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Chapter 18 Vatican Council II and the Church in the Modern World


How does one summarize an ecumenical council, such as Vatican II, that has been and is transforming Christian society and has brought more changes to the Church in a few years than during the preceding 400 to 500 years?

1. Summarize the life of Pope John XXIII, who called Vatican Council II.

Angelo Roncalli was born November 25, 1881, at Sotte il Monte, Italy. He was educated in the seminary of the Catholic Church HistoryBergamo diocese and at the Pontifical Seminary in Rome. He was ordained a priest on August 10, 1904. The first decade of his priesthood he served as secretary to the Bishop of Bergamo, as an instructor in the seminary, and then as a medic and chaplain in the Italian army during World War I.

In 1921 Fr. Roncalli was given an assignment with the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. In 1925 he became apostolic visitor to Bulgaria. He also held such positions as apostolic delegate to Turkey and Greece, administrator of the Latin Vicariate apostolic of Istanbul, and apostolic nuncio to France.

As Archbishop Roncalli, this great priest of the Church became an expert negotiator in delicate movements with Roman, Eastern Rite, and Orthodox relationships. He represented the Church with people who suffered the consequences of World War II and he helped settle many suspicions that arose from wartime conditions.

On January 12, 1953, Archbishop Roncalli was named a cardinal by Pope Pius XII and then was appointed patriarch of Venice, the position he held when he was elected pope on October 28, 1958.

Already an old man when he was named pope, many thought he would be simply an "interregnum" pope, after the great pontifical reign of Pius XII. However, Pope John XXIII reigned for about 5½ years and his reign and decisions affected the history of the Catholic Church for present and future generations.

Pope John proved to be a strong, active pope and his influence was felt around the world, as he was loved by all men — by Christians of all persuasions and even by non-Christians. He became known in his own lifetime as "Good Pope John."

Pope John has often been misrepresented as responsible for radical elements within the Church (after Vatican Council II) which disturbed its peace, harmony, respect for authority, and loyalty to Church doctrine and discipline. Sometimes agitators and "reformers," who did not wish to follow the officially approved reforms of the Catholic Church, spoke of their motives and efforts as "in the spirit of Pope John," or "the spirit of Vatican Council II." In reality, the "spirit" of both was the opposite of theirs.

Since boyhood, as a young priest, a bishop, and then as pope, John XXIII was always loyal to the traditions of the Church, always stressing the necessity of undivided loyalty to Church doctrine and discipline and never advocating anything out of harmony with the faith and morals of the Catholic Church. His diary (kept since boyhood), titled Journal of a Soul, reveals how intensely loyal Pope John was until the moment of his death. He had intense loyalty to the rosary, praying all fifteen mysteries daily, even during his busy pontificate. His devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, while at the same time being "progressive" enough to move the Church into the modern world so as to convert it, is a matter of documented history, edifying to any sincere Catholic.

Good Pope John issued eight encyclicals. Two are outstanding, and won immediate recognition in the world. Mater et Magistra (Mother and Teacher on Christianity and Social Progress) recapitulated in updated fashion and extended the social doctrine stated by Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius XI. Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) concerned the natural principles of peace, and was the first encyclical ever formally issued by a pope to all men of good will as well as to Catholics.

On March 28, 1963, Pope John established a commission for revision of the Code of Canon Law, which performed its work for many years.

Pope John, who was beloved by all Christians, whether Catholic or not, assigned to the Second Vatican Council the task of promoting unity among all Christians, but he never called for any compromise of Catholic faith, for real unity can never be found in compromising the truth.

On January 25, 1959, Pope John XXIII announced his intention of calling the twenty-first ecumenical council of the Catholic Church.1

2. Why did Pope John XXIII convoke Vatican Council II?

His intention in convoking Vatican Council II as the twenty-first worldwide council (a council of the bishops of the entire Church) was to renew the life of the Church, to reform structures and institutions that needed updating, and to discover ways and means of promoting unity among all Christians.

Pope John used the Italian word aggiornamento in stating his purpose for Vatican Council II. Its general meaning is "to bring up to date," "to renew,""to revitalize." The word is descriptive of the processes of spiritual renewal and institutional reform and change in the Church judged necessary by Vatican Council II.

In his opening speech to the Ecumenical Council of Vatican II, Pope John said that the first need in calling the council was "to assert once again the Magisterium, which is unfailing and perdures until the end of time." The "magisterium" means the teaching authority of the Church. How unfortunate that, after this council, the magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church, was so often ignored even by some who said they spoke "in the spirit of Vatican II" or the "spirit of Pope John."

In calling the council, Pope John noted that he looked to the past, to listen to its voice. He declared that it was the principal duty of the council to defend and to advance the truth. The council was to be loyal to the sacred patrimony of truth, as received from the fathers, but to see ever new avenues by which to take the same, true faith of Christ to the world. He insisted that the Catholic Church would continue to oppose errors, but that its opposition must be treated with the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity. He sought ever greater unity in sanctity, and great joy in the eventual union of all the Christian churches of the world.

