The increasing physical frailty of Pope
John Paul II raises numerous questions.
The first question to come to mind is will he resign before
total disability sets in so we may have a new convocation?
That should speed the occasion of Vatican III. If he should
die in office, then Vatican III is an additional year away.
The second question is why should we have Vatican III? Having
it is critical. Because the Church is paralyzed. The bumbling
manner in which most of the bishops have handled the pedophilia
scandal by secret payments, transfer of the offenders in the
blind hope that the whole problem would disappear and the
monetary drain of Church assets resulting requires a complete
airing and a new set of rules. Rome has seemed to be largely
unconscious of the depth of the crisis. Concealment of "those
things which give scandal to the Church" has been the
de facto policy. Vatican III should promulgate new rules of
The second reason for the prompt calling of Vatican III
is for a complete reexamination of the some of the rules promulgated
during John Paul's administration. These include a new look
at Humanae Vitae, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, priestly celibacy, married
clergy and ordination of women.
We should not be put off by present Vatican declarations
that "these rules are not subject to change." Historically,
nearly every declaration of faith by the Church has been subject
to change. And many have changed. Major principles such as
lifting the prohibition on the taking of interest, whether
the earth was the center of the universe, ending a married
clergy were all changes for which learned theologians had
previously established as being immutable conditions, based
on scripture or "natural law."
Humanae Vitae merely echoes physical, mental, and psychological
facts unknown to the original proponents on the ban against
contraception. It also ignores the real world of human conduct
and physical love. As the prescriptions it imposes are largely
ignored by the faithful, it is time for another examination.
Ex Corde Ecclesiae must be reviewed again, and this time,
simply dropped. The notion that a bishops, most of whom have
not been immersed in the finer points of theology since their
seminary days, should pass on the quality and accuracy of
what the professors of theology teach at Notre Dame, verges
on the humorous. Can we imagine the division of theological
views between an ultra-conservative Bishop like Fabian Bruskiwitz
of Lincoln, Nebraska and a liberal thinker such as Notre Dame's
McBrien? The fact that many bishops have issued a blanket
mandatum to comply with this encyclical demonstrates that
it is already a dead letter.
We need a complete reexamination of the supposed rules of
"natural law." Since its formulation by Aquinas
it has been modified although never codified for the reason
that it can't be as it is the product of subjective mental
efforts. Natural law is an intellectual crutch to support
a proposition which logic and history declare to be false.
In one parish to which I belonged years ago, the pastor, a
priest from Ireland, said it was natural law that women should
wear hats in church! It was "natural law" which
was the foundation for the rule that an illegitimate male
could not be ordained. That too, has gone by the boards. Pope
Urban banned the cross-bow on the ground that it was such
a vicious weapon compared to the long bow, that it was forbidden
by natural law. It is time for Vatican III to bring the Church
up to date. It should not be governed by something as elusive
and as debatable as "natural law."
The issue of priestly celibacy needs to be reexamined. The
Vatican simply ignores the fact that Eastern Rite Catholics
are not bound by the rule of celibacy. It is impossible for
a celibate to understand the joys and terrors of the marriage
bed. The Holy Spirit cannot be depended upon to impart that
vital wisdom to a celibate priesthood. The situation is much
as one Catholic historian's study of the problems of the Council
of Trent. "The only way the Holy Spirit got to that Council
was in the Pope's mailbag," he observed.
It is apparent that there is insufficient communication
between the Vatican, the bishops, and the faithful. The method
of selection of Bishops is a suitable subject of Vatican III.
Catholics have the same amount of influence on the selection
of their Bishop as the army private does on the naming of
the Chief of Staff.
The days of, "theirs was not reason why; theirs was
not to make reply" should not apply to the faithful in
the management of our Church. Vatican III is the only solution.
Let us pray John Paul opts for retirement soon.