A problem for the post-conciliar church

When the Second Vatican took place it was said that the windows of the church were being opened. The idea being that fresh air was desperately needed within a church stuffy, remote and in danger of losing credibility. This may have been an obstute observation. I suspect it was but am too young to remember. It matters not;  the problem never was that observation but the reaction to it which later emerged.

See what the church actually needed was a fresh humble approach. Out of touch clerics needed to become approachable to the people of God whilst nevertheless remaining utterly faithful to Christ. The church needed priests who took the faith seriously but not, so much, themselves. Men able to preach with zeal yet laugh at themselves and present a merciful face to the world.

What was delivered instead, perhaps because pride ever runs deep in the clerical realm, was the polar reverse; clerics who continued to take themselves seriously but the faith not so much! Instead of reforming themselves they deviated from the documents and embraced a liberal agenda to reform the faith in the hope this might appease the world and bring about a renewed populism.

If you doubt this consider the arrogance of those who dismissed abused children or who pushed, often by force, for the modernist agenda; the ripping out of altar rails, loss of reverence , etc.. The faithful did not ask for modernism, nor did Vatican II call for it, but that is what they got and many went along because they were faithful. Others, let us be reasonable, embraced the reforms genuinely believing they were healthy. Probably the majority of clergy and faithful were decent and well meaning. The problem is that it has not worked because the wrong reform still took place. They were misguided and so an emptying of pew and seminary followed. One reaps where one sows.

Decline is ever the cost of theological liberalism. Once God’s authority is declared out-dated, it gives way to man. With scripture no longer deemed reliable who but theological experts can guide us? So they an assume authority to become arbiters of divine truth. They decide who is worthy or not of sacramental life via process of accompaniment. They explain which texts no longer mean what they say and which are binding. The experiment of at least a century now.

See how the modernist approach turns us from God to ever greater clericalism! With doctrine a reference point only we are left at the mercy of experts. Disagreement between them means they jostle for power, of course, so the church also becomes political not devout. The faith bending to the world and dancing to the tune of factions. First this then the next. We see it in the liberal overthrow of classical Anglicanism. It now sows its division within the Catholic fold for we seem to be in thrall to pastoral ‘experts’ at present who expend much energy denigrating those who stand by traditional belief and compelling relaxation of conventional church teaching in the name of mercy. Why not a call to fidelity instead?

It would be wise to return to Vatican II. To read the documents afresh and contemplate where wrong turns were made in implementation. Which is what Pope Benedict suggested via reform of the reform, creation of the Ordinariate, Summorum Pontificum, a more faithful translation of the Mass, encouragement of ad orientem etc. Just don’t expect triumphant modernists to applaud for power is intoxicating and they, not the traditional Catholics, are the rigid clericalists.

God save us, again, from the folly of our fallen selves. Help us put you back at the centre of Christian dialogue and searching. May your eternal word and unchanging truths be our guide, not our human desires and political agendas, for without you we are nothing. And we only sow confusion and darkness where you bring clarity and light. Amen

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36 thoughts on “A problem for the post-conciliar church

  1. Those who are of, ahem, riper years will be more in a position than me to comment in what the problems if any of the pre conciliar Church were. That said, from my reading, I think this is a very superficial analysis.

    That again being said I do agree that it would do absolutely nobody any harm to go back and read what the Vatican 2 documents say as opposed to what everyone now thinks they say.

    A very blunt Northern priest round here once gave a sermon on Vatican 2 and said that a mate of his had been assailed by an irate parishioner ( I think this was in States ) for the crime of daring to say part of the Mass in Latin. Said parishioner jabbed him in the chest and said “You Father! You want to take us back to the days before the Council!”

    Response of priest mate was to say “ Have you ever actually read the Council documents?”.

    Collapse of stout party.

  2. You could well be right, and undoubtedly the reasons are legion- culture, sixties revolution, natural working out of protestantism on world, etc…. But, out of interest, what part of my analysis do you consider superficial here? or did you mean all of it?!

    1. There is absolutely no doubt that the ‘re-ordering’ of sanctuaries, the removal of the tabernacle to hidden places, the scrapping of statues, mass facing the people, communion in the hand, extraordinary ministers, girl servers, decline of Benediction and protestantisation of our faith was not warranted by Vatican II.
      It was a massive con. I know because I witnessed it all from day one.
      However the steady decline in mass attendance peaked massively when, after a four year wait, Humanae Vitae was published. If one had absolutely no idea what the encyclical was about, and judged it only by its effect, one could be forgiven for thinking that the purpose of the document was to relieve most Catholics of child bearing age of the obligation to attend mass.
      If anything at all should have been changed by the Council it should have been the teaching on contraception. In every other area the church has always taught that it is the intention that counts. In this area it is not the intention, it is the means. If we use a thermometer and a chart then these articles are contraceptives. If we time intercourse to fool the body, why not fool it with the pill? If we decide to limit our family to the number of children whom we can adequately care for then it should be that decision which is right or wrong, not the precise way we use our intelligence to defeat nature.
      Humanae Vitae was a two edged sword. Not only did it empty the pews, it resulted in the rejection by many of those who remained, of much of the teaching around both contraception and sexuality.

