Vatican II, together with the movement preceding and following it, destroyed all the laity’s major means of agency.
- It repudiated “integralism” the movement for the laity to demand doctrinal accountability from the clergy. From now on, the priest may spew forth any heresy he likes from the pulpit, and parishioners can take it or leave.
- It inaugurated a new opaque style of discourse based on European continental philosophy whereby nobody can ever know exactly what Catholic doctrine is. Not only are we to avoid privately interpreting the Bible; we cannot even privately interpret magisterial documents. (Uppity laity confronting priests with creeds and encyclicals are called “Catholic fundamentalists”, and their behavior is regarded as a sign of immaturity.) Indeed, the need for interpretive mediation never seems to end, so that doctrine never reaches the actual minds of the faithful, at least not to the extent that we could ever reason from it. Our only virtue is docility to the post-conciliar clergy, who may proclaim any teaching or directive they like, its connection to the supposedly public deposit of revelation being forever unfathomable to us.
- It repudiated Catholic monarchists and conservative/reactionary political parties, the lay movements aimed at defending the Church from hostile forces and returning society to traditional Catholic prescriptions.
- It had nothing but scorn for lay Catholics resisting secularism even in voluntary, cultural arenas (e.g. the Legion of Decency).
- It undermined the authority of fathers, the spiritual heads of households.
- It continually works to undermine the sacrament of which the laity is the distinct custodian: marriage.
Our opportunities to fight for God were taken away, and in exchange we were given indulgence to sin. The pre-Vatican II Church considered all its members to be called to holiness. The post-Vatican II Church repudiates this by calling into question whether we must obey the moral law’s demands.
Could renewal come from the laity? Certainly not in the way liberal Catholics expect, that is not by lay persons pressuring the Church into greater and greater capitulations to secular mores. Consider the great Catholic reforms of the past. They always came from religious orders demanding higher standards, first for themselves and then for Christendom as a whole, never from orders demanding more laxity.
Once at a Knights of Columbus meeting I remember we were discussing the policies for admitting new members. One requirement is that they be reliably Catholic. The Grand Knight reminded us that its the parish priest who makes this call, so we shouldn’t worry too much about it, “because the priest is always going to be the most liberal person in the parish anyway”.
Suppose, instead of dismissing this as a joke, the KCs were to decide that the clergy are unreliable and instead took matters into its own hands. I can imagine an internal KC vetting process, whereby a candidate must not only swear that he attends mass weekly and confession annually, but will publicly sign his name to a couple dozen points of Catholic orthodoxy. “I affirm that Jesus Christ did physically rise from the dead. [SIGN NAME] I affirm that sodomy is a mortal sin. [SIGN NAME]…”
Suddenly, a Knights of Columbus meeting has an entirely different quality from a parish meeting or even a mass. A person knows he’s surrounded entirely by people who actually believe that stuff. Most of us have never had this experience. (Compare to the typical college student or even professor, who is thrown into a panic at the thought that even a single person in their group might have other opinions.)
At some point, liberal bishops would complain because of “not pastoral”, “fundamentalist”, “making walls rather than bridges”, or just “bad publicity”. Most likely, the Knights would give in. But if they didn’t, that’s what the beginning of a lay-driven Catholic reform movement would look like.
Now, there’s a reasonable objection to this. If a group of laity sets themselves up to judge other people’s orthodoxy, what’s to guarantee they’ll get it right? In a few years’ time, the KC checklist might demand that applicants affirm homophobia as a mortal sin. Even if they don’t, isn’t this usurping the role of the clergy, and hence undermining the constitution of the Church given to us by Christ Himself?
My reply is this: we either have a Magisterium or we don’t. The authority of the Church doesn’t mean that I can’t decide for myself whether or not someone is a heretic. The authority of the Church means that I can make that decision, because the Church has put out into the public all the tools I need for such an evaluation. The Church has either proclaimed her teaching or she hasn’t. If she has, anyone in principle can determine with the tools of logic whether someone else is contradicting that teaching. If she hasn’t, then what’s the point of speaking to us at all? Think of how wretched we are in this case. The Bible is opaque to us–after all, we wouldn’t want to be Lutherans. The Church’s own teaching documents are also opaque to us–after all, only a nut would criticize his bishop for contradicting the Council of Trent, right?
Sometimes, Catholic teaching on a certain point will be ambiguous or vague, and here–and only here–there is room for the sort of development of doctrine that only Rome can ratify.
A lay-driven revival would have to begin with distrust of accommodating clergy, and it would begin with the defense of our sacrament, the sacrament of marriage.
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