Cardijn, François Houtart and the princes of the Church

Four years already since the death of François Houtart on 6 June 2017! I did an interview with him for my thesis in 2014. And naturally he had many stories to share of his experience with Cardijn, the JOC, at Vatican II, with Karol Wojtyla and more.

One of those experiences was a visit to Cuba with Cardijn and Marguerite Fiévez during the early 1950s. Cardijn was staying in the episcopal palace with Cardinal Arteaga y Betancourt.

It was so vast that when François went to meet Cardijn he got lost in all the rooms. As he moved through the luxurious corridors of the palace, he was shocked to stumble across a hairdressing salon with all the latest equipment, specifically for the use of residents. 

Finally, Houtart found Cardijn, who was enraged by the contrast between the poverty of the Cuban workers, including the JOC members and leaders, and the luxury enjoyed by the Church elite.

“They don’t know what’s coming to them!” Cardijn told him.

Indeed, a couple of years later, it did come in the form of the Cuban Revolution!

This wasn’t the only time Cardijn expressed his disgust at the ostentatious wealth of the Church’s clerical elite. In fact, François Houtart also recounted another similar story of Cardijn’s horror after visiting a Yugoslav cardinal prior to the Second World War.

Cardijn undoubtedly shared these experiences with other JOC chaplains and leaders too. No surprise then to find many of these jocist bishops playing a key role as part of the Jesus Christ and the Church of the Poor Group at Vatican II.

And after the Cuban Revolution, François Houtart continued to travel there, eventually becoming a friend and confidant of Fidel Castro.


François Houtart (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Geoffrey Pleyers, François Houtart, A sociology of liberation (Intercoll)

Manuel Cardinal Arteaga y Betancourt (Catholic Hierarchy)

Stefan Gigacz, No pomp and privilege for Cardijn (Cardijn Research)

Stefan Gigacz, Karol Wojtyla channels Cardijn (Cardijn Research)

Stefan Gigacz, RIP François Houtart (Cardijn Research)

Stefan Gigacz, The JOC influence at Vatican II (Cardijn Research)

Stefan Gigacz, Marx, Houtart, Wojtyla and the “See” in Gaudium et Spes (Cardijn Research)

Stefan Gigacz, Cardijn, Camara and the Pact of the Catacombs (Cardijn Research)

Stefan Gigacz, The jocist bishops who signed the Pact of the Catacombs (Cardijn Research)