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Church leaders’ discussion highlights Vatican II conference

Kelly Meehan | Monday, September 26, 2005

It has been over 40 years since the Second Vatican Council, and today the members of the Catholic Church and non-Catholics alike are forced to take an honest look at the progress made within the Church since the conclusion of the Council in 1965. This is just what took place on the campus of Saint Mary’s College on Friday.

Over 40 years ago, Pope John XXIII had a vision to rejuvenate the Catholic Church by altering the structure of the Mass and making the church more approachable to lay people. This vision ultimately resulted in the Vatican II.

“I want to throw open the windows of the church … so that we can see out and the people can see in,” John XXIII said when he addressed the clergy at the beginning of the Council. His primary objectives for the council were to create positive change from within that would last throughout time.

In order to evaluate progress toward this goal, the College held a two day conference entitled “Vatican II Forty Years Later: Legacy, Leadership and Unfinished Agenda.” The weekend was comprised of multiple group discussions open to the public, but the Friday evening discussion – led by former CNN anchor Judy Woodruff – highlighted the weekend’s events.

Members of the College community and several others from the South Bend area poured into O’Laughlin Auditorium at 7 p.m. Friday to listen to the hour-long conversation between six guest speakers, all of whom played a vital role in the Second Vatican council.

Sister Kathleen Dolphin, conference coordinator, briefly introduced the panel, which was made up of Father Gustavo Gutierrez, an observer at Vatican II and Notre Dame theology professor; Father Robert Pelton, advisor to Cardinal Leo Suennens of Malines-Brussels at the Council and Fellow at the Kellogg Institute; Sister Carmel McEnroy, author of “Guests in Their Own House: The Women of Vatican II”; Gregory Baum, official observer of the Council and faculty of religious studies at McGill University; and Martin Marty, official Protestant observer at the Council and Lutheran minister.

Prior to beginning the discussion, College President Carol Mooney welcomed the audience and panel to the evening’s “engaging and interesting” discussion.

Judy Woodruff remarked that after being raised Southern Baptist by occasionally attending an Episcopal church, she personally felt “uniquely qualified” to moderate this “critically needed” discussion.

Panelists introduced themselves by stating their involvement within the Second Vatican Council.

Pelton served as an official advisor to Suenens during the Vatican II.

“The significance of Vatican II hit me like a chilling earthquake. The Church has changed for the good and will never be the same,” Pelton said.

Baum was appointed by John XXIII to serve as an expert analyst during the Council. He viewed the Council as a “controversial conversion of the church into modernity.”

“It was the first time that the Church claimed that the joys, hopes and fears of people everywhere are the same as those of Jesus,” Baum said.

Guest panelist McEnroy is the author of “Guests in Their Own House: The Women of Vatican II.” During the Second Vatican Council, she was studying with the Sisters of Loretto in St. Louis, Mo., when one of the sisters was asked to attend the Council in Rome.

In contrast to the 2,500 bishops present at the Council, 500 male observers and advisors and only 23 women were invited to the Council. McEnroy was prompted to write her book when she heard that the women present at the Council were originally not permitted to speak.

McEnroy commented on the progression of the Council as more people were invited to be present as the sessions progressed. In the first session of the Council, no lay people were present. During the second session lay men were invited after the Pope stated it would look foolish to not have any lay persons present, since they were the purpose of the Council. After John XXIII questioned where the other half of the population was – in reference to the absence of women – the Council invited women to partake in both the third and fourth sessions.

Bishop Remi De Roo of Victoria, British Columbia is one of only eight surviving bishops who voted on the Council. He reminded the Council of the initial message of Vatican II.

“Several petitions were submitted to allow the women to speak at the Council. One woman was finally permitted to speak. However, her thoughts had to be translated into Latin and read aloud by a male,” McEnroy said.

“We are called to offer the gospel and ourselves to God, to remember all people are equal and to serve God. Every person can be protected by God’s grace, and that is the whole message of Vatican II,” De Roo said.

McEnroy said that she is still unsatisfied with the current situation of the role of women in the Church. She is discontent with the fact women are excluded from leadership roles in the Church simply because they are women.

De Roo remarked that despite the fact the Church does not offer a wide array of leadership roles for women, the true spirit of Vatican II has been picked up and carried by the women and laity.

Marty, a Protestant observer at Vatican II, commented that the Council opened the church and sends goodwill to outsiders. He felt, however, that at the Council, the bishops were too limited in what they could say and they should have allowed more time for laity to speak.

Baum said that today’s lay people are strongly carrying Vatican II’s message by going on peace missions and being advocated for social justice.

“There is a great energy coming from the base of the Church. It is great to see what we can do. There is hope – hope in all we do,” Baum said.

Pelton commented that the key to carrying out Vatican II’s message is through reaching out to the youth. He remains hopefully by witnessing the good work that is being done by the laity.

As the conversation came to a close, it was agreed by the entire panel that the carrying out of Vatican II’s message is being done from the bottom up. The work of the Church’s people is what keeps the message alive and the goals of the laity will eventually work their way up to create changes within the Church itself.

“I give credit to Saint Mary’s College for making these things happen. Hope is what we see here tonight,” De Roo concluded.