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Review: Why The Catholic Church Needs Vatican III by TP O'Mahony

Last week, on a beautiful, sunny October day in Rome, I sat on a bench among thousands of pilgrim-tourists thronging St Peter's Square as Pope Benedict beatified a 13th-Century German nun. Seated on his throne outside the portals of the Vatican, the Pontiff looked and spoke like a monarch.

The cheering crowds rapturously clicked their cameras to take home with them their own precious photographs of the Sovereign Pontiff. It was Hollywood Vatican style.

Somewhere inside the sprawling walls was taking place a private meeting of Ireland's four archbishops, senior members of the Roman Curia -- the Pope's cabinet -- and four senior external churchmen who will investigate the Irish church. Inside, the curial officials were exercising papal power.

Two thoughts struck me forcibly. First, that in the midst of such popular adulation, Pope Benedict must sense that the global child clerical abuse crisis is in no way dimming the aura that surrounds the Petrine office; and second that the Pope's henchmen are dealing with this crisis in their traditional centralised way as his unelected and unaccountable court.

As the Pope intoned in Latin the Pater Noster -- the Our Father -- at the end of a two-hour ceremony, it also struck me that the monarchical papacy has survived intact from the reforms called for in the 1960s at the Second Vatican Council.

These included a more collegial church in which the Roman Pontiff would become a primus inter pares -- first among equals -- with the world's bishops.

In such a majestic setting, the case being made by veteran religious affairs correspondent TP O'Mahony for the convening of a third Vatican Council seemed a pipe dream.

Indeed, in his slim but vigorous and highly stimulating polemic, O'Mahony acknowledges that in reality there is little prospect of this happening during the lifetime of Pope Benedict XVI.

I doubt if there was anyone in that vast, joyous crowd who was agonising about child abuse. Yet, behind the closed-portals meeting Pope Benedict had summoned was a clear indication that both he and his officials were all too aware of what TP calls "the hurt and the disaffection, the sense of drift and the crisis of credibility that now afflicts the upper echelons of the Church's leadership worldwide".

It is O'Mahony's contention that all these down sides are set to continue and possibly intensify until a root and branch reform of the Catholic Church is carried out.

"Nothing short of a radical new ecclesial blueprint will suffice," the author pleads. "That's why a new council is imperative."

According to O'Mahony, the Catholic Church is a house divided. It is divided between the papal loyalists who crave for authoritarian certitude from their Holy Father and the diminishing band of those who want to see the reforms advocated by Vatican II for a more consultative and participatory church implemented.

This polarisation was effectively camouflaged during the long pontificate of John Paul II, who led a counter revolution against the reforms of Vatican II.

Under Pope Benedict, the papal restoration movement is being consolidated, as will be more manifest next year when the Roman-imposed New Missal is foisted on baffled parishes.

For O'Mahony, the sinking of Vatican II, which he claims has left the Catholic Church "a partially broken vessel", is the real crisis of credibility facing Catholicism's 1.3 billion members.

The spate of scandals caused by clerical sex abuse is but a shocking symptom of a much deeper and longer-festering malaise that has caused the division and the structural damage.

O'Mahony's hope is that the next Pope will make Vatican III a top priority.

In the meantime, he warns, "tampering with superficial organisational changes is akin to moving the furniture around the deck of the Titanic".

John Cooney, religion correspondent for the Irish Independent, is the biographer of John Charles McQuaid, Ruler of Catholic Ireland

Irish Independent