The Never-Ending Debate Over Vatican II

After 60 years of debates and failures, we are still debating the ins and outs of the Second Vatican Council.

Here we are in 2024 and we are still debating the ins and outs of the Second Vatican Council. After 60 years of debates and failures, what are we to think? Has the Church improved? Are Catholics better formed? Is the liturgy any better? And so on, and so on.

Of course, we are living in a veritable nuclear desert and not a promised “New Springtime.” In addition, the New Pentecost never came, and I think it is fair to say that the New Advent also did not come. Now, lots of “new” things have come, but those things have been roundly rejected and ridiculed. Untold amounts of people have left the Church to become Protestants, or simply have become atheists and unbelievers. 

Things are so bad that even the papacy of Pope Francis, who may as well be the incarnation of the amorphous “Spirit of Vatican II”—a spirit which is either friend or foe depending on who uses the term—has recently released a document calling foul on liturgical abuses in light of reports that have been unearthed of invalid Baptisms and even Masses. 

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You know things are bad when even Tucho and the gang have to tell the Church to smarten up about the sacraments…

Before I continue, it is not my intention here to allege that there are positive heresies or errors in the Council documents—although I still don’t see how we square the round peg of positive religious liberty, which seems to be completely anathema to any sound Catholic thinking before the Council. Instead, I mean to discuss merely the “Conciliar paradigm” that we are living through, a paradigm that has produced what seems like sour grapes and thorns and thistles.

In order to get ahead of those who disagree with my morose assessment of the Conciliar age, let me address a few concerns.

I imagine there will be three main disagreements with my contention that Vatican II actually has something to do with the crisis, even if the roots of the crisis are deeper than the Council.

The first objection to discuss is the claim that the Council was “never properly implemented,” and therefore “more time is needed.” Let us grant the first part of this objection before we move on to the second part. Who can say what it would mean to “properly” implement the Council? 

Joseph Ratzinger, Paul VI, John Paul II, and a Traditionalist walk into a bar to have a chat about Vatican II. What do they agree on? Well, maybe some points here and there. But they can all agree that the Council was never properly implemented, or in some cases, implemented at all. 

What would a “proper implementation” of the Council look like? Would we have the TLM, or the Novus Ordo, or some hybrid? Would we rearrange all seven sacraments or just a few? Would the disputed documents of Vatican II—namely, Dignitatis Humanae, Nostra Aetate, and Unitatis Redintengratio—be binding or not? One decade they are binding to the point where you are a schismatic for not accepting them in full, the next decade they are “not about doctrines or definitive statements, but, rather, about instructions and orienting guides for pastoral practice.” 

Which “proper implementation” of Vatican II should we follow? Does Bishop Barron hold the keys to interpretation? Is it Cardinal Ratzinger? How about Archbishop Lefebvre? We can’t “properly implement” the Council because no one has agreed on what that would look like since the moment the thing ended. But of course, somehow the Council “has no less authority than the Council of Nicaea and in some ways is more important than it,” according to a written statement of Paul VI. Which “proper implementation” of Vatican II should we follow? Does Bishop Barron hold the keys to interpretation? Is it Cardinal Ratzinger? How about Archbishop Lefebvre?Tweet This

But of course, “more time is needed” to properly implement the Council… Again, which Council? The “Council of the media,” or the Council of the Conservatives, or the Liberals? It seems to me that to suggest that more time is needed to implement a Council that cannot be pinned down in any way that satisfies all the good-faith objections to it, cannot be implemented with “more time” any more than anything that confuses people can become clear simply because the date changes from Tuesday to Wednesday.

The second objection is more of an accusation against Traditionalists: The reason the Council isn’t properly implemented after all this time is because the Traditionalists reject it!

Again, what do the “Trads” reject? If the Council is pastoral, and if the Council defined no new dogmas, then how can a Trad reject the Council if he simply adheres to everything that was defined before the Council? If the suggestion is that a Traditionalist rejects the Council by adhering to Tradition, then either the Council is not in line with Tradition—which of course will never be admitted by its proponents, and I do not seek to make that argument here—or, the Traditionalists actually do understand the Council better and they have been unfairly maligned for decades. 

Furthermore, if we take a little walk through Church history, we find that there are Catholics who reject Councils, and they are called heretics and schismatics. But how does one become a heretic regarding Vatican II if Vatican II defined no new dogmas? Again, we are back where we started: in a place where a Trad doesn’t accept the Council in full, but the Council defined nothing new, and therefore must merely be a representation of Tradition, which makes it impossible to say that a man rejects the Council by adhering to everything that came before it, since the Council must be simpatico with all that.

The third objection is that we are not dealing with a Vatican II problem but, really, a “False Spirit of Vatican II” problem. Well, isn’t that convenient? Any problems associated with the Council and its improper implementation are not the fault of the Council but the fault of a false Conciliar spirit. Let us do our best to grant this argument for the sake of “dialogue”—see, we can all put on our best Vatican II hats when needed.

It is all the rage as of late to discuss the “False Spirit of Vatican I” as a way of understanding the cult-like mentality that so many Catholics have imbibed regarding the limits of papal power. Granted, we can admit of a false spirit of Vatican I because there is a true spirit of Vatican I. As problematic as some extensions of papal infallibility and power may be, if we read the documents of Vatican I we find that the doctrines in question are clearly defined, as the Council speaks of “true obedience” to papal authority, which clearly shows us that there is a false obedience. Therefore, we can justly say there is a false spirit because the true spirit is defined without ambiguity. 

This is not so with Vatican II, and anyone who tells you otherwise must be regarded with skepticism. 

We can have no real discussion about the false spirit of Vatican II until the day comes when the true spirit of Vatican II is as clear as the true spirit of Vatican I.

Now, I understand that my critics will decry my opinion of Vatican II as being incorrect. But, what will they point to in an attempt to prove their case? Surely, they will point to the interpretation they hold most dear—which will, of course, be different than mine; but it will also be different from a dozen other well-read and learned men, who all claim to understand the Council better than the other. And, since there are no definitions in the Council, we can continue debating the phrase subsistit in like Bill Clinton in his infamous soliloquy wherein he encouraged us to take a second look at the definition of the word “is.”

I do not have all the answers, but neither does Vatican II! That is unless you interpret it in a way wherein it does have all the answers, which you are free to do and not do at the same time and in the same place, thereby adding to the ridiculous confusion that will continue to abound until the day comes when a Holy Pope finally clears up this mess.

Until then, my only advice is to hold fast to Tradition, which is, of course, nothing more than holding fast to Vatican II—because Vatican II is in line with Tradition because it defined no new dogmas…but somehow the Trads just don’t get it.

As our Elder Brethren in the Faith like to say: Oy vey!

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