Yesterday was a big day for the Catholic Church.
Not only was October 11th 2012 the 50th anniversary of Vatican II, it was also the day of the “historic” US Vice-Presidential debate between two Catholic candidates, Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Paul Ryan.
The historic debate was also billed as a “Catholic Thrilla in Manila” and a “Catholic Smackdown” because the Vice-Presidential candidates are influenced by their Catholic faith in similar and yet very divergent ways.
Unsurprisingly, major talking points in the debate centered on abortion and how they both agree that life begins at conception but disagree on how that conviction shapes public policy.
In speaking about faith and abortion and public policy, Paul Ryan had this to say:
I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith… Our faith informs us in everything we do. My faith informs me about how to take care of the vulnerable, of how to make sure that people have a chance in life… Now, you want to ask basically why I’m pro-life? It’s not simply because of my Catholic faith. That’s a factor, of course. But it’s also because of reason and science.
Similarly, Biden also takes the Catholic doctrine on abortion seriously:
The Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who — who can’t take care of themselves, people who need help. With regard to — with regard to abortion, I accept my church’s position on abortion as a — what we call a (inaudible) doctrine. Life begins at conception in the church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life.
However, although Biden accepts the church’s position when it comes to abortion, he refuses to enforce it as a social policy so as to not “impose that on others.”
I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that — women they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor. In my view and the Supreme Court, I’m not going to interfere with that.
The interesting part about the Catholic dimension of the upcoming US Presidential election is that the Catholic vote has been a good predictor of election results since the early 1990′s. But, as Mark Gray from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate notes, the Catholic vote is for this election is “too close to call.”
In speaking to the Catholic vote, Rev. James Martin points out that “it would be a mistake to try to vote for the “better Catholic” because “no one party fully embraces the entirety of Catholic teaching.”
And as chance would have it, the current Catholic teaching that Rev. James Martin speaks about was dramatically influenced 50 years ago to the day during The Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, otherwise known as Vatican II. The council was opened by Pope John XXIII on Oct. 11, 1962 with the hope of institutional “renewal” and increased interaction with the modern world. In honor of the anniversary, the Episcopal Commission for Doctrine of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) has published a document on Vatican II that answers the questions, “What was it and why is it important today?”
Some of the changes brought about from the council include: use of vernacular language instead of Latin; priests face the congregation instead of turning their back to them; increased openness to other religions and Christian denominations; and an increased emphasis on the laity in the church.
However, despite these changes, George Weigel has pointed out that what makes Vatican II unique is that “it did not provide authoritative keys for its own interpretation: the Council Fathers wrote no creed, condemned no heresy, legislated no new canons, defined no dogmas.”
The absence of no new dogma has, as Sylvia Poggioli notes, “transformed the church from an exclusive to an inclusive institution.” However, the backlash of such a move has left Vatican II with somewhat of a “mixed legacy.”
Many believe that Vatican II made the church too accommodating to modern society, while others believe that issues like artificial birth-control, the role of women, and priestly celibacy were never adequately addressed. As a result, the divide over the legacy of Vatican II can be said to be “wider than ever.”
Nevertheless, although the role of the Catholic Church within modern society will continue to be debated over, it is clear — if the recent Vice-Presidential debate is any indication – the ancient Catholic Church will continue to have a voice in the modern secular world.