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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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli