Why Vatican II Still Intrigues Us
Dear Blog Visitors:
Thinking you might like to see my article from the July/August 2007 edition of 'CORPUS Reports,' I have included it for you below. It is a reflection on Vatican II, and it features the Council's missed opportunities. (While Pope John XXIII was a true visionary, Benedict XVI is attempting to stifle reform initiatives. In my article, I tried to present John XXIII as a role model for future pontiffs.)
WHY VATICAN II STILL INTRIGUES US
By Ray Grosswirth, CORPUS Media Liaison
More than forty years have elapsed since the close of Vatican II. However, those of us who continue working toward church reform can’t seem to escape memories of the events that captivated the world’s attention and imagination from 1962 through 1966. It is not as if we are longing for a time machine to transport us back to the Council. It is rather our fond obsession with the multitude of missed opportunities that won’t allow us to accept the current state of affairs in the Roman Catholic Church.
The missed opportunities of Vatican II are too numerous to mention. Amongst some of the more notable are: a.) the failure of Vatican II to encourage open discussion on the timely issue of clerical celibacy; b.) the failure of Vatican II to promote the value of the multi-faceted gifts women bring to the table; 3.) the failure of Vatican II to recognize the fact that sexual morality can’t be legislated; 4.) the failure of Vatican II to recognize the dangers associated with the abuse of power.
CORPUS counts amongst its membership many priests who were canonically active during the period of the Second Vatican Council. It was indeed a time when it appeared to onlookers that the Holy Spirit had descended upon John XXIII - a pontiff truly deserving of the keys to the Kingdom.
John XXIII had a magnificent vision of what the Roman Catholic Church was capable of becoming in the future. Priests therefore had every reason to hope that the church law of clerical celibacy would change. Optimism was definitely in the air for those who felt it was time for physical and spiritual renovations, and John XXIII was the anointed decorator. However, as fate would have it, John XXIII, although in his eighties, died much too early, leaving the Council in the hands of many who would manipulate, in a negative way, the good intentions of the deceased pontiff.
Historians have repeatedly stated that John XXIII seemed to have been an unlikely candidate for the papacy, considering both his advanced age and his being relatively unknown to much of the world’s population. However, it is also important to note that biblical scholars are fond of stating that Jesus appeared to be an unlikely candidate for the title of Messiah. He was a carpenter’s son of simple means and was not interested in the politics of power. Likewise, Jesus had no interest in the financial security that was a common fringe benefit for those in leadership positions. To the contrary, his mission, as in the case of John XXIII, was doing the will of God.
I truly believe that John XXIII was divinely chosen as our pontiff, for it appears that God saw in him saintly attributes that would serve the church well. I further believe that this divine mission is the reason we continue to be transfixed by the pope who was inspired to convene Vatican II.
If Vatican II still beckons to us, it is because the inclusive vision set forth by John XXIII was hijacked by Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Perhaps John Paul I would have honored the legacy of John XXIII, but his papacy, like that of John XXIII, was cut short. In the case of John Paul I, it was a 30-day papacy. (For those who subscribe to a popular conspiracy theory, rumors persist that John Paul I was poisoned. It was common knowledge that he had intended to expose corruption within the Vatican Bank, and conservatives feared that he would return to the intended reforms of John XXIII. So, perhaps the conspiracy theory has at least an element of truth.)
As we analyze Vatican II, our church would be more inclusive today, if the initiatives of John XXIII had been followed. This is certainly not to say that the Second Vatican Council was a total failure. There were admittedly some good documents produced by the Vatican II proceedings. One of the more positive writings was Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World). Some wonderful statements on ecumenism also came out of the Council. However, we must not forget that John XXIII saw Vatican II as an opportunity to open the Vatican’s windows – the purpose being to let in some fresh air. Guess what? The air has grown stale again, and the Catholic population is facing what amounts to a Eucharistic famine.
Pope Benedict XVI has been in office for two years. While he has not been the tyrant many expected, he has nevertheless stifled good-intentioned efforts at reform. For example, shortly following the consecration of four archbishops by married Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo in September of 2006, Benedict called a hasty meeting on the topic of clerical celibacy. (Expectations were high that perhaps optional celibacy would become a possibility.) However, the meeting only lasted two hours, after which a press release announced that mandatory celibacy was here to stay.
Having been part of the CORPUS Board and staff the past few years, I have been engaged in many conversations concerning the future of our organization. I personally feel that CORPUS continues to be a vital voice in the push for church reform. In the spirit of Vatican II and John XXIII, the church can only survive if fresh air is allowed to enter the windows. So, it is only natural that the Community of John XXIII has evolved as a relatively new initiative of a few members of CORPUS. Be sure to visit our website (www.corpus.org) and click onto the Community of John XXIII to get updated information.
In conclusion, I pray that the current Vatican leadership will come to recognize that John XXIII was perhaps the greatest pope in modern history. If he had lived long enough to guide the Second Vatican Council to its conclusion, I think we would have a much better church today. Let us pray for more compassion and inclusivity from Benedict XVI. Perhaps he should be praying to John XXIII for guidance.