Post Vatican II history of the Roman Catholic Church

Post Vatican II history of the Roman Catholic Church

Post Vatican II history of the Roman Catholic Church includes the recent history of the Roman Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council. It focuses on the influences of the Council on the Roman Catholic Church, the Church's reactions to it, and subsequent historical deveopments to the present day.


In the aftermath of World War II, religious existence came under fire from communist governments in Eastern Europe and China. Although some priests have since been exposed as collaborators, [cite news |first=Craig S. |last=Smith |title=Ties to Communist Secret Police Snare Polish Bishop |url= |work=The New York Times |date=2007-01-06 |accessdate=2008-05-24 ] [cite news |title=Slovak Church Plans to Review Its Past 50 Years |url= |work=The New York Times |publisher=Agence France-Presse |date=2007-02-14 |accessdate=2008-05-24 ] both the Church's official resistance and the leadership of Pope John Paul II are credited with helping to bring about the downfall of communist governments across Europe in 1991.cite news | title =Pope Stared Down Communism in Homeland – and Won | work =CBC News | date = April 2005| url =| accessdate =2008-01-31 ] [cite web | last =Smith | first =Craig | title =In Poland, New Wave of Charges Against Clerics | work =The New York Times | date =2007-01-10 | url = | accessdate = 2008-05-23]

The Church policies after World War II under Pope Pius XII focused on material aid to war-torn Europe, an internal internationalization of the Roman Catholic Church. and the development of its world-wide diplomatic relations. His encyclicals, "Evangelii Praecones" and "Fidei Donum", issued on June 2, 1951 and April 21, 1957, respectively, increased the local decision-making of Catholic missions, many of which became independent dioceses. Pius XII demanded recognition of local cultures as fully equal to European culture. [Audience for the directors of mission activities in 1944 A.A.S., 1944, p. 208.] ["Evangelii Praecones". p. 56.] While the Church thrived in the West and most of the developing world, it faced most serious persecutions in the East. The communist regimes in Albania, Bulgaria, and Rumania practically eradicated the Roman Catholic Church in their countries. The difficult relations of the Vatican with the Soviet Union, alias Russia, originated in the revolution in 1917 and continued through the pontificate of Pius XII. They affected relations with the Orthodox Church as well. The Catholic Oriental Churches were eliminated in most parts of the Soviet Union during the stalinist era. Persecutions of the Church continued during the pontificate of Pope Pius XII. The relations of the Holy See with China from 1939-1958. began hopefully with the long withheld recognition of Chinese rites by the Vatican in 1939, the elevation of he first Chinese cardinal in 1946, and the establishment of a local Chinese hierarchy. It ended with the persecution and virtual elimination of the Catholic Church in the early Fifties, and the establishment of a Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association in 1957

Pius XII invoked ex cathedra papal infallibility by defining the dogma of the Assumption of Mary, as proclaimed in the Apostolic constitution "Munificentissimus Deus". The magisterium includes almost 1,000 addresses and radio broadcasts. His forty-one encyclicals, include Mystici Corporis, the Church as the Body of Christ; Mediator Dei on liturgy reform; Humani Generis on the Church's position on theology and evolution. He eliminated the Italian majority in the College of Cardinals with the Grand Consistory in 1946. Despite of all these and other modernisation measures, which had taken place during the pontificate of Pius XII, Pope John XXIII felt the time had come to open the windows of the Church and to restate the ancient truths of the Church in a more contemporary language.

Vatican II


Preparations for the Council, which took more than two years, included work from 10 specialized commissions, along with people for mass media and Christian Unity, and a Central Commission for overall coordination. These groups, composed mostly of members of the Roman Curia, produced 987 proposed constitutions and decrees (known as "schemata") intended for consideration by the Council. It was expected that these groups would be succeeded by similarly constituted commissions during the Council itself that would carry out the main work of drafting and reviewing proposals before presentation to the Council as a whole for review and expected approval; what happened, however, was that every single schema was thrown out in the first session of the Council, and new ones were created.Cath. Encyclopedia 1967, p. 563]

