Dialogika

Editorial: Vatican II and the Pope's peace-making gesture

This editorial is from L'Osservatore Romano, January 25, 2009. Thanks to Fr. Murray Watson for this translation from the French.
Fifty years ago, on January 25, 1959, John XXIII’s announcement of Vatican II was a sensational surprise which immediately reached beyond the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church. The following morning, the archbishop of Milan—who would become Paul VI in 1963—defined the upcoming council as a “historical event of the first order”—that is to say, “[a major event] both today and for tomorrow, important for all peoples and for all human hearts, for the whole Church and for all of humanity”. Cardinal Montini—who followed in the footsteps of his predecessor, making the Council his own and taking on the leadership of it, [in a way] that was as discreet and patience as it was determined and firm—straight away and with clarity intuited the historic and religious perspectives of Vatican II.

This largest assembly [of bishops] ever celebrated in history was conceived of and opened by a Pope in his seventies, a century after the interruption of Vatican I (which Pius IX had wished [to convene], at almost the same age), courageously bringing to the light an idea that had already appeared during the pontificates of Pius XI and Pius XII.

After the seven years of preparation and celebration of the Council (1959-1965), the decades of its reception have followed (a period that is not over yet)—let us consider the period necessary for the application of the Tridentine decrees which remodelled Catholicism—[a period] that was the subject of the synodal assembly desired in 1985 by John Paul II, who had experienced the Council while he was still just a young bishop. [It has been] a controversial, and not easy, reception. In terms of the impact of conciliar decisions on the life of the Church, on liturgy, mission, relations with other Christians, Judaism, and with other religions, together with the affirmation of religious liberty, as part of a new attitude toward the world.

As the last pope to have fully and passionately participated in this council (as a young theologian), Benedict XVI determined in 2005 [what] the Catholic interpretation of Vatican II [was]: an event which must be read, not according to the logic of a discontinuity which, by absolutizing it, would isolate it from Tradition, but according [to the logic] of a reform, which opens up to the future.

A Council which, like all the others, must be situated in a historical—and not “mythified” context—inseparable from its texts which, from a historical point-of-view cannot be opposed to a supposed “spirit” of Vatican II. The Council’s good fruits are innumerable, and among them there is now the merciful gesture toward the bishops who were excommunicated in 1988.

A gesture which would have pleased John XXIII and his successors, and a clear offer which Benedict XVI, as a pope of peace, wished to make public to coincide with the anniversary of the announcement of Vatican II, with the clear intention to see a painful break soon healed. An intention which must not be tarnished by the unacceptable negationist opinions and attitudes toward Judaism which have been expressed by some members of the communities toward whom the bishop of Rome is stretching out his hand.

A half-century after its announcement, Vatican II is alive in the Church. Just as the Council remains in the hands of every members of the faithful, so that the witness of all those who believe in Christ might be clearer and stronger in the world.

Giovanni Maria Vian