After 38 Years, Rehabilitation of Cardinal Daniélou
Posted to Personal Update | Issue 118 | 18/06/2012
Cardinal Jean Daniélou was one of the leading theologians of the Second Vatican Council, ranked with Josef Ratzinger, Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar. Described as “a forgotten hero of the Vatican Council”, today he is hardly ever mentioned, and most of his books are out of print. When you mention his name to Catholics familiar with events in the Sixties, you are likely to notice a moment of embarrassment and hesitancy. In effect, the memory of Daniélou remains ambiguous, ever since he was found dead, one May afternoon in 1974, at the home of a prostitute on the fourth floor of the Rue Dulong 56, Paris.
Jean Daniélou was born in a small town North of Paris in 1905. Despite his father being an anti-clerical politician at a time when the French government was embroiled in a struggle to remove the Church’s role in education, Jean entered the Society of Jesus in 1929 and was ordained in 1938. After his short spell as a military chaplain ended with the fall of France in 1940, he devoted himself to the study of the Fathers of the Church, and with Fr Henri de Lubac was one of the founders of Sources Chrétiennes, a popular yet scholarly series of key writings from the patristic period. Over the years, Daniélou produced a flow of books and articles on the worship and theology of the Early Church. Such was his reputation and influence that Blessed Pope John XXIII named him as a theological expert for the Second Vatican Council. In 1969 he was made a cardinal by Pope Paul VI, and elected to the Académie Française.
A Secret Work of Charity
In May 1974, the 69-year old cleric was the chaplain to a group of nuns in Paris, and lived alone in a small apartment close to the convent. On a Monday afternoon that month, the local police were astonished when a Madame Santoni, known to her customers as “Mimi”, phoned them urgently to say that a cardinal had just died in her apartment. They were right to be startled, for the Rue Dulong was one of Paris’ seedier areas, and the woman in question was known to them as a “madame” and the wife of a man recently jailed for pimping.
When a cardinal suffers a fatal heart attack, with a substantial sum of money in his pocket, and in the house of a prostitute, there’s a story that can run for weeks. The Paris newspapers had a field day with the anti-clerical, Le Canard Enchaîné, trumpetting yet another exposé of Catholic hypocrisy.
Conspiracy theorists were not slow to offer their explanations about the presence of a Prince of the Church in such an inappropriate place. Had Daniélou being leading a double life? Was he the victim of an assassination at the hands of his enemies within the Church? Or was his death the work of the Masons, known to be capable of eliminating those who betrayed or threatened their machinations? Or, finally, had the Cardinal been caught up in some murky political scandal and been silenced by France’s notorious secret service?
Mother Church’s spokesmen didn’t do a great job in responding to these lurid speculations. Cardinal Marty, Archbishop of Paris, refused the call for a public enquiry on the grounds that Cardinal Daniélou “wouldn’t be able to defend himself”. Against what? Not long after, Cardinal Garonne, speaking in Rome at the Cardinal’s memorial service, said, “God grant us pardon. Our existence cannot fail to include an element of weakness and shadow.” Even the orthodox La Croix assumed the worst, commenting: “Whatever the truth is, we Christians well know that each of us is a sinner.”
One thing was for sure, Cardinal Daniélou’s reputation as an authoritative teacher in the Church was eclipsed by his death. Although the French Jesuits carried out a thorough investigation into his sudden death and discovered the visit to the Santoni residence was part of his secret works of charity to the most despised people in need of God’s love, his confrères made little effort to dispel the miasma of suspicion that enshrouded the name of this illustrious scholar. That afternoon Cardinal Daniélou’s final errand of mercy was to give Madame Santoni money to hire a lawyer to get bail for her jailed husband.
You would be correct in thinking that there must be more to this tale.
Renewal or Revolution?
Since 1965, Cardinal Daniélou had watched with growing dismay the spread of certain ideas among Catholic religious orders that were profoundly at variance with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. Like his fellow French scholar and conciliar expert, Fr Louis Bouyer, he saw the teaching of the Council being twisted, disfigured and betrayed by many so-called reformers. Nowhere was the spread of these ideas more rapid and damaging than among his own confrères in the Society of Jesus.
He had remonstrated with Father Pedro Arrupe, General of the Jesuits since 1965, but received a tart dismissal for his fears and warnings. The search for the “primitive charism” of the Society of Jesus, directed by Father Arrupe, had long carried the Jesuits beyond caring about the traditional forms and requirements of religious life.
In 1971, Daniélou gave an interview broadcast on Vatican Radio, in which he attacked “decadence” masquerading as renewal in the religious orders. The bitterness generated by this interview was such that Daniélou chose to leave the Jesuit house in Paris where he had lived for decades. His confrères viewed his outspoken comments as an obvious attack on Fr Arrupe’s style of leadership and the root-and-branch “renewal” of Jesuit training and community life then being undertaken—and undoubtedly they were correct. It was bad enough, they said, to criticise the reforms, but to criticise the Jesuit leadership so obviously was little short of treason. Daniélou now found himself the object of a whispering campaign, and became isolated and ignored.
