Second Vatican Council by Lothar Wolleh 001Last Thursday was the 50th anniversary of II Vatican, the council that changed how the Catholic Church related both to its own laity and the rest of the world. This Council opened with a lot of pomp and circumstance; its deliberations were thorough, taking a few years to complete; and in the end a lot of things about Catholicism changed utterly. But what, really, has been changed within the Church? The Religion News Service (via HartfordFAVS) reports on the Council’s anniversary and its results (WebCite cached article):

Fifty years ago on Thursday (Oct. 11), hundreds of elaborately robed leaders strode into St. Peter’s Basilica in a massive display of solemn ecclesiastical pomp. It signaled the start of a historic three-year assembly that would change the way members of the world’s largest Christian denomination viewed themselves, their church and the rest of the world.

It was the first day of the Second Vatican Council, more popularly known as Vatican II, which was designed to assess the church’s role in a rapidly changing world. …

As a result of Vatican II, priests started celebrating Mass in the language of the countries in which they lived, and they faced the congregation, not only to be heard and seen but also to signal to worshippers that they were being included because they were a vital component of the service.

The Second Vatican Council made some other visible changes, including how Catholics related to other Christian denominations and with Judaism. It meant that, for example, Catholics now could attend weddings and funerals of friends and family which happened to be held in other churches. And it led to some other changes, such as many orders of nuns allowing their members to go without their traditional habits. Ultimately, II Vatican meant that the R.C. Church became more generally “open” to the rest of the world, even if no doctrinal changes were made.

But really, how far did that effort go? How truly “open” did the Church become, now that 47 years have passed since the Council completed its work? Unfortunately the answer to that question is a resounding “Not nearly enough.” Multiple investigations — in multiple locations — into the worldwide Catholic clerical child-abuse scandal over the last decade or so revealed the Church’s princes worked diligently to maintain the secrecy of their operations, going so far as to willingly allow children to be preyed upon in order not to let outsiders know what was going on. Dioceses and the Vatican itself have actively resisted every effort to hold them accountable for their behavior. And when they’re faced with incontrovertible evidence of both the abusers’ crimes and their own complicity in them, the Church repeatedly and reflexively blames everyone but itself and its own personnel for the abuse (the abusers themselves were innocent victims of the Forces of Darkness or of the children themselves, you see).

One consequence of II Vatican is that it caused something of a schism within Catholicism. A number of Catholics — including some of the bishops — viewed the Council’s work horrific and detrimental. They consider Pius XII — predecessor of John XXIII who convened II Vatican — to have been the last legitimate Pope. They count every Pope after Pius … and by extension everything the Vatican has done since his time … to be invalid. Granted these sedevacantist groups are in the minority and they don’t all agree with each other aside from their dissatisfaction with the Second Vatican reforms. But they persist nevertheless, in spite of excommunications and other sanctions the Church has brought to bear against them.

What’s ironic, though, is that over his reign, the current Pope has been working to gather these sedevacantist groups back into the Catholic fold. One of the ways he’s done that is to steer Catholicism back toward the way it had operated prior to II Vatican. For instance, he’s made the (Latin) Tridentine Mass a valid option for celebrants once again (cached).* This effort has worked; for instance, as I’ve blogged already, the Society of St Pius X has agreed to rejoin its mother Church. This is in spite of the fact that this order remains backward and decidedly medieval in its dogma, and one of its prelates is an unrepentant Holocaust-denier.

Yes, folks, these are the sorts of people the Vatican is catering to. Somehow I don’t see that as the sort of behavior that John XXIII had been thinking about when he convened II Vatican … but then again, what can I possibly know about such sacred considerations?

In the end, not only has II Vatican failed to make the Church fundamentally different — except in some noticeable yet cosmetic ways — it’s currently trying to roll back even those minuscule reforms and is according itself with people who once had vehemently opposed those changes. If things continue this way, in a couple decades one will see nuns back in their habits and Mass being said in Latin once again with the priests’ backs to the congregation. And II Vatican would effectively never have been held at all.

Photo credit: Lothar Wolleh, via Wikimedia Commons.

* Note within this letter Benedict’s customary plaintive whine about media coverage:

News reports and judgments made without sufficient information have created no little confusion.

Everything bad that’s ever said about the R.C. Church, you see, is all the media’s fault. They make up stuff in order to attack the poor, innocent Church. What a fucking crybaby.

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