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From the editor's desk > Vigorous voice of joy for Vatican II

04 January 2017

Vigorous voice of joy for Vatican II

“There is a new freshness in the Church, a new joyfulness, a new charisma which speaks to people, and that is something beautiful.” This is the remarkable assessment of the papacy of Pope Francis by his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict, in the interviews with him recently published as Last Testament. The Francis papacy is a reminder that the Catholic Church is flexible, dynamic and open, that it is developing from within, that it is not frozen in old patterns, and that surprising things happen again and again. The Second Vatican Council marked the great turning outwards to the world of the Church in the second half of the last century: not in contempt or distaste, but in curiosity and humility, eager for engagement and dialogue, yearning to serve and protect the poor and the most vulnerable.

When it came to its implementation, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor – the cautious reformer par excellence – has described Pope St John Paul II and Pope Benedict as preferring to keep their fingers warily on the “Pause” button. In Pope Francis, on the other hand, he sees someone confidently pressing “Play”. Francis’ approach to the readmission of divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion in some cases – the issue at the centre of the row over his exhortation Amoris Laetitia – is at one with the whole tenor of this papacy. It reflects the sort of faithful but compassionate Catholicism – attentive to every individual human story and circumstance – that The Tablet has stood for since the close of the council.

Three editors have led The Tablet in the period since the final documents of Vatican II were promulgated: Tom Burns, John Wilkins and Catherine Pepinster, the first woman to occupy the editorial chair, who stepped down on 30 December after 13 years at the helm. Often with little encouragement, and sometimes under fire, all three have stubbornly occupied what each of them would regard as “the extreme centre” of the Catholic Church. They have kept The Tablet firmly rooted in the rich soil of the Catholic tradition, irrepressibly reform-minded, and a place of hospitality to intelligent, inquisitive, restless conversation about the things of God.

The Tablet regards disagreement, even sharp disagreement, in the household of the faith as a sign of life and vigour, not of disloyalty or confusion. We learn from those who differ from us; we reach the truth through argument between friends. It is of the essence of Catholicism that there should be no fixed register or final settlement. The teaching of the Church is not a closed system; it does not tidy up every loose end or stifle every doubt. As Pope Francis said in Florence in 2015: “It is alive, knows being unsettled, enlivened. It has a face that is not rigid, it has a body that moves and grows, it has a soft flesh: it is called Jesus Christ.”

Into a world of anxiety and ruthlessness, something beautiful is struggling to be born. That, perhaps, is the story of Christianity in a phrase. While each of the five popes to have led the Church since the council has contributed special gifts to its life and mission, in Pope Francis it has found a personality and voice to express the genius of the council with uninhibited conviction and charisma.

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