Vatican II, Part 2

Pope Paul VI's Personal Turmoil
   If Vatican II had been fully implemented, today's church would be a fully collaborative community of the faithful, in which all actively contribute their prayerful discernment of the signs of the times, and all are engaged in prophetic action to uplift and correct today's culture in the grace of Christ, without imposing our religion on anyone.  Here is one story that shows why today's church is not a Vatican II church.    

   "To be or not to be.  That is the question."  Pope Paul VI's nick-name was "Hamlet," the troubled man who could not make up his mind.  For example, Paul wanted to ensure that the documents of Vatican II received the maximum number of positive votes, so he permitted both traditional and progressive ideas to be included in the documents.  He hoped that in time, the progressive view would prevail.  

   A story is told that helps us better understand the conflict within the man.  Paul VI was an avid reader of the writings of Existential philosopher, Albert Camus.  Camus was once invited to speak to a group of priests in Paris.  At the time, he was an atheist.  He spoke of his deep concern for the suffering of children, and told the priests that he had heard that the church, too, was similarly concerned.  But, he said, while the church does a lot of talking about helping children, much of the talk is contained in the language of encyclicals, which hardly anybody reads.  He pleaded with the priests, saying, "Perhaps we cannot eliminate the suffering of children in this world but as least we can lessen the number of children who suffer."  But, he went on to say, he had heard that the church tells children to offer up their sufferings because everything will be all right in heaven.  He ended by saying, "All your heaven is not worth the tears of one suffering child here on earth!"

   The story goes on to say that Pope Paul VI read about Camus' speech and because of it, he wanted the world to know that the church identified with suffering children, and indeed, with all the anxieties and pain of the people of the world.  He therefore insisted that the opening line of Vatican II's document on the Church in the Modern World be, "The joys and hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the followers of Christ."  That was in 1965.

  Forward to 1968.  The commission studying birth control was ready to make their report to Paul VI.  In keeping with the teaching of Vatican II, these 72 Catholics constituted a microcosm of the whole church: theologians, physicians, women, and bishops, including 7 cardinals, who prayerfully came together to discern the Spirit's intentions in line with the signs of the times.  Using the latest theological understanding and the full, deep human and sacramental experience of married Catholics, they discerned that our human nature and moral insight had evolved to the point where a responsible use of contraceptives was truly an extension of a woman's natural fertility cycle.  Rejecting any kind of egotism or selfishness in married Catholics, they voted, 65 to 7 in favor of "an ordered relationship to responsible fruitfulness which has concern for education and all the essential human and Christian values."

   However, an American Jesuit, John Ford, who was one of seven votes, wrote a minority report that was meant for Paul VI only.  (Writing a minority report was against the Commission's rules.)  It leaked out.  It said that to change the church's teaching would show that Pope Pius XI had been wrong in 1930 when he condemned contraception in his encyclical, Casti Conubii.  Pius XI had based his judgment on the story of Onan (Gen. 38:3-10).  But by 1968, every Biblical authority in the church had shown that Pius XI's interpretation of the story was mistaken.  The story had nothing to do with contraception.  

   Also, Casti Conubii had been written in part to counteract the decision of the Anglican church to accept contraception as moral.  So the minority report said that we would now be in accord with the Protestants.  And the report noted that changing the teaching would make Pius XII wrong because he had agreed with Casti Conubii.  And what about the fact that the church had forbidden the use of contraception under pain of eternal damnation?  (But the church never has condemned anyone to hell.)  Finally, the report cautioned that if Paul changed the teaching, the bishops and pope would lose their authority.
   Paul VI put aside his own insistence that the church identify itself with the joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties, i.e., with the everyday experience, of the people of the world.  He disregarded Vatican II's teaching that the church is the entire People of God and that they believe infallibly when they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals.  He disregarded the commission's findings and instead appealed to church authority.  He did not offer any theological reasons for his decision but rather appealed to natural law, i.e., to reason.  But the overwhelming majority of married Catholics and theologians had already discerned and reasoned that responsible contraception was morally acceptable.  As a result the church split apart.  And Vatican II began to slip into history. 

Fear of the World vs. Vatican II's Dialogue with the World

  Here's another reason why we don't have a Vatican II church today. 

