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Pope Benedict on Vatican II

The current Commonweal editorial makes reference to the annual Lenten meeting of the Pope with the clergy of Rome. Speaking only from notes, Benedict reminisced on his experience as a young theologian at the Second Vatican Council. As one of the last surviving participants in the Council, his words have particular interest and significance. Here are some of his remarks:

it is worth while to keep going back, over and above the practical outcomes, to the Council itself, to its profundity and to its essential ideas. I would say that there were several of these: above all, the Paschal Mystery as the center of what it is to be Christian and therefore of the Christian life, the Christian year, the Christian seasons, expressed in Eastertide and on Sunday which is always the day of the Resurrection. Again and again we begin our time with the Resurrection, our encounter with the Risen one, and from that encounter with the Risen one we go out into the world.

The rest is here.The meeting occurred only days after Pope Benedict had announced his resignation. I asked a good friend, a Roman priest who had spent many years in Chile working with the poor, if he had been at the meeting with the Pope. Here is his reply:

S, sono andato. Un applauso, dai preti, che non finiva mai...Yes, I was there. Applause from the priests that went on and on.

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JRP writes: "Surely dialogue with the conferences would have been better than the brusque decision that was taken."RPI responds: "Amen!"

As one of the last surviving participants in the Council, his words have particular interest and significance.Who are other surviving participants? Archbishop Hunthausen would be one. What about his words? I wonder if his reminiscences have been solicited, at least in Montana where he lives.

"And although I am about to withdraw, I remain close to all of you in prayer, and I am sure that you too will be close to me, even if I am hidden from the world."Does the Pope sound sad to you? It would make me sad that the Pope's sad.

"Applause from the priests that went on and on." And what would the "applause" have been like if the room were filled with victims of sexual abuse by priests whose crimes were hidden by bishops? Or perhaps filled with some of the millions who suffer from AIDS in Africa, knowing that the church actively lobbied governments and international agencies in efforts (sometimes successful) to thwart the distribution of condoms which might have helped at least somewhat to reduce the infection rate? How much applause if the room had been filled with women - whom he insists are divinely ordained to be subservient to males in the church and in marriage? Does the pope seem sad? Perhaps - and perhaps not surprisingly. As the saying goes, one reaps what one sows.

This address was indeed very poignant, and sadly characteristic of Benedict. His blaming of the media at the end for the ills that followed the council was a glimpse of the angry, blame-shifting Ratzinger who always lurks in the shadows, and did so even during his pontificate, emerging on occasion. It was a particularly graceless way to exit the scene now, but perhaps understandable in light of his personality and the current pressures he has been under. Still ironic that one of the great practitioners of ecclesial politics over the last 50 years should accuse others of "politicicizng" the church. So it goes. He is in many ways a victim of his own machinations.

Perhaps what troubles Ratzinger the most is that he made the wrong choice on Vatican II. Stunned by the students who usurped his microphone he fell back into rigidity and the Council of Trent and the monarchical church. He certainly deserves praise for censuring Maciel. But that is minimal in the church of the Crucified where humility is preferred over Inquisitions. The lingering and potential bombshell waiting in the wings alla Cardinal Dolan signifies a failed leadership in Rome and the American church. http://fox2now.com/2013/02/21/milwaukee-lawsuits-shadow-new-york-archbis... "graceless" way to exit indeed. He went for safety and status quo when he should have chosen the dynamic of the Crucified who triumphed over evil with humility. Not domination.

I like Pope Benedict and think he did a good job. He dealt with the abuse scandal in a good way using both dicipline and reform, he tended the liturgy well by reviving the Tridentine mass and ushering in the new English translation of the Novus Ordo mass, he honestly tried to engage the Muslims, and he sucessfully usher some Anglicans back into communion with Rome.Quite a bit for only eight years.I wish him well.