The general sessions of the Council were held in the autumns of four successive years (in four "periods") 1962 through 1965. During the rest of the year special commissions met to review and collate the work of the bishops and to prepare for the next period. Sessions were held in Latin in St. Peter's Basilica, with secrecy kept as to discussions held and opinions expressed. Speeches (called "interventions") were limited to ten minutes. Much of the work of the council, though, went on in a variety of other commission meetings (which could be held in other languages), as well as diverse informal meetings and social contacts outside of the council proper.Two-thousand nine-hundred and eight (2,908) men (referred to as Council Fathers) were entitled to seats at the council. These included all bishops from around the world, as well as many superiors of male religious orders. 2,540 took part in the opening session, making it the largest gathering in any council in church history. (This compares to Vatican I where 737 attended, mostly from Europe.)Sullivan 2002, p.21] Attendance varied in later sessions from 2,100 to over 2,300. In addition, a varying number of "periti" (Latin for "experts") were available for theological consultation — a group that turned out to have a major influence as the council went forward. Seventeen Orthodox Churches and Protestant denominations sent observers."Vatican Council II", New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. XIV, p. 563] More than three dozen representatives of other Christian communities were present at the opening session, and the number grew to nearly 100 by the end of the 4th Council Session.

The Catholic Church engaged in a comprehensive process of reform following the Second Vatican Council (1962–65).Duffy, "Saints and Sinners" (1997), p. 270–6] Intended as a continuation of Vatican I, under Pope John XXIII the council developed into an engine of modernisation. It was tasked with making the historical teachings of the Church clear to a modern world, and made pronouncements on topics including the nature of the church, the mission of the laity and religious freedom. The council approved a revision of the liturgy and permitted the Latin liturgical rites to use vernacular languages as well as Latin during mass and other sacraments.cite web | last = Paul VI| first =Pope | title =Sacrosanctum Concilium | publisher = Vatican| date = 1963-12-04 | url = | accessdate = 2008-02-09] Efforts by the Church to improve Christian unity became a priority.Duffy, "Saints and Sinners" (1997), p. 274] In addition to finding common ground on certain issues with Protestant churches, the Catholic Church has discussed the possibility of unity with the Eastern Orthodox Church. [cite web | title =Roman Catholic-Eastern Orthodox Dialogue | publisher =Public Broadcasting Service | date =2000-07-14 | url = | accessdate =2008-02-16 ]

Post-conciliar developments

Liturgy reforms

Changes to old rites and ceremonies following Vatican II stunned many Catholics and produced a variety of responses. Some stopped going to church, while others tried to preserve the old liturgy with the help of sympathetic priests.Bokenkotter, "A Concise History of the Catholic Church" (2004), p. 410] The latter formed the basis of today's Traditionalist Catholic groups, which believe that the reforms of Vatican II have gone too far in departing from traditional church norms, particularly with regard to changes made to the Mass. Liberal Catholics form another dissenting group. They typically take a less literal view of the Bible and of divine revelation, and sometimes disagree with official Church views on social and political issues. The most famous liberal theologian of recent times has been Hans Küng, whose unorthodox views of the incarnation, and his denials of infallibility led to Church withdrawal of his authorization to teach as a Catholic in 1979. [Bauckham, Richard, in "New Dictionary of Theology", Ed. Ferguson, (1988), p. 373] In his book "A Concise History of the Catholic Church", professor Thomas Bokenkotter commented on the situation by stating "Most Catholics, however, accepted the changes more or less gracefully but with little enthusiasm and have learned to take in stride the continuing series of changes that have modified not only the Mass but the other sacraments as well." In 2007, Benedict XVI reinstated the old mass as an option, to be celebrated upon request by the faithful. [Apostolic Letter "Motu Proprio data" Summorum Pontificum on the use of the Roman Liturgy prior to the reform of 1970 (July 7, 2007)]

