“The switches are now thrown in the right direction.” This was the comment of Austria’s Franziskus Cardinal Koenig about the effect of the actions taken so far at the Second Vatican Council.
The Archbishop of Vienna used the metaphor in an interview here to emphasize his view that a fair appraisal of the council’s work must be a long-range one, and that it should not be expected that its effects will be felt immediately in all directions.
“It would be a mistake to express judgments exclusively on the strength of the council decrees adopted, no matter how important they may be. We must appreciate the overall influence emanating from these deliberations, the impact resulting from them and we should realize that the gears certainly cannot be thrown into reverse any more,” he said.
Cardinal Koenig said he believed his impression of the council’s direction would be confirmed by most council Fathers. He mentioned the council votes on the draft proposals dealing with the Church and with the pastoral duties of the bishops as indicators of this.
“They showed that easily 80% of the council Fathers are fully behind the innovations now proposed, especially in regard to what has been called the collegial principle, which in practice implies a decentralization and internationalization of the Church,” he explained.
Asked if this trend would lead to the widely discussed reform of the Roman curia, he responded: “It certainly will, inasmuch as that supreme council of bishops will be set up, which the Holy Father visualizes. As for the reform of the Roman curia the Holy Father has left no doubt about his intentions in this regard.”
The question was then put to him about the capacity of a dissident minority to stall such changes. Cardinal Koenig said the affirmative support of the Pope would counter efforts by such a minority, and added:
“These trends cannot be reversed by mere administrative procedures. They will assert themselves more strongly once the measures the council has decided upon are applied and tested.”
In Cardinal Koenig’s opinion, the draft proposal on the Church is clearly the key document coming from the council. He commented:
“Its impact will be felt in a wide area of the life of the Church and its effects will be highly beneficial in bringing home to the faithful that they all are the people of God and that the Church sincerely desires to keep abreast of their spiritual needs in promoting what Pope Paul VI has aptly called the dialogue with the world.”
Regarding draft proposal 13, on the position of the Church in the modern world, the cardinal was asked whether the fast pace the council has adopted might not jeopardize a careful enough examination of this vital schema.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “If we can now move ahead faster than before, this is due in large measure to the work done in previous sessions and especially in the council committees, which now bear fruit.
“At the same time perhaps, expectations in regard to schema 13 were too high all along. The schema cannot provide a cure-all for the world’s ills. It can lay down certain principles, give some indications as to the direction one should pursue in dealing with contemporary problems, but it cannot possibly provide answers for all the questions raised.
“The problem of world poverty, for instance, certainly is one we should face realistically by expressing our concern for it and thereby inaugurate the sort of collective initiatives which eventually can lead to tangible results.
“All this requires time, and this also is the reason why, to my mind at least, a fourth council session will be necessary. We need more time to consider these matters and must not expect quick and easy solutions.
“However,” Cardinal Koenig concluded, “there is every reason to be hopeful in regard to the council’s further progress. I for one continue to be what you might call a moderate optimist when it comes to sizing up the accomplishments so far and the prospects of what remains to be done.”
Father Placid Jordan, O.S.B.
NCWC News Rome Correspondent