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Light from Germany on Vatican Council II

From: The Catholic Historical Review
Volume 99, Number 4, October 2013
pp. 727-748 | 10.1353/cat.2013.0201

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This review article continues the work of four earlier presentations of newly published source-documents and scholarly studies on the Second Vatican Council. Discussed here are the following recent German contributions: (1) an edition of the Council diaries, selected letters, and notes of Cardinal Julius Döpfner, archbishop of Munich and member of the main directive bodies of the Council; (2) the collection of the writings of Joseph Ratzinger concerning the Council from 1960 to 2005; (3) a multiauthored survey of research on the Council in the German-language area; (4) an exhibition catalog, with twelve studies, of Council materials and documents from three archives in Munich; and (5) a one-volume prosopological dictionary of persons active at the Council.

Documents of Cardinal Julius Döpfner’s Participation and Leadership at the Second Vatican Council

It has been a commonplace of Second Vatican Council research that German scholarship has lagged behind that of other nations, especially Belgium and Italy, mainly because German diocesan archives observe long periods of closure to researchers. A breakthrough came in 2001 when Cardinal Friedrich Wetter of Munich opened the Council archive of his predecessor, Cardinal Julius Döpfner, for scholarly research. Four years later, the Munich diocesan archivists brought out an inventory of Döpfner’s Council papers, which is a model of its genre. The work presented here offers documents that make easily accessible the diaries and 474 selected texts of correspondence and notes of this leading figure of the Second Vatican Council.

Döpfner, a priest of the Diocese of Würzburg, was bishop of his home diocese from 1948 to 1957. Named bishop of Berlin in early 1957, he became well known for hosting the Katholikentag of 1958. Pope John XXIII created him cardinal in December 1958 and in July 1961 appointed him archbishop of Munich. Döpfner served on the Council’s Central Preparatory Commission, the body that evaluated in 1961–62 the draft schemas produced by the particular preparatory commissions. As the Council opened in 1962, Döpfner was named to the Secretariat for Extraordinary Affairs. After Period I, John XXIII made him one of the seven members of the Commission for Coordinating the Work of the Council, which supervised the conciliar commissions during their revision of schemas in early 1963 and then during further work on the Council documents. In September 1963 Pope Paul VI named Döpfner one of the four Council Moderators, along with Cardinals Gregorio P. Agagianian, Giacomo Lercaro, and Léon-Joseph Suenens.

The 2006 publication gives Döpfner’s diary notes that add to what is known about the 1962 meetings of the Council’s Secretariat for Extraordinary Affairs. At its first meeting on October 16, 1962, the Secretariat received a written proposal by Cardinal Augustin Bea that Pope John’s discourses should give the Council a broadly open, pastoral direction. This had pleased the pope, along with Suenens and Döpfner, but Cardinal Giuseppe Siri raised doubts about Bea’s position at the second meeting on October 19. Also at the second meeting, Cardinal Giovanni Batista Montini offered a plan of the Council’s topics in their logical order—treating the Church in its mystery, mission, and relations ad extra—but Döpfner noted that Cardinal Carlo Confalonieri said that although Montini’s plan was elegant, it offered no help toward practical results. Döpfner urged that the Fathers should be told at least about the range of themes that the Council would take up. At the Secretariat’s fourth meeting on November 5, Döpfner proposed a method (subsequently adopted) for voting in the General Congregation to close discussion on a topic. On November 9, at the fifth meeting, the group accepted Döpfner’s proposal that all the schemas should be reduced to their essential points. This anticipated the directives given by Pope John to all the Council commissions as Period I ended.

The Döpfner diaries continue with his notes during the meetings of the Council’s Coordinating Commission, which in effect replaced the Secretariat for Extraordinary Affairs as the first intersession began in January 1963. This new Council directorate exercised an attentive supervision of the particular commissions’ work to...

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