In the previous lecture we talked about the aftermath of the Council, some of the reactions to it, and that's the subject that I want to continue with today and perhaps give a little bit of prognosis about the future. At the end of the last lecture I was making the distinction between two approaches to the Council, there are two approaches to the subject of renewal. The one which is called resourcement, going back to the sources, going back to the early Church. The other is modernism, that is, looking to contemporary culture for a way of renewing the Church. Those who advocate the second, the modernist agenda, can point to some limited places in the Council documents which seem to support their position. In the decree on religious life, for example, the Council says that nuns should not be wearing habits which are cumbersome and completely out of date but should have a somewhat more streamlined and more modern, more convenient sort of habit. You could look at little things like saying old fashioned veils existed at a time when nuns didn't drive cars, but sometimes now they do, and they have to be able to look in the rear view mirror.
In the decree on the Church in the modern world, Gaudium et Spes, the Council does say that we can learn from the world. We have to learn to speak to the world in language the world can understand, and human wisdom does develop certain insights which can be useful to us within the Church. But as we talked about when we discussed Gaudium et Spes, you cannot read that document without realizing that there is much more emphasis on what the world can learn from the Church than there is on what the Church can learn from the world. Pretty clearly in that dialogue the Second Vatican Council envisions the Church primarily as the teacher. One might use an analogy of a seminar in a university which is run on a discussion basis in which the students participate and the professor listens, and maybe sometimes the student says something that the professor hadn't thought of before. And the professor says that's a very brilliant idea. But if the professor is earning his salary, he surely knows a lot more than the students do. Any professor who is conducting a seminar in which he is mostly learning and not teaching is taking money under false pretenses. We can make that analogy: the Church can listen, it can dialog with the modern world, but always with the understanding that the Church has a wisdom which the modern world lacks and which the modern world badly needs.
No one can understand the Council and the effect it had, it seems to me, who was not alive at the time, for the simple reason that the psychology of it, the mood of the time, was so important, similar to what I said in the first lecture about the tone and the mood of the Pontificate of John XXIII, beyond what it is he may have actually said or done. Things were moving with such speed, unexpected things were happening. The Church which had seemed to be immobile for centuries, which had seemed to be a monolith that was unmoving for centuries, now suddenly seemed to be in rapid motion. It was exhilarating. It was not a time for calm and reasoned judgment because people were really being carried along by the excitement of the moment. In some cases it might be negative; in most cases it was very positive. So in one sense most of the periti, the experts, who came to the Council in 1962 were probably self-consciously orthodox and wanted to operate within the framework of orthodox Catholic teaching, but their thinking changed rapidly as they talked with one another, as they talked with bishops, as they heard things on the floor of the Council, as questions were raised which they hadn't thought of before.
In the previous lecture I talked about how this worked itself out with regard to the subject of birth control, in which the Papal birth control commission in the beginning wanted very much to operate within the framework of orthodox teaching. By the end five years later it was calling for orthodox teaching to be scrapped. I don't think there was a conspiracy there from the beginning. I think it was a question of people changing their minds. Some of that happened during the Council itself. So by the end of the Council in 1965 there were periti and bishops and others who were a good deal more radical than they had been at the beginning. I think there were people by the end of the Council in 1965 who had a vision of what the Council should be doing that they realized was too radical, was not going to be adopted. What these people in effect said, and they turned out to be right, was that it doesn't matter so much what the Council actually said as what people think it said. Even though we have not captured the machinery of the Council, even though we have not gotten the Council to say everything we want it to say, we will be the ones who will interpret the Council to the Catholic world. Consequently we will gain these victories afterwards that we failed to gain on the floor of the Council itself. We could again use birth control as a handy example.
The issues here are so broad and they cut so deep that it is very hard, even to summarize them. But the fundamental issue is the distinction between the renewal of the Church as resourcemment, going back to its origins, going back to its authentic roots, its authentic traditions, and the renewal of the Church as bringing it into conformity with modern culture. That was where the profound division took place. In the many thousands of words in the Conciliar documents you can, of course, find the Council Fathers saying a great variety of things. And if you look hard enough, and if you come across, here and there, a phrase or a sentence that seems to support your position, and if you prescind from the surrounding context, and if you prescind from the overall thrust of the Council then you can lift that phrase, or that sentence, and hold it up and say, This is what the Council was all about. So from the decree Gaudium et Spes you can take these few sentences which talk about the fact that the Church has got something to learn from the world. and you can say, See, we are called now to a new humility. We are supposed to stop insisting that we have the truth. We are supposed to stop insisting that the Catholic Church is the true Church. We are supposed to go in a humble manner to our contemporaries, who may be non-believers even, and we are supposed to try to learn from them. That is what the Council mandated that we should do.