Thus the reform and change that Pope John sought in calling the council was in no way to change the faith and morals of the Catholic Church. His idea was to develop no new doctrine but a new way to make the constant unchangeable faith in Christ — as given the apostles in the sacred deposit of faith — ever more effective in the lives of people and for the evangelization of the entire world.

3. For how many sessions of the council was Pope John responsible?

Pope John called the council but he lived for only one of its four sessions. He opened the council on the Feast of the Divine Motherhood of Mary (October 11, 1962) after nearly four years of exhaustive preparation. The council's first work was the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, which brought about great changes in the structure and language of the Mass, without in any way changing its divine nature as sacrifice and sacrament, given us by the Lord Jesus Christ. That first session closed December 8, 1962, and Pope John died June 3, 1963.

Pope Paul VI reconvened the council for the remaining three sessions, which ran from September 29 to December 4, 1963; September 14 to November 21, 1964; and September 14 to December 8, 1965.

4. How many bishops participated in Vatican Council II?

A total of 2,860 council fathers (world bishops) participated in the Twenty-first Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church. Attendance at council meetings varied from 2,000 to 2,500. For reasons such as health and denial of exit visas from Communist-dominated countries, 274 bishops were not able to participate.

5. What documents were formulated and promulgated by Vatican II?

There was a total of sixteen, all of which represented the pastoral nature of Vatican Council Ii, directed to spiritual renewal and reform in the Church, without in any way changing the faith or morals of the Church.

  The sixteen documents are as follows:

  1. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), Nov. 21, 1964.
  2. Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum), Nov. 18,1965.
  3. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium), Dec. 4, 1963.
  4. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), Dec. 7, 1965.
  5. Decree on the Bishops' Pastoral Office in the Church (Christus Dominus), Oct. 28, 1965.
  6. Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity (Ad Gentes), Dec. 7, 1965.
  7. Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio), Nov. 21, 1964.
  8. Decree on Eastern Catholic Church (Orientalium Ecclesiarum), Nov. 21, 1964.
  9. Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests (Presbyterorum Ordinis), Dec. 7, 1965.
  10. Decree on Priestly Formation (Optatam Totius), Oct. 28, 1965.
  11. Decree on the Appropriate Renewal of the Religious Life (Perfectae Caritatis), Oct. 25, 1965.
  12. Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (Apostolicam Actuositatem), Nov. 18, 1965.
  13. Decree on the Instruments of Social Communication (Inter Mirifica), Dec. 4, 1963.
  14. Declaration on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae), Dec. 7, 1965.
  15. Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate), Oct. 28, 1965.
  16. Declaration on Christian Education (Gravissimum Educationis), Oct. 28, 1965.

6. What did Vatican Council II say about the Blessed Virgin Mary?

Regarding the liturgy the council said: "In celebrating this annual cycle of Christ's mysteries, holy Church honors with special love the Blessed Mary, Mother of God, who is joined by an inseparable bond to the saving work of her Son. In Mary the Church holds up and admires the most excellent fruit of the redemption. In Mary the Church joyfully contemplates, as in a spotless model, that which the Church herself wholly desires and aspires to be."

The Vatican II council fathers devoted the entire eighth chapter of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, in "The Mystery of Christ and the Church." The council also gave key statements about Mary in its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

Pope Paul VI, in a speech to the council fathers, spoke as follows: "This year, the homage of our Council appears much more precious and significant. By the promulgation of today's constitution, which has as its crown and summit a whole chapter dedicated to our Lady, we can rightly affirm that the present session ends as an incomparable hymn of praise in honor of Mary."

"It is the first time, in fact, and saying it fills our souls with profound emotion, that an Ecumenical Council has presented such a vast synthesis of the Catholic doctrine regarding the place which the Blessed Mary occupies in the mystery of Christ and of the Church."

Vatican Council II was sensitive to the views of other Christians, as the council, at the request of Pope John XXIII, hoped to promote Christian unity, but knew there are different concepts about Mary among other Christians, especially Protestants. The council spoke of Mary as "Mediatrix," as strengthening — not lessening — confidence in Christ as the one essential Mediator.

The council, in speaking of Mary, used a biblical approach, with strong emphasis on her pilgrimage of faith. The council did not consider Mary as separate from its treatment of the Church, but discussed the mystery of Mary in the larger mystery of Christ and his Church.

After Vatican Council II, some misrepresented the council, claiming it had downgraded Catholic devotion to God's Mother. The council said "that the practices and exercises of devotion toward her, recommended by the teaching authority of the Church in the course of centuries, [are to be] highly esteemed." The council cautioned theologians and preachers of the word of God "to be careful to refrain as from all false exaggeration as from too summary an attitude in considering the special dignity of the Mother of God" (67, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church).

