Vatican II eye-witness speaks out

Earlier this month, theologian Giovanni Franzoni, a former Benedictine abbott and one of the youngest participants at Vatican II, and now one of the few remaining eyewitnesses, delivered his reflections on the council during the 31st Congress of the Asociacion de Teologas Juan XXIII in Madrid.

Fellow NCR Today blogger Bob McClory wrote about this yesterday (See Former Abbott: Paul VI undermined Vatican II), but it bears more attention.

Franzoni' talk, translated into English and posted on the Web site of Iglesia Descalza, is highly valuable simply for its eyewitness quality. On the website, the title is Vatican II: Lost and betrayed. The reflections are not quite that grim. Franzoni notes the positive advances, often pushed by Pope Paul VI, on matters of social justice, world peace and diminishing the temporal power of the papacy.

At the same time, he takes a different tack from most of the common, contemporary analysis that lays the blame for the rollback of council reforms at the feet of Pope John Paul II and his successor, Benedict XVI. While they may have reinforced the movement to restore papal power and cut off discussion of expansion of ministries, of gender and of sexuality, Franzoni makes a convincing case that the original papal interventions cutting off any further consideration of such matters were made unilaterally by Paul VI, even as the council fathers were signing off on documents extolling collegiality.

It is good to have these recollections in an era when the raw activity of the council and its impulses for greater lay participation and broader collegiality among the ordained can be obscured beneath decades of a kind of theological gerrymandering. The reality is that the Spirit may have moved people onto that big stage now nearly 50 years ago, but the imperfect documents that resulted were the result of a great deal of human activity, rough-and-tumble politics, and attempts to protect vested interests.

Franzoni provides a wonderful eyewitness recounting of some of those moments. And his will be among the last eyewitness recollections we'll have.

Thanks to Brian Coyne, editor and publisher of the Australian website Catholica: A Global Conversation,, for calling my attention to the talk and sending on the link. It deserves wide circulation.

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