PopeWatch: Pact of the Catacombs-Part I




PopeWatch is embarrassed to admit that he had never heard of the Pact of the Catacombs until recently:


ROME (RNS) On the evening of Nov. 16, 1965, quietly alerted to the event by word-of-mouth, some 40 Roman Catholic bishops made their way to celebrate Mass in an ancient, underground basilica in the Catacombs of Domitilla on the outskirts of the Eternal City.

Both the place, and the timing, of the liturgy had a profound resonance: The church marked the spot where tradition said two Roman soldiers were executed for converting to Christianity. And beneath the feet of the bishops, and extending through more than 10 miles of tunnels, were the tombs of more than 100,000 Christians from the earliest centuries of the church.

In addition, the Mass was celebrated shortly before the end of the Second Vatican Council, the historic gathering of all the world’s bishops that over three years set the church on the path of reform and an unprecedented engagement with the modern world — launching dialogue with other Christians and other religions, endorsing religious freedom and moving the Mass from Latin to the vernacular, among other things.

But another concern among many of the 2,200 churchmen at Vatican II was to truly make Catholicism a “church of the poor,” as Pope John XXIII put it shortly before convening the council. The bishops who gathered for Mass at the catacombs that November evening were devoted to seeing that commitment become a reality.

Go here to read the rest.  Here is the text of the Pact of the Catacombs:

We, bishops gathered in the Second Vatican Council, made aware of the deficiencies of our lives of poverty according to the Gospel; encouraged by each other; in an initiative in which each one wishes to avoid singularity and presumption; united with all our brothers in the Episcopate; counting above all on the grace and strength of Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the prayers of the faithful and the priests of our respective dioceses; placing ourselves in thought and prayer before the Trinity, before the Church of Christ and before the priests and faithful of our dioceses; humbly conscious of our weakness, but also with all the determination and strength which God wishes to give us as grace, commit ourselves to the following:

1) We will seek to live according to the ordinary manner of our people, regarding habitation, food, means of transport and all which springs from this. Cf. Mt 5,3; 6,33s; 8,20.

2) We definitively renounce the appearance and reality of riches, especially regarding to our manner of dress (rich material, loud colours) and symbols made of precious materials (they should in reality be evangelical signs). Cf. Mc 6,9; Mt 10,9s; At 3,6. Neither gold nor silver.

3) We will not possess real estate, goods, bank accounts etc. in our own names; if it should be necessary to have them, we will place everything in the name of the diocese, or of charitable and social works.. Cf. Mt 6,19-21; Lc 12,33s.

4) Whenever possible, we will entrust the financial and material administration in our dioceses to a commission of competent laity, conscious of their apostolic rôle, so that we may become less administrators and more pastors and apostles.. Cf. Mt 10,8; At. 6,1-7.

5) We refuse to be addressed, orally or in writing, by names or titles which signify prestige and power (Eminence, Excellency, Monsignor…). We prefer to be called by the evangelical title of Father. Cf. Mt 20,25-28; 23,6-11; Jn 13,12-15.

6) In our behaviour and social relations, we will avoid anything which may seem to confer priviledges, priority or any preference for the rich and powerful (such as: banquets, offered or accepted, class distinction during religious services Cf. Lc 13,12-14; 1Cor 9,14-19.)

7) In the same way we will avoid the fostering or pampering of the vanity of anyone, in order to seeking reward or solicit donations, or for any reason whatsoever. We will invite our faithful to consider their donations as a normal participation in the cult, the apostolate and social action. Cf. Mt 6,2-4; Lc 15,9-13; 2Cor 12,4.

8) We will dedicate whatever is necessary of or time, reflection, heart, means etc to the apostolic and pastoral service of people and groups of workers and of the economically weak and underdeveloped, without prejudice to the other people and groups in the diocese. We will support those laity, religious, deacons and priests who the Lord calls to evangelize the poor and the workers, sharing the work and life of labourers. Cf. Lc 4,18s; Mc 6,4; Mt 11,4s; At 18,3s; 20,33-35; 1Cor 4,12 e 9,1-27.

9) Conscious of the demands of justice and charity, and their mutual relationship, we will seek to transform assistential activites into social works based on justice and charity, which take into account all that this requires, as a humble service of the competent public organs. Cf. Mt 25,31-46; Lc 13,12-14 e 33s.

10) We will do our utmost so that those responsible for our government and for our public services make, and put into practice, laws, structures and social institutions required by justice and charity, equality and the harmonic and holistic development of all men and women, and by this means bring about the advent of another social order, worthy of the sons and daughters of mankind and of God. Cf. At. 2,44s; 4,32-35; 5,4; 2Cor 8 e 9 ; 1Tim 5, 16.

11) Believing the collegiality of the bishops to be of the utmost evangelical importance in facing the burden of human masses, in a state of physical, cultural and moral misery – two thirds of humanity – we commit ourselves:

– to participate, according to our means, in the urgent investments of the episcopates of poor nations;

– to demand that the plans of international organizations, but witnessing to the Gospel, as Pope Paul VI did in the UNO, adopt economic and cultural structures which no longer manufacture proletarian nations in an ever richer world, but which will permit the poor masses to overcome their misery.

