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Text: Vatican II ‐ a council unlike any other - Cardinal Godfried Danneels
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Text: Vatican II ‐ a council unlike any other - Cardinal Godfried Danneels | Vatican II ‐ a council unlike any other - Cardinal Godfried Danneels, Southwark, Amigo Hall

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His Eminence Cardinal Godfried Danneels gave the following lecture in the Amigo Hall, Saint George’s Cathedral, SE1 on Thursday, 18 October 2012

End of an era. A new breakthrough?

Vatican II was a council unlike any preceding one. It was a special event for many reasons. Even though it stands in a long line of councils: it was in many respects a new kind of council.

Vatican II began 50 years ago. The council fathers themselves have now for the most part passed on. Believers, who experienced it from the outside, remember above all the media excitement and the optimistic atmosphere in which this great church gathering took place. The content of the conciliar texts ‐ though often barely read ‐ seems to them so normal: all that circulated before the council, the council has confirmed and is almost commonplace today. Many people today are hardly aware that the content was so new.

Young people only vaguely remember the event, if they know it at all. They have rarely, or perhaps never, read the texts. Nevertheless, the Second Vatican Council's documents have shaped the life of the church for the past half century. Sixteen documents, including in particular the four constitutions (on liturgy, on revelation, on the church, and on the church and world), have directed the thinking and action of the ecclesial community. Other decrees, such as those on ecumenism and religious freedom, were the subject of long conciliar discussions and have really inspired new ideas and praxis. Texts on media and education on the other hand are now barely usable.

To understand the originality of Vatican II, it is indispensable to look at the council and its documents in terms of the history and culture of that time. Vatican II has certainly shaped part of that history; but the other side is equally true: history and culture shaped Vatican II as well. Even though it is true that Vatican II is fully rooted in our Catholic tradition, it is equally true that it also launched a development and a deepening of that tradition, which here and there shows a discontinuity with past thinking and practices. Haven't many observed (like Karl Rahner, for instance) that the council marked the end of the Constantinian period in church history; and that Vatican II as a council ranks with Nicaea and Trent?

The council had been prepared years in advance: the seed was already in the field and was already sprouting, when Pope John called for the council. The rays of sunshine from the council have brought growth and much fruit. Conciliar preparation was particularly apparent in the early liturgical movement, in biblical studies (modern exegetical studies), and a renewed focus on patristics. There was also the influence of Protestant thought and the new philosophy.

In contrast with the previous councils, which had usually been devoted to a particular theme, Vatican II addressed a broad variety of problems; and many issues were discussed, such as: the place of the organ in the Catholic liturgy, the continued value of Thomas Aquinas for theology, the relationship between Rome and local bishops, sexuality and marriage, and the church‐state relationship. And much more.

Important themes

If one takes a general overview, it is true that the main theme of the council has been: the value, the role, and responsibility of the laity in the Church in all domains. But very influential development was also the introduction of the vernacular in the liturgy. That seems like a small detail, but actually launched a great dynamic that impacted many other areas: the ability for instance to change things that for centuries had been seen as unchangeable. Vatican II demonstrated that what was always thought and practised need not necessarily remain that way for eternity. Perhaps the introduction of the vernacular was the first application of Pope John XXIII's "aggiornamento", his bringing the church "up to date." A dynamic was set loose that far exceeded mere linguistic changes. Nothing seems to have had a greater impact than changing ancient liturgical traditions. Changes in cult and ritual touch very deeply the hearts of the believers. Of great importance as well was the repositioning of Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium as sources of revelation; and the integration of the new exegetical methods into the study of the Scriptures.

Nostra Aetate ‐ the document on the relationship with the Jews ‐ despite a long and sharp discussion, and the additional burden of political pressure, in the end achieved a satisfying and surprising consensus. The text on religious freedom and the relationship between church and state, has no equal in previous councils and papal documents. Entirely new was Gaudium et Spes the conciliar document on the relationship between church and world. The church took a listening attitude, said it wanted to help the world. The church said it wanted to .move away from the world‐rejecting, negative, defensive, and superior attitude that had prevailed prior to Vatican II.

