Discovering a Church in Crisis: Personal Reflections of a Recent ConvertBenjamin J. Vail, OFS
What is going on in the Church these days? How to understand the origin of our present dilemmas, and what to do about them?
Like many of you, I’ve wrestled with these questions for years. As a recent convert, I started to ask questions after becoming aware of liturgical abuse in my parish. I have gone through an agonizing, years-long process of trying to figure out why irregularities were so common at the Novus Ordo Masses I attended. Some seemed minor, and others were appalling, but abuses were characteristic of virtually every liturgy I attended in different parishes, cities and countries. Over time, mainly through self-education, I learned about the problems of Vatican II and discovered the existence of the Tridentine Mass, which gave me some answers about why there is a crisis in the Church and what to do about it.
This is a personal statement, not a theological treatise, about my spiritual journey, which is still a work in progress.
I was baptized in the Roman Catholic Church in 2009. Early on, as I was still learning the basics of the faith, I turned to Catholics I trusted to explain the variations in teachings and practices I was experiencing. When I mentioned problems in the Church or expressed skepticism about an utterance of the pope, or described my own troubling experiences with the liturgy and priests, I was urged to calm down and not to fret over such issues, but to focus rather on my own salvation. That is good advice, and yet I don’t think Catholics are called to be ignorant of Church affairs or to blindly follow error.
The Novus Ordo Mass is valid, I was told; offer up the liturgical abuses. Altar girls and Communion in the hand are no problem because they are permitted – don’t worry about it. But I have learned that beliefs and practices that are common and widespread in the Church today were unheard of and even condemned just 50 years ago. What happened?
Has the Roman Catholic Church changed so much that it may be called a new church, a new religion whose adherents are new Catholics – “Neo-Catholics”? The term may be an apt description of faithful Catholics, those often described as “conservative,” who refuse to acknowledge that the Catholicism of today is in many respects different from that of the past; who swallow the Vatican II reforms hook, line and sinker; for whom John Paul II and Benedict XVI are the ultimate authorities and conservative champions; for whom EWTN is the lodestone of orthodoxy; and who defend any and all innovations as long as they are “approved.”
What follows is not a definite statement of opinion or belief, but rather an open letter from a confused Catholic trying to make sense of the modern Church and my place in it. I will organize my thoughts into separate parts to keep things clear.
II. Some Observations of Changes in the Church
The Roman Catholic Church has changed a lot since Vatican II. Consider: a new Mass, new breviary, new liturgical calendar, new code of canon law, new Bible translation, new mysteries of the rosary. New vestments, church decor, architecture, and art. New language (vernacular), new prayers, new wordings of rites (e.g., ordination, baptism, marriage, funerals, exorcism), new catechism, new Rules of religious life, new liturgical readings. Dropped Septuagesima, Ember Days, and Rogation Days; loss of minor orders; loss of feasts. Revived permanent diaconate. Communion while standing. Communion in the hand. Altar girls. Relaxed disciplines (e.g., Friday abstinence, Eucharistic fast); new canonization procedures; new annulment procedures; obscuring of the meaning of extra ecclesiam nulla salus; new theology of Christ’s kingship and the Church’s social teaching; new teachings on ecumenism and religious freedom.
For years after my catechesis and baptism, I was ignorant of these issues. But when you read the saints and study Church history, you start to get a sense of how the Faith used to be preached and practiced, which stands in stark contrast to the lived experience of the Faith today.
Cardinal Newman is famous for saying, “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” If you get deep into the pre-Vatican II history of the Roman Catholic Church, you risk ceasing to be Neo-Catholic and becoming “traditionalist.”
Whether or not the changes listed above are good or bad, I slowly started to discover, when they are taken together, how drastically the Church has transformed (and continues to transform), and in a short period of time. It is overwhelming. No matter how valid or even beneficial any given change (or “reform”) may be, such a profound remaking of a long established religion – a religion charged with the fundamentally conservative mission of preserving Tradition and passing on the Deposit of Faith – is an earthquake. And if “lex orandi, lex credendi” is true – if how we pray and worship affects what we believe and profess – this is a total makeover of the Church, not just in “externals” or “non-essentials,” but in people’s understanding of faith and morals, as well.
