Larry Chapp: Reactions slide into disunity – Vatican II

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Pope John XXIII leads the opening session of the Second Vatican Council in St. Peter’s Basilica Oct. 11, 1962. Before the Second Vatican Council’s opening, church authorities felt it necessary to declare Vatican I officially closed. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

Yes, Pope Francis sometimes says things that make us stop and wonder. But seeing this as some sort of ground for rejecting Vatican II is to be hopelessly confused about the real underlying problem

“The Lord has given us so many days of sun and of light winds, days when the catch was abundant; there were also moments when the waters were rough and the winds against us, as throughout the Church’s history, and the Lord seemed to be sleeping.

But I have always known that the Lord is in that boat, and I have always known that the barque of the Church is not mine but his. Nor does the Lord let it sink.” – Pope Benedict XVI, 27 February 2013

I have learned a new phrase in this era of Covid 19: Cytokine Storm. Without getting overly technical what this term is referring to is a phenomenon that happens once in a while when a completely healthy person contracts a virus (such as the flu or Covid) and the immune system overreacts and goes nuts … attacking both the virus and the body’s own healthy tissues and organs, with deadly consequences.

A Theological Cytokine

Today, we are witnessing a theological cytokine storm in the Church.

Certain pundits and prelates — in the main, very conservative ones — have identified  a nasty virus at work in the Church — the virus of accommodation to secular modernity — but have overreacted in a frenzy of hyperbolic paranoia that sees quislings everywhere in ecclesiastical life.

This  overreaction includes calls for the utter rejection and repudiation of Vatican II as a “heretical Council”— whatever that means — and for the suppression of all Conciliar and post-Conciliar teaching, including that of the Conciliar and post-Conciliar popes.

Just as happens in a biological cytokine storm, so too here do we see grave damage being done to the tissues and organs of the body of the Church. There is ample reason to attribute the rise of this more militant brand of reactionary Catholicism to a variation on the old adage “the straw that broke the Camel’s back” — and like it or not, Pope Francis is that straw.

For decades now, Catholics have endured endless liturgical abuse, dissenting liberal theology that sought to reduce the faith to a subcategory of modernity, sexual corruption and license in both the laity and the clergy, a crushing and boring mediocrity in the general spiritual ethos of the average suburban parish, and a host of other comparatively minor annoyances that, taken together, have created deep and abiding frustration kept warm by  a smouldering anger that is hard to qualify.

There is ample reason to attribute the rise of this more militant brand of reactionary Catholicism to a variation on the old adage “the straw that broke the Camel’s back” — and like it or not, Pope Francis is that straw.

They have had it. They are fed up. They are disgusted. They react by descending into a dangerous romanticism for a past that never was.

Radicalised Catholics

I remember my doctoral studies at Fordham (1989-94), during which I had to hide my faith in the Church’s teaching authority. I recall hiding the kind of Catholic I was during interviews for academic posts. I understand quite well the bitter resentment that has built up in the souls of many of these now radicalised Catholics.

I cannot follow them down the path of dissent, but I do understand, and to be perfectly frank, I sympathise. Just as happens in a biological cytokine storm, so too here do we see grave damage being done to the tissues and organs of the body of the Church.

So long as the centre held firm — so long as Rome remain steadfast in the faith — there was hope in the souls of conservative Catholics that no matter how deep the rot had gotten, that at least the barque of Peter would hold off the gates of Hell.

As a young seminarian I was inspired by John Paul. As a mature theologian, I was encouraged by the deep articulation of the orthodox and timeless faith in the writings of both John Paul and Benedict. The centre was holding. All was not lost.

In the eyes of many, Pope Francis has changed all that.

The centre, they claim, is not holding under Pope Francis. He has steered the Church into heresy and idolatry.

I have defended him publicly against that charge and I will continue to do so. In the eyes of not a few of these radicalised conservatives, however, it seems Francis is just a bridge too far, and that proverbial “final straw.”

They have had it. They are fed up. They are disgusted. They react by descending into a dangerous romanticism for a past that never was.

They want relief from the pain of the modern Church and believe they can find it by rejecting the fountainhead of that Church: Vatican II. In a classic example of post hoc ergo propter hoc thinking, they look at the pain of the past 50 years and lay it all at the feet of the Council.

They want relief from the pain of the modern Church and believe they can find it by rejecting the fountainhead of that Church: Vatican II.

No longer content to blame the flawed “implementation” of that Council, they are now buying into the idea that Vatican II as such was the fruit of a Freemasonic conspiracy among high ranking curial officials, and thus was a false Council that needs to be rejected tout court.

No good can come of such a project, rooted as it is in a false nostalgia born in the boiling cauldron of anger.

If our response is that of a cytokine storm of hyperbolic overreaction wherein we begin to attack the very organs of the Church herself — such as rejecting an entire ecumenical council as heretical — then we also risk great harm to the Church we all call our Mother.

Larry Chapp, PhD taught theology at DeSales University in the US for 19 years. He now runs the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Farm with his wife, Carrie, near Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. He blogs at Gaudiumetspes22

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