Pope Francis has indicated that he wishes to complete the work of Vatican II. This is an opportune moment to look at Vatican II which 50 years ago was close to its half way point.
As a practical matter, PopeWatch believes the Church as an earthly institution has been in decline by most measurements, mass attendance, ordinations, numbers of nuns, sisters and brothers, since 1965. The decline is undeniable, but is it fair to blame Vatican II? Would the Church have experienced the same turbulence, or even worse, without Vatican II? PopeWatch doubts it. The Church had thriven in the hostile environment of the first half of the Twentieth Century, when malevolent atheist ideologies, such as Nazism and Communism, had launched unceasing assaults on the Church. Odd that the Church could so well weather this storm and then encounter such difficulties in the relatively calm seas of the latter Twentieth Century. Plus, the collapse came on so rapidly after the Council that it is hard to resist the temptation to believe that there has to be some link. It also didn’t help that Paul VI was a very good man, but also a very weak pope.
Of course much, although not all, of the difficulties of Vatican II are caused by misinterpretations of what the Council did and what the Council actually stated. The “spirit of Vatican II” is often responsible for idiocies within the contemporary Church that most of the participants in Vatican II never, in their wildest nightmares, intended. This misinterpretation of the Council started even while it was in progress:
PopeWatch would direct your attention to Time January 4, 1963 in the issue where Pope John XXIII was declared Man of the Year:
“By launching a reform whose goal is to make the Catholic Church sine macula et ruga (without spot or wrinkle), John set out to adapt his church’s whole life and stance to the revolutionary changes in science, economics, morals and politics that have swept the modern world: to make it, in short, more Catholic and less Roman.”
This statement PopeWatch finds truly hilarious from the Time article, in light of the experience of the last 50 years: “The great majority of Protestant and Catholic clergymen and theologians—as well as many non-Christians—agree that Christianity is much stronger today than it was when World War II ended. Their reason is not the postwar “religious revival” (which many of them distrust as superficial) or the numerical strength of Christianity. It is that the Christian Church has finally recognized and faced the problems that have cut off much of its communication with the modern world. Says Notre Dame’s President Theodore Hesburgh: “We better understand the job that is before us. The challenge is to make religion relevant to relevant to real life.”’
Those of course who decry Vatican II as a false Council and/or Blessed Pope John as a false pope are completely wrong. Also wrong are those who believe the Church truly started only in 1965 at the end of the Council. The Church is an earthly and a sacred institution with an eventful history of 2000 years during which the Church, as an earthly institution, has had its ups and its downs. Recently the Church, at least in the Western world, has been very much in a down period. Pope Francis’ call to complete the work of Vatican II is a good opportunity for Catholics to ponder why this has been the case and what each one of us can do to reverse this. Perhaps a starting point might be to answer two questions: What has the Church, if anything, gained by Vatican II that was lacking in the Church prior to Vatican II? What, if anything, is the Church post Vatican II lacking that the Church prior to Vatican II possessed?