In the spring of 1968, almost three years after the Second Vatican Council closed, hope was still high that artificial contraception would no longer be considered a mortal sin. Rumors circulated that the committee studying the matter would advise the pope to lift the prohibition. Reputable moral theologians were also purporting a lifting of the ban. Certainly, some confessors were advising couples based on these expectations, influencing some to contracept. Then on July 29, 1968, a veritable bombshell was dropped from the Vatican: In his encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” Pope Paul VI retained the prohibition against artificial contraception.
The following day, Catholic theologians, in a political act, publicly rejected the encyclical, running an unprecedented advertisement in the New York Times. The ad proposed at least three things, according to Ralph McInerny’s “What Went Wrong With Vatican II: The Catholic Crisis Explained”: 1) Pope Paul VI had “flunked theology” 2) The pope had no right to “dissent” from his own commission or their opinions, and that his function was to go with the vote — the “witnesses” 3) For the encyclical to be infallible, it must be specifically declared as infallible.
Crisis of authority
Since the time of the council and “Humanae Vitae,” there has been a mass exodus from the Church, continuing today with 76 percent of baptized Catholics not attending Sunday Mass regularly. The council was supposed to spur the greatest renewal the Church has ever seen — so McInerny rightly asks, “What went wrong?” He answers that in telling “the faithful that, according to Vatican II, they may safely ignore the pope as moral teacher and may follow their own consciences, formed according to advice the dissenters are giving … the dissenting theologians have … whipsawed ordinary Catholics between competing authorities and have done untold damage to the Church.”
In short, the dissenting theologians set up the laity to believe they are choosing between arguments, when in fact they are choosing between authorities.
Over 200 theologians signed the advertisement, setting up a highly successful model of an alternate magisterium that still creates confusion among Catholic laity on many matters of faith. In a 1999 Time/CNN poll, 86 percent of Catholics “found it possible to disagree with the Pope on an article of faith and still be a good Catholic” According to a Pew Research poll from 2013, a majority of Catholics think the Church should change its teachings on birth control (76 percent), priests should be allowed to marry (64 percent) and women should be allowed to be priests (59 percent). The dissenters come from both the conservative and liberal factions of the Church.
Did anyone read the documents of Vatican II?
It becomes apparent, however, that liberal dissenters advocating the “spirit of Vatican II” could not read. What the bishops finally voted on, and the pope promulgated, did not, in fact, set up a democratic church. Even if they could, Church democracies don’t work, as the exponentially fragmenting Protestant churches display. Yes, the Bible is infallible, but interpretations are not.
The Vatican II documents are clear on the issue of papal authority: “The college or body of bishops has for all that no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff …For the Roman Pontiff, … has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered” (“Lumen Gentium,” No. 22).
Further, the dissenting assertion that Catholics can ignore the Church’s teaching unless the Pope speaks “ex cathedra,” or infallibly, is also clearly refuted by “Lumen Gentium” (25): The submission of our intellects and wills [as an exercise of our free will], must be given to the bishops and especially the pope “even when he does not speak ex cathedra.”
It is clear the dissenting theologians have either not read the actual passages from Vatican II, or they are willfully opposing Church teaching. In the end, the laity suffers the most.
The Vatican’s response to the dissent
The dissent has become institutionalized, infecting the entire Catholic educational system. Almost every papal document since 1968 has been judged, criticized and marginalized. And though the Vatican has responded patiently and clearly, all its efforts have been dismissed.
It is inconsistent for Catholics to reject the pope’s/Church’s teaching yet consider themselves Catholic. The Catholic Church is not a democracy. In my opinion, the authority of the pope and the magisterium function as the immune system of the body of Christ — and a healthy immune system must reject what threatens the body.
In the name of the spirit of Vatican II, the apparently illiterate dissenting theologians have set themselves up as an alternate authority/immune system. But confusion has reigned long enough. Don’t be illiterate. Read McInery’s “What Went Wrong with Vatican II,” or better, “Humanae Vitae” and “Documents of the Second Vatican Council.” Freely submit your intellect and will to the Church’s 2000-year-old, Christ-instituted authority.
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