07Jun Magisterium’s clock is stuck in 1965 — Sean O Connaill

What exactly was ‘the spirit of Vatican II’?  Here as elsewhere we find ignorant voices raised to misrepresent it merely as the spirit of 1960s secular liberalism.   This trend has led to an even more dangerous and unjust one:  to blame ‘the spirit of Vatican II’ and those who speak of it for ‘all that has gone wrong’ since.

This Catholic did his Leaving Cert in 1960, and was at UCD when news of the council broke.  I remember vividly what the spirit of Vatican II meant to me.  In essence it was the spirit of confidence, love and hope that led Pope John XXIII to call the council in the first place.  It was also the spirit led him to support the movement among so many bishops to abandon a quite contrary spirit – the spirit of fear, chauvinism and triumphalism, of anathemas and overbearing paternalism, that had tended to dominate the governance of the church in the nineteenth century.  It was also the spirit that led Pope John XXIII to visit a Roman prison and speak off the cuff about the equal compassion of God for all of us.

It was never a spirit of heady conformity to 1960s hedonism.   I never associated ‘the spirit of Vatican II’ with the so-called ‘sexual revolution’, and with the naivety of ‘all you need is love’.  It was a spirit that called me instead to discipleship, and therefore to discipline also.  It was a call to maturity, to responsibility, to holiness (i.e. to prayer, goodness and kindness), to joy, and to learning.  And it was a call to every baptised Catholic.

I felt confident in the world Catholic magisterium of that time, despite the obvious fact that so many Irish bishops harked back to the fearful and controlling paternalism of the pre-conciliar period.  As a young teacher after the council I felt sure that the spirit of the council would soon prevail in Ireland also, especially through dialogical and collegial church structures that would arise inevitably out of Lumen Gentium Article 37.

And so I am certain that ‘all that has gone wrong since’ is a result of the failure of the Catholic magisterium to maintain the spirit of Vatican II – that spirit of hope and confidence and equal dignity in the church.  Above all it was the result of a betrayal by the magisterium of not just the spirit but the letter of Lumen Gentium.

One illustration will suffice.  According to Lumen Gentium 37 (1965) Catholic lay people would be “empowered to manifest their opinion on those things which pertain to the good of the Church”  ….  “through the institutions established by the Church for that purpose”.

Let’s suppose that had actually happened in Ireland, say in the 1970s.  If there had existed in Ireland truly representative and open diocesan and parish forums from the early 1970s, would the parents of Irish clerical abuse victims of the late 70s and 80s and 90s have had to rely from then on only on the integrity of secretive Catholic bishops and their underlings to protect other Catholic children?    Could, for example, Brendan Smyth have continued to run rampant through Ireland until 1993 – if Irish Catholic lay people had learned much earlier the confidence to question their bishops openly on administrative matters, ‘through structures established for that purpose’?

Now in 2012, the CDF’s “promoter of justice” Mgr Charles Scicluna tells us that in this matter of child protection  ‘Bishops are accountable to the Lord, but also to their people.’  None of us would have needed telling of this if the magisterium had held on to the spirit of Vatican II, and implemented its letter also.

Yet the summary report of the Vatican visitators to Ireland makes no mention of Irish bishops being accountable to their people!   The magisterium’s clock is still stuck in 1965, still stuck in Curial fear of any Catholic assembly it cannot control and manipulate. What an ocean of tears has been shed in consequence!

And the letter of Lumen Gentium remains unhonoured to this day.  Whatever spirit has determined that, it isn’t the spirit of Vatican II.    It isn’t the Holy Spirit either.


Seán OConaill  http://www.seanoconaill.com

“Now this Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”  (2 Cor 3:17)


12 Responses

  1. Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh

    Thankyou for this excellent article and for this quote from Sean O Conaill’s website entitled “Endless Deference or Integrity?”: “the Holy See apparently believes the Holy Spirit denies the Irish people the gift of discernment”. This reminds me of what I have read about how the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church treated Martin Luther, when he wanted to have the bible translated into the language of the German people. The RCC wanted total control over what to believe at that time and were opposed to mere lay people reading the bible in their own language.
    Similar to this author, I was in university when Vatican II took place. I was steeped in pre-medical studies at Loyola University Chicago as a biology major and one class short of being a theology major. The excitement of Vatican II among the lay people, clergy, and religious in Chicago was similar to what this author experienced in Dublin. After Loyola, I came to Trinity College Dublin to study medicine, and was focused on my studies, except for daily Mass, which was so available in Dublin. It is sad that many of the hopes of Vatican II, including the end of mandatory celibacy, have not yet been allowed to take place.
    I pray for the continued wisdom, courage, and perseverance of the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland, as they work as equals with lay women and men, with religious, and with hierarchy, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, for a church that addresses the needs of the 21st century. As an Irish-American, I look to Ireland, because the American hierarchy and the priests seem too afraid to speak truth to power and fear being silenced, in my view. When will the age of the Inquisition end?

  2. Mary O Vallely

    I’m a little younger than Sean but the spirit of Vatican 11 for me as a youngster was summed up in that wonderful face of Pope John XX111 which exuded kindness. Kindness has been lost along the way, I think. I am not a theologian, just a simple, weak but God loving person and I find many of those who criticise people with genuinely held, less orthodox views, to be harsh in the spirit and manner of criticising. Kindness must be the hallmark of all Christians.
    I agree that the Visitators report was woefully inadequate and if I were an Irish bishop I would demand, as my right, to see the complete report and to have a chance to discuss it. Surely we only owe blind obedience to God?