Finally, there was also a clear trend away from the purely consultative role of the episcopate by pushing – in some areas ‐ for deliberative participation. In principle, the question of collegiality received a firm consensus of support in the council. But no practical and legal procedures for its operation were laid down. Except in the form of periodic Roman synods, and I will say more about that later.

New thinking and a different speaking style.

Particularly noteworthy, before the council, was the growing importance of a new genre of papal documents: the encyclical. More and more it was the pope only who spoke to the church and became the great and universal teacher. The encyclicals were actually assumed more and more authority. They seemed sometimes as dogmatic (and infallible?) statements. The concentration of the magisterium seemed to be located more and more in the hands of the papal magisterium.

With the emphasis on papal authority, a strong bureaucracy developed immediately – the Curia ‐ which functioned as the central church authority. Especially the "Holy Office" was their symbolic and effective voice. This supreme Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was the direct voice of the Pope.

But more and more ‐ especially in the twentieth century ‐ a new understanding of church as the "People of God" began to develop. This was a more horizontal relational understanding rather than the earlier vertical authoritarian model of church. The church as people of God meant the whole church as people of God: a large familia Dei, all brothers and sisters. Along with this horizontal understanding came the importance and influence of the developing world, an understanding that stressed democracy and participation. But ‐ especially in the then burgeoning Catholic Action movements everywhere ‐ lay men and women seemed to be regarded mainly as the submissive and generous employees of the bishops. Besides the hierarchical ministry, however, there was more and more talk about the charisms: the free gifts of the Spirit to all the baptized, without distinction. Not just the ordained ministers were seen as the church but all the people: all the people who make up the whole church. A whole new vocabulary developed: charisma, participation, partnership, dialogue, cooperation, friendship. This vocabulary is present everywhere in all council documents and has found its proper place in contemporary church language.

Up until that time, the language of ecclesiastical authority was primarily juridical and legislative language. It was rational, conceptual, concise, and clear‐cut. Vatican II choose a more pastorally‐oriented language: less clear‐cut, suggestive, not determinant, calm, and serenely dialogical. Vatican II speaks in an inviting way, starting with what speaker and listener already have in common. The council uses a sensitive and aesthetic style: "Our message is true, good, and clean. Come. The old language determined and imposed. The new language suggests and invites.”

Finally, it appears, recalling the words of Karl Rahner, that we are in a new era for the church. After the Jewish‐Christian Church, came the church of Hellenism. Now is the time for a real world church: the transition from European to global, from Thomas and Scholasticism to an assimilation of the philosophical and cultural thinking and praxis of the twentieth century.

Then came John XXIII...

Then came Pope John XXIII. He was not only the Pope who decided on the council and announced it; but was the major catalyst for the transition from old to new. A Pope with not only a new name: he was "well‐ rounded" both physically and in character. He was spontaneous and spoke and thought with great freedom and a healthy dose of humour: a Pope who never took himself too seriously.

The way he announced the council to his substitute secretary of state was typical. A few months after the beginning of his pontificate, during a daily meeting, he said: "Facciamo un picollo concilio" ('We will hold a small council.") In Pope John's eyes it could be started and completed in a few months’ time. An entertaining anecdote about an inexperienced Pope! But it also resembles an inspiration of the Holy Spirit. "Out of the mouths of children and little ones ..."

The renewal movement had been launched ... the famous "aggiornamento". Later even non‐Catholics would be invited as council observers. John would broaden the range of issues, a positive attitude in the face of the "world" and he would approach the other Christian churches and confessions with a broad ecumenical vision. Had he not been nuncio where the Eastern churches were predominantly located?

