The National Catholic Review
John W. O'Malley
The president's persona and the spirit of the council
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We have a Vatican II president. Barack Obama, I am sure, does not think of himself in those terms, but when I heard his speech at Grant Park in Chicago the night he was elected, and more recently his commencement address at Notre Dame, that is what immediately struck me. On those occasions he embodied and professed in his public persona the spirit of the council. In making that statement I know that I am entering a minefield. Catholics who denounce the president for his stance on abortion are of course responsible for many of the mines in the field, but their mines have been so thoroughly discussed lately that for the sake of brevity I will bypass them here.

The other set of mines in the field comes from the expression “the spirit of Vatican II.” The expression, used widely at the time of the council and given a certain official standing at the Synod of Bishops in 1985, has lately in Roman circles been quietly downgraded, if not dismissed as meaningless. No doubt, the expression has been abused to justify interpretations far removed from what the bishops intended, and it has seemed all too prone to ideological manipulation. Your “spirit of the council” is not my “spirit of the council.”

Yet the expression has a legitimate place in our vocabulary and is in fact almost indispensable for grasping the big message the council wanted to deliver. By “the spirit of the council” I mean simply general orientations that transcended particular issues. In my book, What Happened at Vatican II, I argue that beneath the particular issues the council dealt with—episcopal collegiality, for instance, and religious liberty—more profound and far-reaching issues lurked. I call these the issues-under-the-issues. I ground them in the texts of the council and in that way ground “the spirit of the council” and give it verifiable substance.    

Among the issues-under-the issues was style, the issue especially pertinent for grounding “the spirit of the council.” The council spoke in a new style, a style different from all previous councils. It eschewed words implying punishment, surveillance, hostility, distrust and coerced behavior-modification that characterized previous councils. It employed words that espoused a new model for Christian behavior—not new, of course, to the Christian tradition as such, but new to council vocabulary. I am referring to words like brothers and sisters, cooperation, partnership, human family, conscience, collegiality and especially dialogue. The new words cannot be dismissed as casual asides or mere window dressing. The council used them too insistently, intentionally and characteristically for them to be that. This new vocabulary made the council a major language-event in the history of the church.

The shift in vocabulary had profound ramifications. It meant a shift in values and priorities. Critical among these new values was civility in dealing with persons of different faiths or convictions and a willingness to listen to them with docile heart and mind. This civility was not a superficial tactic but a manifestation of an inner conversion. It of course did not mean surrendering one’s beliefs, but it did mean a willingness to learn from others and a refusal to condemn them without a hearing. Such openness of mind and heart is the essence of genuine dialogue.

The council hoped that this new style of being, which brings with it a new way of proceeding, would lead to cooperation among all persons of good will—Catholics and non-Catholics, Christians and non-Christians, believers and non-believers—on the new, massive, and sometimes terrifying problems that face humanity today. This new way of proceeding in large part constituted “the spirit of the council.” It was one of the big messages the council delivered to the church and to the world at large.

That is why when I heard Obama’s two speeches I was struck by how much he spoke in accord with the spirit of Vatican II.  In those two addresses, as well as in his other speeches, he called for civility, for the end of name-calling, and for a willingness to work together to deal with our common problems, including abortion, rather than a stand-off determination to impose one’s principles without reckoning what the cost to the common good might be.

President Jenkins of Notre Dame called attention to Obama’s oratorical gifts. Such gifts are consonant with the rhetorical tradition that produced the spirit of Vatican II. The council deliberately chose to speak as much as possible “in the pastoral style of the Fathers,” who were schooled from their earliest days in the rhetorical tradition. That tradition is what made them such effective preachers and leaders of their communities.

Classical theorists about rhetoric like Cicero and Quintilian described it as the art of winning consensus, the art of bringing people together for a common cause. It is an art, please note, closely related to ethics, for those same theorists described the truly successful orator as vir bonus dicendi peritus--a good man, skilled in public speaking. It is an art in which Obama excels and which, certainly unwittingly, puts him in touch with the spirit of Vatican II.

I often hear laments that the spirit of Vatican II is dead in the church. Is it not ironic that not a bishop but the President of the United States should today be the most effective spokesperson for that spirit? To judge from the enthusiastic response he received from the graduates at Notre Dame, his message captured their minds and hearts. Maybe through young Catholics like those at Notre Dame who are responding to Obama’s message the spirit of Vatican II will, almost through the back door, reenter the church. The history of the church has, after all, taken stranger turns than that.