To David Gibson - Ah but the media does indeed deserve a good deal of the blame for what happened after the council, imposing a political narrative of left and right on the Church, just as it does in its coverage of the Pope and the Church in the present. The article by John Waters in the Irish Times today highlights the media's distorting influence. By "graceless", you mean that it's such a pity he didn't just shut his trap as regards the pernicious effects of a lousy news media. There's nothing graceless about speaking the obvious truth. Your profession isn't at all graceless, is it Mr Gibson? No, you just tell it like it is, don't you? Sure, only a few days ago I read a piece by you where you ended it by making a snide remark about another reporter at Get Religion. You could have left it alone but you couldn't help yourself. Perhaps it's understandable in light of your personality and the current pressures you've been under.http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2013/0222/1224330366270.html

This is from 10 years ago. http://www.seattlearch.org/ProgressArchive/101702/index.htmArchbishop Hunthausen recalls impacts of Vatican IIThe archbishop said the world today would be striving for peace instead of war if the leaders of the various cultures would only get to know one another. Fundamentally, it means becoming friends...knowing one another, respecting one another, loving one another, he said. Its what Jesus said.Vatican II also impressed upon him the importance of shared responsibility. Finding the right vehicle to promote that concept takes much time and energy, he said, but its the only way to listen to everyone and respect who we are. During his time in the Archdiocese of Seattle, one of his vehicles became the Parish Leadership Development Program.

I'm less convinced on the blame-the-media theme. Especially since we're talking about many different aspects of news reporting and public commentary.The media today exists as a means of selling product by large corporations. These entities are served by keeping serious issues off the public plate. Much of the "official" Catholic media exists to prop up the institution. It gives no news. Provides even less discussion on serious issues. Psts the bishop's schedule and which hands he shook and which photo ops he granted. Archbishop Dolan is a product of each of these, in a way. He glad-hands like a traditional parish pastor: smiling, benevolent, and charming. Who can't like a nice guy? But he was looking under the wrong carpets in Ireland, from what we heard of his reports there. The man can offer a good time, but I don't think he has much depth or perception.Pope Benedict does seem to have a bitter streak. Commenting on it doesn't make me wish he hadn't said anything. His comments are a window on the man. I'm glad he made them. I think he's seriously mistaken, and colored by the trauma of 1968. But that doesn't make him a bad man. Just a misguided one.

I hope Pope Benedict is physically able (and willing) to continue writing for the Church, and that his withdraw is not total. His words always slow things down, and who can be surprised at the warm response he received from the priests of Rome. Though to some, I fear, the applause would be considered just another gaffe. Note, the theologian cited in the editorial is Reverend Joseph A. Komonchak.

Pope Benedict's rant against the media is relatively short - only the last two paragraphs. Forget those. The main part of the reflection could be interpreted as directed towards the members of the upcoming conclave:He recalls: On the programme for this first day [on the VII Council] were the elections of the Commissions, and lists of names had been prepared [...]. But straight away the Fathers said: [...] We want to make our own lists and elect our own candidates. It was not a revolutionary act, but an act of conscience, an act of responsibility on the part of the Council Fathers.Is that a hint to the members of the conclave? Do not follow the lead of the Curia but your conscience?He recalls: "an intense period of actively getting to know our counterparts, something which did not happen by chance. [...] Where I was staying, we had many visits"Is that a hint to the members of the conclave? Get to work and start networking?He further recalls: "not everyone knew what to do. The most prepared, let us say, those with the clearest ideas, were the French, German, Belgian and Dutch episcopates[...]. And in the first part of the Council it was they who pointed out the path; then the activity rapidly broadened, and everyone took part more and more"Is that a hint to the members of the conclave? Do not be afraid by your relative inexperience or lack of Roman connections?And again: "bishops collectively are the continuation of the Twelve, of the corpus of Apostles. We said: only one bishop, the Bishop of Rome, is the successor of a particular Apostle, namely Peter. All the others become successors of the Apostles by entering into the corpus that continues the corpus of the Apostles. Hence it is the corpus of bishops, the college, that is the continuation of the corpus of the Twelve, and thus it has its intrinsic necessity, its function, its rights and duties"Is that another hint to the members of the conclave? A call to responsibility?

Putting side by side Abp. Hunthausen's brief remarks (quoted above) and Pope Benedict's long discussion around the Body of Christ, People of God, and responsibilities, I see (or imagine) a certain convergence of thought on the essentials.

