All the feeling of hesitancy and even uneasiness which for some time has prevailed with regard to the future prospects of the Second Vatican Council have been effectively and decisively scotched by Pope Paul VI’s announcement that an episcopal synod representing the whole world’s hierarchy is to be set up as a supreme consultative and executive body of the Church.
As anticipated for some time and as already proposed in the council schema on the pastoral functions of bishops, this supreme synod is to be composed for the greater part of bishops freely chosen by the various national hierarchies besides the appointees of the Pope.
In other words, one of the principal goals of this council — the decentralization of the government of the Church — is now certain to be achieved. However, the Roman curia will continue to be used, as the Pope pointed out, as an indispensable administrative instrument. Supreme executive powers will rest with the Pope in direct conjunction with the world’s bishops.
Most of the fears felt so far by those who believed that traditional habits would again prevail once the council is over are proven unjustified. Aggiornamento is truly becoming a reality. The unforgettable Pope John’s dream of a Church renewed from within is joyfully coming through. Those who had doubts as to the sincere willingness of Pope Paul to implement his predecessor’s great vision must now admit they were mistaken.
The consequences of the Pope’s decision are far reaching indeed, because it means no less than an assurance that the reforms the council has freely decided on will be carried out under the direct supervision of the world’s bishops.
Once again the Pontiff has stressed that he will in no way interfere with their freedom. The decisions yet to be reached, therefore, will be reached no less freely than those reached up to now, and all the decrees promulgated will be executed in a true spirit of reform and progress.
The tenor of the Pope’s address at the opening of the fourth council session was fully attuned to these happy prospects, since it emphasized once more the basic council theme previously outlined by Pope John that this is to be a pastoral council.
Charity is to prevail, Pope Paul said. “Instead of condemning, the Church will entertain feelings of love while remaining firm and unambiguous in matters of doctrine.” This, in particular, is to apply in the relations of the Church with the separated brethren, in whose regard Pope Paul once more proclaimed the ultimate goal of “reintegrating all Christians in the unity willed by Christ.”
Thus this last council session has opened with joyful prospects. New horizons are now in sight, which but a few years ago seemed beyond reach.
While the council Fathers were flocking out of St. Peter’s basilica under a radiant Roman sunshine, the Rev. Albert C. Outler, of Dallas, Tex., an observer for the official World Methodist Council at the council, remarked:
“Pope Paul really has put this council back on the Johannine track.”
Father Placid Jordan, O.S.B.
NCWC Rome correspondent