So Where Do I Stand?

The Second Vatican Council (Vatican II)
1962 - 1965

I often find myself getting proverbially "shot" from both sides both inside and outside the Catholic Church. In the secular world, particularly in American politics, the liberals think I'm too conservative. Simultaneously, the conservatives think I'm too liberal. One would think I would fit right in with the moderate centrists, right? Not so, even they think I'm a little "out there."

Meanwhile, inside the Church I tend to get a similar treatment. Liberal Catholics think I'm too "traditional," while Traditional Catholics think I'm too "liberal." About the only consolation I have is that there is a fairly large group of Catholics who are right there with me in my position within the Church. Whew!

I'm going to put secular politics aside for the moment, and just talk about what's going on in the Church. Right now there are basically three major factions within the Catholic Church. They all centre around Vatican II and the post-conciliar changes in the Church. They are as follows...
  1. The first-faction are those who accept Vatican II as a pastoral council (not doctrinal in nature), and insist that the council should be interpreted within the context of historic Church tradition and orthodoxy. These often frown on liturgical innovations and doctrinal heterodoxies common to those in the second-faction. In addition, they advocate the most conservative and traditional celebration of the new Roman Missal. But they stop short of rejecting all things that have developed since Vatican II, as is common in the third-faction, and embrace some as being in continuity with tradition and orthodoxy.
  2. The second-faction are those who embrace Vatican II fully (with gusto) as a fully doctrinal council, condemning the pre-conciliar Church entirely, and don't think the council went far enough in making changes. In fact, they often justify their ongoing innovations under the nebulous idea of the "Spirit of Vatican II."
  3. The third-faction are those who reject Vatican II entirely, and believe the whole thing was a big mistake. They reject all innovations after Vatican II, including the new mass, the good with the bad, and insist on returning to the pre-conciliar Church as the only solution to the crisis in the Church today.
Needless to say, I fall into the first-faction. I accept Vatican II as a pastoral council, which is not doctrinal in nature. By that I mean the Second Vatican Council neither condemned any heresies, nor defined any new doctrines. It was simply pastoral in nature, outlining a new approach to the same teachings and practices of the Church. In other words, nothing really changed with Vatican II. The Catholic Church still teaches the exact same doctrines after the council as she did before the council. Likewise, Catholics should still keep the same practices after the council as they did before. The only thing the council did, hopefully, was give better insight as to why the Church teaches what she does, and how she might continue to practice what she always has in a way that is more relevant to the people. However, because of the wild innovations that have happened since the council, few of which really keep with the intention of the council, this has led many (including one former pope) to insist that the Second Vatican Council has never really been implemented.

Under the understanding of the first-faction above, the Church the Second Vatican Council intended to produce should look like this...
  • A traditional liturgy that looks very similar to the Traditional Latin Mass, but translated into vernacular languages. This would include reverent music, drawing heavily from Gregorian chant, as well as the use of Latin in at least some small portions of the mass.
  • Priests who celebrate the liturgy ad orientem (facing liturgical east).
  • Communion received on the tongue while kneeling (when physically able).
  • Laity that participates through mental engagement, and vocal response, rather than by childishly mimicking the priest's postures and holding hands during the Our Father. 
  • Homilies that define and challenge sin for the purpose of preparing souls for heaven, rather than social engineering to create a more perfect society here on earth.
  • Catechises that actually teaches what the Church has always taught, rather than some watered-down Protestantised version of the faith.
On the last point I'll speak from experience here. I won't say where this happened or when it happened, but I actually encountered a catechist at a parish who regularly taught the catechumens and candidates, going through the parish RCIA program, that the Catholic Church no longer teaches Purgatory, and the doctrine has been relegated to the status of obsolete. This catechist taught that there is only Heaven and Hell, and nothing else. Essentially, what this Catholic catechist was teaching was pure Protestant eschatology. Now this catechist (who shall remain nameless) actually believed these things, and this catechist was convinced that Vatican II changed church teaching on this, dispensing of Purgatory, Indulgences and Prayers for the Dead. 

Needless to say, this catechist was just plain wrong. Shocking as it may sound, this catechist ran the parish RCIA program for DECADES with the approval of the parish priest. (I don't know if the bishop was aware of the problem.) This is, however, an object lesson of the problems associated with the second-faction of Catholics I described above. The parish in question was very modern and innovative in its approach to liturgy. Communion was NEVER received on the tongue but always in the hand. In fact, the priest would chastise those who attempted to receive on the tongue. So in a way, the catechist and the priest were a perfect fit in this parish, as the parish itself was very second-faction.

In contrast, let's take another group of Catholics, who can be classified as part of the third-faction. I know many like this, who in a knee-jerk kind of reaction to the second-faction, reject Vatican II entirely. They blame the council for everything that has gone awry since the council. They fail to realise that the seeds of innovation and heterodoxy were already present long before the council happened, and would have surfaced anyway, with or without the council. They also fail to recognise the few good things that the council has made possible, such as: vernacular translations of the liturgy and the ecumenical triumph of the Ordinariates for former Anglicans. These are tremendous breakthroughs that should not be overlooked. In my opinion, these good folks (who are fully Catholic and really do mean well) are simply throwing the baby out with the bath water.

