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HONG KONG (ChurchMilitant.com) - The bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, Cdl. Joseph Zen, has made an impassioned defense of the Second Vatican council.
As a chorus of voices weighs in on the state of the Church 50 years after the conclusion of Vatican II, Cdl. Zen blogged on Sunday his middle-of-the-road approach in defending the Council. He had his pulse on the modern world and the emerging polarization that began in the 1950s and '60s. Zen wrote:
The extreme conservatives say: "The Church after the Vatican II is no more the Catholic Church I received baptism in." But you were baptized in a Church which believes in one Apostolic Church, led by the pope and the bishops as authentic teachers of faith.
The extreme progressives say: "Before the Council nothing was allowed to change, now with Vatican II many changes have been made, so, many things should be allowed to change also in the future." Yes, but only by a decision of the legitimate authority, not by an arbitrary choice of anybody, and surely not by undoing the past. The Holy Spirit of today doesn't contradict the Holy Spirit of yesterday.
Zen understands the Church is an organic body, the body of Christ, informed by the Holy Spirit and maturing through time and space by the same Spirit.
"The Church is a living body," he says. "It certainly grows and changes, but, as Cdl. John Henry Newman puts it, the development is 'homogeneous', i.e., with the substantial identity not altered. A boy grows into maturity and he is still the same person," Zen explains.
As for the Council itself, "There is a saying, not far from the truth," he relates, "[that] an ecumenical council starts from human efforts, then comes the Devil to make trouble, but at the end, the Holy Spirit brings everything to a happy ending."
Although Zen does believe the happy ending was achieved by the Holy Spirit through the fathers of the Council: "The fruit of Vatican II are those 16 documents, especially the 4 constitutions. Through those documents you hear the real voice of the Holy Spirit."
However, he also recognizes the ongoing challenge that comes with the modern world's dichotomous approach to life.
"Unfortunately," he says, "the polarization between the conservatives and progressives did not disappear after the Council."
Those who criticize Vatican II often point to several problems, not the least of which is what was said about religious freedom. The second section of Dignitatis Humanae reads:
all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits. The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right (DH, 2).
Some saw potential problems with this language, believing it apparently conferred equal rights on those in the truth and those in error. While the Church teaches that conscience is a person's last word, it also teaches that an individual has an obligation to form his or her conscience according to what is objectively true and good. The tradition of the Church gives pride of place to Scripture and Tradition, and the authentic interpretation of the Magisterium.
Pope St. John Paul II, a council father before he was pope, affirmed Dignitatis Humanae through his pontificate. In his 1991 "Message for the World Day of Peace," he wrote "No human authority has the right to interfere with a person's conscience" which he called "inviolable."
He thus adds, "each individual's conscience [must] be respected by everyone else; people must not attempt to impose their own 'truth' on others. ... Truth imposes itself solely by the force of its own truth."
Pope Benedict XVI agreed. In his "Address to the Roman Curia" in 2005, he stressed the importance of religious freedom:
The martyrs of the early Church died for their faith in that God who was revealed in Jesus Christ, and for this very reason they also died for freedom of conscience and the freedom to profess one's own faith — a profession that no State can impose but which, instead, can only be claimed with God's grace in freedom of conscience.
Realizing the challenge of religious freedom in a pluralistic, modern world, Pope Francis addressed an international conference on Religious Freedom and the Global Clash of Values.
"Reason recognizes in religious freedom a fundamental human right which reflects the highest human dignity, the ability to seek the truth and conform to it," said the pope, "a condition which is indispensable to the ability to deploy all of one's own potentiality."
Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, upon criticism of his own criticism of the Council, confirms Vatican II was a valid council but says "it was made the object of a grave manipulation." He quotes Cdl. Walter Brandmüller's claim that that the Council places itself in continuity with the Tradition, and then explains the manipulation of language that he sees in some of its documents:
The presence of orthodox content does not exclude the presence of other heretical propositions nor does it mitigate their gravity, nor can the truth be used to hide even only one single error. On the contrary, the numerous citations of other Councils, of magisterial acts or of the Fathers of the Church can precisely serve to conceal, with a malicious intent, the controversial points.
Viganò, like so many others who've been critical of the Council over the past 50 years, focus on the bad fruit that seemingly resulted from the Council as well as the ambiguous language employed in Council documents that did not produce abundant fruit.