CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING
Cardinal Agostino Vallini, papal vicar of Rome, kisses Pope Benedict's ring during an audience with priests of the Diocese of Rome at the Vatican Feb. 14.
Pope Benedict, 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 the subject.
The pope recalled his experiences as an expert consultant at Vatican II, praised some of its major documents and lamented widespread distortions of its teachings. He 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 a prepared text or notes.
Pope Benedict said 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 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 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.
In his speech to the clergy, Pope Benedict highlighted some of the council's greatest achievements as well as difficulties in their implementation.
He praised Dei Verbum, on the interpretation of Scripture, as one of the council's "most beautiful and innovative" documents, but said "there is still much to be done to arrive at a reading of Scripture that is really in the spirit of the council."
Many scholars, he said, continue to read the Bible as a merely human book, without reference to faith or the Church's teaching authority.
Pope Benedict praised as "an act of providence" the council's decision to make liturgy, the adoration of God, its first order of business, but he criticized what he called misunderstandings of the liturgical reform the council fostered.
Celebrating the Mass in a modern language does not suffice to make its mysteries intelligible, he said, and external participation by the laity in worship does not necessarily produce "communion with the Church and thus fellowship with Christ."
Before the pope's talk, the several thousand priests in the Vatican's audience hall greeted him with a standing ovation and a shout of "Long live the pope!"
(An excerpt of the pope's talk is available at http://youtu.be/x3-J1deL4BY.)