The Goldfish Bowl:
The Catholic Church Since Vatican II


Published on the web with permission of the author.



We have always had cranks in the Church, but until the aftermath of Vatican II, we regarded them with benevolent pity rather than animosity. In August 1965 Evelyn Waugh issued a public protest and warning. He noted that private representations made through the proper channels were disregarded, and that the time had come to speak out "to warn the submissive laity of the dangers impending." He warned that those propagating the theories now being imposed had been "with us in parts of the U.S.A. and northern Europe for a generation. We looked upon them as harmless cranks who were attempting to devise a charade of second century habits. We had confidence in the abiding Romanita of our Church. Suddenly we find the cranks in authority."


The cranks are in authority, that is it precisely. And it is those who attempt to preserve sanity in the Church who are looked upon as insane. Contemporary Catholicism in many countries today resembles the world of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. In this novel, the Party requires not only that every citizen shall say that black is white, but that he shall believe it. In the Church today we are not only expected to abandon beliefs and traditions inherited from our fathers, but to rejoice in their abandonment. This is the purpose of the ceaseless dialogue in the talking Church, which, in reality, is a monologue delivered by ecclesiastical cranks to a captive audience which does not possess a right to reply. Evidently, this sudden penchant for committees, commissions, and dialogues is a result of the democratic spirit which entered the Church during the Council. We have prelates at the very highest level who, to all intents and purposes, are acting upon the principle that Catholic morality should be based on what a majority among the trendy faithful finds acceptable. Thus a few years ago in England we had a National Pastoral Congress at which the delegates voted for a modification of the Church's teaching on contraception, and for divorced Catholics who had remarried to receive Communion. Cardinal Hume abandoned his role as a successor of the Apostles imparting authoritative teaching to his flock, and went to Rome as a delegate of the people to present their demands to the Holy Father. Needless to say, he received very short shrift from Pope John Paul II.


It should be clear that a common thread links all the manifestations of the "Spirit of the Council" which I have just been describing. It is a turning away from God towards man, what Dr. Norman criticized as the failure to appreciate that the real danger to mankind today derives from threats to his spiritual rather than his material condition. The liturgy is now almost entirely man-centered; the question is no longer what is right and fitting for the worship of God, but what the people will enjoy. In the U.S.A., in particular, the Mass is degenerating into a form of entertainment complete with clowns and dancing girls. The theocentric ethos of the Tridentine Mass was totally incompatible with the anthropocentric ethos of the Conciliar Church.

Similarly, religious education now concentrates not upon God but upon the pupil, what he can relate to, what he can enjoy, how he can help the people of the Third World (which Catholic children were doing long before Vatican II with the Holy Childhood collections). The permissive morality advocated by so many clerics is geared not to what God demands, but to what man finds enjoyable or convenient. The preoccupation with politics, world peace, nuclear weapons, and the Third World is a dramatic demonstration of the abandonment of the spiritual for the material, and of the hard task of evangelization for the meretricious plaudits of the secular media. A bishop who denounces abortion will be condemned by the media for attempting to impose his personal beliefs upon the whole of society; but a bishop who denounces nuclear weapons is speaking with a prophetic voice.

The ecumenical movement in its present form denotes a turning away from truth in favor of a feeling of cozy togetherness with our non-Catholic neighbors. This dialogue does not involve only Christians. An Indian Jesuit, Father Amaladoss, remarked in 1983 that he no longer attempts to bring Hindus to a knowledge of Christ; he is now content simply to "dialogue with my Hindu brothers, looking forward to a mutual enrichment and collaboration in the building up of a new humanity."

As for the new spirit of dialogue and consultation, it represents the influence of the unacceptable theory of democracy consistently denounced by the popes, making man the ultimate arbiter of his own conduct. The net result of these trends has been summed up perfectly by Archbishop Lefebvre---it is Christianity without the Cross. We want the comfort religion brings us, but we do not want the sacrifice it demands of us. One young American Jesuit has declared that the ultimate criterion of religious authenticity is whether it is "fun." He claimed that the hot tub in his campus recreation center is one of the chief places where he finds God, and that he would like the inscription on his tombstone to read: "He made it fun." One need hardly add that "fun" and the Cross are incompatible.


