Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I sometimes wonder if the younger restorationists really understand the sea change in Catholic thinking these pictures actually represent.

My daughter and I were having a discussion awhile back about the era in which Vatican II came on the scene. We weren't discussing the ubiquitous sixties so much as we were the state of Catholicism. I tried to paint her a picture that the Catholic world of the early sixties was not the secular world of the early sixties. It was still the same Catholic world that existed in twenties with more money and more education, but unlike it's secular counterpart, it was only beginning to come to grips with what a predominately Catholic Europe had wrought in two successive world wars.

I found it difficult to explain to her that in many respects Catholicism was out of sync with Western culture in some pretty fundamental ways. As far as Church participation, yes, it was much higher than now, but it was more a case of the patient being in a coma than actually living. The down trend in participation was already occurring in Europe, especially amongst males and most especially amongst middle class males. I told her the thing I most remember is the clergy themselves seemed the most somnambulent, going through the motions without much enthusiasm. I also said that the biggest change in the Church, directly during and after the council, for me anyway, was the enthusiasm of the younger clergy and the change that wrought in the relationship between them and the laity.

Today I came across a personal reflection written by Tom McMahon that really captures what I was trying to tell my daughter. Tom is a married priest in his early eighties who is a frequent contributor to Catholica Australia. The following is an excerpt of Tom's reflection:

My Ford stationwagon was weekly jammed during winter months with clerical peers on one day ski trips of 450 miles to and from Squaw Valley. We finally made time out rules, time for breviary and eating without serious talk. I had spent the first seven years of priesthood in pathological assignments, where alcoholism, lack of concern for people, and clerical egotism were a way of clerical life. Basically all I did before 1962 was say Mass, perform sacraments, and take census, with a teen club to liven up a church that was boring and dead. I was very much alone, except for my young priest friends, stationed with problemed older priests wondering how to interest people in the matters of God. I look back now and see myself on the brink of depression and despair. I was beginning to feel trapped in a no win—all lose situation. Vatican Two was my salvation as a human being.

Pope John the 23rd did not attend the first session, offering a clear signal to the gathered bishops that the Council was theirs, not a one pope show. John had summoned bishops from all over the world, those who were rich and those who were poor. John the 23rd saw to it that third world bishops had airline tickets and proper clothing. John had called for the Council only a short two years before the first session in 1962. Conservatives gathered up the left over documents of Vatican One, aka the Pope's Council, wherein Pius the Ninth had himself declared infallible. The powerful top dog pecking order of the Roman hierarchy gathered in Rome for a quick restatement of Episcopal power. They were summarily rebuffed. Little did they realize the weighty theologians, Rahner, Congar, Schillibeeckx, Suenens, Haring, etc., etc., who knew the mind of John the 23rd and had prepared a whole new agenda. The first session lasted a few weeks and the bishops were sent packing, sent home to study and to choose a periti, aka a skilled theologian. This Council would examine theologies, history, and the social role of the church in society. When they returned in 1963 a whole new future was outlined for the Roman institution. We were on our way to being more than "Mass priests". The church had outgrown Trent and there was vivid memory of World Wars One and Two, incubated in the old Holy Roman Empire. A blue print was in place with great skeletal reforms that would ideally reach into the lives of the world's people. The future rebuilding of the work of the Roman Catholic Church was on its transitional way and the laity was invited to partner with the clergy. The process would take time! And there was opposition.

If one reads carefully the 16 documents of Vatican Two one will find only positive statements, encouragements, hopeful possibilities, and reinforcement for living the way of Jesus. Nowhere is there to be found a condemnation, nor an excommunication, no threats nor violence. An old European version of religion literally began to die at Vatican Two. The bishops of Vatican Two, perhaps unwillingly for many, signed the death warrant of a medieval church. Hope pervades all documents, a positive restatement of the mind of the historical Gospel Jesus. Today psychologically it would be called cognitive therapy. The documents are evolutionary blue prints that needed to be fleshed out by humans. (Tom is dead on with this analysis. What Vatican II did is change the way we thought about being Catholics and how Jesus fit in the picture. We were moving from thinking about ourselves as Roman Catholics to thinking about ourselves as Jesus followers in the Catholic tradition.)