John W. O'Malley, S.J., is university professor, theology department, at Georgetown University and author of What Happened at Vatican II.

Comments

Karla | 6/3/2009 - 1:26pm
I think Fr. O'Malley needs to re-read the documents that came out of Vatican II. When we begin to interpret them on our own based on our opinion of what the words contained within mean, we can see whatever we want in any body of work. We need to pray for so many Catholics who have forgotten that our Church is not a democracy and it's teachings are clear and haven't changed in 2000 years. We are not to "change with the times" and compromise the Church's teachings in order to get along with those who disagree with us. I pray for the souls of so many of our clergy who are causing scandal and deep division in our beloved Church based on their "opinions". May God have mercy on them all. God bless our faithful bishops and clergy and may God specially bless our Holy Father, Benedict XVI. We are living in very special times!
Darrel Matz | 6/3/2009 - 12:43pm
finally,some-one is speaking the truth about president Oboma, in stead of all this name calling. I would think people that have been demonizing him for,speaking at Notre-Dame,would be ashamed of them selves.
Darrel Matz | 6/3/2009 - 12:43pm
finally,some-one is speaking the truth about president Oboma, in stead of all this name calling. I would think people that have been demonizing him for,speaking at Notre-Dame,would be ashamed of them selves.
Tim Palmer | 6/3/2009 - 11:45am
I thought the Jesuits existed before Vatican II and therefore acknowledged the whole of Catholicism. What ill-advised policy will the Society of Jesus be supporting under the Vactican II president?
Pamela W | 6/3/2009 - 10:08am
Jerry that's a rhetorical question, right? Obama's skill with rhetoric is praised, yet no mention of the fact that he is not open to the dialogue he insists we need to have, as evidenced by the fact that everything the man does is in opposition to the views of those of us 'on the other side'. Wasn't it just a few months ago that he was saying "Words...just words..." That is what he is about, but we (and Fr. O'Malley and his fellow priests) should be examining his actions, not his skill with rhetoric. When Obama speaks of keeping an open mind and heart, he obviously means we who are faithful to the teaching of Christ should be 'open minded'. He has proven his disdain for us and the teaching of Christ's Church, yet again, by announcing June as the celebration of homosexuality. So, happy GLBT month to all the 'open minded' Catholic readers. From all indications in this piece, Fr. O'Malley, S.J. appears to support Obama, since he offers only praise. He gives me one more reason to never send my Catholic children to Georgetown, as did Notre Dame, for the indoctrination into Catholic dissent. Thank you for the heads up, Fr., and may God have mercy. One can only cringe in wonder at the number of 'little ones' who have been and are now being led astray in the name of 'the spirit of Vatican II'.
Alexis | 6/3/2009 - 9:40am
Sorry, Fr. O'Mallely, but I think you must live in the land of Oz.
Br.Macedo | 6/3/2009 - 9:39am
When you consider how Mr. Barack Obama was raised within his "non-family", having to please everybody, as he grew up with such a "dysfunctional family", we all feel compassion for his predicament. His growing up demonstrates how a dysfunctional and broken family can, nevertheless, create a brilliant person. As an intelligent and street-smart human being, he learned how to please everyone around him. At every moment, he is focused on using all the skills that he learned so well to survive to the next moment leaving a glow behind. Yet, as Psalm 36 continues to demonstrate, human nature has not improved very much since the Psalm was written over 2,000 years ago. This Psalm describes how "Man so flatters himself in his mind that he knows not his guilt. In his mouth are mischief and deceit. All wisdom is gone. He plots the defeat of goodness as he lies in his bed. He set his foot on evil ways, he clings to what is evil." We must continuously pray for God to remove the "delusions" and "fog" that cloud the clarity of thinking about "truth" and "goodness". Support of the violent death of unborn human beings and the catering to an industry that makes a profit from it, are, and will continue to be, intrinsically evil. Life was designed for an eternity of joy with our Creator or the pain of His absence.
Pro-Lifer & Pro-Family | 6/3/2009 - 9:27am
Are you kidding me. It was a scandal to have this aggressively anti-life, anti-family president speak at a Catholic university.
Michael Gick | 6/3/2009 - 8:33am
Thank you for your article. Unfortunately, the Catholics who remember the breath of fresh air admitted to the church in the early 1960s are fading. A new generation of "rigorists" is taking their place, and for all their moral piety, I see absolutely no signs of an underlying wisdom. Our church has a long and complex history. It would do well to study it and realize that we need more modesty and civility rather than fundamentalist rancor.
