Progressivist Document of the Week
The Catacomb Pact
against pomp and ceremony in the Church
On November 16, 1965, close to the end of Vatican II, around 40 conciliar Bishops met at the Catacombs of St. Domitila to sign a semi-secret pact intended to do away with the richness, pomp, and ceremony in the Catholic Church. The names of the Bishops present are not known.
References to this pact were made here and there in works on the conciliar “Poor Church,” under the suggestive title of thePact of the Catacombs. The only place we have found its complete text transcribed is in the Chronicle of Vatican II by Boaventura Kloppenburg, O.F.M. He titled the document Pact of the Servant and Poor Church.
We select the highlighted parts in the original to bring to our readers’ attention.
At right is a picture of the frontispiece of volume V of Kloppenburg’s Second Vatican Council; at right below, photocopies of the Portuguese original text. At left below, we present our translation.
We, Bishops meeting at Vatican Council II, being aware of the deficiencies of our life of poverty according to the Gospel, encouraged by one another in this initiative in which each one wants to avoid singularity and presumption [that is to say, each one wants to be anonymous],…. commit ourselves to the following:
1. Regarding housing, food and means of transportation and everything concerning these things, we will seek to live in accordance with the common average level of our people.
2. We renounce forever wealth and its appearance, especially in clothing (expensive materials and brilliant colors), and insignia of precious metals (such things should, in effect, be evangelical).
3. We will not possess either movable or immovable properties, or bank accounts in our names. If it is necessary to possess some property we will place it under the name of our diocese or other social or charitable works.
4. Whenever it is possible we will confide the financial and material administration of our diocese to a commission of competent laymen conscious of their apostolic role, given that we should be pastors and apostles rather than administrators.
5. We refuse to be called in speech or writing by names or titles that signify grandeur and power (Your Eminence, Your Excellency, Monsignor …). We prefer to be called by the evangelical name of Father.
6. In our comportment and social relations, we will avoid everything that can appear to confer privileges, priorities, or even a preference whatsoever to the rich and powerful (for example: banquets given or received, special places in religious services) ….
9. Conscious of the demands of justice and charity and their mutual relations, we will seek to transform the works of “beneficence” into social works based on charity and justice to assist all [that is, not just Catholics] in all their exigencies, as a humble servant of the proper public facilities ….
(Boaventura Kloppenburg, “Pact of the Servant and Poor Church,” in Concilio Vaticano II, Petropolis: Vozes, 1966 pp. 526-527).