Our Back Pages: Questions for a cardinal

By George P. Matysek Jr.

Twitter: @ReviewMatysek
In the midst of all the excitement and unease that went along with the many liturgical and other changes brought on by the Second Vatican Council, Cardinal Lawrence Shehan went on a tour of the Archdiocese of Baltimore in the mid-1960s to celebrate Mass with his flock and hold question-andanswer sessions. Part of what was known as “Stational Jubilee Celebrations,” the visits attracted big audiences and brought many challenging questions to the spiritual leader of Baltimore Catholics.
According to an article in the March 11, 1966, Catholic Review, nearly 1,500 people filled St. Mark in Catonsville for one of the episcopal visits. In his homily, the cardinal said that “each of the laity has an active apostolate of his own – to bring Christ to the world in which we live. The role of the laity is to be a living instrument of the church.”

A Catholic Review file photo shows Cardinal Lawrence Shehan standing outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the 1965 Baltimore St. Patrick Parade. The cardinal went on a question-and-answer tour of the Archdiocese of Baltimore in the mid-1960s to educate Catholics about changes brought on by the Second Vatican Council. (CR File)

The cardinal faced tough questions regarding racial justice, ecumenism and the establishment of parish councils during the question-and-answer session in St. Mark’s hall.

One questioner wondered whether communists might take advantage of the church’s new openness and infiltrate the clergy. He asked the cardinal whether any of the Council bishops was communist.
The cardinal said he knew of no communist bishops, but acknowledged that some priests had defected to communism. He called it “inconceivable to me” that communists would become priests in light of the requirements that must be met for ordination.
One African-American questioner, who said he was not Catholic, asked the cardinal why the church had only recently spoken out against racial injustice if bigotry had always been a sin. The cardinal answered that racial injustice has always been recognized as sinful, but that “different ages had different ideas as to what is just and unjust.”
A lay woman asked whether the cardinal would be totally unified.
The former head of the U.S. bishops’ Commission for Ecumenical Affairs said such a possibility was unlikely.Reunion with the Orthodox might come soon, he said, because papal infallibility is the only major doctrinal difference. The gap between Catholics and Protestants is also closing, he said.
“Before Vatican II,” he explained, “we emphasized the things which separate us. Now the things we hold in common are emphasized.”
In a lighter moment during the assembly, static noises were heard over the sound system. Someone told the cardinal it was caused by the chain to his pectoral cross hitting the microphone. Another questioner suggested, the Catholic Review reported, that the cardinal was causing a “chain reaction.”
“Just as long as I don’t set off a nuclear explosion,” Cardinal Shehan responded. 

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The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.