Peadar Roe | 6/3/2009 - 7:23am
There, there, Adele, all will be well and all manner of thing will be well. We have the soothing words of the President to remind us that if we but treat each other with civility whilst our "irreconcilable differences" remain that way, dialogue will continue, and so will the killing. This is, as the learned priest has assured us, exactly what the Council Fathers had in mind, the what was it?, the "issue-under-the issue", style of doing things. All in the spirit of the thing, of course, which can be whatever the hell...literally...anyone, presidents and priest/professors especially, say it should be. He, and Father O'Malley, may he live long and prosper, and Father Jenkins, are very stylish fellows. And, very stylishly they will go about "killing us, softly," with their songs. Good St. Roberta Flack, pray for us.
Bob Baker | 6/3/2009 - 3:17am
So now we know who covered up the "IHS" at Georgetown when Obama spoke there!
Robert Leach | 6/3/2009 - 1:34am
The idea that Vatican 11 was about listening to and respecting people from other religions is a lttle strange. Surely just being Christian - a follower of Christ - demands such attitudes. As for President Obama being an exemplar of the "Spirit of Vatican 11", and more so than any of the US bishops - that is pretty hard to swallow. Every fair dinkum Catholic knows that Obama is in serious error over abortion as well as other life and family issues. We can show him respect; we can listen to him - but as for dialogue, that is only possible if he is willing to change his views -and he has already stated that the opposing views on abortion are "irreconcilable". The Church won't change so where is the possibility of dialogue? We can only agree to disagree - respectfully of course!
lome | 6/3/2009 - 12:18am
I applaud Fr. O'Malley for this article too. To Adele, Please go and see our lady of roses end time prophecies in baysides and you'll know the many enemies of the Catholic Church from outside and within and help expose it. http://www.tldm.org/directives/d127.htm STARTED WITH GOOD INTENTIONS "Bishops in My Son's House, Church, you have gone astray. You have scattered Our sheep. You have joined with all manner of heretics and false teachers. You started with good intentions in your Council, but you became deluded in your search for peace and brotherhood. You allowed all manner of error to creep slowly into My Son's House, Church. You must understand that you are setting in motion the formation of a World Council of Churches, but it will not be the Church of My Son. It will be a church of man, a church without the true foundation." - Our Lady of roses, June 5, 1976 DISCORD AND DISUNITY "The great Council, the Council that has brought forth discord, disunity, and the loss of souls, the major fact behind this destruction was because of the lack of prayer. Satan sat in within this Council, and he watched his advantage. He is now playing a game of chess with the Red Hats and the Purple Hats, moving them with great glee as he watches the evil accelerate, and all manners of people are flowing fast through the doors of the Holy City and all ecumenical bodies." - St. Michael, March 18, 1976
lome | 6/3/2009 - 12:00am
LIKE THE CHESSBOARD "Pastors, those who have in their care Our sheep, you must stop now these changes that you seek in novelty, for they are destroying the young souls and scattering Our sheep. "I repeat, My children, the great Council in Rome of Vatican II, the promises were great, but satan sat among you and he played you like the chess board. "You were given a foundation of Faith based on Tradition and knowledge of the prophets. You cannot start this new religion, for it will lead you to one religion that is not of My Son, that will not have His true foundation, and you will take My Son's Body and defame it, no longer giving the knowledge of His divinity. What manner of foul escapades are you planning, O you of little faith? Whatever shall become of you? The Red Hats have fallen and the Purple Hats are being misled. Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth! "My child, do not slacken in your work because of the opinion of man. Know, My child, that it is not you who are speaking but the voice from Heaven." - Our Lady of roses, August 5, 1976 MANIPULATED "There is, My children, a great conspiracy of evil now throughout your world—the forces, the columns of evil. Man has given them many names-the fifth column. They have been broken up into political parties, including communism. O My children, they are but small arms of the octopus, the gigantic conspiracy of evil that will unite your world and My Son's Church under the rule of despots! "There is in Rome, My children, a great struggle for power, a political machine controlled by satan. There shall be a war of the spirits. It shall be bishop against bishop and cardinal against cardinal. "I repeat, My children, as I have told you in the past, that the great Council of Vatican II was manipulated by satan. He sat there among you and he worked you like a chessboard. "What can you do now to recover? It is simple, My children: turn back and start over with the foundation given to you. You must bring respect back to your priesthood. You must bring respect back to your Holy Father, Pope Paul VI. I have warned you of all the manners of abominations, errors, and delusions that have been set upon you. Listen, and act upon My warnings to you!" - Our Lady of roses, May 15, 1976
