Nostalgia for a pre-Vatican II Golden Age

In relating to fundamentalist Catholics we need to avoid hostile or heated arguments.


(Particular thanks for these reflections to Father Gerald Arbuckle SM author of Culture, Inculturation, and Theologians: A Postmodern Critique)

Nostalgia for a pre-Vatican II Golden Age, when it is assumed that the Church never changed, is the foundation for Catholic fundamentalism which is becoming quite a problem in contemporary church leadership.

The fact is: the Church and its teachings have often changed. Over the years some church statements have been shown to be wrong and were either repealed or allowed to lapse.

Here are some characteristics of contemporary Roman Catholic fundamentalism:

  • A highly selective approach to what Catholic fundamentalists think pertains to the Church’s teaching: Statements  on incidental issues are obsessively affirmed, but papal or episcopal pronouncements on social justice are ignored or considered matters for debate only.
  • Concern for accidentals, not for the substance of issues, e.g., the  stress on Latin for the liturgy, failing to see that this does not pertain to authentic tradition.
  • The vehemence and intolerance with which they attack co-religionists who are striving to relate the Gospel to the world around them according to Vatican II.
  • Attempts to infiltrate governmental structures of the Church in order to obtain legitimacy for their views and to impose them on the whole Church.
  • An elitist assumption that fundamentalists have a kind of supernatural authority and right to pursue and condemn those who disagree with them, including bishops and theologians.
  • A spirituality in which Jesus Christ is portrayed as an unforgiving and punishing God; the overwhelming compassion and mercy of Christ is overlooked.


In relating to fundamentalist thoughtful and concerned Catholics need to avoid hostile or heated arguments. Membership in fundamentalist groups is not a question of logic, but generally of a sincere, but misguided, search for meaning and belonging. Expressions of anger and vigorous disagreement will only affirm people in the rightness of their belief. 

Our best witness to the truths of our Catholic beliefs will be our inner peace built on faith, charity and concern for justice, especially among the most marginalized.

Peace to All!

John Greenleaf 

3 thoughts on “Our # 1 Problem: Fundamentalism in the Catholic Church

  1. Right on! Religious fundamentalism — which, in the Catholic context usually takes the form of “Traditionalism” — is generally fueled by personal and deeply psychological security needs. Open attack only intensifies the fundamentalist/traditionalist reaction. Although one might appeal to earlier and more authentic traditions as a model for change, as was intended by the Second Vatican Council, particularly when it came to liturgical reform, it still remains a tough sell. But in the end, probably only kindness, patience, and an atmosphere of acceptance can gradually break down the resistance enough for people to feel secure enough to take the real risk of faith.

    R W Kropf, Johannesburg, MI

  2. Just a follow-up comment on fundamentalism and Latin in the liturgy: Almost all of the public information around the new English translation of the 2002 Roman Missal centers on the idea that the primary need was for a more accurate translation from the Latin “editio typica” of the Mass. What we never hear is the fact that significant changes were introduced into the 2002 Latin text itself.

    I have just completed a modest study of several of the Eucharistic prayers and discovered that while some words in the Latin text were changed or dropped, more often the word order was rearranged so as to shift the emphasis to the clause or phrase that was placed at the end of the sentence. In general the shift tends to accentuate elements related to atonement theology.

    These word-order changes can work, more or less, in Latin because it’s an inflected language, but not in English. A literal translation of convoluted Latin sounds much more convoluted in English. So this means that instead of one problem with the new Roman Missal we have several, including 1) a fundamentalist attitude toward the Latin editio typica– we need to remember this is not the “Word of God,” it was purposefully composed by human beings, and (2) the third edition of the Missal shows evidence of theologically-significant changes in the 1975 Latin text.

    This is even before we address the 19th-century upper-class British style of the translation, and the thoroughly confused process of introducing secret changes in the English text, but that’s for another day.

  3. Fundamentalistic reaction set into the Church’s stance and top leadership way back in the early 1980s… it just affected few people at that time, so most did not notice it, until it has mestasticized throughout the Body of Christ by now and drives all before it…

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