Just the idea that the Church and its practices can change so much and so quickly is a departure from the concept of a Faith that is unchanging and unchangeable. The problem is not just the novelties, and their great quantity and sweeping scope, but also the way in which such changes are taking place. As Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI noted with regard to the liturgy:
The liturgical reform, in its concrete realization, has distanced itself even more from its origin. The result has not been a reanimation, but devastation. In place of the liturgy, fruit of a continual development, they have placed a fabricated liturgy. They have deserted a vital process of growth and becoming in order to substitute a fabrication. They did not want to continue the development, the organic maturing of something living through the centuries, and they replaced it, in the manner of technical production, by a fabrication, a banal product of the moment.1This is the new church of today. The “conciliar church.” The new Mass – a valid Mass authorized by the pope – has led, in Benedict XVI’s words, to “devastation.” It explains why tens of millions are leaving the faith, and why vast majorities of Catholics in the USA, Europe, Latin America, and everywhere, if you ask them specific questions about the Faith, either do not know the faith or openly disagree with it. Very small numbers of Catholics go to Mass every Sunday, or even once a month. This represents a collapse of faith and morals. Some warn of widespread apostasy (such as Our Lady of Akita). Benedict XVI also said, “I am convinced that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is, to a large extent, due to the disintegration of the liturgy.”
Paul VI and John Paul II confirm the post-conciliar crisis.
In 1968, Paul VI said,
The church finds herself in an hour of anxiety, a disturbed period of self-criticism, or what would even better be called self-destruction. It is an interior upheaval, acute and complicated, which nobody expected after the Council. It is almost as if the church were attacking herself. We looked forward to a flowering, a serene expansion of conceptions which matured in the great sessions of the Council. But …. one must notice above all the sorrowful aspect. It is as if the Church were destroying herself.2In 1972, Paul VI said,
We have the impression that through some cracks in the wall the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God: it is doubt, uncertainty, questioning, dissatisfaction, confrontation[.] … We thought that after the Council a day of sunshine would have dawned for the history of the Church. What dawned, instead, was a day of clouds and storms, of darkness, of searching and uncertainties.3In 1981, John Paul II stated,
We must admit realistically and with feelings of deep pain, that Christians today in large measure feel lost, confused, perplexed and even disappointed; ideas opposed to the truth which has been revealed and always taught are being scattered abroad in abundance; heresies, in the full and proper sense of the word, have been spread in the area of dogma and morals, creating doubts, confusions and rebellion; the liturgy has been tampered with; immersed in an intellectual and moral relativism and therefore in permissiveness, Christians are tempted by atheism, agnosticism, vaguely moral enlightenment and by a sociological Christianity devoid of defined dogmas or an objective morality.4In this era of novelty and confusion, I am inspired by St. Paul: “Therefore, brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle” (2 Thes. 2:14). And “Jesus Christ, yesterday and today, and the same for ever. Be not led away with various and strange doctrines” (Heb. 13:8-9).
Discovering a Church in Crisis: How Would a Saint Treat the Novus Ordo?
The Sacred Liturgy“Lex orandi, lex credendi.” The order of Mass expresses and teaches Catholic doctrine. The changes to the Mass, sadly, are an example of a break from tradition – a “hermeneutic of rupture” from the past – even if many earnestly desire to see continuity. The prayers of the Mass, use of the vernacular, the priest facing the people, the “sign of peace” among the people, calling the priest a “presider,” changes to the altar and sanctuary, changes to the Lectionary, the multiplication of “Eucharistic Prayers” – any one of these innovations would have been a major change in the Mass. Taken together, the new Mass is fundamentally different from the old Mass. For years as a new Catholic, I had no clear understanding that the Mass is a sacrifice. This reality was not explained during my catechesis, and it is not very well communicated or reinforced by the new order of the Mass itself. Therefore, it remained hidden for a long time.
Some have asked: if a saint of old were to visit a typical modern Catholic church on Sunday, would he recognize the activities there as Catholic? Within the same parish church, you can have a 9am Sunday Mass in Latin with chant and the priest distributing Holy Communion to people kneeling, and at 10:30am a Mass in English with rock music, female altar servers, women as lectors, children standing around the altar, and extraordinary lay ministers giving Holy Communion in both kinds, in the hand to standing communicants – completely different experiences of Roman Catholicism, completely different practices that communicate to the people completely different concepts of what the Mass is and therefore of the Faith itself.
