Pat Keegan – not such a bland speech to Vatican II

I have just posted former IYCW president Patrick Keegan’s speech to Vatican II to our Vatican 2+50 website.

Here’s the link:

Also here:

Pat was the first lay person to address V2, and from memory, I think he may have been the first lay person in history to address an ecumenical council of the Church. At the time of his speech, he was international president of the World Movement of Christian Workers.

And here is the introduction to Pat’s speech:

“In the name of the lay Auditors, men and women, present in Rome, I thank the Cardinal Moderators for the honour and opportunity of addressing this great Assembly, I would assure you, Venerable Fathers, that we are very conscious of our responsibility at this historic moment to try, however inadequately, to voice the sentiments of the faithful laity throughout the world.”

Now to me what stands out straight away is the fact that Pat uses the phrase “we are very conscious of our responsibility at this historic moment”. This is a clear echo of the famous definition of democracy of Marc Sangnier’s Sillon movement.

So I was wondering, did Pat just happen to use that phrase? Did Cardijn, who certainly knew of the meaning of “conscious and responsible”, help him compose his speech (quite likely in fact)?

I was not sure.

In any case, I googled Pat to try and link to some biographical information on him. And I came across a book by Prof. Ian Linden, Global Catholicism: diversity and change since Vatican II.

Professor Linden writes that Pope Paul VI insisted on vetting Pat’s speech before delivery and that the speech include reference to the “submission of the laity to the hierarchy”.

Yet, Pat’s speech, or at least the English version (was there also a Latin version? have to check the Vatican II records) does not in fact make any reference to submission to the hierarchy.

No, instead of speaking of the submission of lay people to the hierarchy, in his first paragraph, Pat cites the Sillon definition of democracy as the “social system that tends to maximise the civic consciousness and responsibility of everyone”.

Nothing spectacular about that – except and unless you know that the Sillon ceased to exist in 1910 after Pope Pius X intervened by sending a letter to the French bishops hammering the Sillon precisely for seeking to escape hierarchical control – and notably slamming its definition of democracy as a “dream”.

Here is the original text of the letter (translated into English):

So not only does Pat Keegan fail to heed Pope Paul VI’s demand for a reference to the submission of the laity to the hierarchy, he goes further and cites the Sillon which was “condemned” precisely for that offence. In other words, he is very subtly, boldly in fact, telling Pope Paul exactly what he thinks of his demand!

Seen in this light, Pat’s speech is not necessarily as bland as Professor Linden thought!

Moreover, I have seen letters from Pat Keegan in the archives of the IYCW that clearly indicate his dissatisfaction with the direction that the Council was taking.

In any case, this shows once again why context and background is everything when it comes to interpreting what people say, and this is particularly true for Cardijn – and also for Keegan as we can now see.

Stefan Gigacz