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The signs of decay in the Church were evident well before Vatican II

The Church was just not ready to face the changes the 1960s threw at it

By on Friday, 31 August 2012

The opening of the Second Vatican Council in October 1962 (AP)

The opening of the Second Vatican Council in October 1962 (AP)

In the uplifting homily which Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury gave to the Latin Mass Society pilgrimage to Walsingham on 26th August, he reminded his listeners that “In October this year our Holy Father Pope Benedict invites us to celebrate a “Year of Faith”, fifty years after the solemn opening of the Second Vatican Council. The central aim of the Council was the transmission of the Church’s faith amid the new and rapidly changing conditions of our time. The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council Blessed John XXIII declared on that October day “is this, that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously”.

Bishop Davies continued, “As the Latin Mass Society, as the faithful attached to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, as pilgrims to Walsingham, we accept together with enthusiasm the call of the Second Vatican Council in all its authentic teaching and the invitation to this “Year of Faith” to which the Holy Father calls the whole Church.”

Bishop Davies is right to show his loyalty support for the Council of 1962-1965 – even though he, as well as his listeners, knows full well that an almighty turmoil within the Church actually followed in the wake of the Council. This turmoil, especially in the field of catechetics, has been documented for years in The Flock, the newsletter of Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, edited by the redoubtable Mrs Daphne McLeod. The latest edition is on my desk with the ironic headline, “Fifty ‘Glorious’ Years?”

Daphne writes that before the Council “the Catholic Church grew and thrived… Missionary work grew too… Many excellent spiritual books were written [which] show how well the teachings of the Church were known and loved by Catholic before 1970, in sharp contrast to what Pope Benedict calls the ‘widespread religious ignorance’ found among most Catholics today…”

The newsletter continues in the same vein, with all the statistics of a thriving Church before the Council, and with sub-titles such as “How Vatican II was hijacked”, “The fruits of Vatican Two”, “How we got “Modern Catechetics” and so on. I don’t doubt that much of this analysis is correct and I don’t want to challenge her account. But there is just one question that niggles me: if the Church was so strong before the Council, with its “crowded churches for Sunday Mass and for the non-obligatory Rosary, sermon and Benediction, plenty at weekday Masses, packed seminaries and noviciates, as well as a steady stream of converts” etc, how did it collapse so quickly when the Council ended?

I know it is considered very bad form to bring Germany between 1933 and 1945 into an argument, but I’ll do it anyway. I have been reading a fascinating book by the well-known German historian, Joachim Fest, entitled Not Me: Memoirs of a German Childhood. Fest’s father, Johannes, a principled, Catholic headmaster of a Berlin secondary school and a political supporter of the Weimar Republic, loathed the National Socialists, refused to join the Party and thus lost his teaching post in 1933. His son reflected in these memoirs, that although he and his milieu had been brought up with “middle class and civic virtues” in a cultured and Christian European country, nonetheless “inwardly this stratum of society had decayed long before, so that I was brought up in accordance with the principles of an outmoded order.”

His own family might have held onto civilised and Christian values, but as a whole the German middle class – the class that traditionally, in any society, tends to run the institutions of local and national power – had “decayed”. Thus, he writes, it was “hopelessly unprepared” for the dictatorship that followed in 1933.

All right, it is a far-fetched analogy – but a Jesuit priest friend who has recently died aged 95, Fr Hugh Thwaites, answered my niggling question in much the same way that Joachim Fest did when he looked at his father’s generation; Father told me he could see the signs of decay in the Church in the 1950s, well before the Council got going.

Unlike Daphne McLeod, he felt Catholics in general did not really know their faith and were going through the motions of religious practice out of habit and unthinking conformity; it was not a living faith. That saintly man, Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary and given the honour of being a lay observer at the Council, was more damning in his judgment of the complacency of Catholic Ireland in the decades before the Council was called.

On might ask: was the Church prepared for the “new and rapidly changing conditions” of the 1960s and beyond?

We all hope a purified Church will now rise from the ashes of the past. Bishop Davies mentions the coming “Year of Faith”. The CTS, certainly one of the hopeful signs of a renewed Catholic apostolate today, compared with its faded booklets in the porches of parish churches in the past, has produced a “Year of Faith Prayer Book”. It includes prayers to the Trinity, Our Lady, the saints and for the Church and the world. Our country, which has lost its moral compass, needs many prayers as we know. Action has to begin in prayer. Using the “Year of Faith Prayer Book” would be a start.