It should certainly also be said that even contemporary cultural winds were blowing in that direction. Openness and broadmindedness predominated. Along with that came the great power of the media. Immediately all secrecy was broken: all discussions, painful confrontations and debates were sent around the world in every evening news report. Thanks to the same media, the impact of conciliar events had a major world impact. Some conciliar texts ‐ such as that on the liturgy ‐ had already been put into practice before the council was at an end. The council also reached out to many non‐Catholics and focused on all people. "Aggiornamento" became an almost magical word: bringing the tradition up to today. Other changes were really new: ecumenism and the attitude towards the Jews, the relationship between church and state, and the issue of freedom of religion. Finally there was the "resourcing": returning to the great tradition, to that time before Christians had gone separate ways.

The whole atmosphere of this council is summarized in the opening speech of Pope John XXIII ‐ Gaudet Mater Ecclesia. The first words said everything already the council would bring joy to the church.

The spirit of Vatican II

The difference between Vatican II and previous councils is also reflected in the literary genre of the documents. The previous councils were mainly a type of court that decided and eliminated some things but also legitimized other things and expressed itself in legal terms. Right from the start, this model was not adopted by the council fathers of Vatican II. Vatican II chose a different literary genre and a different language. There were no short position papers or judgments, no sharp formulations of belief and discipline, and very little normative language. The teachings of previous councils were expressed mainly in the "canons" (Trent had 325!). These were usually short position statements that were dismissive and always had the dissidents in mind. The vocabulary was threatening, punitive, and an intimidating experience.

Vatican II chose longer texts, calmer statements that recalled the panegyric style of the Church Fathers. They instil wonder and invite the reader's engagement. The ideal is proposed and enthusiasm is generated. It all fits together under the term "pastoral". This is a "soft" term: dialogical and inviting. It stresses the goal of common conversion: not imposing but inviting. So characteristic is the absence of terms of threat, punishment, and exclusion. The texts are written on the more horizontal plane: the relationship between
the People of God and the world. Horizontality springs also from the notion of the equality of all the baptized: the priesthood of believers, collegiality, reciprocity, cooperation and dialogue, the ministry of the' peoples' authority.

What people often lose sight of is the great attention Vatican II paid to interiority, to holiness, and to repentance. (See Chapter V of Lumen Gentium ‐ the call to holiness of God's people.).

The Church in the documents of Vatican II is presented as "good, patient, merciful" as Pope John XXIII had already stated in his opening speech to the council, Gaudet Mater Ecclesia. These words characterize him and the whole council.

The liturgy. Sacrosanctum Concilium

The spirit of the Constitution on the Liturgy is clear: the baptized are not passive spectators in the liturgy: they take part in the liturgy and have their own role in the celebration. The term "active participation" was born. The idea was not new: it was already found in the liturgical movement: active participation, both inwardly and outwardly.

Already in the preliminary draft, presented to the council, by A. Bugnini, there was a clear formulation of the fundamental principles of liturgical reform. One could read in this presentation the fruits of decades of the. pre‐Vatican II liturgical movement, especially since the Congress of Malines in 1909 and the contribution of Lambert Beauduin. Liturgy was not primarily a matter of rubrics and regulations. It was a full‐fledged discipline with a doctrinal basis. The main emphases of Bugnini's draft were: deep respect for the great liturgical tradition and a solid foundation of the liturgical action on the data of faith and doctrine. Great importance was attached to liturgical formation, especially of the clergy, and on a stronger participation of the assembly celebrating the liturgical action. Liturgy was not purely a canonical textbook for the "doing" of the celebrant, but the making present of Christ's paschal mystery in its fullness: passion, death, resurrection, and ascension. No.7 of the subsequent Constitution would later become the key text for understanding of Christ's broad presence in the liturgy: in the praying people, in the person of the celebrant, in the proclamation of the Word, and in the communal praying of the psalms. Finally and above all in.the Eucharistic bread and wine. It was the rediscovery of the patristic vision of the liturgy.

The deep divide between celebrant and celebrating community was closed. The marginalization of the people but also of the celebrant. Liturgy was also a relational happening: between God, the priest, and the. people. Very soon, the vernacular was introduced everywhere. And so the tradition of the unchangeableness of the liturgical practice and use was overcome. Changing the liturgical language was the breakthrough for making changes in other areas.

