The Second Vatican Council — in various jubilee commemorations – is now the official scapegoat for traditionalist Catholic frustrations. 

Our current traditionalist-in-chief, Pope Benedict XVI, is working overtime these days to re-write the history of Vatican II, to misinterpret its significance, and to undo its accomplishments.

On October 11th, the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published Pope Benedict’s recollections of Vatican II. His remarks are a clear-cut example of Catholic Newspeak: the current medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of pre-Vatican II church theology and practice. “The council fathers neither could nor wished to create a new or different church,” the Pope said. “They had neither the authority nor the mandate to do so. That is why a hermeneutic of rupture is so absurd and is contrary to the spirit and the will of the council fathers.”

Hermeneutics is a process of interpretation. It is nothing new of course. People of every age, if their eyes and ears are open to the world around them, necessarily interpret and express their faith experience in the thought patterns of their own language and culture.

Pope John XXIII, when he announced there would be an ecumenical council, said the church needed a lot of hermeneutics….in his words a lot of aggiornamento: updating! He said the church should not be afraid to open its windows to the world.

Contrary to what we hear and read in Vatican Newspeak, Vatican II did change the church; and thanks to Vatican II the church did change its official teachings.

Vatican II brought good news.

A nineteenth century Catholic, for instance, would be amazed at the transformation of the papacy. Pope Pius IX, who denounced democracy and progress, would have been surprised at the thought of a Pope traveling around the world and upholding human rights and justice.

Our self-understanding as church has changed from that of a clergy-controlled monolithic institution to the church as the People of God…….what a tremendous change. We have shifted from a vertical legalistic model — where bishops are managers — to a horizontal community of faith model, where we are all brothers and sisters. We are still working out an effective collegial way of doing things; but we know we must now do it together.

What was once a triumphalist “fortress church” (fighting against “non-Catholics” and “unbelievers”) is now, thanks to Vatican II, a listening community. We acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers; and we must be engaged in dialogue with non-Christian religions as well as with other Christian churches.

Within the Catholic Church, as well, there have been significant changes:  We have a new code of canon law. New instruments of episcopal collegiality and subsidiarity have been put into place. The church today is not a democracy BUT it is not an authoritarian monarchy either! It is a communion, which should be governed by mutual respect, charity, and openness to the world around us.

The vernacular has been introduced into our Eucharistic liturgy and the other sacraments; and I know very few people who would wish to return to the old Latin liturgy.

Vatican II stressed the dignity of the human person…….Human life (life in this world) is neither evil nor a threat to Christian belief. Vatican II stressed an incarnational theology: “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us…” Vatican II saw our daily human life as the place where we meet the living God. That’s why in our liturgy the presider now faces the congregation and not the back wall.

Vatican II changed the image of the church from a medieval authoritarian monarchy to a community of brothers and sisters where “collegiality” should be the practice for governance and decision-making. We see the face of Christ in the eyes of our neighbors.

A new and critical attitude towards the Bible was affirmed at Vatican II. This was a big step and a tremendous change in our Catholic biblical understanding. The Roman Catholic Church, at Vatican II, rejected a literalist understanding of biblical texts and stressed a historical critical understanding. The bishops at Vatican I (1870), for example, insisted that Moses was the author of the first five books of the Old Testament. The bishops at Vatican II understood that such a belief was totally impossible, if not absolutely foolish.

The pre-Vatican II church saw the church and the world at variance with one another and, to some degree, as enemies. Vatican II said that we need to listen to the signs of the times, because it is in this world that we meet and live with God.

Vatican II said as well that human sexuality is not tinged with sin but good. It changed the Catholic understanding of the “ends of marriage” and stressed and that the primary goal of married love is not just generating children but growth in mutual love, support, and joy. Sexual intimacy is grace-filled.

