Perhaps time has come for third Vatican council
OPINION:IN THE first volume of my memoirs, My Struggle for Freedom, I recalled the difficult debates at the Second Vatican Council but was ultimately able to make a positive assessment – that must also, of course, take account of unfulfilled demands. I report on both here.
It seems to me to be important that, in a backward-looking postmortem, one doesn’t only condemn as deficiencies of the past the undeniable darknesses, compromises, omissions, biases, setbacks and mistakes. That instead, one views them in forward-looking hope as challenges for the future and attempts to overcome them in the spirit of the council, which did not want to close any doors. In a way, the council – the actual realisation of the events of the council – only began on December 8th, 1965.
Vatican II marked for the Catholic Church the end of the era of the counter-reformation that restored the Middle Ages, an age of defensiveness, polemics and conquest – despite all the resistance that remains still in the Roman centre. A new, more hopeful era began, an era of constructive renewal in all areas of the life of the church, of intelligent engagement and co-operation with other Christians, the Jews and other religions – with the modern world itself.
What that means in concrete terms can be seen in an analysis of the 16 decrees which the council agreed in its four years of work. They were to become the pillars of the post-conciliar church. In this spirit, I published in the journal Epoca a richly illustrated cover story that gives a closing report on the council under the title “The 16 New Pillars of Saint Peter”. Clearly, I say, these pillars have different levels of strength. Still, they represent altogether the documents of a transition in church history in which, despite everything, the new and the better clearly come to light. Nobody can dispute that the post-conciliar church will be a different one from the pre-conciliar!
I have written in my memoirs about most of the results of the decrees and made clear that, for example, through the decree about ecumenism, an ecumenical era has irrevocably begun for the Catholic church. It is also clear that the council took on a whole series of central, reforming matters. The main demands in my 1960 book, The Council and Reunion, have been broadly met:
* Taking the Reformation seriously as a religious event.
* The high valuation of the Bible in worship, in theology and in the entire life of the church.
* The realisation of a true, people’s service of worship in preaching and communion.
* An enhanced status for the laity in services and the parish life.
* The adaptation of the church to different cultures and dialogue with them.
* The reform of popular piety.
* The “reform” of the Roman curia.
The well-known British writer and observer of the council, Peter Hebblethwaite, confirmed this impression in his 1984 biography of Pope John XXIII: the author of The Council and Reunion has proved to be “an accurate and far-sighted prophet”. “All of his seven demands were embodied, even if in modified form, in the final documents of the council.”
Does this assessment mean that everything has been fulfilled? In truth, I was never naïve where the council was concerned. I was never in the grip of conciliar euphoria, either before, during or after the council. And I have always drawn attention to the fundamental tension between a reform-driven church and a reform-hindering curia, something that has made me unpopular in some sections of the church.