  • Erasmus

    Why do we try to reconcile this obvious contradiction? The post-Vatican II Church and the pre-Vatican II Church contradict one another. The last five popes contradict all the previous popes, in their actions and their teachings. This present conflict illustrates the inherent contradiction in Catholicism. 

  • aearon43

    Yes, but the point of this article was: were those fruits of Vatican II? or something else? Consider that the modernist, Bauhaus monstrosity of St. John’s abbey in Minnesota was built in 1961. So as the author says, these unpleasant trends were well in place BEFORE Vatican II…

  • aearon43

    These forces were well in place BEFORE Vatican II. Why do you think St. Pius X felt the need to issue an oath against modernism as early as 1910?

  • aearon43

    How? With regard to religious liberty (the chief concern of SSPX)?

  • Alan

    Actually I agree.  My point was that IF there is a conflict (as certain traditionalists claim) then we have to make a choice as to which to accept.  Whichever we choose, we are exercising “private judgement”.

  • aearon43

    Vatican II was a valid council of the universal Church — care to explain what “un-Catholic elements” it contained and please do enunciate the authority under which you declare them to be so.

  • aearon43

    Why don’t Jews and Protestants matter?

  • aearon43

    The Catholic faith can never be advanced by forcible coercion. This is not a new idea, as early as the 13th c. Bolesław the Pious, duke of greater Poland, forbid any harassment of Jews, and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth recognized Hebrew as an official language.

    Though we differ in important issues, as a son of Lithuania I will never permit my Jewish friends to be harassed or otherwise demeaned. The Jewish people are our seniors in the faith and will be treated with respect.

    This is a doctrine, affirmed by Vatican II, which will indeed be enacted through force if necessary. If you don’t believe in the self-determination of the Jewish people then I suggest you take a seat with Ahmadinejad. This is NOT a joking matter sir and I suggest you reflect on whether you are giving the appearance of anti-Semitism.

  • aearon43

    Yes, but how do you actually stop it? Not through forcible conversions — because that is unchristian. Mutual respect is necessary to begin a dialogue which would led to authentic conversion.

  • aearon43

    Right, that is what happened. Too many European Catholics had been led to identify their faith with their race or nation (particularly Spain and France). Europe lost its place to the United States around 1944, and too many people believed Belloc’s stupid words, “Europe is the faith, and the faith is Europe.”

    Vatican II is in many ways a council for a world that is not centered in Europe.

  • aearon43

    Yes, I think you pretty much have it right.

  • aearon43

    Are Abraham and Elijah in hell?

  • aearon43

    I would agree that the old Mass is in some ways more aesthetically pleasing. Imperial Latin, ah, so much more elegant than provincial Anglo-Saxon grunts… yes. Does that make it better theologically?

    I think that many traditionalists such as Parasum here confuse aesthetics with theology. I will grant that the old Mass was in certain ways more beautiful. But it did not involve the people on a personal level in the way that Mass in the vernacular does. 

  • Greenmoon

    You have no idea how relieved I am to find out that you consider the Mass I celebrate (and enjoy) is “Sacramentally valid”. I am a bit worried though that you seem to be implying that this means I’m a Protestant. Have I been living a lie for the past 50 years?

  • Aromata2003

     Well said. He was also instrumental in beginning the move away from the ‘silent mass’ towards the ‘dialogue mass’. Pope Pius XII also encouraged this so that the faithful would not sit there “as dumb and idle spectators”. Looking at the USCCB survey on sex offender priests, it shows that 68% of them were ordained in the 1950′s – 1960′s….what does that tell you?

  • Nesbyth

    I did exactly that during a New Mass in the Catholic Church in Queensway London. I was about 18 and I walked out of a Mass which assaulted everything I held dear. I walked up Queensway in tears and vowed I’d never go back.

    Indeed for a bit I went to Hotels and Town Halls to hear the Old Mass said by SSPX (who had not been excommunicated at that time)….then I found a Mass in the Little Oratory said by a Polish Monsignor and other Masses allowed for those elderly priests such as Monsignor Gilbey; also in The Oratory.

