The Second Vatican Council: 50 years later, the fight continues for the soul of the Catholic Church
Most of all, I remember Pope John XXIII, a kind-looking man who held saint-like status in my family, school and parish. I can still see in my mind’s eye the wall plate of John XXIII that hung in many a Catholic home — often next to a similar plate of John F. Kennedy.
I grew up in an all-encompassing Catholic world, which was typical for most Milwaukee Catholics in the 1950s. But thanks to Vatican II, which lasted from 1962-65, the church of my youth embraced the world in all its complexities and contradictions.
Nuns marched in civil rights protests, priests burned draft files to protest the Vietnam War, girls served at mass. Above all, everyone was talking about what it meant to be a Catholic in the world, not apart from it. A new word — ecumenical — became as important a concept as transubstantiation.
When Pope John XXIII explained why he called the Second Vatican Council, he talked of the church’s need to “open the windows and let in the fresh air.” I was too young to understand the liturgical debates swirling around the council. But I caught that spirit of change, and felt proud to be a Catholic.
Later, at least as far as the church was concerned, I lost that spirit. So did the church hierarchy. Obedience replaced dialogue, birth control became more important than social justice, and the Vatican reigned in those who questioned that the Pope’s word is God’s word.
Like many people raised Catholic, I rarely go to church anymore except on Christmas and, perhaps, Easter. But I still enjoy the Catholic Church’s unrivaled ability to blend ritual, pageantry and music, and I love the beauty of midnight mass on Christmas Eve.
But pick any number of issues — gay marriage, women’s rights, top-down church mandates — and the church of my youth is breathing stagnant air.
Faced with the seeming unanimity of the church hierarchy, I have tended to see the church as a monolith. But thanks to the Internet, it doesn’t take long to find out that the Catholic Church is engulfed by controversy. The spirit of John XXIII and Vatican II is far from dead. [More]