Vatican II opened the Church to the World
Opening the Church to the World
Published: October 10, 2012

VATICAN II, which has been rightly described as the most important religious event of the 20th century, began 50 years ago today in St. Peter’s Basilica. Over three years, from 1962 to 1965, some 2,800 bishops from 116 countries produced 16 documents that set the Roman Catholic Church’s course for the future. Its proceedings were closely followed in the media, bringing the church into the homes of hundreds of millions of ordinary Catholics on nearly a daily basis.

An increasingly popular view, at least among critics, is that the Second Vatican Council failed to put the church’s house in order. Its most radical inward move was not to democratize the church (though it has often been described that way) but to reinstate an older, more collegial style in church governance. Under the council’s version of this teaching, known as collegiality, the papacy had the final word, but others in the church, from the bishops to the priests and the laity, had a voice, too.

The bishops at Vatican II felt that more than a century of centralization needed to be tempered. But in their euphoria, they failed to reckon sufficiently with the resistance of entrenched bureaucracies — jealous of their authority and fearful of disorder — to change. A more participatory mode of church life took hold for 15 years or so after the council, but from on high it began to be more and more restricted, to the point that central control is now tighter than ever.

This has led to widespread disillusionment and anger. Priests and parishioners feel that their voices are not heard. Some critics argue, not unreasonably, that a more collegial style of governance, or at least of consultation, would have addressed the clerical sex-abuse problem earlier and more effectively. The fact that collegiality now seems little more than an ideal resting quietly in the council’s documents — with little relevance for the real life of the church — stands as a major failure to carry out what the council intended.

What has been less appreciated about Vatican II, though it is as significant as the halting steps on governance, is that it took account of the world outside the church. The church validated for the first time the principle of religious freedom and rejected all forms of civil discrimination based on religious grounds. Thus ended an era of cozy church-state relations that began in the fourth century with Emperor Constantine.

Before the council, Catholics were not only forbidden to pray with those of other faiths but also indoctrinated into a disdain or even contempt for them. (This was, of course, a two-way street.) Now, for the first time, Catholics were encouraged to foster friendly relations with Orthodox and Protestant Christians, as well as Jews and Muslims, and even to pray with them. The council condemned all forms of anti-Semitism and insisted on respect for Judaism and Islam as Abrahamic faiths, like Christianity.

These epochal decisions have been carried out imperfectly, not surprising for an institution as large, lumbering and complex as the Catholic Church. While more recently the Vatican has seemed to drag its feet, the very fact that it is engaged in the process at all is a sign of progress.

The change is also felt at the grass roots. Two years ago, I taught a doctoral seminar on Vatican II to six students: one Catholic, one Jew, two Protestants and two Muslims. I have officiated at weddings alongside rabbis and Methodist pastors. Catholic colleges and universities now as a matter of course have rabbis, imams and Protestant ministers on their campus ministry staff.

What prompted such a turn? The life experiences of Pope John XXIII, which were unlike those of any previous pope, hold important clues. As a young priest, he had served in the Italian Army in World War I; later he spent nearly two decades as a Vatican diplomat in Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece, and was papal nuncio to Paris at the end of World War II. He knew diversity, turmoil, sin and evil firsthand, but he also knew goodness as he found it in people of other faiths and no faith. As far as I know, he never used the word “reconciliation,” but it captures, I believe, what inspired him.

The council, in its decree on the liturgy, also opened the Mass to symbols and traditions of non-Western cultures, permitting the displacement of Latin with vernacular languages. This reconciliatory move has played a part in the remarkable growth of the church in Africa and parts of Asia.

Pope John Paul II took up the work of reconciliation — famously with Jews, and less well known with Muslims. Pope Benedict XVI’s unfortunate comment in a 2006 speech in Regensburg, Germany, shortly after he was elected — in which he quoted a Byzantine emperor who said, “show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached” — received great publicity. But his reconciliatory gestures, like his address at a mosque in Amman, Jordan, in 2009 and his visit to Rome’s synagogue in 2010, have gotten less attention.

The post-Vatican II church was not a different church. But if you take the long view, it seems to me incontestable that the turn was big, even if failures in implementation have made it less big in certain areas than the council intended.

John W. O’Malley, a university professor at Georgetown and a Jesuit priest, is the author of “What Happened at Vatican II” and the forthcoming book “Trent: What Happened at the Council.”

A Jesuit. Why am I not at all surprised that this awful, hand-wringing apologia for heresy was written by a Jesuit? The Order founded by St. Ignatius, those stout defenders of the Catholic faith, the 'storm troopers' of the Church as I once heard them described, have gone completely to the dogs - it's the IRCSS or the FSSP, or even the SSPX we must turn to now. Of course the One Holy Catholic Church disdains other faiths - she knows full well they are paganism. Praying for a pagan or a heretic in any other fashion than to pray to their quick conversion to Mother Church is treason to Mother Church. God defend the Holy Church against heresies within and without.

Please join me, after reading this slop. in praying:

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host -
by the Divine Power of God -
cast into hell, satan and all the evil spirits,
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.

... And the world rushed in the Church.
[sarcasm]Of course.  The problem is that the Church didn't become collegial enough.  How did I fail to recognize this?[/sarcasm]
Thank you, Phil.  It's interesting to read the perspective of these schismatics.
(10-14-2012, 04:58 PM)ImpyTerwilliger Wrote: Thank you, Phil.  It's interesting to read the perspective of these schismatics.

I don't see anything to indicate that Fr. O'Malley is in a state of schism.
(10-14-2012, 05:13 PM)Crusading Philologist Wrote:
(10-14-2012, 04:58 PM)ImpyTerwilliger Wrote: Thank you, Phil.  It's interesting to read the perspective of these schismatics.

I don't see anything to indicate that Fr. O'Malley is in a state of schism.

And that's the problem.
He's probably not in a state at all.  He's probably in the District of Columbia somewhere.
(10-14-2012, 05:23 PM)JuniorCouncilor Wrote: He's probably not in a state at all.  He's probably in the District of Columbia somewhere.

Or living in his own private Idaho.  Get out of that state!

I think it is interesting that trads talk quite a bit about the evils of "subjectivism" while still being pretty subjectivist in many ways. For instance, traditionally we would say that someone is not in communion with the Bishop of Rome, and therefore he is in a state of schism. Or, as St. Thomas puts it:
Quote:schismatics are those who refuse to submit to the Sovereign Pontiff, and to hold communion with those members of the Church who acknowledge his supremacy.

This is an objective standard: one is either in communion with the Pope or one is not. If I am a trad, on the other hand, this is not good enough. Instead, I have to determine if a specific individual agrees with me on a random set of issues. If it is demonstrated to my satisfaction that he does, then all is well. If I decide that he does not, however, then I have to say that he does not agree with me, which means that he does not agree with Eternal Rome, and so he is in a state of schism. This is already much more subjective than the traditional definition.

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