MIAMI (CNS) — Although the Second Vatican Council called on the Catholic Church to mirror the life of the Trinity, the church is still far from being converted to that vision, a leading Australian theologian said June 8.
“The major issue is that the Holy Spirit is given very little institutional breathing room,” Father Ormond Rush said in a plenary address to the annual convention of the Catholic Theological Society of America in Miami.
Father Rush said the 1983 Code of Canon Law does not mention the Holy Spirit and provides no structures for discerning the Spirit, a process that was critical in New Testament times.
“Ecclesial conversion cannot take place if the very divine agent of conversion is not given opportunities to convert the church,” said Father Rush, an associate professor of theology at St. Paul’s Theological College at Australian Catholic University in Banyo. He is the author of “Still Interpreting Vatican II.”
The topic of his address was “Ecclesial conversion after Vatican II: Renewing ‘the face of the church’ to reflect ‘the genuine face of God.'”
The council, he said, sought to change the face that the church presents to the world. “Vatican II wants to stop the scowl and give a smile; and even shed a tear.”
The church is called to “mirror the genuine face of the God whom she proclaims,” said Father Rush, a priest of the Diocese of Townsville, Australia. Yet one “fundamental concern” in implementing the agenda of Vatican II, he said, is “that the face of the church is not always resplendent with the light of Christ.”
Sinfulness in the church is a barrier to reform, and it includes clergy sexual abuse of children, “ecclesial corruption and inner power struggles,” and what Pope Francis has called careerism, he said.
It also includes “sins of patriarchy, clericalism, sexism, racism, collusion with economic, political, and social exclusion and oppression,” he said.
That sinfulness is not just a matter of the sins of individuals, he said. Instead, he explained, its sins can become embedded in the church’s institutional culture and structures.
Another barrier to change, he said, is the failure to take account of the council’s “new perspective on how God works in history.” Over the four years that Vatican II met, the council fathers came to see that God is revealed in the present as well as in the past, he added.
“As the Holy Spirit leads the church in history through conversion to the fullness of truth, God is challenging the church to discern the new things that God is doing in Christ through the Spirit — by scrutinizing the signs of the times in the light of the Gospel.”
Father Rush cited the late Cardinal Avery Dulles’ view that Vatican II represented “creative transformation.” The church, Dulles said, can innovate in ways “that do not simply grow out of its own previous tradition.”
New questions arise that the church has never previously faced or even envisaged, “because it was inconceivable to have even thought of them, due to the worldviews of the time,” Father Rush said. “Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the church must respond to God working in history.”
While there has been a great emphasis on the church as a hierarchical communion, he said, the council also spoke of two other types of communion.
One was “the communion of local churches ‘in which and out of which’ the one church of Christ exists,” he said. The other is “the communion of the faithful throughout the world-church, all the individual baptized believers.”
Those three types of communion need to be balanced, he said. Doing so would lead to “a culture of dialogue” in which the integrity of local churches and their lived faith is respected, and there would also be respect for the Holy Spirit “speaking to church of churches” through the sense of the faithful, he added.