By every standard of measurement, the eye-catching aspect of preparations for the coming Second Vatican Council continues to be that having to do with possible steps toward Christian unity. The procession of distinguished churchmen of various denominations who have paid courtesy calls at the Vatican in recent months has further focused attention on what might be called the external or long-range objective of the council. Despite repeated reminders by Pope John that the first task will be to deal with internal renewal and to strive to adapt the organization and structure of the Church to the changing conditions of the modern world, the headlines still ignore such issues.
Perhaps all this is inevitable, since details about organizational problems posed by population shifts, the mobility of labor forces and the like seem to offer less suitable material for mass presentation. The fact remains, however, that these are matters of gravest concern for the welfare of the Church and of souls.
Two sets of figures released within recent weeks shed some light on the challenge facing the Church in different countries. Publication of the latest statistics on the Church in the United States disclosed that the number of priests in the country had more than tripled in the past 50 years. Today there are 55,581 diocesan and religious-order priests serving 42.9 million Catholics. In 1912, a total of 17,491 priests existed in a Catholic population of slightly more than 15 million. In Italy, on the contrary, a new study showed that the total number of priests at work in Italian dioceses had dropped from 45,266 in 1954 to 43,488 in the current year. (Of these, it is important to note, more than 10,000 are over 60 years of age.) During the same 8-year period, the Italian population, which is heavily Catholic, had increased by 3 million. Clearly, the task of promoting clerical vocations is one which will come in for hard thought when the bishops of the world meet next October. Equally challenging, it would seem, will be the question of organizing diocesan and parish life in such ways as to make the most effective use of priestly manpower on hand.
In other regions, the pressing problem of internal ecclesiastical discipline takes still other forms. The Church in Belgium, for instance, is troubled by a bitter cultural and ethnic dispute currently raging between the French- and Flemish-speaking Catholics. Though the two groups reside for the mostpart in separate sections of the land, some French-speaking peoples live in the predominantly Flemish northern area. Church authorities, in some cases, are hard pressed to provide for the religious needs of such linguistic minorities. In several recent instances where efforts were made to preach a French sermon in a Flemish church, the Mass had to be held up while the police dispersed rioters who had interrupted the sermon by reciting the rosary aloud in Flemish.
The category of internal problems to be dealt with in the council’s effort to achieve inner renewal of the Church could be extended by examining the situation of the Church in almost any area‹old or new. For this reason, every Catholic must share in the Holy Father’s prayerful concern for the “updating of the life of the Church.”
From America, May 19, 1962