Back home priests were summoned to study sessions; education was underway and the priest would say Mass in the native language, the presider (a new term) facing the people and Mass was becoming a communitarian experience. The presider was to offer a homily, a personal reflections on the Gospel way of life ... the spiritual life of the priest was talked about as crucial to the efficacy of the sacraments, they now were seen as living experiences and non-automatic rituals. The laity was called The People of God — we shall address the Document on the LAITY later in this series. We formed priests' senates and parish councils and a newness began to cover the old void [Genesis Ch1, vs1].

The reaction begins to emerge...

Yet out of nowhere, silently and viciously the older clergy began to react. Their power positions were under attack and they did not like the people having a voice. Some said John the 23rd had been captured by the Russians and taken to Moscow for a lobotomy and the devil had taken over the Roman Institution. There was shit aplenty hitting the curial and clerical fans.........

......At the time the theology was prevalent that a legitimate Ecumenical Council was higher authority than a reigning pope; in time John Paul the 2nd would nullify this age old theology and return sole power and authority to the pope of Rome and the Curia. The old church and the new church was on a head-on collision course.

Arguments broke out publicly at clerical meetings. Elder priests saw God as being trashed and the church being made a fool of … meat ok on Friday and Mass attendance off and all due to those renegade priests and their stupid Vatican Two teachings, which the old clergy had never read or understood. People over the years became confused, splitting in their want for the good old days while a gray-haired membership held tightly to the old way. Massive numbers began to leave the institution to seek the way of Jesus. Bishops were unable to comprehend the turmoil. in America the bishops became obsessed with pelvic problems, becoming outspoken experts in the field of human sexuality while their clergy secretly sabotaged morale and reputation.

The post-WW2 generations have no idea how vast and deep are the John the 23rd changes that are now permanent fixtures. They are changes of attitude much more than mere change of liturgical practices. A cleric ordained in 1980 has no idea of the value of Vatican Two and their position has become one of the blind leading the blind. There is no trustworthy leadership in the American Catholic Church. Today an adult convert to Catholicism has no idea of how the SPIRIT changed the face of the Roman Church. Thomas Arthur Connelly is dead and Raymond Hunthausen bravely lead the people in protest of the nuclear train that dangerously crossed the United States, a move that warranted then President Ronald Regan to ask Rome to dismiss the Dutchman — old Roman church uniting with corrupt government to beat down a Jesus' peace movement. There is still opposition to reform, coming from the highest places in the Roman system. Yet Jesus is at work, patiently and calming, one person at a time, preaching the Beatitudes and his Father's way of peaceful renewal.


One of the ironic things about the JPII generation is their apparent lack of understanding that in that pre Vatican II Church they so espouse, they would not be allowed to open their mouths. They would find that most schools of theology were limited to clerics or seminarians and that even if they did somehow manage to get a degree in theology, no one would listen to them anyway, and most certainly not their fellow laity. The really sad part of all this is in that previous Church they could have written glowing papers agreeing with every jot and tittle coming from the Papacy and Vatican curia and not one person would have noticed, much less cared. Laity did not count except on expense ledgers.

Sometimes I ask myself if I'm really angry about the restorationist movement or just plain sad. When push comes to shove, I think I'm terribly concerned that the real target of the restorationist movement is not revamping the liturgy or re securing clerical power or even fighting secular relativism. The real target is the incredible change in thinking, in conceptualization that Vatican II actually wrought. All of the rest that happened was secondary to this change in thinking about the laity, the clergy, the world, and the relationships amongst all the people of God and the Church in the world.

A lot of people, self included, sometimes reference this historic change in thinking about these relationships strictly in terms of power. In some respects the Vatican itself has lent credibility to framing the discussion in power terms. But it wasn't just exclusively about power vis a vis Church authority, it was about redefining the boundaries concerning all relationships with in and with out the Church. Vatican II changed the language we use to think about all of this, and from there, the way we conceptualize and then act on all of these relationships. All of the other changes flowed from this core change in the language used to conceptualize the Church.

