24Sep Vatican II: Lost and betrayed: Giovanni Franzoni

Vatican II: Lost and betrayed
Giovanni Franzoni, a former Benedictine abbot, Catholic theologian, and eyewitness to Vatican II, offered these reflections at the 31st Congress of the Asociación de Teólogos y Teólogas Juan XXIII in Madrid earlier this month. They were reproduced in Spanish on Religión Digital. We bring them to you in English.
Dear friends, dear fellow travellers, it’s an honour and a joy for me to have been invited here to Spain to participate in your meeting. I thank you, not only for the invitation, but mainly because, despite the difficulties, and although times are not propitious, you continue to courageously hold high the flame of Vatican II, and you continue to hold tenaciously to the need for an evangelical reform of the Roman Catholic Church.

I apologize if my manner of speaking is more “itañol” (Italian-Spanish) than Spanish, but I hope you will understand me all the same. I wrote my speech in Italian and Maria Lorenza Ferrer, a friend from the Canary Islands who has lived in Rome for many years, translated it into Spanish. She patiently tried to teach me the pronunciation of your Spanish language, and for this I thank her as well. Naturally, after my speech I will be happy to answer your questions. I’ll do it in Italian. I hope that one of you will do me the favour of translating.

Reaffirming the joy of being among you (I really feel at home!), I would like to explain first why I attended the Council, then go straight to our topic.

1. Why I participated in the Council

You have before you an elderly person (born in 1928) who, when I was young, was fortunate to participate in Vatican II. About 2,500 priests took part in that event, but fifty years later almost all are dead. I am one of the few surviving “fathers” (together, in Italy, with my friend Monsignor Luigi Betazzi, Bishop Emeritus of Ivrea), so you have before you an eyewitness. I stress this point because in recent years there have often been conferences devoted to the Council where theologians and historians, who in the sixties were kids or not even born perhaps, have reflected on that event, even saying deep and important things, but normally without feeling the need to listen to some of the conciliar fathers who are still alive. It’s not that we, who are old and often sick, possess the truth or are indispensable, but we can say something interesting as witnesses to the context (moods, hopes, fears, disappointments, indignation) in which the documents were discussed and drafted — a context that no lecture or chronicle, much less the documents themselves, can present.

In 1964 I, a Benedictine monk, was elected abbot of the Benedictine monastery of “St. Paul Outside the Walls” in Rome. Despite not being a bishop, as abbot of St. Paul – an abbey nullius – I had the right to participate in the Council, as permitted in canon law, along with other abbots of the same legal status. I was one of the youngest conciliar fathers then — I was only 36! So, in the fall of 1964, I participated in the third session of the Council and, the following fall, in the fourth and last one. I remember that, at the beginning of the third session, the Council secretary Monsignor Pericle Felici suggested — because that’s what Paul VI wanted — that this would be the last session of the Council.

What label can you assign me as a conciliar father? Let’s say that with respect to many of the points that the Council had to face, I had come into Vatican II as a “moderate”, but to many — mostly Italians — I was “progressive” and in this way I was stimulated at the Council by the presence and interventions of the Belgian Cardinal Leo Suenens, Archbishop of Malines-Brussels, and Giacomo Lercaro, Archbishop of Bologna, and the patriarchs like the Greek Melkite Maximos IV Saigh. Shy as I was, I never took the floor at the Council, but when the Italian Bishops Conference convened a meeting to reflect on episcopal collegiality, which is discussed in the third chapter of Lumen Gentium, I spoke at the assembly.

On that occasion Monsignor Antonio Poma, then bishop of Mantua (who, in 1968, would be elected Archbishop of Bologna by Paul VI, substituting for the “ousted” Lercaro), expressed many fears about episcopal collegiality, arguing that it obscured the primacy of the pope. I then got up and, taking precisely the example of Eastern-rite Catholic Churches which are run in a synodal manner, said that the pope’s primacy is not decreased but instead is strengthened by episcopal collegiality. I remember several bishops complimented me for my intervention and in fact since that time the Italian episcopate as a whole, except for some traditionalist bishops, has been less rigidly opposed to collegiality.

2. The ambivalent behaviour of Paul VI

And, based on the news in those days, let’s now try to give an answer that is at the heart of the question you have presented to me: Why and for what reasons does it seem to us that the Council has been — and starting precisely with the popes — more and more neglected, rendered void, and perhaps betrayed? Of course, a comprehensive response would require an exhaustive study which we can’t do here. So I will limit myself to presenting some flashes, just titles and summaries of a possible and desirable, broader treatment.

