Cardinals Gone Wild: What’s So Scary About Vatican II?

Cardinal Rode on way to chapel

Ever since Pope John XXIII threw open the “windows of the church” to let a new wind blow through the Catholic church, there have been forces at work to dismantle the authenticity of Vatican II. A commentary in this week’s National Catholic Reporter asserts that the traditionalist “reform of the reform” movement within Catholicism has been given ever greater rein under Pope Benedict and, especially Cardinals Levada and Rodé.

Rodé, who is in charge of the two current investigations in to American Catholic sisters, is known for his love of living the life of a medieval cardinal with all the excesses and masculine narcissism associated with the era.

But nostalgia is not the crux of our salvation – no matter how hard some in Catholic leadership try to convince us to the contrary. We can conserve the best of our Catholic heritage without clinging to outmoded traditions that impede the life force of the gospel.

To quote my father (who claims he’s paraphrasing the Buddha): A conservative carries a raft to cross the river. A traditionalist keeps the raft on his back when there are no more rivers to cross.

Here’s the NCR commentary:

It has been an open secret that powerful forces in the church’s leadership have strongly opposed the reforms set in motion by the Second Vatican Council and have worked quietly yet assiduously during the past 40 years to roll back what has been accomplished. The regression is usually couched in Orwellian churchspeak, which lavishes praise on the council even as its intentions are reversed. Or sometimes in this parallel universe the argument is made that nothing really happened during the gathering of the world’s bishops over a four-year period to redirect the church and its mission.

Then along came Cardinal Franc Rodé, head of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, who has vaulted to notoriety as the person overseeing the investigation of U.S. women religious. He is quoted in this issue, from a talk he gave in September 2008, as blaming the problems of Vatican II on a misguided “hermeneutic” or interpretation, which he calls “a hermeneutic of rupture and discontinuity.” That is a rather elaborate way of saying that one believes nothing really happened at the council. To Rodé’s credit, in more recent comments to John Allen (NCR, Oct. 30), he changes tone. In his latest pronouncement, it wasn’t the interpretation, but the council itself that was the problem. In his conversation with Allen, he credits the council with some muscular intent, and sees its documents holding the language of significant change. Otherwise why would he make the shocking charge that the council caused “the greatest crisis in church history … the first truly global crisis” in the church?

No doubt he spoke for other Roman curia members who would never utter such a brash assessment publicly.

What is it, though, that the cardinal finds so disastrous? What would he have us return to? Would he want to go back to the days when the church condemned separation of church and state?

Would he want us to return to a condemnation of religious liberty? Three popes since the council have upheld the principle of religious liberty as a fundamental human right, an assertion that would have been unthinkable before 1965.

Maybe his objection is to Nostra Aetate, the document on church relations with non-Christian religions. Perhaps he would want us to return to the days of open hostility toward Jews in our prayers and sermons.

Or does he feel that modernity and ecumenism have so infected the church that we should return to those days when Catholics were prohibited from attending the funerals of friends if held in a Protestant church, or when we were barred from attending a non-Catholic college without the permission of the local bishop?

Does he want a return to the 19th-century papal condemnation of freedom of conscience?

Or is he upset that most do not prefer, as he does, dressing up in the trappings of royalty, the yards of silk in the cappa magna, the canopies and throne chairs and all the rest — being attended by his minions, younger priests in lacy surplices, birettas and old-fashioned vestments encrusted with gold thread and jewels — all the while speaking in a dead language, facing a wall, his back to the people?

All of this was the preconciliar church. Which elements does he want restored?

Or possibly he regrets the fact that laypeople have wide access these days not only to the scriptures but also to the documents of Vatican II, and thus can say with authority that his version of church, dependent on a thin culture of nostalgia, holds no promise of the future.

Against that culture, the people of God can say convincingly that our worldwide church, in elaborate deliberation, has decided to go forward, not backward, and that the authors of that change wrote compellingly of the need for new and more inclusive ways of conducting ourselves as 21st-century Catholics.Editorial, National Catholic Reporter

5 responses to “Cardinals Gone Wild: What’s So Scary About Vatican II?”

