By Steve Landregan
Special to The Texas Catholic
In an interview in 1967, Bishop Thomas K. Gorman, who participated in all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council, shared some of his thoughts on the event.
Unlike many others he was not surprised by the announcement of an Ecumenical Council. He said that he had often wondered why the First Vatican Council had not been resumed after it was interrupted by a war before it had completed its agenda.
“I wasn’t surprised that it would be Pope John who would call it because of his previous interest of which I had indication once I met him in Venice a few months before he became the elected pope,” he said. “A lot of people thought that he pulled this out of the blue, but that isn’t true. Most of his work as a historian, volumes he wrote, was about the Council of Trent and the application of its functions.”
Speaking of the preparation for the council the bishop recalled that “most people didn’t realize the vast investigations and inquiries that went into the preparation for the material.
“For example, we sent in recommendations from here, things we thought of to be treated or be helpful and, so on, in various areas. We had a meeting with some of the priests in the diocese, some of the religious about what they would like to send in. So we sent in ours; everybody did all over the world.”
Noting the advance preparation by European countries, Bishop Gorman was critical of the preparation by American bishops.
“Certain areas in Northern Europe, like in Germany and Holland and Belgium and some of Austria, prepared themselves for the work of the council. Several times it was proposed that the American bishops convene—that we should do something like that—but we couldn’t get anybody interested. I think that it is not exaggerating to say, as some writers have done, that probably the most unprepared hierarchy that went to the council was the vast body of American members of the hierarchy.”
The unpreparedness, he said, continued for American bishops once they were in Rome.
“When the body of the bishops went over there we were not quite ready,” he said. “When they elected the permanent members of the commissions, we had to take two or three days off so we could caucus and organize and decide who we wanted on these different commissions. I was not on any commission, but I was very much interested in the communications document which was not debated very much.”
A routine was soon developed.
“American bishops would have a meeting once a week to discuss points in which we were particularly interested in, certain debates like the Declaration on Religious Liberty and the prevention of an outright condemnation of the use of atomic weapons,” he said. “As the council went on … it got more natural talking about it, meeting people. And we found out what was going on (and) read all the releases and did our homework.
As a former journalist, Bishop Gorman was concerned with press access to the council debates. “I think one of the things that wasn’t quite understood was that it was impossible to expect sessions of between 2,000 and 2,500 men with observers and experts and advisors (for discussions to remain secret). It became so obvious after two weeks that a group of us American bishops set up this press panel for the English speaking world media. There was a briefing immediately after the sessions closed. A panel of bishops and experts would brief and answer questions. The correspondents came in great numbers.”
He also reflected on the challenge of implementing the changes mandated by the council and complaints that things were not going fast enough.
“They don’t know what is being done, and just because it can’t be done overnight, they think we’re not on the job, but it takes time to implement the tremendous volume of stuff that involves so many areas of Catholic life.”