Liberation Theology

In the 1960s, growing social awareness and politicization in the Latin American Church gave birth to liberation theology. It re–interpreted the Gospel in radical ways that redefined the Church's mission. Peruvian priest, Gustavo Gutiérrez, became one of the movement's better-known scholars.cite web | title = Liberation Theology| publisher =BBC | date =2005 | url = | accessdate =2008-06-02 ] A meeting of Latin American bishops in 1968, charged with the implementation of Vatican II, led to the new movement growing increasingly influential. In 1979, the subsequent bishops' conference in Mexico officially declared the Latin American Church's "preferential option for the poor". [cite book |author= Aguilar, Mario |title=The History and Politics of Latin American Theology, Volume 1 |location=London |publisher=SCM Press |year= 2007 |page= 31|isbn= 978-0334040231] Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero became the region's most famous contemporary martyr in 1980, when he was murdered while saying mass by forces allied with the government. [For more on Romero, by a former colleague, see cite book|author= Sobrino, Jon |authorlink= Jon Sobrino |title= Archbishop Romero: Memories and Reflections |location= Maryknoll, NY |publisher= Orbis |year= 1990 |isbn= 978-0883446676] Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have denounced the movement as dangerous and "a fundamental threat to the faith of the church" [cite news | last = Rohter| first =Larry | title =As Pope Heads to Brazil, a Rival Theology Persists | publisher ="The New York Times" | date =2007-05-07 | url= | accessdate =2008-02-21 Benedict's main involvement in dealing with liberation theology was while he was still Cardinal Ratzinger.] because, as Edward Norman explains, the Church considers it an attempt to establish a Christian society "through the coercive machinery of political management".Norman, "The Roman Catholic Church an Illustrated History" (2007), pp. 176–7] The Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff was twice ordered to cease publishing and teaching. [cite book |author= Aguilar, Mario |title=The History and Politics of Latin American Theology, Volume 1 |location=London |publisher=SCM Press |year= 2007 |page= 121|isbn= 978-0334040231] While Pope John Paul II was criticized for his severity in dealing with proponents of the movement, he maintained that the Church, in its efforts to champion the poor, should not do so by resorting to violence or partisan politics. The movement is still alive in Latin America today, though the Church now faces the challenge of Pentecostal revival in much of the region. [For liberation theology's persistence, see cite news | last = Rohter| first =Larry | title =As Pope Heads to Brazil, a Rival Theology Persists | publisher ="The New York Times" | date =2007-05-07 |url=| accessdate =2008-06-02 For the threat from Pentecostalism, see cite book|last= Stoll |first= David |title= Is Latin America turning Protestant?: The Politics of Evangelical Growth |location= Berkeley |publisher=University of California Press |date= 1990 |isbn= 978-0520064997]

Humanae Vitae

The sexual revolution of the 1960s brought challenging issues for the Church. Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical "Humanae Vitae" affirmed the sanctity of life from conception to natural death and rejected the use of contraception; both abortion and euthanasia were considered to be murder. [cite web | last = Paul VI| first =Pope | title =Humanae Vitae | publisher =Vatican | date =1968 | url= | accessdate =2008-02-02 ] Norman, "The Roman Catholic Church an Illustrated History" (2007), p. 184] The Church's rejection of the use of condoms has provoked criticism, especially with respect to countries where AIDS and HIV have attained epidemic proportions. The Church maintains that countries like Kenya, where behavioral changes are endorsed instead of condom use, have experienced greater progress towards controlling the disease than countries solely promoting condoms. [cite web | last =Dugger | first =Carol | title =Why is Kenya's AIDS rate plummeting?
work =International Herald Tribune | date =2006-05-18 | url =,+condoms,+hiv,+abstinence&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=5&gl=us| accessdate =2008-02-21

Role of Women

Efforts to lead the Church to consider the ordination of women led Pope John Paul II to issue two documents to explain Church teaching. "Mulieris Dignitatem" was issued in 1988 to clarify women's equally important and complimentary role in the work of the Church. [cite web | last =John Paul II | first =Pope | title =Mulieris Dignitatem | publisher =Vatican | date =1988 | url = | accessdate =2008-02-21 ] Bokenkotter, "A Concise History of the Catholic Church" (2004), p. 467] Then in 1994, "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis" explained that the Church only extends ordination to men in order to follow the example of Jesus, who chose only men for this specific duty.Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth (2008), pp. 180–1, quote: "The difference between the discipleship of the Twelve and the discipleship of the women is obvious; the tasks assigned to each group are quite different. Yet Luke makes clear—and the other Gospels also show this in all sorts of ways—that 'many' women belonged to the more intimate community of believers and that their faith—filled following of Jesus was an essential element of that community, as would be vividly illustrated at the foot of the Cross and the Resurrection."] [cite web | last =John Paul II | first =Pope | title =Apostolic Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men Alone| publisher = Vatican| date =1994-05-22 | url =,+women%27s+ordination&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=10&gl=us| accessdate =2008-02-02 ] [cite news | last =Cowell | first =Alan | title =Pope Rules Out Debate On Making Women Priests | work = The New York Times | date =1994-05-31 | url = | accessdate =2008-02-12 ] John Paul II then set the Church in opposition to capital punishment when he issued Evangelium Vitae in 1995. Explaining that execution was appropriate when it was the only way to defend society, the pope noted that the modern penal system made this option rare or nonexistent. [cite web | title = The Death Penalty Pro and Con: The Pope's Statement| publisher = PBS | url =| accessdate =2008-06-12 ]

