Cardinal Coccopalmerio began his address with the recollection that Blessed John XXIII, in his speech convening Vatican Council II in 1959, explained that the Council’s legal scope was to bring about the awaited revision of the 1917 Code. “In his broad perspective, the Pope saw clearly that the revision of the Code had to be guided by the new ecclesiology that emerged from an ecumenical and a global summit such as the Council.” Blessed John Paul II, under whose pontificate the Code was promulgated, also repeated that “the council’s ecclesiological structure clearly required a renewed formulation of its laws”.
“As John Paul II emphasized at the beginning of the Apostolic Constitution ‘Sacrae disciplinae leges’, the reason for the close relationship between Vatican Council II and the Code of Canon Law was that the 1983 Code was the culmination of Vatican II … in two ways: on the one hand, it embraces the Council, solemnly reproposing fundamental institutions and major innovations and, on the other, establishing positive norms for implementing the Council.”
The president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts then cited various examples of the strong bond between Vatican Council II and the Code of Canon Law.
The first is the “doctrine regarding the episcopate and the relationship between the episcopate and the primate, that is, episcopal collegiality. This is not entirely new doctrine in the deep consciousness of the Church but rather a happy discovery. The Code firstly, in canons 330–341, represents this clearly, and secondly, in canons 342–348, accompanies it with the positive view that constitutes the structure of the Synod of Bishops, allowing effective implementation of the structure of episcopal collegiality.”
A second example is the “Council’s teaching on the laity and therefore on the appropriate and active mission of the lay faithful in the life of the Church. Once again, this is not absolutely new but more a rediscovery … through a series of regulations … regarding the diocesan pastoral council or … the parochial pastoral council. They are structures that allow the faithful laity to effectively participate in the pastoral decisions of the bishop or the pastor. This innovation is also the eloquent voice of the faithful relationship between Council and Code.”
“A third example may come from the conception of the parish as presented by the Council and implemented by the Code. Ultimately, the Council conceives of the parish as a community of believers, not as a structure or a territory. This represents an important innovation with respect to the previous point of view. The Code receives this concept, particularly in canon 515, and sanctions it with the positive regulations of the following canons.”
A final example of doctrine and innovation provided by the Council in the area of ecumenism “resides in the conciliar documents ‘Lumen gentium’, ‘Orientalium Ecclesiarum’, and ‘Unitatis redintegratio’, which show the doctrine of ecclesial communion as still imperfect yet real and existent between the Catholic Church and other Churches or non-Catholic communities. This is also a fact of incalculable value and scope already found in the Council and then later in the Code (cf. canon 844), with the possibility of welcoming non-Catholic Christians, even if under specific conditions, into the sacraments of the Catholic Church.
“In conclusion,” finished the cardinal, “we can affirm that the happy union between Vatican Council II and the Code of Canon Law has produced fruits of renewal in the life of the Church in many areas and on many levels.”