Who is responsible for this state of affairs! Ultimately, of course, it is Satan. He has waged unceasing war against the Church from the day of Pentecost. His most clever ploy is to deceive men who are not inherently bad into serving his purposes under the impression that they are doing good. Immediate responsibility must be placed upon the bishops, they are the men charged with guarding the Deposit of Faith and leading their flock to the safe pasture of Heaven.

Professor Dietrich von Hildebrand, who was decorated by Pope Paul VI for his loyalty to the Holy See, considers that a small numper of bishops can be considered as enemies of the Church, men who are doing all in their power to undermine Her teaching. But he castigates in particular not this tiny minority, but the vast majority, men, "... who make no use whatever of their authority when it comes to intervening against heretical theologians or priests, or against blasphemous performances of public worship. They either close their eyes and try, ostrich-style, to ignore the grievous abuses as well as appeals to their duty to intervene, or they fear to be attacked by the press or the mass media and defamed as reactionary, narrow. minded, or medieval. They fear men more than God."


And how has it come about that so many priests and laity have either acquiesced in the self-destruction of the Church, or have at least not attempted to oppose it actively. Among this number must, alas, be included Pope Paul VI himself; he denounced abuses but rarely took effective action to curtail them. Paul Hallett, probably the most respected Catholic journalist in the U.S.A., has remarked that there was an almost universal acceptance of the inevitability of the direction the Church was taking. It conformed so closely to the spirit of our age, it received such endorsement in all the mass media, it proceeded so inexorably that resistance seemed futile. The old adage of "If you can't beat them, join them," is applicable here. When a bandwagon starts rolling it takes greater strength of character to avoid jumping on. Thomas Cranmer, apostate Archbishop of Canterbury, met little resistance in imposing his heretical views on the English clergy by doing so in very gradual stages. Once the first compromise had been made the second and third were much easier, and eventually the subsequent stages were accepted as inevitable. In the interest of objectivity I must add that there are some courageous bishops doing all in their power to uphold orthodoxy. There are also many priests doing all they can to help their people keep the faith. I know a good number of them.


Reactions to the "Spirit of the Council" have varied considerably. A small number of liberal enthusiasts welcome it, propagate it, and do all in their power to intensify it. But these men control almost all the structures in the Church at present, and so are in a position to impose their eccentricities upon the rest of us. They almost invariably enjoy the support and indeed the adulation of the Catholic and secular media. The second group, by far the largest, making up perhaps 85% to 90% of the faithful, tends to be apathetic. It never wanted the changes, it had little interest in the changes, but it will do nothing to oppose them. This is not something that should shock or surprise us, it is a normal fact of the behavior of any social group or organization. In a parish of two or three thousand Mass-goers, how many are very actively involved in fund-raising events, or organizations such as the Legion of Mary or the St. Vincent de Paul Society? In a political party or union, how many members actually attend meetings or distribute literature? This general attitude of practical indifference is the greatest asset of any group fomenting a revolution. Revolutionaries do not need active support, simply minimal resistance, and when they can impose their revolution from above, as has happened since the Council, then a successful revolution is virtually guaranteed.


This third group, the conservatives, is of people who dislike what is happening and are prepared to make at least some effort in the defense of orthodoxy. But this group has been confused and divided. Its greatest problem is an exaggerated concept of the obedience to lawful authority with which every true Catholic should be imbued. Many such Catholics are unable to appreciate that when a person in authority is using his power in a harmful manner, then his subjects have a right to resist him. This is a position firmly entrenched in Catholic theology, particularly the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, who makes a particular point of stressing our right to resist prelates. The people who belong to this authority-conscious group will object to defective catechetical texts and liturgical abuses, but will draw back at an outright conflict with their bishops. In particular, they will not resist anything receiving Vatican approval. Thus, although they might deplore Communion in the hand they will not oppose it once permission has been obtained from Rome, despite the fact that it is a flagrant violation of the wishes of the Holy Father.