The word mandate deserves a little attention too for a moment because it is one of the ironies of the post conciliar period. Not long after the Council, a priest who was a liberal liturgist addressed the subject of those Catholics who seemed to be dragging their feet on liturgical changes. They were attached to the old Latin Mass. They bemoaned the fact that the old novena devotions were being abolished. And this priest said, You can handle this problem in various ways, but here is the bottom line: obedience, obedience. Are these people good Catholics? Then tell them to obey the hierarchy.
For a period of several years after the Council obedience was in fact a major theme. People talked about the decrees of the Council, which are like decrees issued by a King. And indeed they were decrees. They talked about the spirit of submission which was owed to the hierarchy of the Church. They emphasized that everything that came forth from the Council was official. It was not somebody's opinion, it was official. It had been approved by the Pope himself. So if you didn't go along with these changes you were a bad Catholic. Those who resisted too strongly like the LeFevreists, whom we talked about in the previous lecture, in fact ended up getting excommunicated.
But by the time of the birth control encyclical, Humanae Vitae, in 1968 obedience goes by the boards. Obviously those who rejected Humanae Vitae could not claim they were being obedient. So they now condemned the notion of obedience as being one of mindless submission and instead they emphasized conscience, freedom, autonomy, the right of everyone to make up his own mind. One of the ways in which I think there was considerable falsehood here was that liberals within the Church used the notion of obedience to beat people into submission when that served their purpose. Then when it had ceased to serve their purpose they did a one-hundred-and-eighty-degree turn and they talked about revolt, dissent, conscience, freedom, independence, autonomy.
But they had been rather successful in suppressing whatever doubts, misgivings, more conservative Catholics had had after the Council. The same thing was carried on in a smaller scale in various religious orders, where often the rank-and-file members of the order were rather uneasy by the direction in which the superiors seemed to be taking them. They were told, You have all taken vows of obedience and you are supposed to do what your superiors tell you, and it doesn't matter whether you like it or not. Ironically they were being commanded by their superiors supposedly to be more democratic. This is paradoxical. We are now supposed to be running this community on a democratic basis. Everyone's opinion is as good as everyone else's. If you don't like it, obey it, because that's what your superiors are commanding you to do. More than a little contradictory.
One of the factors at the Second Vatican Council which was not well enough appreciated by Church authorities was the importance of the media and the way in which the Council was a media event. Of course the media had been around for a long time. The mass press had originated in the nineteenth century. The electronic media, especially television, were still pretty new in 1962. Commercial television had only been around for about fifteen years. But the Church always possessed a somewhat uneasy relationship with the media. I think that the hierarchy had always wanted to conduct business as much as possible in an atmosphere of confidentiality, even of secrecy. One might say this is characteristic of a hierarchical institution in which you don't feel as though you have to keep telling people what is going on because it's none of their business. The tendency of the Church in dealing with the media had been to issue formal statements and not want to answer a lot of questions.
John XXIII had, no question about it, been a kind of media superstar. I don't think he started out to be one but he happened to be one. He probably discovered to his surprise at some point that that's what he was. The media couldn't get enough of him. He was such a refreshing figure, he was such an unusual character to be Pope, they thought. He did so many dramatic and even unexpected things which were very media appropriate: visiting a jail, meeting with Nikita Krushchev's son-in-law, meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, walking in procession rather than being carried on his ceremonial chair. There were endless media opportunities with regard to this Pope. But it had not been planned that way. The Holy See did not think: In the future let's try to have more of this. Paul VI, his successor, was an austere man and not somebody who excited the popular imagination. He didn't provide very many media opportunities, even though he was widely traveled, and of course the press followed that.
