Vatican II was, according to Karl Rahner, the beginning of the “world church.” Elected bishop of Rome half a century after Vatican II, Francis is the first pope who is not from the Euro-Mediterranean area, and he can therefore be understood as the first pope of Rahner’s “world church”: a truly global, non-Eurocentric church. But theological globalization and institutional globalization are two different things, and they have been surprisingly disconnected from each other in the recent history of the church. The institutional shock of a Latin American Jesuit being elected as pope has been slower to influence theology than one might have expected in 2013.
In his June 21 speech to the Pontifical Theological Faculty of Southern Italy in Naples, Francis expressed his vision for “a theology of welcoming and dialogue,” an “interdisciplinary theology” that takes place in an environment of freedom and in relationship with the whole people of God—with peoples (plural) and cultures all over the world. He did not mention or quote from the documents of Vatican II; he did not need to. It was clear to anyone who heard the speech that this pope’s vision is profoundly conciliar. Much like his September 2015 speech to the international theological congress at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina, the speech in Naples clearly laid out Francis’s theological agenda.
A new freedom for Catholic theology is one of the underappreciated contributions of this pontificate. Francis has offered theologians a new opportunity to interpret the ecclesial and theological event through which his own pontificate must be understood and evaluated—that is, the Second Vatican Council.
At a four-day conference held in June at the Berg Moriah Conference Center near Koblenz, Germany, a large group of theologians and church historians inaugurated an international initiative aimed at exploring the connection between Vatican II and this pontificate’s shift toward a global Catholicity. Titled “The Second Vatican Council: hermeneutical questions,” the conference was organized by the steering committee at work on a new multivolume commentary on the documents of the Second Vatican Council. The speakers and responders came from all continents. Christoph Theobald, SJ, lectured on the council from “the beginning of the beginning” to Francis’s “church on the move.” Judith Gruber and Jonathan Tan lectured on postcolonial readings of the council texts. Ormond Rush spoke about controversies over the reception of doctrinal authority, Peter Hünermann about the shifts in ecclesiology and in the theology of institutions that are required by a truly global church.