Today, in many places, even in our environment, it is said that John Paul II and then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – as of 2005, Benedict XVI – were the ones who put a stop to the post-conciliar ferment, imposing a restrictive, minimalist interpretation of Vatican II. However, in my opinion, it was Paul VI himself who set the premises so that the Council could be, at least in part, “tamed” and the post-conciliar period “cooled down”.

When, in November 1964, the Council was finally getting ready to formally approve the Constitution on the Church, Pope Montini forced them to add a “prior explanatory note” to the text of the third chapter of Lumen Gentium, precisely the one that dealt with the issue of collegiality, that is, the relationship between papal primacy and power of the episcopal college. The note reiterates papal power in an exasperating way, giving it an interpretation that, in retrospect, renders meaningless the episcopal collegiality that was affirmed in Lumen Gentium (to be precise, I recall that the conciliar text never uses the noun “collegiality” but speaks of college of bishops). It repeats a hundred times that this college can do nothing “without its head,” or without the Pope. With few exceptions, the Roman Curia has always maintained that the prior note was an act of the Council. But it wasn’t; it was a papal act, the full responsibility of Paul VI. The Council simply took note, but formally, without making the text its own.

Still about Lumen Gentium: When they began to discuss the eighth chapter, which speaks of the Virgin Mary, the Polish episcopate — led by Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski — fought vigorously for the Virgin to be proclaimed “mother of the Church” in the text — a title that most of the conciliar fathers held to be theologically untenable, as they preferred to imagine Her “in” the Church as a disciple of Jesus, not “over” the Church. The Poles insisted, and others as well. In conclusion, in the final text, the controversial title did not appear. So what did Paul VI do then? In the speech of November 21, 1964, the same day that the Council formally approved the constitution Lumen Gentium, he proclaimed the Virgin Mary “Mother of the Church … And we wish that the Mother of God should be still more honoured and invoked by the entire Christian people by this most sweet title.” And so, in one strike, the pope overrode the Council that, by a large majority, had rejected that title, and he did this right as they were adopting a text that affirmed episcopal collegiality.

Take note, the Pope seemed to be saying. Discuss all you like, but in the end the decision will be mine. In fact while he was proclaiming episcopal collegiality with the Council, he was giving it a personal interpretation reduced to the minimum and a truncated implementation. Another scenario: When we were preparing to discuss the ministry and priestly life with the decree Presbyterorum Ordinis in the fourth session, the issue of mandatory celibacy for priests of the Latin Church had to be addressed. Interventions emerged completely in favour of retaining the current law, but also some interventions that foresaw the theory that those who would later be called in Latin viri probati, or mature men, with existing professional lives and who were fathers of families, could be ordained priests.

These “progressive” interventions, although rare, troubled the pope who then wrote a letter to Cardinal Eugenio Tisserant, primus inter pares of the Board of Presidency of the Council, asking him to inform the assembly that the pope was reserving to himself the question of priestly celibacy. That’s how Vatican II’s discussion of the matter was cut short. Later, in 1967, Pope Montini published the encyclical Sacerdotalis Caelibatus in which he rejected any theory of change in the existing law. But everyone knows that since then and throughout these fifty years, the question of celibacy has caused endless debate, much discomfort, much suffering.

I’ll tell you a personal experience. When we learned of the pope’s decision to reserve the decision on priestly celibacy to himself, a Colombian conciliar father who was very close to me, said to me in Italian: “Father Abbot, I have only eight diocesan priests, all with domestic partners. What should I do? Put them all out on the street and remain without any priests? I came to the Council for this reason alone .. ” I, a “moderate”, tried to calm him down, saying that I hoped the Holy Father would do his part … If the pope had left full freedom to the Council, perhaps a breach would have been opened towards reform. But the pope decided, and the conciliar fathers didn’t have the courage to insist, to maintain the freedom to discuss that thorny subject.

Also on Gaudium et Spes, the Pope made an authoritarian intervention that had serious consequences. When the morally legitimate methods of birth control were being discussed, many fathers — Suenens and Maximos IV, among others — argued that spouses should be granted freedom of conscience, a thesis that was contradicted by fewer but more militant fathers. Determined to reaffirm Casti Connubii, the encyclical in which Pius XI in 1930 declared that impeding the normal process of procreation of a single conjugal act is a grave sin, the “conservative” fathers opposed through every means the announced openings and new developments. The “progressives” upheld — “the pill” had been discovered shortly before — that it wasn’t wise to oppose science and issue judgments in such debatable fields. It seemed clear that the vast majority of the Council was in favour of the “open” thesis. Then Paul VI intervened, reserving to himself the determination of morally licit means to regulate fertility. He did it with the encyclical Humanae Vitae, which we will discuss later.

