Remembering 1968

Remembering 1968

When you think the state of the Church is bad now, it may be helpful to go back and see how bad things were in that pivotal year of 1968. Gerald has been digging in the archives of Time magazine and come up with a Pope Paul VI cover article on “Freedom vs. Authority in the Catholic Church.” It’s a report on the promulgation of Humanae Vitae and the reactions to it.

As bad as things are today, we don’t have priest unions holding protest sit-ins at the USCCB’s meetings. (On the other hand, some of those priests might be the bishops in those meetings today.) We also know today where exactly fellows like Fr. Andrew Greeley, or Charles Curran, or Fr. Robert Drinan stand today and no one mistakes them as stolid members of the finest traditions of Catholic orthodoxy.

It’s also interesting that many churchmen of the time accurately diagnosed the problem.

Similarly, Paulist Father Thomas Stransky, an official of Rome’s Secretariat for Christian Unity, suggests that the church is suffering from a “silent schism” of rebels who are remaining Catholic in name but are “hanging loose” from the institutional church. ... Corrosive Criticism. No man is more aware of this dissension than Pope Paul VI, who issues new warnings almost daily against imprudence, rebellion, disobedience and the dangers of heresy. Last week he cautioned Catholics against tampering with “indispensable structures of the church” and partaking in intercommunion services with Protestants. “A spirit of corrosive criticism has become fashionable in certain sectors of Catholic life,” he told an audience at Castel Gandolfo last September in a typical peroration. “Some want to go beyond what the solemn assemblies of the church have authorized, envisaging not only reforms but upheavals, which they think they themselves can authorize and which they consider all the more clever the less they are faithful to tradition. Where is the consistency and dignity which belong to true Christians? Where is love for the church?”

While we’re certainly not out of the dark of the woods yet, think of how dark it must have seemed in those early days. Now we can imagine a light at the end of the tunnel, but then the tunnel seemed like a yawning pit opening under the Church’s feet.

Also, for those of us who didn’t grow up in this era, it explains a lot when we learn about the roots of the Church’s current condition. Right now, it seems like the Church switched overnight from conservative Traditionalism in 1959 to the free-for-all of heterodoxy we find in 1968. Someone needs to write the definitive history of the Church in that decade for the generation that didn’t experience it firsthand.

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  • Desmond Birch who is on EWTN sometimes has talked about the seeds sowed from 1958 to 1969.  Fr. Benedict Groeschel has too, but not in as much detail as Birch.  I believe he said that even though Catholics went to Mass, they emotionally were not Catholics.  They were using contraception and practising private judgment.  What we have now is some starting to be realistic of the fact that that isn’t compatable with Catholicism.  In the future, more will be realistic.

  • As one who grew up in the pre-VII Church I would agree that the seeds were sown well before Blessed John XIII decided to call the Council. The 50’s were a time of seeming, and I stress the word seeming, splendour of the Church. Seminaries were overflowing, churches were full and it seemed as if we had finally made it. But a lot of the faith was shallow. Many of the priests were inspired by socialist visions that had great currency in that time. Above all, it seemed as if the time had finally come to escape from the “Catholic ghetto” by going main-stream. V II was the wrong Council at the wrong time. A ‘pastoral council’ needs to be called in a time of stability not one of crisis. Like the French Revolution it opened the door to agendas which had long remined hidden and in check. Paul VI realised this during the last ten years of his pontificate and was tormented by it.

    But in a sense the Holy Spirit was probably right. The outflow from the priesthood and orders was necessary to bring genuine holiness back into the Church. We have undergone an upheaval but not a destruction. Yes Eric there is a light and we can actually see it, albeit dimly. The swift election of BXVI reveals more clearly than anything else that those who claimed THEY were CHURCH are so only in their minds. The whining of the liberals is evidence enough that they know they have lost. We can now recover the true “spirit of VII” combined with the true “Tradition” of the Church.