Just imagine: tomorrow, the pope could decide to redesign the Mass. He could authorize a committee to rewrite prayers and reorder the Mass any way he wants, and technically the end product would probably still be a “valid Mass.” But the idea of a committee making huge changes to the liturgy is unknown in the history of the Church, and “why fix what ain’t broke”? But that is just what happened in the 1960s. Was the old Mass so bad that it had to be remade? The Vatican II document on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, said Latin and chant should be retained. It said nothing about the priest facing the people. But it contains loopholes, such as provisions for inculturation and above all the principle of “full and active participation by all the people,” which “justified” the changes made in the Mass of Paul VI. But again, if the pope tomorrow rewrote the Mass, even though he has the authority to do so, I would ask, “Why?” It would be a fabrication of a committee, which is an un-Catholic way of revising the liturgy, which until Vatican II was only by a very gradual, organic process over centuries.
That’s why I see seeking out the Tridentine Latin Mass and avoiding the Novus Ordo not as a matter of personal preference, but rather as a choice motivated by a desire to worship God rightly. Take the shift of the priest celebrant’s orientation from ad orientem to versus populum. This changes the meaning of the Mass. When the priest faces the people, the liturgical action (bolstered by the newly worded prayers of the N.O.) now focuses on the people rather than God – based on Modernist “assembly theology.” The Mass becomes a meal, a “love feast.” The meaning and role of the priest change. The role and relation of the people change. The altar rail is ripped out, and women now enter the sanctuary as lectors and even servers. Laypeople distribute Communion in both kinds to people, in the hand. Such changes are not just cosmetic or a matter of preference.
The new Mass was designed to “Protestantize” worship and remove distinct and historical expressions of the Catholic faith. Consider the differences between the traditional offertory and the new “prayer over the gifts.” Abp. Annibale Bugnini, leader of the liturgical reform, said the new Mass was engineered “to strip from our Catholic prayers and from the Catholic liturgy everything which can be the shadow of a stumbling block for our separated brethren, that is, for the Protestants.” The faith of millions, probably virtually all Catholics today, has been influenced by these new practices. The result is an altered understanding of the Mass, of the Eucharist, of the priesthood, of Catholicism.
Benedict XVI comments on this situation:
We have a liturgy which has degenerated so that it has become a show which, with momentary success for the group of liturgical fabricators, strives to render religion interesting in the wake of the frivolities of fashion and seductive moral maxims. Consequently, the trend is the increasingly marked retreat of those who do not look to the liturgy for a spiritual show-master but for the encounter with the living God in whose presence all the ‘doing’ becomes insignificant since only this encounter is able to guarantee us access to the true richness of being.1A valid Mass can be illicit or even sacrilegious, and it is worth asking: even if some new liturgical activity is permitted, does that mean that it is good? Based on my personal experience, I can reasonably expect that any Novus Ordo Mass I attend will have questionable things being said and done. I do not want to participate in anything that may be offensive to Our Lord.
Benedict XVI further elaborates on why seeking out the TLM is not just a matter of preference:
While there are many motives that might have led a great number of people to seek a refuge in the traditional liturgy, the chief one is that they find the dignity of the sacred preserved there. After the Council there were many priests who deliberately raised ‘desacralization’ to the level of a program … Inspired by such reasoning, they put aside the sacred vestments; they have despoiled the churches as much as they could of that splendor which brings to mind the sacred; and they have reduced the liturgy to the language and the gestures of ordinary life, by means of greetings, common signs of friendship, and such things … That which previously was considered most holy – the form in which the liturgy was handed down – suddenly appears as the most forbidden of all things, the one thing that can safely be prohibited. It is intolerable to criticize decisions which have been taken since the Council; on the other hand, if men make question of ancient rules, or even of the great truths of the Faith – for instance, the corporal virginity of Mary, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the immortality of the soul, etc. – nobody complains or only does so with the greatest moderation.2If we are to judge by fruits, it seems the reforms of Vatican II have been disastrous.
Benedict XVI continues his analysis of the relationship between the change from the old Mass to the new, and problems in the Church:
I was dismayed by the banning of the old Missal, seeing that a similar thing had never happened in the entire history of the liturgy[.] … The promulgation of the banning of the Missal that had been developed in the course of centuries, starting from the time of the sacramentaries of the ancient Church, has brought with it a break in the history of the liturgy whose consequences could be tragic[.] … The old structure was broken to pieces and another was constructed admittedly with material of which the old structure had been made and using also the preceding models[.] … But the fact that [the liturgy] was presented as a new structure, set up against what had been formed in the course of history and was now prohibited, and that the liturgy was made to appear in some ways no longer as a living process but as a product of specialized knowledge and juridical competence, has brought with it some extremely serious damages for us.To sum up: according to Benedict XVI, there is a crisis in the Church today. The crisis is connected with the new liturgy. The new liturgy is a fabrication that is a break from history and is commonly a degenerated show. The former pope does not say it, but based on my own experience of liturgical abuses, I conclude with a heavy heart: avoid the new liturgy.