Finally, I would remind you that many fathers, already fascinated by the conciliar discussion, and each day more aware of the stakes, expected that after the fourth session there would be others. But, on opening that one, the secretary of the Council, Monsignor Pericle Felici, after having explained the work program to the fathers, announced that the fourth session erit ultima, that it would be the last. Obviously, that was what Paul VI, who feared that lenghthening Vatican II would cast a shadow on papal authority, had decided. So what had just been a suggestion at the beginning of the third session, now became a harsh imposition.

From these few examples (others can be furnished), it’s quite clear that it was Paul VI who made decisions that cut off the council in its potentialities, and laid the foundations for a reductive interpretation of the documents of Vatican II. That was how Wojtyla and Ratzinger could later refer to it to pursue a restrictive and limited implementation of the Council. But – and this is the other side of the coin – Montini didn’t just make those interventions. He made others from a different orientation. Here I’ll recall one, which seemed to me then and still seems to me of great historical, theological and ecclesial significance.

An Italian bishop spoke one day, noting that to invoke a “Church of the poor” wasn’t saying anything new since the Church had always been of the poor. Then Maximos IV Saigh spoke in a brief and dry intervention in response, saying that it was true that the Church had always been “for” the poor, but that it had always left them poor. And given that a strong movement for poverty relief was already on the rise, the patriarch concluded by saying that it was appropriate that the Church be “with” the poor.

Well, a few days later, Maximos celebrated a Byzantine Rite liturgy at St. Peter. Sitting on a small throne placed on the opposite side of the transept, Paul VI attended the Mass with the tiara on his head. At the offertory, the pope took off the tiara (that precious one that Catholics in Milan donated to him when he was elected pope in 1963), rose, crossed the entire sanctuary, and placed it on the knees of patriarch. I saw in this gesture – and I’m sure the pope meant it that way – as the decision to end the era of temporal power of Popes, a power that was represented by one of the three crowns of the tiara (also called a “Triregnum” for this reason). That is to say, it wasn’t just any gesture but, rather, a premeditated strategic decision. It should be noted that in fact, no pope after him has appeared in public with the tiara on his head. It can be assumed that Paul VI had wanted to express something about the definitive elimination of this arrogant symbol of the power, also political, of the papacy.

Let’s leave aside the fact that the tiara was taken on a tour of the United States to raise money, but, in itself, the gesture of the pope was solemn and poignant. Nevertheless, the historically inherited excrescences of papal power, which are really something else compared to the “Petrine” charism, unfortunately have not been abandoned. Wojtyla and Ratzinger have even increased them.

True, we must admit, Pope Montini was in an awkward situation. He was trying to keep the Council, which was agitated by opposing trends, united. From this point of view, one can understand his attempt to water down the conciliar documents to the point of making them acceptable to the conciliar minority, which stood firm in eternally conservative positions. Still, it should be noted, in my opinion, that often the work of mediation ended up limiting or voiding the freedom of the Council and, above all, deferring to the future problems that later would blow up, leading to disastrous consequences. Montini was obsessed with finding a moral unanimity on all the Council documents — a noble goal, which only would have lulled, but not eliminated, the sharp tensions.

3. The contradictions in the conciliar documents

In the conciliar documents, especially in Lumen Gentium, two ecclesiological views overlap. One, a legacy from the Council of Trent and Vatican I, sees the church as a “perfect company”, pretty much a pyramid with the Roman Pontiff at the top. A legal view of the Church, let’s say. The other view, in contrast, sees the Church as “communion”, as a people on a journey in history to proclaim the Gospel by joining hands with all people of good will, determined to do their part to promote peace and justice in the world, without claiming birthright.

Rather than choose between these two views, the Council overlaps and mixes them. Let’s take an example. In the first draft of the Constitution on the Church, prepared substantially by the Roman Curia, the second chapter was devoted to the hierarchy and the third, to the people of God. But in the end, Lumen Gentium changed the order: the people of God in the second chapter, the hierarchy in the third. But while the second chapter opens up vast possibilities and seems to emphasize the ecclesiology of communion, the third has a different flavour, a different point of view, and it’s plagued by a juridical view. So, even as it affirms episcopal collegiality, it limits it in every way.

