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"Springtime of Vatican II" Update

Catholic World Report Proclaims "The End of Gaudium et spes"

by Christopher A. Ferrara

Readers of this column are well aware that Sister Lucia of Fatima has spoken repeatedly of a "diabolical disorientation" in the Church following the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Since the Council’s close, Roman Catholic traditionalists have been quite vocal in pointing out that the Council’s ambiguous and novel "pastoral" documents have induced massive confusion in the Church. For merely stating the obvious, traditionalists have been denounced by their neo-Catholic brethren, who allege that traditionalists have "rejected Vatican II."

But after 40 years of ecclesial chaos, that situation is beginning to change. In an extraordinary article in the May 2003 issue of The Catholic World Report, entitled "The End of Gaudium et Spes?", Professor James Hitchcock openly derides the "compulsory optimism" of the conciliar decrees and the tendency of post-conciliar Vatican bureaucrats to speak of a "stunning" renewal, while ignoring the raging crisis of the post-conciliar era. Hitchcock focuses on the conciliar document Gaudium et Spes, whose euphoric optimism about the virtues of the modern world, and the Church’s "dialogue" with it, are now rightly seen as nothing short of delusional.

Hitchcock frankly observes that "the promise of the Council has not been fulfilled, as the immediate effect of the Council  —  still powerful after four decades  —  was to plunge the Church into an internal crisis more severe than any in Her history." Hitchcock openly  —  and quite rightly  —  accuses the Council of having "failed to foresee the coming crisis…The [conciliar] documents themselves provided little help in understanding how that renewal could have gone awry, bringing about the disasters that we now see around us: the loss of missionary zeal, the collapse of religious life, the sacrilegious liturgies, the general public acceptance of the sexual revolution." The Council, says Hitchcock, foolishly assumed that "modern errors are mostly the result of misplaced goodwill and can be overcome by patient effort."

The direct result of the Council’s fatuous optimism is that the conciliar and post-conciliar popes have failed and refused to govern the Church with the requisite sternness. In a stunning implicit comment on the pontificates of John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II, Hitchcock notes that Pius XII was the last "occupant of the papal throne [who] actually ruled  —  his authority both respected and feared, his decrees obeyed." Hitchcock even makes light of the claim, as voiced by John Paul II himself, that despite the appearance of a grave crisis in the Church with the loss of many members of the faithful to apostasy, there has been a "qualitative renewal" of the Catholics who remain. With devastating frankness, Hitchcock notes: "there are no doctrinal grounds for dismissing the seriousness of mass apostasy." It is precisely this mass apostasy that is undoubtedly the subject of the Third Secret of Fatima.

Hitchcock concludes that Gaudium et spes wrongly requires Catholics to "ignore what history has taught them and that they continue to affirm an optimism that history seems to belie." The very title of his article suggests what traditionalists have been saying for nearly 40 years: that Vatican II was a disastrous mistake, even if it did not promulgate any formal heresy, and that the Council should indeed be "rejected" to the extent that it sought to impose upon the Church a novel and unwarranted optimism about the state of the world  —  an optimism not within the competence of the Church’s Magisterium, which is devoted to the promulgation of Catholic doctrine, rather than rosy assessments of the human condition.

Hitchcock is to be applauded for his candor, but the question presents itself: Now that even a neo-Catholic organ like Catholic World Report is willing to declare "the end of Gaudium et spes"  —  long hailed as the Council’s greatest document  —  will the neo-Catholic establishment concede that traditionalists have been correct all along in their view that the Council was a catastrophic blunder? Don’t hold your breath.