  • Carrie –  Having been there as well, I agree that’s the way it was.  I remember a friend in my parrish at the time – 30’s, mother of three – who was positively scandalized that women had en masse stopped wearing hats, but who had no apparent qualms about taking birth control pills while we waited years for Humana Vitae. Women used to pass the word about priests in the area who were “pill priests”  giving the okay to artificial contraception in the confessional.  Shell-shocked and confused, we got little if any guidance at the parish level from the remaining priests who hadn’t yet run off with ex Sr. Helen Margaret. Ah yes, that was the “Springtime” of our Church which, over the past 40 years has settled into a “nuclear winter.”

  • Margaret

    I think you are right and very perceptive not having gone through it. I also agree with Carrie that it was not driven by the people in the pews although it was supposedly done in their name by priests following their own agendas. The problem with the whole 60’s period was the “liberty” thing. Authority went out the door and people were told to do what they felt was right. Priests were no different and many revelled in their new found positions of importance. As Alexander Pope wrote of the reformation “New priest is but old presbyter writ large”. With that came Chaos and loss of a universal moral code. As people drifted away from a Church which no longer offered them a sense of a stable foundation priests strove ever more to retain popularity by any means. The fact that orthodoxy is recovering reveals their lack of any understanding of the divine. The same thing happened in our schools with teachers seeking to be with it so the kids would like them instead of offering a solid example to look up to. History will judge the 60’s not as a “springtime” but as a new “dark age”.

  • Yes, Margaret, your summary (re people not understanding rules they are following out of mere compunction) is largely correct.  BTW, the same summary, in a lesser sense, applied to society in general in the same time period.  I wasn’t catholic then, but I witnessed the same thing, to a lesser degree, in the protestant/secular milieu where I was.

    Life and morals were largely unexamined after the war.  The presumptions that held us in our accustomed patterns of behavior fell with the scientific advances and new ideas of the 20th century and we had not understood the timeless verities underneath them, so off we went with our heads bobbling in the wind.  People really thought that reality had changed. Some people, BTW, still do.

    So we entered a period where compunction became a taboo merely because it had been the “glue” that held us in unexamined (and misunderstood) patterns of behavior.  The common conclusion was that therefore the patterns of behavior were wrong.  Bad logic. But it abounded. 

    One of the huge problems we have nowdays is that people still don’t understand moral philosophy and how it is integrated with reality (in a philosophical/theological sense) and so they regard the church as SIMPLY some sort of outdated moral bulldog who says…CAN’T over and over.  You and I know there is much more, but most people simply can’t get past “Thou shalt not.”  To the degree this is true, they still don’t understand what religion is.

    Add to that the cultural stuff—ie. when I was a kid church was about 60% about dressing up and appearing a certain way in public.  It was also about staying out of trouble with grandma.  AHem.

    You know, it’s none of that.

    it’s a love story.  It’s not an abuse saga.  We always have to remember this.  When you love someone, you come home at night because you want to, not because you have to.  It’s about that simple. 

    You realize the things the church tells you are for your own good.  Why not use birth control?  Because the Church says so—BECAUSE it’s bad for us.  It makes us understand our children like things.  It ties us to consumption of goods in such a way that it’s all we can think about because the tie is soul-deep.  It makes us dependent on medicine in such a way that we forget about the author of life and try to get around Him, forgoing the gifts and calling them punishments.

    How you get this across to the multitudes?  I don’t know.  I’m not even sure better catholic education would do it, if we could get such a thing going. 

    The Church is always better when she is under terrific pressure from the rest of the world.  The current situation is a case in point. 

    I expect the Church to enter an interesting period now—one in which she speaks most clearly and suffers most dearly.

  • Re the common conception that the Church is just an outdated moral bulldog trying to throw around its weight…….

    I work and live with people who really believe this.  And they also believe that life is about choices and trade-offs they have to make to stay in their “niche” however they define that.  That is the whole battle for them.  The rest they try to ignore, unless they can manage to “hobby-ize” it.

    The smarter half realize in some sense that they are making personal choices but the deeper ramifications (ecological, social, political, financial) are not clear or available to them, so they are deeply cynical as well, even as they claim to be “open.” They are “open”—to everything but classical ideas about right and wrong, religion and understanding their own makeup.  Because they have this paradigm about morality, they cannot face those things.  Those things are regarded as closed because they are limits to the choices they regard as their world.

