In some extraordinarily candid comments to the clergy of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI recently reflected on the Second Vatican Council in the life of the Church. While Benedict’s entire talk to the Roman clergy was worth reading, his comments towards the close of his talk on the Council of the Fathers versus the “Council of the media” are a telling insight into how our Holy Father views the Second Vatican Council, its successes, and failures. Here he speaks of the hijacking of the Council by popular interests external to the Church, who have attempted to push their own hermeneutic of rupture onto the Church’s understanding of herself:
“I would now like to add yet a third point: there was the Council of the Fathers—the true Council—but there was also the Council of the media. It was almost a Council in and of itself, and the world perceived the Council through them, through the media. So the immediately efficiently Council that got thorough to the people, was that of the media, not that of the Fathers. And while the Council of the Fathers evolved within the faith, it was a Council of the faith that sought the intellectus, that sought to understand and try to understand the signs of God at that moment, that tried to meet the challenge of God in this time to find the words for today and tomorrow. So while the whole council—as I said—moved within the faith, as fides quaerens intellectum, the Council of journalists did not, naturally, take place within the world of faith but within the categories of the media of today, that is outside of the faith, with different hermeneutics. It was a hermeneutic of politics. The media saw the Council as a political struggle, a struggle for power between different currents within the Church. It was obvious that the media would take the side of whatever faction best suited their world. There were those who sought a decentralization of the Church, power for the bishops and then, through the Word for the “people of God”, the power of the people, the laity…
And we know that this Council of the media was accessible to all. So, dominant, more efficient, this Council created many calamities, so many problems, so much misery, in reality: seminaries closed, convents closed liturgy trivialized…and the true Council has struggled to materialize, to be realized: the virtual Council was stronger than the real Council. But the real strength of the Council was present and slowly it has emerged and is becoming the real power which is also true reform, true renewal of the Church” (1).
In these comments we see that Benedict believes that the Second Vatican Council has been hijacked by a hermeneutic, driven by the media, that views the Church solely in terms of power struggles, and that the pop culture has unreservedly taken the side of the progressive wing of the Church in these struggles. This virtual Council “created many calamities, so many problems, so much misery.” In other words, the problems with the Catholic Church are driven by a false interpretation of Vatican II that has been pushed on us by the media.
That these things have taken place is beyond dispute, as anyone who has ever had the misfortune to watch a media story about the Catholic Church knows. Invariably, the narrative is always presented in terms of a powerless laity versus a power-hoarding hierarchy, or disenfranchised women against an elitist male only priesthood, or homosexuals just wanting inclusion versus narrow minded traditionalists. This is the media narrative, and many in the world have adopted the attitude that the Second Vatican Council was about rectifying these inequalities. This is the “Virtual Council” the pope speaks of, the “hijacked council” theory that Benedict and other conservative prelates have spoken of in the past, and which many lay apologists have adopted.
Unfortunately, Pope Benedict omits a very important point in his evaluation of the Council, a point of such importance that, in my opinion, any historiography of the Council which refuses to acknowledge it is deficient. That is simply this: It was not the media primarily that created the virtual Council, but the Church itself. A media perversion of the Council that was merely external could not have had such a profound impact on the interior life of the Church. Benedict speaks of a perversion of the Faith whose fruit was “that of the media, not of the fathers.” The destruction of Catholic faith and worship was implemented from within, and in many cases, with the formal or tacit approval of the very highest ecclesiastics in the Church, the popes not excluded. Consider the following:It was not the media who asked for a Council to open up the Church to the modern world, but Pope John XXIII.
►It was not the media who rejected the prepared schemata drafted by the Preparatory Commission, but the Council Fathers.
►It was not the media who cut the power to Cardinal Ottaviani’s microphone when he protested this, but the Council Fathers.
►It was not the media who drove the progressive agenda of the Council, but the Council advisors, the periti, such as Hans Kung and Karl Rahner.
►It was not the media who appointed these periti, but the bishops, and in some cases (Kung), the pope himself.
►It was not the media who were enamored with the teachings of progressive theologians such as Rahner, Kung, and de Chardin, but the bishops and theologians of the Church.
►It was not the media who failed to put an end to the Council even after it was evident from Session 1 that it had gotten out of control, but Pope Paul VI.
►It was not the media who drafted documents that Benedict XVI himself describes as “dense ” and “weak”, but the Council Fathers (see here).