Finally bishops and bishops' conferences got more decision‐making power about the liturgy, although this decision‐making authority was soon reduced to submitting changes for approval and not just informing the central authority in the Church.

Verbum Dei

The Constitution on Divine Revelation is perhaps the most important doctrinal document of the council. It was long, intensely, and heatedly discussed but finally accepted by a large consensus. Verbum Dei is touches the main coordinates of our faith: Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium. Right up to the eve of Vatican II one had the impression that the source of faith was consulting the Magisterium of the Church. Furthermore, Tradition seemed to almost stand above Scripture. There were indeed dogmas of the faith ‐ especially, recently, about Mary ‐ that could not be found literally in the Scriptures. And it is true that Scripture originated in the lap of the Tradition.

Nevertheless, the Council decided that the Magisterium had only a mediating function between Scripture, Tradition, and the People of God. The teaching authority of the church had to "devoutly listen" (pie audire) to the first sources of revelation: Scripture and Tradition. This could not be accepted without considerable discussion. Cardinal Ottaviani had stressed that the church's Magisterium had to teach, create order, bring clarity, and speak concisely and clearly; and that such speaking should take precedence over a pastoral approach. He stressed as well that the Magisterium manages the deposit of faith. In addition, Scripture is literally inspired and the Old Testament is a pure introduction to the New. The Vulgate was the inspired text. Vernacular translations may be given to believers for their own reading, but for interpretation one must look to the Magisterium. A minority group in the council has not ceased trying to neutralize the work of the exegetes.

Nevertheless, the majority of the council fathers succeeded in taking matters into their own hands. Some saw exactly here the "grosze Wende" ‐ the big turning point for Vatican II. Verbum Dei that consumed so much time and discussion, is unfortunately barely read today. This Constitution is however a pillar for conciliar work. And, doctrinally seen, it is the crown of Vatican II.

Lumen Gentium. The Church

The Constitution on the Church paints an image of the Church that is new and emphasizes different accents than the thinking prior to Vatican II. It completes but also corrects what Vatican I said. Vatican I was a council of the Pope and his primacy. Lumen Gentium provides the missing complementary piece for integral thinking about the Church. The revised order of the chapters is very well known: not the hierarchical ministry coming first but the text on the People of God. Followed by the bishops. What is less often noticed is the chapter about the holiness of the People of God (chapter V): Vatican II did not only focus on the structure of the Church but the Church's soul and heart. This focus on the interiority of the Church is a "novelty" in a council document.
The discussion about Lumen Gentium was clearly influenced by the intervention of Bishop E. J. De Smedt, even though he did that on behalf of the Committee on Unity. Not only the content of his words, but even more so his conviction and rhetorical impact are important. Here fell for the first time, in the conciliar gathering space, words like: triumphalism, clericalism, juridicism, pyramid structure, pompous and romantic language, and episcopal idolatry and papal idolatry.

There was intense debate about papal authority and the collegiality of the bishops, and about the Church that had too greatly copied secular institutions as the societas perfecta, with its paternalism when speaking and its supremacy and exclusiveness. And there was too exclusively much insistence on the Roman Catholic Church as the only true Church. There now developed, more and more, a different attitude towards other faiths: that dialogue should be focused more on the basis of what Christians already have in common and stress what unites rather than what separates.

Finally, inserting the texts on Mary in the last chapter of the document on the Church, was not without significance: it illustrated the precedence of the mystery of Christ and the bond between Christ, Mary and the Church.

Gaudium et Spes. Church and World

The Constitution on the Church and the World is a novelty in the council history. Earlier when this topic had been discussed, there was a spirit of defensiveness: the Church cannot and must not form a pact with the world. The world was then almost exclusively seen as the "world" in John's Gospel. But the same John also says: "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son sent into the world."

Vatican II turns positively toward the world. The Church knows, on the other hand, that the "world" at his coming did not accept .Jesus. But the church takes a listening posture, invites dialogue, and is not immediately judgmental. The Church has ears for the ethical, economic, and social problems of society.