The Council itself, above all, would be a great media event. Why? I don't know if the journalists themselves in the beginning knew why and that, in fact, was probably part of the reason why it was a media event -- because everybody was puzzled, everybody was mystified. What is this? What is an Ecumenical Council? Why has he called an Ecumenical Council? What is it going to do? And the reporters were intrigued if for no other reason than this, trying to find out what it was all about. So it was covered in the media to the saturation point. Major publications, journals, newspapers, magazines, at what was obviously considerable expense, assigned full-time reporters to stay in Rome for three whole years pursuing this "story." It was to them obviously that important.
There were journalists in this process who were more than journalists and who consciously saw themselves as not just reporting what was going on but also attempting to affect what was going on. In the United States probably the single most important set of articles, later books, in terms of forming people's impression of the Council, was a series that appeared in The New Yorker magazine called, Letter from Vatican City. For years The New Yorker had regularly run Letter from London, Letter from Paris, etc. So now they ran Letter from Vatican City, under the name of a man called Xavier Rynne. Xavier Rynne later was confirmed to be an American priest in Rome named Francis X. Murphy. These Letters from Vatican City purported to be an insider's account of what was happening at the Council -- very detailed, eventually three volumes, three books. In a way they were an insider's account. Father Murphy knew a lot about what was going on. He had good sources, he had access, he knew bishops, he knew cardinals, he knew Vatican officials, he knew lots of people. But it was also an attempt to shape the public impression of the Council in a particular way, and in that sense I don't think that it was balanced and perhaps not even in some ways a fully honest account.
It was he, above all, who established in the public's mind the idea that this was a titanic battle between "liberals" and "conservatives". The liberals were those who wanted more fresh air in the Church, who wanted the Church to change. They were the Modernists, though he didn't use the term. They wanted the Church to update itself; they saw the secular culture as being the yardstick by which we should measure ourselves. The conservatives were the stuffy old reactionaries who were holding back progress. Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, whom we mentioned in the first lecture, the man officially in charge of preserving orthodoxy in the Church, kept warning, warning, warning that there were dangers inherent in some of these things. He was cast by Xavier Rynne as the great villain, almost an evil man, because he stood in the way of progress. On the other hand, anybody who got up at the Council and advocated any sort of change, no matter what, was a hero.
That was a very simplistic way of viewing the Council. The subtle theological issues that were discussed there, and which we've discussed in the course of these lectures, could not be adequately fit into this simplistic conflict of liberals and conservatives. And I believe that Father Murphy knew that. But it was a brilliant and brilliantly successful propaganda effort to imprint on the minds primarily of American Catholics an interpretation of what was really going on in Rome. People who couldn't otherwise make sense of the Council, didn't really understand the issues, found it all much too esoteric for them, could understand it in the simplistic terms of Xavier Rynne a.k.a. Francis X. Murphy.
Time magazine, which was a much more influential journal then, than it is now, was represented at the Council by a reporter whose name was Robert Blair Kaiser. He had been at one time a Jesuit. He was not a priest but he had been a Jesuit, had studied for the priesthood, and was therefore somebody who knew something. He wasn't an ignorant man who had to learn it all from scratch; he was fairly sophisticated in religious matters. But Robert Blair Kaiser's reporting was very much along the same lines as that of Xavier Rynne, the good-guy liberals versus the bad-guy conservatives. Every day there was a shootout at the O.K. Corral over some issue or other. Fortunately most of the time the good-guy liberals managed to disarm the bad-guy conservatives. They shot the guns out of their hands. But unfortunately the bad-guy conservatives kept getting more guns, and so there would be another shootout maybe a week or two later.
As it turned out in some of the autobiographical things which he later wrote, Kaiser had a very clear agenda from the very beginning. One major part of that agenda was birth control. He had been poking around in that area and making contact with certain theologians who were privately or secretly supportive of birth control before the Council. He had made contact with certain influential Belgian and Dutch theologians. When he went to the Council he understood that there was a liberal agenda, the modernist agenda as we've called it, and he was going to use his magazine, Time magazine, to push it. And he did so, and very effectively. Unfortunately the average American Catholic, and this includes most priests and most nuns, learned what the Council was all about more from Time magazine and The New Yorker than from any other source.