►It was not the media who promulgated a document (Gaudium et Spes) that Benedict XVI said was “too naturalistic and unhistorical, took insufficient notice of sin and its consequences, and was too optimistic about human progress”, but the Council Fathers.
►It was not the media who drafted an intentionally ambiguous document on the inspiration and inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures, which dissident theologians have been able to twist to deny the Bible’s authority, but the Council itself (see here).
►It was not the media who failed to condemn Communism at the Council, despite the fact that 400 priests and 86 bishops at Vatican II petitioned the Fathers to do this and despite the fact that Pius XI had stated that the Church cannot remain silent on this issue, which led to a resurgence of Marxist influence in Catholic theology that is still with us today—it was the Council Fathers who failed to do this.
►It was not the media who encouraged Catholics to engage in inter-denominational gatherings that promote indifferentism; it was Pope Paul VI, who first participated in inter-denominational prayer gatherings on December 4 and 5th, 1965.
►It was not the media who called for a new Mass despite the fact that the Council never called for a New Mass, but the Church itself acting under a Commission of Bishops established by the Pope.
►It was not the media who entrusted the creation of this New Mass to a cleric of questionable opinions who was commonly believed to be a Freemason, but Pope Paul VI.
►It was not the media who, in the words of Benedict XVI, “introduced a breach into the history of the liturgy whose consequences could only be tragic” with the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Mass, but Pope Paul VI (Cardinal Ratzinger, Milestones, pg. 146-149).
►It was not the media who illegally suppressed celebrating Mass according to the 1962 Mass despite the fact that it was “never abrogated” (SP Art. 1), but the bishops of the Church, most of them also Council Fathers.
►It was not the media who promulgated heretical catechisms after the Council with modernist interpretations of the faith, but regional councils of Catholic bishops.
►It was not the media who forced the Church to abandon Latin despite the fact that the Council did not call for this, but the bishops.
►It was not the media who replaced Latin with vernacular in the liturgy, but Pope Paul VI who first began to promote this novelty, which he did of his own accord in a series of publicized masses around Italy beginning March 7, 1965, while the Council was still in session.
►It was not liberal media personalities who did all sorts of reprehensible things in the name of the “spirit of Vatican II”, but the bishops, led by Paul VI, who first invoked the “spirit” of the Council in his speech at the opening of the Council’s Fourth Session on September 14, 1965.
►It was not the media who introduced concelebration, but Pope Paul VI, who did so for the first time on September 14, 1964, which thereafter spread to the other bishops and hence to their dioceses.
►It was not the media who exalted and canonized the phrase “dialogue,” but Pope Paul VI, who insisted upon “dialogue” with the world in his 1964 encyclical Ecclesiam Suam, which mentions “dialogue” fifty-seven times.
►It was not the media who insisted instituting the destructive novelty of versus populum worship, but the Catholic hierarchy.
►It was not the media who replaced traditional Cardinals with liberals in the Curia, but Paul VI, who did this systematically between 1965 and 1969.
►It was not the media who compelled the pope to give up the papal coronation and tiara and substitute them for an “inauguration”, suggesting a democratic Church, but Pope Paul VI himself.
►It was not the media who instituted practices like communion in the hand, altar girls, extraordinary ministers, and rock music during Mass, but liturgical experts working for the Church, appointed and supported by bishops, whose abuses were later authorized by the papacy itself.
►It was not the media who insisted on destroying and dismantling historic churches, but parish committees working in conjunction with parish priests with the support of the local bishops, who insisted on such measures as appropriate for the modern Church (see here).
►It was not the media who insisted on harsh disciplinary measures against priests and bishops who wished to maintain Catholic Tradition while simultaneously failing to discipline dissenting theologians, Catholic colleges that fomented modernism and radical feminism, and whole dioceses mired in liberation theology, but the papacy itself.
►It was not the media who screened orthodox aspirants to the priesthood out of the seminaries while encouraging the ordination of homosexuals, but the diocesan bureaucracies.
►It was not the media who turned these diocesan bureaucracies over to lay people and dissenting religious, but the bishops themselves, who voluntarily abdicated their responsibility based on an erroneous understanding of Vatican II’s call for greater lay participation.
►It was not the media who insisted that Catholic universities hand over control from religious orders to lay persons, but the Bishops and religious orders themselves, as in the case of Notre Dame where this was done in the name of Vatican II.
►It was not the media who promised to starve the Catholic Church into accepting married priests by intentionally turning away seminarians, but liberal Catholic bishops, like Kenneth Untener of Saginaw, MI. (1980-2004), who did in fact make such a statement.
