From the August 4, 1962 issue of America by Robert A. Graham, S.J.:
Historians of the ecumenical movement will probably put down July 5, 1962, as a notable date in the development of Catholic-Protestant rapprochement. On this day, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Arthur Michael Ramsey, announced that the world-wide Anglican Communion, of which he is the spokesman, would be represented at the Second Vatican Council by three delegate-observers.
Within a few days, spokesmen for similar non-Catholic communities announced that they, too, would send observers or were on the point of making an official favorable decision. While the significance of these successive announcements should not be exaggerated, they are a measure of the state of mind on both sides.The ground thus far gained in the cause of Christian unity owes much to the hard work of Augustin Cardinal Bea, director of the Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity. But the real credit belongs to Pope John XXIII, who created the Secretariat and gave it continued warm support, despite, no doubt, the misgivings of many advisers in his own entourage.
The mission Cardinal Bea had to perform required diplomacy of the highest order. One does not invite long-estranged persons to a party without knowing in advance whether the gesture is acceptable. The Bea Secretariat took care that preliminary soundings first established whether an invitation would be welcome. It appears that, to simplify the task, only the major international Protestant organizations (including the World Council of Churches, which is not a church in itself) were approached. But nobody was deliberately left out. As Cardinal Bea has put it, everyone has been invited who wanted to be invited.
As of this writing, no Orthodox communities have yet acted on the invitations tendered to them in the name of the Pope. Consultations among the Eastern churches not in union with Rome are still under way. Leading the unity group is Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople. But this diplomatic churchman is too prudent to isolate himself by forcing the pace.
Part of the delay on the side of the Orthodox may be due to the role of the Patriarch of Moscow.
In statements made recently in Yugoslavia, during a visit to the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexei seemed to say that there could be absolutely no question of any Orthodox observers at the Council, certainly none representing the Moscow Patriarchate.
Despite this, the Bea Secretariat has not by any means ruled out the possibility that, in the end, an invitation will be accepted by Alexei. It is reported that the Patriarch of Moscow would like to put conditions on his possible participation. One is that the Council would not attack Orthodoxy. Another is that no attack would be made against the fatherland of any of the participants. At first sight these stipulations seem reasonable and quite easy of fulfillment.
The Vatican Council is doing everything it can not to offend the Orthodox, and many of its decisions will be framed with a view to clarifying theological questions that present difficulties to the Orthodox. Even less is the Council likely to descend to the level of politics by an attack on any country. Yet, hard-headed realism recalls that a delegation from the Soviet Union, even one representing the Patriarch of Moscow, is likely to have its own norms for deciding when the fatherland is being attacked. It is not a free agent in such matters. There is no guarantee, for instance, that a simple condemnation of atheism and materialism, applicable as well to the West as to the East, will not be taken as a crude and rude attack on the Soviet Union and exploited as proof of Vatican hatred of Mother Russia.
The absence of the Orthodox at the Council, particularly now that the Protestant world has cast aside its lingering hesitations, would be deeply regretted by Catholic ecumenists. It is almost rudimentary—though it needs repeating in order to quiet susceptibilities on both sides—that the presence of non-Catholic delegate-observers at an ecumenical council presided over by the Pope does not imply any doctrinal or other concessions on either side. What good, therefore, will come of such a meeting? Perhaps the best answer to this difficult question was expressed by an outside observer who, reversing an old and familiar French bon mot, commented: “Both sides talk as if nothing at all is changed, whereas in reality everything is changed.”