In this way, in fact, the impression has arisen that the liturgy is ‘made,’ that it is not something that exists before us, something ‘given,’ but that it depends on our decisions. It follows as a consequence that this decision-making capacity is not recognized only in specialists or in a central authority, but that, in the final analysis, each ‘community’ wants to give itself its own liturgy. But when the liturgy is something each one makes by himself, then it no longer gives us what is its true quality: encounter with the mystery which is not our product but our origin and the wellspring of our life[.] …
I am convinced that the ecclesial crisis in which we find ourselves today depends in great part upon the collapse of the liturgy, which at times is actually being conceived of etsi Deus non daretur: as though in the liturgy it did not matter any more whether God exists and whether He speaks to us and listens to us. But if in the liturgy the communion of faith no longer appears, nor the universal unity of the Church and of her history, nor the mystery of the living Christ, where is it that the Church still appears in her spiritual substance? [Too often] the community is only celebrating itself without its being worthwhile to do so.3
Discovering a Church in Crisis: Arius vs. the Magisterium
Asking Questions and Reading the SignsThe current confusion in the Church has been compared to the Arian crisis.
When priests, bishops, and other Church leaders start to do and teach strange things, each Catholic has to make some choices. Where will you go to worship? Will you go to your local parish or the cathedral, where heterodoxy or liturgical abuse may be the norm? Do you decide, “They may be heterodox, but they are the priests and the bishop, so I’ll keep following them”?
I guess that many, maybe most, lay Catholics during the Arian crisis did not know or fully grasp the theological issues at stake. Most people were probably illiterate and not well informed about theological debates. They had to make a practical decision about how to live the faith: where they would go to Mass, where to receive the Sacraments. Many of them may have had no choice; maybe in many dioceses, there was no alternative to the heretical clerics.
It is a terrible position to be in, when all you want is to be a simple, faithful Catholic. Should you stick with your validly ordained but heretical bishop, or follow excommunicated St. Athanasius in the desert?
I am afraid that a similar crisis is developing today, and has been developing for decades, as Paul VI’s and John Paul II’s quotes show. Tragically, rather than continuity, the historical evidence shows rupture from the past since Vatican II – a rupture in beliefs and practices, faith and morals. In my view, the “hermeneutic of continuity” is just wishful thinking. What good is it to say that Catholic morals as defined in the Catechism or other magisterial documents have not changed, but clerics do not teach the Faith, or they teach only selected parts of the Faith, from the pulpit, and thus lead souls astray? As Pope St. Felix III says, “Not to oppose error is to approve it; and not to defend truth is to suppress it; and indeed to neglect to confound evil men, when we can do it, is no less a sin than to encourage them.”
Cardinal Gerhard Müller, current head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, says all Church teachings, including those of Vatican II and since, “must be interpreted according to the Tradition, based on Revelation and on Scripture.” The problem is that priests, bishops, and theologians use their teaching office to spread ideas that directly contradict the past teachings of the Church, and they do so without being corrected or disciplined. While doctrine does not change, policies and practices of Church leaders today undermine doctrine and dogma, putting souls in jeopardy.
For example, a certain priest named Walter Kasper wrote a book questioning the miracles and even resurrection of Jesus, and John Paul II elevated him to the cardinalate. Why?
Sodomy is still a sin that cries to heaven for vengeance, so why, then, are “gay Masses” permitted in places like London, New York, etc., with full knowledge of the bishops? Why do a majority of American Catholics support “same-sex marriage”?
How is it that various bishops publicly say homosexual practices are positive and the Church should offer a rite of commitment for two people engaging in sodomy with each other?
How can the pope’s celebration of the Protestant revolt and praise of Martin Luther – and the post-Vatican II program of “ecumenism” as a whole – be reconciled with Pius XI’s Encyclical Mortalium Animos (1928) and Magisterium’s condemnations of Luther?
Why is it that Catholics are accused of grave sin by Pope Francis for trying to help non-Catholic Christians, or those of other religions, to learn about and enter the Catholic Church (i.e., “proselytizing”)? Was St. Francis de Sales sinning by proactively converting Protestants to Catholicism by preaching door-to-door and distributing pamphlets and tracts? Was St. Dominic in error when he confronted and told heretics they were wrong and should return to Catholicism?
