When I first read Richard Gaillardetz’s article “Conversation Starters”  (2/13), which opened our occasional series on the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, I was a bit dismayed that he chose the council’s modeling of dialogue as his theme. I was expecting something more concrete, like liturgical reform, the organization of the church for global justice ministry, religious liberty or the formation of episcopal conferences as the council’s great achievement.
I confess I had grown wary of articles on “the spirit of Vatican II,” finding them too intangible to make a convincing case against the continuity school of conciliar interpretation that made its case with texts, records of debate, diary entries and so on. Rick is one of the outstanding theologians of the postconciliar generation, and now, six months later, I have to admit that in identifying dialogue as the outstanding gift of the council, Rick gave voice to a dynamic in the reception of the council at work in the United States today. Over the intervening months, other articles have come across my desk, some of which we will publish, others not, singling out dialogue as a fruit of the council. There have been numerous letters, phone calls and e-mails expressing the same view.
For great swaths of the church today, dialogue is an undeniable sign of the times. Some in authority may deny the fact, but for a great many laypeople, clergy and religious—and not a few bishops—dialogue remains a gift of the council to which they are deeply committed. It is a gift we will continue to cultivate and, in the 21st century, a practice that is necessary to the credibility and vitality of the Catholic Church. It is achingly ironic that there can be dialogue with schismatic Lefebvrists, with the unchurched and with murderous governments, but not with some faithful Catholics on the internal life of the church.
A few months ago (see “A Yes to Dialogue,” Current Comment, 6/4 ) we commended Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi’s defense of dialogue with scientists whose research does not conform to Catholic moral norms. He chided critics for weak and ill-formed faith. For those who are afraid of dialogue among Catholics, we need to ask not only whether their faith is robust enough, but also whether their charity is ample enough and their pastoral sensitivities subtle enough to serve the church today following the model of Christ.
American Catholics owe a debt of gratitude to the women of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious for affirming their integrity in dialogue with the Holy See. They are reclaiming our sacramental right as Christians.
All Catholics, by virtue of their baptism and their confirmation, belong fully to the body of Christ; they enjoy richly the gifts of the Spirit in their lives. They are not spiritual children. In the Western Christian tradition, even children and the simple ought to be taken seriously. St. Benedict admonished abbots to hear the opinion of even the youngest monk. St. Paulinus of Nola reminded his contemporaries that the Spirit speaks through even the least of the faithful; and Blessed John Paul II appealed to Paulinus’s maxim to urge that dialogue be a mark of the 21st-century church.
The council affirmed the right of the faithful to make their opinions known. It initiated the Synod of Bishops, diocesan pastoral councils and parish councils to promote dialogue in the pastoral life of the church. It promoted ecclesial, interfaith and civic discernment of the signs of the times. But rarely have these institutions worked as forums for genuine dialogue. The 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council should be an occasion to make dialogue, as Pope John Paul II hoped, a mark of the church in the 21st century.