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What would Cardinal Meyer say?

The current administration in Washington and its congressional allies embody, in a particularly aggressive way, the hostility to the deep truths built into the human condition that so concerned men like Cardinal Meyer and Archbishop Hallinan in 1960.

Albert Cardinal Meyer (1903-1965) Bishop of Superior, Archbishop of Milwaukee and Chicago. (Images: Wikipedia and CNS/Giancarlo Giuliani)

Unfortunately forgotten in most U.S. Catholic circles today, Cardinal Albert Gregory Meyer, archbishop of Milwaukee from 1953 to 1958 and archbishop of Chicago from 1958 to 1965, was one of the country’s leading churchmen in the mid-20th century.

A biblical scholar and a deeply holy man, Meyer played a crucial role in the first three periods of the Second Vatican Council. On November 19, 1962, for example, he made an important intervention at a critical moment in the council’s first period: a brief speech on the inadequacies of the draft document on divine revelation then being considered. Cardinal Meyer’s address was one of several that (with an important assist from Pope John XXIII) helped sink that draft, thus opening a path toward what I’ve come to regard as the fundamental text of the council, Dei Verbum (The Word of God). Unfortunately, Meyer, who died in April 1965, did not live to see his labors in 1962, 1963, and 1964 bear fruit in the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation that was promulgated on November 18, 1965.

Cardinal Meyer, who served on the council’s board of presidents, is regarded by historians as being one of the leading reformers at Vatican II, allied with men like Belgium’s Cardinal Leon-Jozef Suenens and Cardinal Bernardus Alfrink of the Netherlands. Yet Cardinal Meyer was also a good friend of Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, leader of the council’s traditionalist forces; and before Meyer made his intervention in favor of scrapping Ottaviani’s draft document on revelation, he went out of his way to tell his brother cardinal that he intended no disrespect by his criticism. In American Participation in the Second Vatican Council, Msgr. Vincent Yzermans notes that Meyer’s speeches “were….respectfully received because they came from the very depths of his own soul…[as he strove] to give honest expression to his deepest convictions…[and] was always concerned with the positive approach.”

All the more reason then, to pay careful attention to what Cardinal Meyer had to say before the council, when he responded to a request for suggestions about the issues Vatican II should address, which had been sent to all bishops by a commission preparing the council’s agenda. In his article, “U.S. Bishops’ Suggestions for Vatican II,” published in the 1994 edition of the journal Cristianesimo nella Storia (Christianity in History), Father Joseph Komonchak sums up Meyer’s proposals:

[Cardinal] Meyer maintained that most of the errors of the day were based upon relativism with disastrous consequences for both doctrine and morality: ‘Any idea of absolute truth is denied by many people’ (Meyer wrote). He described the crisis as ‘a real dechristianization or apostasy of nations. There is a real and universal absence of God, especially from the public life of peoples.’ To oppose it, he proposed repeating Catholic doctrine on the true notion of the supernatural, on original sin, on the redemptive Incarnation, on regenerating grace, on the true notion of sin, and on the need for faith against those who rely on works.

Father Komonchak also notes that Archbishop Paul J. Hallinan of Atlanta, another liberal hero of the conciliar and post-conciliar years, wrote similarly to the council’s preparatory commission of the dangers of a “secular culture…rooted in subjectivism, pragmatism, relativism, agnosticism, and atheism.”

The current administration in Washington and its congressional allies embody, in a particularly aggressive way, the hostility to the deep truths built into the human condition that so concerned men like Cardinal Meyer and Archbishop Hallinan in 1960. Yet when warnings are raised about the threat posed to our democracy by the Biden administration’s embrace of a concept of the human person that denies biological reality and reduces us to bundles of morally equivalent desires, those who point out what’s going on (including those who try to emulate Cardinal Meyer’s respect for opponents) are accused of being culture warriors, Jansenists, insensitive traffickers in abstractions, and the rest of progressive Catholicism’s litany of epithets.

Are we saying anything different about the roots of the West’s civilizational crisis than what Cardinal Meyer and others said in 1960?

A man with the qualities of Albert Gregory Meyer would likely be grateful to Mary Eberstadt for her three Newsweek “open letters” to President Biden about the administration’s reckless policies on life, gender, and religious freedom, available here, here, and here. And while Cardinal Meyer would, I think, have applauded this display of courageous and well-reasoned lay initiative, he might also wonder why so few bishops have written or said similar things in defense of truth and reality, and thus in defense of democracy.


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About George Weigel 335 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), and Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021).

17 Comments

  1. Hallinan left the Charleston SC See to go to Atlanta. He brought with him to Atlanta a priest of the diocese of Charleston named Bernadin – a highly irregular move, it seems to me. And, from there, the history of the Catholic Church in America was written.

  2. “….he might also wonder why so few bishops have written or said similar things in defense of truth and reality, and thus in defense of democracy.”

    A lot of us laity do indeed wonder the same thing!

