By PAUL A. BARRA
COLUMBIA — “The Second Vatican Council is a wonderful topic, but it’s amazing what we don’t know about it. Most Catholics’ perception of the council is limited to what they have experienced at Mass.”
With that premise as an opening statement, Richard Cheri began a day-long symposium on Vatican II May 30 in the auditorium of Cardinal Newman High School. He gave an encapsulated history of the Church, showing the changes that marked her evolution over the millennia and demonstrating the need for change again in the 450 years since the Council of Trent. Then he talked about Angelo Roncalli, the man who was supposed to be a transitional pope but who was struck with a vision that revised the face of Catholicism.
“The Church had become rigid, needed re-animation, reform,” Cheri said. “Pope John XXIII had a world vision of the Church; he realized that it was larger than Rome.”
Pope John by-passed the Roman Curia and opened the council to the bishops of the world. Proof that the Holy Spirit was instrumental in the reforms promulgated by Vatican II surfaces with the phenomenal sense of unity that marked the council over time, according to Cheri. He cited the numbers of the final votes on the 16 documents produced by this council; all were remarkable in their consensus, some extraordinary.
The document on Lay Apostolate, for instance, was approved by a vote of 2,305 to 2. The vote for the document on the Liturgy was 2,147-4; The Church, 2,151-5; Renewal of the Life of the Religious, 2,321-4.
The most contentious votes, if they can be labeled so, were the documents on Non-Christian Religions (2,221-88) and Communications (1,960-164).
“Even without the numbers, we can see that it was a movement of the Holy Spirit,” said Father Eugene A. Leonard of Jesus Our Risen Savior in Spartanburg, one of two priests present at the workshop.
“Just getting all those bishops together in collegiality took God’s help,” he said.
Gaurav Shroff, a graduate student at USC and a member of St. Thomas More Parish in Columbia, agreed the historical meeting of the world’s bishops in the fall seasons of 1962-65 was “amazing,” but he saw highs and lows to the council, mirroring the opinions of participants in the symposium.
“The greatest theological minds in the world provided continuing education for the bishops, but in the first session, women were not consulted at all,” Shroff said.
Many people in Columbia on May 30 saw the Second Vatican Council as unfinished business, especially with regard to women’s issues and birth control and the shortage of priests; others thought that the council fathers went too far in their zeal for reform. Rhett Spigner, a convert from Anglicanism, said that the reasons she moved to Catholicism seem to be following her in the response of some parishes to Vatican II.
“The Catholic Church is more like the Episcopal Church today, and the Episcopal Church is way down the road,” Spigner said.
On the video that Cheri used to punctuate the discussion, “The Faithful Revolution: Vatican II,” a Jesuit priest summed up the Catholic reactions to Vatican II in old-time popular music terms: “For some, the tune is ‘Backward, Christian Soldier’ and for others it’s ‘Arriverderci, Roma,'” said Father Theodore Ross.
Francis Cardinal Arinze, an African who some consider to be a possible successor to Pope John Paul II, said on the same video that “…some people use Vatican II as an excuse when they want to disobey.”
But most people at the diocesan workshop were women whose opinion was summed up by Louise Harrison of Church of the Resurrection in Loris: “Vatican II may have gone just far enough. See all the progress we’re making today based on what the council started.”
The discussion sections of the workshop were lively debates; that suited Paul Schroeder fine. Schroeder is the dirctor of the Office of Evangelization, Initiation and Catechesis for the Diocese of Charleston, which co-sponsored Cheri and the workshop with RCL, a Catholic publisher. Schroeder saw the instances of lay people arguing their positions on Pope John XXIII’s council as an indication of their faith ownership. “This goes to show the true nature of what it means to be Church,” he said. “It shows the universal nature of Catholicism. Diversity is good.”
He called the workshop “an in-service for people in pastoral ministry, an opportunity for the diocese to offer some enrichment to the faithful.” Cheri came to Columbia from Louisiana where he is an official with the Archdiocese of New Orleans and a teacher at Loyola University. He is married with a two-year-old son and also directs the archdiocesan gospel choir of more than 100 voices.