Shocking document bishops signed in the Catacombs 60 years ago

by | Oct 25, 2023 | Formation, Reflections | 3 comments

I was formed in the years before Vatican II. I did not have any special expectations of Vatican II when I was ordained just months before the Council concluded. Pope St. John XXIII certainly had expectations of Vatican II!

He convened it hoping that it would lead to the Church becoming   “the Church of all, and particularly the Church of the poor”

Attendees commit themselves to a Church of the poor

Now, close to the end of my years as a priest, I was shocked to read a document summing up the commitments of 42 bishops who attended Vatican II.

They made a pilgrimage to the  Catacombs, one of the most sacred places in the early centuries of Christianity. With miles of tunnels, the Catacombs cripts served as tombs for more than 100,000 Christians from the earliest centuries of the church. The Council participants felt it was an appropriate place to commit themselves to carrying forward the gospel vision of St. John XXIII. Eventually, some 500 other attendees at the council also signed on.

I wonder if you will find their commitments as shocking as I did when I read what they committed themselves to.

A taste of the impact on attendees of Vatican II

  • We, bishops gathered in the Second Vatican Council, made aware of the deficiencies of our lives of poverty according to the Gospel…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 colors) and symbols made of precious materials. Cf. Mc 6,9; Mt 10,9s; At 3,6.
  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…). Cf. Mt 20,25-28; 23,6-11; Jn 13,12-15.

These are just the first five commitments!

They conclude with…

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 constitutes a true service so that

  • We will really try to “revise our lives“ with them; We will find collaborators who will be more animators according to the Spirit, – we will seek to be more humanly present, more welcoming… rather than according to the chiefs of this world;
  • We will show ourselves to be open to all, whatever their religion. Cf. Mc 8,34s; At 6,1-7; 1Tim 3,8-10.

Within a few months, some 500 bishops had signed the pact.

Bishop Bettazzi, recently deceased, was the last surviving bishop of those promising to live simply and close to the poor. Before his death, he said Pope Francis, without ever mentioning it, carries these commitments forward.

I invite you to read and share your thoughts

Originally posted on Vincentian Mindwalk



  1. Barbara Einloth, SC

    WOW! Major commitments! I wonder who and how many actually did it to any real degree? It certainly is new to me but it remains a challenge to me as a public person in the Church as a woman religious.

    • Ross

      As I had mentioned more than once elsewhere, one of the signers was archbishop Tulio Botero Salazar, C.M., Medellin, Colombia.

      • Ross

        He was an original signer.