Cardijn and Vatican II: Three perspectives!

Great to see so many places around  the world commemorating the 50th anniversary of Cardijn’s death on 24 July 1967 this week.

The French edition of La Croix also ran an article on Cardijn citing Belgian Msgr Charles Moeller (photo above), who had worked on the drafting of Gaudium et Spes:

Mgr Charles Moeller, qui avait pris une part déterminante dans la rédaction de ce texte, avait alors situé la fondation de la JOC parmi les sources lointaines de cette constitution.


Monsignor Charles Moeller, who had played a critical or crucial role in the drafting of this text, had then situated the foundation of the JOC among the distant sources of this constitution.

Moeller did indeed cite the role of Cardijn and the JOC in his 1968 book L’élaboration du Schéma XIII L’Eglise dans le monde de ce temps.

Here’s what he wrote:

La fondation d’une section de l’Action catholique qui allait s’appeler la Jeunesse ouvrière chrétienne, la J.O.C. L’abbé Cardijn, à qui nul ne songeait à prophétiser le cardinalat en ce temps, mena une lutte dure et patiente.

En réalité, il introduisait au sein de la pensée catholique la dimension sociale, mais aussi scientifique et technique. Il allait élargir ses perspectives lorsque, surtout après la Seconde Guerre mondiale, il allait répandre de par le monde le mouvement de présence catholique dans les milieux industrialisés. Il rejoignait ainsi la dimension cosmique qui se faisait jour de plus en plus, surtout sous Pie XII.


The foundation of a section of Catholic Action what was going to be called the Young Christian Workers, the YCW. Fr Cardijn, whom no one then would have dreamt to prophesy the cardinalate, led a hard and patient struggle.

In reality he introduced the social as well as the scientific and technological dimension into Catholic thought. He broadened its perspectives particularly after the Second World War he spread the movement of Catholic presence in industrialised milieux of the world. In so doing, he joined the cosmic dimension that was beginning to emerge, particularly under Pius XII.

It’s an interesting perspective on the role of Cardijn and the JOC, which seems to be inspired particularly by Cardijn’s famous keynote speech at the First World Congress on Lay Apostolate in 1951, which also inspired Helder Camara, among many others:

However, it’s clear that Moeller places Cardijn’s role in the past. On the other hand, he does recognise the key roles played by François Houtart, Pierre Haubtmann, Archbishop Gabriel, Bishop Manuel Larrain and many others close to the JOC and the Specialised Catholic Action movements, although seemingly without realising their connection to the Cardijn movements.

I wrote an article myself for La Croix International highlighting the “decisive role” that Cardijn played at Vatican II noting particularly his personal work and influence on Apostolicam actuositatem, the “Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity,” the role of the Cardijn priests and bishops at the Council, the multiple references in conciliar documents  to the see-judge-act as well as the pioneering work of the movement in updating the liturgy:

There’s really no doubt that Cardijn’s influence – and that of the JOC and Specialised Catholic Action movements – was much greater at Vatican II than has been recognised in the historiography of the Council.

Meanwhile,  in a homily at the Cardijn commemorative mass in Adelaide, Australia on 24 July, Archbishop Philip Wilson offered a third perspective on Cardijn, the jocist movements and Vatican II.

In particular, he noted how the Church’s inward focus after the Council had negatively affected the Cardijn movements as reported by the Southern Cross:

Archbishop Wilson said to some extent the impetus of the YCW and YCS (Young Christian Students) had suffered as a result of the work of the Second Vatican Council and its focus on the renewal of the life of the Church itself, “rather than giving witness to the Lord in our own lives”.

Listen to the homily here:

(Link dead)

Given the distant and proximate influence of Cardijn and the movements on the Council, this is truly a paradoxical outcome.

Here’s hoping that after fifty years, it’s time for the Church to turn outwards again.

Stefan Gigacz