    I now float between the Traditional Mass and the NO ( said sensitively and devoutly in a church in Wandsworth), but many of my contempories, who were late teens/early twenties when the changes came in, simply gave up. And these was their reasons; the New Mass was noisy and restless, with no time for quiet prayer or meditation, plus the Cafeteria-style queue for Communion did not provide a sense of sacredness.

  • awkwardcustomer

    What on earth are you talking about?  By what route of contorted thinking did you manage to come to an accusation of anti-Semitism?  How ******* dare you!

    ‘No-one may be forced to accept the Catholic Faith against his will.’ (1917 Code of Canon Law, para 1351) And your first paragraph illustrates the principle of Religious Tolerance very well.

    But I can’t bear to discuss the issue with you further.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian


  • aearon43

    Yes, it is painful. I think Górecki’s Symphony Nº3 expresses the distress felt by Christians at the horrible treatment of Jews. It is difficult to raise the issue of religious liberty or tolerance without a reference to that event, the Holocaust.

  • awkwardcustomer

    Be still and know that I am God.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    What makes the Old Mass better theologically Aearon are the myriad prayers deliberately taken out of Bugnini’s Mass. 

    EXACTLY the same prayers excised from the Mass by the 16th Century Revolutionaries.

    This doesn’t tell you something??

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    In the main, yes.

  • awkwardcustomer

    From the timeline, I can see that you made this comment AFTER posting your disgusting and abusive comment of 38 minutes ago.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    Oh, the Church of Vatican II
    Started out with lots of priests
    Changed them into protestants
    And then there weren’t any left.

    (Loosely based on “The Grand Old Duke of York”).

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    “Left” and “right” have no theological meaning. “Orthodox” or “heterodox” is probably what you mean, but who knows what you mean?

  • Cafeteria, R.C.

    If it was not for the good nuns and priests, the RCC would fall apart account of the RCC’s administration policy of silence of the truth to protect the image which has done great damage account the truth shall aways prevail. Today with better education and  communications , the people will see through the man made controls of the RCC’s administration and or this pope’s turning the clock back to destroy Vatican II. A new pope with truth is in great need and then Vatican III to turn the RCC around from the sound of RCs voting with their feet.     

  • aearon43

  • awkwardcustomer

    One of my oldest friends of over 30 years is Jewish.  When I came into the Catholic Church, her mother wanted to buy me a gold crucifix, and long after her death I still love her for her kindness and amazing wit.  My friend, remembers playing softball, or was it basketball, with the team from Our Lady Queen of Heaven school in Brooklyn. 

    I feel slightly uneasy about using one of my oldest friends in order to refute your assertion.  But some of us have happy memories of Jewish/Catholic relations.  The murderous evil that rampaged across (mainly) eastern Europe during World War II makes me shudder. Just don’t accuse me of anti-Semitism, or try to link the Holocaust to a discussion on Religious Tolerance/Religious Liberty.  A cheap trick, if you ask me.

  • Cafeteria, R.C.

    The 1960s was the start of a period of DO YOUR OWN THING and turning away from the past as well as birth control pill came, pot, anti Vietnam war movements and open minds movement of the young people. Today it is caused by the silence of the truth to protect the image. Just look at Ireland or the USA with over $3 billion in law suit damages of sexual abuse of children and or the RCC cover up of these crimes. Next time in church, look at the age factor of the people. The problem is the administration of the RCC pushing their man made rules that educated people can see through as a means of control. The good honest pope  John XXIII try to correct this with Vatican II but this pope is turning the RCC clock back to preVatican II to control the RCs the old way that failed big time 500 years ago as well. No wonder people are voting with their feet. History does tell the truth and all should read history. Do you believe everything taught in the RCC without any doubt what so ever?

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    “Today with better education ……”. Hasn’t reached you then, old son.


  • Cafeteria, R.C.

    Before the 1960s, RCs children through school years received indoctrination of HELL,FIRE AND DAMNATION with a guilt complex to seek forgiveness with those  words ” THROUGH THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE CHURCH ” in confession. Today , this is not done like the past. Did you ever think why Protestant are happy with their faith,church and clergy without the problems in the RCC? 

  • Cafeteria, R.C.

    CATHOLIC means UNIVERSAL in relation to the RCC.

  • Cafeteria , R.C.

