The Cautionary End of the Spirit of Vatican II

Dr. Jeff Mirus comments on an article in Commonweal on clerical morale written by a priest from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Fr. Paul Stanosz. Mirus' article appears on the site, Catholic Culture. The essay responding to Fr. Stanosz' observations hits hard and raises deep issues. For example, Mirus says this:

What are we to make of an article which, in the process of concluding that there is nothing to be done, displays such an animus against precisely those spiritual solutions which have ever been at the heart of a vibrant Catholicism? What does it all mean? That’s the question which makes the article so fascinating, the question to which it is critical to understand the answer. For what it all means is that the Milwaukee mindset is so far gone in its sins that the only way open is despair. The so-called spirit of Vatican II which has wielded such a terrible power for the past forty years was nothing more than a euphoric baptism of secular utopianism. After such a long and continuous demonstration of its bankruptcy, many of its proponents have prudently stopped calling for more of the same. One might now hope for self-understanding, repentance and true renewal. But if our Commonweal article is any guide—and I believe it is—what we are witnessing instead is the only result consistent with a lack of repentance, that is, despair.

I want to pause here to emphasize that what makes Fr. Stanosz' article so important is not that one can completely understand and pigeon-hole the author from a single article, as if authors have no more personal complexity than appears in any one thing they write. Rather, what is important is that the article itself brilliantly illustrates the inevitable unfolding of the false spirit of Vatican II, the completely predictable devolution of that spirit into the only thing ever promised by its ultimate author. This is the reason I have gone on at three times the length of what is normally a brief column. We have here a lesson that every Christian who is still standing must learn if he hopes to escape the same dreadful consequence. Again I say it: this is the lesson of despair.

Fr. Stanosz may be right to see that “an aging presbyterate should not exhaust itself in implementing new programs that are at best only Band-Aids” (indeed, such programs are often based on the substitution of managed processes for spiritual challenges). But that is all he sees. If all the precious vision statements and bureaucratic programs to which he has committed his life are bankrupt, then we are not surprised to find he now has a personal interest in proving every other path to be even worse. If the Milwaukee mindset couldn’t super-charge priests and fill churches, then nothing can. This is the full argument to which we are treated in “The Other Health Crisis”. There is no hope; there can be no hope; any priest who has hope is in denial, and “the greatest threat to a priest’s well-being is denial.” Who is it then who poses the real danger for our author? Unsurprisingly, the target is the same as it always was in the Milwaukee mindset: “We priests know we are in trouble…and the forced optimism of those afraid of appearing insufficiently orthodox—or disloyal to Rome—strikes me as a failure of perception, honesty, and faith.”

And also this:

I suppose we have effectively overcome perceptions of a sinless church by sinning, and we ought to do more of the same. But let it go. See how the de-triumphalizing of the Church (which is yet more code) is now a key to a different lock. The abolition of “triumphalism” was originally sold as the key to the Church’s broader appeal and influence; now it is hawked as the key to reducing our aspirations so we can be content with failure. On this reading, all aspirations are triumphal. After all, as Fr. Stanosz points out in a passage more decisive than he knows, not even John Paul II could fill the churches, and “the new evangelization he called for remains to be undertaken.” We have already been told that the “decline is not about to reverse itself”— it “began before me and will continue after me.” The new evangelization cannot even be contemplated until the insurmountable cultural and social forces change, at which time “Catholicism will evolve.”

Paradoxically, this is the most revealing point of all, and it may serve as a fitting conclusion. For the most important difference between the priests of the Milwaukee mindset and the “fervent men” with whom the bishops are now “too quick to fill seminaries” is that the old guard believes successful evangelization must be the product of the cultural shifts and social trends in which they have always put their trust. But priests of Faith calculate the odds differently, for they do not doubt that the one they serve has overcome the world—and all its social trends, and all its empty promises. So when priests of Faith consider this impossible work of evangelization, they hear the Master asking: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (Is 6:8) And to this they give an answer which makes dust and ashes of the Milwaukee mindset, an answer so simple, direct and daring that it bypasses argument and cannot be rationalized away, an answer by which they cast themselves into the deep for no other reason than to obey the will of God: Here I am! Send me.

It is a response that raises questions to questions. Perhaps, you might want to check out both articles.