Why are the Four Last Things almost never heard preached, and many priests do little or nothing to encourage parishioners to dress modestly for Mass?
Why is Thomistic theology no longer part of the curriculum, or at least neglected, in many (most?) seminaries today?
Regarding the liturgy itself, in an encyclical, Pius XII defended the use of Latin as “a manifest and beautiful sign of unity as well as an effective antidote for any corruption of doctrine.” Yet many priests and bishops so zealously push the vernacular in all their Masses that entire parishes have become hostile to the Church’s mother tongue.
Here are a few examples of recent papal statements that are quite difficult to read in light of Tradition or the Magisterium:
- In summer 2016, Pope Francis said something odd: “the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null.” He also said, defending non-marital cohabitation, “I’ve seen a lot of fidelity in these cohabitations, and I am sure that this is a real marriage. They have the grace of a real marriage because of their fidelity.” This is a confusing thing to say. If the preponderance of Catholic marriages are null, this is an emergency for most Catholics in the world. The second quote is also a disturbing rejection of the Church’s constant teaching on the immorality of non-marital relations. Taken together, the quotes make it sound as though the Pope believes that people living in sin have more valid and grace-filled relationships than (presumably) married Catholics.
- Recently, the pope stated: “There is a healthy secularism, for instance, the secularism of the State. In general, a secular State is a good thing; it is better than a confessional State, because confessional States finish badly.” This is a departure from the explicit teaching of earlier popes and the tradition of the Church that the state should favor the Catholic Church, in the interest of the common good of helping everyone get to heaven. Pius XI, like other popes, said the state has a duty to promote the true religion. Does Pope Francis’s teaching not contradict the 1925 encyclical Quas Primas?
- In the same interview, the pope said: “[N]o religion as such can foment war. Because in this case it would be proclaiming a god of destruction, a god of hatred. One cannot wage war in the name of God or in the name of a religious position. War cannot be waged in any religion.” This is simply not true, factually. One recalls Joshua and Jericho and other Old Testament examples. A more recent example is that the doctrines of Islam call for jihad. Mohammed himself was a warlord, and he is considered a model of behavior for Muslims.
Tradition, Doctrine and MagisteriumHas doctrine changed? Doctrine is supposed to be unchangeable in the Catholic Church, so I will not claim that it has. However, what is obvious is that many pronouncements by Church leaders, both written and spoken, appear to contradict the traditional doctrine of the Church. It seems there are many Church leaders who would like doctrine to change. Many conciliar and post-Vatican II statements are difficult (or, frankly, impossible) to interpret as consistent with Tradition and the Magisterium.
I am not an expert on these things, but I have done a little research, and here is what I’ve found about traditional doctrines that appear to be contradicted by Vatican II and post-conciliar documents and actions by Church leaders.
Religious FreedomThe Vatican II document Dignitatis Humanae says that humans have a natural right to religious freedom. Such a teaching was explicitly rejected by all Church fathers, doctors, and popes prior to Vatican II. There is no right to practice false religions or spread error, according to pre-Vatican II doctrine. Dignitatis Humanae says false religions may be publicly promoted – a position condemned in the past. In the past, saints destroyed idols and temples and legislated against pagan and heretical practices. According to Vatican II’s modern notion of religious freedom, it appears St. Louis IX was in error for promoting Catholicism in his kingdom, and St. Thomas More was wrong for using state authority to crack down on the publication and circulation of Lutheran literature in England. The modern view is well represented in the quote from Pope Francis above that the state should be secular.
The modernist ideas of religious liberty expressed in Vatican II documents were condemned by Pius IX in Quanta Cura, Leo XIII in Libertas Praetantissimum, and the Syllabus of Errors of 1864, among many other magisterial documents. Surprisingly, Cdl. Ratzinger claims that Gaudium et Spes is a “countersyllabus” to that of 1864: ”Let us content ourselves here with stating that the text [of Gaudium et Spes] plays the role of a counter-Syllabus to the measure that it represents an attempt to officially reconcile the Church with the world as it had become after 1789.” In other words, Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes directly challenges the teaching of an earlier pope in a magisterial document.
Pius XI reminds us that Christ is King of the universe, which includes the social and political realms, and the state has duties toward God that include support for the Catholic Church. Pius XII negotiated a concordat with Spain in 1953 that made Catholicism the state religion, which Pius XII considered a model for other countries. After Vatican II, based on Dignitatis Humanae, the Vatican pressured Spain (and other similar Catholic countries) to change the constitution to recognize the new idea of “religious liberty.”
