The Revolutionary Event of Vatican II

How everything changed


There are two major tendencies in interpretation of Vatican Council II. The first, which currently dominates the Vatican, is that the council was an occurrence, a meeting of the bishops of the world who enacted certain reforms and clarified certain doctrines. This response and clarification were necessary but they did not drastically change the nature of the church. To find out what this occurrence meant-the "council rightly understood" of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger-one must go to the conciliar documents. The second interpretation holds that the council was a momentous event, indeed one of the most dramatic and important events in the history of Catholicism, a structure-shattering event which one could almost call a revolution. This is the perspective which dominates a two-hour PBS special on the council, "Reflections on Vatican II," to be broadcast September 18. I began to ponder this debate after a conversation with a senior American prelate. He had remarked that the American bishops had made serious mistakes in their implementation of the council, but that they could not be blamed because they never had to implement a council before. I agreed, though I thought to myself I probably meant something different from what he did. While I can’t be sure because we didn’t pursue the subject, I thought he might have meant that they should have proceeded more slowly and cautiously, while I meant that they should not have tried...

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About the Author

Rev. Andrew M. Greeley is a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago. He is the author of The Catholic Revolution: New Wine in Old Wineskins (University of California Press), Priests: A Calling in Crisis (University of Chicago Press), and The Truth about Conservative Christians (University of Chicago Press), with Michael Hout.