There have been, in the course of our history, two models for interpreting the "world". First the Augustinian interpretation, which mainly states that the world has rejected Christ. Therefore the world cannot be seen one‐sidely in a positive way. The world must be saved. On the other hand, there is the incarnational interpretation, which emphasizes the fact that God loves the world. He sent His Son into the world to humankind to love.

This is also the interpretation of mainly the Eastern patristics. Both interpretations are valid and acceptable, but not confinement to just one of the two to the denial of the other. It is clear that the vast majority of the council fathers, when they arrived, were rather distrustful toward the "world". In a few weeks, this gradually changed into a much more open and optimistic attitude. There remained a minority ‐ privileged by the bishops and cardinals of the Curia ‐ who suspected the majority of disloyalty and betrayal of the tradition.

The role of the popes and their impact on the Council was varied. John XXIII intervened very little and then on procedural matters, Pope Paul VI was variable: sometimes dampening, sometimes affirmative. This man ‐ intelligent and sensitive, was cautiously open and sometimes anxious and fearful. He was clearly intervened at key points such as on the celibacy issue, the nota praevia at Lumen Gentium and the birth control question.

A rich harvest

The harvest of Vatican II is impressive. Often people have forgotten what happened and how much was achieved in practice. So many things are now just taken for granted as common that the faithful are not even aware that such a sensitive change was due to the council.

But if one would make a list of all the fruits of Vatican II, one would see how greatly the Council has changed and renewed the Church.

Liturgy and rituals were thoroughly reformed. Eucharist is the main focus; and Baptism is strongly emphasized as the foundation for the priesthood of the faithful and the fundamental equality of all. Eucharist and all the sacraments have a word service in the vernacular and the reading schedule for Scriptural texts has a two‐ or three‐year cycle. Scripture is called the soul of theology. The Eucharistic prayers were expanded. Christ is presented as a servant and friend of all people. The Council underlines the dignity of every human person; there is a new arrangement in the hierarchy of the ends of marriage. The dignity and mission of the laity and co‐responsibility are stressed. The ideal of the bishop as a servant and shepherd is stressed. The ministry of the Church to the world, the role of the young churches, the problem of a just war, and nuclear armament are more issues addressed by the Council. The value of democracy and the relationship between church and state, freedom of religion ..... And much more.
Furthermore, there is the new style and the new language of the Council: pastoral, positive, and not legal and juridical. It is empathetic speaking, emotive, inviting, and not commanding. The style is more than a detail. It flows from a particular new way of thinking. The spirit of the Council is certainly more incarnational than Augustinian. The collegiality of the bishops was confirmed; but there was no agreed‐ upon framework on how to achieve this. Once the council closed, the trend towards greater centralization began again. Power shifted back to the centre. The contribution of the periphery ‐ bishops and people ‐ was not always strongly supported from the centre.

Is there anything to do fifty years after the council?

The ideas of the Council are known. But what about the performance? Is there still work to be done after fifty years?

It is clear that the double hermeneutics ‐ Augustinian and incarnational ‐ will continue to exist side by side: both have their truth. And the search for a balance between the two will never be completely resolved, With this paradox, the Church lives and moves on. And the temperament of church leaders and of the people will always play a role. And then the crucial question: to what extent was Vatican II a break with the past or a deep‐rooted continuity with the past? To what extent is the council a development and a continuation of the past. What is Tradition? Only the recent tradition of medieval and scholastic thought? To what extent is, for example, the decree on ecumenism a deepening or a development of earlier thinking and speaking? Or is it entirely new? And religious freedom? How are papal primacy (Vatican I) and the collegiality of the bishops to be thought about together and realized?

The liturgy

Without a doubt, the Constitution on the Liturgy is the best followed‐up on and put into practice of all conciliar documents. The reform of the cult has had a profound impact on the lives of the baptized. Everywhere there was a good reception of the liturgical reform. Yes there were some wild experiments in some countries; but the positive fruits of this conciliar text are evident everywhere. The liturgical books have been renewed; and around the world, there has been a general introduction of the vernacular. Attention to the Word of God has increased and contact with the Bible expanded more fully. Yet there remains much to do to make that Bible more accessible to the people of God: more Bible study and greater familiarity with modern exegesis are required but raise new problems as well.

