Dr. Richard Gaillardetz

Dr. Richard Gaillardetz

February 6, 2012

ANTIGONISH, N.S. – For most Catholics, the image conjured up at the mention of a Church council is that of the Second Vatican Council, the most recent in Church history.

As the 50th anniversary of the beginning of Vatican II approaches, one theologian is offering some food for thought on the possibility of a new council.

Dr. Richard Gaillardetz of Boston College addressed the question Do we need a new council? in a talk at St. Francis Xavier University. Gaillardetz is the author of the recently released book, Keys to the Council: Unlocking the Teaching of Vatican II.

Gaillardetz said that before asking whether a new council is needed, the issue of implementing the Second Vatican Council must first be discussed.

"As we approach the 50th anniversary this year of the opening of the council, we need to take stock," he said. "We need to examine where we are in implementing the council and it is a mixed bag with some successes and some problems.

"Then we can ask, where do we go from here?"

Vatican II has been interpreted in various ways and those interpretations have had a major impact on how the council has been implemented, Gaillardetz said.

"The debate is not whether or not anyone likes Vatican II," he said. "The debate is on how you interpret Vatican II. Everyone says Vatican II is wonderful, as long as you interpret it right."


Gaillardetz said Pope Benedict has expressed concern at damage being caused by two different interpretations of the Second Vatican Council.

"The pope refers to a 'hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture' that is gaining the upper hand, and an alternative 'hermeneutic of reform,'" he said.

"The pope says that with the first, you are suggesting a renunciation of everything that came before the council and with the second you recognize that, certainly, the council brought about changes but that those changes took the form of reform and not rupture."

Thus, said the theologian, it is hard to answer the question of whether the council has been implemented when there is still no agreement on interpretation. Nevertheless, there are some evident successes and failures in implementing the Vatican II reforms.

Among the successes, Gaillardetz listed the changes in the role of the laity, liturgical reform, dialogical approach to ecumenism and other religions, positive engagement of the world, and the emphasis on the teaching on collegiality.


Among the failures, he noted a lack of implementation of collegiality at a deeper level, an incomplete reform of some liturgical texts, a superficial revision of the Code of Canon Law.

Gaillardetz offered three options for the Church now 50 years since the council began.

There could be: a "renewed determination to complete the implementation of conciliar teaching"; a "shift from structural Church reform to a renewed emphasis on evangelization and Church mission"; a new Church council called.

Gaillardetz said if a new council is called, it should be held in an area where Catholicism is dynamic and growing, pointing to such places as the Philippines or Brazil.