Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Vatican II: A Case of Selective Hearing

Songwriter Paul Simon of Simon and Garfunkel wrote a song in the 1960's called "The Boxer", which has some great lines it.  For purposes of this posting, I point out the following line:

A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.  

As far as being a Catholic is concerned, this statement is never truer than when discussing the Second Vatican Council and the ramifications therefrom. Father John Zuhlsdorf recently linked to an article from almost five years ago concerning a letter from Bishop R. Walker Nickless. The article was originally posted on and is entitled "Sioux City Bishop Calls for 'Exorcism' of  'Spirit of Vatican II'".  You can read Father Z's post here. The article refers to the 17-page letter written by Bishop Nickless in 2009. He was the then-newly appointed bishop of that diocese, and this was his first letter as bishop.

Father Z's readers saw this and read it as a bishop condemning Vatican II and all that came from it, despite the fact that this was not in any way the intention of Bishop Nickless. Here is the first part of the article as posted by Father Z (the comments in red are his):

Bp. Nickless (D. Sioux City): we must “exorcize” the “spirit of Vatican II”

I have mentioned Bishop Nickless of Sioux City before.
This is from LifeSite:
Sioux City Bishop Calls for “Exorcism” of “Spirit of Vatican II”
By Kathleen Gilbert
SIOUX CITY, Iowa, October 16, 2009 ( – Catholics must learn to “exorcise” the so-called “spirit of Vatican II” to end the secularization that has “wreaked havoc” on the Church since the Council, says Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, Iowa. [Do I hear an "Amen!"?]
Notice that this very clearly says that the Bishop feels "the spirit of Vatican II" needs to be exorcised, which is not Vatican II itself.  Yet the comments left by readers make it very clear that they completely disregard the words of the Bishop and equate the "spirit" of Vatican II with the Council.  Even the few excerpts from the article made it clear that this was not what His Excellency was saying.  The next two paragraphs as quoted by Father Z make that very plain.   The words in bold are from Father Z's post:
In a pastoral letter issued Thursday to the lay and religious of his diocese, Nickless wrote that he has “no other desire” than to see the reforms of Vatican II implemented properly. However, he said, “It is crucial that we all grasp that the hermeneutic or interpretation of discontinuity or rupture, which many think is the settled and even official position, is not the true meaning of the Council.”
The “hermeneutic of discontinuity,” under the guise of the “spirit of Vatican II,” sees “the Second Vatican Council as a radical break with the past,” explained the bishop. However, “There can be no split … between the Church and her faith before and after the Council.”
This makes it very plain that the Bishop does not believe that Vatican II constitutes a break with the past or a "rupture" in Church teaching. He plainly says that those who teach such are teaching falsehoods. The LifesiteNews article continues, and unless the reader is careful, he can continue to read this as Bishop Nickless condemning the Vatican II council:
This “hermeneutic of discontinuity,” said Nickless, “emphasizes the ‘engagement with the world’ to the exclusion of the deposit of faith.”
“This has wreaked havoc on the Church, systematically dismantling the Catholic Faith to please the world, watering down what is distinctively Catholic, and ironically becoming completely irrelevant and impotent for the mission of the Church in the world,” he said.  “The Church that seeks simply what works or is ‘useful’ in the end becomes useless.”
It is important to note that Bishop Nickless is not condemning Vatican II as "systematically dismantling that Catholic Faith", but blames the false "hermeneutic of discontinuity." As quoted above, His Excellency believes that "There can be no split … between the Church and her faith before and after the Council."

The article was so old that the link to the Bishop's original letter was broken.  Fortunately, one of Father Z's readers provided a working link, and therefore we are able to read the Bishop's entire letter, which is here.  Other than the one reader posting a working link, none of Father's Z's readers seem to question the broken link and are presumably not interested in reading the actual letter.  Father Z originally posted about this letter in 2009, and he quoted from the letter at that time, so I don't understand why he did not correct his readers who got it so wrong, as can be seen from their comments.

Here are some of the comments to Father Z's blog:

  1. Gratias says:
    The Church has been taken over by the outside world and they still are not pleased with us. V2 was a rupture and a mistake.

  2. Bob B. says:
    I’ll bet Fishwrap is having a fit right about now.

  3. backtothefuture says:
    We need to exorcise the whole council on the whole.

  4. Your Excellence, this may be a little more difficult than you think. We have an obstacle in the way of your much needed suggestion: Pope John Paul “the great”:
    “Entrusting myself fully to the Spirit of truth, therefore, I am entering into the rich inheritance of the recent pontificates. This inheritance has struck deep roots in the awareness of the Church in an utterly new way, quite unknown previously, thanks to the Second Vatican Council…”
    This, Bishop Nickless is THE ‘spirit of Vatican II’.
    Kyrie Eleison!
  5. Nancy D. says:
    Vatican II is a rupture because it made the erroneous claim that the Jews and the Moslems worship the same God as we do, when the fact is, we, who are Catholic, worship The True God, The God of our Salvation, Who desires we overcome our disordered inclinations, including our disordered sexual inclinations, so that we are not led into temptation, but rather, sin no more. The Sacrifice of The Cross, Is The Sacrifice of The Holy Trinity, for “God so Loved us, that He sent His Only Son…”.
    God Is Love. Love exists in relationship. There Is only One Spirit of Love Between The Father and The Son.
I find all of these comments to be very disconcerting. Unlike Bishop Nickless, who is attacking the false "Spirit of Vatican II", these comments are attacking the Council itself. None of these readers seem to understand Bishop Nicklass' message. I won't accuse Father Z of encouraging these kind of comments, but I do question why he let these comments stand without some response or correction.

The 17-page letter from Bishop Nickless is actually a wonderful teaching tool as to the real meaning of Vatican II and why it has not borne the anticipated fruit of its founding fathers.

Would Bishop Nickless agree that "V2 was a rupture and a mistake"? Hardly. This is what he wrote in his letter:
I studied and was ordained a deacon and priest during the exciting, almost intoxicating, time of the Second Vatican Council. I am thoroughly a product of that momentous time, the greatest gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church in centuries. It has formed the context and culture of my entire ministerial life. Like Pope John Paul the Great, I have no other desire for my ministry than seeing the hopes and reforms of the Second Vatican Council fully implemented and brought to fruition.
Portions of this excerpt were included in the Lifesite news article, but Father Z did not use these quotes. If he had used these quotes, would Father Z's readers still make such comments as: "Wow, what a great Bishop!" or "Please, dear papal nuncio, Cardinal Ouellet and Pope Francis, we need a few more bishops like this guy!"  Something tells me that their sentiments would be very different if they realized that this is how His Excellency actually views Vatican II.  

As can also be seen from the above quote, Bishop Nickless has great admiration and respect for Blessed John Paul II (who was not a Blessed at the time this letter was written), even calling him "Pope John Paul the Great."  Unlike "Catholic Johnny" above, Bishop Nickless sees Blessed John Paul as anything but an "obstacle."

Bishop Nickless quoted from Blessed John XXIII's opening sermon at the Council:
In opening the Council, Blessed John stated that the “greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council” was twofold: “that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be [both] guarded and taught more efficaciously.” Later in the speech, he elaborated on this: “The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another.” The teachings of the Church, our identity and culture as Catholics, must be loved and guarded, yet brought forth and taught in a way understandable to the modern world. 
Bishop Nickless goes on to explain how this is what the "New Evangelization" is all about.  The substance of the Church's teaching is not new, but the way in which it is presented to a changing world is new.  This is the heart and soul of the meaning of Vatican II, and this was the driving force of the pontificate of Blessed John Paul II:
Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul the Great constantly preached the same thing in calling for a “New Evangelization” of the faithful, our separated brothers and sisters in Christ, and all those who do not know Jesus Christ or the Church. This New Evangelization was to be “new not in content but in ardor, methods, and expression.”  It is readily apparent from his teaching and ministry that for Pope John Paul the Great, the New Evangelization was the true fruit of the Second Vatican Council. Indeed, the Council was the beginning and blueprint for evangelization in the modern world. He explicitly stated this as his particular mission at the time of his election, and he lived it to the end.  He spent his entire pontificate interpreting and implementing the Council’s documents according to the light of the Holy Spirit, given in virtue of his office, amid the changing circumstances of the Church and the world.
Bishop Nickless readily admits that something has gone terribly wrong since Vatican II.   He quotes from Pope Benedict XVI:
The question arises: Why has the implementation of the Council, in large parts of the Church, thus far been so difficult? Well, it all depends on the correct interpretation of the Council or—as we would say today—on its proper hermeneutics, the correct key to its interpretation and application. The problems in its implementation arose from the fact that two contrary hermeneutics came face to face and quarreled with each other. One caused confusion, the other, silently but more and more visibly, bore and is bearing fruit.
Bishop Nickless is telling us that the false "hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture" has been the root of the crisis in the Church and has presented a false interpretation of Vatican II:
On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call “a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture,” it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the “hermeneutic of reform,” of renewal in the continuity of the one subject – Church – which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God. The hermeneutic of discontinuity risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the postconciliar Church. It asserts that the texts of the Council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the Council.
Bishop Nickless quotes extensively from Pope Benedict XVI and says:
the “spirit of Vatican II” must be found only in the letter of the documents themselves. The so-called “spirit” of the Council has no authoritative interpretation. It is a ghost or demon that must be exorcised if we are to proceed with the Lord’s work.
Coincidentally, Michael Voris just released a Vortex video, which you can watch here, regarding comments made by Cardinal Walter Kaspar who has suddenly come to the conclusion that the Vatican II documents were purposely made ambiguous as a result of "compromise forumlas" which "open the door to a selective reception in either direction."  Michael Voris finds this "admission" by Cardinal Kaspar to be "stunning, absolutely stunning" . . . "that the (Vatican II) documents were deliberately written in such a way to please everyone and cause confusion and conflict."  Hmmmm.  That is not what Bishop Nickless of Sioux City, Iowa said, nor is it what Pope Benedict XVI has said, or even our current Holy Father, Pope Francis, who called the Council "a beautiful work of the Holy Spirit" in a homily on April 16 of this year (you can read an article about this homily here).

Quote from Cardinal Kaspar
Michael Voris, to bolster his position, goes on to quote from Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Kazakhstan. From the Vortex video:
About two years ago – a very well respected bishop .. Athanasius Schneider of Kazakhstan was addressing a large group of bishops and cardinals in Rome. He suggested that the time has come for a Syllabus of Errors to be published by the Holy Father clearing up the misinterpretations of the documents of the Second Vatican Council which have become so rampant.
Bishop Schneider
You can read the address by Bishop Schneider here.  You will see that he quotes extensively from Vatican II documents and in a very positive light.  Bishop Schneider give us basically the same argument as that of Bishop Nickless:  Vatican II has been grossly misinterpreted, and that has been the cause of the crisis in the Church.  Bishop Schneider has only praise for the true intentions of Vatican II, as can be seen in the following quotes:
According to an expression of Blessed Pope John XXIII in the speech given at the final general congregation of the first session of the Council, December 7, 1962, the one purpose of the Council and the one hope and confidence of the Pope and the Council Fathers consists in this: “To make ever more known to the men of our time the Gospel of Christ, that it be practiced willingly and that it penetrate deeply into every aspect of society.” (loc. cit., pp. 881-882). Can there be a more authentic and more Catholic pastoral principle and method than this?
Bishop Schneider explains what he feels are the reasons we have not seen greater fruit from Vatican II:
In substance, there were two impediments against the true intention of the Council and its Magisterium bearing abundant and lasting fruits. One was found outside the Church, in the violent process of cultural and social revolution in the 1960s, which, like every powerful social phenomenon, penetrated within the Church, contaminating vast ranges of people and institutions with its spirit of rupture. The other impediment showed itself in the lack of wise and intrepid Pastors of the Church who would be ready to defend the purity and integrity of the faith and of the liturgical and pastoral life, not letting themselves be influenced either by praise or by fear (“nec laudibus, nec timore”).
Bishop Schneider sums up his position on Vatican II in his final statement:
Thus there truly is the need for a conciliar Syllabus with doctrinal value, and moreover there is need to increase the number of holy, courageous pastors, profoundly rooted in the tradition of the Church, free from any type of mentality of rupture whether in the field of doctrine or of liturgy. In fact, these two elements constitute the indispensable condition so that doctrinal, liturgical, and pastoral confusion may diminish notably and the pastoral work of the Second Vatican Council may bear many and lasting fruits in the spirit of tradition, which joins us with the spirit that reigns at all times, everywhere, and in all true children of the Catholic Church, which is the one and the true Church of God on the earth.
I have shown in previous posts that Michael Voris tends to make very misleading statements, but I think he has outdone himself this time when he invokes Bishop Schneider to back up his argument that Vatican II has been the source of the crisis in the Church.  Bishop Schneider would be the first disagree with Voris.