The restorationist movement is reworking all the changes piece by piece, but the end goal is to restore the prior thinking and the relational boundaries that thinking supports. Ultimately this will be a losing strategy. Once today's proponents of the restorationist movement realise the price for success is their virtual insignificance as meaningful players, they'll be hitting the streets with the very people they now wish would take the exit door. What they don't yet see, is the Church they want back so badly had neither a place nor a desire for lay input--unless it came with a great deal of money. It's that church they are really restoring and that is the real shame.


  1. I do think the question is about authority.

    I remember seeing a film of Merton's last speech in Bangkok. He clearly stated, "From now on, everyone has to stand on his own two feet".

    In other words, think for yourself, seek on your own, risk everything for the Kingdom.

    The young "restorationists' are afraid of doing exactly that.

    They wish, devoutly, to be told what to think and what to do.

  2. My parents are in their mid 80's. When they went to primary school only about a third of the class continued on to high school. In the 1930's times were tough. Many children entered the workforce as soon as possible to help out with their family finances. It was possible, in North America, to begin a career without education but to earn a decent living. (One of my grandfathers started working in a bank at age 13 and eventually became head of their foreign exchange division in NYC.) A woman's place was in the home. The local priest probably knew more about religion than anyone else around.

    High school education was all one needed for workplace success in the next two decades. Post WW2 saw more opportunities for women but not as much progress for members of minority groups. America was at the height of its empire with unparalleled military, economic and scientific success. When my parents attended university in the early to mid 1950's they were truly part of an elite group for only about 3% of the population were college graduates. I admit my father's side were somewhat anti-clerical because they were generally better educated than the clerics.

    The two world wars did reshape Europe and the rest of the world too. Pre-Vatican 2 I remember the "civil defense" siren being sounded on the first Monday of every month. They'd changed the name from "air-raid" drill by 1960, but continued to have us prepare for the possibility of the Cold War turning hot. (I lived in a relatively remote town in Northern Ontario. We really wouldn't have been much of a Soviet target but we probably were on the flight path of a polar-route Soviet ICBM or bomber group.) We children damn well did what we were told because we felt we might be nuclear toast if we didn't. It didn't matter to me as an altar boy in that era because even if I didn't know what the Latin meant I knew to do what I was told.

    What the restorationists don't understand is that there was a different type of explosion that preceded the social changes that followed. My g-g-generation was about to become the most educated generation in the history of the world. About 1/3 of us would complete college. For the early part of the baby-boom it wasn't a requirement for success. But as a mid-boomer it was absolutely necessary to become qualified for workplace success. I don't have to say much about technological change do I? But education opened up a new world, created a new world. It wasn't just men who were attending college in unprecedented numbers, women were too. Civil rights advocacy in the mid-60's eventually led to more opportunities for those under-represented in colleges, trades, business and professions. This was the nature of the times.

    Authority was challenged everywhere, without exception. The more an organization depended on top-down authority the more it had to bend or break because the world had changed.

    Sure traditionalists lament the decline of Latin, the Classics, and the "Canon". I'm not talking about the RC Church either, conservatives clung to their Dead White (European) Males ever more tightly at universities.

    Here's a little blast from the past: "Duck and Cover"

    The traditionalist, orthodox, conservative Catholics seem to be preparing for that atomic bomb they hope never comes because all they've got in to defend themselves is Duck, Cover, and Hold On!

    I'll rephrase that as we did at Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary School: "Put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye."


    The word verification is the spookiest of all, given the topic: faust

    Faust means lucky. It also is best known for the deal with the devil made by Dr. Faustus, similar to Eve's deal, for knowledge and power!

  3. I think we need a progressive Vatican III, who's with me?

  4. Anon:

    The date is with you. It's Bastille Day! (right under your question!)

