Ex-Vatican official: Vatican II teachings not optional
The teachings of the Second Vatican Council are neither optional nor second-class, but must be seen in the proper context, the former prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said Sept. 26 as he opened a conference at The Catholic University of America in Washington.
The talk by Cardinal William J. Levada focused on three events that share an Oct. 11 date – the opening of Vatican II 50 years ago, the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church 20 years ago and the upcoming opening of the Year of Faith proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI.
The cardinal, who retired in July after serving as prefect for seven years, was the first speaker at a Sept. 26-29 conference on “Reform and Renewal: Vatican II After Fifty Years.”
He began his talk by recounting a conversation in which a colleague recalled asking high school students if they knew what Vatican II was. “The pope’s summer residence?” one student suggested.
Cardinal Levada, a retired San Francisco archbishop, credited his audience at Catholic University with a much greater understanding of the 1962-65 council but said some confusion and misunderstandings remain, such as whether the council was doctrinal or pastoral in nature and whether its legacy should be seen in the letter of the council – the documents it produced – or in its spirit.
“Vatican II was by intention a pastoral council – it did not develop new dogmas to correct errors of the faith,” he said, describing the council as “doctrinal in principle, but pastoral in its presentation.”
On the letter-versus-spirit question, Cardinal Levada said it is “not legitimate to separate the spirit and letter of the council.”
He talked about two responses to the council – one that reflected a flawed understanding of the continuity of church teaching and another that reflected a correct understanding.
In the former case, a Dominican provincial in the Netherlands wrote to his colleagues urging the ordination of women and married men and lay-led eucharistic celebrations as a response to the priest shortage. That proposal, the cardinal said, was “contrary to church teaching and even heretical.”
On the other hand, Pope Benedict’s establishment of ordinariates that allow Anglicans to become Roman Catholics while retaining some of their Anglican heritage and traditions, including liturgical traditions, is a logical follow-up to the council, he said. [More]