    It’s really convoluted as you can see…….

    It’s also infectious.  Many so-called Catholics have this in a virulent form, but unexamined.  In many cases, it exists in the same person side-by-side with a weak Catholicism.  When the Church speaks, there are already some (some of our dissidents) who cope with internal conflict poorly.  When the Church speaks more clearly in times to come, there will be huge conflicts for many people…….How will they solve them?  It will be a mixed bag and interesting to watch, I expect.

  • I am 57. I grew up in the physical shadow of the Church but did not become Catholic until 1978.

    In the fifties much of the laity equated faith in Christ with obedience to His Church. The level of Catholic practice was very high and much of it was authentic. In retrospect the condition of the clergy and Catholic academia was quite shaky. Variants of the Modernist heresy had gone underground, mutated and corrupted the thinking of many.

    There was a real need for the Church to address the various issues Pope Benedict mentions: the Jews, religious freedom and science. There was a need to update the Church’s message and reconnect to the thinking of the East, the patristic age, and the Bible. There was a need to replace the authoritarian Church with a command structure centered in Rome with an authoritative Church received by a laity trained to think in a more instinctive fashion with the mind of the Church.

    The Council was called to meet these needs. That most prudent and courageous of popes, Pius 12 resisted the council that Blessed John 23 proceeded to call.

    The Modernist heresy in all its variants metastacized. Its adherents in essence hijacked the implementation of the Council. A people taught to obey its pastors, willingly followed them into the desert and there they remain, believing in good conscience that contraception is a matter of private conscience along with all the other false teachings that abound in the Church today.

    The result of the implementation of the Council is an immediate and profound collapse in the lay apostolate the Council wished to foster along with a collapse in clerical discipline which accompanied the abuse scandal.

    We see signs all around us that an authentic Vatican 2 Church is beginning to emerge from the ashes. The main barrier to renewal today is my own generation – a generation that was catechised in the notion that the Church of the Council was a decisive break with the disfunctional and un-Christlike Church of Catholic history and tradition.  My generation too will pass. Some of us will be converted to the truth along the way.

  • Interesting ideas, Little Gidding.  The World Wars were very destructive to Catholicism in Europe, I think.  I’m convinced that the ideas bound up in those movements are still nascent in Europe and will re-emerge at some point.  I’m not sure what this will do for the Church, yet.

    About “brittle faith,” and also to reply to Carrie above:  Teaching anything is difficult.  In a class with the worst teacher, some kids will learn; in a class with the best teacher, some will not.  Most will pick up something, but one never knows quite what or how deeply.  A very talented teacher who understands however deeply will bring more to the average student, but then so will a charismatic teacher who understands less.  Most teachers are neither exceptionally brilliant or exceptionally charismatic.

    Test someone sometime and then get their complete explanation of why they responded as they did.  You may find the answers to questions to be correct, but the explanations to be wrong or at least doubtful.  It happens this way as often as not, believe it or not.  Teachers inherit students in this condition and they go on to the next teacher more or less in this condition, no matter how one tries to fix the situation. True.  There are not enough hours in the day.  And even if there were………….

    This is part of the difficulty with Catholic education, and indeed, education in general.  It is not a magic pill.  It is necessary and yet, not sufficient for everything.

    When people *get* it, God has had a hand in the situation.  He’s used education, yes, but other things as well, including prayer, reading, obedience to the Church and Catholic culture (what there is left of it).

  • What is bothering me more and more is a sense that the faith in which I believe and trust no longer exists—that it has simply vanished like cotton candy caught in the rain.

    It hasn’t, Carrie.

    Reading this amazing thread (or trying to, with all the rockets going off!) has moved me considerably. I thought I had some idea of what many of you have been going through but the eloquence of so many of your comments has opened my eyes considerably. It must be hell, sometimes, for you.

    Yet I’m reminded of—and can now emphathise with more fully—the apostles who thought their own ship was sinking while Jesus was evidently sleeping blissfully through it all.

