The Pontifical Council for the Laity de-recognises the IYCW

Remembering the 40th anniversary of Bishop Angelelli’s death on 4 August 1976, I can’t help but think of another event, another kind of death, that occurred 30 years ago today on 4 August 1986.

This second event was a letter from the Pontifical Council for the Laity to the bishops of the world announcing that it was withdrawing its recognition of the International YCW (JOC Internationale or JOCI) and transferring that recognition to the International Coordination of the YCW (ICYCW).

Initially, it did not occur to me that the two events could be linked. Indeed, I did not even want to think of them together! On reflection, however, there are some deep and ironic links between the murder of Bishop Angelelli and what was in effect a kind of “condemnation” of the IYCW by the Holy See.

As noted in my previous blog post, Bishop Angelelli was killed as a result of his social engagement with workers and farmers in his diocese of La Rioja, which brought him into conflict with powerful people of that region. He died seeking the killers of two of his priests, the French Fidei Donum priest, Gabriel Longueville and a local priest, Carlos de Dias Murios.

As I also noted, young Fr Angelelli began his jocist involvement in partnership with a young JOC leader from Cordoba, José Serapio Palacio, who had been elected as the first lay collaborator of the JOC Internationale at its World Council in Linz, Austria in April 1975.

It was at Linz that the JOCI adopted its famous Declaration of Principles that it continues to hold albeit modified slightly in 1995. Re-reading it now, I think it has held up quite well to the passage of time. In 1975, however, it was viewed in some quarters as having betrayed Cardijn’s principles, even though much of it is clearly based on early JOC documents, including a 1950 document drafted by Cardijn himself.

This document entitled “The YCW: Its doctrinal foundation and essential characteristics” was used as the basis for presenting the YCW at the International Congress of Braine-l’Alleud, Belgium in September 1950. Perhaps not surprisingly, given later events, this text too proved controversial, as Cardijn’s archives show, with complaints addressed to the Holy See via the nunciature in Brussels.

Nor did the controversy end there. Thirteen years later at the beginning of Vatican II, the IYCW published another document, also mainly drafted by Cardijn, entitled “Some proposals concerning the lay apostolate solicited by several bishops.”

Bishop Ménager’s criticism of Cardijn

In response to this, French Bishop Jacques Ménager, who was secretary to the National Secretariat for Catholic Action, commented:

La notion de l’ « apostolat » sousjacent à ces textes
sur l’A.C.S. est gravement incomplète. Tout est orienté
vers la transformation de l’ordre temporel. Or il y a en
même temps et plus fondamentalement la participation à la mission
propre de l’Église « évangélisation »

Traditio fidei

Confirmio fidei


The notion of “apostolate” underlying these texts on SCA [specialised Catholic Action] is gravely incomplete. Everything is oriented towards the transformation of the temporal order. Yet there is at the same time and more fundamentally the participation in the proper mission of the Church: “evangelisation.”

In other words, Ménager was accusing the JOCI, and in effect Cardijn since he had drafted most of the document, of failing to give priority to “evangelisation”!! In fact, this was a long-standing French criticism of Cardijn, who rarely used the term evangelisation, and who always preferred to present the JOC in terms that could be understood by young workers who were already far from the Church.

Interestingly, this also appears to have been one of the criticisms directed against Bishop Angelelli, who was accused of focusing on socio-economic issues.

The Vatican and its criticism of the JOCI

However, it was certainly the core of the criticism directed against the Declaration of Principles adopted by the JOCI in 1975. Indeed, the Holy See refused to renew its agreement recognising the JOCI as an International Catholic Organisation until its International Team adopted a further document on “The specifically ecclesial and Christian character of the YCW,” which was adopted in 1977. This satisfied Cardinal Benelli, the then Subsitute at the Secretariat of State, and a new protocol of recognition for the JOCI was then signed.

However, it seems never to have satisfied the Pontifical Council for the Laity, whose officials continued to criticise the JOCI over the Declaration of Principles. Thus, on 23 February 1990, PCL Secretary Bishop Josef Cordes sent a note to the JOCI saying that:

We must regret that this Linz document (which is still the present official reference document, never questioned by the IYCW) gives a totally insufficient definition of the YCW Christian and Church identity. Due to this, the evangelical quality of the YCW in the worker world has quickly disappeared in many Movements.

However, it was on 4 August 1986 that the Holy See at the instance of the Pontifical Council for the Laity decided to transfer its recognition from the JOCI to a new international body, the CIJOC – ICYCW or International Coordination of Young Christian Workers that had been launched a mere six weeks earlier on 22 June 1986.

