Pope John XXIII – Conservative
As a professed member of the Third Order Secular of the Franciscans, I know that we tend to have a reputation of being “liberal”. Our current Rule, which was approved by Pope Paul VI in 1978, is definitely a post-Vatican II document. But we see our Rule in particular and Vatican II in general as conforming to the 800 year old ideals of our Franciscan order. In this context Vatican II seems to us to have been a deeply conservative event.
Could John XXIII and Paul VI have carried off Vatican II if they hadn’t been conservative? Their stated intention seems to have been to take the Church back to its authentic origins in the face of a crisis that society had already been going through for several hundred years and which seemed to have reached a head in the middle of the 20th Century. To the Council’s opponents on the Right (who were and are not convervative, but reactionary) Vatican II did look radical at the time and looks even more radical when seen through semi-opaque rose colored glasses of the 1950′s. As the secularization of society has continued; as the traditional family and community has broken down even further from where it was when the Council began there are some who even seem to claim that Vatican II itself was the problem and that it destroyed a world of self-contained believers who were in the world, but not of it.
From a Franciscan point of view that we ourselves are under the mandate that Christ gave Francis to “Repair My House”, the current rise of reaction in the Church and its dance with the political Right seems nothing less than a radical innovation and a betrayal of the basic conservative nature of the Church. This radical innovation, which seems to some of my fraternal brothers and sisters as amounting to a split in the Church, is very troubling to them. I am troubled too, but optimistic. These reactions have happened before. And they have always failed. The political Right is no less secularizing than the political Left. Circling the wagons to create and defend a Cult of Purity denies a basic truth that the Church is, in fact, both in the world and of it. The grapes of reaction have always withered on the vine.