7. What other areas of Church life were misrepresented after Vatican Council II?

It is difficult to mention any area of Church life that did not experience misrepresentations. Misunderstandings created tendencies among many to "lose balance" on the Church and the modern world. Significant disturbances (which varied from area to area, with some areas experiencing little or no disturbance) were lack of respect for authority at all levels in the Church. There were disturbances in Catholic schools, colleges, and universities. Liturgical aberrations, as various individuals carried the reform of the liturgy further than authorized by the Church, ecumenism, where some experimented in circumstances that represented compromise of the true faith or pretended unity in areas where Christian unity did not exist; catechetics; loss by some priests and religious of the real sense of their vocation; seminaries where theologians taught a neo-Modernism in various forms; family life, when theologians attacked the position of the pope who reaffirmed the constant teaching of the Church which forbids artificial birth control. Such widespread disturbances also extended to a "vocation crisis," whereby fewer young men and women offered their lives to Christ in full service of the Church as priests and religious.

8. If such disturbances happened in the Church in the years immediately following Vatican II, how could they represent the renewal ("aggiornamento") called for by Pope John and the Council itself?

They did not represent authentic renewal in the Catholic Church. The history of the Church over its 2,000 years has been that, after various ecumenical councils, disturbances were experienced until the authentic renewal became thoroughly a part of Church life, reaching every aspect of Church life and its millions of members around the world. The Catholic Church is international, with millions of members of every nationality, culture, and background. The reform of Vatican II brought more changes in the life of Catholics in a shorter time than had been experienced in its preceding 400 to 500 years.

The fact that the majority of the Church remained loyal and adapted to the changes (though sometimes with difficulty) is evidence of the divinity of the Church and the action of the Holy Spirit within Christ's Mystical Body, If the Church were only a natural body, such rapid changes as took place after the beginning of Vatican II (with its issuance of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy) would have torn a natural organization completely apart. But the Catholic Church is a divine organism, Christ's own Mystical Body, and at the same time that disturbances were felt, abundant signs of inner health and spiritual renewal were also taking place.

Unfortunately, some who lost their Catholic identity after Vatican II, or at least became confused, were not well informed in their faith and did not make proper distinctions. Some did not distinguish between divine law and Church law. Laws which come directly from God can never change. Laws which the Church has made in the course of centuries can change with time. Jesus gave the Church this power to bind and to loose (Mt 16:19).

With the rapid change of structures in the Catholic Church, stemming from Vatican II (but which, in reality, Pope Pius XII had set in motion years before), some who had rightly been taught that the Catholic Church possesses the fullness of the true faith and can never be destroyed, and will be here until the end of the world, began to imagine that the inner nature (the faith and morals) of the Church was changing. Even some priests and religious found the changes difficult to adjust to, and sometimes the laity were scandalized by poor example in those to whom they looked for guidance.

Some said the Church was changing too fast. Others said that Church's changes were too little and too late. Because of such extreme accusations, one can rightly conclude that the Church, officially, was acting with balance, but all its members were not reacting with the same balance, which requires a spirit of obedience, humility, charity, and deep faith.

The 2,000-year history of the Catholic Church has given evidence, beginning with the twelve apostles, that not every priest, and certainly not every baptized member of the Church, remains loyal and faithful. However, no one is justified in becoming weak in the faith over the failure of a Judas. In fact, his sad history has strengthened members of the Church through the centuries, as they have encountered new Judases. Nor has the history of the Protestant Revolt of the sixteenth century disturbed Catholics of the last few centuries when they learned how Martin Luther, a priest (and other priests and religious) was the leader of a reformation and revolt against the Church.

Jesus, with sorrow, saw the dangers of disunity among his followers and, at the Last Supper, prayed that "all may be one" (Jn 17:21).

Christ Jesus established his Church with Peter as visible head, and the popes have been the successors of St. Peter. Every Catholic — lay, religious, priest, and bishop — has an obligation to listen to the pope, to obey him, and thus maintain the unity in faith and charity that Christ intended for his Church and for which he established the papacy.

9. Did all Catholic educators, theologians, priests, and religious remain obedient to the pope after Vatican Council II?

Many did, but others did not obey the pope, making subtle distinctions that the pope must be obeyed or listened to only when he speaks infallibly. Such has never been the teaching of the Church, and it was not the teaching of Vatican Council II.

For example, controversies broke out whereby the position of the pope was attacked on such matters as artificial birth control. Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical Humane Vitae (July 29, 1968), restated the traditional teaching of the Church, by which Catholics, in the sacredness of matrimony, are told that "each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life" (art. 11). A group of theologians took to the public media to protest the pope's restating of the Catholic position against artificial birth control, and their action was contrary "to the binding force of religious assent" which Pope Paul said his encyclical on marriage doctrine and morality required. As soon as it was announced that the pope was releasing the encyclical, restating the Church's traditional position, certain theologians even before they had read or studied the encyclical, took to the air waves, publicly denouncing the action of the pope.

The disrespect and disobedience shown the pope in reaction to his encyclical ("Of Human Life") was nothing less than scandalous. Such open protest and disobedience against the highest Church authority had sad repercussions in other areas of Church life, as it was followed by dissent in other matters during the years following the release of the encyclical. The scandalous dissent among Catholics aided the contraceptive mentality so widespread in America. This prepared the way to the abortion mentality, whereby five years later the Supreme Court of the United States legalized abortive murders of the unborn.