Nial Murray | 6/2/2009 - 10:41pm
When Simon bar Jonah transferred his focus from Jesus to the turbid waters of the sea of Galilee he began to sink as he walked on water toward Jesus. I listen to this confusing intellectual discussion and then remind myself "But what does the Master say?" He says:- "There shall rise up false Christs and also prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders, in so much as to deceive (if possible) even the elect" (Matt 24.24) Lets keep our eyes on Him Who is the Way the Truth and the Life. For Catholics, this is a spiritual matter not intellectual.
Bernard | 6/2/2009 - 10:31pm
It makes me laugh how easily people these days practically bend over backwards to canonize President Obama - as for him encapsulating the the spirit of Vatican II? As other commentors have noted, it may pay to look at what the Council actually said rather than try and interpret it from a rather narrow Western, and particularly American point of view... dialogue is fantastic if it leads to the Truth. If not, it's just a politician making nice noises to a significant swing-voting block.
Gerald McGrane | 6/2/2009 - 10:17pm
I fail to understand how a Catholic publication such as this can continue to publish article after article praising President Obama while I have yet to see one article criticizing the President's. We have seen the eversal of the Mexico City Policy and the return of federal funding for the sake of destroying embryos, but I have yet to see one critical commentary. Yes I know life issues are not the only issues, but does that mean we ignore them. Is there any pro-life Obama supporters that are going to challenge him on any of this. Is this a Catholic magazine or a liberal magazine?
techwreck | 6/2/2009 - 9:38pm
I was a little confused when Fr. O'Malley referred to Barack Obama as a "Vatican II President". But fortunately I remembered that O'Malley is on the faculty of Georgetown, a university "in the Jesuit tradition." I still think "in the Catholic tradition", and that surely accounted for my confusion.
margaret | 6/2/2009 - 9:16pm
Try telling a little baby who is just about to have his little body torn apart, of the compassion, intellect and tolerance of Obama and Father Jenkins!
Kay Halliwell | 6/2/2009 - 8:34pm
It is true that Obama has a gift-the ability to speak and leave the impression that he is on both sides of a discussion. He is aware of this gift and uses it well, but it is easy for us to miss where truth lies.
Louis T Luca Jr | 6/2/2009 - 8:20pm
Please pinch me! Did I hear right when I read the article by ?Mr Philips, but I really threw up when I heard the responses. Are these supposed to be catholics. I could understand if they were atheists, but catholics. People, People, this man that you are idolizing has nothing going for him but his oratory. There was another who was idolized for his oratory during the earlt 30's. His name was Hitler! You remember him, don't you. He had the power to sway the people, until it was too late. Until this moment I thought I was mistaken in thinking God was behind these unrolling events, but now I believe it more than ever. This country has offended Him abominably for the past 50 years and I think He has decided if we want to go our own way, So Be it. How sad the Blessed Mother must be with the reactions of Her children. But in the end, Her Immaculate Heart will conquer. I personally will say a prayer for each and everyone of you misguided souls. A last thought, better a smaller church than one riddled with cancer.
Joseph J. Pippet | 6/2/2009 - 7:48pm
Hitler was a Politician,and an Orator,as is President Obama, Satan is the Father of Liars,Hitler was a Son of Satan,today Obama follows in the steps of Satan's sons,(Catholics in his Cabinet,etc.) John W. O'Malley seems to be a member of this elite following.They claim to have heard him speak,But,they didn't hear his words,they heard what they wanted to hear,which is Satans Lies.The Spirit of Vatican II was Corrupted by men who were supposed to be Servants of God and his Church,they trully are Servants of Satan.Ever since President Obama got involved with Democratic Party many years ago(possibly long before than,look at his mentor's of long ago) he started doing Satan's Wil.He's a president who uses coercian for his presidency to enforce His Will and those of the Democratic Party(Most members follow,Not all)We Catholics are at fault because a Majority voted for him,now he's Dividing God's Church to Acheive his Will(and Satan's),Which is Evil.So we Must Pray for him and his followers, For their good and The Good of God's Church and the World.Respectfully with Love,Joseph J. Pippet
Nancy | 6/2/2009 - 7:34pm
From the beginning, The Spirit of Vatican II was not about compromising The Truth, it was about Proclaiming The Truth.
d weinheimer | 6/2/2009 - 4:51pm
you are all on CRACK!
Adele Lewis | 6/2/2009 - 2:38pm
When I listened to the speeches by Fr. Jenkins and President Obama at the Notre Dame commencement I cried. I cried because my heart was touched by the words of hope given by these two men. I cried because of the tone of civility and respect within these speeches, and because YES, it did speak to my heart of the "spirit of Vatican II'". I cried because I was so proud of the great compassion and intellect of Fr. Jenkins. He made me grateful to be Catholic. I am not a theologian but I am a lay Catholic, one of many who are tired, so tired of the vilification in the theological discourse among Catholics in disagreement with one another. Is it wrong for us to long for the "spirit of Vatican II" to be renewed. Can even those who disagree with this article and author, and me for liking it, feel that our Church is better off today going in the direction that the Church is now taking. Churches are closing, priest shortages abound, many Catholics are leaving for other Christian denominations. I love the Catholic faith and its traditions. I am heartsick that we tear each other down. Our Church is in need of real renewal and reform. I can only state what it looks like and feels like from the perspective of an ordinary lay person sitting in the pews praying for all of us. Abortion is a real issue and I get that but let it not be the issue that destroys a Church. Obviously, many Catholics in good faith, and in good conscience voted for President Obama. Are they all to be excommunicated? Are they all to be banished from the Eucharist? What are we doing here? What are we called here to do? The Church Christ envisioned is not the Church that exists in 2009. We need real shepherds in charge of our dioceses - we need real leadership. I applaud Fr. O'Malley for this article.
Carol Ann | 6/2/2009 - 2:11pm
The underlying argument for many of us is Reproductive Rights. Whether one couches this in "theological" terms, the sacredness of life, Vatican 11, relativism, tolerance or the Canons, debating Obama's "approach", etc., continues to not realize that Feminine Spirituality that has advanced women's theological discourse rests no longer in the male defined church. For the sake of the few responses to O'Malley's article, It rests in a belief: reproductive rights. Men keep wanting to define when life begins and ends.
Jim Philipps | 6/2/2009 - 9:09am
There was a time, not so long ago really, when we held the virtue of Tolerance in high esteem in the Catholic Church. Tolerance is a virtue grounded in the divinely amplified realization that each and every human being possesses within his or her life story a glimmer of Truth that each of us needs to hear and understand. Somewhere along the way, our leaders either began to equate Tolerance with Relativism themselves or allowed those who cannot make the distinction to gain undue influence in the institutional Church. This development is a sad irony, as Relativism is based on the completely opposite principle - that everything should be allowed because nothing is sacred and no real Truth exists. Thank you Fr. O'Malley for reminding us how far we've strayed from the Spirit.
Paul | 6/2/2009 - 8:50am
Amen to Fr. Beirne. I was about to write the exact same thing as him, and then realized he had said it better than I ever could. Also, kudos to Richard for being only one (including O'Malley) to REALLY look at the document and make sense of it - seems to reinforce the idea that O'Malley is only trying to find a spirit that corresponds with his own interpretation.
Ralph J. Katrosh | 6/1/2009 - 5:07pm
As noted earlier to "America" there are.as this is, commentaries which allow me to hold on to my faith and eschew other commentaries which encourages me toward "protest." Georgetown FS 50; MLS 86,
ANTOINETTE | 6/1/2009 - 4:53pm
Pres. Obama is indeed an excellent speaker. I hope you noted in many of his speeches he uses a phrase often associated with fear mongers or dictators: "There are some who say". I look to see what has been Pres. Obama's actions, past and present, and I am not impressed. He has not been in office long enough for me to see him as having the "spirit of Vatican II". May I suggest reading Bill Huebsch's book The Constitutions - Vatican II in Plain English. Can't believe the writer and I read the same material.
Willis Jensen | 6/1/2009 - 4:13pm
For most of the commentators, Vatican II merely confirmed that abortion is a sin and that the correct procedure for changing the opinions of those who believe differently is to vilify their character and ridicule their thought processes. I haven't found that to be a very effective way to change opinions and I thought that that was what we were trying to do. Perhaps what Obama suggests would get us closer to what we desire . What we have been doing has been relentlessly ineffective.