Therefore, despite John XXIII’s intention that the Council should have only pastoral objectives, without dealing with doctrinal and theological problems, in fact this representation of the Church as the “people of God” and the universal mission of salvation represented a theological revolution. The Church didn’t go on presenting itself as a sort of “Noah’s Ark” for the salvation of the elect, while all those outside the church were considered, in St. Augustine’s expression, massa damnata, but it became a community of disciples called to proclaim the Gospel to all humankind with an aim to universal salvation.

Apart from everything else, the conciliar documents are strewn with limitations: the bishops can do this, if the Pope consents … the lay people can do that, if the bishop allows it … This and that can be done but only if the times permit … With these premises, what happened when the fathers, once the Council ended, returned home? Some felt that what was affirmed by Vatican II was the maximum that could be granted, and therefore they applied themselves at ending any innovative perspective. Others, however, were of the opinion that the Council had said the minimum that could be said so that all could agree, leaving the local churches to take further steps forward later. Both sides could find phrases in the conciliar documents that supported both theses.

4. The post-conciliar period — disappointments, contradictions, hopes

Giving the history of the post-conciliar period would mean giving the history of the Roman Catholic Church over the past fifty years — an obviously impossible enterprise in this brief speech. I will confine myself, therefore, to indicating the points that I think are more interesting, in order to understand what happened and to give us some pointers to our future path.

Overall, the Roman Curia under Paul VI did everything possible to normalize the situation and weaken the Council. In particular, the implementation of episcopal collegiality was weakened. In fact, the Synod of Bishops, instituted by the Pope as the fourth session began and therefore taking away from Vatican II a debate on such a capital argument, is not a real implementation of episcopal collegiality (think of how the motu proprio Apostolica Sollicitudo through which the Pope instituted the Synod doesn’t quote from Lumen Gentium at all!). Paul VI conceived of the Synod as a body to “advise” the pope, who feels free to accept or reject the proposals of the Assembly. And in practice, the synodal assemblies have been put together in such a way as to diminish the freedom of the bishops, though sometimes, as in the Synod of 1971 that addressed the issue of ministerial priesthood, some fathers had the courage to talk about taboo arguments such as the viri probati, and even women’s ministry.

Moreover, nothing has been done to make the conciliar claim of the Church as the “people of God” concrete. It would have been completely logical that, once the premise had been put forward, a kind of Senate of the Catholic Church would have been created where bishops, priests, monks, nuns, religious, lay men and women would be represented, to discuss the big problems together. Or, better, along with each bishops’ conference (which gathers the local churches of a nation or a territory) there should be this Senate, that would send a representative to the Senate of the Catholic Church.

Lacking such a universal representative body, some bishops’ conferences have chosen different ways to implement Vatican II in a serious way. The Dutch Church even had the courage to convene a pastoral council that dared to tackle taboo subjects such as optional celibacy for priests, so it was forced by Rome to backpeddle. In Germany, the bishops wanted a Synod that actually answered the encyclical Humanae Vitae. In the United States of America, the bishops wrote a letter on women, but then they had to correct it in several passages that, according to the Roman Curia, could open the door to women’s ministry. There have been similar initiatives in other countries. So in many places there was an attempt to draw conclusions from general, though abstract, principles proposed by the Council.

But, precisely because of the opposition of the two ecclesiologies that runs through the documents of Vatican II, while some found strength in some assertions, others, that is, the Roman Curia and conservative bishops, fortify themselves in others, and as a consequence the tension began, that has lasted to our time, between some and others, all bolstering their choices with the words of the Council.

Those who consider the categories of “progressive” and “conservative” sufficient to identify the divisions expressed in the Council would be mistaken. It was not always opposing blocs on viewpoints, generally more open or more traditional. In some cases it was really cross-cutting divisions, derived from the context in which each bishopric acted. It could be that some fathers who were “progressive” on certain arguments, showed themselves to be “conservative” on others. The most obvious example was the U.S. bishops, who were closed on issues like the death penalty and nuclear weapons and quite firm about the monarchal authority of the Pope, revealed themselves later to be innovative on the issue of religious freedom (subject of the conciliar declaration Dignitatis Humanae) because they were born and raised in a country where Irish, Italian, and Latin American immigrants, even though despised, have always been grateful for religious freedom. And so they were able to make the Catholic Church there a flourishing faith to such an extent that it was able to get John F. Kennedy elected president of the United States.

