A Peritus Remembers Vatican II – Interview with Fr. Donald Dietz, OMI

By Dawn Eden       Originally Published by The Catholic World Report 

(Used with Permission)

(Left) Father Don Dietz, from his Vatican II identification card; (right) Pope John XXIII leads the opening session of the Second Vatican Council in St. Peter's Basilica Oct. 11, 1962 (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano).

(Left) Father Don Dietz, from his Vatican II identification card; (right) Pope John XXIII leads the opening session of the Second Vatican Council in St. Peter’s Basilica Oct. 11, 1962 (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano).

Father Don Dietz, OMI was a peritus (consulting theologian) at the Second Vatican Council, assisting Bishop of Stockholm, John Taylor, OMI. He spoke recently with Dawn Eden about his experiences at the council.  

Dawn Eden: How did you come to be chosen to be a peritus at the Second Vatican Council?

Father Don Dietz: I was teaching Church history at Our Lady of the Snows, our theology-philosophy school in Pass Christian, Mississippi, during the first two sessions of the Council, in 1962 and 1963, so I was extra interested in what was taking place at Vatican II. Then I was sent to Sweden in August 1964, and the following month the bishop of Stockholm took me as his theologian to the Council for the third and fourth sessions.

Eden: What was daily life like at the Council?

Father Dietz: I was at the Oblate general house, and we probably had some 30 Oblate bishops from different countries in Africa, Asia, Latin and North America. Our superior general also was a member of the Council, as a lot of superior generals were, and he was on the commission for mission. And we had one cardinal, from Ceylon—Sri Lanka now—and some archbishops.

A More Recent Photo of Fr. Dietz

A More Recent Photo of Fr. Dietz

We would have two buses; you could take whichever bus you chose. So the bishops would get onto the bus, along with a few of us who were theologians, and also some of our men who worked in the Curia and were involved with various documents.

So we would get to St. Peter’s, and all the many buses would be parked all over the square. We would walk up to the entrance of St. Peter’s and we would need our pass. For me, it would say that I was a peritus, a Council theologian, and it had my photo. I still have my pass. So the Swiss Guard would look you over. After a while, they got to know you.

So, you would enter, and the bishops would be lined up in the two rows on the sides facing each other in the cascading rows of seats, and there were two overhead places for the theologians in what was called tribunes. There was one toward the front, on the right-hand side, and one on the left, toward the back, and that was where I went. You could go wherever you liked. But I would go there because the one in front was more political; they were always talking. So I went to the back, and usually Bernhard Häring was on one side of me, and he was often critical of Pope Paul, and on the other side was a very prayerful man, a huge priest from St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, Msgr. Rudolph Bandas, and he would say the Rosary. So I would have Bernhard Häring on one side, making caustic remarks about Pope Paul, and the other man was saying Hail Marys. It was hilarious.

There would be a Mass first, and then there followed the enthronement of the Gospels. Pope John XXIII wanted the Gospels open every day to John 1: “And the Word was made flesh.” The sense was that Jesus was presiding over the Council through the Gospels. And at the back, there was the beautiful window of the Holy Spirit, usually illumined by a bright sheen.

Then the bishops would start the discussion. The cardinals had the right of precedence, so you would have a few cardinals on each side of the discussion, and some influential archbishops after that. They would set the tone for what was going to happen. So each would comment on the document they were discussing, what he approved and disapproved. Often they were in opposite camps. After the cardinals and archbishops got done, most of the bishops would get up and go to the coffee bar. Bishops continued speaking to the assembly, but few were listening.

Eden: When you say they would go to the coffee bar, do you mean they would leave St. Peter’s?

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