The language used for the liturgical texts and prayers is often not up to par. It's not enough to just translate texts into the vernacular. Liturgy demands more than the home, garden, and kitchen language. Liturgical language is always something sacred and transcending popular language. For the "mystery of our faith," we need a loftier way of speaking then just the language of daily conversation. And there are words that belong to the language of Christianity and deserve interpretation that is reverent and deep. Liturgical language cannot simply coincide with the ordinary language.

It is also true that rites and rituals are present and practiced in all religions. Often today there is resistance to repetitive and stereotyped repetition of the same words and gestures. Moreover, they are not always immediately understandable and they are not productive and efficient. The ritual, on the other hand, is not utilitarian, but it's goal is itself. The Eucharist, for example, is a meal but a cultic and sacrificial meal not intended to satisfy our physical hunger. Trivialization or omitting certain ritual aspects, deprives the celebration of its reference to the underlying mystery. Besides, symbols are always meagre: just think of "symbolic" punishment.

Furthermore, the "active participation" of which the liturgy document so often speaks has to be understood as an overall participation. It is not limited to the outer do, talk, sing, and move. It concerns as well the inner part of the soul. The Bible is full of texts that talk about believing or praying with the heart and not merely with the mouth and lips. Silence is an essential component in this active participation: it links the way from outside to inside. The language of the heart is more than that of the mouth and lips. Another challenge is to find a balance between word and sacrament. The council has returned the Word to its rightful place. But here and there, the care and great attention paid to the Word has led to an underestimation of the sacrament. In terms of its duration and the attention given to it, the word service in the Eucharist is often celebrated at the at the expense of the table service. Balance is needed.

A similar problem is that of balance between horizontality and verticality. There is sometimes a danger that the Eucharist gets reduced to just the meal dimension. But it is also a sacrificial meal. Of this there are no

more examples in our current culture. The celebration facing the people suggests in the first place the local community and puts less focus on God. But the Eucharist is both: a convivial meal and an act of worship and sacrifice. Much depends on the attitude of the celebrant. Eye contact should be there for the celebrating community, but first to God.

The Church

The council has clearly stressed the equality of all the faithful by virtue of their baptism. But this equality cannot be regarded as a mere democratic, levelling equality. The People of God is very specific: it is a combination of hierarchy and people. There is diversity in all its equality. That is also something no longer part of our culture, where all our power comes from below: the people choose their representatives. In the Church, authority comes from God.

This relationship between hierarchy and people must also get its juridical identity. This has also been a problem in the course of history with varied legal forms situated between centralization and some form of democracy.

A related problem is that of the relationship between papal primacy and the collegiality of the bishops. The search for the best resolution stretches throughout church history. Will there ever be a perfect and definitive legal framework for this problem? Or is it just to be resolved through a kind of love relationship: the Pope loves the bishops and vice versa. Love alone is the master of paradox.

Nevertheless, one can ask if a sort of "privy council" of bishops and cardinals around the Pope would not be a fruitful way to proceed. Such a privy council, limited and regularly renewed, consisting of representatives from all continents, that would meet regularly with the Pope ‐ a consultative body ‐ to discuss the main problems of the Church: a "forum" where views could be exchanged between Pope and bishops and insights gathered to assist the Pope.

To give collegiality some legal shape, the Church has opted for periodic Roman synods, which meet at regular times, gathered around the Pope. They consist of elected members of the episcopates from around the world. The synods have their value, if only as a place where bishops can meet with their brother bishops drawn from the whole Church. Socially seen, the synods are useful. They promote an affective collegiality. But when it comes to an effective collegiality are much less helpful. They lack a real debate culture. In technical conversational terms, the synods fall short. But one could also ask if it is really possible for some three hundred bishops to really discuss and arrive at decisions ‐ even if they are simply consultative. The interventions of the bishops are now more often newsletters, which provide information on the situation in many churches. They are Informative and they are interesting. But, in fact, that they often have little or nothing to do with the actual theme of the Synod itself. Thus they contribute little to the discussion. Interesting yes; but not really to the point. After half a century, the synods are still in search of an efficient methodology. But they are still the only place where collegiality has some legal shape.