      1. This analysis is absolutely wrong. The intention never changes an intrinsic evil into an intrinsic good. And the end never justifies the means.

        1. But the point David is making is that, by approving the use of “natural” contraception, the Church is saying exactly that; that the end does justify the ( “natural” but not “artificial” ) means

          1. Thanks Mary, I think Thomas misunderstood.
            I was making the point that Aquinas always made ;that our intentions are either right or wrong. If one chooses to limit the size of one’ s family, then that intention itself is either right or wrong.
            However one chooses to do this, we use of our intelligence to overcome fecundity. As for the point that is usually made,i.e., that God is excluded from the process, this is indeed a mute point as no method of avoiding pregnancy is either fool proof or God proof.
            The whole concept of ‘natural’ family planning is an outdated hypocritical theological red herring.

          2. The difference is that artificial means always sever the unitive and procreative ends of the sexual act. Natural methods are always open to both.

          3. David, this can’t be quite right. A good intention cannot be an intrinsic evil thereby good to do. For example, I might want to express love and support to a woman not my wife. My intention is good. But if I do that by committing adultery, it is gravely sinful regardless of my intention.

  3. Instead of going back to its Scriptural roots after Vatican II, the Church went the liberal route instead. Liberalism promotes sexual excesses. It does not restrain them. Moderation comes from the Spirit of Christ and the fruit of the Spirit. This teaching is primarily found in the New Testament epistles. It is difficult to find this teaching elsewhere, even in pre-Vatican II Catholicism.
    Traditionalism is not the answer. I grew up in it and found it lacking. We are now in the midst of the political Church. There are segments of the Church dancing “to the tune of secular ideologies”.
    I like what Vatican II says about Scripture in Dei Verbum 21: “Therefore, like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture.”
    Isn’t this why the Catholic Church compiled the Bible in the fourth century?
    I use the Bible heavily in my personal life regardless of whether anyone else does in the Church. I like its priorities.

  4. I grew up in the pre-Vatican II church, and this analysis is exactly correct! Afterwards, I remember thinking: “The clergy are only concerned with themselves!”

    At any point, say during the sex scandal, things could have been taken in a proper direction, but no, business as usual prevailed. Cardinal Law for example looked the other way, and was given a palace and eventually a fine funeral in Rome. His complicit assistant was made bishop of Rockville Center NY. Shame!!!

    The chickens are coming home to roost now I see no credible alternative to a much smaller church. The hierarchy will only pay attention when the money is cut off.

  5. The observation in this article feels like something I would have liked to articulate but lack the words or rather the discipline of thought to do so. And, I am “riper of years”.
    With respect to Mary B, the example she gives is one and there are probably a few more similar. In my experience the reaction to parts of the mass celebrated in Latin are few but welcomed. Also, our diocesan congregations enjoy Latin hymns when sung.
    Thanks for the article.

    1. I absolutely agree that the reaction to having parts of the Mass said in Latin is generally favourable. The example I gave (multiple hearsay of course) was that of the “typical” Vatican 2 Catholic, usually of a certain age and outlook, who thinks that anything which smacks of the Church prior to it’s own “Year Zero” is an attempt to wind back the clock into an unimaginably awful Dark Age of repression and obscurantism. All total tosh of course but that sort of attitude isn’t restricted to the laity. There are one or two priests in my diocese ,( one of them is even the diocesan liturgy expert) who have, if anything , even more extreme views. They are old enough to have grown up with the Tridentine Mass although not to have celebrated it. I often wonder how the Mass which was considered to be the Church’s treasure in 1965 could have become totally toxic in some quarters by 1970.

  6. Does Vatican II even matter at all anymore? For a couple of generations of young people now, Vatican II is as much ancient history as the Magna Carta. Just look at metrics: traditional/orthodox parishes and religious orders are thriving. When the FSSP came in to rescue a huge inner city church on the East Coast (USA) this past year, attendance doubled in 4 months. V-II was a pastoral council anyway, not a second Pentecost super dogma. While well-meaning Catholics continue to argue the merits of V-II, droves of young people are leaving the faith. The “Old Faith” worked then, and it’s working great now. IMHO, the TLM and Ordinariate communities will lead the restoration of the Western Church.

