17 February 2007


Vatican II met for the first time in 1962. It set out to address the 'issues', 'concerns', of 1962. It did not ... pray forgive me for stating something so obvious ... get to work on what had been the needs of fifty years before: the year, say, of 1912.

So it did not deal with the Modernist Crisis or the question of the Papal States. Of course not. Vatican II is situated in the aftermath of two major wars which happened after 1912; in the period when Europe was just recovering its self-confidence after the disasters, (plural) holocausts, privations, of the period 1914-1945. It attempted to deal with the agenda of its own period: whatever else could it have done? Had it attempted to revisit and relive the controversies and talking-points, the problems and anguishes, of 1912, it would have been laughed out of court before it even began its deliberations. Both those who welcomed its convocation with exuberant joy, and most of those whose reaction was more guarded, would have combined in 1962 to describe the agenda of 1912 as a time-wasting irrelevance.

I again venture to test your patience with another statement of the obvious: I have pointed out that the world of 1962 was a very different world from that of 1912; that the Church of 1962 was a very different Church from that of 50 years before. And, in 2012, we shall be 50 years later than 1962. And I do not think that the changes, both in the World and in the Church, will have been any less significant in these fifty years than they were in the fifty years between 1912 and 1962.

Quite apart from minor details such as resurgent Islam, the Church now faces, at least in "the West", an aggressively secularised World. And this secularism is much more inimical than the secularism of the century after the French Revolution. That earlier secularism left largely intact certain ethical and social assumptions inherited from the Judaeo-Christian past. It has been well - and often - said that Western Society was living off the moral capital of its past. But the world of 1962 was a world which was on the cusp of passing from this sub-Christian culture to an aggressively Anti-Christian ideology. And Vatican II seems to have been totally unaware of this significant fact. Moreover, we were on the very edge of a precipice in matters of sexual ethics. The Pill was posing its questions; was presenting itself as a modest advance which, without even corrupting the structure of the sexual act in itself, would enable nice and responsible married people to Plan their Families in a convenient way. Of course we cannot blame the Council Fathers for not realising that in fact this was the beginning of an era in which the entire structure of sexual morality, as shared by Christians, adherents of most other major religions, and even the great bulk of the post-Christian citizens of Western Europe and North America, was about to become the victim of a lethal and very successful onslaught. The Fathers did not come to Rome equipped with crystal balls; I am not in the blame-game. But it remains a fact of history that they did not, in any of their teaching or any of their enactments, prepare the Church for the cultural onslaught which it was about to face. The Pill itself was relegated to a footnote explaining that this question was being left to the Holy See. Whether this happened because the Fathers lacked the courage to face the problem, or because the Roman Pontiff did not trust them to do so (I think each of those narratives could be made to stand up and run), the fact is that the Council gave no guidance.

And the Fathers had no inkling of the Paedophile Priest crisis. If one takes "Spirit of Vatican II" in its usual sense of something which, neither mandated nor envisaged by the Council, resulted from the fashions of the conciliar milieu (Benedict XVI has pointed out the plausibility of connecting it with the systems of relative and situational 'non-absolute' ethics taught at the time), then that crisis is very much actually a part of the Spirit of Vatican II.

And, as we know only too well, the next item on the Enemy's agenda was to be the confusion of the whole subject of gender. Questions of 'same-sex unions', and of the 'ordination' of women, are among the most obvious symptoms of this revolution. Again - and it is fact, not blame, that concerns me - the Second Vatican Council did absolutely nothing to prepare and to arm the Church for what lay ahead of her.


Joshua said...

Likewise Lateran V, closing less than a year before the deplorable outbreak of the Reformation, accomplished nothing to ward off that disaster.

Are you calling, therefore, Fr H., for a new Trent - it could hardly be a Vatican III, that "fond thing vainly imagined" by Küng et al. - to combat the errors ruining our age?

Christopher said...

Well said! It is most refreshing to hear the obvious stated with clarity.

rick allen said...

"But it remains a fact of history that they did not, in any of their teaching or any of their enactments, prepare the Church for the cultural onslaught which it was about to face."

Repectfully, I must disagree. Read Chapter 1 of Part 2 of Gaudium et Spes, on Marriage and the Family. It is addressed precisely to what the Church was about to face. I don't know exactly how you can blame the Council Fathers if what they taught was subsequently ignored.

Just because one cries "Vatican II, Vatican II!" doesn't mean that one has read it or tried to understand it. I still remember the day when every Catholic had a dog-eared copy on the shelf somewhere. Now it's constantly appealed to, but almost never cited, as the things it taught are almost a hundred and eighty degrees from the things for which it is invoked. It all strikes me as very strange.

rick allen said...

To be more specific, here is a snippet from the Council's proclamation:

"God Himself is the author of matrimony, endowed as it is with various benefits and purposes. All of these have a very decisive bearing on the continuation of the human race, on the personal development and eternal destiny of the individual members of a family, and on the dignity, stability, peace and prosperity of the family itself and of human society as a whole. By their very nature, the institution of matrimony itself and conjugal love are ordained for the procreation and education of children, and find in them their ultimate crown. Thus a man and a woman, who by their compact of conjugal love "are no longer two, but one flesh" (Matt. 19:ff), render mutual help and service to each other through an intimate union of their persons and of their actions. Through this union they experience the meaning of their oneness and attain to it with growing perfection day by day. As a mutual gift of two persons, this intimate union and the good of the children impose total fidelity on the spouses and argue for an unbreakable oneness between them."

Admittedly, in 1963 that appeared to be a very tepid statement of what almost all Christians believed. Now for many it is the very soul of l'infame that must be crushed.

So I don't know exactly how one say that Vatican II didn't prepare us in making these very simple and direct kinds of statements with the authority of an ecumenical council. Certainly Trent never got into any of these kinds of issues with any specificity, other than the very important affirmations of the permanence of marriage, and its sacramental nature.

Anonymous said...

And dear Father, that fact that you referred to "the confusion of the whole subject of gender" something that the advocates of the word "gender" describe as being a malleable cultural concept, as opposed to "the confusion about sex", sex being an unarguable biological reality, reveals the nature of the problem. I once heard the present Bishop of London say he was ambiguous about his sexuality. I was tempted to holler out that he should unzip his pants, take a look, and that that should resolve his doubts.

Father Anonymous said...

This is marvelous in its simplicity. The very fact makes me nervous, for fear that it is too simple to be quite right. But I'm eager to see where you go next, although I imagine we all have a good idea.

Anonymous said...

"then [the paedophile priests] crisis is very much actually a part of the Spirit of Vatican II"

A conclusion which would fit in well with the observations of the Dublin Report:


"1.18 There is a two thousand year history of Biblical, Papal and Holy See statements showing awareness of clerical child sex abuse. Over the centuries, strong denunciation of clerical child sexual abuse came from Popes, Church councils and other Church sources. A list covering the period 153 AD to 2001 is included in an article by the Promoter of Justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.4 These denunciations are particularly strong on „offences against nature‟ and offences committed with or against juveniles. The 1917 code of canon law decreed deprivation of office and/or benefice, or expulsion from the clerical state for such offences. In the 20th century two separate documents on dealing with child sexual abuse were promulgated by Vatican authorities (see Chapter 4) but little observed in Dublin.

1.25 [...]The Church authorities failed to implement most of their own canon law rules on dealing with clerical child sexual abuse. This was in spite of the fact that a number of them were qualified canon and civil lawyers. As is shown in Chapter 4, canon law appears to have fallen into disuse and disrespect during the mid 20th century. In particular, there was little or no experience of operating the penal (that is, the criminal) provisions of that law. The collapse of respect for the canon law in Archdiocesan circles is covered in some detail in Chapter 4.

Anonymous said...

Vol III, Ch VII of the Ryan Report (into abuse in institutions) gives the number of sexual abuse reports by decade of the witnesses’ discharge (see Table 22):

1914-1959 88 (35%)
1960-69 119 (47%)
1970-79 37 (15%)
1980-89 9 (4%)
Total 253 (100%)

Dr. Adam DeVille said...

"A fact of history that they did not, in any of their teaching or any of their enactments, prepare the Church for the cultural onslaught which it was about to face." I think that is entirely true, and one of the most under-appreciated problems of and in the aftermath of Vatican II. I think this case has been laid out in very cogent detail by Tracey Rowland's 2003 book *Culture and the Thomist Tradition After Vatican II*. But I think part of the problem was diagnosed much earlier by the anthropologist Mary Douglas in her book *Natural Symbols*. Both authors, in sum as I take them, suggest strongly that the reading of 'modern culture' undergirding Vatican II was naive at best, and flat wrong at worst.

Sadie Vacantist said...

"And the Fathers had no inkling of the Paedophile Priest crisis"

This is not strictly speaking true. Fr Gerald Fitzgerald had already launched the Servants of the Paraclete in the late 1940's and was well aware of the issues. You will not surprised to learn that by 1965 he had been brought down in a coup by a combination of his confreres, local ordinary and benefactors. A more therapeutic policy was then adopted which Fitzgerald refused to endorse. He died in relative obscurity in 1969 and the order he foundered (from which he was estranged at the time of his death) has since collapsed under the weight of law suits and scandal.

Woody said...

My own theory, no doubt not terribly well informed, is that Vatican II occurred in the wake of, and must have been influenced by, certain events of the time, including the ongoing settling of scores in the French church after the 1930s and 40s, not to mention the perhaps related matter of Algerie Francaise. John Hellman's books on the 30s suggest that there was also a strong sentiment among many in France as well as Germany and Belgium, anyhow, that the old formulas no longer spoke to people, and that newer ones were need: isn't this the basic thrust of the Council, in a way?

Finally I always come back to something you can find if you Google for it: George Lindbeck, Yale professor and Lutheran observer at the Council, in an interview with George Weigel from the 1990s, saying that he found that it always enabled him to see where a particular French council father was coming from, to know how he viewed the Revolution.

rick allen said...

One of my bad habits is asking, when someone (typically on a more "progressive" site) says something about John Paul II or Benedict XVI "dismantling" Vatican II, whether he or she can point to something, anything, in the hundreds of published, and now-on-line pages,from the actual constitutions, declarations and decress of Vatican II, that either pope dismantled, or even disagreed with. Year after year I have never gotten a credible response to that question.

So I guess it's just an attempt to be fair to ask here as well, among those who consider themselves "conservatives" and "traditionalists," what, from the letter of Vatican II, do you find so offensive, that an ecumenical council of the Church has to be minimized and somehow swept under the rug? I know you don't like what's been called "the Spirit of Vatican II," which has come to mean anything anyone wants it to mean. And I know one can go on and on about hidden influences and perceived misunderstandings of modernity. But what I want to know is, what is it you find so wrong about it?

Of course it responded to the past, and did not entirely anticipate the future. Recent events, such as the shoah, the spread of liberal democracy and Communism, wiedespread divorce, and the rise of biblical fundamentalism and biblical historical criticism, needed addressing directly. Vatican I's declaration on the authority of the bishop of Rome, explicitly ratified and restated in Vatican II, raised futher questions about the Church's own constitition, and were answered quite fully. So I don't see that it was quite as inconsequential or unnecessary as some would imagine. Issues like antisemitism and secular and anticlerical governments were not exactly non-issues.

And of course it enabled some currents that might have best not been pursued. So what? One might as well complain that the homoousia of Nicea I enabled monophysitism.

What is so monstrous about Vatican II, I wonder, that causes both a Lefevre and Kung to dissent from it--and bring along so many with them? Can anyone give, not some general impression, but chapter and verse?

Sadie Vacantist said...

The 2 key questions from the Council are:

1) Why was it dominated by a cabal of franco-german theologians?

2) Why was there such inertia from the Irish empire (especially from within its American branch)?

The Americans, in particular, were in a position to block this franco-german project but manifestly failed to do so.

In other words, it's not just a question of what happened at the Council but also a question of what failed to happen?

It's baffling that we tend to see "1965" in terms of our own era rather than the post-War era to which it more naturally belongs. Perhaps TV has done this to us.

There is not enough academic research into the significance of "1965" in general and America's 3rd most important president of the 20th century, Lyndon Baines Johnson in particular. Especially given his triumph over the Republican Barry Goldwater the year before (it's not all about "us", don't you know?).

1965 would prove to be a watershed year for the West and we need to start growing up and recognise that the Council fathers blew it as our own Fr "H" is hinting at.

Shane said...

