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With the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council less than two weeks away (Oct. 11), the old lions of the council are getting ready to roar once again.

As a young priest, Pope Benedict XVI was at the council as a theological advisor, or peritus. As Pope he has made the proper interpretation of the council a key part of his teaching, and declared a Year of Faith to begin on Oct. 11, asking the Church to rediscover the riches of the council in light of the demands of the new evangelization.

There are other lions too. Some of them will be highlighted at a Vatican II conference this weekend at Saint Paul’s University in Ottawa. The conference has been criticized as being something of an oldtimers’ game for theological dissenters. The presence of Gregory Baum, the former priest who at one time had a rewarding career proposing that the Church was wrong on just about every issue in which her teaching clashed with secular culture, set off alarm bells for those easily alarmed. He too was a peritus at the council. But at nearly 90 years old, Baum is a lion no longer. More than a theological force, he is now of principal interest as a relic of a time when the future of the Church was going to be an abrupt break with her past. Baum and his companions thought that Vatican II meant a new Church, adapted to the times and taking its lead from the ambient culture. The idea that the ambient culture of the late 1960s and 1970s was a special repository of wisdom was just one fatal flaw in that scheme.

The Catholic journalist Robert Blair Kaiser is another of the old lions, rather grumpy now that the new Church never quite took hold in the Catholic world as it did in the world of mainline Protestantism. He wrote recently about the council, quoting the Jesuit historian John O’Malley, about how exciting it all was back when he was a young journalist covering the new Church about to be born. Vatican II, he wrote, took the Church “from commands to invitations, from laws to ideals, from definition to mystery, from threats to persuasion, from coercion to conscience, from monologue to dialogue, from ruling to service, from withdrawn to integrated, from vertical to horizontal, from exclusion to inclusion, from hostility to friendship, from rivalry to partnership, from suspicion to trust, from static to ongoing, from passive acceptance to active engagement, from fault finding to appreciation, from prescriptive to principled, from behaviour modification to inner appropriation.”

It’s amazing the Church staggered through nineteen-and-a-half centuries in such sorry shape, until everything was made new in the 1960s, from tradition to buzzwords all around. Going from “behaviour modification” to “inner appropriation” likely means little, but the general direction is clear. One does not change one’s behaviour in response to the Gospel standard, but rather appropriates what one already is and how one already lives.

Blessed John Paul II had a rather different idea of the council’s task, as he wrote in preparation for the Great Jubilee:

“The Second Vatican Council was a providential event, whereby the Church began the more immediate preparation for the Jubilee of the Second Millennium. It was a Council similar to the earlier ones, yet very different; it was a Council focused on the mystery of Christ and His Church and at the same time open to the world. This openness was an evangelical response to recent changes in the world, including the profoundly disturbing experiences of the 20th century, a century scarred by the First and Second World Wars, by the experience of the concentration camps and by horrendous massacres. All these events demonstrate most vividly that the world needs purification; it needs to be converted” (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, # 18).

The conference at Saint Paul’s may be rather light on the need of the Church to purify and convert the world. That will be the rather intense focus of the synod on the new evangelization to be held in Rome next month. The more relevant speakers this weekend in Ottawa will have the same focus, led by Cardinal Peter Turkson, the Ghanaian prelate now heading up the Holy See’s office for justice and peace. But the retired lions will also have their say, like old men gathering to tell the stories about how wise they were once, and how their wisdom lives on still. It’s polite to listen, as one throws a toothless lion a bone.

Published in Fr. Raymond de Souza

OTTAWA - An Ottawa conference Sept. 27-29 marking the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council will examine how to “hand on the
Gospel today” in light of Vatican II’s teachings, said Saint Paul University theology professor Catherine Clifford.

“One of goals is to promote the pastoral renewal of the Church,” said Clifford, an organizer of the Vatican II: For the Next Generation Conference. Co-sponsored by Saint Paul’s Vatican II and 21st Century Catholicism Research Centre and Novalis, the conference will begin a week before bishops from around the world gather in Rome for the Synod on the New Evangelization.

“The world we live in today is very different from the world 50 years ago,” Clifford said. “Many of the questions are not the same questions the bishops were reflecting on in 1962-65 in the Council.”

When Vatican II opened 50 years ago, it took place against the backdrop of the Cold War, less than 20 years after the end of the Second World War, said Clifford. Since then there has been a marked shift to the global integration of societies and culture, she said.

“It’s an era of an unprecedented migration of peoples,” she said. “The population of the world has more than doubled; the population of the Catholic Church has more than doubled.