10. What did Vatican II say about the pope's speaking infallibly and about the obligation of Catholics to assent, even when he does not speak infallibly ("ex cathedra")?

Bishops who teach in communion with the Roman Pontiff are to be revered by all as witnesses of divine Catholic truth; the faithful, for their part, are obliged to submit to their bishops' decision, made in the name of Christ, in matters of faith and morals, and to adhere to it with a ready and respectful allegiance of mind. This loyal submission of the will and intellect must be given, in a special way, to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak ex cathedra in such wise, indeed, that his supreme teaching authority be acknowledged with respect, and sincere assent be given to decisions made by him, conformably with his manifest mind and intention, which is made known principally either by the character of the documents in question, or by the frequency with which a certain doctrine is proposed, or by the manner in which the doctrine is formulated.

"Although the bishops, taken individually, do not enjoy the privilege of infallibility, they do, however, proclaim infallibly the doctrine of Christ on the following conditions: namely, when, even though dispersed throughout the world but preserving for all that amongst themselves and with Peter's successor the bond of communion, in their authoritative teaching concerning matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement that a particular teaching is to be held definitively and absolutely. This is still more clearly the case when, assembled in an ecumenical council, they are, for the universal Church, teachers of and judges in matters of faith and morals, whose decisions must be adhered to with the loyal and obedient assent of faith.

"This infallibility, however, with which the divine Redeemer wished to endow his Church in defining doctrine pertaining to faith and morals, is coextensive with the deposit of revelation, which must be religiously guarded and loyally and courageously expounded. The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful — who confirms his brethren in the faith (cf. Lk 22:32) — he proclaims in an absolute decision a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals. For that reason his definitions are rightly said to be irreformable by their very nature and not by reason of the assent of the Church, in as much as they were made with the assistance of the Holy Spirit promised to him in the person of blessed Peter himself; and as a consequence they are in no way in need of the approval of others, and do not admit of appeal to any other tribunal. For in such a case the Roman Pontiff does not utter a pronouncement as a private person, but rather does he expound and defend the teaching of the Catholic faith as the supreme teacher of the universal Church, in whom the Church's charism of infallibility is present in a singular way" (Lumen Gentium, 25).2

11. What problem developed in catechetics after Vatican Council II?

Abundant sources of catechetical materials developed in the years immediately following Vatican II, together with various new methods of teaching the faith. While there were vast improvements in many tools for the communication of faith, executive studies revealed — as in the case of the National Catechetical Consultation in 1974, in preparing a National Catechetical Directory — that there was great concern among Catholic parents and others about content of religious education. The concern was that the entire content of the Christian message be taught, and not watered down. It was felt that many youths and young adults had not been properly formed in their Catholic faith because the fullness of Catholic faith had not been taught.

Monsignor Wilfrid H. Paradis, director of the Directory project for the United States, stated that the reaction of those suffering frustration and disappointment with regard to current religious educational content was well expressed by the statement that "doctrine seems blurred for many who are annoyed and upset by the uncertainty."

The confusion caused by Modernistic theologians' dissenting from authoritative papal positions and developing new theories in the interpretation of Catholic doctrines and the scriptures was felt by Catholic youth. Theological opinions were often expressed in religion textbooks and classrooms, in place of the authentic Catholic faith in its fullness.

12. How did the Vatican handle the catechetical crisis in the Church?

The Vatican, through the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, and with the authorization of the Supreme Pontiff, Paul VI, on March 18, 1971, issued a General Catechetical Directory to provide the basic principles of pastoral theology for pastoral action in the ministry of the word of God.

The General Catechetical Directory says its "course of action was adapted especially for the following reason: the errors which are not infrequently noted in catechetics today can be avoided only if one starts with the correct way of understanding the nature and purposes of catechesis and also the truths which are to be taught by it, with due account being taken of those to whom catechesis is directed and of the conditions in which they live."

It further stated: "The immediate purpose of the Director is to provide assistance in the production of catechetical directories and catechisms."

It is obvious that the highest authorities in the Church recognized the catechetical crisis and that the fullness of true Catholic faith often was not adequately taught. This situation contributed to some youth never developing in or learning the fullness of the Catholic faith.

The Vatican also called catechetical synods at Rome for the purpose of improving the religious education of all people of all ages.

13. What did the American bishops do in response to the "General Catechetical Directory"?

In November 1972 the National Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral message on Catholic education, titled To Teach as Jesus Did. On January 11, 1973, reflecting on the contents of the General Catechetical Directory, the United States bishops issued the document Basic Teachings for Catholic Religious Education. This latter document listed the essential elements of faith which must be stressed in the religious formation of Catholics of all ages. The bishops' document was approved by the Vatican.

