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The coup against Vatican II.

Charles de Gaulle once referred to the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) as the greatest event of the twentieth century, since it marked the turning point in a thousand years of Christendom. And for the Roman Catholic church, at least, Vatican II certainly was the most significant event of the century, since it became the line that divided one kind of Catholicism from another. The council gave tremendous motivation for Catholics to become more open, critical, dialogical, and human. Vatican II encouraged Catholics to be themselves--honest, free, and responsible--as the new source of spiritual development.

While most of the theology of pre-Vatican II Catholicism may now be considered "bad theology" that has psychologically damaged generations of Catholics, Vatican II enabled the dissenter's theology of the pre-Vatican II era to become "official" Catholic teaching. Historically, the idea of change has not been popular in the Catholic church, as the Vatican consistently condemned philosophers, scientists, and theologians for their dissent against ecclesiastical orthodoxy. From the medieval era on, the Catholic church became a monolithic, absolutist monarchy with a hierarchical infrastructure supported by a curial oligarchy and ruled by an autocratic pope. The church was capable of suppressing all intellectual and social dissent against the established order. Four hundred years of repressed change in the Catholic church suddenly erupted in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. Massive turmoil, confusion, high stress, and euphoria resulted. Vatican II was a Catholic renaissance in theology.

But something traumatic has happened to destroy the spirit of Vatican II. The euphoria following the council seemed to end with two encyclicals: Sacerdotalis Celibatus (1967), which called for the continuation of mandatory clerical celibacy; and Humanae Vitae (1968), which called for the condemnation of artificial birth control despite the scholarly majority reports demanding policy changes. The credibility of the Catholic church, which at the beginning of Paul VI's papacy (1963-1978) may have been higher than at any time in the last 500 years, has sunk significantly. Many Catholics suffer varying degrees of anxiety and depression over the state of their church, while increasing numbers have actually been leaving the church to preserve their own mental health.

The most worrisome results of papal repression in the Catholic church have been the exodus of the most alert, intelligent, and sincere Catholics and a kind of psycho logical schism in millions of others. Clergy and religious workers have been leaving the active ministry for three decades now and in record numbers--130,000 priests and 300,000 nuns--all because they perceive that the church system may have caused psychological damage in themselves while denying it, and also because of the refusal to change the law of mandatory clerical celibacy and allow priests the freedom to marry. During the 1990s, 40,000 more priests will leave the active ministry because of their anger at the church system which continues to oppress them and stubbornly refuses to change.

It was Pope John XXIII (1958-1963) who envisioned the Catholic church in the third millennium and offered great hope for renewal and reform. For centuries, Catholicism had resisted change; and when "Good Pope John" convened the Second Vatican Council, he was fully aware that most councils in church history have been followed by periods of grave confusion and turmoil. Nor was Vatican II any exception. From the very beginning, forces within the Catholic church opposed John XXIII's reformist agenda. His willingness to change the image of Catholicism and bring the church into the modern world offended the Roman Curia and various Italian cardinals who had just recently voted for him as a transitional pope.

In the aftermath of Vatican II, the 16 documents written by theologians and signed by bishops--documents which generated such euphoria for a renewed Catholicism at the time--have become the source of grave ecclesiastical and theological turmoil within the church. Catholic clergy and laity who were most informed by and devoted to implementing Vatican II have been placed on the defensive by various right wing Catholic groups who rejected the council's reforms. Many grass roots Catholics now appear discouraged and depressed at the state of the Catholic church because of a concerted effort on the part of the church hierarchy to overthrow Vatican II--a doctrinal coup that most reform minded Catholics feel powerless to stop.

The ecumenical pope, John XXIII, was a serious student of church history, and he acknowledged that the Catholic church had not always lived the authentic gospel of Jesus Christ. John realized that the behavior of the church was often a source of grave scandal and a betrayal of the Christian message. Historically, corruption had affected the church at all levels, and the church ignored most calls for reform. Then, too, across the centuries, Christianity generated one of the most perfect exercises in mind control in the history of the world, in which sexual thought carried a penalty of death. With the Inquisition promoted by the Catholic church in the twelfth century came many of the horrors of interrogation, torture, forced confession, extorted conversion, and extermination that have plagued the world ever since Pope Innocent IV.

