Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Worse without the Council?


Gerald Warner has a post calling for a reform and revisiting of the Second Vatican Council , I agree with him. He calls the Council a catastrophe, I think I disagee with him.
My reading of history is that with half the world communist, with the recent defeat of fascism in WWII, with the genocide of the late 19th and 20th centuries, with scientific developments it was necessary.

He says:

Over the past few days, some blinkeredly optimistic souls have been trying - without much real hope - to persuade Catholics to "celebrate" the 50th anniversary of the announcement of the Second Vatican Council. This was the great "renewal", when the Holy Ghost inspired the Church to aggiornamento, or modernisation. What form has that Renewal taken?

In England and Wales in 1964, at the end of the Council, there were 137,673 Catholic baptisms; in 2003 the figure was 56,180. In 1964 there were 45,592 Catholic marriages, in 2003 there were 11,013. Mass attendance has fallen by 40 per cent. In "Holy" Ireland, only 48 per cent of so-called Catholics go to Mass. In France, there were 35,000 priests in 1980; today there are fewer than 19,000. Renewal?

In the United States, in 1965, there were 1,575 priestly ordinations; in 2002 there were 450 - a 350 per cent decline. In 1965 there were 49,000 seminarians, in 2002 just 4,700. Today 15 per cent of US parishes are without priests. Only 25 per cent of America's nominal Catholics attend Mass. Worse still is the erosion of faith among those who ludicrously describe themselves as Catholics. Among US Catholics aged 18-44 (the children of Vatican II) as many as 70 per cent say they believe the Eucharist is merely a "symbolic reminder" of Christ.

To describe this unprecedented collapse of the Church as "renewal" is insane; to attribute it to the operation of the Holy Ghost is blasphemous. The Catholic Church is in the same position as an alcoholic: until it admits to the problem, no cure is possible. The problem is Vatican II.

The normal response by most liberal commentators to these kind of statistics is, "it is sociological trend that affected all churches", well maybe it is, maybe the consequence of Modernism or child abuse etc. etc. but the Council was supposed to be about renewal, evangelisation and mission, something has gone seriously wrong. As a loyal son of the Church and the Council, we have to, at least, answer Mr Warner's accusation, and indeed, as the Council was the most significant event in the Church since the fall of the Papal States it is time to ask what effect it had on the Church's decline: would it have been worse without the Council?

23 comments:

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

Let's have the vision of the council actually applied, then we can talk success or failure...I've read the Vatican II documents and don't see much of it in our daily Liturgies.

Ponte Sisto said...

You have a well-deserved award waiting here.

Adrienne said...

I agree with Joe.

Also as an older person and witness to those years I think the timing was horrendous. Just when the world was changing at warp speed Vat II gave the appearance of pulling the Church out from under us.

But it is all hindsight and we need to work on solutions rather than "what might have been"

Francis said...

Fr. Ray,

The statistics show one aspect of an unpleasant truth: we have had a de facto schism. Huge numbers of Catholics have deserted the Church to embrace what is, in effect, non-churchgoing liberal protestantism. And those who have not lapsed are seriously divided between those who espouse aspects of liberal protestantism and those who do not. There is no getting around this.

The only crumb of comfort is that the Church, although shrunken and in disarray, has not lost its institutional unity, thanks to the action of the Holy Spirit. I often wonder if Vatican II, for all its flawed implementation, may have created a degree of flexibility – a safety valve as it were – that prevented the Church from breaking apart. Maybe it was the mechanism used by the Holy Spirit to prevent a formalized rupture in the Church.

The internal theological stresses and strains were always there – witness Pius X’s clampdown on modernism – and all the external de-spiritualizing pressures of the permissive society would have emerged anyway.

It’s not far-fetched to imagine a Tridentine Catholic Church experiencing open rebellion in the 1980s or 1990s. One can imagine reform-hungry bishops, priests and parishes across North America and Europe using the decline in baptisms, marriages and priestly vocations as grounds to coalesce into a vast left-wing equivalent of the SSPX – unilaterally abandoning Latin, ordaining married men (and possibly women) to the priesthood, engaging in all sorts of ecumenical excesses and openly repudiating Church teaching on sexual matters.

