Redemptorists at the Second Vatican Council

posted on 07/02/13 02:31 pm by Kathy McMerty  

(From an article in the Klemensblätter, the newsletter of the Austrian province, Nov/Dec 2012, No. 78 by Fr. Martin Leitgöb, C.Ss.R. of the Vienna/Prague province; translated by M. Miller. This is part of a series commemorating the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II in 1962.)

“In total there were 22 Redemptorist bishops at the Second Vatican Council. Most of these (10) came from Latin America, although many of these men were of European origin. The second-largest group came from North America, two from Canada and four from the United States. Two each were from the Caribbean Islands and Africa respectively, while another Redemptorist bishop came from the Canary Islands. At that time in Europe there was only one bishop from the Congregation; although he came from the Ukraine, Exarch Vladimir Malanchuk looked after the Greek-Catholic people in France.

None of these bishops presented a striking public persona, although this does not mean that they were simple ‘backbenchers.’ One of the most notable was Josef Clemens Maurer, born in the Saarland of Germany, who as archbishop of Sucre in Bolivia joined with the famous Dom Helder Camara from Brasil and a number of other bishops to stand for the ‘Church of the Poor.’

Almost all of these Redemptorist bishops lived at our Generalate on Via Merulana during the Council sessions. Within these walls there were often lively discussions and exchanges of opinion not only among themselves but also with the other confreres within the house, professors and students, but especially with the leadership of the Congregration. The North American, Fr. William Gaudreau, was the General at that time. Like all the superiors of male religious orders, he also took an active part in the Council sessions.

Theological advisers also played an important role at the Second Vatican Council. There were two categories of them: On the one hand were the official experts (periti) whose task consisted in helping the different commissions where the majority of the heavy, concrete work of writing Council documents took place. On the other hand, there were theological advisers who themselves had no official function at the Council but were brought to Rome by individual bishops or, indeed, entire bishops’ conferences, to provide timely assistance.

When Pope John XXIII named the first 160 periti at the end of September, 1962, there were two Redemptorist moral theologians in the group, Frs. Bernard Häring and Jan Visser, both of whom had already worked on the Preparation Commission. Most especially, Fr. Bernard Häring, who came from the area of Württemberg, developed into one of the most important theologians of the Council. The Pastoral Constitution ‘Gaudium et spes’—one of the most important documents of the Council—clearly demonstrated his touch. He especially encouraged a greater openness to the modern world. In this context he also argued for a better or clearer consideration of the ‘signs of the time.’ Finally, he strongly supported a better connection between the Church’s teaching and the Good News of the Gospels. Häring was highly regarded by both of the conciliar Popes, John XXIII and Paul VI. He was also held in great esteem around the world as a theologian geared towards reform.

In November, 1962, when further advisers were named, three other Redemptorists were added, namely, the North American Fathers Connell, Murphy and Wuenschel. They all worked on the editing of various conciliar documents. The second-listed Redemptorist, Francis X. Murphy, served a second purpose as well. Under the pseudonym ‘Xavier Rynne’ he wrote regular reports on the Council for the American magazine, ‘The New Yorker.’ As a result of their excellent quality, his reports reached a large audience, which included many bishops. The question was often asked, ‘Who is the author?’ But Murphy remained incognito, even to his own confreres. He only admitted his authorship in the 1980s, although by then it was no longer a secret.

Along with the official advisers at the Council are to be found eight Redemptorist theologians who were brought to the Council by individual bishops. A few Redemptorists were also involved in the preparation of the final documents. In particular in this context, one needs to mention Fr. Joseph Löw, from the Vienna province, who played a large role in the development of the reform of the liturgy, including a personal hand in the updating of the Easter liturgy.

In summary, there are clearly many Redemptorist connections to be glimpsed in the history of the Second Vatican Council.

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