By Lisa Miller
Conventional conservative wisdom holds that the Second Vatican Council, convened by Pope John XXIII in 1962, is part of the church's current problem. By accepting liberal reforms, the church invited all kinds of nonsense--guitar masses, nuns in blue jeans, and homosexual child predators--into its midst. But Vatican II was actually a prescient--even prophetic--effort to integrate the antique church into the modern world.
Something similar is needed today. Though this pope is unlikely to provide it, certain prominent Catholic laypeople have begun calling for a Vatican III, an ecumenical conference to reexamine Catholic doctrine and practice. Sex abuse is just the starting point. Celibacy, clerical marriage, and the role of women need to be revisited. So does the role of the laity. Then there's governance: why shouldn't the Vatican operate as efficiently and transparently--in its mission, finances, and PR--as any global corporation? Finally, the Vatican needs to clarify its role vis-à-vis foreign governments. It needs to play ball within democratic societies--that is, turn over its own criminals to the cops--while it decries human-rights abuses in countries where it hopes to continue to grow. Church officials can delay reform for years, maybe even decades. But at some point the possibility for redemption gives way to the reality of irrelevance.