Questions about Amoris LaetitiaThe big controversy of the moment provides a good example of how doctrine appears to be changing. But doctrine cannot change, and that is why there are so many questions about 2016’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, which allows for the reasoning that people in adulterous relationships can be admitted to Holy Communion. This is how the document is already being implemented in many dioceses, such as in Argentina and Rome, with the pope’s approval. Such a practice threatens the integrity of the Sacraments and obscures truths about family life and morality.
The so-called “Kasper proposal,” which kicked all this off in early 2014, was to admit civilly divorced and remarried Catholics still in valid marriages to the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. In a November 2015 interview, Pope Francis said, “This is bottom line result, the de facto appraisals, are entrusted to the confessors, but at the end of faster or slower paths, all the divorced who ask will be admitted.”
St. John the Baptist died for upholding the truth on marriage. So did Ss. Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher. And of course, Our Lord’s words in Scripture on adultery are clear. Absolution in confession depends on contrition and the resolution to avoid sin. The Eucharist should be received only by those in a state of grace. But A.L. appears irreconcilable with these doctrines.
Contradictory implementations of Amoris, such that Communion for adulterers is considered pastoral medicine in some dioceses but mortal sin in others, destroy Church unity. If the Four Cardinals receive no answer to their dubia and therefore issue some kind of public correction of the pope, will every Catholic – pew-sitter to prelate – be put on the spot to take sides in the controversy? If your bishop or parish priest defends Amoris and distributes Communion to public, unrepentant adulterers, consistent with the pope’s teaching, what will you do?
Discovering a Church in Crisis: Vatican II and the Future
Tradition, Doctrine and Magisterium (Continued)
EcumenismThe 1928 encyclical Mortalium Animos condemns modern notions of ecumenism. It says the Catholic Church is the one true Church, to which separated Christian ecclesial communities should return. It says Catholics should not participate in prayers, meetings, worship, etc. with non-Catholic Christians.
Vatican II documents teach something else on what the Church is and how it relates to other religions.
The Catholic Church always identified itself as the one true Church founded by Jesus Christ. The Church of Christ is the Catholic Church. Today, this has changed: according to Vatican II and the new Catechism, the Church of Christ now “subsists in” the Catholic Church, raising a distinction between the two. Although the dogma “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” has been solemnly proclaimed multiple times by past popes, the new view is that the Church of Christ extends beyond the Catholic Church (imperfectly), due to “elements of the Church” present in other Christian groups. This is peculiar because Pius XII specified that to be a member of the Church, one must (1) be baptized, (2) profess the true faith, and (3) submit to authority.
A major innovation of Vatican II is the idea that other faith communities can be in imperfect or partial communion with the Catholic Church. The past teaching was that you are either inside or outside Christ’s visible Church on Earth. The traditional view was that heretics, schismatics, and non-Christians are not in the Church of Christ, and their religions are obstacles to, not vehicles of, salvation. Now it is said that these religions can have “elements of sanctification.”
Rather than evangelizing, the Roman Catholic Church now dialogues. A document approved by John Paul II says, “Dialogue [is] the meeting of Christians with the believers of other religious traditions so that they can work together in search of the truth and collaborate in works of common interest.” If the Catholic Church possesses the fullness of truth, why do Catholics need to “seek” truth with adherents of other religions?
Today, Church leaders discourage people from converting to Catholicism, even when they express the desire to do so. The Church leaders say it is not necessary for their salvation to become Catholic. For example, there is evidence that Pope Francis urged the U.K. evangelical “bishop” Tony Palmer not to become Catholic, and then, when he died, the pope ordered a Catholic bishop’s requiem Mass to be said.
In a statement in 2014, Pope Francis said to refugees of different faiths, “Sharing our experience in carrying that cross, to expel the illness within our hearts, which embitters our life: it is important that you do this in your meetings. Those that are Christian, with the Bible, and those that are Muslim, with the Quran. The faith that your parents instilled in you will always help you move on.” This confirms Muslims in their error. Such a view is condemned in the Syllabus of Errors, which among other things condemns the beliefs that “[e]very man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true” and “[m]an may, in the observance of any religion whatever, find the way of eternal salvation, and arrive at eternal salvation.”
In the 1993 Balamand agreement, the Roman Catholic Church agreed that it will not try to convert the Eastern Orthodox to Catholicism. The Church renounced “proselytism” – “according to which she presented herself as the only one to whom salvation was entrusted” – and agreed not to create new Catholic organizations where they do not already exist.
