The Revolution in the Catholic Church: Unstoppable, Defeated, or What?

November 1999By Dale Vree

As we prepare to enter the new millennium, there are two basic views on the state of the Church.

One view holds that Vatican II was a kind of Sixties “happening” that is revolutionizing the Church. The revolution is ongoing and is yet to reach its fulfillment, and it will reach its fulfillment because the revolution is unstoppable.

The other view holds that Vatican II was not a revolutionary phenomenon, and that the revolutionary mood following Vatican II is coming to an end.

The first view can be seen in an article by Fr. Andrew Greeley in Commonweal (Sept. 11, 1998). Greeley identified several “crucial” changes that emerged from or after Vatican II: The altar was turned around, the Latin Mass was abandoned, fish on Friday was dropped, and “the heretics, schismatics, Jews, and infidels down the street were now suddenly separated brothers and sisters.” The changes occurred virtually overnight, showing that “Catholicism was willing to change when it wanted to.” The psychology set in motion was this: “The immutable had mutated. What would change next?” More precisely, according to Greeley, many Catholics concluded that “the church can change whatever it wants, if only it wants to,” and that “if something ought to be changed and it would be changed eventually, then it was all right to anticipate such…change on one’s own authority.” Thus, says Greeley, Catholics decided it was fine “to be Catholic on their own terms” — in other words, the Protestant notion of the supremacy of individual conscience triumphed — and the authority structure of the Church was “shattered” and “lost its credibility.” And Greeley, the sociologist, has lots of statistics about the rejection of Church teachings by priests and laity to back up his claim. Hence, Greeley sees Vatican II as a “revolutionary event” that changed “everything.” Furthermore, says Greeley, to think or even “pretend” that this situation “can be undone” is “folly” — the way in which Vatican II has been interpreted is “irrevocable.”

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