  7. Fr Ed
    You have been unfairly criticised by Mary. There is nothing superficial about your analysis. Sadly, you are spot on. The so-called “spirit of Vatican11” has been our problem not the documents themselves. I have my own copies at home and have read and reread the key Vat. 11 documents. The are magnificent. Too many of our clergy lack courage; too many lack conviction, too many have swum with the tide of secularism which threatens to drown out our precious faith.

    God bless you Father and keep up the good work.
    Kind regards

    1. My criticism Robert was Fr Ed blaming it all on clericalism. That I do think is superficial. I agree that the V2 documents have been misinterpreted and in some cases, I suspect , wilfully misrepresented.

  8. Hello Fr Ed,

    I like the article as it is relevant and topical and hope some Bishops have read it and reflect upon their dire leadership of the Church in these isles, indeed throughout the world – how do these men get these posts!
    As for criticism of Humanae Vitae – the fruits of contraception are now all around for us to see and Paul VI was prophetic in this document. Its the thin end of the wedge theory, first the pill, then abortion, then sexual exploitation of mainly women but the freeing up of perversions in general. The fact that droves of Catholics left the Church indicates they were not Catholic in any meaning of the word and were not prepared to listen to the wisdom of her teaching.

    God Bless,


    1. Patrick, I yield to no one in my opposition to abortion, sexual exploitation of women etc. And I can of course see very clear,y the link betweeen freely available contraception and these phenomena. However if we are talking about the use of family planning within a married relationship I think it becomes a lot less clear cut. The Church has always acknowledged that the purpose of sex within a marriage is not just procreation but also bonding between husband and wife. There is nothing intrinsically more natural it seems to me in taking your temperature every morning and plotting round the woman’s body than other methods of contraception ( not IUDs I stress).

      I speak from the slightly unusual position that we would have liked at least one more child and could have afforded one but my husband’s increasing disability by that stage meant that I had to acknowledge I just could not have coped with another baby desperately as I wanted one.

      It seems to me also that, had the Church accepted responsible use of contraception within the married relationship, then it would have been on much firmer ground in opposing all manner of sexual irregularities outside marriage and would have had much more success in doing so.

      In dismissing those thise who could not acceot Humana Vitae as not really Catholic perhaps you might recall that Cardinal Heenan, when asked what he would say to a Catholic couple who said they could not, in all good conscience acceot HV, said he would say “ God Bless you”.

      1. Spot on Mary,

        I have to say, merely as a point of interest, that in the last half century and having lived in five parishes, that whenever this topic has arisen, the very few people who have supported HV, have, except for only one married couple, been single.
        To say that HV was in theological parlance ‘ not received’ by the laity is the understatement of the century. It should also be noted that Paul VI never wrote another encyclical and became clinically depressed following its non-reception.
        It is the behaviour of promiscuous people which has led to the breakdown of family life and to the so called sexual revolution, not responsible married couples who have struggled with the teaching of HV.

      2. Cardinal Heenan was quite a liberal on matters of human sexuality and had voted in favour of allowing artificial contraception within marriage. While he did accept the teaching of HV when it finally came out, he didn’t want contracepting couples to withdraw from the sacraments.

  9. Thomas,

    You say that:

    “The difference is that artificial means always sever the unitive and procreative ends of the sexual act. Natural methods are always open to both.”

    But how is that?

    Natural methods if used deliberately to avoid pregnancy are only “open to both” insofar as they may be unreliable. Well the same goes for condom use.

    1. Mary, Christopher West asks a good question when people can’t see the difference between actively sterilizing the nuptial act versus waiting until the act is naturally infertile- what’s the difference between killing Grandma and just waiting until she dies naturally?

      1. That is an obvious distinction Thomas and a question clearly of intention. But the intention in the case we are talking about is the same: to avoid pregnancy. Hiow does waiting until the body is (hopefully) infertile not equally sever the unitive from the procreative function?

  10. Thomas the example you gave to David is tortured. The recipient of the intended affection is the defining factor as to whether or not the intention is good. Re your other point you are I think in danger of ending up in a circular definition. The intention is to commit a moral evil therefore cannot be a good intention. But that depends on the correct definition of the act as a moral evil doesn’t it?

    1. Really? I thought it was the intention of the person performing the action.
      Regarding the definition of what is an intrinsically grave act, that is where the Magisterium of the Church comes in. There’s nothing circular about it.

