VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Benedict XVI, who has dedicated much of his pontificate to shaping the Church’s understanding of the Second Vatican Council, devoted one of his last public addresses to recalling his experiences as an expert consultant at Vatican II, praising some of its major documents and lamenting widespread distortions of its teachings.
The pope made his remarks Feb. 14 in his annual address to clergy of the Diocese of Rome. Although he had cited deteriorating “strength of mind and body” in explaining his historic decision to resign at the end of February, Pope Benedict, who turns 86 in April, spoke for 46 minutes, delivering a highly-structured talk without notes.
Pope Benedict said that popular understanding of Vatican II has been long distorted by its coverage in the press, which presented the council as a political struggle for “popular sovereignty” in the Church. This “council of the media” was responsible for “many calamities, so many problems, so much misery,” the pope said. “Seminaries closed, convents closed, liturgy trivialized.”
But the pope said that the “true council,” which was based on faith, is today “emerging with all its spiritual strength,” and he called on his listeners to “work so that the true council with the power of the Holy Spirit is realized and the church is really renewed.”
The talk gave Pope Benedict a chance to underscore one of the major themes of his pontificate almost at its end. In a landmark speech during his first year as pope, he had proclaimed the importance of reading Vatican II in continuity with the Church’s millennial traditions, not as a radical break with the past. His efforts to promote such interpretations have culminated in the current Year of Faith, which opened last October on the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II.