  Inspired by Vatican II, bishops and theologians in Central and South America began to apply the Gospel to the plight of the poor in an organized way.  The movement came to be called Liberation Theology, and gave us the expression, "preferential option for the poor."

  Jesus of course was very concerned about the poor, even to the point where he warned the rich that it was more difficult for them to get into heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.  He wasn't concerned that the rich were rich but that they were using their wealth to suppress and oppress the poor.  When he blessed the "poor in spirit" he was referring to the fact that the poor were so suppressed that they had become depressed and had lost hope of any alleviation of their dreadful state.

  Catholics in Central and South American started base communities of lay people, and armed the people not with guns but with catechisms.  The Vatican quickly took notice and criticized the movement, claiming that it was reducing the Gospel to politics, and Jesus to a social revolutionary.  Cardinal Ratzinger claimed that the base communities were a form of Communism, and that they were aimed at getting rid of all authority.  He opposed working to change the structures of society, preferring that Christians help the poor individually.  However, others said that Ratzinger was actually defending the rich and powerful, and even the church's own authority structure.

  Liberation Theology was brutally resisted by the powerful.  Four religious women, and six Jesuits and their housekeeper and her daughter, were murdered by "death squads."  Bishop Oscar Romero, of San Salvador was murdered while saying Mass, by an agent of the repressive government that had recently come into power.    

  Bishop Dom Helder Camara, of Recife, Brazil, put his own slant on the criticism that Liberation Theology was a form of Communism, when he famously said, "When I give food to the hungry, the people call me a saint.  When I ask why the hungry have no food, the people call me a Communist."  Penny Lernoux, writing for the National Catholic Reporter, said, "It's not Karl Marx who is screaming down here among the poor; it's Jesus Christ!"

  In sum, the Church's legitimate concern for the poor got tangled up in the concern about Marxism.  In later years, the Vatican softened it view of Liberation Theology.  It continues today but in a weakened form.  The clear teachings of Vatican II concerning the poor and economic structures were muted, and poverty is still more prevalent that it might have been.       

   Vatican II taught that we should get engaged with the everyday world:  
          That the earthly and the heavenly city penetrate each other is a fact accessible to faith alone.  ...the Church...strengthens the seams of human society and imbues the everyday activities of men with a deeper meaning and importance.  Thus, through her individual members and her whole community, the Church believes she can contribute greatly toward making the family of man and its history more human.
                                                          (Church in the Modern World, No. 40)

Centralizing the Church in Rome vs. Engaging the World in the Spirit of Christ
  One important item on Pope John Paul II's agenda was to strengthen the church against atheistic communism on one side and soulless capitalism on the other.   His way of doing this was to centralize the church through loyalty to Rome and to himself.   

   In the 1980's the American bishops made their own excellent effort to implement Vatican II and engage modern American society. They gathered together theologians and expert laity and used their expertise to help them write two excellent papers on the economy and on peace.  Some bishops disagreed with the papers, and the Vatican took advantage of this moved to quash the documents, thus weakening the ability of the American bishops to speak authoritatively with one voice on questions affecting America.  John Paul II then appointed bishops, who were "little popes" in their own dioceses, loyal first and foremost if not only, to him.  In a church ever more centralized in Rome, the individual bishops moved farther from the laity and tended to more internal church business. 

   Tragically, one internal operation that was hidden from the laity was the scandalous cover up of the horrific abuse and rape of children by priests.  This tragedy has yet to be resolved.

   Today, America faces great disparity of wealth, the diminishing of the middle class, and increasing poverty. Two sets of questions arise.  

  One:  --How deeply engaged should the church be in the everyday world, to help make it more human?  How deeply engaged was Jesus?  
            --The church's principles of social justice aim at reshaping the structures of our economics and politics to make them more just so they better serve the common good, with a preferential option for the poor, sick and vulnerable. Some politicians today are saying that social justice leads to the redistribution of wealth and is therefore Socialism or Communism.  Are they right?  
           --Should the church get involved in shaping the structures of our society in order to help the poor, or should Catholics act individually?
            --Do we need an "American Liberation Theology?  If so, what would it look like?      

  Two: --How prepared are the bishops to answer these questions?  
           --How better would they be prepared if Vatican II had been implemented?

A Disconnected Liturgy

   Here's is yet another reason why today's church is not a Vatican II church, and also why many Catholics have walked away from the church.