  5. Pre-Vatican II Memories:

    Everything in Latin. Seemed to me they did they epistle and gospel in Latin too. Till one early change gave us the readings (a second time) in English and some responses as well.

    Lots of people did not go to communion. The idea of nearly everyone participating in communion came later. Not sure if before Vatican II or not.

    Only Latin was sung and then only for a "high mass". Daily masses had virtually no attendance and were nearly all Requiem Masses for the Dead.

    For children in addition to Sunday Mass having nothing to hold your attention, the parochial school added what seemed like endless stations of the cross, benedictions, rosaries, confessions AND the highlight of any year - crowning the Virgin in May - the sole job a girl could be chosen to do!

    Seems to me that "devotions" took precedence over Mass in religious training of children. Except for First Friday... but that was a devotion too.

    I have fond memories of "visiting" an empty church as a child - the only time when nothing felt forced and God seemed real.

    Maybe what galls the conservatives is that indeed Vatican II reformers "knew" ahead of time what the reforms would be. Indeed they did! As we, in 1963, as college freshman had a Liturgist from Catholic U, who utilized for us all the changes BEFORE they were approved! Because "they were coming". That, to the conservatives, must have seemed like a conspiracy. To us, they were pure liberation!

    Think also of Kennedy - the fears that if he were elected, the pope would control the US. That, right there, tells you the degree of authoritarian control via the Vatican. But think of our current Supreme Court. Mainly Catholic. At least one third Opus. And no one even questioned that as it happened! Which is even more scary!

    Think of Scripture. Pre VII Catholics were not encouraged to read the bible - because you might make mistakes! The church was your guide, to make sure you "knew the truth" as guided by the Vatican. How that was to happen is not clear, since the readings were in Latin and the sermons were about money. After Vatican II scripture opened up - as an area of study, as something lay people could read and study. However, I would also say that in their zeal to show how culture had influenced the Old Testament (and redactions, etc), it left an emptiness in reading particularly the Old Testament with a sense of immediacy or personal relevance. This latter has been rectified hugely, in my view, but may have been harder on Catholics, who hadn't read the bible the much before then or been exposed to scriptural sermons - as had Protestants.

    Many, many differences! Including people feeling freer to leave the church - if it wasn't speaking to them or taking them into consideration.

  6. Honest to God!

    O/T, from the bbc:

    There is a "coherent and significant connection" between radiation from Vatican Radio aerials and childhood cancer, researchers have said.

  7. TheraP I was ever so shocked to see this quote in the linked article:

    "The Vatican said it was astonished and would present contrary views to a court in Rome."

    Why is it when there is direct evidence that there is harm to children the Church's response is 'astonishment' and court battles.

  8. I agree, Colleen! That was my first thought: These folks are doing it again!!!

  9. "On Friday, the Vatican voiced "astonishment" at how the raids have been carried out..."

    reaction to Belgian police raids investigating alleged child sex abuse

    I don't know how anything still causes these guys "astonishment" these days...but that's reaction #1 in the playbook I guess...and they will keep running the same play as long as they think it is effective.

  10. Colleen-

    (repeating myself, but to a god end)

    Vatican II was the only coherent response John XXIII could have made to the 3rd Secret of Fatima. To attempt to steer the Church closer to what Jesus had in mind. And to 'save what he could' given the dire content of the message.

    What the Vatican released in 2000 was NOT the authentic secret. This has nothing to do with any conspiracy site & everything to do with coherence. The point was that the Vatican was being given a last chance to reform. Mary's message are NOT about butterflies & rainbows; they are Apocalytic in nature. Warning to the Vatican.

    ...that the world is going to hell due to THEIR failings. Not because Pepe the goatherder missed mass on Sunday!

    So V2 was the 'last chance saloon' for the Vatican to finally get it right.

    Of course the Opus Dei under Escriva was VERY opposed to V2.Along with their collaborators they used their power to subvert the council. So that it never quite attainted its goal. And that the implementation would be confusing in the extreme.

    Restorationists are singing the Opus Dei song, knowingly or not.

    Anon Y. Mouse