So I think the first-faction is the best place to be, and that's where I stand. It is the position of popes Paul VI, St. John Paul II, and Benedict XVI. It is also the position of Cardinal Raymond Burke, Cardinal Robert Sarah, and many others. (It looks like I'm in good company here.) As for why the second-faction has been given so much reign and position of dominance in recent decades, Benedict XVI (while he was still pope) gave the following explanation...

The gist of his message is that the intended reforms of Vatican II were hijacked by the mainstream news media. So what effectively happened was this. There were "two councils." One that actually happened, and the other was a virtual council, projected to the public by the media. The real council intended reforms much like I outlined above. The virtual council was projected to the world by the media, precipitating the innovations and heterodoxies I described in the first-faction. Now, I remind you, this is a REIGNING POPE talking here, and I might add a fairly good pope, meaning one who was never publicly corrected for presumed doctrinal errors. He may not have been well liked by many second-faction Catholics, or even some third-faction Catholics, but none of them would dare challenge him on theology. He was too solid. His theological rigour was second to none. The challenge of Pope Benedict XVI, just before he resigned the Chair of St. Peter, was for the Church to discover the true council, hidden beneath the virtual council of the mainstream media.

Now I'm going to say something a bit radical (here I go again) but I mean this with all my heart. Ready? Here it comes...
If the second-faction of Catholics didn't exist, then neither would the third-faction.
I propose that the third-faction of Catholics, described above, is 100% dependent on the existence of the second-faction, and if the second-faction never formed, then neither would the third. Furthermore, I would assert that if the second-faction ceased to exist tomorrow, so that only the first and third remain, then the third-faction would wither and die off within a decade thereafter. Because you see, I insist that the third-faction of Catholics exist entirely as a reaction to the second. So long as the second exist, so will the third. So long as the second are dominant in the Church, the third will remain a viable force as well. I assert, the two categories, second and third, are in a symbiotic relationship with each other, in spite of their negative sentiments toward one another. The second-faction needs the third to justify its reason for existence. While the third-faction needs the second to justify its reason for existence.

That being said, the first-faction is the only faction that can exist on its own, independent of both the second and the third. It doesn't need the second, and it doesn't need the third. The first-faction is self-perpetuating because it embraces the truth.
The first-faction are those who accept Vatican II as a pastoral council (not doctrinal in nature), and insist that the council should be interpreted within the context of historic Church tradition and orthodoxy. These often frown on liturgical innovations and doctrinal heterodoxies common to those in the second-faction. In addition, they advocate the most conservative and traditional celebration of the new Roman Missal. But they stop short of rejecting all things that have developed since Vatican II, as is common in the third-faction, and embrace some as being in continuity with tradition and orthodoxy.
As a first-faction Catholic, I assert that Vatican II was a purely pastoral council, which is SUBORDINATE to Vatican I and the Council of Trent. This is the only viable way to interpret Vatican II, and any other interpretation (or rejection of the council in toto) is invalid and in error.

So I hope you'll join me in the first-faction of Catholics who interpret the Second Vatican Council reasonably, and stay clear of unwarranted innovations, or rejecting Vatican II entirely, which have led the Catholic Church into crisis.


Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of '' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.

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Pair O' Dimes said…
Thank you so much for stating what it's taken me a few years to figure out the hard way!

And while it's your prerogative to focus solely on the Church in your article, I've also come to the conclusion that the same applies in politics and in other areas of belief. I refer to them as "false dichotomies" based on the same false premise, but interpreting that premise in opposite ways.

That's just another way of saying what you said: the "second" and "third" factions agree on the same false premise, one that "first" faction Catholics do not agree on--but what makes the "second" and "third" factions different is the way they interpret, respectively, that same false premise. And being stuck in falsehood, it's easy for them to see only those two sides and judge "first" faction Catholics accordingly, as you said.

God bless!
Michael E. said…
This is me again, the same person as above (I'm just using my right name now), and I should add one other thing I've discovered in my wanderings):

Those Traditionalist Catholics who use the "false mean" mentality.

What I mean is, they renounce sedevacantism and accept that John XXIII through Francis are legitimate popes--but they regard Vatican II (or at least the fact that it was only disciplinary, not doctrinal) as a mistake, and the instigator of what's gone wrong in the human element of the Church since (similar to sedevacantists only interpreting it differently). And so they strongly doubt the legitimacy of the canonizations of, say, Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II as being mere worldly, and misguided, attempts to canonize Vatican II itself and make it beyond reproach.

This is why I prefer to speak of "false dichotomies" rather than "extremes". This way isn't right either, since canonizations are infallible. Given that, the only possible logical conclusions are either that Popes John XXIII and John Paul II are in heaven (beyond dispute), making any doubt on the matter sinful--or else that Pope Francis isn't the true Vicar of Christ with the authority to make such a claim at all (which is sedevacantism).