US sex abuse cases

Mainly in the United States, several major lawsuits emerged in 2001 claiming that priests had sexually abused minors.Bruni, "A Gospel of Shame" (2002), p. 336] Some priests resigned, others were defrocked and jailed [cite news | last =Newman | first =Andy | title =A Choice for New York Priests in Abuse Cases | work =The New York Times | date =2006-08-31 | url = | accessdate =2008-03-13 ] and financial settlements were agreed with many victims. In the US, where the vast majority of sex abuse cases occurred, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned a comprehensive study that found that four percent of all priests who served in the US from 1950 to 2002 faced some sort of sexual accusation.cite web | last =Owen | first =Richard | title =Pope calls for continuous prayer to rid priesthood of paedophilia | work =Times Online UK edition | publisher =Times Newspapers Ltd | date =2008-01-07 | url = | accessdate =2008-03-31 ] cite web | author = Terry, Karen et al| title = John Jay Report| publisher =John Jay College of Criminal Justice | date = 2004| url = | accessdate =2008-02-09 ] Further, the Church was widely criticized when it emerged that some bishops had known about abuse allegations, and reassigned many of the accused after first sending them to psychiatric counseling, instead of removing them.Steinfels, "A People Adrift" (2003). pp. 40–6] Frawley-ODea, "Perversion of Power: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church " (2007), p. 4] Some bishops and psychiatrists contended that the prevailing psychology of the times suggested that people could be cured of such behavior through counseling. Pope John Paul II responded by declaring that "there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young".Walsh, "John Paul II: A Light for the World" (2003), p. 62] The US Church instituted reforms to prevent future abuse by requiring background checks for Church employees; and, because the vast majority of victims were teenage boys, the worldwide Church also prohibited the ordination of men with "deep–seated homosexual tendencies".cite news|url=|author=Pope Benedict XVI|publisher=Vatican|year=2005|title=Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders|accessdate=2008-03-09] cite web | last = Filteau | first =Jerry | title =Report says clergy sexual abuse brought 'smoke of Satan' into church | publisher =Catholic News Service | date =2004 | url = | accessdate =2008-03-10 ] It now requires dioceses faced with an allegation to alert the authorities, conduct an investigation and remove the accused from duty.Cite web|url=|title=Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People|accessdate=2007-10-08|publisher=United States Conference of Catholic Bishops|year=2005|author=United States Conference of Catholic Bishops] [cite web | title =Scandals in the church: The Bishops' Decisions; The Bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People | work= The New York Times | date =2002-06-15 | url = | accessdate =2008-02-12 ] In 2008, Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, head of the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy, affirmed that the scandal was an "exceptionally serious" problem, but estimated that it was "probably caused by 'no more than 1 per cent'" of the over 400,000 Catholic priests worldwide. Some commentators, such as journalist Jon Dougherty, have argued that media coverage of the issue has been excessive, given that the same problems plague other institutions such as the US public school system with much greater frequency. [cite web | last =Dougherty | first =Jon | title =Sex Abuse by Teachers Said Worse Than Catholic Church | publisher =Newsmax | date =2004-04-05 | url = | accessdate =2008-06-11 ] cite web | last =Shakeshaft | first =Charol | title =Educator Sexual Misconduct | publisher = US Department of Education| date =2004 | url = |format=PDF| accessdate =2008-04-12 ]