    It is still not too late, dear bishops, to recover your prophetic voices that the Lord entrusted to you!

  3. I do not know all that Cardinal Meyer wrote or held as essential for the Vatican II renewal. What I read here, makes me think that he communicated only in Latin. We know most Catholic clergy have no useful knowledge of that archaic language. It would seem Meyer cloaked his sincere thoughts and on the mark concerns in a way that was easy to ignore and even work aggressively against. I am product of 2 Catholic educations early in life, pre and post VII. I was taught little of my faith post VII. It has taken years to learn the glorious gifts of Catholicism with very little help from our hierarchy. I have been a catechist for 30 years. As Bishop Barron so eloquently states, people have not been loved out of the Church, they were persuaded by the arguments and reason of others and left the vacant, feel-good rhetoric they were fed. Cardinal Meyer would be astonished that the Church has been humbled by its clerics to be a mere home for justice warriors and not a home for creating saints.

    • Frank, “Latin an archaic language”? For the Second Vatican Council St. Pope John XXlll in 1962 signed on the Altar of St. Peters Basilica an Apostolic Constitution titled “Veterum Sapientia”. This document bemoans that the clergy could not read, write or speak Latin fluently. This document calls for a drastic change (An authentic Vatican ll change). All the ordained must be able to read, write and speak fluent Latin. This was the Vatican ll of St. Pope John XXlll. This document has never been abrogated and if it should be, So What! we will follow it anyway. I for one will no longer obey mere human leadership in the Church. Only leadership where Jesus Christ the Truth is the pivatol point. It’s Jesus or nothing!

  4. Cardinal Meyer helped to vote out the draft of Cardinal Ottaviani? I did read that when Card. Ottaviani’s draft was voted out he gave a scathing reply in just a few sentences. One of them was that he said he knew that before his draft was voted out, they had another draft already prepared to replace his. I once called this type of maneuvering “Bergoglian style” I see it was already practiced at the Council of the Modernists. St. Pope John XXlll was no Modernist he was a known Traditionalist. St. Pope John XXlll Ora Pro Nobis!

  5. Does Mr. Wiegel consider “His Excellency” Hallinan a hero?

    One is left to wonder when reading this article.

    Here is some information linking Hallinan with the notorious pedophile priest “Rev.” Frederick Hopwood of Charleston, long time roommate of “Rev.” Bernardin” who eventually followed Hallinan to Atlanta as Aux Bishop and then went to Chicago as Archbishop, and who curiously arranged for Chicago Diocesan attorneys to defend pedophile “Rev.” Hopwood, despite Hopwood remaining in ministry in Charleston.

    Odd, isn’t it, the Chicago way?

    https://www.bishop-accountability.org/news/1998_06_18_Likoudis_EpiscopalScandal.htm

    That’s some legacy for the heroic Bishop Hallinan, godfather of pedophiles and the Chicago-Sodomy-Cult of “His Eminence” Bernardin, who just sohappens to have also been accused of sex abuse by James Grein.

    • Odd, isn’t it, that Weigel’s article is a left-handed tribute to these monsters of AmChurch Vatican II renewal. Or is it?

    • It seems to me that Mr. Weigel’s article is much less an endorsement of Hallinan than an observation that even a broken clock can be right twice each day.

  6. The first problem, what besets the world, is not secularism, it is sin. The second problem, unresolved by Vatican II, is that the RC churches are institutionally ill-equipped to preach salvation in Christ, as their ecclesial life generally does not provide a credible witness to Him but to liberalism, feminism, materialism, etc.

    • SOl, The Roman Catholic Church through the Most-holy Trinity has been superb at preaching Jesus Christ for 2000 years. But along comes the Modernist Heretics who have obliterated the Church’s methods. All because they thought they could do better. Better they didn’t, their ways caused massive confusion and human failure all the way around. Let’s get this Modernist poison out of the way. For the sake of the salvation of souls and for living a great life in Christ once again.

      • Andrew, no point telling him anything. If the Roman Catholic Church consisted entirely of truly devout Catholics living the Faith perfectly, led by priests, bishops, and a Pope who were all living saints, he’d still carp and criticize.

  7. But there is a REACTION, gentlemen! It may be small, but it’s growing: for example, The Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest. Mass and liturgies all in Latin, solid, no fuzzy Church teaching. The churches are PACKED and full of young families and kids, kids, kids everywhere. The women are mostly veiled and there is great reverence as we receive the blessed Eucharist on the tongue, kneeling. As the New Age church fades away, this will be the remnant Benedict foretold. Now if we can only give spines to a few bishops!

    • Kathleen Reeves, Your comment is becoming an interesting fact in the Church today. I like when someone like yourself brings this situation to light. Comments like yours are making the Latin Tridentine Mass a known fact that cannot be ignored. Frances, Cardinals, and Bishops are now recognizing the Traditional Catholic movement. Some to great joy, others to regret and anger. Let’s pray that God continues to prevail. God Bless!

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