Pope Paul VI at the Second Vatican Council, Wikipedia photo.

Reform, not revolution. Pope Paul VI at the Second Vatican Council. (Source, Wikipedia)

Six in ten Catholics in the United States support same-sex “marriage.” That’s one finding in a recent survey of American Catholics on the so-called “Francis Effect” by Public Religion Research. The study shows that overall, American Catholics are decidedly more progressive/liberal on social issues (especially marriage and contraception) than the rest of Americans. In other words, they dissent in large numbers from Church teaching on moral questions. Is this surprising. No. Is it sobering? Yes.

The Bugnini-inspired modus operandi of the past fifty years operated on the premise that, by downplaying basic catechesis, formation and traditions, in favor of finding “common ground,” the Church would be more marketable and come across as less severe and condemnatory to its own members and to the outside world. The hope was that a new springtime would flow from the aggiornamento stemming from the Second Vatican Council. Now, when you think of it, springtime carries with it images of rebirth, vibrancy, renewal and life, with longer, brighter days. But every indicator and statistic on the state of the Church in the United States, like the one cited above, shows that this has not happened. Do widespread dissent, confusion, plummeting vocations, closed schools and parishes and unprecedented, low birthrates among Catholics sound like Spring? If it weren’t so serious a topic, it’d actually be pretty funny. As cold numbers and statistics show, the sad results stand in astonishing contrast to the lofty expectations of renewal.

Here are the facts:

  • Flooding the Mass with Protestant accretions and stripping it of centuries-old traditions in a manner that would have impressed Thomas Cranmer did not result in a liturgical renewal, but in liturgical and sacramental confusion on a mass scale.
  • Abandoning clarity in speech and writing in exchange for pandering with softer “tone” did not result in being better understood or liked by the world, but in greater ambiguity and ambivalence.
  • Religious orders that abandoned their traditional constitutions, convents/monasteries and habits in favor of political activism, condominiums, polyester pants suits and golf polos did not result in an increase in vocations, but in truly staggering drops in new recruits.


The point is not to wallow in rear-view mirror regret or sinful despair. But facts are facts. Medical doctors, spiritual directors and a little thing called common sense all agree: healing measures must first address the reality of the illness and what has not worked. We need to humbly and honestly admit that the plan, however well-intentioned, has failed to produce the desired results. We need to recognize that a bold approach, rooted in time-tested and not revolutionary measures is desperately needed now.

Reinventing the wheel was never necessary in the first place. The Second Vatican Council never sought out the radical changes that are still shamelessly and disingenuously advanced in its name. (Check out this week’s Newsweek cover story by Alexander Nazaryan for an excellent example of this historical revisionism regarding Vatican II.) This is the first myth that must be confronted and overturned. The true intent of the Council must be rediscovered in continuity with what came before it, not reinvented with a clean slate.