ROME, October 23, 2012 – The documentation on Vatican Council II was enriched a few days ago with a new text never published before. And of noteworthy value.
It is made up of certain portions of the diary of Cardinal Roberto Tucci (in the photo), at the time the director of "La Civiltà Cattolica."
And it was precisely this magazine of the Jesuits of Rome – on the basis of these diary entries – that opened its latest issue with the account of the five conversations that Tucci had with Pope John XXIII between 1959 and 1962, or the announcement and beginning of Vatican II.
"La Civiltà Cattolica" is a very special magazine. Before it is printed, its articles undergo inspection by the Vatican authorities, who sometimes approve them, other times modify them, and still others scrap them.
With Pius XII, it was the pope himself who reviewed the articles. John XXIII passed this burden on to his secretary of state.
But he continued to meet with the director of the magazine. Who afterward wrote about each conversation in his diary.
The diary of Fr. Tucci therefore provides a very up-close description of how John XXIII approached the Council that he had proclaimed.
For example, it confirms how the pope was struck by the silence that surrounded him when in 1959 he made the announcement of the council to the cardinals gathered in St. Paul's Outside the Walls: "He proposed the matter, asked them to tell him their views frankly, and no one spoke."
About other moments of the pope's preparation for the council there are in the diary of Tucci a few unexpected observations.
For example, the idea of the voyage by train made by John XXIII to Loreto in order to invoke the protection of the Virgin Mary over the assembly appears to have been born from political calculations:
"About his voyage to Loreto, the pope said that he had to do it in order to satisfy the minister of public works, who had spent a great deal in that area, and in order to give President Gronchi the opportunity for a meeting: [Gronchi] had been wanting to find a way to get the pope to go to the Quirinale."
Also striking are the abrupt words of John XXIII against "the subtle evil" of the curia, made up of careerism and nepotism, and also his distaste for the Vatican apparatus.
Pope John was even more irritated by those whom he later called "prophets of misfortune" in the memorable address with which he opened the council.
But there is much more in the diary entries of its director during those years, made public by "La Civiltà Cattolica" in its issue of October 20, 2012.
The following are the salient passages of the article.
POPE JOHN AND THE COUNCIL, IN THE DIARY OF CARDINAL TUCCI
by Giovanni Sale
Through the diary of the director of "La Civiltà Cattolica" at the time, Fr. Roberto Tucci, now a cardinal, who because of his office was received a number of times in audience by John XXIII, it is possible to verify, over the span of the three years of preparation for the event, the issues that were closest to the pope's heart and the strategies of action that he set in motion in order to give a stronger impulse to the future council. [...]
The first audience was set immediately after the appointment of Fr. Tucci as director of the Roman magazine of the Jesuits. It took place at Castel Gandolfo on September 12, 1959. The director observed in this regard: "Striking simplicity and affability of manners that dispel any embarrassment and are very touching. Welcome at the door and accompaniment almost back to the threshold again." The pope, going beyond protocol, had gone to receive the young Fr. Tucci, who at the time was 38 years old, and, standing, conversed amiably with him: he marveled at his youth, spoke of the Jesuits he had known and of his work on the pastoral visits of St. Charles Borromeo to the diocese of Bergamo.
Concluding the audience, the Jesuit wrote, the pope "returned to the seriousness and doctrinal soundness of our periodical, and mentioned the fact that the good French Jesuit fathers of 'Études' had allowed themselves to be swept away a bit by the movement of innovative ideas when he was nuncio in Paris. He mentioned a form of neo-modernism that at times, 'according to what I am told,' is introduced even into ecclesiastical teaching: all of this becomes a problem and the young end up calling everything into question."
The pope made reference to the theologians of the "nouvelle théologie," who had been condemned by Rome at the time and viewed with suspicion in some Catholic circles. Many of these theologians, in fact, were Jesuits; they included the fathers de Lubac, Daniélou, Teilhard de Chardin, Rahner and others; the writers of the Parisian Jesuit magazine, unlike their Roman colleagues of "La Civiltà Cattolica," were enthusiastic supporters of that "innovative" current. [...]
The subsequent audience, which took place five months later, on February 1, 1960, was very important; in it, the pope spoke extensively about the future council. [...]
"He clearly demonstrated," noted the director of "La Civiltà Cattolica," "that he sees the ecumenical council in connection with the problem of the reunification at least with the separated Eastern Churches. He does not delude himself, but he notes that the spiritual climate has greatly improved since the time of Leo XIII [...] They tell me to be on my guard, but how can I respond harshly to someone who addresses himself to me so amiably? However, I am always looking out of the corner of my eye to keep from being deceived."
The pope spoke immediately afterward about the need to update the language of Catholic theology and doctrine formulated over the centuries: "He then makes," continued the director, "a fairly explicit distinction between dogma properly so called, mysteries to be accepted with humility, and theological explanations." [...] He then said that he had to talk about hell to the faithful, emphasizing however "that the Lord will be good to many." He added moreover, jokingly: "Of course we can all go there, but I tell myself: Lord, you won't let your vicar go, will you?" [...]
At the audience of June 7, 1960, John XXIII spoke with the director of "La Civiltà Cattolica" about the preparation for the council. At that time, the pre-preparatory phase had already ended, and the pope had already appointed the commissions charged with drafting the schemas to be brought to the council.
