Vatican ll luminaries honoured-but not in Canada

The Three Giants

of Vatican ll era

Lash, Baum and Orsy

On Wednesday October 11 Sacred Heart University bestowed three leading theologians and luminaries with honorary degrees for their affiliation with the watershed moment for the Church, the Second Vatican Council

The night before  their honorary degrees were granted the three giants participated in a lively panel discussion moderated by Michael Higgins the vice president for Mission and Catholic Identity at Sacred Heart.

Higgins arguably Canada’s finest public Catholic intellectual was formerly president of St.Jerome’s University in Waterloo and St.Thomas University in Fredericton, NB.

“Sacred Heart University was a product of the Second Vatican Council – it was inspired by the Council’s boldness of vision, its theological insights and its rediscovery of the charism or gift of the laity,The Council continues to provide the ever-unfolding energy for renewal and expansive thinking that is at the very heart of the mission and self-understanding of Sacred Heart University. Our conception, gestation and future as a Catholic institution of higher learning are tied to the nurturing genius of the Council.”

Sacred Heart University is absolutely unique in the North american Catholic landscape. Grounded in the mission of the Catholic intellectual tradition, it was founded in 1963 – just a year after the opening of the Second Vatican Council – and was the first Roman Catholic institution of higher learning in the United States to be led and staffed by lay people. With its direct historical affiliation with the Council, Sacred Heart dedicated the year of the Council’s 50th anniversary to honoring its remarkable work and how it radically reshaped the Church.

Who were the “giants” honoured by the university?
92 year old Hungarian-born Father Ladislas Orsy entered the Society of Jesus in Budapest, and was ordained in 1951 in Belgium. A professor for decades, he has taught canon law at the Catholic University of America, the Gregorian University in Rome, Fordham University, the University of Fribourg, Switzerland and is currently a visiting professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. He is the author of nine books and legions of articles on topics in theology and canon law.

78 year old Nicholas Lash is a visionary from Great Britain who was a priest before pursuing a career in academia. He was elected to the Norris-Hulse Chair of Divinity in 1978, becoming the first Catholic to occupy a chair of theology at either Cambridge or Oxford since the Reformation. Lash, now an Emeritus Fellow of Clare Hall at Cambridge, is the author of scores of publications and is a regular contributor to the international Catholic weekly newspaper, The Tablet.

89 year old Canadian Gregory Baum who drove all the way to Bridgeport for the event, attended the Second Vatican Council as a theological expert at the Ecumenical Secretariat, the commission that oversaw three conciliar documents – On Religious Liberty, On Ecumenism and On the Church’s Relation to Non-Christian Religions. Baum received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics from McMaster University, a master’s in mathematics from Ohio State University and a doctorate in theology from the University of Fribourg. He has been a professor of theology and sociology at University of Saint Michael’s College in the University of Toronto and then served as professor of theological ethics at McGill University’s Faculty of Religious Studies. Currently, Baum is associated with the French-Canadian Jesuits.

How is it that Sacred Heart made such a deal about the Council and the living men who promoted it and the Canadian episcopacy has said very little about this signal event in the history of the Church?

“That’s not too hard to unpack” said Roberto Anderson one of the Canadians at the  event.” Vatican ll defined the church as the People of God and baptism as the central sacrament. The Holy Spirit does not belong to the bishops or the pope, it is no longer the preserve of the clerical caste, The vast bulk of the baptized are lay people.They are the majority of the sensus fidelium and the clerical leadership of the  Church must “hear” them. This is new and the John Paul ll bishops resent it. They are not used to “listening” to the wisdom of the baptized.It is a new moment which they have not grasped much less internalized.It is painful for them to “share power.

Edward Poznan, another Canadian added.”All this is true enough.We should not be too depressed about the present dysfunction of the Church. The Council has just begun.We may lament the present situation but as Fr.Orsy said, you cannot stop the tsunami of the Spirit unleashed at the Council.I liked his remark that “a church can not be packed in armour.Good ideas  really can break rocks.”

Professor Baum in his usual precise style stated that “the Church redefined its role to the world and lay people discovered their baptism as full members of the church.Now they were intrinsically related to other baptized members in other churches.We were no longer a ghetto.

Professor Lash was very succinct in his remarks.He encouraged all in attendance not to  be afraid. “Lay people” he said,” are the freest Catholics in the broader communion.”He brought a huge chuckle from the assembly by referring to many studying in the seminaries as “dog collared young flockists.” an apparent reference to Pope Benedict’s idea that the Church was being shrunk to a “little flock” of true believers.

For Canadians the question remains: Why are so few Catholic institutions not celebrating  the Council’s Jubilee and why are so few Catholic principals of Catholic universities so mute in promoting the vision.


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