Yes. Vatican II brought good news….. In the church’s relationship with the not Catholic world, it changed Catholic teaching in very significant ways. I mention two big changes in official Catholic teaching: first in its affirmation of God’s ongoing covenant with the Jewish people (see Lumen Gentium and Nostra Aetate), and second, in its affirmation of religious freedom, which previous popes had explicitly condemned. These two reversals in church teaching (a hermeneutic of discontinuity?) contravened at least 1,500 years of church teaching and practice.

Newspeak traditionalists insist that the bishops at Vatican II never really intended to change the church or its theology or its liturgy. It has all been one big terrible mistake. Vatican-inspired revisionists are working feverishly to reverse the Catholic clock.

Many people now suspect the “New Evangelization” is a Vatican PR stunt to bring back a 19th century Catholic ethos and insist that the post Vatican II changes never should have happened. Certainly our American Cardinal from Washington DC sees it that way.

“This current situation is rooted in the upheavals of the 1970s and 80s, decades in which there was manifest poor catechesis or miscatechesis at so many levels of education,” Cardinal Wuerl said a few days ago in Rome, and he further stressed: “We faced the hermeneutic of discontinuity that permeated so much of the milieu of centers of higher education and was also reflected in aberrational liturgical practice. Entire generations have become disassociated from the support systems that facilitated the transmission of faith.” More fundamentalist Catholic Newspeak.

Nevertheless……Clocks break when you turn them back. And some things cannot be turned back.

Vatican II stressed the place and roles of lay women and men. Whether some people like it or not……our Roman Catholic Church, more and more, is going to be directed by lay people, especially in parishes, schools, and pastoral ministry. Vatican II’s “universal call to holiness” has motivated lay women and men to take very seriously their baptismal call to ministry in the church and mission in the world. They are educated, competent, and have long since supplanted clergy as religious educators, theologians, chaplains, and other kinds of pastoral ministers.

The old clerical stronghold on ministry and holiness has been irreparably ruptured. There’s no going back. And right now, there’s no telling where it will lead. But we believe we are not alone. We are not orphans; and God’s spirit is with us.

Catholic Newspeak, however, continues to draw media attention. Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles is in Rome for the Synod on the New Evangelization. Before hurrying off to lunch, a couple days ago, he told reporters: “the teachings of the Catholic Church have not changed, society has changed.”

More ministry of misinformation…….With all due respect to the LA archbishop, he is not just whistling in the Vatican wind. He is wrong. Archbishop Gomez, Cardinal Wuerl, and Pope Benedict are neither evil nor wicked men; but they are manipulating facts to support their own revisionist and regressive agenda.

Indeed, society has changed; but the church has changed as well. It must change. Change is a fact of life. Only museum pieces are static.

More and more, I fear, our grand old church looks more like a museum than a spiritual home for human habitation.

We need to open those windows again……..


7 thoughts on “The Catholic Ministry of Misinformation

  1. Just popping up to say thank you and tell you how grateful I am to you for this blog. Recently I have attended both a parish mission and a morning of reflection for music ministers. The mission was wonderful- we had a Paulist father who said things much along the lines of what you have said here. The morning of reflection speaker- a monk- was echoing the misinformation now coming out of Rome. Advocating even for a return to the altar being against the back wall! For Gregorian Chant in every Mass- for getting rid of modernity altogether- but especially modern music which he declared repetitive and beyond the capacity of most people.
    REALLY? And gregorian chant isn’t repetitive?
    He kept going on about the Pope in 1903 saying the people had to sing. And declared that Pope to have advocated a return to Chant.
    As I said to him- if the people were not singing it then and won’t sing it now= perhaps chant is not the answer- maybe it is the problem.
    I left the mission feeling great joy and desire to do even more in my parish, my community and the world.
    I left the reflection feeling perhaps I belong to the wrong church. And very fearful that we are going to be forcibly dragged back to the 15th century.

