The Impact of Non-Roman Catholic Observers at Vatican II

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Not all accounts of Vatican II, 1962–65, recognize that the 200 carefully selected non-Roman Catholic Observers had a considerable influence on the Council and on its major documents about the Church, Church unity, liturgy, the Jews and religious freedom. Their impact is assessed both by Roman Catholic theologians like Congar and Willebrands and Observers such as Bishop Moorman and Robert McAfee Brown together with comments Karl Barth later made on some of the documents in his discussions with Pope Paul VI and others, including Ratzinger and Rahner in Rome. An attempt is made to explain how the Observers had the influence they did. One conclusion is that they helped the Council evolve from what could have been a purely domestic affair and a rubber-stamping exercise dealing with 70 documents, already prepared by the Curia, and Commissioners appointed by the Pope, into a genuinely ecumenical, deliberative, debating and decision-making council of the worldwide Church.


The Journal for Ministry, Mission and Unity




Cited in Stjephan Schmidt, Augustin Bea: Cardinal of Unity (New York: New City, 1992), p. 455.


Barth, Ad Limina, p. 17.


Faggioli, True Reform, p. 110.


Ratzinger, ‘Dogmatic Constitution’, in Commentary, vol. 3, p. 160.


Karl Barth, ‘Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation’ and ‘Conciliorum Tridenti et Vatican I Inhaerens Vestigiis’, in Ad Limina, pp. 25–6, 43–55.


W.A. Visser’t Hooft, ‘The ecumenical mobilization of the Roman Catholic Church’, in Memoirs (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1973), pp. 318–39, 322.


Karl Barth, Ad Limina, p. 23, wanted assurance that these were only ‘pious invocations’, not dogma and might this qualification be applied to all Mariology including the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption?


Visser’t Hooft, Memoirs, 319.


Visser’t Hooft, Memoirs, pp. 319, 323.


Cuthbert Butler, The Vatican Council, The Story Told from Inside in Bishop Ullathorne’s Letters (London: Longmans, 1930), pp. 93–4, citing Mansi, 1c 1255; George B. Caird, Our Dialogue with Rome, p. 2.


Bernard C. Pawley (ed.), The Second Vatican Council: Studies by Eight Anglican Observers (London: Oxford University Press, 1967).


Karl Barth, ‘Thoughts on the Second Vatican Council’, Ecumenical Review 15 (1963), pp. 357–67, reprinted in Barth, Ad Limina, pp. 65–79.


Karl Barth, Ad Limina, pp. 15–16.


Connolly, From Enemy, p. 240.


Bernard McCabe, ‘American Jews and Vatican II’, New Blackfriars 47 (1966), pp. 229–37; ‘Resolution on Anti-Semitism’, in The New Delhi Report (London: scm, 1962), p. 148.


Karl Barth, Ad Limina, p. 30.


Visser’t Hooft, Memoirs, p. 325; History, vol. 3, p. 277.


John Nurser, For All Peaples and All Nations, Christian Churches and Human Rights (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 2005).


Barth, Ad Limina, pp. 39–40. Barth found the Declaration ‘absolutely terrible’ and scolded Küng for not preventing this ‘monstrosity’, but did not explain why: Letters, 16 September 1966; Stanley Hauerwas, ‘The divided mind of Dignitatis Humanae’, in A Better Hope (Grand Rapids, mi: Brazos, 2000), pp. 109–16.


Herminio Rico, Legacy of Dignitatis Humanae, pp. 41–3.


Karl Rahner, Theological Investigations (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1981), vol. 20, pp. 90–102.


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