How is Pope John's Council Faring?
Introduced by Arthur Wells
Since its launch in 2004 this website's policy has been—and continues to be—to relay the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. We draw on the Council documents themselves and the writings of the men who formulated the documents. But recently we have been reluctantly obliged to ask Is there an acute crisis in the Roman Catholic Church? Our question is caused by the wide neglect of the Council's teachings.
Our December 2009 post raised a number of issues. Our January 2010 article asked for input from a wide selection of contacts both clerical and lay.
Responses arrived in various forms and lengths. Some dealt with The Council and the state of the Church as a whole, a few with one particular issue. Some are posted below; others will be posted in the coming months. We have permission to give a byline to almost every contribution, but have not so far used names because of potential attacks. Some examples of the type of attack which can occur will also be given later. The promoters and contributors are committed Catholics and Christians and wish to follow the example of the Council in avoiding polarization. The first response below encapsulates this position.
The Question We Asked
What are your views about the Loss and Gain in relation to Council teaching since it closed?
The Answers We Received
A Catholic prelate advised:
You [all lay people] have every right to speak up. In fact Vatican II even speaks about a duty to express your opinion. See the Church # 37 and Church in World of Today # 43 ... Try to hold a middle position so you are not "written off" as extremists. Appeal to the common sense of people. Maybe better sometimes to raise a question that invites intelligent people to think than to make a bold statement or a generalization that divides people into camps, or causes them to say you are overstating the case. It is more complex than appears on the surface. Anyway, keep up the work!
A retired businessman writes:
I've read and re-read the attachment [to your survey request] in fraternal disillusion; but not having devoted ... time to monitoring the advance of curial and papal revisionism I feel unqualified to add much of my own. Rosemary Haughton's letter in last week's Tablet [13th February 2010 issue] says my piece for me and a lot better. The Four Last Things are moving up my agenda, and I must leave The Good Fight for the soul of the Church to the Holy Spirit, and—with less confidence—to generations which will see the 1960s only through the prism of the later events. [It is hoped to reproduce Rosemary Haughton's letter in The Tablet in the next website issue.]
A retired woman linguist commented:
I do not see this as overstated – it needs to be said. The Council's vision of the People of God has faded to almost nothing.
A retired University Administrator writes:
I don't think it is overstated. The fact is one is almost getting frightened by the swing to the right. What does it do to the young and the doubtful?
A woman with experience of Central Europe replied:
[regretting that she has no time to write more] ... I just want to say that I fully agree that we must fight for the Council ... A small but very vociferous and indeed ferocious minority seem determined to eliminate or at least make it irrelevant. They won't succeed in the long run - but a great many Catholics may give up hope and slowly drift away - to the glee of the secularists. [Editorial Note: Many websites are reactionary and ultramontanist in the extreme. They mainly emanate from N. America and a selection will be posted later to stress the danger of extremism and polarization from any source. One attack on this website contained a wonder that misguided folk (us) are still peddling Vatican II teaching!]
A distinguished moral theologian wrote:
Vatican II – Loss and Gain
The principal gain of this prophetic Council was the hint of a New Spring for the Church, the tiny experience of open windows and fresh air, and the inspired definition of the Church as all of God's holy people, ruled by the bishops with the pope at their head. We lived in hope with the beautiful picture of this ideal to work towards.
Almost half a century later the dream has faded. Collegiality remains a dead letter, with Church governance almost a dictatorship. In practice, bishops are appointed by the pope and function throughout the world as his regional deputies. Episcopal synods are merely consultative bodies with no genuine contribution to the health of the church.
In the early centuries the Church's acceptance of the vernacular Latin for its liturgy contributed to the spread of the Christian faith, but its continued use of Latin long after it became a dead language blighted the health of the Church until Vatican II when the use of vernacular languages brought new life to our liturgy. Recent decisions by the Vatican are a major set-back for the health of the Church in this area.
All during the Council meetings the intransigent stance of the Roman Curia was a serious obstacle to progress. Curia reform was promised, but never became a reality. Many bishops feel powerless in their dealings with the Vatican civil service.
