I attended the first session of Vatican II as an assitant to the bishops. Three months earlier my friend, Bill, another Phila. priest, who was appointed a Council "scribe," visited Pope John XXIII along with our archbishop. When Bill told the Pope he was studying Scripture at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, the Pope became visibly upset and almost cried, "What are they teaching you over there?! They've taken away Adam and Eve and now even the Magi. What shall we tell the children?" (Two professors at the "Biblicum" had recently been fired.) In my own doctoral studies in Spirituality at the Pontifical Gregorian University, I was secretely taught about Teilhard de Chardin, for fear that the Vatican officials would fire anyone who taught his spirituality. Then, on the Council's opening day, when John XXIII delivered his famous speach about being surrounded by prophets of doom, it was with special joy that Bill and I felt the "breeze" of the Holy Spirit from the window that John had opened.
One day, Bill came back from a meeting at the Vatican and told me, "I heard some Curia bishops talking. They were saying that when the Council fathers go home, they are going to take back the Church." In how many ways have they succeeded?
I believe that the American bishops returned home from the Council filled with good will and ready to implement the Council's teachings, but pressure from the Vatican derailed them and they became unable to change the general spiritual mindset of the American church. They were especially unable to create a laity of spiritually mature adult faith, who could engage our society and culture in the grace of Christ, to elevate them and where necessary correct them, without imposing our religion on anyone. I believe that, at heart, today's political and economic collapse is one result of this sad failure.
The bishops dutifully changed the liturgy into English but failed to create the necessary new sense of the sacred that would permit the laity to see themselves as Church, and as 20th, and now 21st century expressions of Christ in a graced marketplace that has great spiritual potential while it suffers from an internal corrosive influence that has to be grappled with and converted on a daily basis. Instead, the liturgy generally got stuck in a casual '60's type, "homey," strumming culture, that is lacking in a serious sense of the sacred, and the Church lost any truly effective spiritual influence within our evolving and devolving culture.
P. S. When Bill and I returned home from Rome, we talked about Vatican II everyplace we could. We were both silenced from public speaking and fired from our positions as seminary professors. In 1971 I resigned from the clergy, received a dispensation from Pope Paul VI, and began a career as a laymen in our society and culture. Today I am working to instill the lay spirituality taught by Vatican II into the people of my parish and diocese.