There is a massive failure of education here on the part of the Church. One would assume that given an event like the Council that the hierarchy would have put into gear a massive educational project. They would have been lining up books, they would have been training teachers, they would have been announcing schools, workshops in every parish, whatever. And they would have insured the fact that what was presented to people as the authentic teaching of the Council really was the authentic teaching of the Council. To an amazing degree this task was neglected. There was, in fact, as far as I can see, practically no systematic effort to educate Catholics as to the meaning of the Council. They were left to discern its meaning in just about any way they could. And if they were reading the New Yorker they got it from Xavier Rynne, and if they were reading Time magazine they got it from Robert Blair Kaiser. Some variation on the views of those two men appeared in most of the secular press. So not only did there persist a good deal of confusion as to what the Council was all about, but there was even a completely skewed, even false notion of what it was all about. Victories that could not be won on the floor of the Council itself, victories that could not be ratified in the Conciliar decrees, were won after the Council in terms of what people thought the Council said as opposed to what it actually said. The obligation of obedience was used over and over again to get reluctant people to go along with the Council's changes, until such time as obedience had outlasted its usefulness and then the shift was to independence and freedom.
Parallel to that, closely related to it, is the question of whether the Council itself has authority. Catholics and Protestants, when the split between them occurred in the sixteenth century, spent enormous amounts of time disputing passages of Scripture. They both acknowledged that the Scripture is Divine Revelation, the Scripture is where Divine truth is found, and as Christians we must follow the Holy Scripture. So the question is, what is the authentic meaning of the Scripture? Protestants and Catholics disagreed. In the beginning the division between liberals and conservatives, so called in the Church, was along those same lines except using the Council. So there were careful word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence analyses of Lumen Gentium concerning the Church, Gaudium et Spes concerning the Church and the world, and so on. But look, it says this here. Oh yes but look, it says that here. And if you take this sentence you have to put it in the context of the entire document -- therefore it won't bear your interpretation.
There was legitimate disagreement as to what the Council had taught, what the Council had intended. But before very long the more conservative Catholics discovered that if they cited a Council text, for example the decree on the Liturgy where it says, no one, not even a priest, may add to or subtract from or otherwise alter the sacred text of the liturgy, the response is likely to be, We are acting in accordance with the spirit of Vatican II. Saint Paul said the letter kills and the Spirit gives life. He meant by that a kind of a leaden-footed literalism blindly following something written down on a piece of paper and not really understand the spirit or the heart of what is behind it. He meant that you can read the Bible, for example, but if you don't have faith you get nothing out of it. He did not intend to set up the conflict between the letter and the spirit as though the true understanding of Scripture contradicts the literal statements of the Bible. But in a way that's what many of the liberals started saying after Vatican II when they invoked the spirit of Vatican II. The spirit of Vatican II somehow existed outside of the text itself. The spirit of Vatican II somehow existed independently of the Council Fathers who had been Vatican II. You didn't need to cite any specific authority within the Council documents in order to justify your position. You simply had to say: This is the spirit of Vatican II.
In other words Vatican II itself ceased to have authoritative power. Indeed, today liberal and conservative Catholics do not debate with one another by close analyses of Conciliar text. It is only the so-called conservative Catholics today who pay close attention to Conciliar text, and who are sometimes puzzled by what may seem to them inconsistent passages which they are then sincerely desirous of reconciling, working out. They are genuinely puzzled; they genuinely want to know what the Council taught. They genuinely want to submit themselves to the Council's teachings. Increasingly liberals have been content to make vague references to the Council, or to the occasional phrase or sentence here or there.
I myself not long ago became involved in an exchange with a professional theologian over the nature of the Church. To my amazement I discovered that in discussing the nature of the Church according to Vatican II he did not even mention Lumen Gentium, the decree on the Church of the Second Vatican Council. Too many things in there would be embarrassing to his position, and so he, in his mind quite properly, discards it. The liberal attitude towards Vatican II is to think of Vatican II as merely the beginning of a process. Liberals say that if we go back now we see that even those so called liberals of Vatican II were hopelessly conservative, hopelessly reactionary, hopelessly naive, hopelessly out of touch. They didn't even begin to see the extent of the problems. If you push them hard enough they will admit that a lot of what is found in the decrees of Vatican II sounds very very conservative.
Every once in a while in the United States somebody tries the experiment of going around and asking people on the street. They read something, "all men are created equal", or something of that kind. And they say, "What do you think of that?" Inevitably they tend to get an answer such as, "Sounds like Communism to me". Whereas of course it comes from the Declaration of Independence. You could go along today among Catholics and read them a whole long list of statements and say how do you characterize these in terms of the Church? And many people would say, "those are pre-Conciliar", when in fact they are statements actually taken from the Second Vatican Council itself.
