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Time is right for Vatican III

by Kerry Gonzales

Vatican II was a bit of a mixed bag it seems. Memories of its impact on me at the time are minimal, however I certainly remember the change from Latin and other changes that developed in liturgy and other areas. It seems that while some religious and laity welcomed the changes with open arms, others were threatened and overwhelmed by changes that seemed to undermine the secure lives they had been living.

Overall, however, it seems that many positive changes occurred as a result of Vatican II, changes that laid a framework on which the Church was able to stand and launch forward into an uncertain but exciting future.

Yet, it seems to me that in the year 2002, the 40th anniversary of the commencement of Vatican II, some of the important changes heralded by Vatican II have been stalled or seemingly reversed.

The world is already a vastly different place and climate to that which existed at the time of Vatican II and the Church is facing up to a world that is at once high tech and highly educated and at the same time abjectly poor. The advances in technology do not seem to have enhanced our spiritual lives or diminished the search for more meaning and spirituality in the lives of most wealthy countries. The poorest countries seem to have a spiritual depth that the rich countries can only search for. The recent visit to Australia of the Dalai Lama attracted very large numbers of people, both old and young, who were keen to hear the teachings of a man from a vastly different culture.

So perhaps the time is right for Vatican III. With technology the way it is, everyone wouldn't have to descend on Rome. The world could come to Rome via cyberspace and the message from Rome could reach a huge audience. So bring on Vatican III.

However such an event as Vatican III would need to be open and frank, not closed and orchestrated, and given the current Canon Laws surrounding the calling of a council, this may not be possible. For Vatican III would be inhibited by such Canon Laws as these:

Canon 338 No 1: It is the prerogative of the Roman Pontiff alone to summon an Ecumenical Council, to preside over it personally or through others, to transfer, suspend or dissolve the Council, and to approve its decrees.

No 2: It is also the prerogative of the Roman Pontiff to determine the matters to be dealt with in the Council, and to establish the order to be observed. The Fathers of the Council may add other matters to those proposed by the Roman Pontiff, but the Roman Pontiff must approve these.

Canon 339. No 1: Some others besides, who do not have the Episcopal dignity, can be summoned to an Ecumenical Council by the supreme authority in the Church, to whom it belongs to determine what part they take in the Council.

Canon 341 No 1: The decrees of an Ecumenical council do not oblige unless they are approved by the Roman Pontiff as well as by the Fathers of the Council, confirmed by the Roman Pontiff and promulgated by his direction.

Not only is Canon Law a restriction on any future Vatican Council, the name Vatican itself reflects the autocratic, centrality of governance that exists within the Catholic Church. A truly "Catholic" council in the 'universal' sense, would need to be very inclusive and hear and consider the views and needs of Catholics world wide, not just the voices of clergy and theologians, but the voices of all groups within the 'Body of Christ'. A tall order indeed, but not unrealistic I believe.

A further preclusion to another council is the voice of our own clergy here in Australia. Cardinal Pell was reported as saying recently that "Vatican II was guilty of "excessive optimism" and "over confidence" and had directly contributed to declining church attendance, the collapse of priestly vocations and the "spread of doctrinal and moral confusion"" (SMH 3/6/03). Cardinal Pell obviously does not want to feel the winds of change and seems determined to present the pre-Vatican II church as the model in which we should all believe. Vatican II may not have had all the answers but at least, in general, it was not afraid to look long and hard at the questions.

Pope John XXIII was a visionary, well ahead of his time and he led the Catholic Church to some new and forward ways of looking at itself and the world. With luck, and a lot of vision on the part of Church leaders, perhaps a Vatican III is not too much of a pipe dream. Certainly there are enough important issues out there to enable such a gathering to have a very full and lively agenda.

Kerry Gonzales is a teacher-librarian by profession and mother of five.

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