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The Impact of Non-Roman Catholic Observers at Vatican II

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image of Ecclesiology

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.

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