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Agenda for Vatican III

Raymond A. Grosswirth

When we look at the history of Catholicism, it becomes immediately apparent that Church councils have been rather infrequent. Perhaps most striking in this regard was the long duration between the Council of Trent and Vatican I. The span between Vatican I and Vatican II was certainly small in comparison, but nevertheless long overdue. While it has only been thirty-six years since the close of Vatican II, much has transpired since 1965. My position is simply that existing conditions dictate the convening of Vatican III as soon as possible.

To list all the issues that necessitate a Council would result in a rather lengthy web page. I have therefore decided to focus on six issues that demand immediate attention: 1.) The Crisis in the Priesthood; 2.) Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick; 3.) Sacrament of Reconciliation; 4.) Annulments; 5.) Inclusive Language; 6.) The Role of Women.


This will basically amount to a summation of what I have already addressed on other web pages concerning the current state of the priesthood in the Catholic Church. While celibacy had its place in the history of our church, it has frankly run its course. This is not do deny that celibacy is a charism. I do indeed believe that some are called to a life of celibacy. However, I don't believe that a call to celibacy and a call to the priesthood are necessarily one in the same. Therefore, I believe a primary agenda item for Vatican III needs to be the reinstatement of married priests. This in turn would create optional celibacy for those who choose, as opposed to the current required state.

As I have reiterated elsewhere in cyberspace, married priests were in abundance until the year 1139. Even after 1139, secret marriages were common, until the unfortunate circumstances of the Inquisition enforced the celibacy rule. While celibacy worked to some extent through the 1960s, there has been a steady decline in seminary enrollment ever since. If Vatican III should continue to enforce the celibacy directive, I will be convinced that the only purpose will be the protect the VSMC (Vatican Single Mens' Club).


Having an M.A. in Theology and an M.Div (Master of Divinity), I try to the best of my ability to be a good lay minister. (I am married and therefore cannot be ordained to the priesthood.) As a lay person, I found myself at a great disadvantage during the year I served as a chaplaincy intern in a hospice setting. While I like to feel I was a healing presence to the dying, I was not allowed to administer the Sacrament of Anointing, since its administration is reserved for priests. Considering the current priest shortage, I often wonder how many seriously ill or dying patients have to go without this important Sacrament. I therefore propose that Vatican III extend anointing privileges to the diaconate and properly trained lay ministers.


The Sacrament of Reconciliation/Penance was instituted as weekly confession came into disuse/misuse. In addition, the motion picture industry had much to do with the imagery that implied that the "Last Rites" was the proper setting for one to reconcile past sins. Current indications are that there is a lot of confusion over the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Vatican III will need to redefine what it means to: a.) reconcile with others; b.) reconcile with God. I propose that the Catholic Church take a close look at the Jewish celebration of Yom Kippur. On this holiest day of the Jewish calendar, the faithful seek forgiveness from God for sins committed during the previous year. In the days leading up to Yom Kippur, Jews seek forgiveness from individuals they have wronged during the previous year - the idea being that human beings must reconcile with each other before turning to God for forgiveness. I believe that it will be healthy for Vatican III to reflect on the Yom Kippur traditions.


I am currently in my second marriage. (My first marriage was annulled.) Admittedly, I had a positive experience with the annulment process. It allowed me to revisit the mistakes of my first marriage, which in turn prepared me for my current marriage. The process also lead me to the realization that my first union was invalid under the definitions of Canon Law. However, despite my positive experience with the annulment process, I have also witnessed much pain caused to others. Obviously, annulments are not always granted. Furthermore, I can't begin to relate how many persons I have encountered who are totally confused by the process. For example, I am often in a position of having to correct people who have incorrectly deduced that they have been excommunicated by the Church due to a divorce. (A person is not excommunicated because of divorce. However, if a divorced person remarries without an annulment, the Church can deny such a person the Sacraments.) I have also encountered divorced women with children who fear the Church will declare their children to be invalid if an annulment is granted. (The Church never declares children to be invalid.)

Vatican III either needs to simplify the annulment process or get rid of it altogether. Although I had a positive experience with the process, many others have experienced pain and alienation. We need to be a welcoming Church - not one that scares members away. Perhaps in place of the annulment process, we can instead create a better structured pre-cana program, whereby prospective marriage partners are properly prepared for the duties of sacramental unions.


Just when it seemed we were on the verge of having an inclusive-language Sacramentary, it was sent back to the drawing boards. If we are to both maintain current Church membership, as well as attract new members, we must have liturgical language that is all-embracing. I was deeply distressed when the powers-that-be rejected proposals for an NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) Lectionary. The currently used NAB is flawed in terms of translations from the Greek. As we now know, Latin translations of the Greek were not faithful to the original intent. The NRSV has taken the accepted Greek translations and modified them somewhat so that men and women alike can be embraced by the Word of God and therefore put the words into Christ-like actions.

When one gazes at a typical assembly in a Catholic sanctuary, missing age groups seem to be teens and young adults. If we are to attract them, and thereby preserve the Church for future generations, we need to be inclusive in both our practices and our language. I therefore urge Vatican III to carefully examine this important issue.


Since I have already articulated my support of increased roles for women on another web page, I don't want to duplicate all of my statements here. However, I will simply say that my support of women extends all the way to ordination. Perhaps the largest sin of the Church in previous centuries was that of the exclusion and persecution of women. While some significant advances have been made since Vatican II, Vatican III can go much further. As I often state, Jesus could have chosen anyone to spread the news about his Resurrection. The fact that he chose a woman is highly significant. Women were also highly significant in the churches under Paul's guidance. Therefore, if Vatican III does not elevate the dignity of women, I will once again be convinced that it will be an attempt to reinforce the VSMC (Vatican Single Mens' Club).


Dated May 24, 2001, Raymond Grosswirth has an M.A. in Theology and an M.Div (Master of Divintiy) from St.Bernard's Institute and is a lay minister in the Diocese of Rochester. He is currently contemplating doctoral studies and would like to be ordained as a 'married' priest.