John McShane | 6/1/2009 - 3:42pm
When does "style" become the priority before substance"? As time passes I think I am witnessing a Jesuit schism with a drift from theological substance to stylized emotive passion under the guise of intellectual discourse. It overwhelms patience to read - and read - to discover it's only rationalized 'fluff'. I rather not pay good money to read stuff that agravates logic.
Charles J. Beirne, S.J. | 6/1/2009 - 3:34pm
u would applaud any effort of the bishops to respond constructively to the president's invitation to dialogue. fine article, John.
William E. McCormick | 5/30/2009 - 8:51pm
Is the "spirit of Vatican II" art in the sense of form but devoid of substance. When we get carried away with "words", we risk the greater meaning,i.e., actions. President Obama is a gifted orator and mesmerizes his audiences. He even gets applause from the ND audience when he says that "Faith" is subject to "doubt". We should look beyond the "words" and should analyze the actions, particularly President Obama's "actions" in the abortion arena. Otherwise, we are truly elevating form over substance. In other words, who cares what he says? It's what he does that counts.
William E. McCormick | 5/30/2009 - 8:51pm
Is the "spirit of Vatican II" art in the sense of form but devoid of substance. When we get carried away with "words", we risk the greater meaning,i.e., actions. President Obama is a gifted orator and mesmerizes his audiences. He even gets applause from the ND audience when he says that "Faith" is subject to "doubt". We should look beyond the "words" and should analyze the actions, particularly President Obama's "actions" in the abortion arena. Otherwise, we are truly elevating form over substance. In other words, who cares what he says? It's what he does that counts.
Nancy Danielson | 5/30/2009 - 8:09pm
One does not compromise The Truth. The Truth, when compromised, is no longer The Truth. Where does Vatican II say that we are to compromise The Truth?
Ted | 5/28/2009 - 4:21am
Aging dinosaurs like Fr. O'Malley will be long gone when a future pope in the next generation finally condemns Vatican II, the Novus Ordo and its apostasy and canonize Archbishop Lefebvre as well as make a profession of faith according to Pascendi and the Syllabus of Errors. Fr. O'Malley should read the I Maccabees chapter 1 and II Maccabees chapters 4-6 to know what Vatican II is: apostasy, and just like the Maccabees, it shall be the Traditionalists who will recover the New and Eternal Temple: the One Holy Roman Catholic Church.
MARY CLARE | 5/25/2009 - 8:00pm
Right on target John O'Malley, S.J.!! I simply can't understand how Zenit keeps publishing negative reactions when my own heart swells with pride and awe when I listen to our president Barack Obama! Thanks for your article.
LEONARD VILLA | 5/23/2009 - 9:24pm
The key to this whole essay is not what Vatican II actually said but the nebulous and fluid "spirit of Vatican II." Actual Vatican II called abortion and "unspeakable crime." It's abortion that the President is facilitating. I suggest Fr.O'Malley concentrate on what Vatican II actually said and not sophistry based on some spiritual Vatican II.
Stan | 5/23/2009 - 11:33am
Good to read this kind of inclusive interpretation of president Obama speech. Abortion is not the only issue which has to paralize our immagination. It is a hope for the Catholic Church, since she has propetic voices such as John O'Malley.
MICHAEL WALSH REV | 5/23/2009 - 10:10am
You forgot to mention that Vatican II said that abortion was an intrinsic evil. Was this deliberately left out?
Andrew T. | 5/23/2009 - 8:27am
Well written. I think your perspective gets at the larger picture of our work at Christians in the world, or the "spirit of our work" so to speak. The political debate on abortion is pathetic and President Obama is the first politician who is courageous enough to say that we NEED to have a sincere dialogue on the issue. The best way to BEGIN this dialogue is to recognize common ground and move forward from there. I would think that anyone who sincerely desires change on the issue of abortion would welcome this opportunity.
David Power | 5/23/2009 - 6:37am
Most of the comments on here far surpass the actual article itself.The main flaw of the argument is to see ,in a somewhat obtuse way,the Council as a forum for common ground.It was not.It had as its intention the updating of the means by which the Truth that the Holy Catholic Church reached Man.It was not the intention of the Pope to split the difference.To consider the Presidents position on the validity of human life and how we should treat in legal terms the most vulnerable and then to place him above the Bishops of America is insulting to both the Council and the spirit of truth.The Council was about Truth and the new President who is a very good and intelligent politician is not.To see a President in terms beyond his own Socio-political or Socio-economic goals is dangerous and to equate the need to pacify some troubled consciences with soothing words is a far cry from the rallying cry of the Council.The Council stressed the Universal call to holiness and not the Universal need to agree to disagree especially when faced with an agreeable person.
