What does it mean that the Index of Leading Catholic Indicators, the only comprehensive compilation of statistics regarding trends in the American Church before and after Vatican II, gets mentioned only 32 times on the web, mostly in connection with a WorldNetDaily column Pat Buchanan wrote last December? I suppose the answer is that there were no surprises in the compilation. Everyone knows that for the Church in America before the Council things to all appearances were going up, up, up, and after the Council they’ve gone down, down, down. So the only issue is what to do with the facts.
I can’t say that I find the mainstream conservative Catholic view, that the Council was a great event that has been widely misinterpreted, persuasive. Does it make sense that thousands of bishops and periti would go off to Rome, discuss things in a blaze of publicity for 3 years, return home with no idea what they had done, and never make up for their ignorance? It’s true that the documents are much more moderate and often point in a rather different direction than what was done in their name, but that’s true at all levels in the Church. The new liturgy was more radical than one would expect from reading the documents. Does that mean Paul VI didn’t understand the Council?
There is of course an important element of good sense in the mainstream conservative approach. It is only the documents of Vatican II that are authoritative, each in accordance with its clear intention and nature. So the way to recover from the disorders and losses that the Vatican II event appears to have provoked is to emphasize the distinction between Vatican II as an event—which would include the spirit of those involved and inspired by it—and Vatican II as authority. It does seem to me though that the process of disengagement from the disastrous spirit of the Vatican II generation, and coming to grips with what the documents of Vatican II actually mean in light of the whole tradition of the Church, will be easier if hyperbolic claims that Vatican II was a special act of the Holy Spirit are abandoned. The appropriate response to catastrophe is sobriety and realism, not assertions of superloyalty.