"But straight away the Fathers said: No, we do not simply want to vote for pre-prepared lists. We are the subject. Then, it was necessary to postpone the elections, because the Fathers themselves wanted to begin to get to know each other, they wanted to prepare the lists themselves. And so it was. Cardinal Linart of Lille and Cardinal Frings of Cologne had said publicly: no, not this way. We want to make our own lists and elect our own candidates. It was not a revolutionary act, but an act of conscience, an act of responsibility on the part of the Council Fathers."Such an irony. It was JP II and Benedict who crushed collegiality and made the bishops "like altar boys" as one Cardinal lamented. That Benedict could praise something that he crushed is so insincere. On the whole Benedict gave a nice summary of the council. His criticism of the media is particularly remarkable. Certainly the media can be problematic. But without the media Cardinal Law would still be giving Lawn parties and the Neocons would be leaders in the church.

And yet there's widespread abuse in schools across the US and the media doesn't seem to care much. If only the media were genuinely fair and balanced (unlike Fox News), they'd have credibility, but they're not.

Interesting that Pope Benedict contrasts "revolutionary act" with acts of conscience. Seems the old anti-modernist viewpoint lives.

David, apples and oranges. If that.The equivalent situation would be a coverup in public education engineered at the level of state and federal government. We all acknowledge sex abuse exists. It happens most often where access is high--in families. Thing is, teachers are prosecuted. No school administrator, to my knowledge, has ever willingly reassigned a teacher predator to another school. There is simply nothing within the legal culture or the sociological reality of faculty/administration that would support widespread coverup as has been demonstrated among bishops. There is hardly the level of cultural similarity between teachers and administration/school boards as there is between priests and bishops.Abuse isn't really news. Covering it up is.

Since I linked to the "Commonweal" editorial in my post, ecumenical courtesy suggests a link to the editorial of "America" is in order: http://americamagazine.org/issue/point-departureThe editors say in part:"Five years old when the Nazis came to power in his native Germany, the pope witnessed first hand the destructive power of a cult of personality. One can easily see why, given this experience, the pope can become visibly uncomfortable when the crowds chant his name. We must distinguish, he says, between the man and the office, between contact with the person of the pope and being physically in touch with this office, with the representative of the Holy One, with the mystery that there is a successor to Peter. Pope Benedict knows full well the truth of what Bernard wrote to Eugenius: You are Peter, not Jesus."

But Todd, the way we now use the word "cover-up" doesn't necessarily mean a concerted effort to keep things hushed up, but can and often does mean general neglect, to pay insufficient attention to problems in one's sphere. I can easily imagine - and it undoubtedly happens - that heads of state education simply don't make it their business to find out if sexual abuse is happening under their nose, and it most certainly is.If teachers in the numbers that I would expect are being prosecuted, why isn't it making the headlines more often? As for a teacher being reassigned to another school, I've heard it does happen and that there's even a name for it.Of course there's something within the culture that would support widespread cover-up, the simple fact of a principle or teacher not wanting the school to be on the receiving end of bad publicity. There isn't an institution that doesn't go out of its way to protect itself, schools included.

David:"Ah but the media does indeed deserve a good deal of the blame for what happened after the council, imposing a political narrative of left and right on the Church, just as it does in its coverage of the Pope and the Church in the present."My recollection of the time after the Council was that the media was very receptive to and affirming of the council and the aftermath. Any polarization that the media documented came from within, from us. These were turbulent times, partly because so few of us were really prepared for the changes in outlook, theology, liturgy et al despite the Catholic education that most of us received. Given the cultural forces in the 60s and '70s, I often wonder where we would have been had the council not happened. I suspect that we would be much worse off.

School administrators and boards are far more afraid of litigation than they are of the bad publicity of one offending teacher. I will grant that fear of litigation might also prevent an abuse case from being drawn out into the news. But unlike clergy, teachers are free agents. As long as they have a degree and certification, they are free to seek jobs wherever they wish. It is not quite the same with clergy, who need the permission of two bishops to switch dioceses and start fresh.In the past twenty years, there is no way in hell a principal would give a predator an easy out to teach in another school or district. That would be playing with legal fire, and there simply isn't the same connection that a priest has with a bishop.Like a priest, a predator teacher will gather allies and groom them in an attempt to head off confrontation. Bishops tend to be more convinced by such snow jobs. School administrators, both in the public system and in Catholic schools tend to be more knowledgeable, more vigilant, and more discerning. Kansas City is an illustrative case of that.No, the notion that bishops aren't so bad because other people cover up sexual crimes just doesn't cut it with me. They should be exemplars, not lumped in with sinners.I'm far more worried about families--and you should be too. An abusive parent is far more likely to groom allies among other family members, even the spouse. The home is where most sexual abuse occurs. That's a difficult thing for the media to sell for its corporate masters, I'll grant you that.

