U.S. nuns, not bishops, reflect Vatican II

And so the question is, who better embraces the joys and hopes of the poor and afflicted, the sisters of the LCWR and those who lobby for the poor in organizations such as Network, or the American bishops who summoned the power of the Inquisition upon them?

By Albert de Zutter

Copyright 2012

Which group has a better claim on being genuinely Catholic, the St. Pius X Society (SPXS), which is being wooed by the Vatican,or the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which is being criticized by the Vatican?

Many years ago I sat down at a table next to a woman who had identified herself as a member of the local SPXS parish. As background, the St. Pius X Society is a group that broke away from the Catholic Church in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, which made a number of declarations SPXS considered heretical. Pope John Paul II eventually declared the society to be in schism, that is, no longer a part of the Catholic Church. I asked this woman, who appeared to be in her sixties, if she actually thought that she and her breakaway sect represented true Catholicism and that the rest of us (the vast majority) were heretics. She said yes.

Years later, when a so-called “conservative” bishop took over a diocese, he was heard to say that the Second Vatican Council changed nothing. At the same time, he would not countenance any criticism, or even reporting in his diocesan newspaper that might be taken as criticism, of the St. Pius X Society, which Pope John Paul II had declared to be in schism. Okay, a bit of a contradiction here: on the one hand, the Second Vatican Council was “heretical,” according to this now cherished society, so it must have changed something. On the other hand it changed “nothing,” but this same cherished society says it took the entire church (except the schismatic society) into heresy.

But of course, the Second Vatican Council did make real changes. Nicholas P. Cafardi, writing in America magazine, listed some of them. As he put it ironically, they include “some of those crazy decrees on the priesthood of the laity (Lumen Gentium), on the rights of Christ’s faithful (Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes), and certainly those nutty things the Council said about the liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium), about religious liberty (Dignitatis Humanae) and the unacceptability of anti-semitism (Nostra Aetate).”

In his America article, Cafardi was commenting on the fact that the Vatican was actively pursuing reconciliation with the St. Pius X Society, which had declared the Second Vatican Council heretical, while going on a witch-hunt against the American nuns for being too concerned about the poor and social injustice, and not putting enough energy into fighting abortion and contraception. Cafardi posits that fighting poverty is the best way to fight abortion “since the vast majority of abortions are economic ones.” As for contraception, Cafardi refers to the fact that the Church’s teaching has not been accepted by the faithful (although those sympathetic to the Pius X society would dispute that,on the grounds that only they are the faithful. A tidbit they may not know is that the society’s founder, Archbishop Marcel LeFebvre, voted with the majority on the pope’s birth control commission to change the church’s teaching on birth control, a further irony about the group now being actively wooed by the Vatican.)

Here’s one of the teachings of Vatican II that self-styled “orthodox” (read reactionary) Catholics, especially those focused solely on reproductive issues, don’t like: It is the opening line of the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes). It is definitely one of the best expressions of “the spirit of the Second Vatican Council,” another phrase that the “orthodox” also hate:

The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.

This is also an apt expression of the aggiornamento that good Pope John XXIII said the Catholic Church badly needed. He called the Council because the Church needed to make itself relevant to the real problems of the world. The Church simply was not having the impact it should have been having. Catholics who were considered to be “devout” before the Council were the few exceptions who could live a quasi-monastic life, steeped in personal prayer and focused narrowly on “saving their own souls.”

But the Council taught that the followers of Christ need to make a difference in the lives of real people, real societies in terms of real concerns; to make God present and visible in the world. “This result is achieved chiefly by the witness of a living and mature faith, namely, one trained to see difficulties clearly and to master them … This faith needs to prove its fruitfulness by penetrating the believer’s entire life, including its worldly dimensions, and by activating him toward justice and love, especially regarding the needy.” (Gaudium et Spes)

And so the question is, who better embraces the joys and hopes of the poor and afflicted, the sisters of the LCWR and those who lobby for the poor in organizations such as Network, or the American bishops who summoned the power of the Inquisition upon them? Who better represents the griefs and anxieties of this age, those same sisters who dedicate their lives to teaching and healing and advocacy for the poor, or the recalcitrants of the St. Pius X Society who want the Church to rescind its teachings on freedom of religion, on respect for the Jews, on the full-fledged membership of lay people in the Church, on involving the congregation actively in the liturgy of the church in its own language instead of listening to the priest mumbling Latin mumbo-jumbo to the wall while the congregation contemplates its collective spiritual navel?

I say the real Catholicism is expressed by the sisters. I say the leadership of the American bishops, with the collusion of the Vatican, engaged in a mendacious political act of partisanship with its phoney “Fortnight for Freedom” and its witch-hunt against the sisters. I say the bishops are siding with the 1 percent — billionaires, banks, insurance companies and corporations — versus the 99 percent of the people of this country. I say this is shameful and scandalous!

One thought on “U.S. nuns, not bishops, reflect Vatican II”

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