This is the dark side to church history that John XXIII tried to face with Vatican II. He challenged Catholicism to change from a religion of coercion to a religion of freedom, from fear to love, from legalism to personalism, from triumphalism to humanism, from authoritarianism to democracy, from ritualism to service, from dogmatism to openness, and from brutal discipline to compassion and mercy.

It is precisely this legacy that is now under attack. There has been a return to traditionalism in the Catholic church under Pope John Paul II. Traditionalism attempts to limit the search for the truth by forbidding questions and demanding blind obedience. The traditionalist seeks to halt tradition at a particular stage of history, despite the fact that tradition by its very nature involves a constant process of interpretation, develop meet, and openness to change. The traditionalist temptation (based upon neurotic fear and anxiety) is to reinstate author) tarianism in Catholicism during the 1990s. Ironically, though, Catholic authoritarianism was most effective when it was supported by a paternalistic and agrarian society. There is no real justification for an authoritarian church in contemporary society.

Yet while authoritarian structures of government have been gradually crumbling in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics, Catholics living under the traditionalist papacy of John Paul II have been experiencing a prolonged and well orchestrated coup against the reforms of Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council. From his election to the papacy in 1978, John Paul II has zealously led a counter reformation to restore orthodoxy and authority within the Catholic church. John Paul II opposes the new theological and spiritual freedom encouraged by Vatican II. The Polish pope has meticulously employed the very philosophy that failed in the Soviet coup against Gorbachev in his attempt to overthrow Vatican II. He has shoved the Catholic church back into the Middle Ages and reemphasized various methods of psychological torture. (Vatican II had previously condemned such abusive measures.) The pope has personally silenced certain Vatican II theologians and stripped them of their academic credentials to teach theology in Catholic universities. He has also authorized the firing, without warning or due process, of religious educators who implemented Vatican II.

The censorship of both the religious and secular press has been restored under John Paul II to prevent the publication of books and articles critical of the Catholic church. John Paul II has demanded that bishops and clergy take loyalty oaths to guarantee absolute obedience to himself. He shows no openness, flexibility, or tolerance for dissenters. The search for enemies in the post-Vatican II era has included the most dedicated intellectuals, iconoclasts, and change agents who possess classified information about Catholicism and could potentially reform the Catholic church. John Paul II has reimposed traditional Catholic orthodoxy as the party line. Theological hardliners have been placed in central positions of authority to ensure that the policies of John Paul II are fully implemented in the Catholic church. Furthermore, there is a determination among traditionalists to restore the church to its past glories, when Catholicism triumphantly dominated European culture and ruled the world order.

This repression of human freedom, collegiality, ecumenism, social justice, and Vatican II theology should raise global social consciousness and provide ample evidence that John Paul II has indeed circumvented Vatican II. The coup resembles the characteristics of a religious cult that oppresses the human spirit through techniques of psychological torture. When Catholics are tortured mentally and emotionally by their church concerning morals, dogma, laws, or rituals, the victims tend to act out in patterns of psychosocial and psychosexual deviance. Totalitarian Catholicism has been described as "brainwash religion" that seeks to control the individual and the society.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Cardinal John O'Connor, Archbishop Agostini Cacciavillan, Opus Dei, Catholics United for the Faith, the Knights of Columbus, the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, the Wanderer, and Mother Angelica are all examples of the right wing extremism bent on discrediting Vatican II. Mother Angelica, founder of the Eternal Word Television Network, represents a polemical defense of post Reformation Catholic orthodoxy that vehemently rejects the historical, biblical, theological, and pastoral developments of Catholicism during the twentieth century. Dressed in the traditional religious garb of pre-Vatican II nuns, Mother Angelica condemns Vatican II as evil and blames liberal theologians for causing most of the trouble within the church. (She also invites people who disagree with her to leave the church.) Archbishop Raymond Weakland of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has called Mother Angelica's denunciation of the liberal church the most disgraceful, un-Christian, offensive, and divisive diatribe that he has ever heard against Vatican II Catholicism.

Only time will tell if Vatican II can survive this coup and serve as the foundation for radical change within the Catholic church. It may take several generations to see a significant difference in Roman Catholicism. The authoritarian hardliners stubbornly refuse to change either themselves or their total) tartan system of government.

At the same time, however, the Second Vatican Council proved to be a veritable revolution among millions of grass roots Catholics--one which changed Catholicism from a "clerical" church to a church "of the people" Since Vatican II, the Catholic church can no longer be considered a monolithic institution. There now exists a group of more independent and liberal Catholics who think for themselves and who find themselves at odds with the current church leadership.