  Liturgy is a ritual, which can be seen as a performance--as theater, in the best and highest meaning of the word.  The Mass, our highest expression of worship, can be described as a ritualized performance of the Last Supper.  For centuries, the Latin Mass, with its movements, incense, bells, and music, beautifully recognized and expressed the sacred in terms of the culture of the day.  Thus the liturgy gave glory to God and moved and uplifted the human soul--all in a magnificent way.  

   When the Mass was changed into English, the church was challenged to do the same in terms of today's culture.  Unhappily, I don't believe that the church has been able to answer this challenge.  I'm not saying we should go back to the Latin liturgy.  Today, it would be a misfit.  I'm saying that we have not yet learned to do what the old liturgy did. 

   If Vatican II had been implemented, the whole church today would be very closely related to today's culture, e.g., as the nuns are.  The whole church would be in close and humble, listening/teaching dialogue with today's world.  We would all be proclaiming Christ in ways today's world could easily understand, and we would be a clearer  and more effective sign of Christ's presence in today's world.  It would therefore be much easier for us to recognize and express the sacred in terms of our culture and bring our culture to Mass to be offered to God with the bread and wine.  Even the young would feel they could contribute to the Mass in their own way!

   But Vatican II was not fully implemented.  The letter of the council, e.g., changing the Mass into the vernacular, was implemented, but the soul and spirit of the council, expressing the faith in terms that the people understood, and coming into dialogue with the world--all this was not fully implemented.  So we came to the new liturgy, in many ways spiritually unprepared to look deeply into our culture and see and express it in sacred terms.   
   When we switched into English in the late 60's, our everyday culture was being expressed by a social revolution and by folk music played with a guitar.  We brought the music and guitar into Mass, and even some of the social revolution.  The atmosphere at Mass changed from a Renaissance court scene, with the "nobility" at the altar and the passive "peasants" in the pews, to a Sunday morning picnic.  In many churches today, it's still the same.  

  The English had a few bumps in it; for example, the prayers that began in Latin with the words, "Deus qui," were translated, "God, you who..."  So we were, "You-hooing!" God.  The language was later changed and we got a simple, easy to understand, smooth flowing expression of worship, just as Vatican II instructed.  

   Here we must sadly admit that the homilies that are supposed to be an important part in our spiritual development have not even begun to catch up to our needs.  And now the new translation has moved the liturgy farther from the people and our culture, saying to us that our culture is not capable of praying to God in its own way.

   Back to the old, Latin Mass.  The ritual and the language created a sense of sacred mystery, part of which was not good.  The people's inability to understand Latin created an erroneous sense of mystery as ignorance. The Mystery Whom we worship is God, who is accessible to us in faith and love, and even in understanding to the limits of human understanding, while at the same time being infinite, inexhaustible fullness.  Engrossed in this correct sense of Mystery, we worship God in part by offering him the greatest possible, ever evolving fullness of who we are.

  So we are challenged to create a prayerful atmosphere of worship that brings out the deepest and best expression of the fullness of who we were as 21st century Americans.  We are challenged to discern our everyday lives, which are in their entirely, our spiritual lives, as deeply, clearly and sensitively as possible. If we "don't get anything out of Mass," part of this is because we are not bringing our full selves to Mass.  Every day, all day, we are answering the question, "Who are we?"  "Who am I?"  What does it mean to be an be an expression of Christ in today's world of family, education, work and business, politics, science, art, etc.?  

  As today's hierarchy keeps focusing on sex and their power, while still refusing to see that they and their their authority structure are an essential part of the sex abuse tragedy, we have to keep our focus on the entirety of our lives in today's world.  In the depth and scope of our prayerful discernment, we must keep discovering the dignity and glory of who we are, of what our country is and can be, and what we have to offer to God.  When we reach some degree of agreement, when we come to some realization of who we are and where we're going, i.e., when we awaken more fully to the sacredness of ourselves and our culture, we will be ready to create the liturgy we're supposed to have.  And we will begin, in this important area, to have a Vatican II church.

Collaborating on Moral Insights

   Here's yet one more example of why we do not have a Vatican II church.  