The paradigm of all these contradictions has been, in my opinion, the experience of Humanae Vitae. Precisely the method chosen by Paul VI (preventing free debate at the Council on birth control, establishing a study commission to get help, denying the conclusions of this body because they demolished the pet theses of the Roman Curia, deciding authoritarianly to impose on the concience of spouses burdens that the Gospel doesn’t impose) is the obvious proof, the ecclesiological proof of Montini’s inability to accept the sense of the Council. An absolutist monarchal concept of the papacy remained strong in him — and even more so later in John Paul II and Benedict XVI — a concept that contrasts with the roots of the “Petrine” ministry as it emerges from the New Testament and as Vatican II had tried to make perceptible, unfortunately with great timidity.

By not denying the papal magisterium — a recent teaching because it started with Pius XI — Paul VI in fact denied the Council. In his opinion, undoubtedly, the papal magisterium is “more” than a Council. I should add three observations to what I’ve said. First observation: Humanae Vitae asks confessors to treat spouses who do not accept the encyclical mercifully, and explicitly asks that they not be excluded from the sacraments. This was not quite obvious. In fact, from the 30s to the 50s – at least in Italy, I don’t know if it was like that in Spain – priests refused absolution to men who were masturbators. Therefore, in this respect Montini took a major step forward. Second observation: the Pope did not define his thesis as infallible, as some of the Curia and some groups of conservative bishops had requested. Third observation: Paul VI was so disturbed by the wave of criticism by theologians, by various groups, including even some bishops’ conferences, from the Netherlands to Indonesia, that over the next 10 years he didn’t write any new encyclicals.

[At this point in the lecture, theologian Juan José Tamayo adds an interjection: “Yes. In 1971, he wrote Octogesima Adveniens.” Translator’s note: Franzoni is still technically correct because Octogesima Adveniens is an apostolic letter, not an encyclical.]

On the contrary, Pope Wojtyla, with the valuable help of Cardinal Ratzinger, in fact, expected absolute obedience to the encyclical “as if” it were an infallible pronouncement. So, for example, they banned American theologian Charles Curran from teaching, when he openly contested that technically “fallible” encyclical, when it wasn’t the Pope himself who wanted it to be “infallible.”

A point on which, to the contrary and in my opinion, both Montini and Wojtyla continued in line with the Council is the commitment to peace and justice in the world. With the encyclical Populorum Progressio in 1967, Paul VI accepted even armed insurrection to overthrow dictatorships, and on both the first Gulf War in 1991 and the second in 2003, John Paul II raised his voice against that “adventure with no return”.

But when the liberation theologians in Latin America attempted to apply Gaudium et Spes as well as Populorum Progressio to the specific problem of their continent, and took the operational implications from the strong statements of the Medellin Conference on “unjust structures of society” that inevitably generate oppression and poverty, Paul VI initially, and Wojtyla and Ratzinger in a systematic way, authoritarianly blocked liberation theology. Leonardo Boff and Ivone Gebara have been the most illustrious victims of this Vatican policy. In addition, since Wojtyla, the Roman Curia has carried out a systematic policy of replacing “progressive” bishops with “conservative” bishops, and especially “anti-liberation” ones. And when Oscar Romero died a martyr for justice in El Salvador, they named an Opus Dei bishop to replace him!

Even harder was the repression by post-conciliar popes against theologians who, through their ecclesiological theses (well rooted in the Scriptures and also based on Vatican II), sought to challenge the power structure of the Roman Church. The greatest victims (but not the only ones) of such systematic repression carried out by the Roman Curia, starting with Paul VI and even much later, were the German Swiss theologian Hans Küng, the German Bernard Häring and the Sinhalese theologian Tissa Balasuriya.

In short — still proceeding through very quick flashes — I think the post-conciliar popes have forgotten the Council on one point above all (with the repeated recognition of the autonomy of earthly reality and the nation state), or they have interpreted it in a reductive and, ultimately, deviant way. I’m referring to the relationship between the ethical norms proclaimed by the Catholic magisterium and laws of the nation states on “sensitive points” (that is, the issues related to sexuality, the family, the end of life). In Italy, as you know, in May 1974 a referendum was planned to say YES or NO to the repeal of the law on divorce. The idea was, therefore, to discuss a civil law, not a sacrament. Well, the bishops’ conference tried, morally, to force not only Catholics but all citizens to vote YES on the repeal. Allow me a personal reference — I publicly opposed this attempt and, in a small book, I supported Catholics’ freedom to vote, their freedom of conscience. So I was suspended a divinis!