The American bishops also spearheaded the development of a National Catechetical Directory, beginning in 1973 and consisting of three rounds of nationwide consultation of priests, religious and lay persons, that would be a comprehensive United States-oriented guidebook for religious education. The general consultations continued until March 15, 1977, producing a Vatican-approved National Catechetical Directory approved by Pope Paul VI and the Basic Teachings of Catholic Religious Education, already approved by both the American bishops and the Vatican. On November 17, 1977, the bishops approved the National Catechetical Directory and sent it to the Holy See for final adjustments. It was approved by the Vatican's Sacred Congregation for the Clergy on October 30, 1978 and appeared in print in the spring of 1979, titled "Sharing the Light of Faith."

14. How did the Church react to nonofficial reports on the downplaying of devotion to the Mother of God which followed Vatican II?

On November 21, 1973, the United States Bishops issued a pastoral letter on the Blessed Virgin Mary, Behold Your Mother, Woman of Faith.

On February 2, 1974, Pope Paul VI issued a magnificent apostolic exhortation (Marialis Cultus) "for the right ordering and development of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary."

While documents in themselves do not solve problems unless they are implemented in the lives of people, the pope and the bishops clearly outlined the position of the Church on doctrine and true devotion concerning the Mother of God for men of good will.

15. Did the Church issue other documents after Vatican II to implement the Council and clarify the Church's teachings?

Yes, many documents. The Church issued postconciliar documents on such subjects as the proper celebration of the liturgy, administration of the sacraments, sacred music, first confession and First Communion, mixed marriages, ecumenical matters for christian unity, renewal of religious life, religious relations with Jews, the Church's missionary activity, etc.

16. How did the Church react to permissiveness and confusion in sexual ethics?

On December 29, 1975, the Church issued the Vatican Declaration on Sexual Ethics to clarify misunderstandings of the Church's position on human sexuality. The declaration said: "There are many people today who, being confronted with so many widespread opinions opposed to the teaching which they received from the Church, have come to wonder what they must now hold as true. The Church cannot remain indifferent to the confusion of minds and relaxation of morals."

The Church then reaffirmed its position, in harmony with God's word, requiring purity of thought and conduct, both personal and social, and total abstinence before marriage.

17. Was Vatican Council II responsible for the confusion in various aspects of Church life in the years which followed the issuance of its sixteen documents?

No. All the documents were in harmony with the deposit of faith entrusted to the original apostles by Jesus Christ. The confusion and misunderstandings resulted not from the official documents of Vatican II but from those who misinterpreted and misrepresented the ecumenical council.

Some put too great emphasis on external renewal, without sufficient emphasis on the inner spiritual renewal of souls. At first, emphasis on the change of the structure of the Mass — from Latin to the language of the people, with the priest now facing the people, and the assembly of God's people participating more actively by song and response — all this was thought by some to be the essential renewal to which Vatican Council II called all members of the Church. However, these were externals, intended merely as signs and expressions of the inner unity in Christ of all God's people in the common priesthood of the baptized.

The Catholic Church has always taught, as did Vatican Council II, that all the baptized participate in the priesthood of Christ. At the same time, priests ordained in holy orders participate in Christ's priesthood in a special way that differs in essence (not only in degree) from the priesthood of the faithful who are only baptized and confirmed. Perhaps because the council's special Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People emphasized laymen's duties and privileges as members of the Church, some began to fall into the same mistake that had been made by the Protestant reformers who denied the special powers of Christ's priesthood, reserved only to those who have received the sacrament of holy orders.

18. What superficial or false ecumenism developed after Vatican Council II?

Great progress was made in inter-Christian relations, both in understanding and appreciating other faiths, as well as cooperating in practical Christian works. Christians of various denominations met together, notably for a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (each year, January 18 to 25), and prayed in common, which demonstrated that Christians have much in common — as well as differences.

All of this was well and good, and called for by Vatican II under the direction of bishops. Theologians of different persuasions met to discuss their faith, and often discovered they had more in common than they'd thought. Sometimes, however, theologians and various ecumenical commissions came to agreements that did not represent the official position of their respective churches. Publicity concerning such matters — often without full explanation or comprehension — led to confusion among the faithful.

Abuses consisted of inter-communion services which were not authorized and, at times, emphasis on other faiths when a full study and understanding of one's own faith had not first been accomplished. The Church had not approved "indiscriminate" common worship but only common prayer under certain conditions authorized by one's bishop. Among some, abuses in ecumenism led to religious indifference. Too often, Catholic youth, not well grounded and formed in the basics of their own faith, failed to understand and appreciate their Catholic identity and developed a religious indifference to their Church, as was also the case of many Protestants regarding organized churches.

Some youth turned to false religious cults, seeking mysticism in religion. Unfortunately for youthful Catholics thus deceived, they were unaware of the profound mystical tradition in the works and lives of the saints of the Catholic Church from ancient days to the present time. They were unaware of the solid mystical theology of the Catholic Church available to those who study the "sources."

19. Did Vatican II authorize compromise of the Catholic faith?

No. It authorized just the opposite, as these quotations from the Decree on Ecumenism show:

"It is through Christ's Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believ4e that Our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God...

