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Riley's Ramblings - The Second Vatican Council: Part IV
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January 31, 2013

The Second Vatican Council: Part IV

While the cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops, bishops and superiors general of the religious orders of men each brought their own theological and social-cultural biases to the council, soon after the council opened, it became clear that there were two foci of leadership and influence which had a profound impact on the results of the council. Each of the two had radically different views on the nature and mission of the Church and its relationship to the larger world in which it operated. Eventually it became clear that one group was better organized and was numerically larger than the other. The smaller group sought other ways to influence or alter some of the major debates in the council.

The larger group, which came to be called the Domus Mariae (after the building in which they held their regular meetings) tended to be oriented to change. Their leadership came primarily from northern Europe where theological foment had been going on for several decades. In fact, many of the French, German, Belgium and Austrian theologians who were brought to the council by their bishops as periti had been silenced in the years before the council for being advocates of what the Holy Office of the Vatican referred to as the “nouvelle theologie.”

The Domus Mariae group met regularly with representatives of all the bishops conferences. At these meetings the bishops would hear from their fellow representative bishops from throughout the world on how their episcopal conference members were leaning on a particular subject under debate in the council. They would then try to achieve some sort of consensus. These representatives would then return to the national episcopal conferences where they reported on the meeting and discussed how the individual bishops might vote.

One of the key issues at the council was the collegiality of the bishops. Previously the bishops were seen as individuals delegated by the pope as some kind of “district manager” of his diocese working in the pope’s name. The belief was that their authority came from the pope and not from episcopal ordination. They did not participate as a group or as a “college of bishops” who, in communion with the pope, had a responsibility for the universal Church. The Domus Mariae group strongly supported the concept of collegiality and in fact they modeled it in the way they cooperated in their meetings.

The second group at the council, clearly the minority, was called the Coetus Internationalis Patrum (Group of Fathers, International). They were opposed to almost every change advanced by the majority. While they lost almost every vote in the assembly, they had other ways of “winning.” Often members of the group went secretly to the pope to warn him of impending disasters, including the possibility of schism, if a particular theological advancement of pastoral change were to be enacted. Pope Paul VI, always wary and fearful and acting on his diplomatic background, would seek a compromise, often by amending a text or using certain papal powers to get an item of the agenda.

The fact that the bishops came from their own particular cultures with their own agenda, at times the minority would convince enough bishops to vote their way against change. At times the Domus Mariae, in order to win over enough votes, would compromise and modify the texts. These concessions to various groups often made some of the final texts of the documents confusing and even self-contradictory. Such is the nature of compromise for consensus.