There's been a lot of talk about the next Pope and a possible Third
Vatican Council. There even seems to be political manuevering to that end.
Cardinal Carlo Martini of Milan appeared to let it slip, at the recent
European Synod of Bishops, that if he were Pope, he would call a Council of
some sort. Along with Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Mechelin-Brussels
(another 'candidate' for Pope), [I should point an old adage that says; he
who enters a Conclave as Pope, leaves a Cardinal] seconded this notion. They
stated that this 'gathering' of Bishops would be called to "loosen doctrinal
and disciplinary knots" that are central issues in the Church today. These
included the shortage of priests, the role of women (no doubt connected), the
role of the clergy, marriage and remarriage after divorce, relations with the
Eastern Orthodox, and the relationships between morality and law.
This is no doubt music to the ears of groups like Call To Action,
FutureChurch, WomanChurch, and Dignity. It appears this would solve the
problems they have with the Church at present and that, essentially, they'd
have a total victory over the Church and the Magisterium (the Hierarchy of
the Church). And that their letter writing campaign to lobby Cardinals for
the next conclave would succeed.
However, their glee may be short-lived. Cardinal Martini didn't say,
"Let's do these things" but rather "Let's talk about doing them." These
leave us with the question, "What would this Council mean?"
A Third Vatican Council is, in my opinion, inevitable. I recall that when
the Patriach of Constantinople, Nestorius, taught that Mary was the mother of
Christ's human nature only, the conflict was submitted to Rome for
clarification. When the Emperor and the Patriarch rejected the Pope's answer
(given in the spirit of collegiality) they called for a Council to 'talk
about doing these things'. The Council of Ephesus.
Once the Council was called, it would accept or condemn Nestorius'
teaching and his followers. A Third Vatican Council, to address the hot
issues of today, would do the same thing. Vatican III would have to come to
one of three conclusions.
1) Nothing is done. That is the Council would do nothing but talk about
them. The problem is a Council wouldn't be called unless an answer was
necessary. Calling a Council of the Church is no light matter, it would mean
that an answer is going to be given. Nestorius wanted an answer and felt
that it would be to his liking.
2) The Council would overturn "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis" and allow women
priests, remove the sin of artifical contraception and abortion, remove the
sin of homosexual activity, in short, approve all of the list of demands set
down by Call To Action and it's satellite organizations.
Now, whereas this is the expected outcome by Call To Action, et al, it
isn't necessarily the case. In order for this outcome to occur, the Third
Vatican Council would have to reject almost every other Council of the
Church, from the first Council of Jerusalem (ref. Acts 15) to Vatican II.
To allow women priests, and overturn Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, the Third
Vatican Council would have to reject Vatican I and Vatican II.
". . . the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when,
acting in the office of shepherd and teacher of all Christians, he defines,
by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, doctrine concerning faith or
morals to be held by the universal Church, possesses through the Divine
assistance promised to him in the person of St. Peter, the infallibility with
which the Divine Redeemer willed His Church to be endowed in defining
doctrine concerning faith or morals; and that such definitions of the Roman
Pontiff are therefore irreformable because of their nature, but not because
of the agreement of the Church." (First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church
of Christ; Vatican I)
" In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and
the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious
assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special
way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not
speaking ex cathedra....this is the infallibility which the Roman Pontiff,
the head of the college of bishops, enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as
the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his
brethren in their faith, by a definitive act he proclaims a doctrine of faith
or morals. And therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the
consent of the Church, are justly styled irreformable, since they are
pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, promised to him in blessed
Peter, and therefore they need no approval of others, nor do they allow an
appeal to any other judgment." (Lumen Gentium [Dogmatic Constitution on the
Church], Chap 3, #25)
This would also affect their assertion that any and all theologians are to
be consulted as well as the 'opinion' of the 'People of God'. So, on a
number of 'hot issues', in order to change Church teaching, Vatican III
would have to say that Vatican I and II (among others) were anathema,
condemned as wrong. Yet, in order for Vatican III to be valid, it would have
to embrace these and all other Councils. So, it's doubtful that this Council
would do this since to do so would mean that this Council would be invalid as
Nestorius felt he was on solid ground and the Council of Ephesus would
approve his teachings even though they went against the practice of the
Church for centuries before.
3) The Third Vatican Council would declare the agenda of Call To Action
anathema, and excommunicate (officially) anyone who adhered to it.
This is a more likely outcome. Up to this 'hypothetical' Council, the
Church tried to treat dissidents with the spirit of collegiality, to try to
come to a concensus as Catholics seeking the truth together. But, in
rejecting the teachings of Rome and calling for a Council, they forced the
Church's hand. Either the Church accepts their doctrines or it condemns
them. Considering that if the Coucil accepted them they'd a) have to reject
all other Councils of the Church and b) open the door for even their Council
to be rejected later (by rejecting other Councils, they would say that even
their Council was open to rejection whenever the mood hit them). The spirit
of collegiality would have to be set aside.
The Council of Ephesus declared Mary the Theotokos, the God-bearer, the
Mother of God. This directly opposed Nestorius' teaching, and made it
anathema, a heresy. Those, including Nestorius, who continued to maintain
that Mary was only the mother of Christ's human nature, were outside the
Church. Nestorius had forced the Church's hand. Rather than submitting to
the Pope's letter, correcting him in the spirit of collegiality, he forced
the Church to condemn him by calling for a Council.
Now, this may not be the end of it. Call To Action's likely response to
this 'rejection' would be to declare the Council invalid. That it didn't
have the authority to declare this since it isn't an 'Ecumenical' Council.
They would either declare, as they do with Humanae Vitae, that the orthodox
'stole' the Council somehow, OR that unless a united Church (including the
Eastern Orthodox and, presumably, the 'separated' churches) held the Council,
that it was invalid.
This was the tact of the Eastern Churches during the Eighth Ecumenical
Council (which they don't consider an Ecumenical Council) creating the
Eastern Orthodox Church, the Great Schism. Then, as now, politics played a
large part in their decision to separate from the Church of Rome, the See of
Peter. Then, as now, the Council forced them to either accept or reject the
authority of the Church. So, a Third Vatican Council may well mean another
schism. And like then, we would have, for example, the Roman Catholic Church
in America (loyal to the Pope and Magisterium) and the American Catholic
Church (which would follow the example of other 'national' churches in
Eastern Orthodoxy and the Church of England.)
So, this call for a Vatican III may not be the cure-all envisioned by
Call To Action and other dissidents. It may well mean the end for them as
Pax Christi, Pat