Benedict XVI and the End of the “Virtual Council” | Tracey Rowland | CWR
Up to the final days of his pontificate, Benedict XVI emphasized the importance of interpreting the Council in continuity with what came before it.
In one of the last acts of his pontificate, Benedict XVI gave an address to the clergy of the Diocese of Rome on the Second Vatican Council. In the address he drew a distinction between what he termed the Virtual Council, or Council of the Media, and the Real Council or Council of those who actually produced the documents. He observed that since the Council of the Media was accessible to everyone (not just to students of theology who studied the documents), it became the dominant interpretation of what happened at Vatican II, and this created “many disasters” and “much suffering.” Specifically, he mentioned the closure of seminaries and convents, the promotion of banal liturgy, and the application of notions of popular sovereignty to issues of Church governance. He concluded, however, that some 50 years after the Council, “this Virtual Council is broken, is lost.”
From what comes across my desk in theological literature there is still a lot of life in the Virtual Council, though it is true that it holds no enchantment for young seminarians or members of new ecclesial movements. Thus, the Church of the future, as a matter of demography, will be more closely oriented to the documents of the Real Council.
The end of the “Virtual Council”
When Blessed John Paul II lay dying he said to the youth who had travelled to Rome to offer their prayerful support: “I have searched for you, and now you have come to me, and I thank you.” Less irenically he might have said, “I have tried to get through to you, notwithstanding layers and layers of deaf and dumb bureaucrats, and now that I am dying, the fact that you are here means that at least some of you understood, and this is my consolation.” Similarly, Benedict seemed to be saying to the clergy of Rome, notwithstanding all the banality, all the pathetic liturgies, all the congregationalist ecclesiology, the Virtual Council of the Media has lost its dynamism. It is no longer potent. It no longer sets the course of human lives; it no longer inspires rebellion. It too has become boring and sterile.
In this particular address Benedict divided the documents of the Council into two broad categories: