Saturday, June 13, 2015

Catholics Leaving The Church and the Need for Vatican II: Part 1

When I was growing up in the 50's and 60's, Catholic churches were packed every week for Sunday Mass. There were 5 to 6 Masses or more, and the pews were filled for all of them. There were long lines for confession on Saturday. Many Catholics defined their lives by their neighborhood parish.

However, as we are all well aware, all churches in western society, including Catholic churches, have been emptying out for the past 50 years. Religious belief and practice now play a very minor role, if any role at all, in most lives. Many conservative and traditional Catholics say it is not rocket science to figure out what happened in the Catholic Church. These people tell us that before Vatican II, when people were held to a "stricter standard" and "knew" Church teachings, the Church was strong. Then the Second Vatican Council happened, which many feel watered down Church teachings, and that caused a mass exodus out of the Church.

A typical response to the situation was laid out by Father John Zuhlsdorf, who did a blog post in August 2013 entitled, "Institutional collapse: a fruit of Vatican II?" [HERE]. Father Z quotes from an article by Louie Verrecchio, a bomb throwing traditionalist who writes his own blog entitled "Harvesting the Fruit of the Vatican II" and who has all but completely denounced Pope Francis as a heretic. In fact, a couple of weeks ago Verrecchio called for the bishops to denounce Pope Francis as a heretic and recently posted an article on his blog entitled, "Pope Francis Hates the Catholic Faith". That should tell you everything you need to know.

In any event. Verrecchio based his article cited by Father Z on another article written by Dr. Ralph Martin who succinctly describes the current situation of the Catholic Church in the West:
"There is something like an institutional collapse going on, evidenced by the vast numbers of schools closing, parishes merging, clustering and closing and the multiple assignments that many young priests now are asked to manage. Besides the institutional collapse, there is evidence of a widespread repudiation of the teaching of Christ and the Church by vast numbers of Catholics."
Verrecchio agreed with Dr. Martin's assessment but complained that "he [Dr. Martin] leaves the disease undiagnosed."

Verrechio then gives us his diagnosis:
With the intellectual currents of the Enlightenment, the subsequent anti-religion rebellion of the French Revolution, and the profound intellectual rejection of the Christian worldview symbolized by Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, forces were unleashed in Western culture that eventually led to not only a repudiation of the church-state relationships that had evolved over many centuries but a repudiation of religion itself as a legitimate shaper of culture.
What Martin leaves unaddressed is the degree to which these “intellectual currents” were unleashed, not only in Western culture at the hands of determined secularists, but in the very heart of Catholicism via the Second Vatican Council at the hands of determined churchmen.
Verrecchio is telling us that humanist secular forces - which are very real - infected the Catholic Church through "determined churchmen" at the Second Vatican Council, thereby causing the institutional collapse as outlined by Dr. Martin.  Father Zuhlsdorf concludes that the actions of these "determined churchmen" at Vatican II led directly to the disintegration of the liturgy, and the only thing that will save the Church is to "revitalize" the liturgy:
No true and lasting renewal of the Church can take place until we revitalize our sacred liturgical worship of God. The virtue of religion requires this first and foremost. No other initiative we take in any sphere of the Church’s life will undergo a sound and lasting renewal without also a revitalization of our worship of God.
This is very typical of the reasoning found on most conservative and traditional Catholic websites and blogs. They feel everything was just fine in the Church until the Second Vatican Council hit, and then, quite literally, all hell broke loose. One of those commenting on Father Z's blog gave a link to Msgr. Charles Pope who posited that much of the collapse in the Church is due to the fact that the people and the priest face one another at Mass. Msgr. Pope insists that many of our problems will be solved if only the priest would face towards the east once again.

Is the answer really that simple? Would bringing Latin back and turning the priest around at Mass solve all of our problems and bring people racing back into the Church? That, obviously, is the belief of Father Zuhlsdorf and Msgr Pope, and, judging from the comments to their blogs, it is the belief of many, many others as well.

I am one of those Catholics who rejected the Church after Vatican II. As stated above, I am old enough to remember the waning days of the pre-Vatican II era. I was actually a very devout little girl who went to confession almost every week. I even kept a Marian altar next to my bed. Yet, I completely rejected the Catholic Church by the time I was 14 years old, which was a few years after Vatican II but before the implementation of the New Mass.

However, even at that age, I was not ignorant of my faith.  I learned the faith when I was a kid. I could recite all of the major prayers. I knew the sacraments. I knew the major saints. One of the main sources for my Catholic education was the Baltimore Catechism, which is a series of questions and answers. We memorized the answers word-for-word, and were graded on how well we could parrot back the answers. The Baltimore Catechism gives a good insight into how the Catholic Church in her "golden age" educated the young.

The Baltimore Catechism certainly did a good job of transmitting the rules of the Church.  The problem with the Baltimore Catechism is that while it was technically correct in all of its teachings, the faith was transmitted in a cold, colorless manner.  Here are a couple of questions and answers from this Catechism:
6. Q. Why did God make you?  A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.  [This is absolutely true, but no mention is made about God making me because He loved me. God is portrayed here as a stern ruler who must be appeased and only then will we be happy with him in heaven.]

9. Q. What must we do to save our souls?  A. To save our souls, we must worship God by faith, hope, and charity; that is, we must believe in Him, hope in Him, and love Him with all our heart.  [Again, this is all technically true, but the fact is we can't do any of this apart from God's love.  We must first receive the love of God within us before we can return that love to Him.  This answer makes it seem that we had better love God or He will squash us like a bug.]
400. Q.  What lessons do we learn from the sufferings and death of Christ?  A. From the sufferings and death of Christ we learn the great evil of sin, the hatred God bears to it, and the necessity of satisfying for it.  [Again, this 
 answer, while absolutely correct, is cold and clinical and does nothing to draw us towards an infinitely merciful God who voluntarily poured Himself out on the Cross because of His great love for us.  The emphasis here is not that Jesus died for love of us, but, as stated, "the great evil of sin, the hatred God bears to it, and the necessity of satisfying for it."  We certainly need to learn about sin but, as shown by Our Lord Himself, the evil of sin should always be taught along with God's great mercy towards the sinner.
The Church taught me all of the rules. I could repeat these rules word for word. Yet, by the time I was 14 years old, I had completely rejected the Church. It is important to note that even though it was the 60's, I was not a rebel. I never did drugs. I didn't drink. I didn't even smoke. I was not sexually active. I had never been abused by any Church authority.

Yet, when I rejected the Church I had a great feeling of freedom. The Church had become a burden, and I wanted nothing more to do with it. I no longer had to submit to a faceless authority. I could now think for myself.

Why didn't learning all of the rules, learning my catechism, saying all of the right prayers, attending the Latin Mass with the priest facing the altar, keep me from leaving the Church? It is only recently that the answer to that question has become clear to me.

From one who was there, I can tell you that one of the main reasons most people went to Mass every Sunday and submitted to the authority of the Church in the Church's "golden era" was not out of love of God and the Church, but out of fear of a God who was far too often portrayed as a bogeyman in the sky out to get us for even the smallest of infractions. As a little girl, I went to confession almost every week not because I wanted to be absolved of any sin that separated me from God but because I was afraid of dying and going to hell.

Illustration from Baltimore Catechism
Jesus Christ constantly told his apostles not to be afraid. He said he came to give us peace: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27). This has always been the message of the Catholic Church. Read any of the great saints, all the way back to the Church fathers. The message that comes through is God's great love for His Creation and how much He gives to us. God is a loving Father who allowed His Son to be crucified in order to save us.

But somehow this message did not make it down to the local Churches, as can be plainly seen in the Baltimore Catechism. Far too much of Church authority ruled with an iron fist by instilling fear into the laity. This approach kept people in line, but of and by itself, this did not produce true love and loyalty in people.

Louie Verrecchhio and others are correct when they say the current crisis in the Church was planted by "determined churchmen." However, these "determined churchmen" were not at the Second Vatican Council. They were in our local parishes and in the Catholic schools, teaching by word and example that God is harsh and unforgiving, and if you step out of line, He will strike you dead.

The fruits of this became apparent when the world said to Catholics, you don't have to live in fear of the Church. There will be no thunder bolts from the sky. Just do what you feel is right. And Catholics by the million have thrown off the Church and embraced their "freedom", just as I did at age 14. Ireland is a prime example of a country in which the Catholic Church ruled like a stern and far, far too often an abusive taskmaster, and now the people have rebelled.

Some may argue that children are not capable of understanding the Love of God and therefore it is necessary to just teach them the rules. Well, what would you say to St. Dominic Savio who died at age 15, or to St. Maria Goretti, who died at age 11. What would you say to the children of Fatima, who sacrificed and prayed for the entire world, submitting to great suffering in order to save sinners? What would you say to St. Therese of Lisieux, who entered the convent at age 15 and died at age 24? What would you say to Blessed José Luis Sánchez del Río, a 14 year old Mexican boy who suffered martyrdom because he refused to denounce Jesus Christ, and whose last words were "Viva Cristo Rey!"

The common factor for all these children is that they understood the Love of God. They did not see their Creator and Savior as a stern taskmaster looking to catch them at every infraction but as a loving God who wanted to share eternity with them. That was the basis of their faith. They didn't love and obey God because they had learned a set of rules. Most of these great children saints, like St. Bernadette of Soubirous, would probably flunk their catechism classes. The children of Fatima could not even read or write. Their great love of God came not from learning the rules but from their personal experience of God's Love and Mercy in their lives.
Illustration from Baltimore Catechism
Teaching about the evil of sin without teaching about the love, mercy and forgiveness of God leads to rigid fundamentalism and judgmental and unloving attitudes towards others.  We see this taken to the extreme when people feel justified in attacking anyone who does not believe as they do.  To these people, obeying God is not about love.  It is about following a strict set of rules.  Anyone who does not live up to these rules is condemned.  Sadly, this was the image many Catholics had of their Church, and the reason why many have turned away in the last 50 years.  Of course, there were many other factors leading to the crisis of the Church in western culture, but this harsh view of God played no small part in it.

Part of my title for this post is "The Need for Vatican II." Why did we need Vatican II? I will explore this in Part 2.


  1. I cannot see any historical evidence whatsoever that Jesus wanted to set up any kind of organized religion or church.

    1. You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Matthew 16:18

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  4. Catholic in Brooklyn, can you point out a particularly good replacement for the Baltimore Catechism?

    1. I am not familiar with teaching materials for kids, so I can’t answer that. I am rather harsh on the Baltimore Catechism in this post. It certainly teaches the doctrines of the Church. There is nothing technically wrong with the BC. I just feel there should be more emphasis on the love and mercy of God.


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