Saturday, September 8, 2012

Correcting the Course of Vatican II

Sorry—travelling there for a few days, so let me pick up where I left off.  I had mentioned in my previous posting that John Paul II had never been an enthusiastic proponent of the Second Vatican Council and, when elected pope, was anxious to re-interpret the conciliar decrees to fit with his vision of a more centralized and authoritarian Church administration, similar to what he had known in the Polish Church during the years when the Polish Church was the sole resistance to the communist regime that governed Poland with such an iron fist.   Under John Paul’s papacy, the emphasis on the role of the local bishop in his diocese and the authority granted him by the Conciliar Decrees Christus Dominus and Lumem Gentium  was steadily revoked and power was confirmed in the central administration known as the Roman Curia.  We saw in the United States that very steadily after 1980 more and more bishops were chosen for American dioceses whose principle qualities were a strong sense of Romanitas, the Roman “mentality,” that viewed the Church principally from an institutional perspective and whose loyalty was first and foremost to the papacy.  The more pastorally oriented bishops who had been appointed in the ‘70’s were increasingly replaced by men educated in Rome and with backgrounds in Canon Law.  There have been some outstanding bishops appointed in the John Paul II years (and now the Benedict XVI years) including Gerald Kikanis, Timothy Dolan, John (Mort) Smith, Wilton Gregory, Sean O’Malley, William Keeler, Thomas Kelly, Donald Trautman, Kenneth Untener,  William Curlin, Dennis Madden,  John Ricard, Robert Morneau, among others, but there have been many, far too many, episcopal duds as well.  Overall, it has left the American Church in considerable disarray with the clergy demoralized and the laity neither understanding the role of their bishop nor trusting the man who is their bishop.  The disgrace of Cardinal Bernard Law and his subsequent exile to Rome has left a leadership vacuum (as distinguished from a power vacuum) in the American Church.  Despite his slimy reputation at home, Law still wields immense power in Rome, especially in the nomination of Bishops to American Sees.  He sits on seven congregations (including the Congregation for Bishops) and one Pontifical Council (The Pontifical Council for the Family—frightening, isn’t it given his failure to grasp the import of the pedophilia scandal?). Law’s protégé (after the death of Cardinal James Hickey in 2004) and designated heir as American Kingmaker (or, actually, bishop-maker) is William Lori, the new Archbishop of Baltimore.  The “Reform Party” in the hierarchy is hoping that the leadership can devolve on New York Archbishop, Timothy Dolan, an orthodox but pastorally savvy prelate rather than Lori who has an unsavory reputation for blind ambition.  But I have gone far from where I wanted to go today.  Let me refocus. 
My point was going to be that just as John Paul had wanted to correct the course as set by Paul VI and Vatican II, Benedict sought the papacy in the hope of correcting the course of John Paul II.  We can do an entry some day on Benedict’s engineering his election despite his empty protests of not having wanted the post, and while I think Benedict would have ideally wished that the post could have gone to someone else, I also believe that he felt he had a responsibility to correct some of the direction given to the Church by John Paul—notably in the areas of ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue.  I also think Benedict wanted to “rescue” the liturgy before it evolved any further away from the pre-conciliar rites.  I hope to explore these topics in future postings but it adds up to more and more “correcting” the course of the Council which is tantamount to annulling many of its most important advances.     

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