Many have asked for a bit more background…. This week, therefore, one final Jean Jadot reflection.
I do understand and respect that some readers may not be very interested in more narrowly Catholic issues. Nevertheless, this book project has been a major life event for me, going back to the mid 1980s, when I met Jean Jadot for the first time.
Next week something else.
The Call to Action conference in Detroit (July 21 to 23, 1976) was the closest the Catholic Church in the United States has ever come to holding a genuine national assembly. It created sensational headlines and provoked heated responses, pro and con. Today it seems to be a mere footnote in US Catholic history.
The idea for the Call to Action came from the Advisory Council of the United States Catholic Conference. Chaired by Detroit’s Cardinal John Dearden (1907 – 1988), the Advisory Council was composed of lay people, religious, and priests appointed by US bishops.
Archbishop Jadot was strongly supportive of the Detroit Call to Action program in general, and of Cardinal John Dearden in particular. Dr. Frank Butler, former Executive Director, NCCB Committee on the Bicentennial Observance, stressed Jadot’s involvement in a personal email: “During the Call to Action conference Archbishop Jadot was an affirming presence. He gave warm encouragement to Cardinal Dearden there and later, when Dearden’s colleagues at the NCCB were giving him such grief for having provided a platform for so many voices.”
At the end of Call to Action in Detroit, twenty-nine recommendations were made. As Archbishop Jadot stressed to me on several occasions, many of the recommendations were considered far too radical by Philadelphia’s Cardinal John Krol (1910 – 1996) and many other bishops in attendance. There were recommendations, for example, to return laicized and married priests to their ministry, to ordain married men and of course to ordain women. They called for expressed freedom to practice contraception, for an open attitude toward homosexuality, and for the reception of communion by divorced and remarried Catholics. Recommendations of a social or political nature included supporting amnesty for Vietnam War resisters and undocumented immigrants.
Cardinal John Carberry (1904 – 1998), from St. Louis and a strong Jadot critic, was furious about the Call to Action; and Cardinal John Krol, sent negative reports to his hierarchical friends at the Vatican. (Not good for Jadot.)
With the recommendations from Call to Action still buzzing in their heads, the US Catholic bishops gathered for their autumn meeting in Washington DC from November 8 to 11. At this meeting, Archbishop Jadot gave his bicentennial address to the US bishops, titled “A Watchman for the House of Israel,” which was very much in the spirit of the Detroit Call to Action.
Jadot explained that his choice of title for his address came from the words of the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel 33:7: “Son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman for the people of Israel. Listen to what I say, and warn them for me.”
Jadot saw the US Bishops as watchmen for US Catholics and told them:
“A watchman always stands on a height so that he can see from afar what is coming. Anyone appointed to be a watchman for the people must stand on a height for all his life to help them by his foresight….Our knowledge of history – the “magistra vitae” as Pope John XXIII called it – the insights coming from the modern sciences of psychology, ethnology, and sociology; our means of communications, all give us the possibility to see further and wider into the future than ever before…
“Now is the time to look ahead. Just as we can look at the sky at night and tell what the morning will bring, so we must be able to read the signs of the times to prepare for the future. This morning my brother bishops, I would like to share with you some of the signs that I read in our times so that we can see from afar and be prepared for what is coming…
(1) One problem that we will have to face very soon — at most within ten years — is the shortage of priests. I ask your permission to be frank and candid. I am worried that so many of us, laity, clergy, and bishops, do not seem to be concerned that, if not today, then in a very few years, we will not be able to staff our parishes and institutions with priests as we did in the past.
(2) Another problem ahead of us which will grow in the coming years is the size of our Christian communities…People today, and especially young people, are searching for a group in which they can find a true communion of faith, of worship, and of commitment. Many are suffering from a certain feeling of loneliness…
(3) I should like to mention a third problem that is with us today and will undoubtedly increase in time. It is the problem of minorities. I refer to pastoral care for ethnic and racial minorities, both Catholic and non-Catholic… At times I wonder if the majority of our priests and people realize our shortcomings in these areas and even our arrogance towards our brothers and sisters in the faith who are in some ways different from ourselves…
(4) There are other problems either near or far on the horizon. I could mention the question of the role of women in society and in the Church or the problems that will come from the rejection of the traditional standards of morality in social, political, and business life.”
When Jadot concluded his address, some bishops applauded enthusiastically. Many others sat there silent and dumbfounded. Others sat staring angrily at the Apostolic Delegate. This autumn 1976 meeting with the US bishops was clearly a moment of transition for Archbishop Jadot in the United States. Nevertheless, history will be kind to him. He was wise, courageous, and prophetic. Jean Jadot: Paul’s Man in Washington.