Opening the Church to the World
VATICAN II, which has been rightly described as the most important religious event of the 20th century, began 50 years ago today in St. Peter’s Basilica. Over three years, from 1962 to 1965, some 2,800 bishops from 116 countries produced 16 documents that set the Roman Catholic Church’s course for the future. Its proceedings were closely followed in the media, bringing the church into the homes of hundreds of millions of ordinary Catholics on nearly a daily basis.
An increasingly popular view, at least among critics, is that the Second Vatican Council failed to put the church’s house in order. Its most radical inward move was not to democratize the church (though it has often been described that way) but to reinstate an older, more collegial style in church governance. Under the council’s version of this teaching, known as collegiality, the papacy had the final word, but others in the church, from the bishops to the priests and the laity, had a voice, too.
The bishops at Vatican II felt that more than a century of centralization needed to be tempered. But in their euphoria, they failed to reckon sufficiently with the resistance of entrenched bureaucracies — jealous of their authority and fearful of disorder — to change. A more participatory mode of church life took hold for 15 years or so after the council, but from on high it began to be more and more restricted, to the point that central control is now tighter than ever. [more]