    Granted that few RCs are baptized by their full consent and or free will. Most RCs where baptized as a baby and received RCC indoctrination with a guilt complex to seek forgiveness through the RCC. With better education, the power of the internet and open minds, many RCs question their beliefs as well as the controls of the RCC administration for true reasons. What ever happened to all the souls of people since the human beings came? As you go through the history of the RCC , you can find wrong as well as right. What do you find in todays RCC? What would Pope Peter think of the RCC today? Are you happy totally with todays RCC?

  • awkwardcustomer

    So, to attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in a prayerful and reverent silence equates to being ‘dumb and idle’, does it?  Really? And you think that the noise, bustle and buffoonery of the average NO Mass is preferable? 

    Pope Pius XII actually warned against many of the new liturgical ideas that were being proposed by the reformers long before Vatican II, for example, in his 1947 Encyclical ‘Mediator Dei’. 

    If anything, your figures on sex offender priests suggest that the new, lax, open to the world Vatican II Church was too busy exalting mankind and engaging in dialogue with everyone to notice what was going on and take the trouble to address it.  After all, the actions of those priests might call into question the bright new future that was being promised.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    There is a direct line from the various documents of Vatican II, deliberately left vague and imprecise, and the Revolution that followed. All quite deliberate. 

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    Hell, fire and damnation are realities.

    But your post is a caricature. 

  • Ray Marshall

    I was in high school before Vatican II and cannot testify personally as to the state of the faith then.  But I can testify to the 1960s and that was a decade of revolution that is rarely discussed.  Vatican II is discussed and blame assigned as if it happened happened in an incubator.  But the baby boomers after WWII were coming of age, a new liberal president was elected in the US and secular society boiled over.

    The birth control pill was approved in 1960; Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring was published in 62, inspiring the environmental movements; the United Farm Workers organized; LSD came to the streets,  In 1963, Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” was published and the Civil Rights March on Washington took place with MLK’s “I have a dream” speech.  And of course, JFK was killed in 63.

    In 1964 the Beatles conquered music and the first major Civil Rights bill since Reconstruction was passed by Congress.  In 1965, Penthouse mag brought hard core pornography into the home and the Supreme Court gave a right of privacy to women to use birth control.  The Vietnam War exploded, and so did Watts as Vatican II closed, the 3,000 bishops probably not aware that anything was happening in the secular world.

    In 1966, LBJ started passing his great society, including poverty programs to enable moms to live without dads.  In 1967 came the “Summer of Love” in San Francisco and the hippie movement spread to every city in the U.S.  In 1968 came the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, turning most against the unwinable war and the My Lai massacre as icing on that cake.

    In 1968 came more assassinations (RFK & MLK) and the adoption of Humanae Vitae by Paul VI, almost universally ignored, especially in Canada.  Then the Chicago Democratic Convention riots and the publication of Paul Ehrlich’s “The Limits to Growth.”

    No Fault Divorce came in 1969 along with the Stonewall homosexual riots in New York City.  And then the decade of revolution ended with Woodstock

    Every one of those events probably had more impact on American Catholics than did the Second Vatican Council.  It will be very difficult to re-catechize American Catholics. 

    The Council of Trent was convened 30 years after Luther nailed his arguments to the church door, and it took another 100 years, and millions of deaths in the Thirty Years War before Europe finally settled down, permanently split between Catholic and Protestant.

    Jesus said that he would be with us until the end of time, but He didn’t say that the Church would always grow.

  • Mara St. James

    The ability to change is essential in any life force and as anyone knows, our journey here on earth is a succession of constant changes, small and large.  It is our ability to handle change that will lead to our success or failure.  The Church at the time of Vatican II was like a huge three-masted sailing ship, unable to adjust it’s sails to changing winds and it floundered in the open seas in danger of capsize.  Vatican II is not to blame for the Church’s problems.  It was the inability of Catholics, human beings, to change, even when mandated by the Church.  So many people stubbornly held on to the “old days” of their childhoods, even those with great authority in the Church.  They could not see all the change that occurred during the past 2,000 years and how many millions – trillions – of Catholics in former times had changed their way of doing things to get to the Church as it was at the start of Vatican II.  We barricaded our hearts against this new spirit, complained about it unendingly, and now with glee, have overturned much of it.  And the Church wonders why the world considers us such an anachronism, hardly relevant anymore. 

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    Rubbish. Quasi-sociological nonsense. 

