Local News Archive
Print Issue: January 2, 1964
Vatican Council Notes: Unwieldy Parliament, Real Legislative Body
This is the last of a series on the second session of the Vatican Council by the GEORGIA BULLETINS managing editor, who has returned after three weeks of coverage and conversation at the Vatican.
By Gerard E. Sherry
It looked as though this final article on the Council Session concluded last month would never see the light of day. Space problems in our Christmas issues have delayed it until now. Furthermore so many opinions have already been written on the Council Session that one wonders if a further one is really necessary.
It seems to me that the Council set out to establish the norms of renewal within the Church as laid down by the late Pope John XXIII, and reemphasized by the present Holy Father. The First Session, in 1962, could be classified as a preparatory course for the council Fathers. Never before had so many bishops met under one roof; never before had so many strangers come together to make decisions affecting half a billion Catholics and countless other millions not of our faith.
The miracle of the First Session was that the bishops came to know each other, not only as brothers in Christ, but as essential legislators in the welfare of the Church. An unwieldy parliament had been led from procedural chaos into rules of order and administrative calm, which is now the envy of every political legislature in the world.
The timeless Church has achieved in one year what many skeptics had forecast would take 50 to 100 years. In other words, the conclusion of the Second Session of Vatican II points to the fact that its accomplishments will bear fruit in this generation, as well as in generations to come. Two major decrees do not seem too much, yet the Liturgy Reforms alone stand as a monument to the accomplishments of the current Council Fathers.
The communications-media decree, even though it has not received the universal acceptance that the Liturgical Reforms gained, it is still a step in the right direction. It has some major faults. However, the art of compromise always results in less than one expected - as well as more than one thought possible. Renewal is never stagnant. Hence, the communications media will continue to get the attention of the Church and improvements more in keeping with the realities of our times will surely come about.
The Third Session is expected to take various schemata on which debate has already taken place in the Second Session. These include bishops and diocesan government and ecumenism. Other subjects not yet discussed include lay apostolate, marriage, the missions, Catholic education, clergy education, Eastern Churches, and the Church in the modern world.
The Schema on Bishops and Diocesan Government has received much attention from the Council Fathers. Many have expressed dissatisfaction with its present form, especially in relation to National Conferences of Bishops and the role of bishops in relation to the government of the Church and the Roman Curia. This schema also treats on the status of coadjutor and auxiliary bishops, as well as the retirement age for bishops. These may not seem important to the average layman, but they do have a great bearing on effective diocesan administration and as such, affect us all.
The Schema on Ecumenism appears to be the most difficult for the Council Fathers to decide upon. The debate at the Second Session, rather acrimonious at times, showed the bishops to be of one mind, except on the chapters 4 and 5. These involve a statement of principles on Catholics and Jews, and on religious liberty. Some of the Council Fathers fear these last two chapters will be quietly deleted from the schema on the insistence of leading Curia officials. However, all signs point to the opposite. Cardinal Bea, who heads the Vatican Secretariat for Christian Unity, assured the Council Fathers at the closing debate of the Second Session that the chapters were very much alive, and would be further discussed at the Third Session. The known involvement of the American hierarchy in the preparation and support of the chapter on Religious Liberty seems to guarantee that it will not be squashed or watered down. Furthermore, Curia fears on this subject are only natural considering their role as main defenders of the Divine Deposit. It is expected that their apparent intransigence during the Second Session will not deter the majority of bishops from approving the Religious Liberty chapter.
To sum it up, it could be said that apart from the promulgation of two major decrees, the Second Session also achieved a unanimity among the Council Fathers which was never expected. The so-called Council struggle is not a political battle, nor is it a question of a battle over doctrine. It simply involves the question of what are the best methods of achieving renewal and unity -- which is also the purpose expressed by Pope John when he originally conceived the idea of the Council.