Posted by shane/lxoa:

Sadie, funny that you should say that because I'm currently reading an article written by the late Canon Gerry McGarry from 1957 that discusses that. The following is an extract:

"[...] During 1954 Professor Auber published in La Revue Nouvelle a number of articles on current trends in theological studies which were later published by Casterman under the title "La théologie catholique au milieu du XXe siécle." In this article the author surveys the life of the Church during the ten years since the end of World War II.

[...]"The Set-backs and Hopes of the Church in the Period 1944-1954" is the title of the article.

[...]Abbé Godin published his famous France, pays de mission? in 1944 and its appearance came as a profound shock. "The atmosphere of the years following the war was one of conquering and dynamic hope.....In Easter 1946 L'Union des Oeuvres held at Besancon in a spirit of joyous ardour a congress of the theme 'The Parish, a Christian and Missionary Community' and one of the bishops confided to the editor of Études: 'We are living at the dawn of a great revolution.' Many young priests, discouraged by the apparent uselessness of their efforts thrilled to the news of the setting up of the Mission de Paris and the Mission de France and followed with excitement the beginnings of the priest worker experiment."

[...] Professor Auber concludes his article by noting the aspects of the decade 1944-1954 in which the church seemed to have made unmistakable progress. These are the growth of the biblical movement particularly in Germany and France; the progress of the liturgical movement, helped particularly by the encyclical Mediator Dei in 1947; the general renewal of pastoral methods; the growth of the employment of sociological techniques as an aid in pastoral work; the spread of the ecumenical spirit; and the growth of the lay apostolate in the Church. The author makes a point about the growing emphasis on the spiritual in the lay apostolate, which is such a feature of the decade that has passed.

[...] M. Auber concludes his survey in these words:

What is unquestionably the great thing about all the work of thought and action of the past ten years is that in a whole series of departments of the Church's life we have become aware of problems that were latent for years, perhaps for generations. With all the enthusaism of youth attempts have been urgently made to deal with these problems discovered after so many years; and, as was to be expected, the event proved the undertaking to be more delicate, more difficult and more slow than was at first anticipated. But the problems are uncovered for the future and even though the solutions attempted appear to have been premature, there has been no withdrawing from the resolve to find a solution. That will be the work of the years to come and it is a work begun under good conditions for in spite of the manifest fears of timorous spirits, a courageous Pope has not hesitated to take initiatives one would have shrunk from before now and to encourage by his supreme authority solutions which he considered advisable."( Pastoral Briefs, J.G. McGarry, The Furrow, Vol. 8, No. 3, (March, 1957), pp. 186-190.

Sadie Vacantist said...


"We are living at the dawn of a great revolution. Many young priests, discouraged by the apparent uselessness of their efforts thrilled to the news of the setting up of the Mission de Paris and the Mission de France and followed with excitement the beginnings of the priest worker experiment."

Note the “Many young priests, discouraged by the apparent uselessness of their efforts”. This was simply not the experience within the Irish empire where Fulton Sheen was going head to head with Milton Berle in the ratings on American TV and winning. This victory was not unique to the USA. Throughout the old Commonwealth (including Britain itself), the Church was experiencing unprecedented growth. The Church I worship in was built by "Sheen" generation. The local schools named after the bishops from the same era.

One is entitled to ask the question which Heenan posed in his autobiography of the papacy of Paul VI, “What went wrong?”

TheOldCrusader said...

WRT your comment about the Americans not blocking the Franco-German cabal:

A priest of my acquaintance, whose learning I have reason to respect, has told me that a number of the American council fathers were too ignorant of the Latin language to effectively participate at certain key times.

I don't know if it is true, but it would be interesting if true.

Figulus said...

Rick Allen,

Perhaps you can quote from Fr Hunwicke a line, any line, that trashes or blames the council for anything?

rick allen said...

"Vatican II, like so many of its predecessor councils, is obsolete"

"...they did not, in any of their teaching or any of their enactments, prepare the Church for the cultural onslaught which it was about to face."

"Obsolete"? "In any of their teaching"? Was Vatican II not the first ecumenical council to proclaim abortion an "abominable crime"? Did it not teach the centralitiy of openness to procreation in marriage? These are but two examples of an apparent willingness to throw the baby out with the bathwater.