12) We commit ourselves to share, in pastoral charity, our lives with our brothers and sisters in Christ, priests, religious and laity, so that our ministry constitute a true service; so,

– we will really try to “revise our lives” with them;

– We will find collaborators who will be more animators according to the Spirit, rather then according to the chiefs of this world;

-we will seek to be more humanly present, more welcoming…;

– We will show ourselves to be open to all, whatever their religion. Cf. Mc 8,34s; At 6,1-7; 1Tim 3,8-10.

13) On returning to our respective dioceses, we will make this resolution known to our people, asking them to help us by their understanding, collaboration and prayers.


How many bishops have signed the Pact over the years is a matter of speculation, with estimates ranging up to 500, most in Latin America.  There is no evidence that Pope Francis has signed it, but obviously the Pact has had a huge, and PopeWatch would argue, on the whole negative impact upon the Church.  An examination in depth in tomorrow’s PopeWatch.


More to explorer


  1. I look to find evidence that the mission (the goal–not the means) of the Church is about one thing; salvation of souls, which requires overcoming our fallen nature and inclination toward sin.
    I see social justice, welcoming sinners (no mention of seeking repentance) and talks about eliminating poverty and not welcoming those ” rich nations” (as if wealth alone is evil.)
    The call for “international organizations” reeks of reversing the very Catholic Principle of Subsidiarity.
    (I suspect the global warming/ UN/Vatican complex is soon to show the effects of that thinking).

  2. What! A secret subterranean mass for the intention of a more progressive Church – whispered invitations, secret oaths (devil loves subterfuge) Oh my.
    I wonder how liberalized the liturgy celebrated that day was. The angels were crying

  3. “united with all our brothers in the Episcopate” were they all invited?
    I would love to hear what B16 says about this- he was, like many to us at the time, tending more liberal but had a wake up call in 1968

  4. DonL wrote, “The call for “international organizations” reeks of reversing the very Catholic Principle of Subsidiarity.”

    But the same year (1985), Bl Paul VI had told the General Assembly of the United Nations, “Your vocation is to bring not just some peoples but all peoples together as brothers. . . Who can fail to see the need and importance of thus gradually coming to the establishment of a world authority capable of taking effective action on the juridical and political planes?”

    Two years later, in Populorum Progressiohe was to stress the rôle of public authorities in economic development, “It is for the public authorities to establish and lay down the desired goals, the plans to be followed, and the methods to be used in fulfilling them; and it is also their task to stimulate the efforts of those involved in this common activity. But they must also see to it that private initiative and intermediary organizations are involved in this work,” thus strikng a balance between solidarity and subsidiarity.

  5. MPS, I love your knowledge and grasp of so much, but still, I have this excerpt From Pius XI; Quadragesimo Anno
    “…Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do.”
    Grave evil is hardly a nuanced directive or teaching. I’ll stick with Pius XI

  6. More far left secret societies to transform the Church.
    Apparently the commie Catholics, who recoil from the
    truth, must operate in the shadows.

  7. Is it really a secret society when the last thing they pledged themselves to was to make known what it was that they had pledged to undertake?

  8. But they didn’t, did they?
    “13) On returning to our respective dioceses, we will make this resolution known to our people, asking them to help us by their understanding, collaboration and prayers.”

  9. DonL wrote, “Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry…”
    Certainly, but as Bl Paul VI also teaches in Populorum Progressio, “If certain landed estates impede the general prosperity because they are extensive, unused or poorly used, or because they bring hardship to peoples or are detrimental to the interests of the country, the common good sometimes demands their expropriation.”
    Earlier statements of the Magisterium are often qualified and explained by later ones and need to be construed accordingly.

  10. The ‘Pact of the Catacombs’ sounds like the outline of a PR campaign having mostly to do with appearances. But I would guess most of the Bishops even found the idea of faking poverty a little too inconvenient. If these Bishops really wanted to be radical they would have done what Jesus told his disciples to do when they went out to spread the word. “And he said unto them, Take nothing for your journey, neither staff, nor wallet, nor bread, nor money; neither have two coats.” Luke 9:3

    The Church would begin to improve if the Bishops started following Jesus direction on how to win converts and influence people: be who you say you are.

  11. MPS,
    That’s certainly a far cry from this present pope’s demand that “nations” (re)distribute personal wealth. I can’t find it anywhere in the gospels where Christ calls or implies that Caesar have such a role in charity. Individual dignity and subsidiarity require otherwise.
    I also have difficulty with idea “the latest papal utterances” eliminating through “clarification” what a prior pope’s impeccably clear and simple teachings really meant. (Though with Francis, that may someday certainly be necessary for someone to explain what his unclear, inconsistent and ambiguous utterances really meant.)

  12. They were so misguided as the years have shown.they did terrible damage to the church,I pray that God saw their motives were pure and judged them with compassion,if not they are in Hell.