A Vatican Council would then have been essential – rather like the Council of Trent – to deal with heresy and division. So a Second Vatican Council, sooner or later, was probably inevitable.

Sadie Vacantist said...

In my diocese, both clergy and laity are now resigned to continuing decline. I see no renewal despite expensive programs dedicated to the project.

Warner's point about admitting that "I have a problem and need help" is generally valid.

I spoke to one retired priest in the diocese and asked him what is the role of the priest? He responded to "preach the gospel". In the current service for "installing" a new parish priest, emphasis is placed on this very function - it heads all the others. Yet when I open the Oxford dictionary, the word priest is directly linked with one who performs a sacrifice. I made this point to the retired priest. His response? "I don't care what the dictionary says".

My advice, forget Vatican II, acquire some manners, learn how to use a dictionary and then the renewal will start.

David said...

I often wonder if Vatican II, for all its flawed implementation, may have created a degree of flexibility – a safety valve as it were – that prevented the Church from breaking apart. Maybe it was the mechanism used by the Holy Spirit to prevent a formalized rupture in the Church.

The idea that the Council, although disastrous in it's unintended consequences (and we don't need to look hard for evidence of that), was somehow a necessary purgative - or "healing crisis" - which the Church had to go through has been voiced increasingly over the last few years. I think this notion is born of the tension between the real perception of the crisis that broke out in the Church almost immediately after the last session of the Council and the assumption that an ecumenical council must infallibly be a "success". So: "we can see that since Vatican II the Church has been plunged into crisis - but a Council must always be a 'success' - ergo the 'successes' of the Council must be hidden from our perception in some way".

But, as Cardinal Ratzinger said, "not every valid council in the history of the Church has been a fruitful one; in the last analysis many of them have been just a waste of time”. We are so invested in the 'success' of the Council that we refuse to view the lack of visible fruits from the Council as in any way reflecting on the Council itself.

One thing comes out of this idea of the "healing crisis" and that is the assumption that a crisis in the Church does not influence on the salvation of souls. That no matter what confusion and disorder reigns in the Church Militant souls will automatically be saved. But even a short period of reflection will make us realise that this is not so.

That the Holy Spirit would have chosen a greater "degree of flexibility" over the salvation of even one human soul, which is of infinite worth, is unthinkable. There is also an implicit Hegelianism in the idea of this 'mechanism' which at the cost of the loss of many souls leads the Church from a state of 'rigidity' through crisis to 'flexibility'. And it was this same Hegelianism that has wreaked so much damage in the Church.

I.P. said...

It is not a good idea to look at what the Council documents really say rather than either seek to explain them away of impart to them a meaning they do not have. Vatican I resulted in a small schism, so it is not surprising that its successor caused difficulties.

I wonder if the Pope would not have a much more difficult time in negotiating with the Muslim world if he could not appeal to the Decree on Religious Liberty? Asking for freedom in Saudi Arabia would not go down well if it were denied in Catholic sountries.

Nor would real negotiations with Anglicans, such as the TAC, be possible without appeal to the Decree on Ecumenism.

Also the Declaration on Non-Christian Relations is the basis for good relations with Judaism, with its clear statement of what is owed to the old religion, and its clear condemnation of anti-semitism.

No fault lies with the Council for the misfortune of what it actually said on the liturgy being largely ignored and implemented in a defective fashion. It is this that has caused damage. As with the C of E, a new liturgy which alienated the old without attracting the young has led to mass defections. My Catholic son cannot get his six children to go to Mass because of the folksy atmosphere and dreadful psuedopop music. When I visit I go with him and find it a truly penetential exercise.

mafeking said...

Would it have been worse without the Council?

I think the answer to this has to be no. It's difficult to imagine it being worse than it is now. The Church is more or less in disarray.

To me the whole thing was too ambitious, too long and lacked caution. But that's easy to say with hindsight. It looks to me as if everybody got carried away with the intoxicating atmosphere of the 60's when everything seemed possible. Post-war reconsruction and all that. Fifty years later having had a cold bucket of water tipped over our heads eveything looks very different.