What these people are doing is quite logical given their own assumptions, these are the modernists for whom contemporary culture, contemporary society is the ultimate measurement of truth. They would say, You are extremely naive to think that somehow the Second Vatican Council of the early 1960s embodied an enduring eternal truth. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council had flashes of insights, but they were still timid, they were still too much anchored in the past, they pulled their punches. They didn't have the courage to go far enough with their insights. So we now would have to view Vatican II pretty much as a historical curiosity. We venerate it as a historical event of importance. We venerate it as the event which started us on this road which we now travel, but we are in no sense bound by it. And if you prove to me that something that I'm saying is contrary to the teaching of Vatican II, it doesn't make a whole lot of difference to me. I don't have that same attitude towards Vatican II of reverence and obedience that you seem to have. So in that sense there has been a rejection of Vatican II on the left. We have the LeFevreist rejecting it on the right. But there has been a rejection of it also on the left.
Related to the fact that Vatican II was a great media event is the timing of when it occurred. About 1959-1960 when the Council was first announced the world by and large, and the Church by and large, appeared to be in a very stable, settled condition, as we talked about in the first lecture. Certainly in retrospect, if we compare it to what came later, it appeared to be in a stable and settled condition. On most moral questions, for example, there appeared to be a broad consensus. Birth control was just about the only moral issue of any note where Catholics disagreed with non-Catholics. Planned Parenthood as late as 1964 still said that abortion was the taking of a human life and opposed it. Catholics were known to be stricter on the subject of divorce than most other people, but everybody admitted that divorce was really a very bad thing and it was happening too often. These moral positions were not seen as being Catholic doctrine, or even Christian doctrine. They were seen as the moral insights of human beings founded on reason, what Catholics call the moral law. So it looked to be a rather stable and settled society.
When the Council ended in 1965 we were just on the lip of the phenomenon which would come to be called the sixties. The term the sixties is inaccurate: the major events that we call the sixties, and what we conjure up when we use that term, took place between about 1966 and 1973. But that's a quibble, and we can use the term the sixties as a matter of convenience.
In one of my earlier lectures I alluded to the presidency of John F. Kennedy, and to the enormous optimism that characterized him, just as John XXIII had an enormous optimism. I said that Kennedy was convinced that if we put our minds to it and work hard enough we get the best and the brightest young men. Then we really can solve all our social problems. The reason we haven't solved our problems is because we really didn't want to. We didn't try hard enough. He was going to do it. He inspired in many people an enormous sense of idealism and optimism. Yes, yes, yes, we are going to do it. His assassination in 1963, during the Council, was perhaps a warning that the world is not as nice a place as Kennedy tried to make out. Here was a dark deed materializing out of nowhere. Nobody could predict it, nobody could anticipate it, nobody could even really explain it, and suddenly the idealistic young president was snuffed out. One might respond to that by saying that there is an evil in the universe which does not lend itself to the optimistic programs of an idealistic president. Before very long the bright optimism of the Kennedy presidency had given way to bitterness, cynicism, anger, outright rebellion, violence -- the phenomenon which we broadly called the New Left.
Primarily it seemed to have two focal points. The war in Viet Nam was one. Kennedy historians will debate for a long time who was primarily responsible for getting the United States into Viet Nam. Some say Kennedy, some say Lyndon Johnson. A fairly large number of advisors, so called, were already there during the Kennedy administration, and it seems likely that had he lived he would have kept committing more and more. In any case it was Lyndon Johnson who began sending the troops on a large scale. The war became immensely unpopular, especially on the college campuses. We had riots, demonstrations, sit-ins, acts of violence, and so forth, in protest of the war. The war was called evil, the war was called proof that the United States is an evil society, though the war began in the same spirit of optimism and idealism that Kennedy showed in all other respects -- an idealistic America was going to liberate Southeast Asia from the tyranny of Communism and show them how much better freedom is.
In the summer of 1968 at the very moment when there were demonstrations on the campus of the Catholic University of America against the Papal birth control encyclical, Humanae Vitae, there were demonstrations all over the United States against the Viet Nam war. And at almost that moment, a little before, President Lyndon Johnson announced that he would not run for reelection, apparently believing among other things that he could not be reelected. A bitter fight went on within the Democratic party as to who would be nominated. Shortly after the issuance of Humanae Vitae the Democratic Convention met in Chicago and the students, so called, pitted themselves against the police. They were beaten and arrested and scattered and it left the Democratic party in shambles, and the idealism of John F. Kennedy a bitter taste in the mouths of many people.
