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Dispatch from the Lunatic Fringe

Astute readers will have observed that during 2012 nary a word was spoken in these pages about the 50th anniversary of the commencement of the Second Vatican Council. The reasons are simple: We don’t publish “theme” issues. And besides, virtually every other Catholic periodical — no matter the stripe — went about probing the Council’s meaning, its triumphs and failures, its deepening significance or diminishing relevance, its overwhelming betrayal or its calamitous institutionalization. Why should we add to the clamor? So much has been written about the Council, not only in the last year but over the past fifty years, that we were content to leave the endless hashing out to others. That is, until we were presented with one of the loonier dispatches on the subject from the progressivist fringe.

The write-up appeared — where else? — in the National Catholic Reporter (Oct. 10). It was penned by Robert Blair Kaiser, a former religion editor for The New York Times who won an award in 1963 for his coverage of Vatican II for Time magazine. Blair is a committed member of the “overwhelmingly betrayed” camp. Who does he believe has betrayed the Council? Why, the Popes, of course. “Rather than wring our hands over what the church has become under back-to-back popes who have acted in an arrogant and authoritarian manner,” he begins, “we should celebrate what Vatican II has already done for us.” And what, pray tell, has Vatican II done for us? It has, Blair writes, “given us a new view of ourselves. It’s made us more free, more human and more at the service of a world that Jesus loved.”

So Catholics were less free and less human prior to 1962? It appears that Kaiser is guilty of what Dietrich von Hildebrand called “temporal parochialism,” which he defined in Trojan Horse in the City of God: The Catholic Crisis Explained as “a special kind of pride in the idolatry of one’s epoch. It produces a spirit of irreverence toward all tradition.”

Put in terms Kaiser can understand, we might call this the “Now Is Better than Before” heresy.

As von Hildebrand explains, “It is a characteristic symptom of immaturity to feel oneself more mature and independent than men of previous times, to forget what one owes the past, and, in a kind of adolescent self-assertion, to refuse any assistance.” This self-serving illusion of superiority “bears a striking resemblance to a puberty crisis in the life of the individual person.” A puberty crisis! This is especially tragic when one considers that Kaiser is an octogenarian.

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