  13. DonL wrote, “I also have difficulty with idea “the latest papal utterances” eliminating through “clarification” what a prior pope’s impeccably clear and simple teachings really meant.”

    “At first glance,” says Bl John Henry Newman, “what is the history of doctrine but “pope against pope and council against council” and “Some fathers against others, the same fathers against themselves; a consensus of fathers of one age against a consensus of fathers of another age; the church of one age against the church of another age?”
    As Socrates said: “Writing, Phaedrus, has this strange quality, and is very like painting; for the creatures of painting stand like living beings, but if one asks them a question, they preserve a solemn silence. And so it is with written words; you might think they spoke as if they had intelligence, but if you question them, wishing to know about their sayings, they always say only one and the same thing. And every word, when once it is written, is bandied about, alike among those who understand and those who have no interest in it, and it knows not to whom to speak or not to speak; when ill-treated or unjustly reviled it always needs its father to help it; for it has no power to protect or help itself…”
    The only alternatives are the submission of faith to a living authority, speaking now, or a reliance on private judgment. An appeal to the records of the past is always and inevitably an appeal to one’s own interpretation of them for, “ἐὰν δ᾽ ἀνέρῃ τι, σεμνῶς πάνυ σιγᾷ” – If you ask them a question, they preserve a solemn silence.

  14. MPS
    “…An appeal to the records of the past is always and inevitably an appeal to one’s own interpretation of them…”

    Mustn’t we then dismiss the gospels and the tradition teachings of 2000 years if that is so?
    Moral truth does not change with time and interpretation, otherwise out goes that tablet Moses brought down from the mount and in comes the newest tweets from the Vatican. (only to be outdated tomorrow.)

  15. DonL wrote, “Mustn’t we then dismiss the gospels and the tradition teachings of 2000 years if that is so?”

    Cardinal Manning deals with this objection very well: “But perhaps it may be asked: If you reject history and antiquity, how can you know what was revealed before, as you say, history and antiquity existed? ‘I answer: The enunciation of the faith by the living Church of this hour, is the maximum of evidence, both natural and supernatural, as to the fact and the contents of the original revelation. I know what are revealed there not by retrospect, but by listening.”

    We believe the gospels on the authority of the Church, speaking to us now and not vice versa and we understand them in the sense that the living Church expounds them.

  16. “I know what are revealed there not by retrospect, but by listening.”

    Cardinal Newman, for good reason, always regarded Cardinal Manning as a major league blusterer and a minor league mind.

  17. Donald R McClarey
    Newman delivered his own critique of those advocates of “history and antiquity.” With devastating sarcasm, he pictures one of them saying, “And then I read the Fathers, and I have determined what works are genuine, and what are not; which of them apply to all times, which are occasional; which historical, and which doctrinal; what opinions are private, what authoritative; what they only seem to hold, what they ought to hold; what are fundamental, what ornamental. Having thus measured and cut and put together my creed by my own proper intellect, by my own lucubrations, and differing from the whole world in my results, I distinctly bid you, I solemnly warn you, not to do as I have done, but to accept what I have found, to revere that, to use that, to believe that, for it is the teaching of the old Fathers, and of your Mother the Church of England. Take my word for it, that this is the very truth of Christ; deny your own reason, for I know better than you, and it is as clear as day that some moral fault in you is the cause of your differing from me. It is pride, or vanity, or self-reliance, or fullness of bread. You require some medicine for your soul; you must fast; you must make a general confession; and look very sharp to yourself, for you are already next door to a rationalist or an infidel.”
    This is very much in line with Manning’s challenge: “The first and final question to be asked of these controversialists is : Do you or do you not believe that there is a Divine Person teaching now, as in the beginning, with a divine, and therefore infallible voice ; and that the Church of this hour is the organ through which He speaks to the world ? If so, the history, and antiquity, and facts, as they are called, of the past vanish before the presence of an order of facts which are divine…”

  18. “Newman delivered his own critique of those advocates of “history and antiquity.””

    Actually quite the reverse MPS. In that lecture he was attacking members of the Anglican Church who pretended that they could pick and choose from the history of Catholicism to suit their own intellectual pretensions.

    “But do not come to me with the latest fashion of opinion which the world has seen, and protest to me that it is the oldest. Do not come to me at this time of day with views palpably new, isolated, original, sui generis, warranted old neither by Christian nor unbeliever, and challenge me to answer what I really have not the patience to read. Life is not long enough for such trifles. Go elsewhere, not to me, if you wish to make a proselyte. Your inconsistency, my dear brethren, is on your very front. Nor pretend that you are but executing the sacred duty of defending your own Communion; your Church does not thank you for a defence which she has no dream of appropriating. You innovate on her professions of doctrine, and then you bid us love her for your innovations. You cling to her for what she denounces; and you almost anathematise us [converts to Catholicism] for taking a step which you would please her best by taking also. You call it restless, impatient, undutiful in us, to do what she would have us do; and you think it a loving and confiding course in her children to believe, not her, but you. She is to teach, and we are to hear, only according to your own private researches into St. Chrysostom and St. Augustine.”


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