Finally, on May 12 and 13, 1974, the vote took place. In Italy, which was 98% Catholic according to Vatican statistics, 60% voted NO on the repeal of the law on divorce. It was a big blow to the Pope and the bishops, but they didn’t give up then and haven’t since, and in fact in a June 2005 referendum on assisted procreation, they waged a public campaign to invite everyone not to vote so, as the quorum of 50% +1 of the voters wasn’t reached, the referendum was declared invalid. The ecclesiastical hierarchy is convinced that only the Catholic Magisterium can speak words of truth about “natural law” and “sensitive issues” and therefore it tasks Catholics with making civil laws stress the perspective of official Catholic doctrine on every issue.

The concept of secularism is completely alien to the hierarchy, or rather, it invokes it, specifying, however, that secularism should be “healthy”, that is, it should accept the Vatican’s theses.

Last flash: Over the past fifty years, the issue of women has taken on growing importance in the Roman Church. What is their role? Is women’s ministry conceivable? First Paul VI, then John Paul II cut off any possible discussion on women priests. But neither do women want to be priests, since they don’t want men priests. The priesthood, in fact, doesn’t exist in Jesus’ mind. He talks about other things, talks about a community of brothers and sisters, talks about “reciprocal service”. The New Testament speaks of “overseers” (bishops), “presbyters” (elders), “deacons” (servers). Well, today the hierarchy, which is determined to keep a sexist and patriarchal structure to safeguard its sacred power, is opposed to that Church. Thus, although they want priests, they say “No” to women priests. We, on the contrary, dream of that Church without priests or priestesses, where women and men, single and married, minister in the service of the ecclesial community. Is this utopia? Is it heresy?

5. Look up, the harvest is now ripening

Obviously – I already said, but I’d like to repeat – it would take many volumes to deal with our subject properly. Wanting to synthesize, this is how I would describe the knot of contrast that has been hanging over the Catholic Church for decades: Wojtyla and Ratzinger see Vatican II in the light of the Council of Trent and Vatican I. For us, on the contrary, these two councils should be seen and downplayed in the light of Vatican II. Therefore, given these divergent points of view, the contrasts cannot be eliminated, and in succession, day by day, we see rules, decisions, interpretations emerging from the Roman See that, in our opinion, are in radical conflict with Vatican II.

What do we do, then? I think that, without presuming to have all the good solutions in the bag, we must assume the responsibility of living the response to the Gospel in a communal manner, and then sitting at the table with all men and women of good will, trying together to understand what we can do for peace, justice and the safeguarding of Creation (the program of “conciliar process” launched in 1983 by the Sixth General Assembly of the Ecumenical Council of Churches held in Vancouver, Canada).

I contend that every time we Christians celebrate the Eucharist, we are almost celebrating a trial: that is, at that moment, at that table with Jesus, we are being judged on whether we are fulfilling a false and comforting ritual, or a real and consistent task. If, like Jesus, despite our limitations and contradictions (let me say it: we too are full of contradictions; we are imperfect and sinful, as is the historic Church to which we belong), we strive to be a Church-for-others, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught us, then the Eucharist we celebrate will be blessing and salvation for us, a true viaticum on our way to the Kingdom.

If, on the other hand, there is nothing behind the ritual, and we are working for a Church-for-us, our Eucharist will be our death and our curse (1 Cor 11:28). But, as the rabbis commenting on the early chapters of Genesis put it well, when the Lord curses the serpent that tempted Eve, He actually blesses it and, in fact — they note astutely — by forcing it to crawl, in fact the Lord allows it to escape from danger and hide in holes in the ground. If our Eucharist is not sincere, the Lord invites us to repentance, to conversion, to set out on the path again with humility and courage.

You might ask me: Do you have confidence in the future of the Church? What could I answer? If the world is so bad, could the Church be in good condition? Let’s not think, then, about the future; let’s think of the present. In this tragic and tormented present, so disturbed by terrible evils and wrapped in darkness, behold, we learn, just as an example, that at the Japanese nuclear plant in Fukushima some technicians, knowing they were going to meet death, entered the plant to try to cool it. Those people weren’t Christians; they may not have known anything about Jesus. And yet, they accepted death simply to save other lives. Seeing this I am moved, and I say that one can still have hope in human beings.

