Action Alert!

What moves me? More honesty please!

by Bishop Kurt Koch


This article on the implementation of Vatican Council II was written by Archbishop Kurt Koch, until now Bishop of Basel. He has been appointed by the Holy Father Benedict XVI to succeed Cardinal Walter Kasper in the office of President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the Unity of Christians.

Publisher & Date

Diocese of Basel, July 1, 2009

In the last few weeks a lot of journalists, and also some clergy, have been expressing their opinions of Pope Benedict. In these opinions were also contained many half-truths, untruths, and slanders.The worst accusation asserts that the Pope wishes to go back to before the Second Vatican Council. This accusation is the worst because it implies that the very person who possesses the teaching authority of the universal Church would work to undermine the authority of the council. This verdict, however, would be completely mistaken. As a young theologian, in fact, Benedict XVI contributed very much to the council. Anyone who seeks to understand the Pope now–not just from the media–but also by reading what he writes, would come to the conclusion that he has oriented his entire magisterium on the council. How should we then understand the accusation being made?

Many people have signed a petition for the unqualified acceptance of the council. Right from the start, the expression "unqualified acceptance" irritates me because I don’t know anyone—myself included—to whom it would apply. A few arbitrarily chosen examples will suffice:

  • The council did not abolish Latin in the liturgy. On the contrary, it emphasized that in the Roman Rite, apart from exceptional cases, the use of the Latin language must be maintained. Who among the vocal defenders of the council wishes "unqualified acceptance" of that?
  • The council declared that the Church regards Gregorian Chant as the "music proper to the Roman Rite", and that it must therefore "be given primary place." In how many parishes is this implemented "without qualification?"
  • The council expressly requested that governmental authorities voluntarily give up those rights to participation in the selection of bishops, that had arisen over the course of time. Which defender of the council advocates "without qualification" for that?
  • The council described the fundamental nature of the liturgy as the celebration the Pascal Mystery and the Eucharistic Sacrifice as "the completion of the work of our salvation." How can that be reconciled with my experience, made in many different parishes, that the sacrificial understanding of the Mass has been completely eliminated from the liturgical language and the Mass is now understood only as a meal or "the breaking of bread?" In what way can one justify this profound change by reference to the council?

No office of the Church was given more significance by the council that that of bishop.How can we then understand the widespread diminishment in Switzerland of this office of the Church, which is justified by reference to the council? When, for example, Hans Kung denies completely the teaching authority of the bishops, allowing them only the office of pastoral leadership?

It would not be difficult to lengthen this litany. Even so, it should be obvious why I demand more honesty in the current debate about the council. Instead of accusing others, and even the Pope, of wishing to go back to before the council, everyone would be well advised to look over their own books and reassess their own personal position on the council. Because not everything that was said and done after the council, was therefore done in accordance with the council—and that applies also to the diocese of Basel. In any case, the last few weeks have illustrated to me that a primary problem in the current situation has been a very poor, and in part very one-sided understanding and acceptance of the council, even by Catholics that defend the council "without qualification." In this regard we all–once more including myself–have a lot of ground to make up. Therefore I again repeat my urgent request: More honesty please!

+ Kurt Koch
Bishop of Basel

© Diocese of Basel

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