For an organisation which that takes a rather dim view of human nature we threw caution to the wind, hoped everybody would behave themselves and got it wrong. Maybe the lesson to be learned is that the 20th/21st century Catholic is no different to previous generations of Catholics and we need to proceed slowly with caution - otherwise we are going to get our fingers burnt.

Delia said...

I wonder what would have happened if the Council had dealt directly with all the issues in 'Humanae Vitae'? Useless speculation, though!

alban said...

There has never been a general council which has not been followed by a period of adjustment or even turmoil; anyone who reads Church history knows this to be the case.

However, as Catholics, we are called to believe that general councils, although convoked by the Pope, are actually the work of the Holy Spirit; therefore, they cannot be disasters. To preach anything else is surely heresy.

Brian said...

Hello all,
This is a great article to begin a discussion. It is already going on here: http://ionacatholic.blogspot.com/
I think there is little doubt that the fruits of Vat II have been small and bitter. As Warner points out with statistics on marriage, baptism etc.
However, it is unclear if there is a causal relationship between the new doctrines espoused at Vat Ii and that decline in faith, and whether the vat II documents were interpreted correctly in practice.

David said...

Alban:
There has never been a general council which has not been followed by a period of adjustment or even turmoil; anyone who reads Church history knows this to be the case.

Whilst that is true in some cases, notably the Council of Nicea, that is from being a general rule. In the case of Nicea which was a dogmatic council the dissensions and heresies which the council was called to combat continued to rage for another two generations until the anathemas were gradually accepted by the universal Church.

As was, and has been repeatedly, stated the Second Vatican Council was a pastoral council. The stated aims of convoking Vatican II was a renewal of fervour and missionary zeal amongst the faithful and an engagement with the modern world (although the meaning of "engagement" in this context was not clearly defined). Remember that prior to the Council there simply did not reign in any way, shape, or form the same kind of chaos in response to which most previous councils were called (which were for the most part called to condemn heresy or heal schism). In retrospect, we can only judge the value of an ecumenical council by its stated aims. The aims of Vatican II have quite clearly not been fulfilled: confusion about the most basic doctrines of faith, the collapse of religious orders, priests seeking laicisation en masse, bishops consistently disobeying directives from Rome.

However, as Catholics, we are called to believe that general councils, although convoked by the Pope, are actually the work of the Holy Spirit; therefore, they cannot be disasters. To preach anything else is surely heresy.

Can you produce references to the relevant documents that state that a negative evaluation of the effects of an ecumenical council constitute heresy? Would you condemn as an heretic the speaker of the following words?

“Not every valid council in the history of the Church has been a fruitful one; in the last analysis many of them have been just a waste of time”

Every Catholic is allowed to make a judicial evaluation of the fruits of an ecumenical council just as Cardinal Ratzinger is (who made the comment above).

This is one of the effects of the confusion after Vatican II - a profound misunderstanding of the role that the Holy Spirit plays in the Church generally and in
ecumenical councils specifically. The Holy Spirit preserves a council from teaching error in faith and morals - it does not guarantee that what is taught will be clearly taight nor does it guarantee that the council will be a success.

This is from the Catholic encylopedia (1910) on "Infallibility":

It must not be mistaken that since the council was attended and called by the Pope that it would automatically be lead by the Holy Ghost or that it automatically is guaranteed to be infallibility of the Ordinary Universal Magisterium since only the definitions and condemnations of an ecumenical council are guaranteed by infallibility and not (necessarily) its pastoral exhortations, the Church does not hold as infallible in a council whatever is outside the solemn teachings.

Other councils in the past have proved to be at best worthless and even damaging. Constantinople II caused tremedous confusion (also as a result of ambiguous statements) and Pope St Gregory the Great advised complaining bishops that as long as they held to the first four ecumenical councils that was entirely acceptable.

So, again, I'd like to see the citations from the relevant documents which state:

However, as Catholics, we are called to believe that general councils, although convoked by the Pope, are actually the work of the Holy Spirit; therefore, they cannot be disasters. To preach anything else is surely heresy.

Or are you just throwing around anathemas without knowing what you are talking about?

P Stane said...