Vatican II Catholics generally love the church but hate the corruption within it. They are opposed to an entrenched historical system which appears to be out of touch with ordinary people and which betrays the gospel of Jesus Christ. Vatican II Catholics may consider themselves orphans of John XXIII's aggiornamento and may now feel totally alienated from the church in the conservative era of John Paul II. In essence, the Second Vatican Council was designed as a revolutionary corporate restructuring that threatened to dismantle the medieval hierarchical military structures of the Catholic church in order to return the power to the people and to embrace a more Christian and democratic paradigm of authority. However, traditionalists view Vatican II as a "failed experiment" against a 2,000 year tradition of Catholic orthodoxy. The pope himself sees Vatican II as a "fad" resulting from original sin.

Concerning religious and political trends, Roman Catholic church leadership has been in step with successive U.S. government administrations for the past 50 years. The 1950s saw Pius XII and Dwight Eisenhower emphasize conservative religion and politics in the post-World War II era. The 1960s witnessed John XXIII and John Kennedy develop programs that embodied a vision for massive institutional and social change but were posthumously implemented by their successors Paul VI and Lyndon Johnson. The 1970s shifted to a more moderate approach under an aging Paul VI end Jimmy Carter. The 1980s, in reaction to the chaotic 1960s and transitional 1970s, saw a return to conservative right wing authoritarian religion and politics under John Paul II and Ronald Reagan. John Paul II seemed destined to undo the 1960s and the reforms of Vatican II, while Ronald Reagan and George Bush seemed intent on denying the political reforms of the 1960s. At the same time, the idealism of the 1960s has been replaced by the cynicism of the 1990s.

During a brief papacy, Pope John XXIII proclaimed an end to ivory tower Catholicism. There would be no more silent aloofness as there was during the Nazi Holocaust of European Jewry. Pope John XXIII saw the Catholic church not as a pyramid of power, flowing from top to bottom, but as a circle of love and service to humanity. He saw the papacy as a sign of unity rather than authoritarian dictatorship. He encouraged Catholics to think for themselves, to analyze and critique both church and state, and to prepare themselves for service to the world. He also lifted the ban on Catholic scholars formerly considered heretics and invited them to fully participate in Vatican II.

In the 1990s, there is no longer talk of change in the Catholic church. The church appears to be undergoing moral decay with a profound crisis of leadership. The priesthood is suffering from a massive exodus and low morale. Politicians seem to have replaced prophets in the clerical ranks of the Catholic church. There is a serious lack of credibility in the institutional church, which is plagued by sex scandals among the clergy, especially the increasing incidence of child sex-abuse cases against clerical pedophiles, which is costing the church millions of dollars in lawsuits. (Indeed, the church has covered up the evidence of sexual abuse for centuries.) There continues to be widespread abuse of power, an erosion of trust, and a profound lack of love in the Catholic church.

There are many Catholics who apparently love right wing politics and religion and who reject a church based on freedom, justice, love, and social change for the security of traditional dogma, morality, law, and ritual. Orthodox Catholicism demands no serious intellectual or moral conversion from individual church members but, rather, mere obedience and conformity to the rules of the ecclesiastical establishment. John Paul II assumes that, given the choice, the vast majority of Catholics would reject the reforms of Vatican II in favor of a return to traditional Catholicism, which emphasized authority and obedience rather than freedom and love.

The spirit of John XXIII was openness, aggiornamento, and hope for a renewed Catholic church that would, in turn, change the world. John XXIII loved everyone, and most Catholics (and non Catholics) honored him for his humility, humor, and humanity. His successor, Paul VI, believed that the purpose of Vatican II was to change Christianity into a "civilization of love" As a theological hardliner, John Paul II shows no such compassion for Vatican II Catholicism. The Polish pope ap pears destined to sacrifice the spiritual and psychological well being of millions of Catholics, and to cost the church millions of its followers, in order to secure the church hierarchy's political interests. This pope does not seem to care how much his own behavior may be perceived by the general public as offensive to the Christian spirit of love or how much human suffering it may ultimately cost the church.

Michael S. Patton is an anthropologist, philosopher, theologian, sexologist, and psychotherapist in private practice in Ohio. He has provided over 20 years of education and therapy at all levels of the Catholic church.
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Author:Patton, Michael S.
Publication:The Humanist
Date:Sep 1, 1995
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