Claire, thank you for unearthing those quotes from Archbishop Hunthausen.It seems to me that the 2nd Vatican Council emphasized peace more than virtually any church leader I can think of today.

May I request that all posters please use their first and last names?

I stopped reading "Get Religion" quite some time back because the testiness there was a bit much.

That Benedict could praise something that he crushed is so insincere.I don't think that's the right word. I don't doubt Pope Benedict's sincerity. It's not so great to extol collegiality when he's on his way out but not when he could have done something about it, but what else would you expect? It's not insincere; it's just the way most people are.It reminds me a little of the movie "A royal affair", when the man who passionately advocated for freedom of expression, once he found himself in power and a target of malicious writings, ended up crushing his opposition - he thought he had no choice (at that moment in the movie I gripped the arms of my seat and shouted silently: "Don't do it!").

When I read the text of Pope Benedict's address to the clergy of Rome, I was delighted to learn about his reminiscences about Vatican II. I have strong interest in what occurred during the event. On my bookshelf there is a prominent place for Xavier Rynne's "Vatican II", "Voices from the Council" edited by Michael R. Prendergast and M.D. Ridge, published by OCP (a real gem with interviews and reflections by over 30 participants including bishops including Archbishop Hunthausen, periti, theologians, and observers at the council ) and more recently, Congar's "Journal of the Council."But at the end of the popes talk, it was such a let-down. It reminds me of a comment that someone made when Cardinal Ratzinger was elected pope. He said: "Watch the remaking of Ratzinger." I just wonder what issues he has hiding in the back of his brilliant mind.

"May I request that all posters please use their first and last names?"Or, at the very least, use a link to your own web site, where you use your full name. If you are speaking the truth, at least as you declare it, then you should have nothing of concern.

Claire's reading of the first part of the speech as offering a model for enlightened collegial interaction at the conclave seems plausible to me. But his lengthy reminiscences also reinforce his particular take on continuity and change in the Church. In contrast, the last two paragraphs, though cast as a rant against the journalistic media, really attack, and cruelly caricature, a widely held view of continuity and change in the Church that he simply can't abide.

Susan Gannon,what is the "widely held view of continuity and change in the Church" that you see the Pope "attacking" here?

"In the past twenty years, there is no way in hell a principal would give a predator an easy out to teach in another school or district. That would be playing with legal fire, and there simply isnt the same connection that a priest has with a bishop."Exactly. It is the cover up by the church which is the most damning.

Setting the "Council of the Fathers" over against a false, imaginary Council fobbed off on the laity by the media is insulting to the clergy and people, worldwide, who studied the documents of the Council seriously and found in them deep respect for tradition and positive direction for the future.Many Catholics in good faith believe that decentralization of power in the church might be a positive development, think that the "people of God" and their Bishops should bear more responsibility in the governance of the Church, and would strongly object to Benedict's characterization of their approach to liturgical change as "profane." But though clergy and laity may disagree with Benedict about practices, policies, ways of approaching governance and the value of specific scholarly approaches to scripture, he is mistaken in thinking they do so because they are deluded by the media. They learned the lessons taught by the wise Fathers of the Council whose respect for tradition and willingness to innovate appropriately Benedict praises in the earlier section of his talk. And they, like Benedict himself, are trying to apply those lessons to the challenges of our time. In many ways they are on the same page with him, and don't deserve to be dismissed lightly.

I fear I still see Benedict as I learned to see him early in his papacy -- there are two of him. One is the gentle, generous, kindly old man who doesn't want to hurt anyone. The other is completely rigid about some things and will act harshly if he thinks he is called to. The latter Benedict has loyalty as his predominant trait. The first has kindness. He has been something of a Hamlet, too, wavering between values.

Ann,I'll only consider Benedict "something of a Hamlet" when I learn that he decided against avenging children for fear that their abusers, momentarily engaged in prayer, might go to heaven and not straight to hell.

