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What Did Wojtyla Say about
Dialogue with Unbelievers?


People Asking
Dear TIA,

Do we have proof that this (in italics and bold below) was said by Card. Wojtyla? Surely there must be Vatican archives which prove this was said. I'm talking to an FSSP priest who says more or less it is garbage.

The quote is taken from Fathers Francisco and Dominic Radecki's Tumultuous Times, which cited Carl Bernstein's and Marco Politi's His Holiness as the original source.

"Wojtyla was deeply convinced that personalist ethics - which stresses the uniqueness and inviolability of the human personality - would never allow the imposing of ideas on anyone. He took the same line when the Council discussed the problems of atheism - a question that vexed the Council Fathers almost from the beginning to the end of Vatican II. 'It is not the Church's role to lecture unbelievers,' Wojtyla declared on taking the floor on October 21, 1964. 'We are involved in a quest along with our fellow men. ... Let us avoid moralizing or suggesting that we have a monopoly on the truth.' ... Talk at the Council about actual 'relations with atheism' meant dialogue with Marxists." (Carl Bernstein and Marco Politi, His Holiness, pp. 102-103, quoted in Tumultuous Times, p. 540.)

     Sincerely,

     M.H.

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TIA responds:

Dear M.H.,

TIA does not have the complete chronicles of Vatican II where all the speeches are transcribed ipsis verbis (in exact words). We do have several credible chronicles that report summaries of those speeches.

* In Il Concilio Vaticano II by Fr. Giovanni Caprili, S.J., a prestigious chronicler and a member of the La Civiltà Cattolica staff in Rome, we find the following summary referring to the intervention of Card. Karol Wojtyla on October 21, 1964 (our translation from Italian):

“He speaks on behalf of the Polish Bishops. ‘Some men want the Church to be actively present in the world. Others, instead, want to eliminate even the smallest shadow [of her presence]. The Church finds herself in different and contrasting situations in diverse countries on various continents. In some, she can freely teach the truth; in others, however, she is forbidden and persecuted. In the contemporary world it is not possible to speak to all men, Catholics and non-Catholics, believers and non-believers. It is not possible to address those who are outside of the Church, combat her and do not believe in God with the same language we use to speak to the faithful. We have limited ourselves to moralizing exhortations and counsels while not having recourse to the revealed word of God and to solid rational arguments.’ We cannot establish a true dialogue if we do not consider that the Church, even being in the world, is above it” (Rome: La Civilta Cattolica Ed, 1965, Volume IV, p. 253).

We can see that the same idea mentioned by Bernstein-Politi is presented in Caprile’s report (in bold print), although different terms are used.

* Another chronicler and perito at Vatican II was Brazilian Fr. Boaventura Kloppenburg, O.F.M. Reporting the discussions of October 21, 1964 about the schema that would become the Constitution Gaudium et spes, he summarized the Card. Wojtyla's intervention (our translation from the Portuguese):

“Speaking on behalf of the Bishops of Poland, he affirms that one group of men want an active presence of the Church in the world. Another group, however, has the opposite opinion. The schema [Gaudium et spes] is necessary for both groups, and especially for the second; for it the document should be a testimony of the presence of the Church in the world. Further, this document must consider that the Church finds herself in different situations throughout the world: in the world where she lives and acts, there is a plurality of ‘worlds’.

“By directing itself to the world in order to teach, this document places the Church in a place above the world, demanding its obedience. But her language, on the contrary, should make the world understand that we do not just teach with authority, but we are trying to find a solution with the world for the difficult problems of existence. We should, therefore, adopt a ‘heuristic’ method, teaching men how they can find the truth and have it. Such a method, on one hand, excludes a certain ‘ecclesiastical’ mentality that puts obstacles in the way of dialogue and makes it monotonous. On the other hand, it demands that we present clear and simple arguments, that is, rational arguments, since we are also speaking to those who do not believe. The moral questions, for instance, must be founded in natural law, although we should never make exhortations and moralizations …” (Petropolis: Editora Vozes, 1965, Volume IV, pp. 210-211).

Again, with different words the same idea is transmitted by this chronicler.

In both reports we find essentially the same as what is written in the book Tumultuous Times by the Radecki brothers. The only expression missing is that the Church “has the monopoly on the truth,” although this idea is present in the reports. It seems that both books, His Holiness and Tumultuous Times, faithfully reported the general point made by Karol Wojtyla that day.

There are two ways to find out whether those precise words attributed to Card. Wojtyla were used: Either check the official Vatican full texts of the speeches in a good Catholic library or contact one of the authors, Carl Bersntein or Marco Politi, and ask him.

This is as much as we can help you in response to your question.

     Cordially,

     TIA correspondence desk
Posted September 21, 2010

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