  1. After reading your own blogs, I think that we probably are not going to find an adequate way to communicate. You are interested in loving God and the church and preserving and transmitting a certain view of church documents and tradition. I am interested in an unpredictable, surprising, Spirit-led sacramental spirituality that is fed by the Eucharist and serves justice in the world. My guess is that we’ll have a hard time finding common ground for communication, but the reason I love my church is because I can meet you at the Table of the Lord in a Catholic church anywhere in the world and gratefully claim you as a brother.

  2. We don’t have a disagreement. You made statements that didn’t stand the test of veracity, asked a question which I answered and passed a judgment on a cardinal which I’d still like to see corroborated. And, no: “Rode, … focuses almost exclusively on renewal in what I consider outmoded structures of “religious life” while completely ignoring the vital intelligence and sense of community of the laity who are the heart of the church” wont do, because it refers to what you consider, not what is. And to that I might as well answer that I see traditional and (dare I say it) conservative communities thrive because of what I consider to be a correct understanding of the real meaning of ‘vital intelligence’ and the ‘sense of community’: Self-gratifying, half-assed cafeteria-Catholicism that waters down doctrine, the sense for mystery and the sense of responsibility and causes friction, if not schism, in the Church. If clericalism doesn’t work anymore, I surely don’t want laypeople running the show that talk about ‘un-ecclesiastical structures’ and ‘going beyond Christ’. This is where the disagreement would start and hence I leave it lingering as an option.

    Since I already pointed out that and why you were wrong in the original post and now get an answer that simply jumps to an new criterion (from the “forces at work” to what you consider to be outmoded) I just don’t see how this could not be understood as an attempt to divert attention.

    Thanks for your patience and time and sorry if I sound rude. English is not my mother tongue and I sometimes don’t get it exactly right.

  3. The crux of our disagreement may rest in what constitutes the renewed vitality of the church. For Rode, he focuses almost exclusively on renewal in what I consider outmoded structures of “religious life” while completely ignoring the vital intelligence and sense of community of the laity who are the heart of the church. Clericalism is an outmoded operating system and no longer a fit container for the gospel or the prophetic wisdom of Catholicism. Vatican II was not about “allowing” minor changes to Catholic custom. It was about opening up a new conversation with the rest of the world so that Catholics could be “sign and symbol” for the world, not just for each other.

  4. “…there have been forces at work to dismantle the authenticity of Vatican II.”

    This sentence is simply not true. The “forces at work” (Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinals Levada, Canizares, Rode et al and prelates like Archbishop Burke) want nothing else but the authentic interpretation of Vatican II. The documents of the council clearly show that most of the things that fall under the “reform of the reform” are things that the Council did not even promote: Communion in the hand (Memoriale Domini, 1969 – post-council, but issued due to open questions regarding communion), almost total disappearance of Latin (Sacrosanctum Concilium 36,1) and Gregorian chant (Sacrosanctum Concilium 116) and an overall lack of the sense for sacredness and mystery (Lumen Gentium, Gaudium eet Spes).

    To answer your question: What is scary about Vatican II is that so many people (among which we find the LCWR) picked up the phrase “spirit of Vatican II” and gave it whatever meaning they saw fit. They did this to such an extent, that when I point out the relevant sentences in council documents, which show people that clown masses, habit-dropping and pop-liturgy were never allowed by the council, I am often confronted with the sentence “Well, actually I am more thinking of the spirit of the council, not of the official documents”. If this is not scary, then what is? A cardinal wearing a cappa magna? This is still allowed (Ut Sive Sollicite), especially, when he does so during the ordination of deacons at an institute which solely educates priests in the old rite. And the cappa doesn’t even belong to Cardinal Rode. It belongs to the institute and they just put it on a visiting prelate, if he is okay with it.

    “Rodé … is known for his love of living the life of a medieval cardinal with all the excesses and masculine narcissism associated with the era.” Since that is a pretty serious accusation, I am sure you can come up with a proof or a source for that statement other than the photo.

    Thanks for your patience and time!

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