"For although the Catholic Church has been endowed with all divinely revealed truth and with all means of grace, yet its members fail to live by them with all the fervor that they should. As a result the radiance of the Church's face shines less brightly in the eyes of our separated brethren and of the world at large, and the growth of God's kingdom is retarded. Every Catholic must therefore aim at Christian perfection...

"There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without interior conversion. For it is from newness of attitudes of mind, from self-denial and unstinted love, that desires of unity take their rise and develop in a mature way...

"In certain circumstances, such as in prayer services "for unity" and during ecumenical gatherings, it is allowable, indeed desirable that Catholics should join in prayer with their separated brethren. Such prayers in common are certainly a very effective means of petitioning for the grace of unity, and they are a genuine expression of the ties which still bind Catholics to their separated brethren....

"Yet worship in common (communicatio in sacris) is not to be considered as a means to be used indiscriminately for the restoration of unity among Christians....The concrete course to be adopted, when all the circumstances of time, place and persons have been fully considered, is left to the prudent decision of the local episcopal authority, unless the bishops' conference according to its own statutes, or the Holy See, has determined otherwise."

The whole Decree on Ecumenism opposed any compromise of the true faith, but called for openness in charity and humility and for recognizing truth and goodness in our separated brethren, even though we do not possess the fullness of true faith. The unity Christ called for already exists in the Catholic Church, even though all her members do not fully live that faith, as they should.

20. Did Vatican II replace tradition and the teaching authority of the Church (magisterium) and the sole authority of God's word in sacred Scripture?

No. This is what Vatican II said in its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation:

"Sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted to the Church. By adhering to it the entire holy people, united to its pastors, remains always faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (cf. Acts 2:42). So, in maintaining, practicing, and professing the faith that has been handed on there should be a remarkable harmony between the bishops and the faithful.

"But the task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from the single deposit of faith.

"It is clear, therefore, that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls" (11).

21. Was there a confusion of roles in the Church after Vatican II?

Yes. There can never be erosion of the Catholic faith in the Church as such. The Church is never in doubt as to what is true Christian faith. Individuals in the Church may become confused as to what is the Catholic faith, and some modern theologians assisted greatly in this. The Catholic faith in itself, as preserved by the Catholic Church, will always remain intact.

The chief attributes of the Catholic Church are authority, infallibility, and indefectibility. ("Indefectible" means the Church will last until the end of tine.) The Catholic Church, and therefore the Catholic faith, cannot be destroyed, as our Lord has promised.

The introduction to the American bishops' document, Basic Teachings for Catholic Religious Education (January 11, 1973) states: "It is necessary that the authentic teachings of the Church, and those only be presented in religious instruction as official Catholic doctrine. Religion texts or classroom teachers should never present merely subjective theorizing as the Church's teaching.

"For this reason, a distinction must be borne in mind between, on the one hand, the area that is devoted to scientific investigation and, on the other, the area that concerns the teaching of the faithful. In the first, experts enjoy the freedom required by their work and are free to communicate to others, in books and commentaries, the fruits of their research. In the second, only those doctrines may be attributed to the Church which are declared to be such by her authentic Magisterium."

Archbishop Joseph Bernardin of Cincinnati summarized the confusion of roles after Vatican II in speaking of the distinct roles of bishop, teacher, and theologian: "Because he is the custodian of God's revelation, he [the bishop] also has the responsibility for cultivating an ever increasing understanding and penetration of that revelation. If he is a 20th century bishop, he cannot allow his people to be content with a 16th century bishop, he cannot allow his people to be content with a 16th century understanding of their faith, or even a 19th century understanding of their faith."

The archbishop said that the basic role of teachers of religion is "to present, in their own concrete sphere of activity, the authentic teachings of the Church as proposed and guaranteed by the bishops. They are true collaborators, fellow workers, with the bishop in his teaching function. Without them, his work becomes impossible.... Their primary task is not to teach their own personal opinion or theological hypotheses."

About theologians, Archbishop Bernardin continued: "The bishop's take of encouraging further penetration of the meaning of revelation is directed toward the theologians. In the vast region of God's message to man, they are the explorers. Because they are explorers, we must have a certain amount of freedom. Because they are explorers, we must expect that their searches will not always will not always be successful, and there are going to be some mistakes. All this is part of the theologian's role. And in conducting these explorations, the theologian provides a great and necessary service to the Church.

"It is my opinion, that much of the confusion connected with Christian education could be avoided if we, and all God's people, kept clear and distinct in our minds these three areas of endeavor, each of which is unique.

"Nothing but frustration and confusion can arise in the minds of the Christian faithful if the theologian begins to think that he is a bishop and acts as the final arbiter of the content of religion.

"Or if the teacher of religion begins to act as theologian and thus gives his students the impression that he is teaching Catholic doctrine when he is really teaching personal opinions.

"Or, I might add, if a bishop refused to respect the competencies of his theologians and teachers of religion and insists that everything be done in accord with his own private point of view."