One should not forget, on the other hand, the special Synod of 1985, where the assessment was made of twenty five years after the council. From that synod came the communio idea as a concept for thinking of the Church. A precious and Patristic understanding. But the name is suggestive, even though it offers no sharp canonical outline for the design of collegiality.

Is it not time to think about the purely consultative status of the synods? Somewhere they must lead shared decision‐making. Bishops conferences now can only be deliberative when it comes to purely pastoral problems. In doctrinal matters, they have no power of authority. But don't bishops have teaching authority?

Church and World

Gaudium et Spes is a document that is necessarily time‐bound: how is the Church connected to the world? Meanwhile, the world has evolved and many new problems have arisen. This constitution is therefore needs an updating. Actually... a completely new document is needed. Since the Council, our society and our culture have become much more pessimistic and anxious: Where is the "Weltfreudigkeit"... the joy of Vatican II? Today there is unrest everywhere and great concern despite major scientific and much technical progress.

Nevertheless, the Council has provided a strong impulse; and in many places it has had a strong social impact, especially in Latin America. And it is undeniable that the voice of the Church and of the Pope are carefully listened to when it comes to global issues. Certainly noteworthy is an initiative by Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi. Cardinal Ravasi spoke of the need for a more profound dialogue with nonbelievers in a project that took the name of the "Court of the Gentiles." This project, conducted in several large cities, is completely in the line with Gaudium et Spes: a willingness by the Church to listen and to talk about contemporary culture and philosophy.

Dei Verbum remains a remarkable document, though today it seems largely forgotten and remains unread. This conciliar work that led to so much heated discussion that during the Council, remains the culmination of all the extensive work of exegetes and theologians before the council.

Vatican III?

Occasionally here and there, the idea is put forward about the desirability or even the need for a Vatican III. There is indeed something to be said for that. Many new problems have arisen in the Church and in the world in which the Church should take a position. Did the new Pentecostal Wind, about which Pope John XXIII spoke, really come? And "aggiomamento"? Is there now a real dialogue with the world? Is there not a lack of collegiality and a trend towards more centralism in the Church today? What is the meaning and reason for "traditionalist" tendencies in the Church and the return to the old liturgy? And why are there groups that do not accept the decisions of Vatican II? Is it true that the minority view of the Council now holds on and grows, while the majority view of back then loses its cohesion? Is the solution a new Council?

The world has changed. There is Islam, the spectacular flowering of some evangelical churches, the presence of other religions, the priest shortage, the paedophilia crisis, feminism, the new movements, the profusion of new communication technologies, the fear for the future of the planet itself. And so on.

Some problems that were handled in Vatican II and led to a theoretical consensus led are still there. There is the relationship between centre and periphery, the collegiality of the bishops and the legal form thereof, the possible creation of patriarchates, the deliberative nature of shared decision‐making in some areas, administrative transparency, debates open to the public. Problems enough!

But would a new council appear to be the best answer? Organizing a council is a matter of complex heavy logistics. For many bishops travel and accommodation would have to be financed by the Church. Moreover, the world episcopate today is immense: 5000 bishops not to mention experts and guests! How could one technically organize communication for such an assembly? Shouldn't there perhaps be continental synods? But right now at present there is little enthusiasm or optimism or hope for a Council. Haven't we become too fearful? And a new council could not possibly be largely a European council as was the case with Vatican II. Back then the input came mainly from Europe.

Are people in other parts of the world ready to take on such a task today? Vatican III? Is not the full realization of the decisions of Vatican II the real Vatican III for right now?

+ Godfried Cardinal Danneels

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