      1. In the case I instances the intention is to commit adultery but the nature of the act ( adultery v bestowing affection on a spouse) is defined by the intended recipient of those affections.
        So far as an intrinsic evil is concerned you will have to remind me whether HV sId that regulating family size by preventing birth was the evil or the use of artificial methods to achieve the same result

        1. No, the intention on this person’s part is to show love and affection. The recipient also intends to show love and affection. But regardless of the intentions, they choose to do it with a gravely evil action. And the intention does not change the morality of the act.

          1. Sorry Thomas but that is absolutely wrong. The intention is to commit adultery and the fact of it being adultery is defined by the identity of the proposed partner. You could just as well say that the intention in theft is to acquire a car or a lawn mower or some money but that the actor chooses to do it with a gravely immoral action. The fact is that the circumstances are intrinsic to the nature of the action. This is where I think the danger of condemning artificial prevention of pregnancy as being intrinsically wrong becomes circular. If the Church approves so called natural methods of achieving this objective then I struggle to see how so called artificial methods of achieving the same end can be equally wrong.

            So far as your comments about knowing people who have adopted this teaching is concerned my understanding has changed with my own circumstances not as a result of what I have seen in others.

            When my husband’s disability became worse and worse it got so that making love was one of the few physical things he could still accomplish without some help and we knew that at some stage (as has proved to be the case) he would eventually become totally unable even to do this. At the same time I knew that I could not possibly cope with another child without endangering the wellbeing of our existing children who were still quite young and our family as a whole which was under quite enough strain as it was. Please therefore do not presume to know my motivations and please have some understanding that, in real life, things are never as clear cut as you appear to be making them

  11. On the issue of birth control I stand with Catholic Church teaching as revealed in the encyclical Humanae Vitae. Natural methods of regulating birth require self-control, self-sacrifice, mutual respect between husband and wife and a willingness to accept God’s will.
    Artificial means require none of the above, they utterly frustrate God’s will and completely separate the unitative function of the sexual union from the generative.

    Further, faithful Catholics understand that natural methods are not meant to frustrate the generative function of sexual activity, rather that they offer married couples the opportunity to space births in a way that enables them to better manage their families’ lives. Health is a factor as is finance but selfishness is absolutely ruled out, or is meant to be ruled out.

    An additional factor: there is considerable evidence that artificial methods are bad for women’s health, both mental and physical. Finally, the evidence supports Pope Paul V1: the breakdown of marriage, the promotion of pornography, widespread sexual deviancy… the list is long.

    I listen to the teaching of the Church which is guided by the Holy Spirit. Contrary advice from those who arrogantly claim to know better than God Himself should fall on deaf ears.

    Humanae Vitae was and is spot on and the proof is obvious to all fair minded Christians.

    1. Robert, faithful Catholics know full well that the use of natural methods is intended exactly to frustrate the generative aspects of sex but to do so by raking advantage of the woman’s natural cycle.

      I have to say that my attitude to this has shifted over the years. I used to be cautiously accepting if the official line. Now I think that the whole distinction between natural and artificial methods is certainly blurred if not flawed. And in practice I can’t think of a single Catholic married couple that I have known in the last twenty or so years who has taken this teaching seriously. Whilst I accept that the Church teaches not follows the world there is a bit of me that thinks that something so widely ignored and which was so bitterly contentious even at the time might be best put away.
      I admit however that I don’t know how you would do that.

  12. Ps Repeated pregnancies and miscarriages plus constant worry and having to time marital affection according to the calendar aren’t good for women’s mental and physical health and the effects of those factors are a lot better documented than, say, responsible condom use within sacramental marriage.

    In practical terms also the effect of allowing responsible contraception within the marriage bond would be absolutely zilch. Virtually everybody does it anyway and there has been no upsurge in Catholic couples electing not to have children for purely selfish reasons as you do, I will admit, find in other sectors of society. This is I think, because the instinct to procreate and build families is very deeply ingrained into the human psyche anyway but particularly so amongst Catholics and that, thank God, has shown no signs of weakening in the years since the Council.

  13. It is interesting, and telling, that your attitude changed during twenty years of not knowing any Catholic couples who took the teaching seriously. I could introduce you to many couples who do. Perhaps if you had known them, your attitude would be different.

  14. Yes, David, married for 18 years.
    Mary, I do understand that life is messy, complicated and not always black and white. And I am not proposing that I understand all of your motivations. But you brought up the point of not knowing any couples who have embraced HV’s teaching in their lives, and I do believe that that has some relevance. In any event, I think we are now at the point of simply talking past each other’s and I’ll bow out. May God bless you all and keep you in the palm of His hand.

    1. Thank you for your good wishes Thomas. I would like however to stress that the point I made about not knowing any couples who accepted this teaching certainly not in the last twenty years was intended to illustrate how widely it is disregarded not that I had been swayed by this; I can make my own mind up.

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