1972–2012 Fortieth Anniversary of the Vatican Radio Interview of Jean Cardinal Daniélou SJ — 23 October 1972

An interview with Jean Cardinal Daniélou on Radio-Vatican:


In an interview given on Radio-Vatican on October 23, 1972, Jean Cardinal Daniélou, who participated in the plenary meeting of the cardinals and bishops who are members of the Congregation for Religious, where he gave a lecture on the general conditions of religious life, stated that it is undergoing a very grave crisis. To overcome this, the Cardinal said, we have to shift from the false orientation followed by many congregations. Cardinal Daniélou came to the conclusion that, if necessary, the superiors must allow the religious who “want to remain faithful to the constitutions of their order and to the directives of Vatican II” to form separate communities.


Question: Your Eminence, does there really exist a crisis of religious life, and can you describe its dimensions?

Answer: I think that there is today a very grave crisis of religious life and that we must not talk of renewal but rather of decadence. I think that this crisis mainly affects the Atlantic world – Eastern Europe, as well as African and Asiatic countries, presents in this regard a better spiritual health. This crisis appears in all areas. The evangelical counsels are no longer considered as a consecration to God, but viewed in a sociological and psychoanalytical perspective. Group dynamics is substituted for religious obedience; under the pretext of reaction against formalism, all regularity of prayer life is abandoned and the consequences of this state of confusion are first of all the disappearance of vocations, for youth requires a serious formation. And, on the other hand, there are the many and scandalous defections of religious who betray the pact that bound them to the Christian people.


Question: Could you tell us what are, according to you, the causes of this crisis?

Answer: 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 men and women belonging to religious orders to the requirements of the Gospel, as they are 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. The Institutes that are faithful in observing these directives know a true renewal and have vocations. But, in many cases, the directives of Vatican II were replaced by erroneous ideologies that are spread by many magazines, workshops, theologians and, among these errors, we can mention:

Secularization Vatican II declared that human values must be taken seriously. It never said that we were entering into a secularized world where the religious dimension would be no longer present in civilization. It is in the name of a false secularization that religious men and women give up their religious habit and abandon the adoration of God for social and political activities. And this is, furthermore, counter to the spiritual need manifested in the world of today.

A false conception of liberty that induces the depreciation of the institutions and rules, and exalts spontaneity and improvisation. This is so much the more absurd, as western society suffers in our times from the absence of the discipline essential to liberty. The restoration of firm rules is one of the necessities of religious life.

An erroneous conception of the changing condition of man and of the Church. If environments change, nevertheless the constitutive elements of man and of the Church are permanent and to question the constitutive elements of the Constitutions of the religious orders is a fundamental error.


Question: But do you foresee remedies to overcome the crisis?

Answer: I think that the unique and urgent solution is shift from the false orientations taken in a certain number of Institutes. For that, we must stop all the experimentations and all the decisions which are contrary to the directives of the Council; we must be on guard against the books, magazines and workshops where these erroneous conceptions are diffused; we must restore in their integrity the practice of the Constitutions with the adaptations asked by the Council. In the places where this appears to be impossible, it seems to me that we cannot refuse to the religious who want to be faithful to the Constitutions of their Orders and to the directives of Vatican II the right to form distinct communities. The religious superiors are obliged to respect this desire. These communities must be authorized to have their own houses of formation. Experience will show if vocations are more numerous in the houses of strict observance or in the houses of less strict observance. In the cases where superiors would be opposed to these legitimate demands, recourse to the Sovereign Pontiff is certainly authorized.

Religious life is called to an immense future in technical civilization; the more this develops, the more the need for the manifestation of God will be felt. This is precisely the goal of religious life. But to accomplish its mission it must find again its real meaning and radically break from a secularization that is destroying it in its essence and preventing it from attracting vocations.

By Jean Cardinal Daniélou
Translated from the French by Reverend Maurice F. De Lange
Franciscan Herald Press
1434 West 51st Street, Chicago, 60609
pp. 165-168

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