And Jesus’ words come to mind: “Lift up your eyes and look at the fields, as they are already ripe for the harvest” (John 4:35). It’s true. In a world overflowing with tares and weeds, here and there, thank God, the golden grain ripens. It ripens wherever men and women strive for peace, justice, and the safeguarding of creation, wherever they become Samaritans to help that unknown brother who falls victim to bandits.

My dear friends, thank you once more for your invitation and if you will allow me to express a wish, it is the following: Continue onward with courage, humility and generosity. Oppose ecclesiastical power, but look with mercy on the custodians of this power. Try daily in your communities to build this Church-for-others that has a thousand reasons to be based on Vatican II.

And then go further, there where men and women are seeking hard answers to difficult problems. Dirty your hands in the mud with them to build this new world that awaits our irreplaceable contribution. We sow, the Gospel also says, in tears; others, in their day, shall reap in joy. But let us not lament our fate. It is very laborious, difficult, but still wonderful.

21 Responses

  1. Martin

    The teaching of the Church on contraception, with its intrinsically evil nature, has been confirmed by the experience of the last 50 years or so. Widespread contraceptive use has led in turn to the massive rise of abortion and the acceptance of other, none-procreative sexual relationships, namely homosexuality, as well as a widespread decline in morals, which we can see most sadly illustrated in the lives of the young.

  2. Fr S

    Vatican II

    Betrayed, yes, but certainly not lost.

    The hand was laid to the plough and there is no going back. There are too many articulate Catholics who are now steeped in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Benedict has merely helped to mobilize them.

  3. Wendy Murphy

    When I look at my teenage grandchildren and their friends, what I don’t see is ‘a widespread decline in morals … sadly illustrated’, but am struck by how lively, honest, relaxed and caring they are. For instance, relations between the sexes are a hundred times better than when I was growing up.
    I’m sick and tired of the Vatican’s presumption that its negative take on ‘secularity’ has the only validity and of hand-wringing Catholics who lazily trot out the opinion that we’re all going to hell in a handcart. How can we claim such superiority over our fellow human beings?
    Giovanni Franzoni has it right – opening his eyes, seeking out and being moved by ‘hope in human beings …. where men and women are seeking hard answers to difficult problems.’
    ‘Dirtying our hands in the mud’ means living in the real world and engaging with our brothers and sisters wherever they are, not looking on in judgement.
    An ecclesiastical fortress represses and repels life. We must live and work in hope.

  4. Joseph O'Leary

    In 1988, addressing the Chilean bishops, Cardinal Ratzinger stated: “The truth is that this particular Council defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council; and yet many treat it as though it had made itself into a sort of ‘superdogma’ which takes away the importance of all the rest.”

    Here we see the roots of Benedict’s insidious negativity toward the Council.

  5. Jim Boyle

    What a fantastic final paragraph in Giovanni Franzoni’s speech. Thanks for sharing the thoughts of this wise man.

  6. Máire

    This is a marvelous set of reflections. Finally I understand why the sections in Lumen Gentium on bishops seemed to me shot through with contradictions: “Pope Montini forced them to add a ‘prior explanatory note’ to the text of the third chapter of Lumen Gentium, precisely the one that dealt with the issue of collegiality, that is, the relationship between papal primacy and power of the episcopal college. The note reiterates papal power in an exasperating way, giving it an interpretation that, in retrospect, renders meaningless the episcopal collegiality that was affirmed in Lumen Gentium.”

    Probably most important is the author’s observation that “nothing has been done to make the conciliar claim of the Church as the ‘people of God’ concrete. It would have been completely logical that, once the premise had been put forward, a kind of Senate of the Catholic Church would have been created where bishops, priests, monks, nuns, religious, lay men and women would be represented, to discuss the big problems together.” We can only imagine how differently, with accountability and expediency, the sexual abuse revelations might have been been dealt with if a procedure for discussing “big problems together” had been established in the years following the Council. Of all the losses that resulted from suppressing the vision of Vatican II, this, I think, is the most tragic.

  7. Fr Hugh Purcell FIMLS

    A simple, but apparently not well known fact re Vatican II is that Pope John XXIII felt and believed profoundly that it was at the prompting of the Holy Spirit that initiated the call to have the Council.He was adamant about that.
    Think about that for a second please!
    The Holy Spirit initiated Vatican II.
    Therefore, I believe and have total faith that whoever tries to undermine it will be beaten.
    Come Holy Spirit!