Susan Gannon,Thank you for the continuing clarification. It's helpful. Let me join in the conversation. My reading of the Pope's reflections (and his many other addresses) leads me to think he would not at all deny that many indeed "studied the documents of the Council seriously and found in them deep respect for tradition and positive direction for the future." It is this approach he is seeking to support by contrasting it with a hermeneutic that is only a partial and inadequate reception of the Council -- one that tends to import categories from the political arena into ecclesial discernment (which is what, in his view, the media tend to do).You also say: "they, like Benedict himself, are trying to apply those lessons to the challenges of our time. In many ways they are on the same page with him, and dont deserve to be dismissed lightly."Again, I do not read him as at all dismissive of them. Indeed, I think he has only supported such efforts. That does not mean that all the fruits of such efforts are healthy or are, whatever the good intentions of individuals, faithful to the tradition.He concludes his talk to the clergy of Rome: " it is our task, especially in this Year of Faith, on the basis of this Year of Faith, to work so that the true Council, with its power of the Holy Spirit, be accomplished and the Church be truly renewed. Let us hope that that the Lord will assist us."I think we can both say "Amen" to that hope.

Ann Olivier:I think that psychologists call it compartmentalization, a coping mechanism or defense strategy.

It takes a psychologist to know about compartmentalization, projecting their own worries and inadequacies onto others.

"And we knew that the relationship between the Church and the modern period, right from the outset, had been slightly fraught, beginning with the Churchs error in the case of Galileo Galilei; we were looking to correct this mistaken start and to rediscover the union between the Church and the best forces of the world, so as to open up humanitys future, to open up true progress."How many caught this in the pope's speech? Comparable to Galileo is the church's stand on contraception. Contraception is considered one of the great health advances of the twentieth century. Yet the RCC has given more grief and caused more harm with its resistance to condoms and other methods to limit birth. Will a future council or synod seek to "correct this mistaken start and to rediscover the union between the Church and the best forces of the world, so as to open up humanitys future, to open up true progress."Then came Ottaviani, Woyitla and Humanae Vitae. And of course, those self aggrandizers, Neuhaus, wiegel and Novak. Quite an interesting comment by the pope. Do we see the irony?

One problem with that talk is that Pope Benedict opposes, on the one hand, "the second Vatican council, as I see it", that is, the "Council of the Fathers", the "real" Council, the "true" Council - his version of the council; and on the other hand, what he calls the "Council of the media", the "virtual" Council, which caused disasters and suffering: "seminaries closed, convents closed, banal liturgy". Everything about it is bad.This black and white presentation seems to leave no room for other voices: Pope Benedict is the one who holds the correct view, and any view that differs from his must be a mixture of his correct view and of the incorrect view of the "Council of the media". He has the entire truth. That rules out the existence of legitimate differing views, and such a position is problematic, even if his talk is, as Bill says, "a nice summary of the council on the whole".

Robert, Id like to reply to something you said @ 2/23, 6:08 am, in your response to Susan Gannon (whose points I second). Here's the quote:'You also say: they, like Benedict himself, are trying to apply those lessons to the challenges of our time. In many ways they are on the same page with him, and dont deserve to be dismissed lightly.Again, I do not read him as at all dismissive of them. Indeed, I think he has only supported such efforts. That does not mean that all the fruits of such efforts are healthy or are, whatever the good intentions of individuals, faithful to the tradition.'You may be correct with respect to theology. But in the area of liturgy, I could not disagree with you more when you say that Benedict "has only supported such efforts." In fact, he has been strongly opposed to those who do not share his own very particular and sometimes peculiar views, and has dismissed, demoted, and replaced many who faithfully and intelligently and responsibly implemented the liturgical reforms of the Council over the past fifty years. Look at the persons he has appointed to the CDWS. Look at ICEL. Look at Vox Clara. Look at the undertakings and books he endorses. He has put into place a change of course so dramatic that a whole generation of scholars and churchmen has been effectively disenfranchised from the official structures. If this is support, I dont know what opposition would look like. How can anyone read Liturgiam Authenticam and not regard it as dismissive of the main stream of implementation of the Council's direction for the forty years previous? This document was written without any serious consultation and has been decried by scholars of great probity and learning. And he was behind that, without a doubt, even though it appeared during John Paul's pontificate. How can anyone look at the fate of the 1998 translation of the Roman Missal, the fruit of 15 years of work, approved by all the English-speaking bishops conferences, and thrown in the trashbin none of it reused -- and still say that Benedict has only supported such efforts?You observe that not all the effects of sincere labor are faithful to the tradition. True enough. But I am wondering if what you are implying is that Benedict alone is to be taken as the arbiter of what is authentic tradition. History will show, I am afraid, that Benedict has been a poor judge of authentic and inauthentic developments arising from the Council. Even while deploring the fabrication of liturgy, he has invented a tradition that isnt there, namely two forms of the Roman rite to name only one example. Again, I speak not of theological disputes but of liturgical ones.