The central weakness of the Church during the post-Conciliar years is the so-called principle that the Second Vatican Council must be interpreted in continuity with the earlier councils of the Church. How is this determined and measured as a hermeneutical principle? Gregory XVI and Pius IX taught that freedom of conscience was sheer madness, whereas Vatican II teaches that it is a basic human right. For centuries the Church taught that it was a mortal sin for women to enter a church or receive the Eucharist during their periods.
When one goes beyond the so-called 'deposit of faith' to the gospel itself, it is helpful to remember that God's word is a living word that becomes incarnate in every culture and is alive and new each day. It is not only gift, but challenge. It is alive in itself, but Christians are called to make it come alive in their own culture. This means that while the same Christian faith can be found in all areas of the world, there is room and need for a variety of theologies to express and explain it. All of these theologies will be culturally and historically conditioned. The Church is enriched by the presence of Indian, Asian and African theologies, black theology, feminist theology and liberation theology. The movement from classical to historical consciousness means recognising that our personal identity is conditioned by our culture and history, and learning to read the '˜signs of the times' and discover seeds of the gospel in that culture. The gospel is not a frozen package handed down from the past, but a living word that comes alive in each new culture, and a saving word that takes flesh in the complexity and messiness of everyday human life. Our statements of faith and our discernment in morals must reflect this reality, and that will be the measure of their truth. There is no need to criticise the past in the light of recent developments. Former teaching may have been appropriate in its time and place, but uncritical repetition of it is a disservice to the gospel.
From Mrs M. O.
(We know nothing of this lady other than from what she writes movingly herself. She was advised of our request for opinion by a mutual friend who was on our 'survey' list.)
Reflections on Events Since Vatican II
When the Vatican Council was called in 1959 I was a married woman in my late twenties and deeply involved in the Church. We followed the events closely. All who have lived through that time remember the feeling of liberation, of expectation, well illustrated by the metaphor of 'opening windows' used by Pope John.
In the following years the forward movement was stopped, then reversed. Publication of Humanae Vitae forms the demarcation line. We have observed the following:
Scandalous disregard of the opinion of the Papal Commission on birth control resulting in the publication of HumanaeVitae, followed by insisting 'ad nauseam'on the traditional view of sex, as we all know based on false understanding of biology and psychology. This did more harm to the church than anything else, apart from the present scandals of clerical abuse of children.
Return to the centralisation of church structures, demonstrated by the disabling of the Synod of Bishops, which was meant to counterbalance the Vatican bureaucracy.
Retreat from the definition of the church as People of God, and attempt to recreate a distance between ordained priesthood and laity, apparent among others in the liturgy, e.g. laity being silenced again after many years when the Doxology is being pronounced during Mass. There may be many more examples.
There is a definite tendency to minimise liturgical changes, which are the more visible results of the Council. The Latin Mass is again promulgated. There is nothing wrong with the Latin Mass as such, but it would have been better not to forbid it in the first place. Now its return is seen by both the conservative and the progressive side of the church as a symbol of going back to pre-conciliar modes of thought. Even the new English translation of the Mass which is to be foisted on us has gone back to its Latin roots, become less meaningful and more distant from the people.
Although the forward movement following Vatican II has been reversed, both the latest Popes claim to be following its teaching. This is lip service only.
Finally, a claim is often made that 'Vatican II did not teach it" – whatever 'it' may be – therefore no action in that direction is needed or justifiable. People, usually clerics, expressing this opinion seem not to realise, that Vatican II was supposed to be a beginning of church reform, not its last word. Vatican II documents contain many compromises between the old, entrenched views and the new insights. We expected that as time went on and as younger generations came into positions of leadership, the old views would be slowly abandoned. Instead the reverse has happened. New insights have been disregarded and the old, compromise statements quoted as the 'teaching of Vatican II'.
The concerns in the website regarding a regression from Vatican II seem to be shared by many and are not regarded as exaggerated. The responses will spill over into April and perhaps beyond. They contain and will contain some very senior and informed views on the state of the Church. Some are helpfully analytical, but none desire anything except honest, practical adherence to the teachings of Vatican II. Lip service without implementation is felt to be a dishonest travesty.