On this occasion, the PCL president, Cardinal Eduardo Pironio, and Bishop Cordes had sent a letter to the JOCI informing them of this decision:

We officially notify you that we will contact the International Coordination JOC (CIJOC), considering it as the new temporary structure of the International Catholic Organization.

Two years later, this decision was confirmed by a further letter signed by Cardinal Edward Cassidy, Substitute at the Secretariat of State:

In 1986 the Pontifical Council for the Laity recognized the ICYCW as the sole representative on the international level. No juridical decision was made with regard to the IYCW in the hope that it would reconsider its positions.

Unfortunately, little effort was made in this direction either at a meeting which the IYCW held In Sao Paulo (Brazil, 1987) or in the joint Commission of IYCW and ICYCW which met many times following the meeting in Sao Paulo. In fact, the IYCW never agreed to discuss fundamental questions about the Movement.

Furthermore, the Protocol agreement signed in 1977 by the Holy See and the IYCW was not respected by the latter party. Now an international chaplain has been named by the IYCW without any dialogue with the Holy See.

Given these circumstances, and in order to dispel any ambiguity, the following decision has been made: as of 26 June 1989 the IYCW is no longer recognized by the Holy See and the Protocol agreement signed with them in 1977 is cancelled.

Thus, again, the JOCI was in effect being accused of having failed to review its orientation as set out in the 1975 Declaration of Principles.

The position of the French JOC

In fact, as the creation of the ICYCW shows, it was not just the PCL and Holy See that were unhappy with the JOCI. A number of national movements were also, not least the French JOC, which had actively campaigned against the DOP and the JOCI since 1975. Moreover, the basis of criticism was exactly Ménager’s criticism of Cardijn and the JOCI in 1963, namely that the JOCI allegedly failed to evangelise.

Indeed, the right-wing Spanish historian, Ricardo De La Cierva specifically blamed French chaplains for the split, writing:

La escisión de los núcleos católicos en plena comunión con la Santa Sede fue promovida, sobre todo, por la Asesoría Nacional de JOC/ JOCF en París.


The split by Catholic groups in full communion with the Holy See was promoted mainly by the JOC / JOCF National Chaplaincy in Paris.

De La Cierva was criticising another French priest working in Uruguay, Jean Genoud, who had written to the French JOC in support of the JOCI. This is how De La Cierva describes Genoud:

Un activista católico-marxista en Iberoamérica, Juan Luis Genoud, escribe desde Uruguay en carne viva, al ver cómo se ha detectado y denunciado la entrega de la JOCI al marxismo. La carta de Genoud es un extraordinario documento para comprender la profundidad de la infiltración marxista-liberacionista en los Movimientos cristianos de Iberoamérica y merece la transcripción íntegra: ¿

My poor translation

A Catholic-Marxist activist in Ibero-America, Juan Luis Genoud, writes from Uruguay in the flesh, illustrating the infiltration of Marxism in the JOCI that has been detected and condemned. The letter of Genoud is an extraordinary document to understand the depth of the Marxist-Liberationist infiltration into Christian movements in Ibero-America and merits complete transcription.

Such was the judgment of Genoud and the JOCI by the Spanish historian, Ricardo De La Cierva, a sympathiser with the Franco regime. Not very different, in fact, from the judgments that were being made in Argentina and other Latin American countries by those who killed Enrique Angelelli, Pepe Palacio and many others.

Indeed, De La Cierva goes on to present the whole of Genoud’s letter, which can also be read in his book (p. 100-101)

Here are some extracts in English, translated very roughly with the help of Google Translate:

For eighteen years, I witness searches, progress, setbacks, efforts and sacrifices of many young workers and activists. For the extension of the JOC in America, our small movements have released their best militants. They are small movements whose wealth has been trapped inside its own borders, to put their local action in a context and a comprehensive analysis to achieve together a common continental action and that because of this, has revealed young workers the universal vocation of saving the oppressed class. Many activists here have sacrificed their jobs, their health and the few means they had for the JOC. The extent of the JOC has cost blood. Thanks to the JOC, young people have chosen to give his life for his people. And as a counsellor, I cannot forget my fellow martyrs from Rodolfo Escamilla, who was murdered in Mexico to Pepe Palacios “disappeared” in Buenos Aires.

Do you understand that his decision to resign for being “concerned with the extension” for me and for the militants of America a totally indecent decision “?

Ditto for concern “apostolic”. We do not have the same way of evangelizing, we are not constantly talking about Jesus Christ and do not place a celebration or a biblical reference in each of our meetings. But we have the challenge to rewrite our own words the Good News and to admire the work of the Spirit, to capture their challenges in our liberation movements to always go further.