Interestingly, Father Z posted in regard to the Vortex video about the Vatican II documents.  Father Z starts out his post by writing, "I will remind the readership that in the greater arc of the Church’s history, Vatican II wasn’t all that important."  He writes further, "Vatican II has taken on a kind of mythic importance in the identity of many Catholics of a certain age."  These statements would seem to indicate that Father Z is not in step in his view of Vatican II with Bishop Nickless, whom he had praised just a few days prior, or with any of our recent Popes, including Pope Francis, or with Bishop Schneider, to name just a few good and holy men of the Church, all of whom defend Vatican II and place great importance on it.

Father Z offers his take on Vatican II: "During Vatican II, after many of the working drafts and schemata were junked, committees and subcommittees, working under pressure and time constraints, cobbled the documents together.  Is it any wonder that the documents have some problems?"  I guess Father Z doesn't give much importance to the influence of the Holy Spirit.

So Father Z agrees with Voris that there are problems with the documents in Vatican II.  Again, he would not seem to be in step with any of the post-conciliar Popes or with Bishop R. Walker Nickless or with Bishop Athanasius Schneider.  It should be noted that in January 2011, Father Z praised Bishop Schneider and even did a podcast on the aforementioned speech, which can be found here.  Yet, Father Z's statements in this last post would seem to be at odds with those of Bishop Schneider.  It all gets quite confusing.

Again, the comments to Father Z's post are more enlightening than the actual post.  The following comment is typical of many that were posted, and to which Father Z made no response:

Johnno says:
There’s a false equivalence here between Vatican II and previous councils.
Previous Councils sought to clarify and nail down certain things and reduce ambguity as much as possible.
Vatican II’s purpose, according to the testimony of those who were involved, seemed primarily set on the objective to purposely further ambiguity and water down the Catholic faith so as to somehow trick Protestants and the world into imagining that they could find common ground with us and therefore join in… An idea so ill-conceivably and amazingly stupid that it makes far more sense to reach the conclusion that the architects of Vatican II didn’t seek to clarify Catholicism or explain ambguities and answer divisive topics like other councils, but rather to destroy tenets of the Catholic Church itself so that it would join the modern world in all its glorious progress.
Regardless of however you want to see it, Vatican II’s supposed goals were never met and are colossal failures, and the only reason we continue to try and find some light in its darkness is to avoid responsibility for it. That and stubborn pride. Whatever good we do salvage from it is likely God making lemonade from the lemons we fostered upon His Church.

The bottom line is this:  All of the Holy Fathers in the last half of the 20th Century and into the 21st Century have told us that Vatican II was an important council and a good and holy council.  The purpose of this council was to aid in spreading the saving message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a changing world.  Many have tried to hijack this council and make it into something it was never meant to be:  a reform of the Church.  If we try to belittle the council or worse, condemn it, we have fallen into the trap of Satan himself.  

Pope Francis
Dr. Jeff Mirus of wrote a brilliant post in regard to the previously mentioned April 16 address by Pope Francis in which he said that the Council "is a beautiful work of the Holy Spirit."  From Dr. Mirus:
Just as the Modernists ignore the Magisterium as a relic of the past, replacing it with the spirit of the current age, the Traditionalists ignore the contemporary Magisterium, replacing it with the spirit of some previous age. But please note that these descriptions are not perfect, and that one can have a fairly liberal or a fairly conservative outlook without really crossing the line into either camp. If we agree that the actual Conciliar texts are a great gift of the Holy Spirit for authentic Catholic renewal, it is safe to say we are in neither group. But in any case, the Pope rebukes both groups, insisting that the Council was a wholly legitimate and continuous growth or development of the Church, which everyone is bound to accept and act upon:
Everybody seems happy about the presence of the Holy Spirit but it’s not really the case and there is still that temptation to resist it…. The Council was a beautiful work of the Holy Spirit…. But after 50 years, have we done everything that the Holy Spirit said to us in the Council? In the continuity of the growth of the Church which was the Council?
Pope Francis, in other words, has the same view of the Council as his predecessors, which is really the only properly Catholic view. The same points were made by Paul VI; and by John Paul II; and by Benedict XVI. Every pope since the Council has insisted upon its faithful implementation. And yet too many of us still find ourselves either in one camp or the other, or else we are all too willing to accept things as they are, and to make a comfortable ecclesiastical place for ourselves in the status quo. Indeed, how many churchmen themselves fall into this more universal third category?
We need to turn off all of the chaos and clamor around us and even our own deceptive voices and open our minds and hearts to the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to guide us into all truth.


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