demand that the plans of international organizations no longer manufacture proletarian (poor) nations in an ever richer world, but permit the poor to overcome their misery.”

They committed themselves to share their lives with their brothers and sisters in Christ and to re-examine their lives with them. They will try to be more present and welcoming, and to be open to all whatever their religion. The bishops promised to publicize this Pact on returning home and asked for the people’s understanding, collaboration and prayer.

* * *

When I showed the Pact to others, there were different reactions. One man wondered why the document wasn’t more widely discussed over the last 46 years. He thought someone must have blocked the distribution of the Pact. “It was too radical. It would have upset the Church,” he said.

Another man thought that many bishops had tried to observe the Pact. He had noticed a difference.

A woman, a former sister, thought the bishops promised too much. She said they should have just promised to get out of their residences, walk the streets of their dioceses and talk to the ordinary people. Everything else would have followed, she said.

What do readers think of this long hidden document?

The Catacomb Pact against pomp and ceremony in the Church

On November 16, 1965, close to the end of Vatican II, around 40 conciliar Bishops met at the
Catacombs of St. Domitila to sign a semi-secret pact intended to do away with the richness, pomp, and
ceremony in the Catholic Church. The names of the Bishops present are not known.

References to this pact were made here and there in works on the conciliar "Poor Church," under the suggestive title of thePact of the Catacombs. The only place we have found its complete text transcribed is in the Chronicle of Vatican II by Boaventura Kloppenburg, O.F.M. He titled the document Pact of the Servant and Poor Church.

We select the highlighted parts in the original to bring to our readers' attention.

At right is a picture of the frontispiece of volume V of Kloppenburg's Second Vatican Council; at right below, photocopies


of the Portuguese original text. At left below, we present our translation.
We, Bishops meeting at Vatican Council II, being aware of the deficiencies of our life of poverty according to the Gospel, encouraged by one another in this initiative in which each one wants to avoid singularity and presumption [that is to say, each one wants to be anonymous], .... commit ourselves to the following:

1. Regarding housing, foodand means of transportationand everything concerning these things, we will seek to live in accordance with the common average level of our people.

2. We renounce forever wealth and its appearance, especially in clothing (expensive materials and brilliant colors), and insignia of precious metals (such things should, in effect, be evangelical).

3. We will not possess either movable or immovable properties, or bank accounts in our names. If it is necessary to possess some property we will place it under the name of our diocese or other social or charitable works.

4. Whenever it is possible we will confide the financial and material administration of our diocese to a commission of competent laymen conscious of their apostolic role, given that we should be pastors and apostles rather than administrators.

5. We refuse to be called in speech or writing by names or titles that signify grandeur and power (Your Eminence, Your Excellency, Monsignor ...). We prefer to be called by the evangelical name of Father.

6. In our comportment and social relations, we will avoid everything that can appear to confer privileges, priorities, or even a preference whatsoever to the rich and powerful (for example: banquets given or received, special places in religious services) ....

9. Conscious of the demands of justice and charity and their mutual relations, we will seek to transform the works of "beneficence" into social works based on charity and justice to assist all [that is, not just Catholics] in all their exigencies, as a humble servant of the proper public facilities ....

(Boaventura Kloppenburg, "Pact of the Servant and Poor Church," in Concilio Vaticano II, Petropolis: Vozes, 1966 pp. 526-527).







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