So, he withdrew from his once-supportive community to the Rue Notre-Dame des Champs, where he acted as the chaplain to a community of nuns. His lifestyle was simple, even austere. No secretary, no car, none of the paraphernalia that normally went with his status. The only external sign of his exalted rank was his red socks.The good sisters had one complaint, and that was the Cardinal’s habit of spending 20 minutes in silent prayer after Holy Communion, and only then concluding Holy Mass, thereby upsetting their daily timetable.
By now he realised that he had become a problematic figure in both the Church in France and the Society of Jesus. Yet he refused to renounce his witness to the truth, and had announced that he was compiling a list of dissenting theologians—“assassins of the Faith” in his own words—that would be published. The rupture was complete.
One of the cardinal’s most bitter opponents was Fr Bruno Ribes, SJ, the editor of Études, a leading cultural publication of the French Jesuits. At the time of Daniélou’s death, the editor had published an open attack on Humanae Vitae and Pope Paul VI’s efforts to recall the religious orders to obedience. The same Fr Ribes together with two Dominicans, Frs Jacques Pohier and Bernard Quelqueje, would help the French Minister of Health, Simone Veil, to introduce a liberal abortion law in France in 1975. The same year Ribes left the Jesuits, and then the Church. Fr Jacques Pohier finally left the Order of Preachers in 1984 after many years of dissent. He then took up a post with the voluntary euthanasia society of France, becoming its chairman in 1992.
The Cardinal’s Radio Interview
“I think that there is now a very grave crisis of religious life, and that one should not speak of renewal, but rather of decadence.”
“The group dynamic replaces religious obedience. With the pretext of reacting against formalism, all regularity of the life of prayer is abandoned and the first consequence of this state of confusion is the disappearance of vocations, because young people require a serious formation.”
When asked about the causes of this collapse, the Cardinal responded: “The essential source of this crisis is a false interpretation of Vatican II. The directives of the Council were very clear: a greater fidelity of religious men and women to the demands of the Gospel expressed in the constitutions of each institute, and at the same time an adaptation of the modalities of these constitutions to the conditions of modern life.”
In particular, he spoke of “errors”, disseminated by well-known magazines, conferences and theologians reputed to be authoritative, and accepted without question as “the Council’s teaching” by religious superiors.
- Secularisation: “Vatican II declared that human values must be taken seriously. It never said that we should enter into a secularised world in the sense that the religious dimension would no longer be present in society, and it is in the name of a false secularisation that men and women are renouncing their habits, abandoning their works in order to take their places in secular institutions, substituting social and political activities for the worship of God.”
- Personal freedom: “A false conception of freedom that brings with it the devaluing of the constitutions and rules and exalts spontaneity and improvisation. This is all the more absurd in that Western society is currently suffering from the absence of a discipline of freedom. The restoration of firm rules is one of the necessities of religious life.”
- Change: “An erroneous conception of the changing of man and of the Church. Even if these change, the constitutive elements of man and of the Church are permanent, and bringing into question the constitutive elements of the constitutions of the religious orders is a fundamental error.”
“What, then,” he was asked, “are the remedies for this unhappy state of affairs?”
The “only and urgent solution”, replied Daniélou, is to stop all experimentation in new forms of religious life, and to exclude comprehensively the many sources of error and decadence now in circulation. Failing that—and the Cardinal knew then that this solution was very unlikely to be adopted—the minorities in religious orders, faithful to their own tradition and the teaching of the Council, should be allowed to form distinct communities.
Rough Justice for Non-Conformists
He was referring to religious, male and female, who had no wish to embrace the “reforms” thrust upon them. “… it seems to me that those religious cannot be denied who want to be faithful to the constitutions of their order and to the directives of Vatican II, and to establish distinct communities. Religious superiors are bound to respect this desire.” A sensitive point then and now.
No one familiar with Church life at that time would have forgotten the fate of a group of some 100 Spanish Jesuits in 1969. They were strongly opposed to the radical changes being introduced across the order, and had petitioned the Vatican to be allowed to form a separate branch where they could continue to follow traditional Jesuit life. Without doubt, the petition strongly suggested Fr Arrupe’s search for the “primitive charism” would not lead to that of St Ignatius. The Spanish bishops voted by a slim majority to support the protesting Jesuits, an event that set off alarm bells at the Jesuit headquarters in Rome.
Fr Arrupe reacted with remarkable speed and energy to suppress this “uprising”, even though the priests in question were a mere handful out of some 3500 Jesuits in Spain. Together with his four General Assistants and armed with each priest’s detailed record, he arrived in Spain on May 1, 1970 where he and his team met the disaffected members. He must have made them an offer that they could not refuse, for nothing more was heard of the petition by the time Father General departed for Rome on May 11. Around this turbullent time, some French Dominicans managed to form a small community, named after St Vincent Ferrer, where they maintained the ancient Dominican rite and observances. From hearsay the Fraternity continues to flourish and attract new entrants.
The Fraternity of Saint Charles Borromeo and the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome jointly organised a one-day conference on the theology of Jean Daniélou on May 9, 2012. The Pontifical University of the Holy Cross is under the direction of Opus Dei.