  2. Well said, Jack, but my sense is the happy changes you describe are the way you and I and our Kindred Spirits sense Church.   But it’s not what I see “in the flesh” when I visit different parishes each weekend.   The “new breed” are taking things back away from your V II description of Church and the advanced age of most folks in the pews indicates to me that Catholicism as envisioned by Vatican II has a brief future.  Hardly anyone will be present in the parishes to care one way or the other.

    Yes, I am very pessimistic these days about Vatican II energizing the Church as it is unfolding.  Many liberals have left in disappoint and disgust, leaving “it” in control of the traditionalist interpretation and church-lifestyle.   As I reflect on what we V II types have tried for half a century to “incarnate”, I think now that we have been trying to put new wine into old wineskins – and it just doesn’t fit.   What the new wineskins should be, will be – I think that awaits discovery based upon experience of folks like you and me, trying to be Church enough for one another in forms that are true to the Gospel and true to contemporary experiences.  Personally I think parochial Catholicism is an old wineskin and will not last much longer. 

    What think ye?

    >________________________________ > From: Another Voice >To: >Sent: Sunday, October 21, 2012 5:24 AM >Subject: [New post] The Catholic Ministry of Misinformation > > > >John W. Greenleaf posted: “The Second Vatican Council — in various jubilee commemorations – is now the official scapegoat for traditionalist Catholic frustrations.  Our current traditionalist-in-chief, Pope Benedict XVI, is working overtime these days to re-write the history” >

  3. John, your words are as usual insightful and on target. I feel like Patrick, and see pretty much the same as he does on my visits to various parishes helping out. I am on the pessimistic side, I guess. While I believe the Spirit is alive and well, I don’t know where She is guiding us. I fall back on what Joan Chittister said, “The seed doesn’t see the flower”. I would not be surprised if some sort of independent churches happen. I would like to be involved in something like that. I don’t like what I see coming out of HQs these days.

  4. Recently, I attended the installation of a new pastor in my parish. The bishop had him recite what can only be termed a loyalty oath. which required him to give both “external assent” and “internal assent” to Vatican teachings. “External assent” means that the priest will teach what he is told to teach; “internal assent” means that he will believe it. I turned to my wife and told her that I could not have taken that oath in good conscience. Obviously, the Vatican believes that thinking for oneself is distinctly not to be encouraged.

    There is more than just being control freaks here — although that is a very large part of it. The official line in Catholic thought is that truth is objective and “error has no rights”. There is a corollary which presupposes that what the Vatican teaches is by definition “true” (for the Vatican cannot teach falsely), and those who teach that which is not approved by the Vatican are teaching falsely and should be corrected.

    Sustaining that attitude requires both ignorance of history and outright deception. After all, if the Church teaches absolute truth, how can the teachings change? Even a cursory examination of the history of doctrine shows that the teachings do change. For example, as late as Pope Benedict XIV’s encyclical of 1745, Vix Pervenit, the teaching was that the taking of interest on loans was usury and therefore sinful. The teaching has never been rescinded, but has been quietly dropped.

    When I was in graduate school, I wrote a paper on how the Church went from the Council of Trent’s “Biblical translations must be based on the Latin Vulgate” to Vatican II’s “Biblical teachings must be based on the original languages” without ever contradicting (indeed, quoting from) the previous position papers.

    Unfortunately, the quoting from previous position papers is obviously highly selective. Cherry picking quotes is really dishonest. I’m sure that when Pope Benedict was a theology professor, he would have slapped down any student who ignored evidence which did not support his thesis. However, ignoring contrary evidence is expected in Vatican position papers. The most egregious recent case I can think of was Pope Paul VI’s encyclical defending priestly celibacy, Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, which wholly ignores 1 Corinthians 9:5, in which Paul is saying that he has a right to be married.

    Unfortunately, this sort of thing is, as I said, expected in Vatican position papers. And that is a problem with much of Vatican teachings: Cherry-picked evidence, contrary evidence ignored, sloppy reasoning, dubious (at best) history, and shutting down discussion by fiat.

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