At the other extreme are Catholics who, to all intents and purposes, have gone into schism. They are fighting the abuses, but from outside the Church, and so their efforts are futile. Such people often conclude that we no longer have a pope. Their theological ignorance leads them to believe that if a pope does not use his authority effectively he ceases to be pope. They are called "sedevacantists," from the Latin sedes vacante, referring to the vacancy of the Holy See between the death of one pope and the election of his successor. These people also tend to believe that the New Mass is not valid, that is to say, that when the priest says the words of consecration nothing happens. Such a view is theologically untenable, although one must admit that the manner in which Mass is often celebrated today makes it hard to believe that it is the renewal of the sacrifice of Calvary. The Palmar de Troya sect provides an example of this last faction. They even have their own pope.


There is a third option, a via media between those whose efforts in defense of orthodoxy are rendered ineffective by their subservience to authority, sincerely motivated though this may be, and those whose defense of orthodoxy is rendered ineffective since they have gone into schism. This via media, the traditionalist option, is the one espoused by Archbishop Lefebvre. It is similar to the stand adopted by St. Athanasius. While remaining firmly within the Church, while recognizing the Pope and supporting all his efforts in defense of orthodoxy, while recognizing the validity of the New Mass and the new sacramental rites, the Archbishop refuses to abandon the traditions which he upheld throughout his fifty years as a priest and a bishop, including, incidentally, the post of Apostolic Delegate to the entire French-speaking Africa. This option also has its dangers; the devil is present everywhere today, and once again it is a danger which can come from pride. I would call it the pharisee syndrome, the "thank God we are not as other men" syndrome---and it can lead to schism, and has done so in some cases. Those who opt for the traditionalist solution have a particular need of prayer, patience and great charity to those who do not share their opinions, and a sense of humor. Many traditional Catholics possess these qualities but, alas, some do not. The Archbishop explains his position in the following tenns and, implemented in the right spirit, I believe it provides an effective means of upholding the traditional faith in communion with the Pope amidst the self-destruction and decomposition of the post-conciliar Church. It is a position which has also been adopted by many priests and laymen not connected with the Society of St. Pius X, but who are making the same stand for Tradition as Archbishop Lefebvre himself.

We are not rebels, we are not schismatics, we are not heretics. We resist. We resist this wave of Modernism which has invaded the Church, this wave of laicism, of progressivism which has invaded the Church in a wholly unwarranted and unjust manner, and which has tried to erase in the Church all that was sacred in it, all that was supernatural and Divine, in order to reduce it to the dimension of man. So we resist, and we will resist, not in a spirit of rebellion, but in the spirit of fidelity to Our Lord Jesus Christ, the spirit of fidelity to all who have taught us our holy religion, the spirit of fidelity to all the Popes who have maintained Tradition. That is why we have decided simply to keep going, to persevere in Tradition, to persevere in that which has sanctified the Saints who are in Heaven. Doing so, we are persuaded that we are rendering a great service to the Church, to all the faithful who wish to keep the Faith, all the faithful who wish to receive truly the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ.


IN JANUARY 1985, Pope John Paul II surprised the world with the announcement that he would be calling an extraordinary assembly of the world's bishops in the following November to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, and to evaluate the effect of its teaching and reforms upon the life of the Church.

Reactions to the announcement varied. There was considerable apprehension among liberal Catholics that the Pope might be planning to turn back the clock, at least in some respects. This impression was strengthened by the fact that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had stated publicly a few weeks before the Pope's announcement that the changes which had followed the Council had been disastrous for the Church. Pope Paul VI himself had admitted before his death that since the Council, in which he had placed such high hopes, the Church seemed to be engaged in a process of self-destruction. It was, then, hardly surprising that members of the huge bureaucracy spawned by the Council and which has a vested interest in maintaining the post-conciliar status quo, should be anxious.

What transpires at the Extraordinary Synod---whether it proves to be an enthusiastic endorsement of the post-conciliar changes or the beginning of a return to Tradition---there can be no doubt concerning the state of the Church since, Vatican II. In every aspect of Catholic life subject to statistical verification there has been a drastic and unprecedented decline. The Church is indeed engaged in a process of self-destruction, as is made clear beyond any doubt in this pamphlet. We hope that all who read it will write to the Holy Father and ask him to use the Synod as a first step in calling a halt to this self-destruction, and to initiating a true renewal which must involve a return to Catholic Tradition.