WASHINGTON - The teachings of the Second Vatican Council are
neither optional nor second-class, but must be seen in the
proper context, the former prefect of the Vatican
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said Sept. 26 as
he opened a conference at The Catholic University of America
The talk by Cardinal William J. Levada focused on three
events that share an Oct. 11 date - the opening of Vatican II
50 years ago, the promulgation of the Catechism of the
Catholic Church 20 years ago and the upcoming opening of the
Year of Faith proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI.
The cardinal, who retired in July after serving as prefect
for seven years, was the first speaker at a Sept. 26-29
conference on "Reform and Renewal: Vatican II After Fifty
He began his talk by recounting a conversation in which a
colleague recalled asking high school students if they knew
what Vatican II was. "The pope's summer residence?" one
Cardinal Levada credited his audience at Catholic University
with a much greater understanding of the 1962-65 council but
said some confusion and misunderstandings remain, such as
whether the council was doctrinal or pastoral in nature and
whether its legacy should be seen in the letter of the
council - the documents it produced - or in its spirit.
"Vatican II was by intention a pastoral council - it did not
develop new dogmas to correct errors of the faith," he said,
describing the council as "doctrinal in principle, but
pastoral in its presentation."
On the letter-versus-spirit question, Cardinal Levada said it
is "not legitimate to separate the spirit and letter of the
He talked about two responses to the council - one that
reflected a flawed understanding of the continuity of church
teaching and another that reflected a correct understanding.
In the former case, a Dominican provincial in the Netherland
wrote to his colleagues urging the ordination of women and
married men and lay-led eucharistic celebrations as a
response to the priest shortage. That proposal, the cardinal
said, was "contrary to church teaching and even heretical."
On the other hand, Pope Benedict's establishment of
ordinariates that allow Anglicans to become Roman Catholics
while retaining some of their Anglican heritage and
traditions, including liturgical traditions, is a logical
follow-up to the council, he said.
The cardinal said the ordinariates, made up of former
Anglicans who "fully accept the Catholic faith," serve as a
"concrete witness to help overcome fears that diverse
expressions of faith are not allowed" in the Catholic Church.
He said the new structure marks "a new relationship between
the church and the modern era."
He said the situation remains murky for another group that
may or may not unite with the Catholic Church in the near
future - the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, which
rejects most of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
Pope Benedict launched a new series of doctrinal discussions
with the society in 2009, lifting excommunications imposed on
its four bishops and expressing his hopes they would return
to full communion with the church. The talks are taking place
under the guidance of the Vatican doctrinal congregation.
Asked during the question-and-answer period to disclose the
contents of a "doctrinal preamble" that society leaders have
been asked to sign, Cardinal Levada said he could not discuss
"an ongoing dialogue that is private."
"But I can say this, there is division in that house about
whether the council should be rejected or not," he said.
The Vatican has said the preamble, which has not been
published, outlines principles and criteria necessary to
guarantee fidelity to the church and its teaching.
"I pray for the successful conclusion of that dialogue," the
cardinal said. "But it is not my responsibility anymore. I
leave it to my successor."