St. Paul said the pagans worship not gods, but demons. The Vatican II document Nostra Aetate praises pagan religions, but Tradition says they are religions that turn souls away from eternal salvation. John Paul II invited pagans to pray to their “gods” at the 1986 Assisi prayer meeting, even giving them Catholic churches in which to perform their pagan rites. Is this not a violation of the First Commandment?
John Paul II’s 1979 encyclical Redemptor Hominis supported the idea of common prayer with other religions. He said the 1986 interfaith gathering was based on Vatican II teachings. At the Assisi meeting, the Muslim prayer concluded thus: “Allah is He on Whom all depend. He begets not, nor is He begotten. And none is like Him.”
The Church and the JewsHas doctrine regarding the Jews changed? The traditional Church teaching is that before the coming of Christ, Judaism was the true religion. But since Jews rejected and continue to reject the Messiah, what they now practice is a false religion. The time of the Old Covenant is over; all men are called to be saved according to the New Covenant. For salvation, just like everyone else, Jews must believe in Christ.
Tradition is expressed in the Good Friday prayer in the liturgy:
Let us pray also for the faithless Jews: that almighty God may remove the veil from their hearts; so that they too may acknowledge Jesus Christ our Lord. Almighty and eternal God, who dost not exclude from thy mercy even Jewish faithlessness: hear our prayers, which we offer for the blindness of that people; that acknowledging the light of thy Truth, which is Christ, they may be delivered from their darkness. Through the same Lord Jesus Christ, amen.This prayer was revised by John XXIII and then Benedict XVI, but even their “softened” prayers still call for the conversion of the Jews.
But Nostra Aetate and other post-Vatican II pronouncements contradict traditional doctrine and have suggested that Judaism is still pleasing to God. The Good Friday prayer of the new Mass says nothing about conversion.
The Apostles put a great deal of effort into trying to convert the Jews and convince them of the truth the Jesus is the Christ. Our Lord commanded his disciples to go and baptize all nations, teaching all men to follow all his teachings – but today’s successors to the apostles appear to have aborted this mission when it comes to the Jews.
A BBC News article from a year ago reports:
The Vatican has told Catholics that they should not seek to convert Jews and stressed that the two faiths have a “unique” relationship. It is seen as a new Vatican attempt to distance itself from centuries of Christian-Jewish tension and prejudice. The document released on Thursday is not a doctrinal text, but a “stimulus for the future”, the Vatican says. It builds on the “Nostra aetate” (In Our Time) document which, 50 years ago, redefined Vatican ties with Judaism.The new document is called “The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable” and was written by the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with Jews. It says, “[T]he Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews.” Judaism, it points out, “is not to be considered simply as another religion; the Jews are instead our elder brothers.” Turning to the vexed question of salvation, the document says, “[T]hat the Jews are participants in God’s salvation is theologically unquestionable, but how that can be possible without confessing Christ explicitly, is and remains an unfathomable divine mystery.”
Here are some more recent expressions of this post-Vatican II error I came across during my research:
- “The Old Covenant has never been revoked” (Pope John Paul II).
- “The Jewish wait for the Messiah is not in vain” (Pontifical Biblical Commission).
- “To proselytize [Jews] is not an attitude of love, nor is it one of knowledge!” (Cardinal Johannes Willebrands).
- “Campaigns that target Jews for conversion to Christianity are no longer theologically acceptable to the Catholic Church” (Cardinal William Keeler).
Vatican II, Infallibility, and the FutureVatican II was not infallible, which suggests to me that where the teachings of Vatican II conflict with those of Tradition and the pre-Vatican II Magisterium, the Vatican II teachings should be rejected. Some have pointed out that modern (i.e., false) ecumenism is a “pastoral program,” not a dogma, and therefore can be criticized and resisted. Along these lines, in 2016, Abp. Guido Pozzo, Secretary of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, said, “Nostra Aetate does not have any dogmatic authority, and thus one cannot demand from anyone to recognize this declaration as being dogmatic.”
John XXIII said in the Opening Address that Vatican II was not to be a doctrinal council concerned with defining any articles of Faith, but was to be a “pastoral” council.
Paul VI stated, “There are those who ask what authority, what theological qualification, the Council intended to give to its teachings, knowing that it avoided issuing solemn dogmatic definitions backed by the Church’s infallible teaching authority. The answer is known by those who remember the conciliar declaration of March 6, 1964, repeated on November 16, 1964. In view of the pastoral nature of the Council, it avoided proclaiming in an extraordinary manner any dogmas carrying the mark of infallibility.” Later he added, “Differing from other Councils, this one was not directly dogmatic, but disciplinary and pastoral.”