We no longer follow the outlines of a French, tax pastoral of an ideology that does not question the power relations in the world between rulers and ruled. I think it is precisely the role of a JOCI of being a carrier of that challenge and evangelical questioning from the poor to those in the labor movements of the North are easily deceived and used by the system that oppresses us. That’s also apostolic. It is our apostolate. But you are locked into their hex and in its truth; and you pretend we do here JOC suits them to you.

Here Jean Genoud attempts to explain the Latin American context of the drafting of the Declaration of Principles. Notably, he cites the deaths of Pepe Palacio and Fr Rodolfo Escamilla, yet another jocist priest, killed for his commitment in Mexico in 1977.

Such was the situation in Latin America that helps explain the genesis of the JOCI Declaration of Principles.

Cardinal Pironio

Now while it might be understandable that a German bishop like Bishop Cordes could not comprehend the situation in Latin America, how was it possible that Cardinal Pironio, who had worked with Cardijn, who had edited the JOC chaplains magazine, who knew Bishop Angelelli, who had even come to Rome following death threats against himself, did not understand this context and situation???

I believe that I learned the answer to this when I met Cardinal Pironio in December 1991 during an International Catholic Organisations conference in Rome, where I was representing the JOCI. An Italian Jesuit introduced me to the PCL president during dinner in a Rome restaurant, telling me that Cardinal Pironio would understand and help us to resolve the issues.

In fact, I only recall a small part of the conversation with Cardinal Pironio, who was very gracious. Attempting to explain the decision of the PCL and Holy See, he began to tell me of an alleged incident in Argentina in 1969 in which JOC leaders had apparently taken up a contestable stance.

By this time, however, I was totally frustrated and I burst out not: “No-one in the JOC today was even born in 1969!”

Immediately, I saw the shock on his face, no doubt partly in response to my agitation. However, I also had the strong impression that it was the first time he saw the events in that light.

Clearly, it was not quite literally true in 1991 that no JOC leader had been born in 1969. But there was certainly no JOC leader at that time who had been a member in 1969. Nor did we even know the history of the JOC in Argentina during the 1960s. Yet here we were effectively being judged for events that allegedly occurred long before our time in the movement!

In fact, Cardinal Pironio ended the conversation offering some hope of a reversal of the decision, a position that he repeated when we met him again a year or so later. Sadly, twenty five years later, however, nothing has changed for the JOCI in terms of its recognition by the Holy See. The decision of 4 August 1986 remains in force.

Cardinal Eduardo Pironio (CNA/YouTube)

Final questions

And this is where we come back to the connection with Bishop Angelelli and Pepe Palacio.

Much later, I learned that some leaders of the JOC in Argentina had become involved with the revolutionary group, the Montoneros. Historians have now begun to document these events. One of the JOC leaders involved was José Sabino Navarro, a co-founder of the Montonero movement. But others also came from the JUC and the JEC.

In any event, this option was rejected by key leaders of the JOC, such as Pepe Palacio. As Pepe’s Jose-Luis Palacio told us in India in December 2015, his father had never supported this. Indeed, he was deeply disappointed and affected by the choice of some JOC leaders to join the Montoneros.

Yet, in effect, the JOCI in the late 1980s was being judged, at least on the part of Cardinal Pironio, for actions that had been rejected by other JOC leaders, including the JOCI lay collaborator, Pepe Palacio. Worse, thirty years later, the JOCI today is still paying the price for controversial choices made around 1970 by Navarro, who is also now dead, and his colleagues!

If liberation theology, including the work of Gustavo Gutierrez, has been brought in from the cold to the point that Gutierrez’s work is approved by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the doctrinally conservative Cardinal Gerhard Muller, why has the JOCI not been re-habilitated?

If a Brazilian priest, Reginaldo Andrietta, who was present at the controversial JOCI World Council of Madrid in 1983, who became international chaplain for the JOCI, without approval from Rome, has now been made bishop of Jales in Brazil, how is Cardinal Cassidy’s accusation against the JOCI in 1989 that it had appointed a chaplain without Vatican approval still valid?

If Pope Francis’s own theology is based on the theology of the people, the first form of liberation theology, developed by the JOC and JUC chaplains in Argentina, including Lucio Gera, Rafael Tello and Enrique Angelelli, what is the theological basis for maintaining the Vatican’s decision of 4 August 1986?

If Bishop Angelelli is now on the path to canonisation, how is it possible that the JOC Internationale still remains effectively condemned for options and actions that were and are very close to those of Pepe Palacio, Rodolfo Escamilla and Enrique Angelelli?

Stefan Gigacz