It is not just that there was a coincidence in timing between the reaction to Humanae Vitae and the reaction to the Viet Nam war. There is a sort of common thread, a common psychological thread, that runs through them. The New Left ended abruptly, and it has often been pointed out that it ended as soon as the draft ended, which to some extent calls into question the idealism of some of the New Left people. They said they were opposing the war on the grounds that it was immoral, but on the other hand once they became assured that they themselves would not be drafted their opposition ceased. Nonetheless, the New Left more or less came to an end. There had been another prong to it, the Civil Rights Movement, and that had been equally volatile -- it also led to riots. But that had become increasingly a Black movement in which white leftists like students were no longer welcome.
The opposition of the New Left to the Viet Nam war was like a magician who holds up his left hand and he has got something in his left hand that he wants you to look at. While you are looking at it he is doing something down here with his right hand that you don't notice, which is going to allow him to do his magic trick. While the focus of the country was on the Viet Nam war, less well noticed although it was visible, the real purpose of what we call the sixties or the New Left was actually cultural change -- changes in the way people lived, not so much in political issues. Originally at the University of California Berkeley they had the so-called free speech movement in which they were asking for political freedom to criticize government policy. But that quickly changed into what they called the filthy speech movement, we demand the right to scream obscenities in public. It was a precursor immediately of what would come to be called the sexual revolution. And the sexual revolution was perhaps worked out first of all on the college campuses among new leftists. That is to say we don't acknowledge traditional sexual morality which is not just Catholic, not even just Christian, but broadly accepted in American society. Sex is for fun, sex is for recreation, sex is for enjoyment -- absolute contradiction of what the Pope will be saying in Humanae Vitae. We should have the right to have sex any time, anywhere, with anybody, as much as we choose and no one should be able to tell us otherwise.
Abuse of drugs accompanies this. In effect in many places they claim successfully the right to use drugs. It may not be officially recognized since it is a crime, but everybody knows it's going on. And it becomes respectable in widely expanding American circles to make use of drugs, just as the sexual revolution emanates outward from the college campuses into the ranks of the middle class. The new left, as a distinct movement, ended. But as some commentators have pointed out, the reason why it ended as a distinct movement is because it entered the mainstream of American culture. This is the environment in which the attempt is made to apply the Second Vatican Council. It would have taken enormous effort, enormous resolve, enormous planning, enormous discipline under those conditions to have conveyed to Catholics what the meaning of the Council genuinely was.
But, as we have said, there was a general lack of educational program, of forethought, and there was, in my opinion, an amazing lack of concern about how the authentic Council could be presented to people. There was very little effort made to warn people against false interpretations. There was very little effort made to teach them how to make distinctions between authentic and inauthentic forms of renewal. We went through a period after the Council when anything that called itself renewal could pretty well gain acceptance. The cautious statement in Gaudium et Spes that the Church does have certain things which it can learn from the world -- that very cautious statement is taken to mean that we now have to learn from the world wholesale. Well what is the world?
When Gaudium et Spes was written, once again this was a pretty stable world in which the Church could say, The world in a way agrees with us on a lot of things even though they don't have the same starting point we do. But within three years of the Council, 1968, what is the world? Well, the world is the thing we call the sixties. If you want to learn from the world then you presumably will conclude that the practitioners of the sexual revolution are closer to the truth than those who are preaching chastity. Above all the dominant theme of the cultural phenomenon which we call the sixties was liberation, freedom understood in a certain sense. The cultural movement of the sixties believed that almost everything from the past was a burden, an obstacle. It was false, it was distortion, it was oppression. If you weren't sure you were always better off to reject the past, discard the past. The slogan: never trust anyone over 30 because older people just have their heads on wrong. Innovation is good; everything that calls itself new is automatically better than everything that calls itself old -- what one commentator called the systematic hunting down of all settled convictions, the systematic hunting down of all settled convictions. Whatever it is you may have thought was true, whether it has to do with sex or drugs or religion or family life or politics or education -- whatever you thought was true is very likely false. And the farther you get away from that, the closer to the truth you will become.
