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Don’t believe all the spin about Vatican II

2012 October 17

Much of the recent debate on the Second Vatican Council has centred on whether it constituted a break or a continuation in the 2,000 year tradition of the Roman Catholic Church. Conservatives have spoke of a “hermeneutic of continuity”. Those who reject that view have been characterised as advocates of a “hermeneutic of rupture”. But neither of these are very helpful

It is easy to see how this polarisation has arisen. The bishops who assembled in Rome in 1962 tossed aside documents which Curia bureaucrats had prepared. In three years of meetings they produced over a dozen seminal documents which hurled the church into the 20th Century. A bold manifesto for modernisation and renewal called for a new engagement between the church and other faiths, the secular world, and between Pope and bishops, clergy and laity, men and women, rich and poor.

Those who, like Hans Küng, feel those pledges have been comprehensively broken, have called for the 50th anniversary of the Council to be marked by an act of penance or even a funeral service. Those of an ultra-traditionalist mindset – who feel that the world has been allowed to infect the church with a silent apostacy – rejoice at the turning of the tide which is installing a new generation of Conservative bishops, priests concerned with outward piety and parish councils suppressed by clerics reverting to dictatorial mode.

Tides go in and out in church affairs. But though many in the pews feel they have, like followers of the Grand Old Duke of York, been marched pointlessly up and down the hill, the Church has been moved in a trajectory which is probably irreversible.

Consider the following. Religious freedom, described by a previous pontiff as an “absurd and erroneous proposition”, has been endorsed. The ban on Catholics participating in the funerals and weddings of other denominations has gone. So have centuries of Christian teaching which branded the Jews as an accursed race which laid the ground for the Holocaust. The Church has turned to address all men and women of goodwill, believers or not. Protestant baptism has been recognised. The laity have been given new status, as eucharistic ministers administer communion in the hand under both species. And they have been appointed parish co-ordinators, financial managers, tribunal judges, assessors and more.

For all the anachronistic fiddling with the text of the Mass it remains in the language of ordinary people, with the handful of priests reverting to Latin with their backs to the congregation seen as a quaint eccentrics. Vatican II has brought the Bible to the centre of Roman teaching in a way of which Luther would have approved.  It has redefined the Church as the people of god, a mystery rather than an institution, inseparably bound to other Christian churches. It has replaced a vocabulary of anathema, denunciation, alienation and disdain with one of brotherhood, partnership, dialogue, conscience and collegiality.

The genius is out of the bottle and, in this world of instant global communication between ordinary people, there is no way back from this underlying shift in values. Institutionally the Church may have embarked on a plan to roll back the concept of collegiality, retreating into a form of hierarchical authoritarian clericalism. But the scandal of sex abuse priests, and its lamentable cover-up by the institutional church, has shown up the inherent flaws in the old system.

The psychology of the faithful has shifted. Infantilism and submission have gone. Large majorities of Catholic laity have found a way to live with the cognitive dissonance of dissent, loyalty and love. What has developed is a hermeneutic of reform.

The Church Times

One Response
  1. Albertus permalink
    October 20, 2012

    Parts of the above article on the 2nd Vatican Council are simply not true. The Second Vatican Council had nothing at all to do with introducing Mass celebrated like a stage-show facing the audience, nor with the total remake of the Roman Rite, the exclusion of Latin and Gregorian chant, lay ”Eucharistic ministers”, etcetera. These are all post-conciliar aberrations. As for recognising the validity of baptism administered with water and the trinitarian formula by non-catholic churches and communites, that was always the case: only in the case of protestants, the Catholic Church preferred to baptise converts ”sub conditione”, something which, when in doubt, She still does. One should try to refrain from mixing indiscriminately the actual decisions of the 2nd Vatican Council, and the often derailed de-facto post-conciliar state of liturgical, doctrinal and disciplinary affairs.

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