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Pastors Must Teach The Whole Truth

The Pastoral Character of 
The Second Vatican Council

Cardinal Silvio Oddi, Prefect of 
the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy

The following article was published in the English weekly edition of the L'Osservatore Romano of 25 October, 1982. It was also published more recently by Christ to the World in the September-October 1983 edition with the following introduction. As our readers may know, CHRIST TO THE WORLD is published with the approval of the Catholic Church authorities in Rome, CUM APPROBATIONE ECCLESTICA VICARIATUS.


‘A modern shepherd who dares to attenuate the doctrine of Jesus Christ on the pretext of conserving the quantitative presence of non-believers within the sheepfold, has not understood the pastoral character of Vatican Council II’.

Cardinal Oddi speaks with great frankness to us on a delicate subject but one which is crucial for the future of the Church: the faithfulness of priests to Him who called Himself the Good Shepherd.

It is unfortunately frequent today that pastors (priests, professors, confessors, preachers, even bishops) give in to the temptation to dilute the doctrine of Christ, to accommodate it to the views of modern man, catering to his tastes and prejudices. They act this way sometimes fearing that otherwise those Christians weak in faith would abandon the fold. The Cardinal points out how mistaken they are. Not only do more sheep finally leave the fold, owing to the confusion which results, but those who remain have to fend for themselves in order to find the nourishment they need. In any case, such pastors fail in their mission and make of the Council, whose name they always have on their lips, a caricature of what it is.


Pastoral Pertains To Shepherds

For the past score of years, the word ‘pastoral’ has been commonly used to describe Vatican Council II.

At the opening of that assembly, Pope John XXIII declared: ‘We must follow the norms and needs of a Magisterium that is preeminently pastoral’ (11 Oct. 1962). At the Council’s close, Pope Paul VI pointed out that: 'The Vatican Ecumenical Council… has been concerned, before all, with pastoral needs’ (8 Dec. 1965).

It is clear, of course, that ‘pastoral’ derives from the Latin word pastor, shepherd. Consequently, when we say that the Church’s Magisterium has a pastoral purpose, we are really saying that the Church’s Magisterium should conduct itself as would a shepherd. But the key question is: to which shepherd should the Magisterium of the Church conform?

Only One Supreme Good Shepherd

There always were and still are many shepherds in the Catholic Church, from the pope down to the most recently ordained priest. But, on the other hand, one recalls that Our Lord spoke in St. John’s Gospel of the Good Shepherd, in the singular, to whom all the sheep are entrusted. But, if there is only one Good Shepherd, are all the others bad?

St. Augustine faces this conundrum squarely, and explains that, in fact, there is only one Good Shepherd, the Lord Himself. ‘There are not lacking,’ he clarifies, ‘many good shepherds, but all are found in the person of the One Shepherd’ (Homilies on the Shepherds, 46:29-30).

It immediately flows from this concept that, when we speak of the Church’s pastoral activity, we are perforce speaking of the action of the Good Shepherd Himself. So, if Vatican Council II and its teachings manifest a special interest in the pastoral needs of the Church, those called to the pastoral apostolate must know and follow the mind and will of the real Pastor, the one Shepherd, the Author of all authentic pastoral plans.

Students of the recent Council who have attempted to evaluate its results up until now, have sometimes expressed the opinion that there is a grave danger of the Council being misapplied, and that instead of marking a second spring for the Church, it will become the occasion for disorders of every kind.

Christ The Unchangeable, Uncompromising Model of Pastors

This will never happen if the ineluctable relationship between the real Pastor and the Church’s pastoral activity is truly understood and made operative. St. Paul underlined this important notion when he asked rhetorically ‘What then is Apollo? What then is Paul?’ (1 Cor. 3-5). As there is but one High Priest between God and man (Heb. 9:11 ff.), there is only one Good Shepherd. As all priests share in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ, so all pastors must seek identity with the Good Shepherd.

We associate pastors are not autonomous but are the arms and legs and tongues of the Good Shepherd. We are not free to speak with a voice which is not His, for did not Christ assure the flock that the sheep would unfailingly recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd? (Jn. 10:4).

Sharing Christ’s Pastoral Office

Humanly speaking, it is not always agreeable to share the office of the Good Shepherd, because the stains of original sin retain in this world their weakening effect on mankind. The sheep will continue to be attracted by contaminated pastures and polluted streams, and shepherds will be tempted to let them roam where they will for fear of incurring hostility. But the shepherd is gravely mistaken who believes that the duties of his job call for him to win the applause of the flock rather than to lead and save it.

Neglectful Shepherds

St. Gregory the Great compared a pastor, who neglects opportunely to admonish his flock for fear of losing favor, to the mercenary of the parable, condemned by Christ for running away at the approach of the wolf (Pastoral Rule 2, 4).

To sum up, there is no doubt that the spirit of Vatican Council II was and remains pastoral, but pastoral in the true sense that its teachings are those of the unique Pastor, the Good Shepherd whose mission was not to curry the favor of men. We should carefully recall the occasion on which many disciples abandoned Jesus because of His ‘hard saying’ (Jn. 6:10). He did not change one word of the Gospel in an attempt to become more ‘credible’ to listeners of little faith.

Divine Truth Does Not Waver

A modern shepherd who dares to attenuate the doctrine of Jesus Christ on the pretext of conserving the quantitative presence of non-believers within the sheepfold, has not understood the pastoral character of Vatican Council II.