  Changing our moral teachings is of the deepest importance.  I haven't read Sister Margaret Farley's book, so I will not discuss her views.  My point here is that if we had a Vatican II church, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which Cardinal Ratzinger ran for decades, would be in constant, collaborative  touch with theologians throughout the world, by means of the bishops of the world. 

   Even more importantly, the theologians and bishops would be in touch with one another, collaboratively discussing and discerning our living, evolving understanding of our human nature and of our moral teachings.  I say "collaboratively," because many of our bishops are not theologians.  Many are canon lawyers and "churchmen," dedicated to strict loyalty to the pope and Vatican officials.  So in many cases, they would have to learn from the theologians.  The CDF of course would also be up on the latest theological discernment and understanding of our human nature and morality.  Then, the CDF would be able to critique the writings of theologians based on the evolving understanding of who we are.  As far as I can tell, that's not what is happening.   

   The CDF has criticized what Sr. Margaret wrote, not because her discernment and insights are wrong, but because they are different from established moral teaching.  For example, in the 19th century, the discernment that slavery was immoral was also different from established moral teaching.  So there is the possibility that moral teaching can change, and at times, must change.   

  Unhappily, the CDF has a long history of saying that theologians are wrong simply because their views are different from established moral teaching.  For example, before Vatican II, they silenced many of the theologians whom Pope John XXIII invited to come to Vatican II.  After the council, they treated theologians like Fr. Charles Curran's in the same way.  When he went to Rome to explain his views--accompanied by Fr. Bernard Haring, the professor who had taught him that when it comes to saying what is moral, we should put down the book of canon law and pick up the Gospels--the CDF would not let him explain his views.  They simply told him he was a dissident because what he was saying was different from established views.  Obviously, the meeting went nowhere.

  In sum, being different is the same as being wrong.  In a moving, evolving world, filled with galaxies of new possibilities, we have an official church that has come to a theological and moral standstill.  Right now, there is no way for us to "officially" know that our living and evolving discernment and understanding of ourselves, our nature, and, e.g., of married love, gay relationships, etc., is right or wrong.  In the case of Sr. Margaret's book, we have no "official" way to know if her views of right or wrong.  

  According to the CDF, the church's official moral teaching is closed.  And many Catholics will say that is fine.  "Rome as spoken; the case is closed!"  But this stoppage contradicts not only Vatican II but the Holy Spirit, and life itself.  Like life, if our spirituality stops, it dies, and we die.  We must either move forward or backward.  In many ways today, we are left to our own well informed conscience and good will.  That is O. K., but it is not the best way for the People of God to live.  And the fault is entirely the Vatican's.

Note:  I see in the "stats" that most of my readers are concentrating on this page and on the Vatican II, Part 1 page.  For this I thank you.  But I heartily recommend that you also read the posts on the Sense of Faith and on Wholeness that I am posting on the EXPERIENCING GOD page.  Our spirituality arises from our personal and common sense of faith.    

The Need for a Community of Spiritual Companions

   This blog is very much the result of my own aggiornamento, my own catching up with my true self.  Younger readers--I hope there are some of you out there--may not understand.  They have often wondered to me why we "old heads" are so hung up on the church.  I tell them that the church organization is indeed corrupt, but we deeply need a spiritual community.  In my book, The New Dance of Christ--Discovering Our Spiritual Self in a New, Evolving World, I describe a lunch conversation I had with a psychotherapist colleague.  He was having a terrible time in his life at that moment and had had an experience that he thought was slightly insane.  He asked me to have lunch with him, and he narrated his experience to me.  I recognized it as a true spiritual, almost mystical experience.  He was surprised.  Then he said, "O. K.  But what does any of this have to do with church.  I don't go to church."  I said, "You just did."  He looked at me puzzled.  "I said, "You asked me to lunch to talk with you about you're experience.  You see, you just created a church.  It has two members, you and me."  He laughed and got the point.  We need one another.  We need a community of spiritual companions to walk through life with us.

   So as angry as we are at our church--and with the best of reasons--we have to work to create a new, re-new church that is a true, 21st century expression of Jesus Christ and all that he means to the world--all that the world would come to see in him if we can show him to the world in terms the world can accept.  So I'll keep writing this blog.  And I hope you stay with me as we walk together on this sacred quest.  

