Thursday, 1 April 2010

The Subversion of Vatican II, Laid Bare

For anybody looking at the papacy and the Vatican from the outside, the nature of the problem is fairly clear: we have a monolithic, centralized power structure dominated by people far removed from real life, steeped in fossilised theology from the middle ages, who are convinced not only that they are the sole holders of truth, but also that they thereby have the right to legislate for all Catholics everywhere. This goes to the heart of so much of what is wrong with the church today, from the total disconnect between official teaching on sexuality and the lived experience of ordinary Catholics to the appallingly inappropriate response of the Vatican (and the supporting chorus of bishops around the world) to the worldwide scandal of clerical sexual abuse. The oligarchy claim that Benedict has done a great deal to fight the problem, pointing to his many interventions in canon law.
This, however, is precisely the point: that Benedict and his minions are inherently incapabel of seing anything, or doing anything, except in the context of canon law, church teaching, and the curial bureaucracy. They have no conception of dealing real people, or of the importance of secular law and authority, or even of the simple principles of love and genuine human interaction as promoted by the Gospel.
The second Vatican Council appeared for a while to breathe fresh air into the church, pointin the way to a more inclusive structure, with greater sensitivity to the modern world, but this brief promise was soon swept away. All this is clear.
A new book by an eminent scholar is welcome for putting the obvious into clear theological terms. Judging by this review from National Catholic Reporter, this book would seem to be compulsory reading for anyone seeking understanding of how the modern crisis of the church has developed.

This is part of a review by John Wilkins
Excellent canon lawyers who are also excellent theologians are rare. Jesuit Fr. Ladislas Orsy, Hungarian-born but based in the United States, is one of them. His new book, Receiving the Council: Theological and Canonical Insights and Debates, is a distillation of his mature thought, composed of revised texts of previously published presentations, lectures and articles.
From first to last it breathes hope, faith and charity, and a model of how these should be approached. But it also contains dynamite.
In the discussion with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, which is the crown of this book, Orsy sets out his concern that the church is being moved in a disturbing direction, one that could take a long time to reverse.
The work of a canon lawyer, he says, is like that of the architect of a cathedral: to implement a vision, to give it a structural shape. Those in charge can, of course, botch the job. Orsy’s misgivings are plain.
Throughout the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), Orsy, teaching at the Gregorian University in Rome, marveled as the world’s Catholic bishops got to work. The council was the “awakening” of the “entire people of God,” he writes.
Exactly the same metaphor was used at the time by then-Fr. Ratzinger, who was at Vatican II as the expert adviser to Cardinal Josef Frings, archbishop of Cologne, Germany. In an overview of the council’s work, published a year after it ended, Ratzinger hailed “the awakening of the church” as “the true event” of Vatican II. But as is shown by the dialogue between him and Orsy, the two men came eventually to very different conclusions about the implications.
And from another, by Arthur Jones:
He says that legislation enacted since the council supports the “definitive doctrine” theory. That means that by legislation no one can have an office in the church (be ordained, etc.) without taking the new profession of faith and the oath of fidelity -- that is, promising to accept, to carry out, and to impose the acceptance of any definitive doctrine as if it were infallible.
In effect, to bring it down to everyday language, that means the laity is being legislatively maneuvered into having to accept that any time the pope utters a ruling on doctrine, it is, in effect, infallible.
Orsy is the Catholic scholar’s idea of a scholar. His licentiate in philosophy is from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome; his licentiate in theology from the University of Louvain, Belgium; his doctor of canon law from the Gregorian; and his master’s in law from Oxford University in England. He’s held academic posts at the Gregorian, Washington’s Catholic University of America, New York’s Fordham University, and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., with the past 16 years spent at Georgetown Law.
In 1960, when he arrived at the Gregorian with his Louvain and Oxford credentials in his bag, he said it was “like stepping into an island where an archaic civilization has been preserved intact. Gradually, at the time of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and after it, I became aware, one, how much the laws of the church had lost their vital connection with their source -- namely sober and sound theological understanding -- and next, how much laws have an existential priority in the church because they dominate its practical life, and by that they create a sort of secondary vision of what the community ought to be.”
Orsy says that behind Rome’s definitive doctrine argument “is an understanding that the whole of the revelation is given to the hierarchy.” That is not the case, Orsy contends, as he places his arguments before the academic community. Rather, he told Wilkins, such an approach ends in a contradiction: “Vatican I and II affirm that the whole people of God is infallible -- but if the content of Christian revelation is exclusively in the possession of the hierarchy, the people can only be infallible if they obey the instructions.”

For the complete reviews by Trevor Wilkins and Arthur Jones, go to the NCR online.

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