Thursday, December 10, 2009

Before He Was Benedict, Joseph Ratzinger Thought Vatican II Brought Real Change

Analyzing recent thoughts of Chicago's Cardinal Francis George on "the relationship between bishops and ordinary Catholics," Tom Roberts, editor at large for the National Catholic Reporter, documents how Joseph Ratzinger in 1963 believed that the Second Vatican Council had made revolutionary changes in Catholic liturgy and Catholic ecclesiology, the study of the church, church structures and who gets to decide what in the Christian community.

This, of course, is diametrically opposed to Ratzinger's later position--first as John Paul II's chief doctrinal enforcer (head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly known as The Inquisition) and then as Pope Benedict XVI--that Vatican II was in complete continuity with traditional Catholic theology and made no significant breaks with the past.

In a recent book and an interview with NCR's John Allen, said Roberts, "the cardinal expressed his weariness with the Catholic liberal-conservative divide, suggesting that each was similar to the other in the exaggerated attention they give to intrachurch politics and in focusing far too much on bishops, the power they have and the way in which they exercise it, and not enough on Christ.

"The inference to be drawn from it all is that...if laypeople would concentrate more on being 'simply Catholic' and less on what goes on in hierarchical venues, there would be less contentiousness all around."

Roberts argues, however, that George is distorting history, probably on purpose: to suggest that the contentiousness George bemoans is caused by lay people obsessing on the bishops is a massive exercise in misplaced concreteness. It is based, rather, on the bishops' failure to adhere to the teachings of Vatican II--and the refusal of others in the church to acquiesce. Roberts traces this failure and the controversy it generated directly to the conservative claim that Vatican II changed nothing at all.

Here's Robert's chronicle of Joseph Ratzinger's departure from Vatican II and how it has reinforced conservative claims in liturgy and ecclesiology; I add bold-face to the more significant points:

The council is fading into history as a marker of a certain generation of contemporary Catholics. However, how that council is interpreted — indeed, whether some of our bishops today are willing even to concede that anything significant occurred at the council to change the church — will continue to have an effect on Catholic life for the foreseeable future. The effects of the council are somewhat akin to the effects of the feminist or civil rights movements. Young people today do not have to worry about the same battles that their parents fought, but the benefits that both women and minorities today can take for granted are both a direct result of those earlier efforts and something to be diligently guarded.

And while the council was hardly a movement — indeed, it was far more formally structured and produced a body of documents approved by the world’s bishops — what some would perceive as its benefits or gains are now far more disputed than those achieved in matters of race or the rights of women.

A reading of even a portion of the record on liturgical reform shows that the council inspired deep shifts in ecclesiology, as well as the role of bishops in relation to the way we pray. The essential nature of the changes underway was noted in 1963 by then-Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, today’s Pope Benedict XVI.

As a peritus, or expert, at the council, he wrote: “The first chapter of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy contains a statement that represents for the Latin church a fundamental innovation. The formulation of liturgical laws for their own regions is now, within limits, the responsibility of the various conferences of bishops. And this is not by delegation from the Holy See, but by virtue of their own independent authority.”

He termed the development “especially important” in “the decentralization of liturgical decision-making.”

It is clear that the Ratzinger view contained in those comments has undergone substantial change since. But what invalidates his understanding back then that “this small paragraph, which for the first time assigns to the conferences of bishops their own canonical authority, has more significance for the episcopacy and for the long desired strengthening of episcopal power than anything in the Constitution on the Church itself”?

By extension, what invalidates others’ similar understanding that, in Ratzinger’s earlier view, the council had, “without fanfare, and largely unnoticed by the public … produced a work fundamental in the renewal of ecclesiology”? It is a conclusion far different from that expressed by some today that the council merely confirmed a continuation of what had gone before.

While George asserts that Catholics should pay less attention to bishops, it was bishops — he among them — who have argued that those who hold the early Ratzinger view of the council as marking a fundamental change in ecclesiology are wrong and that liturgical renewal has gone off in the wrong direction.

It was bishops who, in 1997, convened a committee of 11 men who met in the Vatican to secretly overhaul the translations of the American lectionary, or the scripture readings used at Mass.

Overturned by the committee was a translation process that had been in use since the council and that was broadly consultative and had included a number of women. Only one of the men on the new committee held a graduate degree in scripture studies; two were not native English speakers; and several had a history of objecting to inclusive-language translations, including two of the American archbishops and the lone scripture scholar. Three American bishops who had worked most closely on the lectionary and were themselves Bible scholars — including Donald Trautman of Erie, Pa., currently the lone voice of opposition to certain translations in the missal under consideration by the bishops — were excluded from the group. They were replaced by conservative prelates Bishop Jerome Hanus of Dubuque, Iowa; William Levada, then of San Francisco and now a cardinal and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Justin Rigali, then of St. Louis and now cardinal in Philadelphia; and Cardinal Francis Stafford, then head of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

In 2002, leadership of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, known as ICEL, was replaced under pressure from the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship with bishops more congenial to that congregation’s view of how translation should be effected.

Roberts documents unassailably that the contentiousness that has developed in the church since 1965 must be traced directly to conservative theologians and bishops playing disingenuous mind games with the teachings of Vatican II--all rehashing the bogus claim that the council really taught nothing new. Repeating the claim does not make it true, but it does tend to make church-going Catholics forget the truth.

That reiterates how we got here. However as those of us faithful to the council age and die off, it does not tell us how we are going to salvage Vatican II and its ecclesia semper reformanda eccelesiolgy for the church of today and tomorrow.

And so we pray the Spirit who inspired Vatican II to surprise us so much will find new ways to out-wit those who idolize the moribund theology that the council laid to rest.

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