A Good Name for Our Church

   The Religion Research department at the University of Pennsylvania is planning on video-recording me, saying that I am a living witness of Vatican II and of the half century since the council opened.  A professor jokingly asked me, "If you could start your own church, what would you call it?"  I responded, "I would call it 'The Catholic Church That Follows the Teachings of the Catholic Church."

   Such a church could more effective face the challenges that we face in today's American society:

              Vatican II                                                           Too Much of America Today
1.  Interdependence of all people                            Hyper-individualism 
2.  One family in a spirit of brotherhood                  Deep polarization
3.  Respect for Human Dignity                                 High respect for technical progress
                                                                                           with conflicted attitudes toward 
                                                                                           social justice and the common good                                                          
4.   Respect for labor                                                 Conflicted over creating jobs
5.   Respect for marriage                                          High divorce rate                                     
6.   Respect for different cultures                              In general, we respect various cultures.
    and religions                                                           Yet, racism, sexism and religious
                                                                                            prejudice are present                                                      
7.   Heavy commitment to economic and                Deep economic and social conflicts
           social justice     
8.  Politics directed toward the common good       Stubborn, non-compromising opposition
                                                                                         Often, an absence of caring

9.  Strong commitment to negotiating and              Militarism among many Americans
   Despite the fact that about 80% of Americans identify themselves as Christians, over-zealous Christians should cool down the rhetoric that we are a Christian nation.  (Officially, of course, we are not.)  Rather, we should look into our sense of the faith, so we could make "faith-sense" of our everyday lives and work to bring America more in line with the teachings of Vatican II and permit the Kingdom of God to come and grown more fruitfully on earth.    









  1. "If Vatican II had been fully implemented, today's church would be a fully collaborative community of the faithful, in which all actively contribute their prayerful discernment of the signs of the times, and all are engaged in prophetic action to uplift and correct today's culture in the grace of Christ, without imposing our religion on anyone." I hope this would have been true.

    I am a big fan of Vatican II, but I've learned a great deal about human beings in the nearly 50 years since, Catholics as much as any. There are always those in any organization who find a way to advance their own positions. Many bishops were not on board with Vatican II, as witnessed by some of your own experiences. As in most organizations, there are always those who join with an eye to getting to the top, gaining power and control as they progress.

    What I believe Vatican II could have accomplished if implemented would have been a unifying liturgy. Unlike you, I often experienced meaningful, majestic and spiritually uplifting liturgies in English. I am old enough to remember the mysterious Latin mass as well.

    I had the good fortune to attend a church where the pastors over a course of years had welcomed all who passed the doors of the church. Musicians came from around the city to be part of this faith community. Parishioners who saw themselves part of the universal church also came from across the city to be part of this community. Those who wanted regimentation, uniformity, and the letter of the law tended not to stay.

    I see that too many of the wrong people became priests, who liked the idea of being Jesus' representative at the altar, who liked being told, "Yes, father, no father", and being part of the elite. The pastors who choose to serve the people of God faithfully, with love and humility, are often in the minority.

    The structure of the priesthood itself is isolating-- physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. Most priests never have the chance, or never choose, to be one with God's people. And those isolated, elite, emotionally immature men become bishops, cardinals and popes. Little wonder Catholics such as me no longer feel at home in the church. This is an area where Catholics could learn much from our Protestant and Jewish brothers and sisters.

  2. Tony,
    I am in Rome at the present and just read part 1 and part 2 of your blog. I have a very different view of the Church and very different expectations of her. I am a cradle Catholic, went to Catholic school right through to college, studied the documents and try to live the vision of Vatican II in my life.

    I feel sorry that you were so close to the infighting, and I have to wonder why someone who was teaching you before Vatican II had begun was doing so secretly. How can the Holy Spirit work against the Church in that way, are you saying you were not validly ordained now? You were ordained with certain expectations--obedience to your bishop--being taught secretly was the beginning of your troubles. It reminds me of the sower and the seed. Here you are a young fledging and another bird (satan acccording to Mark) comes and picks up the seed before you even have a chance to grow. I understand your outrage at the sexual abuse scandal, and what about the scandal to your priesthood by this secret professor. You have things very departmentalized against the church and the church is made up of people who are sinners. Tony, the Holy Spirit is still working--just a few minutes ago experienced it.

    Keep praying, reading, and writing--don't get stuck. Where do we go from here? Let us pray for one another.