Friday, 5 October 2012


"Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins.
If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved." -
Matthew 9:17 (NIV)

THE IMPACT OF VATICAN II on lay people is best described by Rev. Maurice O'Connell and Joseph Stoutzenberger in their book ‘The Church Through History (2003) as follows:

Anyone born after 1960 grew up in the post-Vatican II Church. There are Catholics who remember when the Church meant priests and nuns, when the Mass was entirely in Latin, when a Catholic wouldn't dare set foot in the church of another religion, and when not eating meat on Fridays was a Catholic's most distinguishing characteristic. In hindsight, the seeds of change were planted before Vatican II, the council promoted the growth, and major developments have continued to take place in the Church up to the present time.

   The Council Was More than Its Documents

   While the council produced sixteen documents, the impact of the council cannot be reduced to its documents. The council carried with it a spirit of inquiry and self-reflection, an attitude of dialogue, and an openness to change that went beyond the walls of Saint Peter's Basilica where the bishops met. As word leaked out about discussions taking place within Saint Peter's, Catholics in many parts of the world were buzzing about topics related to their religion that they had taken for granted a few years earlier. Lively discussion and anticipation were the order of the day. It was an exciting time to be Catholic.

No one knew where the Holy Spirit would lead the Church. When the bishops voted on a particular statement or called for further debate on a controversial issue, they were never completely certain what all the consequences would be. Realizing that they did not have time to investigate all matters, the bishops designated commissions to study various aspects of Church life and to recommend changes over the coming years. For instance, commissions were formed to update each sacrament's theology and practice. The efforts of these commissions would bring about changes in the rites of the sacraments over the next ten years. For example, the new rite of the Sacrament of Penance, or Reconciliation, emphasized the communal nature and scriptural basis of the sacrament, which were barely noticeable in its previous form. As a result of changes to this sacrament, during the 1970s young Catholics learned about "celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation" while older Catholics talked about "going to confession." In other words, there was a different emphasis accompanying the newer experience of the sacrament compared to the former experience. The same can be said for each of the sacraments, as well as for many other Church practices.

   In his historic book ‘What Happened At Vatican II' (2008) professor John W. O’Malley accurately captures the drama of the council, depicting the colorful characters involved and their clashes with one another. The book also offers a new set of interpretive categories for understanding the council’s dynamics categories that move beyond the tired “progressive” and “conservative”labels. As we approach the fiftieth anniversary (October 11, 2012) of the calling of the council, O’Malley’s work reveals in a new way the spirit of Vatican II. His book is a critical resource for understanding the Catholic Church today, including the pontificate of Benedict XVI.
   Readers may want to take advantage of reading a brief and compact summary below, of the sixteen Vatican II documents which includes the Titles, Theme and Implications for each document. This summary was made available with kind permission from its author Dennis M. Doyle.  As Professor of Religious Studies at Dayton University Professor Doyle specializes in such topics as  'Vatican II', 'Just War doctrine' and 'Sexual Abuse in the Church'. His book The Church Emerging from Vatican II – A Popular Approach to Contemporary Catholicism (rev. 2002) is an excellent resource for those who want to learn more about Vatican II. 

Vatican II docs.
Part 1
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Vatican II docs.
Part 2
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  There is very little doubt among Vatican observers today that beginning with the reign of John Paul II and his successor Benedict XVI both Popes have made serious attempts and efforts to reinterpret the original intent and impact of Vatican II on the ‘People of God’ (laity and clerics as equals) who represent the Catholic Church today. Benedict, in particular, wants to return to a time before Vatican II and likes to express his backward looking reforms as the necessary “hermeneutic of reform and continuity. These strange words simply mean interpreting our understanding of faith over time.

  The Roman Catholic Magisterium (teaching body of the church) believes that Vatican II went too far and therefore wants to retract the proposed documents in a format that looks more like the Roman Catholic church before Vatican II. Using such strange words often will or perhaps expressly confuse the masses. God’s gift of faith is meant as a starting point – it cannot remain static. It implies a responsibility on behalf of the recipient to nurture this gift daily for it to grow and blossom over time. The same applies to church documents. Inspired by the Holy Spirit it must be allowed to grow over time. One cannot remain static or go backwards. The world around us, can only move forwards (isn’t that the dynamic of the Spirit?). Pope John XXIII recognized this fact all too well when he opened the council with the Latin word “aggiornamento’ meaning lets open the windows to a fresh beginning.

   Opponents to developments introduced by Vatican II were present (although a minority) almost from the very beginning of the Council and remain to this very day. Development to the opposition suggested progress. John O’Malley describes it beautifully as follows “Development takes the present as its starting point and looks to the future for even greater fulfillment . Opponents to change or development prefer to use the French term Ressourcement (another strange word). Ressourcement is skeptical of the present because of what is has discovered in the past. Soon competition for supremacy formed two opposing parties. According to O’Malley ‘had the conflict been foretold, few would have wagered that an overwhelming majority or bishops, hovering between 85 and 90 percent would so early on, so consistently, and so insistently side with “the Transalpines” [progressives]. Yet they did. This convergence meant that the council moved in a direction that no one could have predicted’.