  3. Sean Walsh

    Brilliant, Sean. Well done. Next stop, Rite and Reason in the Irish Times. Why not? Cast as wide a net as possible. This one should be shouted aloud from the rooftops!.. Once in all my years of church attendance/Mass going, I heard a priest make mention of Vatican Two.
    Once!.. To go back for a sec to 37 Lumen Gentium: “Catholic lay people would be empowered to manifest their opinion on those things which pertain to the good of the Church…” Empowered. Manifest i.e., make known in a spirit of democracy and free speech… Be heard. Be listened to… It didn’t happen. Revert to the status quo: the role of lay people in the Church is to pray up, pay up and shut up… Now today we sway, lurch, stagger: a house divided…

  4. John Wotherspoon (Hong Kong)

    Thank you Seán for excellent article, which I will link on June 7 menu of http://www.v2catholic.com which was begun to promote and defend the vision of Vatican II

    Over the past few months, I have been publishing on v2catholic a daily reflection on the 16 documents of Vat II. At the moment I’m working through Lumen Gentium…and have the same feeling as yourself: LG remains unhonoured

    And this lack of honour will continue in the Year of Faith as the Catechism is used to keep the spirit of Vat II in the bottle.
    The Catechism is a Scripturally flawed document – see:

    See also: http://v2catholic.com/johnw/2012/2012-01-17v2ccc.htm

    May the Holy Spirit help the spirit of Vatican II be honoured!

  5. Lawrence M. Ventline

    How true of the spirit of Vatican II. Experiencing it is far from a heady academic theory of it.
    One has to be excluded and put outside the loop, as it were, to know that one has no where else to go, but to be in the Creator in prayer and embrace, and, to speak truth to power in love, as Ms. Manners says, since, like salt and pepper shakers are passed together, so do truth and love go together. When one is made to feel excluded by the hierarchs for standing up against gays being called ‘disordered’, in official documents, it is easier to further speak up, even in the face of more deningrating comments amid expressions of their own ‘best interest’ for me is their reason for untruthfulness.
    Communio, collaboration and collegiality of Vatican II are far from the displaced power and implosion of the Vatican these days.
    No one can rob one’s joy, however, thanks be God. After all, our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth!

    AOD, MI

  6. Cyril North

    Hear! Hear! Well said. The present thrust from the Vatican is a return to the infantilism and the grovelling to bishops that was typical in the church before Vatican II. I lived in Ireland through those times. Irish catholicism back then was like a cult, and under present policies the church is trying to morph into a cult once again.

  7. Gerard Flynn

    Shortly, we are told, the Vatican will appoint bishops to seven or more Irish dioceses. This is another way in which the Vatican’s clock is stuck in the past. Isn’t it time that we had a system for electing bishops similar to that in use in the Church of Ireland. A quick glance at the men (and very likely, in the near future, women) currently exercising that role within the Church of Ireland should be enough to convince anyone of the success of that process. Isn’t it high time that such important decision would no longer be made by 40 hierarchs in Rome in a process that lack accountability and transparency.

  8. Martin Murray

    Gerard, good suggestion. However, it would take humility and creative thinking to admit we could possibly learn something from the experience of other churches in this regard, especially the Anglican one. Tricky for a church such as ours which increasingly appears to have nothing to learn, only to teach.

  9. A Priest

    Thank you, thank you for your life saving and truly encouraging words on this site !! I find our church so toxic at the moment with the present pope creating a ghastly gulf of polarisation………..

    As an RC priest I just continue to be patiently and very, very quietly subversive at least in the eyes and mind of the present Vatican police force !! (that is ministering in a fully Vat II way being open, warm hearted, inclusive, ecumenical and inter faith, non judgemental, deeply prayerful).

    Has anyone noticed the RC blogs almost entirely male and usually clerical that dictate an agenda (so often camp and liturgical fully of pictures of fussy and ornate ceremonies and museum style fixtures and fittings of a glittering by-gone age) who rant and rave as though they were the voice of the church or only people in it. This would surely make an interesting study in itself.

    I am certainly not one of them but merely one of the pilgrim people trudging along………..

  10. Paddy Ferry

    I want to thank Seán for his excellent piece above and also those who posted such supportive responses. I first became aware of Seán when he very successfully challanged Dave Pierre back in March and I initially assumed that he was a scholar priest he was so knowledgable. The Priest — response 9 — mentioning the current “toxic” nature of the Church that we all love certainly hit the nail on the head. I am convinced that the overwhelming majority of priests and laity think as we think in this present terrible time to be a Catholic. It is an absolute blessing that we have ACP to represent our views. In today’s Tablet Fr. Eddie Butler from Derrydruel Upper, just outside Dungloe — my part of the world — in Co. Donegal writes in support of the seven English priests responsible for last week’s open letter making a stand against the appalling direction our Church is now taking. He states that to his certain knowledge there are priests all over the world who share the same views and fears. He reminds us that we who continue to be inspired by the teachings of Vatican II “are legion”

  11. Con Carroll

    Irish survivors of child abuse (SOCA) will hold a dignified protest at the opening of Eucharistic Congress, Sunday 10, at the presence of Cardinal Sean Brady

  12. Mary Burke

    Yes, indeed. And some of them combine a taste for the liturgically abrogated and arcane with an interest in the monarchist tradition, and include photos of Bourbons, etc. Jesus wept.

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