Hurley remembers Vatican II
VATICAN II: Keeping The Dream Alive, by Denis Hurley OMI. Cluster Publications, Pietermaritzburg. 2004. 300pp.
By Gunther Simmermacher
Some years ago, this reviewer wrote a series on the popes through the ages for The Southern Cross. When Pope Paul VI’s life was published, in its customary style of relative brevity, Archbishop Denis Hurley wrote a Letter to the Editor, complaining that I had glossed over Vatican II in too few paragraphs.
Responding privately to the archbishop, I explained myself. His response was typically gracious. After ascribing to me disproportionate gifts of erudition, Hurley summarised why Vatican II was “the highlight of my life”, with its informal cycle of lectures, workshops and long evenings of debates over dinner “with interested members of the clergy and laity and a few hard-bitten media people.” As he often did, Hurley wrote: “I would describe Vatican II as the greatest project of adult education ever held in the world.”
Less than a year later, in 2001, Hurley was asked to write a 1,200-word piece on Vatican II for us. A week or so later came a telephone call: “I can’t condense everything into one article, I’ll need two”, which was fine. Soon after another call: could he write four or five articles? I asked him to write as many articles as he needed to. Thus, a highly acclaimed series was born and the groundwork was laid for Vatican II: Keeping the Dream Alive, Denis Hurley’s memoirs of the great adult education project that changed the Church.
When Pope John XXIII in 1959 made public his intention to stage a new Church Council, almost a century after the last, Hurley was underwhelmed. Councils were for Church crises or defining dogma. In 1959, neither dimension required the attentions of a council.
As Susan Rakoczy writes in one of the scholarly and engaging essays appended to the memoirs, Pope John’s notion of “a second Pentecost” seemed somewhat vague for most Catholics. Of course, Vatican II turned out to be a momentous point in Church history, indeed a second Pentecost, and Hurley played an integral part in its development.
He soon aligned himself with the progressive camp. The likes of the Cardinals Leo Suenens of Mechelen-Brussels (whom Hurley describes as the most significant person of the Council), Linart of Lille and Frings of Cologne “saw him as one of theirs”, as Philippe Denis OP puts it. Incidentally, Cardinal Frings was not an intrinsic progressive, but was steered towards liberalism by hisperitus (expert), the young Bavarian Father Joseph Ratzinger.
Hurley indubitably was a progressive, but no dogmatic ideologue. There are surprises, such as when he stands with US bishops who feared that the wording in the schema on peace could be interpreted as a condemnation of the possession of America’s nuclear weapons and a rejection of the the value of deterrence.
Hurley laments the cavalier manner in which the schema on Social Communications was treated, noting surprise at the presence of Bishop Hugh Boyle of Johannesburg on a petition calling (unsuccessfully) for its rejection. Perhaps Boyle’s days as an editorial assistant at The Southern Cross in the late 1920s had an influence in his stand.
The formal business of Vatican II was largely tedious, disrupted by the odd fireworks. Although of importance, the process of one reintroduced schema after another tends make for less absorbing reading than Hurley’s random observations and memories of coffee bars visited, friends made and lectures discussed.
He draws much on letters written from Rome to various associates, and from the 32 articles he wrote, incognito, for The Southern Cross during the three years of the Council (surely very few newspapers, Catholic or otherwise, could boast a better placed correspondent).
One of the gems recorded in the Southern Cross articles concerns the Italian cardinal Ruffini and a cricket analogy, which culminates in the quip: “A Sicilian archbishop at the wicket.” If memory serves, Ruffini was out, stumped.
The Dream is a vital documentation of Vatican II by an important participant who (unlike many of his fellow Council Fathers) hoarded and archived his notes, papers and correspondence. It will be appreciated not only by scholars, but also those who would like to understand more about the Council, almost 40 years after it closed.
Alas, a serious shortcoming of the book is the lack of an index, which is essential in looking up the background to participants, debates and documents.
Hurley’s memoirs are complemented by an artful potted biography by Paddy Kearney and a sparkling foreword by Albert Nolan OP. There are several essays intended to place the archbishop and Vatican II into context, Hurley’s interventions (addresses) at the Council, and an interview with the archbishop by John R Page.
Asked by Page whether there should be a Vatican III, Hurley responds affirmatively; not only that, but a Council a great adult education project should be held every 25 years!