   At this point readers may ask ‘why after almost fifty years, are we still finding opposition to the full implementation of Vatican II? In one word the answer is CHANGE. To a certain extend we all resist change. For one thing it forces us out of our comfort zone. For an institution it can mean loss of power, control and esteem. At risk is the question of equality when the council affirmed that obedience to one’s own conscience was to be everyone’s moral and ethical obligation. Church teaching could now be disobeyed provided it was done so in prayer and consultation with established doctrine. Compare this to Benedict’s recent warning that equates ‘dissent’ from Church teachings as a direct disobedience to God. The fathers of Vatican II thought otherwise:

“Deep within their consciences men and women discover a law that they have not laid upon themselves but which they must obey. Its voice, ever calling them to love and to do what is good and to avoid what is evil, tells them inwardly at the right moment: do this, shun that. For they have in their hearts a law inscribed by God. Their dignity lies in observing this law, and by it they will be judged . . . By conscience that law is made known in a wonderful that is fulfilled in love for God and for one's neighbour. Through loyalty to conscience Christians are joined to others in the search for truth and for the right solution to so many moral problems that arise both in the lives of individuals and in social relationships”. - Pastoral Constitution on the Modern World

Still another threat to the institution was the affirmation regarding Religious Liberty which reads:

 The dignity of the human person is a concern of which people of our time are becoming increasingly more aware. In growing numbers people demand that they should enjoy the use of their own responsi­ble judgment and freedom and decide on their actions on grounds of duty and conscience, without external pressure or coercion. They also urge that bounds be set to government by law, so that the limits of reasonable freedom should not be too tightly drawn for persons or for social groups. This demand in human society for freedom is chiefly concerned with the values of the human spirit, above all with the free and public practice of religion. - On Religious Liberty, Dignitatis Humanae

Even though the Vatican and some bishops insist that ‘religious freedom’ is being eroded through the influence of secularism they have never enjoyed greater freedom especially to express their opinion worldwide. There is little doubt that this opposition is fueled by a desire to return to the glory days of clericalism and imperialism of the Church. There are many other issues that continue to be debated between those who want to return to a more comfortable and recognizable time and those that want and need to experience a more inclusive and ecumenical community.

No doubt the Roman hierarchy continues to experience all of its self-inflicted wounds, from the hiding of the sexual abuse scandal,  its declining membership, to its failure to adopt the principles of Vatican II. These obvious failures cannot be blamed on the news media, secularist, the rise of atheism or a growing list of other things. The Roman Catholic Institution has simply failed to meet the people they were called to serve and are ignoring those who have left the church, while embracing the once excommunicated ultra orthodox community of St. Pius X, as well a few disenchanted Anglicans who fear homosexual clergy. All this is being done in favour of maintaining outdated orthodoxy and a position of power and control.


  It is no secret that the Vatican today is in the hands of Traditionalist better known perhaps as the Roman Curia which of course includes Benedict XVI. Catholics should ask ‘how is it that a minority now rules the roost’? The answer again is quite simple. John Paul II a charismatic leader and actor understood what it meant to hold and gain power. He had witnessed the harsh and deadly  power structure that successfully ruled Eastern Europe and Russia for nearly seventy years, including his beloved Poland. If he was defeat the 'enemy' he realized that he needed an equal or even stronger power structure in his church. Together with Cardinal Ratzinger the Roman Catholic church build an empire that would eventually help to overthrow its most feared enemy* since the formation in 1917 by Vladimir Lenin called communism.


To build such a powerful church, ironically based on a very worldly model, the church decided to consolidate and centralize its operation in the following calculated manner:


  • Pope John Paul II expanded The College of Cardinals role by calling on  them – and not the Synod of Bishops –for advice and counsel on certain key issues, like church finances and the child abuse crisis. More importantly it is this group that holds the exclusive and political right to elect the next pope. This move virtually eliminated the need for collegiality. Collegiality, introduced by Vatican II was intended to bring together the way in which the Pope and bishops form a body of ministers to make decisions to lead and guide the one billion Catholics of the world.


  • Pope Benedict XVI refused to recognize that it is the laity, the most numerous body of the church and rightfully recognized by Vatican II as the ‘People of God’ that have an equal role to play in the spiritual and political direction of the church. In that sense the Catholic hierarchy including The College of Cardinals therefore usurps the right of the laity to take part in the church’s future.


Today the Roman Curia remains in total denial as it tries to hide behind its ongoing failures by diverting our attention to matters such as homosexuality, abortion, masturbation, in-vitro fertilization, or the new enemies. These pelvic issues have long since been resolved by most informed Catholics and actually remind us that thus far the Church remains silent on the systemic and endemic issues that led to the sexual abuse crisis in the first place. As for the future of Vatican II do not be misled into thinking that it has failed or that it can be ignored. The power and energy it released is greater than the documents it produced and is therefore still among us. We only have to be ready for change.

* Note:  
The Roman Catholic church’s obsessive fight against the spread of communism from its very beginning may have literally obscured their sight of an even greater enemy -the  rise of fascism. In fact, Pius IX “supported any policy or any man who would oppose and fight Soviet Russia”.  Perhaps as a result of this ‘blindness’ Pius IX and Hitler forged a false alliance in 1933 in the form of a binding concordant (still in effect today) giving the Nazi party political control over the Catholic Church. At the same time it possibly gave rise to several controversial but known Catholic Nazi sympathizers or collaborators such as the founder of Opus Dei,  St. Josemaría Escrivá, and Croatia’s  Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac. During October 3, 1998 Pope John Paul II took steps to beatify Stepinac by declaring that the cardinal had indeed been martyred.  Four years later, also during the month of October, Escrivá was canonized by Pope John Paul II. During 2011 Benedict stopped to pray at the tomb of this controversial figure.  Misplaced Nazi sympathies may also have been responsible for the secret establishment known as the ‘Rat Line’ through which several high placed members of the  Catholic clergy became active collaborators, as early as December 1944,  to aid the escape of wanted Nazi war criminals to several neutral countries. We will possibly never know where Pius XII sympathies laid during these difficult times.  Without that knowledge efforts to cannonize Pius XII will simply remain contraversial. 
More importantly is it not time we learned from our mistakes or sins rather than keeping them hidden?

For the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity - Proverbs 24-16 


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