"It is the pope's intention," Fr. Tucci wrote, "to involve in the effort of preparation not only the Roman curia but to a certain extent the whole Church. He observes that often those on the outside have a grudge against the Roman curia, almost as if the Church lay entirely in the hands of the 'Romans'; there is so much wonderful energy elsewhere, so why not seek to employ it?" [...]
"[The pope] admits," wrote the Jesuit, "that there has been a certain resistance on the part of the cardinals [of the curia] and that moreover he does not want to act without those who are at his side precisely to assist him in the government of the Church. He expects that a rather tenacious battle will begin now, because the cardinals have their secretaries or their protégés whom they want to place on the commissions, and certainly not for supernatural reasons [...]. It is the subtle evil of the Roman curia: the prelatures, the promotions [...]. He tends, however, to use foreigners as well: he has therefore asked all of the bishops and nuncios to compile lists of persons suited for such work." The Church, the pope concluded, must in some way adapt itself to the times, and thus also the Roman curia and the pontifical court."
He then referred to his condition as "prisoner of opulence" in the Vatican and to the excessive pomp and ceremony that surrounded his person. "I have nothing against these good noble guards," the pope confided, "but so much bowing, such formality, so much pomp, so much parading make me suffer, believe me. When I go down [to the basilica] and see myself preceded by so many guards, I feel like a prisoner, a criminal; and instead I would like to be the 'bonus pastor' for all, close to the people. [...] The pope is not a sovereign of this world. He recounts how much he disliked at the beginning being carried on the sede gestatoria through the rooms, preceded by cardinals often more elderly and decrepit than himself (adding that this was moreover not very reassuring for him, because ultimately one is always teetering a bit." [...]
At the audience of December 30, 1961, John XXIII expressed to the director of "La Civiltà Cattolica" regret and dissatisfaction over an article by Fr. Antonio Messineo, commissioned from him by the Holy Office, against Giorgio La Pira for his positions on political matters, considered overly indulgent or naïvely optimistic with regard to the left. "One does not write in such a way against a practicing Catholic of upright intentions," the pope said to Fr. Tucci," even if he is a bit mad and sometimes with ideas not well founded doctrinally." [...]
At that same audience, the pope also spoke about the political situation and about the need of the Church to emerge from the old frameworks of ideological opposition and to work for the reconciliation of men.
He complained of the criticisms made against him even by some ecclesiastical circles for having responded to the message of good wishes sent to him by the president of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, and added: "the pope is not a simpleton, he knows very well that the gesture of Khrushchev was dictated by political aims of propaganda; but it would have been an unjustified act of discourtesy not to respond. The response, however, was calibrated. The holy father allows himself to be guided by good judgment and by the pastoral sense." [...]
The pope complained moreover that some detractors accused him of a "conciliatory spirit" and said that he had never "departed even in a single point from sound Catholic doctrine," and that those who accused him of this would have to provide proof. "He then takes to task," noted Fr. Tucci, "the 'zealot types' who always want to bash and slash. They have always been there in the Church and they always will be there, and we need patience and silence!" [...]
Turning to Italian politics, the pope gave the director of "La Civiltà Cattolica" very strong and binding guidelines. "The pope wants," Fr. Tucci noted, "a lower profile stance in matters of Italian politics." [...]
The pope also said, kindly but firmly, that he did not greatly appreciate the militant, intransigent spirit of the magazine, and asked that it adapt itself in style and content to the new times. Citing a comment from a friend of his, he said: "The good fathers of 'La Civiltà Cattolica' for everything pour down tears and more tears! And what have they gotten? [...] One must see the good and the bad," he commented, "and not always be pessimistic about everything." [...]
In the last months, before the end of the long preparatory phase, John XXIII was occupied in an attentive reading of the schemas drafted by the commissions, before these were sent to the council fathers. [...] John XXIII was not very satisfied with the preparatory schemas, and he talked about this with the director of La Civiltà Cattolica at the audience of July 27, 1962.
The pope, Fr. Tucci noted, "spoke to me about the revision of the conciliar texts that he is is making. [...] He showed me some of his marginal notes on the texts: [among others] on a page and a half on which were marked nothing but errors, noting that less harshness was required. He also told me that he had to make it known that he intended to revise the texts before they were sent to the bishops. But that they had not taken this into account from the beginning, such that some of the texts were sent before he was able to see them." [...]
Returning to political matters, we recall that at that time among Italian Catholics, as well as among the leaders of Democrazia Cristiana themselves, there was a debate over the necessity or not of accepting collaboration with the government of the socialists of Nenni. This perspective [...] was highly criticized by the president of the Italian episcopal conference, Cardinal Giuseppe Siri, and also by many prelates of the Roman curia, first among them by the pro-secretary of the Holy Office [Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani]. The administration in the United States was following the question with great apprehension, and was pushing its ambassador in Italy to do whatever possible to prevent the expansion of the governing coalition to the left. At that time, many Catholics maintained that, from the ideological and political point of view, between the position of the socialists and that of the communists there was in practice not much difference, and that therefore accepting collaboration with the former meant implicitly accepting the latter as well.
"We must be very careful," the pope confided to Fr. Tucci, "because today the politicians, even the democristiani, are seeking to draw the Church onto their side and end up using the Church for purposes that are not always the highest. [...] I don't know much about it, but frankly I do not understand why one cannot accept collaboration with others who have a different ideology in order to do things that are good in themselves, as long as there are no concessions on doctrine."