Catholicism today

Benedict XVI

With the election of Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, the Church saw so far largely a continuation of the policies of his predecessor, John Paul II, with some notable exceptions. Benedict decentralized beatifications, and reverted the decision of his predecessor regarding papal elections, [Moto Proprio, De Aliquibus Mutationibus, June 11, 2007] . In 2007 he set a Church record by approving the beatification of 498 Spanish Martyrs‎. His first encyclical Deus Caritas Est discussed love and sex without mentioning the continued opposition of the Catholic Church to several views on sexuality. [Deus Caritas Est] In an address at the University of Regensburg, Germany, [Quoted as Benedict XVI, Meeting with the representatives of science in the Aula Magna of the University of Regensburg (September 12, 2006), Vatican, 2006. source:] Benedict maintained that in the Western world, to a large degree, only positivistic reason and philosophy are valid. Yet the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine, as an attack on their most profound convictions. A concept of " reason" which excludes the divine, is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures, according to Benedict. [Benedict XVI, Meeting with the representatives of science in the Aula Magna of the University of Regensburg (September 12, 2006)] During this Regensburg address Benedict quoted a Byzantine emperor who said Muhammad had brought the world only things "evil and inhuman".cite web | title =Profile: Pope Benedict XVI | publisher =BBC |date=2008-4-16| url =| accessdate =2008-06-24 ] After the Pope explained his quote, [cite web | title =Text of Pope's statement | publisher =BBC |date=2006-9-17| url =| accessdate =2008-06-24 ] the dialogue continued, with cordial meetings of Islam representatives in Turkey, and the ambassadors of Muslim countries in 2007. A May 2008 declaration agreed on between Benedict and Muslims, led by Mahdi Mostafavi, stressed that religion is essentially non-violent and that violence can be justified neither by reason nor by faith. [cite web |last= Kleiber| first=Reinhard| title =Iran and the Pope Easing Relations | publisher =Quantara |date=2008| url =| accessdate =2008-06-24 ] Pope Benedict has spoken out against human rights abuses in China, Darfur, and Iraq and encouraged protection of the environment and the poor. He spoke strongly against drug dealers in Latin America [cite web | title =Pope Benedict XVI: God Will Punish Drug Dealers | publisher =Fox News | date =2007-05-12 | url =,2933,271812,00.html | accessdate =2008-06-24 ] and Catholic politicians supporting abortion laws. [cite web |last=Pullella|first=Philip| title =Pope warns Catholic politicians who back abortion | publisher =Reuters | date =2007-05-09 | url =,+catholic+politicians+abortion+laws&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us | accessdate =2008-06-24 ]

Ethical Rulings

In 2007, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clarified the Catholic Church's position vis-a-vis other Christian communities. Quoting the statement of Pope Paul VI: "What the Church has taught down through the centuries, we also teach: "that there is only one Church"," the Vatican insisted that while communities separated from the Catholic Church can be instruments of salvation, only those with apostolic succession can be properly termed "churches". [cite web | title =Responses to questions regarding aspects of the doctrine of the Church | publisher =Vatican |date=2007-7-10| url = | accessdate =2008-06-28 ] Some Protestants representatives were not surprised, others announced themselves insulted by the document, which also stressed the Church's commitment to ecumenical dialogue. A Church official told Vatican radio that any dialogue is facilitated when parties are clear about their identity. [cite web | last = Di Cadore| first =Lorenago | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Pope: Other denominations not true churches| publisher =MSNBC | date =2007-07-10 | url =,+true+church&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us | accessdate =2008-06-24 ] Important ethical decisions during the pontificate of Benedict XVI involved continued nutrition and hydration for persons in a vegetative status. While making many exceptions, the Church ruled that “the provision of water and food, even by artificial means, always represents a natural means for preserving life.” [ United States Conference of Catholic Bishops ... Responses to Certain Questions Concerning Artificial Nutrition and Hydration, Congregation for the Doctrine]



*cite book |author= Aguilar, Mario |title=The History and Politics of Latin American Theology, Volume 1 |location=London |publisher=SCM Press |year= 2007 |isbn= 978-0334040231
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ee also

*History of the Papacy
*Timeline of the Roman Catholic Church
*Role of the Roman Catholic Church in civilization
*Criticism of the Roman Catholic Church
*History of Christianity
*History of Western civilization

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