Cdl. Ratzinger also stated, “There are many accounts of it, which give the impression that from Vatican II onward, everything has been changed, and what preceded it has no value or, at best, has value only in the light of Vatican II. … The truth is that this particular Council defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council.”
Cdl. Ratzinger added:
The Second Vatican Council has not been treated as a part of the entire living Tradition of the Church, but as an end of Tradition, a new start from zero. The truth is that this particular Council defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council; and yet many treat it as though it had made itself into a sort of superdogma which takes away the importance of all the rest.However, the sad fact is that in the preceding sections, we saw specific examples of how Vatican II documents and their implementation via the words and acts of Church leaders directly contradict Tradition and the Magisterium. Benedict XVI has dedicated a lot of effort to showing a hermeneutic of continuity between Vatican II and what preceded it. But undeniable evidence shows that the Church has changed dramatically since Vatican II and that modern Catholics believe and do things completely differently from Catholics of the past.
… All this leads a great number of people to ask themselves if the Church of today is really the same as that of yesterday, or if they have changed it for something else without telling people. The one way in which Vatican II can be made plausible is to present it as it is; one part of the unbroken, the unique Tradition of the Church and of her faith.
Alarmingly, there are those in positions of authority who want to continue “reforming” the Church. What doctrines or traditions will be undermined next – maybe or maybe not on paper, but certainly in practice? Some speculate that Pope Francis wants to end clerical celibacy. Some think it could be rewording the Church’s teaching on homosexuality to make it less judgmental and more welcoming. Others see evidence of a push by the pope for intercommunion with Protestants. Or it could be something else.
One thing is clear: since Vatican II, novelty reigns. Prelates in the highest positions propose changes to what we all presume are unchangeable doctrines. Sometimes their attitude seems to be, “We won’t change the doctrine; we’ll just change the wording or interpretations of a few documents, or change disciplines for pastoral reasons.” But how can doctrine be opposed to practice, and vice versa? That is schizophrenic. And contrary to truth.
ConclusionMy instinct is to avoid criticizing or questioning the hierarchy, to trustingly follow the pope, and accept with docility practices encouraged and teachings pronounced by competent authorities. It is only with great hesitation that I ask questions about these things. I was pushed up against the wall by continuous liturgical abuse, which forced me to investigate the source of these problems and consider how to respond. All I seek is to be united with the Church and her visible head, the Pope.
I don’t want to be distracted by news coming out of Rome and other places of strange teachings and activities in the hierarchy. I want to focus on working out my own salvation and properly living my state in life. Yet aren’t all the baptized called to read the signs of the times? As an individual Catholic, and as the head of a household, I need to figure out how to live the faith in our particular context.
Ignorance is not bliss; it is perilous for a soul. There is no need to fear the truth.
To summarize, what I have come to realize is that my specific personal experiences over the years are not isolated incidents of liturgical abuse and erroneous teaching, but are part of a systemic corruption or alteration of the faith for many in the Catholic Church. This corruption and agitation for change preceded Vatican II (many popes up to Pius XII warned of the evils of modernism inside the Church and of efforts by Freemasons, communists, and other enemies outside the Church), but Vatican II was the spark that caused an explosion of innovation and heterodoxy.
The error of Modernism is now dominant, and its fruits are confusion and apostasy. The strange teachings and bad liturgy I have been exposed to for years in mainstream “Novus Ordo parishes” are not the result of individual priests gone rogue, but the consequence of a Church-wide catastrophe of decades of bad formation, deficient catechesis, an invasion of worldliness, and fads of heterodoxy, all of which have gone unaddressed and uncorrected.
In my view, the solution is straightforward, but that does not mean that it is easy. We must do what Catholics have done during other crises, such as the Arian heresy and times of persecution: pray, hold fast to the traditions we have received, and participate only in faithful worship. Ignore strange doctrines, and avoid liturgies where things offensive to God may take place.
I hope my fidelity to the Church is not in doubt. As for this series of essays, I hope I have my facts straight; I know I may be mistaken in my analysis and conclusions, or I may misunderstand things, and I am open to correction. My sole desire is to live and die as a good Catholic. In our time, there is terrible disorientation and conflict within the Barque of Peter, but that is no reason to abandon ship.