Archbishop Bernardin succinctly states how confusion of roles became a major cause of trouble after Vatican Council II. The faith never changes, and is never added to, but doctrine can develop in the sense that our understanding of the faith develops through the ages without addition or subtraction from the deposit of faith. It is the official position of the Catholic Church, reaffirmed by Vatican II, that the sacred deposit of faith will never be added to, because it was complete at the time of the death of the last apostle. Our understanding of the faith, as contained in the sacred deposit, may develop, but not the deposit of faith itself, which contains the total truths revealed by Christ, taught infallibly by the Church and witnessed by scripture and tradition.

After Vatican II, process theologians, with ideas of "ongoing revelation," spread their false ideas of change and added to the confusion of the faithful. Some theologians imagined themselves another magisterium of the Church, whereas, in reality, theologians are in no way the authoritative teaching Church established by Christ.

22. What positive features of renewal were experienced as a result of Vatican Council II?

At least a hundred years will be needed to fully evaluate the fruit, value and richness of the Vatican Council II renewal. The Catholic Church has been here for twenty centuries, and will still be here at the end of the world, and its effectiveness cannot be judged by any one period of time.

Vatican II "modernized" the Catholic Church without in any way compromising with the heresy of Modernism. Participation of the laity in the liturgy of the Church was made possible by Vatican II, and in a greater measure than was possible before the council. This "inner participation" was always possible and desirable, but the reforms of the liturgy brought the Mass and the sacraments closer to the people so that they can participate more intelligently.

Vatican Council II made members of the Church more aware that all baptized members (not simply the clergy and religious) are in fact the Church and share various functions and responsibilities in spreading the faith of Christ to the ends of the world. The nature of the Church as missionary was revealed to many Catholics.

Vatican II challenged the faith of millions of its members as to whether they were just drifting deadwood, merely part of an inherited culture, or whether their faith was living and deep and could be applied to the social issues of our times so as to Christianize the whole of society. While the faith of some was severely tested (and failed), millions of others came to a deeper involvement in the practical living of the true faith.

Vatican II stirred the consciences of all Christians, reminding them of their obligation to fulfill the will and the prayer of Jesus Christ that all his followers be one, even as he and the Father are one.

Vatican II, while calling for shared responsibility, in no way abdicated authority. It upheld all the teachings of all the preceding twenty councils of the Catholic Church and brought to light the doctrine of the priesthood of the laity, pointing out not only the dignity of all the baptized, but their duties before God and man in the Church.

Vatican II opened scripture more fully for the faithful in their participation in the Church year through the liturgy. It encouraged the laity (through councils) to assist their pastors in the work of the Church and priests (through synods or senates) to assist their bishops, without in any way confusing roles or usurping authority.

When the sixteen documents of Vatican II are fully digested and properly implemented into the life of the many millions of Catholic laity, religious, and priests, we can look to (as it were) a new Pentecost, for which Pope John XXIII called the council, and that "new springtime" of life in the Church, which Pope Pius XII predicted before his death.


How does one summarize an ecumenical council, such as Vatican II, that has been and is transforming Christian society and has brought more changes to the Church in a few years than during the preceding 400 to 500 years? Without harm to faith or morals, some of the changes of Vatican II would have been realized centuries earlier if it had not been for the Protestant Revolt (and its own reformation) in the sixteenth century.

At the time of the Protestant Revolt there were movements for the use of the vernacular (language of the people) in the liturgy. The "revolters" immediately put their services in the language of the people, and so Latin became identified with Christians who remained loyal to the pope in the unity of the ancient Catholic Church. Doubtlessly, the nonauthorized innovations, changes, and discard of doctrines which accompanied the religious upheaval of the sixteenth century necessitated that the Catholic Church, for the protection of her members and to save them from confusion, maintain its long-held position on such questions as use of the vernacular. Thus Latin became almost a fifty (though nonessential) mark of the true Church after the Protestant Revolt.

What does one say about those Catholics who, after Vatican II and during the implementation of the council documents, became confused about of disobedient to Church authority, striking out even against the Holy Father, the pope? Ultimately, only God judges souls. One can sympathize with the faithful who were led astray by some members of the clergy and religious, who themselves rebelled against or misrepresented the truth. And still we must remember that, for each and all, God's grace is always sufficient in every temptation, and once the gift of the fullness of the true faith has been bestowed by God upon a soul, our good, heavenly Father will not withdraw it, unless the person himself (or herself) rejects it.

After Vatican II, life in the Catholic Church became more challenging and more thrilling — more full of joy for those who engaged in the authentic renewal under and together with the magisterium. Confusion reigned only when educators, clergy, religious, and laity did not work in harmony with the Holy Father in interpreting and implementing the authentic renewal to which each Catholic is called.

Most who read and use this book of Church history are Catholic teenagers, tomorrow's adults and tomorrow's Church. But the Church of tomorrow will be the same as the Church of yesterday, of the last century, and of the first century. A newly conceived human life in its mother's womb, is a continuum, sill the same life when it is born as it is one hour, one day, or fifty or eighty years later. So the Catholic Church, Christ's Mystical Body of today and the future, will always b the same Church Jesus Christ founded twenty centuries ago.

