The day after Pope Francis was installed, by coincidence three Catholic speakers found cautious hope for church reform in the spirit of Vatican II.
In a program at Saint Mary's College in Moraga, they shared a common view that the vision of the council still has not been fully implemented in the Church, a half century after it took place (1962-65).
Oakland Emeritus Bishop John Cummins read signs of hope from Pope Francis' background, both as a prelate in Latin America and as a Jesuit.
Liberation theology is most vigorous in Latin America, where the new pope has lived all his life, Bishop Cummins pointed out. And former Jesuit Superior General Pedro Arupe "put the Jesuits on track toward justice in the world."
Bishop Cummins participated in Vatican II as an expert, drafting position papers.
The new pope has been widely reported as living modestly and eschewing many of the trappings available to the archbishop of Buenos Aires. Service to the poor is prominent in his life.
Another speaker, Emeritus Bishop Remi DeRoo of Victoria, B.C., said he prayed before the recent consistory that the man chosen "would have experience with poverty and would be in solidarity with the poor." Bishop DeRoo was the youngest bishop in Vatican II and still calls himself "a pilgrim of the Second Vatican Council."
But lay theologian Massimo Faggioli cautioned "it is increasingly difficult to govern this big church from small offices in Rome."
All three speakers agreed Pope Francis faces a tough challenge in reforming the Curia, the ecclesiastical structure supporting the pope in managing the church. The curia has been criticized from many perspectives for infighting, inefficiency and worse. Many see it as the primary challenge to church reform.
From an episcopal perspective Cummins emphasized that "the Curia does not stand between the pope and the bishops!"
Francis comes into the papacy as a strong advocate for the poor and disadvantaged. He also is traditional in matters of faith and morals. Because he has no personal experience working in the Curia there is a wide range of views on how he will proceed.
The speakers voiced a common view that Vatican II provided direction for greater local direction and shaping of the church. But all also asserted that the council's vision remains far from fulfillment.
Faggioli, who writes extensively about Vatican II, argued that "kidnapping of the council" occurred a few years after its 1965 conclusion. He is critical of Pope John Paul II and especially of Pope Benedict XVI for allegedly reversing course after the council and not carrying out some of the changes debated. In the late 1960s Benedict XVI "had second, third and fourth thoughts about Vatican II," according to Faggioli and did not implement the liberating ideas from Vatican II.
Now a theology professor at St. John's University in Minnesota, Faggioli said he left Italy because "they were pulling the plug on the brains of theologians."
Faggioli said that the post-Vatican II shift resulted in "disappointed liberal Catholics have left, and angry conservative Catholics have taken over in many places."
The program at Saint Mary's followed coursework in which students read and discussed Faggioli's most recent book analyzing Vatican II.
Cummins fondly recalled changes that followed his return to the diocese after Vatican II. He grouped changes in the Oakland diocese into four broad areas: lay involvement in the liturgy, service to the community, the style of authority and collegiality.
Style was significant in changing the face of Catholicism. The use of English (or other local languages) in the Mass may be the most obvious change begun by Vatican II. But other important changes, in Cummins' view, include consultation and dialogue and a realization that there are no non-negotiables.
During his episcopacy (1977 to 2003) Cummins presided over many changes in the diocese. He recalled that "when I came in, priests ran every department" in the chancery. That changed rapidly, recalling a later meeting "when there were more lay than priests, more women than men. Everybody noticed it and nobody said anything!"
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