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AFTERVATICAN COUNCIL ?: THE AMERICAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS AND THE "SYLLABUS" FROM ROME, 1966-1968 SamuelJ.Thomas* For much of the world, the work of the Catholic bishops and periti (experts) at the Second Vatican CouncU (1962-1965) coUectively signaled the end of a four-hundred-year-old siege mentality, the beginnings of a positive engagement with modernity, and a generaUy more tolerant, open, and coll├ęgial church. In fact, it has become a truism that the CouncU Fathers generated documents strongly affirming Pope John XXIITs caU for church renewal (aggiornamentd). Yet, less than a year after the Council's final session, a Vatican initiative occurred that seemed at odds with the Church's new pubUc image. At the very least, the intervention was a sign of Rome's growing concern over the nature, pace, and extent of renewal, and of its resolve to tighten the reins and exercise more direct control. This episode began when Alfredo Cardmal Ottaviani (1890- 1988), the conservative prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), sent a secret circular letter dated July 24, 1966, to the heads of aU CathoUc episcopal conferences.1 He reminded the world's bishops that they must carefuUy monitor Church renewal so that errors in the interpreta- *The author, who is a professor of history in Michigan State University, wishes to express his thanks to the Reverend George Michalek,Archivist and Vice Chancellor, Diocese of Lansing, for organizing the Bishop Alexander Zaleski collection, opening it to historians , and for his generous and professional co-operation during the time spent researching the topic ofthis essay.Sincere appreciation is also extended to Professors Patrick Carey of Marquette University and Philip Gleason of the University of Notre Dame for their very helpful comments and advice on an earlier version of this essay. The author, of course, takes sole responsibility for any changes or errors made in the final draft. 1A copy of the letter,"Cum Oecumenicum," and related documents are in the Archives ofthe Diocese of Lansing (hereafter ADL) among the papers ofAlexander Zaleski, Bishop ofLansing (1965-1975). See Zaleski Collection (hereafter ZC),"NCCB Committee on Doctrine , Bishops' Response to Cardinal Ottaviani's Letter, 1966,"ADL. For more biographical information on Zaleski, see note 19 infra. 233 234AFTERVAnCAN COUNCIL II: THE AMERICAN CATHOUC BISHOPS tion of the CouncU's decrees could be prevented or stopped. The Sacred Congregation, Ui its role as the Vatican's official guardian of the faith, would provide the oversight and guidelines for achieving those ends.2 Ottaviani's letter was a significant expression of a concerted effort by the Vatican to ensure orthodoxy in the heady atmosphere of freedom and change that characterized the immediate aftermath of the CouncU.3 How did America's CathoUc bishops respond Ui that "heady atmosphere "? In order to answer this question, a more focused inquiry wUl be necessary, one that probes the bishops' self-image after the CouncU: more precisely, how soon and how earnestly did they act on the CouncU 's rather resounding declarations of their coUegial relation to the Holy See and to one another? One answer has already been given by Father Gerald Fogarty toward the end of his cogent analysis of the relations between The Vatican and theAmerican Hierarchyfrom 1870 to 1965. After criticizing the bishops' relatively minimal involvement in the Council's reconsideration of the doctrine of coUegiaUty, Fogarty added this assessment of their behavior "in the years after the councU": "Only graduaUy . . . did the . . . bishops begin to see what their prede2In October, 1965, during the final session of the Council, Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, Secretary of the Sacred Congregation which was then still called the Holy Office, answered an Italian journalist's inquiry about the changes which would occur in the Council 's wake:"I am an old policeman guarding the gold reserves. Do you think I would do my duty if I started to sell out, if I left my post, if I just winked at these things? ... If you tell an old policeman that the laws are going to change, he will realize that he is an old policeman , and he will do everything possible to prevent them from changing. If the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-0708
Print ISSN
0008-8080
Pages
pp. 233-257
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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