There is more than a whiff of 'Post hoc ergo propter hoc' about the combination of this type of statistic with the effect of V2. There may or may not be causality, I see no real evidence one way or the other. There were all sorts of social changes that have directly affected the tendency to people to attend church, or be ordained. You could make a good case that Sunday football has more to do with poor Church attendance than V2. Society has changed, and I think that the comments suggesting that V2 has helped prevent even bigger ructions may well have merit. In any case, we are where we are, and need to use the many positive expressions that have developed over the last 50 years (and they are many), in continuity with tradition, to build a more solid base for the future. That does mean we need leaders at all levels with their heads up and vison in their hearts.

Sadie Vacantist said...

Intriguing to read the comments and how they place the Council in the context of the 'something in the air' context of '68 and onwards but surely the biggest impact on the Council was WWII. The war was a disaster for the World. In 1938 4 World or super powers met at Munich - all from Europe to discuss their differences. By 1945, and for the first time in the history of the World, there was no longer a single super power left in Europe. More alarmingly, Europe was now surrounded by two new super powers for whom the cradle of civilization was nothing more than a potential theatre for a 3rd conflagration. Indeed the Eastern side of the continent was completely controlled by one of the new super powers, whilst the western half resentfully depended for it's security on the other. The psychological effect of this paradigm shift on European self-esteem has been devastating. Little wonder that Europe's intellectuals attempted suicide in the aftermath of war. Evidently their catholic equivalents did not exclude themselves from the attempt.

David said...

P Stane:

There is more than a whiff of 'Post hoc ergo propter hoc' about the combination of this type of statistic with the effect of V2. There may or may not be causality, I see no real evidence one way or the other. There were all sorts of social changes that have directly affected the tendency to people to attend church, or be ordained. You could make a good case that Sunday football has more to do with poor Church attendance than V2.

One could reasonably suggest that this is an instance of post hoc ergo propter hoc if there was no observable correlation between the symptoms of the current crisis and the changes of emphasis and the novel teachings contained in the documents of Vatican II. For example, it cannot be denied that there is a dearth of both adult conversions and missionary activity on the part of practising Catholics. It is very hard not to agree that this was in great part brought about by Vatican II's enthusiasm for the ecumenical movemenent in documents such as Unitatis Redintegratio which are very hard to reconcile with previous documents of the Magisterium relating to ecumenism such as Satis Cognitum and Mortalium Animos, to name but two. If the need for conversion and entry into the Catholic Church is downplayed then is it so surprising that there are fewer converts and Catholics no longer have missionary zeal? The likelihood that the new enthusiasm for ecumenical dialogue - in marked contrast to previous non-infallible teachings of the Magisterium - and the slump in conversions are not related is very small indeed. In fact, the burden of proof lies overwhelmingly on those who wish to demonstrate that there is no relationship of causation between these two.

Volpius Leonius said...

The council is the cause of the disunity in the Church, its " spirit of mercy" really means anything goes and anyone can be a member.

Well loosening the membership criteria does not make people tend to behave better it makes them behave worse and take membership entirely for granted.

Ottaviani said...

Councils are only really convened with there is already a formal heresy floating around, in the greater part of Christendom and there is a dire need of correction.

The idea of a council being convened because there has to be an "aggiornamento" in the church to bring it up-to-date with the modern world, is a very novel reason. The fact of the matter is that the church was very much healthy in 1958 (although there were problems but then when has there ever been a problem free period for the mystical body of Christ).

It would have been much better if a council was called to combat the underground modernism that was swelling up under Pius XII. That I believe was the original plan, but the pontiff then was too ill to see it through. Unfortunately John XXIII had other plans...

P Stane said...

David

"One could reasonably suggest that this is an instance of post hoc ergo propter hoc if there was no observable correlation between the symptoms of the current crisis and the changes of emphasis and the novel teachings contained in the documents of Vatican II."

Not really, if there were no correlation then it would not be an issue. The possible error is seeing the correlation and assuming a causality, without taking into consideration all the other possible variables that affect the system. V2 was not the only change over the timescale, so all the other causes must be considered. In fact, there have been so many material and societal changes that I belive it is not possible to deconvolute the various causes and effects - too many variables varying to establish what causes what.

For instance, you infer a link between mission/conversion and ecumenism, but there are many examples of modern conversion stories resulting from ecumenical interaction, and arguably it is easier to reach out now to people than ever in the past. The data is unfortunately only anecdotal either way, there is no way (that I know of) to prove it one way or the other. Many Catholic communities in the past had a siege mentality, and there was very little missionary activity - it was more defending the walls!

As a possible other theory, look at the way communities have changed. In the fifties and sixties communities were geographically limited, and there was a lot of conforming behaviour. The neighbours knew if you/the children missed Mass, and would be around to ask why. When I was young a 50 mile journey was a major undertaking. Now it's regarded as daily commuting. Families move further apart, jobs are away from the home, so the 'glue' of parish community has loosened, and if people previously attended church due to peer pressure then, now they feel they don't need to. (I don't claim that this is necessarily a major factor, just that it's an example of another reason that fits the facts, there will be many similar ones). So, to blame all ills on V2 is simplistic, in my opinion.
More importantly, as I said, we are where we are. The value is not to look back, but to look forward. Shake off the dust of the past, take a light pack, and walk into the future with the spirit.

Louise said...

But David,
There are in France and Switzerland communities that never had the reformed liturgy and were virtually untouched by V2, they seem not to have experienced the great losses of the rest of the Church. They still produce priestly and religious vocations.
I am not sure arguement really accounts for the poverty of catechesis either, that seems to spring directly from V2.

Brian said...

Some of the self-delusion about the effect of Vatican II is quite comical. How intelligent people can talk themselves into it amazes me. I got the following off a blog http://ionacatholic.blogspot.com
The anon person is obviously taking the mick as they say - he says so afterwards but repeats the excuses about VatII effect that he heard from others:

"Don't you realise that it was the new revolution towards child-centred education during the late 1960's which caused change in catecetical education - which caused decline in faith of young people.
This of course does not explain fall away in faith of the older generation who had not been through school in 70's and 80's.
Perhaps their change was caused by the landing on the moon in the late 1960's. This caused a revolution in man's understanding on his place in the universe. But it was nothing at all to do with changes brought by Vatican II.
Welcome to the springtime - you just wait for winter."

Child-centred education, man landing on moon, proximity to church building, moon being made of cheese - every excuse but the blindingly obvious.

Michael Clifton said...

Just for the record, after the council a body was set up by the Vatican to oversee any problems people might have with the decrees. However this body was dissolved almost as soon as it was started and this has led to us not having an official solution to the various ambiguities or at least not all of them. For me the biggest trouble is that the new concept of the People of God as the best model to look at the Church should have been placed in the context of the Mystical Body of Christ on which Pope Pius XII had written a fine encyclical only a few years earlier. The best interpretation of trying to understand the priestly kingly and prophetic roles of all the baptised is not the way the lefties interpret it but the spiritual way put forward in the Maryvale document and by Dom David Foster OSB in a recent book. The idea that the laity can "make their views felt" has led to untold trouble for priests.

Francis said...

Fr. Ray,

There may be a way of cross-checking whether Vatican II was the fundamental cause of the Catholic Church's precipitous decline.

We can do a comparison with another European-based church that has valid orders and sacraments but whose liturgy and direction were not suddenly changed by an ecumenical council in the 1960s.

How has the Greek Orthodox Church fared statistically over the past 50 years, I wonder, and how pious and well catechised are 21st Century Greeks?

QED?

James M said...

Joe and I.P. make an essential point: "read the Council documents".

The documents are awesome, as is the Church of every generation.

The idea that the Church is in decline comes from a narrow understanding of the Church. Worldwide the Church embraces more souls than ever in her history! Rejoice!

If in England we have particular problems, remember the Church is being scourged, mocked and suffocated all over the world--and being frail we her members fail in numerous ways (especially regarding the liturgy and our care for the poor)--but God sustains us! With God in the Church, who dares to be afraid?

For an excellent grasp of the Council, check out this talk by Bishop O'Donoghue: http://www.lancasterdiocese.org.uk/admin/Uploads/media/35/Newman%20Talk.pdf