    We know what happened. And so we have faith in what will happen.

    God bless you.

  • Not so, Liam.  Maybe in your little parish it was true that liturgical changes were wanted, but most everywhere else, they were not.  Many, many people honestly suffered over those changes and how they were treated.  It did no good to abuse them because of their grief, but it was done for 40 years.  Without mercy. 

    I remember, as a girl, a non-catholic attending Catholic school, that the Mass was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  I remember Father’s beautiful fiddleback vestments with the IHS on them as he said Mass.  I remember my own St. Joseph Missal, bought with my schoolbooks that year.  (I still have it.)  I sang in the choir.  In fact, I was dismissed from school to sing for funerals of people I had never met because they needed someone, I could sing (I was 13 and a soprano) and we were all family so I was welcome and could never believe the marvel of that.  The Church was beautiful.  I have many memories.

    I came into the church much later because I was never able to go very far from her.  I”ve been Catholic (albeit holding my nose part of the time) for 20 years now.  I’m waiting to see that beauty again and God willing, I will before I die.  It’s looking more likely all the time.

  • Carrie,

    The church is still here.  The priest is not the church—he is only the local minister.  History is full of priests who were nothing—you cannot idolize the man, positively OR negatively.  Remember that the priest’s ability to celebrate the sacraments for you is independent of his sinfulness.  Don’t think about what he does.  He will answer soon enough.  You only answer for yourself.

    You worship God and He provides, sometimes through the agency of fallen men.  Keep your eye on the Prize and keep handing your heart to Christ in the Eucharist.  He’s there and always will be.  It will be all right.

    It’s been a rough 40 years.

  • Little Gidding,

    I know that song from before I was Catholic.  I like it too….but you know, Protestants don’t have the depth and breadth of theology Catholics have and here it shows. 

    It’s okay, if you’re a protestant, not to think very coherently about this as long as you’re not some high-faluting PHD from Moody Bible School or something like that.  wink  Most aren’t—in fact, they’re pretty far from it.

    Many protestants actually do talk to their dead relatives as they go about their business. Yes, even if they do tell you there’s no purgatory. Again, it’s the formal concept that gets them, not the possibility of talking to their very own relatives which strikes them as possible and their own business anyway, not yours.  Bottom line.  Heh.

  • Hmmm..every time I come back to this thread there is so much I need to answer or comment upon.

    Dear Lord, can we ever get past Vatican II and send it off to the rubbish heap of history.  Read back over these posts and see how this abberation has been described by those of us who lived through its beginnings and those who are so enmeshed in it now they have no idea of what the Church was and could be again – ‘hurricane of change,’ time of darkness,’ nuclear winter,’ a disease,’ ‘Lutheranism,’ ‘ashes,’ a time of ferment.’

    I think Vatican II was the wrong Cpuncil for the wrong time as I said above. That being said, I have read many of the documents and there is nothing in them to justify what went on after the Council. The documents themselves were not about changing the faith but encouraging a more engaged mind-set on the part of the faithful. I believe that what the fathers at VII wanted is coming to pass, not in the pseudo-radicals of the 60’s but in the groundswell of orthodoxy by the laity. The sensus fidelium has proved to be the enemy of the reformers not their friend. In that sense I think the Council did great work and that Catholics will ultimately be MORE committed to their faith and not just followers.

    Carrie, I do feel for you. Two weeks ago my wife and I were travelling and had to attend a local mass which was more like a variety show than a liturgy. Except that the priest stuck closely to the correct words of the consecration I would seriously have thought about the licitness of the mass. However, these priests are a dying breed. the newer bishops are no longer the spineless even if personally orthodox types. Bishops like Finn and the one at Rockville Centre and our own Pell are putting the house in order. It is like a flood (an analogy I undertand because I live in the loop of large river) – when the flood comes there is little you can do except ride it out, after it subsides you can begin the clean up. This is where we are at at the moment. Don’t look at this or that parish – they still are in the grip of those who seized the reigns during the “flood” – look at the growing orders, look at the new seminarians, look at the new bishops and above all look at Rome and out Holy Father who has already begun the housecleaning there. A revolution takes but moments, a restoration takes years.

