The recent launch of a new group called Stand up for Vatican II drew a crowd of over 200 to a hotel venue in central London. The most striking thing about the evening was the age of the people attending, 90 per cent must have been well over 50. This led to another question, is there not a real danger that the groundbreaking teachings of Vatican II could virtually be lost if active steps are not taken to educate the mass of people in the Church as to what it was all about.
Let’s remember, it is 45 years since the Council closed, so only those of over 60 years of age are going to remember the whole exciting phase when the Church threw open its doors and decided it was going to look out and change the world. The teachings and enlightened leadership of first Pope John XXIII and then Pope Paul VI led to the teachings being developed in exciting form by the liberation theologians of Latin America.
In the UK, Vatican II breathed life into a whole number of organisations committed to working to bring to fruition the social teachings. Church was not something to be put away in a box and only got out on a Sunday, pursuing social justice was described as a constituent part of the faith. These were exciting times and much of the inspiration lives on today.
One concern voiced has been of an undermining over recent years of crucial elements of Vatican II like subsidarity. This was about divesting power from the top and letting decisions be taken at the local level. Bishops and priests were to be representative of the people for whom they were the shepherds. The concern has been that over recent years decisions on the appointment of bishops have been increasingly drawn to Rome, with little local consultation. Previously, there was a great deal of local consultation before a bishop was appointed. Such criticism though must surely be of process and administration.
There are certainly no bishops in England and Wales who would not claim to be standing up for Vatican II. The Church has in many areas taken a leading role on social justice with the Pope particularly speaking out on climate change, the economic meltdown and migrants. Neither has he been slow to condemn war. Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor and Archbishop Nichols have been outspoken in defence of migrants and economic injustice.
The most important concern linked to Vatican II today is the lack of formation amongst the faithful. Former Chair of the Justice and Peace Commission in Brentwood diocese Kathy Piper has pointed to the lack of formation, particularly among the young. Vatican II saw formation of people with a mature understanding of what it means to be Catholic in the modern world as a key priority. This has clearly not happened in much of the Church.
There has to be a concern that some clergy have given up on formation, if they ever started. The faithful need to be challenged constantly. Education and formation are what is needed in our Church. We need more adults who have a mature understanding of the faith and what it is all about. People inspired to want to get out there and change the world. Then far fewer would walk away at time of confirmation and only return to the Church when they want to get their children in the local Catholic school.
One encouraging development in this area comes from the Live Simply initiative being hosted by Progressio which is putting together a website that seeks to bring the social teachings to life. It will include sections on human dignity, a call to community and action, life and work, peace, solidarity. The site goes live in June.
There are some rumblings of discontent in the Churh with the formation of groups like Stand up for Vatican II and the 10,000 people from 43 countries recently signing up to a petition that urges caution before uniformly imposing the latest translation of the mass on the Church worldwide.
Vatican II though opened the door to a more confident and open Church prepared to change and challenge that world. The most productive thing that can be done around the diocese is to have a renewal process regarding the teachings of Vatican II. The formation that will come from following those teachings will then lead to a restating of concepts like subsidiarity and in the long term a more grown up Church.