In the terms of the theological distortion of the concept of the pilgrim Church, the secular idea carried over into religion that there are no settled truths, there are no fixed certainties, and so the process of searching, wandering, making mistakes and so forth, is itself what is valuable, not the goal, because in fact you may never reach any goal. It would be impossible under the best of circumstances that some of this would not affect the Church. Or we might say infect the Church. John XXIII had talked about opening windows and it is a two way process. If you open windows something comes in from the outside, something from the inside goes out. I'm convinced that the purpose of Vatican II in the minds of John XXIII and others was to open windows or doors so that the Church could go into the world and evangelize the world, win the world for Christ. It is not insignificant that when the doors of the Vatican opened not only did the Pope invite in visitors, like the Archbishop of Canterbury, but increasingly the Pope's went out culminating in the unprecedented world travel of Pope John Paul II. But with the doors and windows open it was inevitable that some things would come in.
So the Church soon found itself affected in various ways: by Marxism, by principles of modern psychology, by any number of other things that previously had been held at arm's length. Psychology would be a very good example. The Council gave cautious endorsement to the use of psychology under certain circumstances. For example, one of the ways it could be used legitimately would be to examine young people who wanted to become priests or religious to determine if they have any serious psychological problems. But pretty soon psychology for a lot of people became almost a God and they interpreted psychology falsely as meaning that you should do what you want to do, that to repress yourself was a form of neurosis, a form of psychological damage. The very idea of obedience in the religious sense became a problem. The very idea of chastity became a problem. The working slogan came to be do your own thing, do what makes you feel good, follow your gut feelings.
Under the best of circumstances it would have been impossible to keep this sort of influence out of the Church. I think it will look to future historians quite remarkable that there was no more serious and systematic effort to keep that from happening. That the Second Vatican Council was allowed to be hijacked by people who had an agenda which they themselves often knew was very much at odds with the correct meaning of the Council: the people who said it was a nice starting point but we don't feel bound by it anymore ourselves. There is much speculation among more conservative Catholics as to what exactly went wrong. How did the high promise, the high optimism of Pope John XXIII seem to get subverted? And I think that the one most fundamental explanation above all others is that as soon as the Council was over it became entangled in the great cultural revolution that was called the sixties. It got assimilated into cultural revolution so that a lot of people saw the renewal of the Church as merely being an aspect of the larger cultural revolution of the sixties.
It will take decades to assess accurately, justly, correctly, objectively, the outcome of the Council. It has often been pointed out that historically Councils do not fully realize what they intend to do for some decades afterwards. That was certainly true of Trent, and the same thing may well be true of Vatican II. We do, in fact, see numerous signs of authentic renewal around us. We see new religious orders coming into existence. A great crisis of vocations for decades followed Vatican II. We now know that it isn't really a crisis of vocations, that if you present to young people a heroic ideal of religious life and priestly life, one of service and self-sacrifice, of devotion to Christ, devotion to the Church, that they will answer that call generously, as they did in the past. We have seen the establishment of new Catholic schools on all levels from grammar school up through college to compensate for the loss of religious identity on the part of some of the older Catholic institutions. We have seen lay movements emerge which are very apostolic in nature. We have seen the multiplication of Catholic publications of all kinds, many of them very orthodox in nature. We have seen the emergence of good strong bishops who are giving us very good leadership. We have had of course our own Saints like Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and we have had the immense leadership of John Paul II, I think the greatest intellect, the greatest theologian, the greatest teacher ever to occupy the Papal throne. He will be studied as one of the great Catholic thinkers of the twentieth century even apart from the fact that he was Pope.
When I'm asked What do you think is happening in the Church? I always invoke what I call the two elevator theory. One is going up and one is going down side by side. I think more and more people are getting on the up elevator it as it goes up. I think the down elevator does continue to go down so both things are happening here simultaneously.
The Council, it has often been, said was the Council of the laity saw the emergence of the laity. True enough. Not much attention was paid to the laity in previous Councils. This was often a liberal idea, emancipating the laity from the control of the hierarchy. But I think one of the more interesting things that has happened since the Council is the way in which lay people have taken the lead often enough in trying to get an authentic interpretation of the Council and have been the ones who have organized and gotten started authentic renewal movements within the Church. And this I think can be seen as an enormous flowering of the true spirit of the Second Vatican Council.
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