►It was not the media who confused the faithful about the Church’s teaching on issues such as abortion and homosexuality, but dissenting priests and bishops who preached error or refused to correct error when it was preached.
►It was not the media who moved tabernacles from their position of centrality and banished them to broom closets, but Catholic priests acting with the tacit or explicit approval of Catholic bishops.
►It was not the media who turned many liturgies throughout the 80’s, 90’s, and even today into horrendous displays of egotism, sacrilege and blasphemy, but Catholic priests operating either with the blessing of their bishops or without their active opposition.
►It was not the media who wrote banal, faith-destroying pop music for our liturgies, but Catholic musicians, many of them priests.
►It was not the media who taught that the Church’s missionary mandate no longer applies to the Orthodox, but a conference of Catholic bishops at Balamand.
►It is not the media who are undermining the Church’s missionary mandate by teaching that conversion to the Faith is no longer necessary for salvation, but Catholic missionary orders and organizations who openly teach such things and do so in the name of the Second Vatican Council.
►It was not the media who confused and scandalized the Catholic faithful by kissing the Koran, praying in synagogues and mosques, and attending reprehensible pagan ceremonies, but Pope John Paul II.
►It was not the media who taught the Catholic faithful indifferentism by gathering leaders of all the worlds religions to pray for worldly concerns, but Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI at the Assisi meetings.
►It was not the media who have failed to clean up corruption in the Curia, but the popes.
►It is not the media who have embroiled the Vatican in embarrassing financial scandals, but the Curia.
►It is not the media who have failed to address the growing “homoheresy” and “Lavender Mafia” within the Church, but the popes.
►It was not the media who systematically covered up homosexual abuse within the Church hierarchy, but the Catholic bishops.
►It is not the media who fosters these continuing misunderstandings of the Second Vatican Council, but the Catholic episcopate and the pope who collectively and individually have failed to redress these matters and allow such things as listed above to go on year after year.
►It was not the media who suppressed traditional religious orders, disrespecting their charisms and obstructing their ability to live out their vocations, but Roman congregations empowered by the pope.
►It was not the media who suppressed the Traditional Latin Mass, ensuring that no traditional practice of the faith was possible, but Catholic bishops empowered by Rome.
►Finally, it was not the media who appointed all of the liberal, progressive and modernizing bishops and cardinals who fill the Church today, but the Popes themselves.
Thus, while we do not deny that the media have conspired to frame the Church’s challenges solely in terms of power struggles, this “hijacking” of the Second Vatican Council by the media pales to the destruction of the Church that the Church had done to herself. The Church has hijacked itself. In many areas, it looks as if the Church is even trying to commit suicide. Our problems with the media are insignificant compared to the problems with our own bishops, the Vatican, diocesan bureaucracies, and even the popes. The recognition of this fact is what distinguishes a traditionalist Catholic from a conservative neo-Catholic. The traditionalist Catholic has come to the realization that very much of what ails the Church has been done to us by the Church herself, even at the highest levels of authority, whereas the not-traditionalist will generally not admit all of the problems highlighted above. The buck does ultimately stop with the pope; too often since the abdication of Benedict XVI have we been fed the “Good Pope/Evil Curia” paradigm—but if so, who has appointed the Evil Curia? Who is responsible for its existence?
The Second Vatican Council was indeed hijacked. It was hijacked by the Church herself, because the Church is in the midst of an identity crisis and does not know what it wants to be. Until we acknowledge that the crisis of the Church, the crisis we have been in since the Second Vatican Council, has no other cause than our own unwillingness to be what God has called us to be, we will get nowhere. This is not about the media. It is not about the “world” attacking the Church, except perhaps to the degree that the world has itself infiltrated the Church. It is not even about dissenting theologians; dissenting theologians do not have the authority to make policy or direct the life of the Church. This is about Catholic bishops, popes, and laypersons needing to be willing to stand up for the Faith, for Tradition, and for the Church, and to fundamentally realign the orientation of the Church in its relation to the modern world. The post-Vatican II experiment has failed, and the sooner we admit this, the sooner things will get better.
(1) Benedict XVI, “The Second Vatican Council As I Saw It”http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2013/02/14/pope_to_rome%27s_priests:_the_second_vatican_council,_as_i_saw_it/en1-664858
Phillip Campbell, “A Council Hijacked by the Media?” Unam Sanctam Catholicam, August 24, 2013. Available online at https://unamsanctamcatholicam.com/2022/10/a-council-hijacked-by-the-media