Thanks, Rita. That needed saying.

Rita,Sincere thanks for your thoughtful, detailed (even passionate!) comment. I cannot match your knowledge of specific issues regarding liturgical developments in the last two pontificates. I have long regretted the failure to approve the 1998 translation at least for a period of 10 years. That failure left us with a clearly inadequate translation for far too long; and it is certainly debatable whether the present translation "sings" as eloquently as the rejected one. How much this can be laid at Benedict/Ratzinger's door is, of course, arguable. But it is best argued by some, like yourself, who have real knowledge of the matters of fact.The quote from the Pope's remarks which I included in the body of the post is one to which I know you would say "amen." The very next paragraph of the text reads:"Then there were the principles: intelligibility, instead of being locked up in an unknown language that is no longer spoken, and also active participation. Unfortunately, these principles have also been misunderstood. Intelligibility does not mean banality, because the great texts of the liturgy even when, thanks be to God, they are spoken in our mother tongue are not easily intelligible, they demand ongoing formation on the part of the Christian if he is to grow and enter ever more deeply into the mystery and so arrive at understanding. And also the word of God when I think of the daily sequence of Old Testament readings, and of the Pauline Epistles, the Gospels: who could say that he understands immediately, simply because the language is his own? Only ongoing formation of hearts and minds can truly create intelligibility and participation that is something more than external activity, but rather the entry of the person, of my being, into the communion of the Church and thus into communion with Christ."Here the Pope expresses what is dear to his heart and what I have tried to put at the center of my own ministry in preaching and teaching. If you tell me that the Pope has not always been wise in his discernment of what these principles entail or always prudent in the concrete measures he's taken to implement them, I can only welcome the insights and perspectives you provide and try to put them into dialogue with other perspectives offered. Lastly, I do not suggest that the Pope is alone "the arbiter of what is authentic tradition:" and his resignation of the Petrine office brings that recognition once more to the fore.

My thanks, too, Rita.

I also am grateful for Rita's chronicling of the unhappy history of liturgical decisions taken by Rome over the past decade and a half.I believe that the CDF under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger did have a role in the preparation of Liturgiam Authenticam (2001) and in the denial of the recognitio (2002) to the English-speaking conferences' individual canonical approvals of the 1998 Missal. Surely dialogue with the conferences would have been better than the brusque decision that was taken.I acknowledge that I was more than a spectator to parts of the history that Rita narrates.

Rita: My thanks, my thanks, my maxima thanks.Re: your comment"How can anyone look at the fate of the 1998 translation of the Roman Missal, the fruit of 15 years of work, approved by all the English-speaking bishops conferences, and thrown in the trashbin...?"Is it too much to hope that under the next pope the work of the Visitation of our American sisters will end up in the trashbin?

Helen, I echo your thanks of Rita. The difference between the sisters and the English-speaking bishops is that the former demonstrated more spine, and that the attempted investigation there has largely ended up in the circular file. Mainly because its targets care little for red hats, or the promotion to larger dioceses liable to "merit" one.I pray daily for the forces of the antigospel to be in retreat among the ranks of the upper hierarchy. And who knows? Crazier prayers of mine have been answered.

The history chronicled by Rita is one reason why I cannot bring myself to yield to the new missal. I don't see a way to resolve it other than forcing myself to pick up the cheat sheets and saying the words of the new missal along with the others, but I can't do it. I have an almost physical aversion to it. It would be like making myself do something that I know is wrong, something that I really, really don't want to do. It would be degrading.