- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2002

A Catholic cardinal said yesterday that the reformist Second Vatican Council upheld the authority of the papacy, hierarchy and Rome as the "true church," rather than liberalizing those beliefs, as commonly believed.
"Movements of reform and liberalization have commonly appealed to Vatican II as their justification, but many of their proposals have rested on misinterpretations," Cardinal Avery Dulles said in a speech to a full auditorium at Georgetown University last night to mark the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, which opened in 1962.
Cardinal Dulles was called "the dean of Catholic theologians" in an introduction by John J. DeGioia, president of Georgetown, and last year became the first American theologian who is not a bishop to be made a cardinal.
The cardinal called Vatican II's documents are an "artful blending" of the ideas of a liberal majority and conservative minority who met in Rome, but firmly support the traditional teachings of Pope John Paul II and the Holy See today.
"The struggle between different schools of interpretation brought about a certain polarization in the church, in some cases leading to the brink, if not over the brink, of schism," Cardinal Dulles told his Georgetown audience.
While conservatives idealized the old Latin church as "a lost paradise," he said, liberals used Vatican II to argue for an optimistic humanism that accepted secular "signs of the times."
Cardinal Dulles said that in the 1960s both agendas, especially the liberal one, were politically organized and masterfully executed. Still, he said, the more conservative interpreters have won on the Vatican II legacy.
"To some extent this [liberalizing] rhetoric still exists, but it seems to be dying down," said the Jesuit scholar who, as son of a former secretary of state, converted to Catholicism while a Harvard student.
Cardinal Dulles said the greatest post-Vatican II misunderstanding is that the church gave up its claim to be the only way to salvation and that popes are not the final authority.
"The primacy of the pope, as it had been defined by Vatican I [in 1870], remains intact," he said.
Non-Catholic groups are respected as churches with ministries, "but there is no reason to reckon them as constituent parts of the one true church, which is Roman and Catholic," he said.
He also noted that the council said people of other religions who try to do good but are ignorant of the Roman church "may attain salvation" by God's grace in the end.
Two years ago, a Vatican declaration that was widely interpreted as saying that salvation exists only in the Roman Church stirred anger among many non-Catholic traditions.
The Second Vatican Council, which met periodically from 1962 to 1965, produced four major "constitutions" of the church and many smaller documents.
Ever since, Cardinal Dulles said, activists have picked the phrase they liked best to promote a liberal or conservative agenda. The world bishops met again in 1985 to set rules for using Vatican II documents for public advocacy.
Last night, Cardinal Dulles also said that while Vatican II increased the role of the laity, it did not turn over the power of "pastoral government."
He said, however, that since lay Catholics pay the bills, they should have more say in financial matters.
"There is, I suspect, a real need for more accountability to the [lay] people of God in matters such as funds donated by the laity," he said.
In the wake of the sexual-abuse crisis this year, lay groups and some bishops said financial accountability is needed after reports of the hierarchy using hush money and facing multimillion-dollar lawsuits.
"But," Cardinal Dulles said, "I do not wish to go beyond the topic of my lecture."
The council also promoted the sacred calling of marriage, he said. But in the years since, opponents of celibacy downplayed the council declaration on "the greater excellence of virginity in consecration to Christ" as a priest or nun.
"If this passage had been better understood and more warmly accepted, the present crisis of vocations to the priestly and religious life might be less severe," the cardinal said.
The average age of priests today is 63, according to church studies.

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