When Do We Get Vatican III?
Jerome F. Downs

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 openness.

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.