Group Dynamics

Vatican II
A Sociological Analysis of Religious Change
Melissa J. Wilde
Princeton University Press, $35, 224 pp.

Shortly after announcing Vatican II, John XXIII sent a letter to all the bishops soliciting suggestions for the council’s agenda. He told them to submit their ideas “with complete freedom and honesty...on anything Your Excellency thinks should be treated in the council.” Responses poured in, but for the most part they called for little more than a tightening of the status quo. How did it happen that prelates like these came to repudiate what they had earlier proposed? How did an overwhelming majority emerge that gave the council a direction that seemed so unlikely when it opened on October 11, 1962?

Of course there is no simple answer to this fundamental—and perennial—question. Over the past two decades, new studies of Vatican II have been pouring off the presses, especially in Italy and Belgium. Those books have shown the almost incomprehensible complexity of the council. Vatican II’s destiny was mainly worked out in the official mechanisms of Vatican II, though they were cumbersome and sometimes working at cross-purposes with each other. As in every large meeting, however, informal alliances and networks were just as important.

Melissa Wilde has broken new ground in her sociological analysis of two of the more important alliances. The Conference of Delegates, organized by French and Latin American bishops, met every week and convened delegates from episcopal conferences around the world...

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About the Author

John W. O’Malley, SJ, is University Professor at Georgetown University.