Vatican II without the labels

The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council: a counterpoint for the history of the council Agostino Marchetto University of Scranton Press, $A69

After the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church in Western countries experienced a profound decline in Mass attendance. Religious orders and priestly vocations were decimated, and a serious crisis over the authority of the institutional Church ensued. This was tracked by the reaction to Humanae Vitae.

Some blamed this on the council's apparent "affair" with modernity, which prior to the council had been roundly condemned.

A small number from this group eventually moved into schism, led by the late Archbishop Lefebvre. Others saw the collapse as inevitable, given the profound secularising currents in Western cultures. Yet others attribute this decline to a failure to implement the council's teachings and the rearguard action of "centralising conservatives" tethering the Church to a pre-modern rock, lacking both credibility and accountability.

This is just a sample of positions taken on the matter, but it is ample evidence that the interpretation of the Second Vatican Council (1963-65) is still deeply ­contested.

The debates on the council floor have often been depicted as between "conservatives" and "liberals", jaded terms that Agostino Marchetto rightly deplores. Archbishop Agostino Marchetto is Secretary Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People.

While uncomfortable with the polarising characterisations, his book can certainly be read as a serious "conservative" criticism, historical and methodological, of some 20 years of "liberal" scholarship on the council.

FULL REVIEW: Vatican II without the labels (The Tablet)


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