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Fifty years after the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church needs to go further in giving authority to lay people, says a leading expert on the council. "The powerlessness of the laity is striking," said Father Joseph Komonchak, the English-language editor of the five-volume History of Vatican II, produced by an international team of theologians in the 1990s and early 21st century.
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The Second Vatican Council's Declaration on Christian Education should be seen as a provisional document. In fact, then-Father Joseph Ratzinger called it a weak document. "One unfortunately has to say that the text wasn't treated by the council fathers with any specific affection," the future pope wrote in 1966. Ratzinger attributed the weakness of the document to the fact that the bishops were getting worn out as the four-year council drew to its conclusion.
The Second Vatican Council was unprecedented in the strong emphasis it gave to the role of the laity in Christ's saving mission. Not only was there a chapter on the laity in one of the council's chief documents – the Constitution on the Church – but there was also a specific document on the laity. That document, The Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People (Apostolicam Actuositatem), was one of the least controversial matters to go before the council.