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Get the facts straight

Beware of imminent attempts to rewrite Church history

  • Fr William Grimm, Tokyo
  • Japan
  • October 3, 2012
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In 1999, following the 1998 Special Synod of Bishops for Asia, Pope John Paul II went to India to issue the post-synod exhortation, Ecclesia in Asia. It was billed as a summary of the synod discussions, "to convey the wealth of that great spiritual event of communion and episcopal collegiality."

It was not. The document is riddled with distortions and even outright lies meant to advance an agenda of the Vatican rather than that of the synod fathers.

At the time, I asked a bishop who had been at the synod about that, and he commented, "That’s all right. We know what we said."

October 11 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of Vatican II. The anniversary is being marked by a "Year of Faith." Unless preliminary indications and predictions are wrong, during the year we will probably see yet another case of the Vatican and its minions rewriting the history of the Church.

So, as this anniversary period begins, it is worthwhile to get firmly planted in our hearts and minds a few basic facts about Vatican II, facts by which we can evaluate the various interpretations, reinterpretations, misinterpretations and misrepresentations that will be promulgated in the coming year.

The salient fact about Vatican II is that it was an ecumenical council, the latest of only twenty-one in the two-millennia history of the Church. It was not a cabal of subversives out to destroy the Church. Apart from a handful of bishops who were unable to attend because of health or political problems (those from some communist countries, for example), the participants were every active Catholic bishop in the world. Catholic teaching reminds us that in such a gathering, the Holy Spirit is also a powerful participant. As such, it was and is to be respected as a specially authoritative voice of the Church.

Of course, those who try to make Vatican II something it wasn’t claim that it was misinterpreted. However, the "interpreters" were the very bishops who had been there and voted on the documents that came out of the council. It was they who oversaw the implementation of the directions the council had set.

Something to keep in mind about those bishops as well is that they were not a bunch of feckless radicals. Not one of them, except for those from the Eastern rites, had ever celebrated Mass in any language but Latin. Obviously, not one of them was a post-Vatican II priest. They had, for the most part, been ordained priests in the 1910s, 20s 30s and 40s. The theology in which they had been trained was traditional, and they had studied it in Latin.

Nor did the bishops of Vatican II naively follow a group of radical theologians without understanding what they were doing. In fact, the opposite was the case. When the bishops arrived for the council, they found that Vatican curialists had already tried to take control of the process. Not at all compliant or naive, the majority of the council fathers took control, over and over again defeating attempts on the part of others to steer the content of deliberations and statements in a conservative direction.

And, what have been the fruits of Vatican II? Well, when all the world’s bishops gathered at the Vatican in 1962, there were about 2,800 of them. The Church has grown so much in the 50 years since then that an ecumenical council today would have to provide seats for more than 5,000 bishops.

There are now more than one billion Catholics in the world, and the number increases by millions each year, arguably a sign that the Holy Spirit is working through the Church that was reinvigorated by the council.

If during the "Year of Faith" you hear complaints about Vatican II and its stress upon the Church as the People of God, about collegiality, about confident encounter with the "joys and hopes, the griefs and the anxieties" of people today, about respectful encounter with other religions, about worship marked by "full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations," about reminders that "the revision of liturgical books should allow for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions and peoples" — if you hear such complaints, no matter the source, remember the facts and give the complaints the attention they deserve. None at all.

Fr William Grimm MM, based in Tokyo, is the publisher of ucanews.com
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