John Raymer | 5/23/2009 - 12:01am
Thank you for an important article. I think what we saw in those speeches was grounded Barak Obama's modern Protestant Christianity. The "Sprit of Vatican II" spread widely and deeply throughout the Protestant churches as well - especially Obama's United Church of Christ.
Ricky Vines | 5/22/2009 - 11:44pm
A few popes might have just turned in their graves because of your article. Are heroes such in short supply that you have to put up a compromised individual on the pedestal? Surely, there must be others who embody the ideals of the Ecumenical Council and does not tolerate infanticide. The intrinsic evil of abortion negates whatever good this man has done - IMHO. So, why don't we dig further and deeper and find a better poster boy for Vatican 2. And if there is no one for now, then let us not offend the community - conservatives included.
Richard | 5/22/2009 - 3:05pm
Vatican II and Obama did both encourage civility in dialogue, but that's pretty much as far as the comparison goes. The type of dialogue which Obama encouraged with "open minds" toward opposing issues bespoke dialogue which indefinitely respects others' ideas, even those with which we disagree. Vatican II, however, more articulately distinguishes respect toward people and that shown toward their ideas. Gaudium et Spes no. 28 states, "It is necessary to distinguish between error, which always merits repudiation, and the person in error, who never loses the dignity of being a person even when he is flawed by false or inadequate religious notions." The President asserted that "presumption of good faith" meant to "open our hearts and our minds to those who may not think like we do or believe what we do", and that when we do so, "we discover at least the possibility of common ground." If we were to say here that Vatican II and the President were saying the same thing, we could only go so far as to say that "common ground" means showing respect and charity toward the individual, not toward finding common ground on "views of the two camps" which "irreconcilable", as the President put it. If such common ground does not yet exist, it would definitely be worth establishing. However, one questions from what the President says if opening "our minds and hearts to those who may not think like we do or believe what we do" would leave such room for pointing out others' "error, which always merits repudiation". The President speaks of agreeing to disagree, which is for the most part a passive action, but says nothing of what it means to actively repudiate others with civility. Rather, he jumps to using disingenuous language when it comes to moving beyond simply agreeing to disagree. One takes from the President's remarks that if one were to have the gall so as to repudiate others' error whether one would be "demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side" or "reducing those with differing views to caricature". Could the President be demonizing those who go so far as to make a concerted effort to establish policies in opposition to the views of others? To call President Obama a "Vatican II President" (a term loaded with as much suggestion as "spirit of Vatican II") is wishful thinking.
MICHAEL WALSH REV | 5/22/2009 - 2:40pm
You failed to mention that Vatican II said that abortion was in intrinsic evil. Was this deliberate?
Richard | 5/22/2009 - 12:52pm
It's unfortunate that it's very difficult to find anything suggesting this "spirit of Vatican II" in any of Vatican II's documents. Many point to Gaudium et Spes, which Fr. Jenkins himself cited in his opening address, as to where this "spirit of Vatican II" is outlined. Many were concerned about Notre Dame's dialogue with President Obama due to the President's stance on abortion. Gaudium et Spes itself identifies abortion as an "unspeakable crime" (51), listing it along with murder and genocide as being "opposed to life itself" (27). This makes we question whether President Obama may be qualified as a "Vatican II President". That being said, Guadium et Spes does aim to settle how dialogue is to take place. And it does so by distinguishing the individual from what notions that individual holds. Charity is always to motivate dialogue, but charity is to be directed toward the individual, never to be confused with complicit acceptance or condoning of whatever erroneous positions the individual holds. Gaudium et Spes speaks of this charity in article no. 28: "This love and good will, to be sure, must in no way render us indifferent to truth and goodness. Indeed love itself impels the disciples of Christ to speak the saving truth to all men. But it is necessary to distinguish between error, which always merits repudiation, and the person in error, who never loses the dignity of being a person even when he is flawed by false or inadequate religious notions."

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