Thursday, August 2, 2012


   For the past half century, bishops and popes have been struggling with the question of how to interpret Vatican II.  One basic question is, "Did the council represent continuity or did it change the church?"  The answer is, both.  Vatican II retained the church's full, living, evolving continuity and identity, while necessarily changing the way the church sees itself, operates and presents itself to the world outside its borders.

   A major stumbling block to many bishops and the pope and Curia is that to them, any change at all means a change of identity.  And they are obliged to protect and maintain the church's identity.  Yet, simply think of a person looking at photos of him/herself over many years.  The same person is always present, while that person has changed in looks, understanding, maturity and activity. Without these changes, the person's life would have been stagnant and regressive.

   Vatican II did not simply offer suggestions.  It started an historic, Spirit-led movement toward a relevant, spiritually effective church, and it represents the highest level of church teaching, fully meant to be implemented.  Many bishops who went home from the council understood the church's Spirit-led evolution and began the new movement.  Cf. the American bishops' 1980's, openly collaborative documents on the Economy and on Peace, the modernizing of religious life, and Liberation Theology.  If the bishops and religious had been able to continue their work, with the corrections that were necessary and without the Vatican's heavy impediments, the church today could very well be a true People of God, with laity, theologians, priests, religious, bishops and pope openly working together to discern the dynamic presence and intentions of God in and for today's society and culture.  The whole church would be prayerfully and confidently testing the Spirit (1 Jn. 4:1)  in today's terms, and prophetically working to uplift and correct today's world in the Spirit of Christ, without imposing our religion on anyone.

   But Pope Paul VI stumbled badly in 1968 when he refused to accept the overwhelming majority report of the birth control commission, which could persuasively be argued to represent the whole church's sense of the faith in this important matter.  John Paul II often spoke eloquently about Vatican II but in reality pulled the church back to its old, regressive ways, influenced by Cardinal Ratzinger.  Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, held and still holds a negative view of the world, which is causing him to hold back on any respectful, positive dialogue with today's world.  The world that Jesus said hates him is not the everyday world of everyday people, that God loved and loves enough to send Jesus to save it, but the corrosive influence that lives within the everyday world and everyday people.

   Benedict is also disregarding his duty to call the hierarchy to true accountability for their cover-up of the priests' sexual abuse and rape of children.  And many bishops, partly in gratitude for the pope's cover up of their cover up, and partly because they enjoy the power of clericalism, are sheepishly cooperating in the church's regression.  In sum, much of the hierarchy, together with the pope, are operating in some important ways as dissident Catholics.  As a result, people are suffering.

   Twenty-first century Catholics, nevertheless, still enjoy the leadership of the Spirit of Christ, who is dwelling within them and the whole world.  (Cf. Vat. II:  The Church in the Modern World, No. 11).  We should be working closely and openly together with the spiritual leadership of our bishops, effectively helping save the world in the grace of Christ.  But in today's church. that's not possible.  Yet, the Spirit compels us to act.  In the posts that follow, I will discuss some ways we can live under the leadership of the Spirit in today's world, even despite our bishops.


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