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On the Second Vatican Council

Introduction: ‘We Have Lost Western Europe’

‘We have lost Western Europe’. These were the words that a senior Catholic layman said to me last week as we discussed organising the arrival in England of the Czestochowa Icon of the Most Holy Mother of God and its visit to the London Cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. His words are not exact, for Catholicism has lost not only Western Europe, but also North America and Australia.

The fact is that Catholicism in Africa, Asia, Latin America, let alone in Catholic Eastern Europe, is a very different sort of Catholicism from elsewhere. It is a sacral Christianity that values and respects the sense of the sacred – a Catholicism in other words far closer to the Christianity of the Orthodox Church than any other type of Catholicism. I know this as a Russian Orthodox priest, for on a weekly basis I meet Catholic Poles, Italians and Lithuanians who come to me and tell me that they want to come to our Church, because ‘Catholic churches in England are no good. They are Protestants’. Not my words, but theirs.

A Sad Fiftieth Anniversary

Most Catholics in Western Europe today are lapsed. It is an extreme rarity to find any Catholics, including practising ones, who agree with the official policies of their Church. There is no doubt that the Second Vatican Council that opened fifty years ago in Rome is in part responsible. Perhaps in great part. Certainly it led to the protestantisation of the vestiges of the Orthodox Christian Tradition of the first millennium, still kept by the then Catholic world, by introducing the desacralising rationalism and humanism of the Northern Protestant world.

Twenty years ago in France, where I then lived, a senior Catholic priest spoke to me of the effects of that Council, saying: ‘We created all the sects’. He was referring to the explosion of exotic sects in France since the 1960s. He blamed his own Church for this; the fact that the new Catholicism had removed all sense of mystery and the sacred from its services, demystifying the Church and no longer satisfying the spiritual needs of the people, was for him responsible for the disaffection of the masses and their absorption into all manners of sects, often founded by dangerous charlatans.

The Errors of the Council

We can see this clearly if we look at areas of change and unchangingness as a result of the Second Vatican Council. As regards change, the great change was in ‘the Mass’. Latin was replaced by local languages. This seems good in principle, but when we look in reality, we see that it was a disaster. You do not exchange something for something worse, but for something better. In other words, the vernacular translations were often vapid, spiritually uninspired. And once Latin was replaced, so a whole liturgical, cultural and musical tradition was also jettisoned – and not replaced. The whole feeling of the Mass changed, illustrated, for example, by the fact that Catholic priests no longer faced God, but turned to face the people, as though worshipping them and not Him.

For many, clergy included, the Catholic Eucharist became, as in Protestantism, a mere commemoration of bread and wine – or rather of biscuit-like hosts. Received in the hand, distributed by laypeople, crumbs swept away into bins, without any meaningful fast beforehand, without confession (now called ‘reconciliation’) beforehand, the Eucharist lost any remaining sacral reality. The same attitude was taken towards the Virgin Mary, relics, the priesthood and a multitude of practices of Catholic piety. Though most of these relatively recent practices were alien to ancient Orthodoxy, they at least represented popular piety – and they were not replaced. They were lost.

What Should Have Changed – and Did Not

As regards unchangingness, the first error was surely keeping Papal centralisation and infallibility – despite all the verbiage about promoting Local Churches. As regards birth control, there was another tactical error. To keep the ideal of no artificial contraception is good, but why make this into what many outside Catholicism now view as its central tenet? And what of pastoral economy or dispensation? The rigid dogmatism of this policy lost Catholicism hundreds of millions and made at a stroke almost all its married couples into hypocrites. Worse still. This policy was to be implemented by a priesthood on whom celibacy was enforced. Tens of thousands gave up the priesthood as a result and at the same time feminist revolt was ensured.

This also guaranteed that a large number of homosexuals and pedophiles were drawn into the Catholic priesthood – in Ireland the figure in a much depleted priesthood is said to be 25%. This was already hypocrisy, since for centuries Catholicism had allowed a married priesthood for its Uniats and today allows a married priesthood for its ex-Anglican Ordinariate. It was even more hypocrisy in Africa and Latin America (not to mention France, Italy, Spain and Portugal), where many priests are in reality married and have families – and always have been. But the main result of compulsory celibacy for the Catholic priesthood is simply a chronic lack of priests and hosts distributed by laypeople.

Conclusion: The Baby and the Bathwater

By the early 1960s a Roman Catholic Council was needed – if only to attempt to shake off the vestiges of Fascism, with which Catholicism had so cruelly compromised itself during and after the Second World War – not least in Croatia. However, it has often been said by Catholics themselves that the Second Vatican Council threw out the baby (the essentials) with the bathwater (the non-esssentials). But not even this is not true. The Second Council threw out the baby BUT KEPT the bathwater. More exactly, the Second Vatican Council threw out the remaining traditions of the Orthodox Christian First Millennium and kept the inessentials of its semi-secular Second Millennium.

The present ‘celebrations’ of the Council in the Vatican by a Pope who supported the changes then but regrets them now, are highly symbolic. Many have called for a Third Vatican Council. However, this means two different things. Some want a Third Council that will sweep away any heritage that remains and fully desacralise, rationalise and humanise Catholicism. Others want to restore the old-fashioned Catholicism and its Latin Mass, taking it back to the past before the Council. Neither is the solution. Let him who has ears hear.

Archpriest Andrew Phillips,
London

4/17 October 2012