The cells of the human body change with the passage of years; still, it is the same human body. Individual members of the laity, religious, priests, bishops, and our Holy Father the pope change with the passage of years. Still, it is the same Church, "one Lord, one faith, one baptism." As sacred scripture says: "Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, the same forever."

Our Catholic youth of today must become so strong in the faith — not beset by confusion or misunderstandings, but looking beyond the human failings of individual members of the Church and striving for personal perfection in Christ Jesus — that the reality and the sanctity of the Church, its true face, will truly be known and loved by all the world.

The Catholic Church is a divine organism. It is of Christ, the God-Man himself. It is human, and also divine. With the eyes of faith, each member must see beyond its human quality and witness the inner divine reality which is Christ's Mystical Body.

We have just studied its 2,000-year history, and as we look to the future we can know that, as in the past, Satan and the forces of evil will always be there, attempting to destroy the Church through its human quality. As Christ Jesus was tempted in the desert, the forces of evil, the spirit of wickedness, will never cease tempting the members of Christ. As at the head of the Mystical Body did not and could not fall, for he is divine, so, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the human quality will be strengthened and will prevail.

The history of the Catholic Church will always be full of pages of great and lesser saints who testify to that mark of the Church we call holiness. It will always retain its oneness, its catholicity (universality), and always remain apostolic; the only Church built upon the apostles and promised that "the gates of hell shall never prevail against it."


  1. For a more detailed life of Pope John XXIII, consult Saints & Heroes Speak (OSV Press).
  2. From Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Summarize the religious character of "Good Pope John."
  2. What purpose did Pope John XXIII have in calling Vatican Council II?
  3. Which pope presided over most of Vatican Council II?
  4. What was the first work of the council which deeply affected the religious practice of Catholics? Explain how it affected them.
  5. How many documents did Vatican II issue and what was their main intent?
  6. What did the council declare about Mary and why were the council fathers sensitive to Protestant concepts about Mary?
  7. What are some of the disturbances which arose in the Church after Vatican II?
  8. Did these disturbances truly reflect the reality of Vatican Council II? Explain.
  9. Who especially questioned the official position of the Church and how did they react, thus causing confusion for many Catholic people?
  10. What did Vatican Council II say about the obligation of Catholics toward the pronouncements of the pope, even when the Holy Father dies not speak ex cathedra?
  11. What was the catechetical problem that developed about the time of Vatican II and the years following?
  12. How did the Vatican react to abuses that were not infrequent in the teaching of the faith?
  13. Explain how our American bishops cooperated with the directives of the Vatican.
  14. Did the Church make any official reaction to the false reports that it downplayed its former devotion to the Mother of God? Explain.
  15. In summary, what did the Catholic Church say about the confusion in sexual ethics?
  16. What is meant by superficial or false ecumenism?
  17. Explain how Vatican II in no way called for a compromise of the Catholic faith.
  18. Since Vatican II, some Catholics have acted as if scripture is the chief and only authority in the Church for our understanding in the faith of the word of God. How would you answer such a claim?
  19. Explain what is meant by the confusion of roles which some Catholics were guilty of after Vatican Council II.
  20. Name the positive features in Church life which resulted from the Second Vatican Council.
  21. How did the Protestant Revolt of the sixteenth century in some respects cause the Catholic Church to remain "frozen" in updating features which can be changed?

Fox, Rev. Robert J. "The Catholic Church in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries." A Catechism of Church History: 2,000 Years of Faith and Tradition (Park Press Quality Printing, Jubilee 2000 Edition),

Reprinted by permission of the publisher and by the author, Fr. Robert J. Fox.


Father Robert J. Fox is the director of the Fatima Family Apostolate and editor of the Immaculate Heart Messenger. Before founding his own Apostolate and editing his own magazine Father Robert J. Fox for many years was a columnist with leading Catholic magazines, newspapers, and journals in the United States. In addition to being a retiired pastor from the Diocess of South Dakota and now lives in Hanceville, Alabama and offers daily Mass at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady's of Angels Monastery home Mother Angelica and the Poor Clare Nuns.

Category:  Catholic Doctrine
Published: Fatima Family Apostolate ( Non-Profit)
Publish Date: 2000 4th Edition
Nihl Obstat: Rev James N Joyce
Imprimatar: Most Rev. Paul V. Dudley
Pages: 296
Binding: Paperback
Dimensions: 9 L x 6 W x 3/4 H
Price: $9.95

Publisher Official Website: www.fatimafamily.org

Fatima Family Apostolate is dedicated to the sanctification of the family and the individual through spreading the Fatima message.  A non-profit Catholic missionary apostolate specializing in the publishing and distribution of Catholic books designed to aid Catholics on their journey towards heaven.

The Fatima Family Apostolate was started at the encouragement of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and is endorsed by the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family. It is now an international Apostolate, having members all over the world and publishes a
52-page quarterly magazine called the Immaculate Heart Messenger.

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