    Kelly – great reference. Indeed we are like the apostles sometimes in thinking Our Lord has gone to sleep and abandoned us to our fate. We should all recall this story to remind ourselves that our 40 years in the wilderness is but a moment in the life of the Church and Our Lord is not about to abandon us after 2000 years.

  • michigan – what distinguishes Catholic for protestant is how we view the relationship of the Divine to the Secular. The Church has always taught a seamless link between Heaven (the Church Triumphant), Purgatory (the Church Expectant) and Earth (The Church Militant). We pray to the Saints because there is no line between as Calvin drew. Equally we believe in Lourdes and Fatima for the same reason. Protestants believe in God as the “Great Other”, outside the world (hence no visions or miracles) to whom we must “cross over” in death. They are inspired by God but do not see him as intervening in the world except in a very general way. The 20th century saw the rerise of Stoicism, a belief in God as a moral exemplar but not an actual being. Thus God becomes what is good in US and the focus is on man who is rendered capable of achieving his own salvation. This is not new. It happened in the Roman Empire, it happened in the Enlightenment and it will happen again. Pelagianism after all was our own homegrown heresy and has always lurked beneath the surface of the Church. Interestingly the desire to talk to the dead is a strong one in us but amongst protestant and secular cultures it is most often expressed through mediums rather than religion. Again evidence of the lack of a theology of seamless union between earth and heaven.

  • I am 62 years old, so grew up before VII. I was fortunate to have a terrific Catholic education, based solidly on the teaching of St. Thos. Aquinas. The changes brought by the Council hit me hard, although I did welcome them in my youthful arrogance. Thanks to the prayers of many, I never stopped going to church but I did become very liberal. Through involvement in the pro-life movement I met good Catholics and eventually began to homeschool my 8 children 20 years ago. I am still teaching a 16 year old and a 14 year old. Over the years I have observed the majority in my extended family cease practicing the Catholic Faith. Most often it is the new morality that has caused them to move away – acceptance of divorce and remarriage and particularly, children co-habiting. When I was young, these things were rare, a scandal, and spoken of in hushed voices. Now, as my 14 year old observed, “almost everyone lives together without being married”. We just attended a Baptism where the parents are not married. There were 5 babies up to the age of about 6 months. I wonder how many of the parents were not married, was it just the ones I knew about? We did not attend the family party afterwards, so we were the ones who were wrong and “judgemental”. For how long will my younger children be willing to be the ones who are willing to make a stand? It is painful to try to do the right thing and they will be bombarded with accusations of being unloving. The temptation to “go along to get along” is very strong. Will they be able to withstand the pressure?

  • Thank you, Renee, for your advice. By attending the Baptism at the church we wanted to demonstrate our support for the Baptism and for the child. For the same reason, we gave gifts at the birth and for the Baptism. We have been told that we must demonstrate our acceptance of the couple’s decision to live together without being married in just that way. The mother of the child knows her Faith very well. I am sorry you have been angered by our behaviour. You are not alone. Please be assured this is very painful for us and we are trying to follow God’s Will as we understand it. Sometimes, the truly loving action is not to pretend that everything is fine, but rather to say that this does not conform to God’s plan for the family. It is not always easy to know where to “draw the line” and it has been my observation that many people just give up trying. I hope God will forgive us if we made the wrong decision.

  • Sorry, I meant to say that we have been told we must show our acceptance of the couple’s decision to live together precisely by inviting them to our home as a couple and by accepting invitations to their home. So it seems to me that we would not be evangelizing by socializing with them. Please pray that God will enlighten us if we are wrong.

  • Thanks, Carrie. I noticed at Mass this morning that when Jesus cast the devils into the herd of swine the people were not delighted to welcome Him and hear Him, but rather begged Him to go away. At Adoration after Mass I happened to choose a devotional book in which I was reminded, essentially, that this is a vale of tears. I do urge you to persevere in the Faith. We only know we’re following Him if we have a cross of some sort!