Secret deals and stonewalling

 — Nov. 15, 200315 nov. 2003
By Ned Powers, Saskatoon Star Phoenix

Bernard Daly was a Canadian journalist standing probably 15 feet in front of Pope John XXIII when the pontiff announced on Oct. 13, 1962, that the Second Vatican Council was about to change the modern world for Catholics.

“I had been a journalist for 14 years, writing about public events and commenting on them,” says Daly, “but the assignment to cover Vatican II as the only English-speaking Canadian journalist was a complete surprise and, in reality, such an honour.

“There he was, on a raised platform in the Sistine Chapel, in front of 1,000 journalists, with that beautiful face and jovial attitude, and none of us knew really what to expect. He spoke in French, I could follow well enough, and the texts were supplied in English later. And what he was telling us was that we should tell the truth, the whole truth, about what was going to happen during the council.”

Sadly, as Daly now says in his book, Beyond Secrecy: The Untold Story of Canada and the Second Vatican Council, “we the journalists were stonewalled at every turn. The more we learn about how the council worked, and about what was said and done at it, the more we should regret the heavy price the church paid for the secrecy that blanketed every stage of Vatican II.”

Daly, who was in Saskatoon to promote the book published by Novalis, guides readers through some of the daily proceedings, the backroom deal-making and deal-breaking, and the Vatican policy of keeping information from being disseminated.

As a Saskatchewan schoolboy, Daly was the editor of the paper at St. Thomas College in North Battleford, later a reporter on The Sheaf at the University of Saskatchewan. With a bachelor of arts degree in hand, he became a writer at The StarPhoenix. He left a 10- year career with the newspaper in 1959 to edit an information service for the Canadian Catholic bishops in Ottawa.

The Second Vatican Council lasted four sessions through parts of four years.

The reform of the liturgy, stressing the need to allow vernacular languages to replace the long-standing use of Latin, was the focus of the first session. The second was devoted mainly about how authority is exercised in the church. The third session examined ground-breaking texts about Christian unity, religious freedom and relations with non-Christians. Most of the debates during the fourth session were devoted to visions about the church from within small commission meetings.

Pope John XXIII died of cancer after the first session and Paul VI was elected to succeed him.

Daly embraces the changes which have occurred within the Catholic church since Vatican II. And he admires the work done by Canadian bishops, who made 63 oral interventions and displayed by their voting record that they were strongly in support of renewal.

“Looking back at a distance of 40 years, I continue to marvel how much the Canadian participants contributed to it.”

He thinks the magnitude of the Vatican Council initially caught the Canadians a little off-guard.

“They had not considered the possibility of setting up an office. They had to improvise the services. One of the stories involves Father Bernard De Margarie, now a Saskatoon priest but then at Canadian College completing studies for a doctorate. As soon as possible, a telephone was set up in De Margarie’s room for use by the bishops.”

Daly did not like the way that official secrecy prevented journalists “from getting a clearer and fuller understanding of the church through the brief but magnificent life of an ecumenical council.

“Unfettered insight, as promised by John XXIII, was immediately denied by others. We weren’t allowed entry into the conference rooms. We were subjected to what the church wanted us to know through press releases or by a priest, chosen to report the news of the day. Eventually, I was able to get some texts from our bishops. A lot of times, we wrote stories without attribution. Millions of Christians deserved to know more.”

Daly’s book comes with a recommendation “that for the future of the church, it should rid itself of institutional secrecy. As Vatican II progressed, observers and journalists became increasingly appreciative and understanding of the church. But council secrecy prevented millions from having a greater share in the same enlightening experience.”

Daly was asked 22 months ago to create the book because no one else in the English language had summed up the contributions of Canadians.

“I think about how I kept boxes of all the documents from Vatican II and how the boxes followed us every time we moved. And how valuable about 70,000 words I had written on the computer turned out to be.”

Posted: Nov. 15, 2003 • Permanent link:
Categories: NewsIn this article: Canada, Catholic, church history, Second Vatican Council
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Catégorie : NewsDans cet article : Canada, Catholic, church history, Second Vatican Council

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