    Number of conversions in England every year up to 1962: 14,500 on average. 
    Number of conversions since Vatican II: 4,000 in a very good year.

    These figures (conversions, baptisms, vocations, religious orders, Mass attendance) are DOWN 75% ON AVERAGE across the world, and dating broadly from the same time. 

    If the Church was a three-masted sailing ship up until 1962-3, She was a glorious and beautiful tea clipper, plying the trade of Her Master (Salvation) successfully throughout the Oceans of the world.

    Now She is a rusting hulk beached on a mudbank on the Clyde. 

    Whose fault is it? The generation of clerics who thought Modern Man was something different to the human beings Christ gave His life for on the Cross.

    Their arrogance was, and is, insufferable.

  • Greenmoon

    What exactly do you mean by “in the main”. Are you saying I’m a little bit Catholic?

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    “Dogma” of freewill?

  • Janet

    No, I’m sorry, the Council does contain the language that has ruined the doctrine, and that is the reason SSPX cannot accept it. The Council abandoned the concept of the Catholic religious state, it abandoned the concept of Christ the King at the center of both spiritual and temporal society, it abandoned the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding the path to salvation, and it tried to abandon the authority of the papacy, but failed, although language is in the Council that certainly suggests the change they wanted, and abandons it now only in practice. The words are there, like buried spells, and they are making us sick. It is not a false interpretation, the very words are there. Please spend time at the SSPX website, where they have gathered the very informative sources that constitute their completely legitimate criticism of the Council, the Council itself, not the spirit of the Council. Benedict wishes to impose a conservative wing of modernism, and that is all. He does not repudiate Assisi, he does not repudiate ecumenism in any way, he does not gear us to struggle for a Catholic state which alone could solve our economic and social suicide, instead he pushes for the false concept of ‘religious liberty.’ Do you know what that means in practice? It means we will not abort, and we will not stop others from aborting. It doesn’t work. It only confuses people. Fight for the Faith, that means not fight for everyone’s faith. It is the Council, it is the Council itself, we must repudiate it if we are to free ourselves from this spell we are under. In the name of God stop saying that it’s the spirit of the Council and just read anything, read The Rhine Flows into the Tiber, read Iota Unum, if you don’t want to read SSPX. It’s the doctrine, and it comes from that Council.

  • Janet

    Sorry, almost double-posted.

  • JabbaPapa

    There is a qualitative difference between acts of obeisance and worship freely offered, and those expected and even demanded.

  • JabbaPapa

    the noise, bustle and buffoonery of the average NO Mass

    Don’t generalise any local abuses — my experience of “the average NO Mass” over a large swathe of Southern Europe (foot pilgrim) does not support your caricature.

  • JabbaPapa

    These are just fabrications, rebellious and semi-schismatic ones, at that !!!

  • amfortas

    St. Pius X may have fought against modernism but by detaching confirmation and first communion – and encouraging frequent holy communion – he unwittingly started the process of weaking respect for the liturgy and the sacrament.

  • Paulmck

    Traditionalists (like the  SSPX)  do not argue that V2 was the CAUSE of the decay. They put this down to liberalism and modernism in the Church. They are the first to point out that this decay was evident in the Church prior to V2, and required condemnation of many popes (Pius IX, Pius X, Pius XII to name some). Where these Traditionalists have a problem with V2, it is not because they see it as the CAUSE of the problem, but because V2, through it’s lax and ambiguous language, opened the flood gates and allowed the PROMOTION of the problem..
    Regardless of whether one accepts this argument or not, what can not be denied is that V2, labeled as a pastoral councils instead of a doctrinal one, failed to address the biggest issues facing the Faith at the time -modernism and liberalism, and studiously avoided the biggest social issue of the time- Communism. On that account and that alone, V2 was an abysmal failure.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    Please go to your home, at The Episcopal Church. Do not try to turn the Holy Catholic Church into a secular NGO that promotes Hollywood values.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    You want the Church to denounce God and start worshiping Hollywood values (artificial contraception, promiscuity, divorce, abortion, homosexualism, etc.).

    That “church” already exists: it is called The Episcopal Church. It is your home. Just go.

    But to it quickly, because their membership (as long as the membership of every “church” that followed your ideas above) is collapsing. They are in __much__, __much__ worse condition than the Catholic Church.