  8. Jeanette

    Martin wrote “Widespread contraceptive use has led in turn to … the acceptance of other, none-procreative sexual relationships, namely homosexuality…” What an extraordinary idea. Some evidence would be helpful! It is nonsense, of course. Homophobia is not limited to those who eschew contraception.

  9. Martin

    Interesting article here – certainly for me anyway!

    Two steps ahead of the Spirit.

  10. Roberto Hope

    “Why and for what reasons does it seem to us that the Council has been — and starting precisely with the popes — more and more neglected, rendered void, and perhaps betrayed?”

    The answer is quite simple: because that Council betrayed the faith in too many aspects and Christ promised that the gates of hell would never prevail against the Church

  11. Fr S

    Roberto Hope

    Would you mind setting out for us the specific ways in which Vatican II Council “betrayed the faith”?

    And Christ’s words that the gates of Hell would never prevail against the Church could equally be levelled against those who are presently triumphantly dismantling EVERYTHING that the Council stood for – not just “many aspects” of it.

    The very people who kept silent or covered up on the abuse of our children for thirty years – the friends of Marcel Maciel, the ones who give Cardinal Law refuge – are presently the ones who are demolishing Vatican II and attempting to return us to the clericalism in which child abuse was able to flourish in the first place.

    By their fruits, etc…

  12. Joseph O'Leary

    The promotion of episcopal collegiality, ecumenism, Christian-Jewish friendship, is regarded as a betrayal of the faith by those who were too well taught that”the faith” meant Ultramonanism and blind obedience to absolute authority.

  13. Fr S

    I found the following film footage from Germany during the Pope’s visit, extraordinary, especially in the light of the grovelling way the Irish Bishops greeted Benedict when they were ordered to Rome to take the blame for the child abuse crisis in Ireland – considering that they were only following HIS instructions in the first place.


  14. Martin

    Fr S – there was no cold shoulder. The men who did not shake the Pope’s hand are his closest collaborators, including one of the Papal MCs and Card. Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State. You can see Card. Kasper hesitating and then shaking the Pope’s hand. They know each other very well and hardly feel the need to shake. You can even see Mon. Ganswein sharing a laugh with the Papal MC Mon. Guido Marini, and he gestures, I’m guessing as if to say ”Why are you shaking the Pope’s hand?” One shook the Pope’s hand, the other did not. Both see the Pope every single day! Hence the laughing. But in any case, it seems the Pope was merely introducing the bishops to the German statesman, rather than presenting his hand to be shook, which is not really the proper way to greet the Pontiff. It rapidly turned into a hand-shaking fest though.

  15. Mary Burke

    Martin, you’ve blown your cover. Sounds as if Martin is the nom de plume of an East Cork curate who no longer visits this site since certain liturgical and pastoral practices were brought to light. Your styles are remarkably similar, including your preoccupation with pomp and your faulty grasp of English grammar.
    Why not stand over your comments and use your other name?

  16. Fr S

    Darn it, Martin. Yeh, I saw Bertone – the guy who wrote the foreward to Marcel Maciel’s book and who blamed homosexuals for abusing children, and who co-signed the letter with the then Cardinal Ratzinger in 2001 threatening the Bishop’s to keep quiet about abuse – yeh, I saw him.

    You know your Bishops.

  17. Martin

    Mary, I live not in Cork. I actually live in the six counties. Please withdraw your scurrilous accusation at once, for it harms the reputation of myself and this priest you speak of.

    (Perhaps you think that what I wrote about the Youtube video represented my original thought? Not completely. I harvested some of the information from various sources as well as my own common sense analysis. Ah – the wonders of the interweb!)

  18. Peter Thompson

    I’ve always understood the Second Vatican Council to be one of a number of Ecumenical Councils in the Church’s history, 21 I believe. They all fade into history with the passage of time, although they leave an imprint for the future. It is the Church that continues and we should stay faithful to it, avoiding nitpicking quarrels over old documents.

  19. Antony

    I wonder if the first set of comments by Martin are really based on evidence, or they are just naive impressions? I am afraid church leaders continue to repeat the Galileo-episode: they claim to see with their ivory-tower philosophy what Galileo saw with his telescope.

  20. Glendon Cheshire

    At least by the comments we see why the Irish church is perhaps the most irreligious patch of grass on God’s green earth.

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