Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Consider what is remembered - what is forgotten?
     To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Vatican II, Pope Benedict XVI has declared the period between October 11, 2012 and November 24, 2013 as the Year of Faith.  November 24th is the feast of Christ the King established by Pius XI as a response and condemnation of the communists in Russia and Mexico.  Setting November 24th as the closing for the 50th anniversary celebration reminds us of Pius XI and the condemnation of communism but not of Vatican II, the Ecumenical Council of dialogue with the modern world. I don’t think the dramatic reforms envisioned by the fathers of Vatican II will be emphasized in this celebration.  It appears to be a time for the Church to circle the wagons and re-establish Roman Catholic identity in what the hierarchy perceives as the ever present and hostile secular society.
     On the other side of the divide, dialogue is welcomed but with little reference to Catholic Social Teaching insofar as it relates to economics and labor.
     Thanks to the NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER for their October 11th issue which presents 25 articles and comments by known and budding theologians on Vatican II.  Of course even this comprehensive presentation cannot cover every aspect of the council or include every opinion on the focus of the council and the reasons it was called for by Pope John XXIII.
     This blog posting will look to the purpose of the council as stated by John XXIII and its relation to Catholic Social Teaching.  It will be argued that world peace was the goal set forth for the Council by John XXIII, and as stated by Council Pope Paul VI, that world peace depended on just economic structures. (Populorum Progressio) 
     Important changes in Catholic Social Teaching will be noted such as the move away from corporate economics, two aspects of ecumenism – dialogue with the modern world and a world vision for economics, and also, the change in the method for moral theology.
“Ecumenical” is derived from the Greek word “oikoumene” which means “of or from the whole world.” Starting with Nicaea I in 325, Vatican II was the 21st Ecumenical Council.  Vatican II gave a new meaning to ‘ecumenical’ for Roman Catholics.  Ecumenism now connotes interfaith dialogue and cooperation.  Theologian Hans Kung had an explanation before Vatican II began. 
“In English ‘council’ has both the narrower sense of the Church in its traditional meaning and the wider one of parliament or assembly, as in the World Council of Churches.  ‘Ecumenical’ when used in connection with the latter, means interdenominational; whereas in its ancient traditional sense in Catholic canon law it means the assembly of all the Catholic bishops insofar as they are not  prevented by either external circumstances from attending.  But according to the Pope’s intention even a purely Roman Catholic Council, restricted to the Catholic ‘oikoumene,’ will be ecumenical in the other sense of being the concern of all Christians … because as the Pope intends it, is meant to create prerequisites for reunion.”  (Kung, Hans, The Council of Reform and Reunion, Sheed and Ward, New York, 1961, p. 7)

     Consider the times.  From the first announcement of the Council in 1959 until its end in 1965 the world was at the center of the “Age of Anxiety.”  The cold war confrontation of capitalism with Soviet communism threatened thermo nuclear annihilation.  Revolution in Cuba made it virtually impossible to suppress existential angst.  Shortly after the Council opened, the world was confronted with the Cuban missile crisis.  In 1964 the U.S. Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution which gave license to President Lyndon Johnson to prosecute the Vietnam War to its fullest.  Senator Wayne Morse from Oregon was one of two who voted against the measure. The other ‘no’ vote was from Senator Ernest Gruening of Alaska.
   The Faith community did little or nothing to prevent WW II and the holocaust; it was time for unity and a program for peace and justice.   In his call to convoke the Council John XXIII said,
“The bloody wars that have followed one on the other in our times, the spiritual ruins caused by many ideologies, and the fruits of so many bitter experiences have not been without useful teachings.  Scientific progress itself, which gave man the possibility of creating catastrophic instruments for his destruction, has raised questions. It has obliged human beings to become thoughtful, more conscious of their own limitations, desirous of peace and attentive to the importance of spiritual values.  And it has accelerated that progress of closer collaboration …” (John XXIII, “Humanae Salutatis,” (December 25, 1961)
Hans Kung commented after the first session of Vatican II on the policy of “ecumenism” that includes – all.
“Is not this a new strain?  All this is a clear rejection of any purely negative polemical anti Protestantism; of any negatively static, moralizing anti-modernism; and it is also (the Pope’s silence on this point excited general attention) a rejection of that southern European  type of anti-Communism which, while tolerating appalling social abuses, has sought (in vain) to combat Communism (when freely chosen not under duress) with rhetoric, negative safe guards and unenforceable decrees of excommunication, instead of overcoming it by preaching the Good News to rich and poor alike and by positive, constructive social policy.”  (Hans Kung, The Living Church, Sheed & Ward, London and New York, 1963, pp. 101-102)

      A “Message to Humanity” from the Council was released on October 20, 1962 two days before the public became aware of the Cuban missile crisis.  The message stressed the need for peace, but also noted that John XXIII pleads for social justice.  The Council fathers stated,
Hence we humbly and ardently call for all men to work along with us in building up a MORE JUST and brotherly city in this world.  We call upon our brothers whom we serve as shepherd, but also upon all our brother Christians, and the rest of men of good will whom God ‘wills that they be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.’”
(1Tim 2-4)
This was the first time an ecumenical council ever directed a message to “all men” (See above – Kung comment) not just Catholics.  Just before he died and before the council closed, John XXIII addressed his next encyclical, Pacem in Terris, to all – the “Faithful of the Whole World.”
        One of the first debates after the Council opened was on the Church – de ecclesiae.  Cardinal Suenens of Belgium argued in line with the Pope’s inaugural address, that the Church should be in dialogue with the modern world. A key issue to be addressed would be,
“... everything having to do with social justice.  This includes the sixth commandment (which, for all the books written about it, still lacks proper orientation), private property, (and) the poor.”
(Xavier Rynne, Letters From Vatican City, New York, 1963, p.225.)