“The majority of Catholics live not in Europe and North America but in the Southern hemisphere. We are a very different Church than we were 50 years ago.”

Though poverty and social injustice remain challenges, “in some ways those issues are far more complex than they were 50 years ago,” she said.

Another sign is the growing recognition of the dignity of the human person that is probably even stronger than it was 50 years ago, when the civil rights movement in the United States was gaining momentum, she said.

The conference will feature a keynote address by Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and one of the names that frequently appears in speculation about future popes. The cardinal will speak on “Vatican II: A Council of Justice and Peace.” He will also receive an honorary doctorate at a special convocation in the university chapel on Sept. 28.

Other conference attendees include dogmatic theology professor Christoph Theobold, S.J., from the Centre Sèvres in Paris, France, and Boston College systematic theology professor Richard Gaillardetz. The conference will feature a panel of bishops and advisors who participated in the Council, including Bishop Remi De Roo and Bishop Gerard J. Deschamps, and advisors Gregory Baum and Leo Laberge, omi.

See www.ustpaul.ca or e-mail vaticancentre@ustpaul.ca.

Published in Canada

NEW YORK - In the 50 years since the Second Vatican Council encouraged Catholics to read, reflect and act on Scripture, there has been a "surging vitality in the life of the church," according to Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

"There is nothing that the church does that is not rooted in Scripture," he told participants at the New York Catholic Bible Summit June 16.

Published in Vatican

VATICAN CITY - Half a century after the start of the Second Vatican Council, the reform of the liturgy initiated there has not lost its power to stoke controversy.

On June 13, after years of on-again-off-again talks with the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, which effectively broke from Rome almost 25 years ago to protest the teachings of Vatican II and subsequent changes to the Mass, the Vatican announced that the traditionalists had been formally offered terms of reconciliation.

Published in Features

ROME - A misunderstanding of the Second Vatican Council has led some Catholics to think that eucharistic adoration and Corpus Christi processions are pietistic practices that pale in importance to the celebration of Mass, Pope Benedict XVI said.

"A unilateral interpretation of the Second Vatican Council has penalized this dimension" of Catholic faith, which is to recognize Jesus truly present in the Eucharist and worthy of adoration, the Pope said June 7 during a Mass marking the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ.

Published in Vatican

WASHINGTON - With observances of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council being conducted around the world, one church historian cautioned that the council's documents should be studied comprehensively, lest they be misunderstood or their reforms dismantled piece-by-piece.

Jesuit Father John W. O'Malley, a professor in the theology department at Georgetown University who is renowned for his work in church history, said the documents should be considered as one body of work, not as unrelated parts.

He was asked to speak to the Catholic Common Ground Initiative about the significance of just one of the council's 16 documents, "Gaudium et Spes," the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.

Published in International

MONTREAL - The new attitude initiated by the Second Vatican Council and the changes in society in the last 50 years has deeply affected the life of the Church and the life of religious communities, 290 leaders of religious communities in Canada were told.

The leaders gathered here May 24-28 for the bi-annual assembly of the Canadian Religious Conference (CRC) at which time they also chose a new executive.

Published in Canada

ROME - The Catholic Church's relationship to Judaism as taught by the Second Vatican Council and the interpretations and developments of that teaching by subsequent popes, "are binding on a Catholic," said the Vatican official responsible for relations with the Jews.

Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, spoke to reporters May 16 after delivering a speech on Catholic-Jewish relations in light of Vatican II's declaration "Nostra Aetate" on the church's relations with non-Christian religions.

Published in International

ROME - The Second Vatican Council's teaching, particularly on Judaism and other religions, is rooted in traditional Christian theology and the Bible, and the Catholic Church should not offer concessions to those who do not accept its teaching, said an Israeli-born Franciscan who serves as a judge on a top Vatican court.

Msgr. David Jaeger, a judge at the Roman Rota, defined as worrying a tendency, "here and there in Catholicism, to look leniently upon stray groups that are marginal but well-publicized who denounce the doctrine of the council, including the declaration 'Nostra Aetate'" on the relationship of the church to non-Christian religions.

Published in International

VATICAN CITY - Fifty years ago this October, Blessed John XXIII and more than 2,500 bishops and heads of religious orders from around the world gathered in St. Peter's Basilica for the opening session of the Second Vatican Council.

Over the following three years, Vatican II would issue 16 major "pronouncements" on such fundamental questions as the authority of the church's hierarchy, the interpretation of Scripture, and the proper roles of clergy and laity. Those documents, and the deliberations that produced them, have transformed how the Catholic Church understands and presents itself within the context of modern secular culture and society.

Published in Vatican
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