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Posted April 13, 2005 at 4:06 p.m. CDT

Vatican II is latest topic
Curia officials weigh in on late pope's
commitment to council reforms

By Stacy Meichtry
Vatican City

The question of whether John Paul II’s papacy advanced the reforms laid out by the Second Vatican Council has long been a hotly debated topic in contemporary Catholicism. Critics of John Paul II often characterize his papacy as a centralizing force that turned back the clock on church reform by strengthening the control of the Roman Curia over local dioceses and national bishops conferences. With less than a week remaining before the start of the next conclave, high-ranking curial officials have begun weighing in on the subject.  

Before an audience of curial officials, Wednesday, the number two official in the Secretariat of State, Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, celebrated a memorial Mass for John Paul II, noting the pontiff’s efforts to secure a place for Vatican II in the future of the church.

John Paul II “traced the guidelines of the third Christian millennium, indicating the Second Vatican Council as a ‘sure compass’ to orient the church’s path in the new millennium,” Sandri said, citing Novo Millennio Ineunte, an apostolic letter published in 2001.

In that document, the pope displayed an inclination to rein in curial authority and boost collegiality -- a position that surprised many Catholics.

"Much has been done since the Second Vatican Council for the reform of the Roman curia, the organization of synods and the functioning of episcopal conferences," the pope wrote in paragraph 44. "But there is certainly much more to be done, in order to realize all the potential of these instruments of communion, which are especially appropriate today in view of the need to respond promptly and effectively to the issues which the church must face in these rapidly changing times."

John Paul also called on officials to reflect on the "careerism, distrust and jealousy" in the life of the church, Sandri said.

Earlier Wednesday, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and dean of the College of Cardinals, characterized John Paul’s efforts to expand Roman Catholicism’s global presence as a compliment to the directives laid out in Lumen Gentium, the dogmatic constitution of the church, a principal document of the Second Vatican Council.

“John Paul II has led the church for more than 26 years, making clear that (the church) is like -- as the Second Vatican Council recalled -- both ‘the sign and the instrument of the intimate union with God and of the unity of all of mankind,’” Ratzinger said, citing Lumen Gentium.

Ratzinger, who was speaking before the Holy See diplomatic corps, added that John Paul “led (the church) into the third millennium, inviting Christians to bring Christ to the world and calling all men of good will to react with generosity, peace, solidarity and sharing.”

Liberal observers have frequently characterized Vatican II reforms as a call for collegiality—a code word for decentralization of Vatican power. Neither Ratzinger nor Sandri made any mention of collegiality in their addresses. Prior to a self-imposed media blackout that took effect Saturday, many cardinals voting in the next conclave had expressed concern over how collegiality should be interpreted.

As the Vatican’s top theological watchdog, Ratzinger has developed a reputation as a centralizing force in church governance. That reputation heavily contrasts with the role he played at the first session of the Second Vatican Council in 1963. At that time, Ratzinger described the emergence of "horizontal Catholicity" as one of the council’s most important achievements, in which "the curia found a force to reckon with and a real partner in discussion."

Italian newspapers, meanwhile, are reporting that support for a Ratzinger papacy has begun to swell. Citing unnamed sources, Corriere della Sera of Milan reported that at least 40 cardinals are going to support Ratzinger in the next conclave. La Repubblica of Rome gave an estimate of 50 supporters. To be elected pope, Ratzinger needs 77 votes for a two-thirds majority.

In a statement Wednesday Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said cardinals continued to “exchange ideas on the situation of the church and of the world” without offering any details. 


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