Xavier Rynne noted that “powerful industrialists and corporation executives” opposed John XXIII because of his “teaching on social and economic justice.” (ibid. p. 221) 

     Monsignor Joseph Gremillion wrote, “Indeed, a single motif of the aggiornamento (John XXIII’s Italian word for the Council which means  ‘a bringing up to date’) documents is movement.  This marks a radical departure from the status quo models of society which blemished and bemused Catholic social thought since Leo XIII tried to revive medieval guilds and Pius XI and Pius XII espoused a preconceived corporative order.”
   The “corporative” order is an analogy with the mystical body (corpus) of Christ as explained by St. Paul. (1 Cor. 12 ) The body has its proper functions (subsidiarity) but decisions are made by the head.  Political society is considered a moral organism.  A proper “corporate” society does not allow challenges to decisions by the leadership because of the fear of disruption of the social order. 
For example, Labor stoppages – strikes - were not sanctioned by Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno.
There are times, no doubt, when it is right that the law should interfere to prevent association; as when men join together for purposes which are evidently bad, unjust or dangerous to the State.  In such cases the public authority may justly forbid the association, and dissolve them when they already exist.” (Rerum Novarum, Section 38)

“Strikes and lock-outs are forbidden; if the parties cannot settle their dispute, public authority intervenes.”
(Quadragesimo Anno, Section 94)

    Vatican II signaled change and recognized the right and the need to challenge leadership for the good of society. 
Even in present day circumstances, however, the strike can still be a necessary, though ultimate, means of defense of the worker’s own rights and a fulfillment of their just demands.” (Gaudium et Spes, Section 68)

“Hence the workers themselves should have a share also in controlling these institutions, either in person or through freely elected delegates.” (ibid)

An explanation is offered in a footnote. 
Its comments on the necessity of permitting workers to be represented by ‘freely elected’ delegates have meaning not only for countries where there are no workers associations, but also for countries which have them but, like Spain, (Francisco Franco was dictator of Fascist Spain during Vatican II) do not yet allow for adequately free choice of representatives by the workers themselves.”

(The Documents of Vatican II, Walter M. Abbott, S.J. General Editor, Guild Press, New York 1966, p. 277.)
Franco of fascist Spain was a favorite of Pius XII but not of John XXIII.
Guilds as an ideal for Catholic Social Teaching were returned to romantic views of medieval history.

     Before Vatican II, Roman Catholic theologians worked out of a neo-scholastic or neo-Thomistic world view.  Conclusions were deduced from unchallenged biblical or traditional “truths.”  Vatican II opened up the possibility of new methods for theology.  Monsignor George Higgins, labor priest from Chicago, wrote:  
“Bishop Mark McGrath (Auxiliary Bishop of Panama – native of Chicago) served in the Council as the ‘Relator’ … on the
Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World
In this capacity, he was called upon to explain the Fathers the methodology which had been employed in drafting the Constitution.  Because of the nature of the document … it was necessary that the real condition of today’s world be described… This inductive or descriptive methodology was followed throughout the schema.”

      Monsignor Higgins comments that sections of the document which deal with economic and social life are concerned with, (He quotes McGrath) “highly contingent matters which are in ‘a constant state of development: and consequently do not lend themselves readily to a univocal application of general principles, either doctrinal or moral.’”
(O’Donnell, editor, The Church in the World, Bruce, Milwaukee, 1967, pp. 21 – 22)
Gaudium et Spes, insisted on awareness of “the signs of the times.” (G.S. Preface #4) The way was open, not only for the personalism of John Paul II, but for surveys and social analysis.    Gustavo Gutierrez says that Liberation Theology is a new method of doing theology based on experience. (Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation, Orbis Books, 1973, p. 16.)
Social Justice: Cooperation Required
     Vatican II documents urged interfaith cooperation for social justice.  Cooperation should include all in secular society including atheists.
The documents on Ecumenism and Non Christian religions were attempts at moving the Church out of the Gothic mindset.  The Council’s attitude towards non-Catholic groups and people is exemplified by the statement on atheists.
   While rejecting atheism, root and branch, the Church sincerely
   Professes that all men, believers and unbelievers alike, ought to
   work for the rightful betterment of this world in which all
   alike live. (G.S. Part 1, C.1, #21)

 Social Justice: A World Issue
      As the Church has in the past, the Council expressed concern about poverty, but the Council noted that world poverty involved relationships between countries and expressed a concern about neo-colonialism.
If the demands of justice and equity are to be satisfied, vigorous efforts must be made without violence to the rights of persons or the natural characteristics of each country, to remove as quickly as possible the immense economic  inequalities which now exist.” (G.S. Chapter 3, #66.)

      Vatican II advocated dialogue with the “modern world.”  The results are questionable.  The “post-modern” Roman Catholic Church is reformed; not as a retro–Church of the 50’s as some might say, but a sharply divided “people of God.”  The hierarchy has established a centralized Roman identity, preaching a new philosophical and theological fundamentalism, with little relationship with the tradition of the Church.
     Professional liberals focus on constantly challenging the hierarchy with reasoned complaints and are regularly stonewalled.  But for liberals, Catholic Social teaching is out of the picture.  Catholic Social Teaching might be used on occasion by liberals to support a political candidate, but rarely to support labor unions such as the Palermo Pizza workers in Milwaukee.
     Why bother – does it make a difference?  I think so.  Some of the “people of God” continue the dialogue.  For example, the national Interfaith Worker Justice program, the national New Sanctuary Movement, and Immigrant Worker Centers such as Voces de la Frontera in Milwaukee flourish with support of the “people of God.”
     Remembering Vatican II is a way to keep it alive, to build on it for  post-modern reforms, and prepare for another council.    

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