Are we living in a Church that has affected the faith of good people?
First, Vatican II promulgated events that appeared to create discontent among some of the clergy who thought that priests would be allowed to marry. When this did not occur many of them were ready to leave, and some did. Latin Mass enthusiasts became upset when the Mass used the vernacular in lieu of Latin only, and the altar was turned towards the congregation insisting on more response from the people. Even the restoration of the Permanent Diaconate which failed in Vatican I was grossly misunderstood in the early years following Vatican II. I remember that we were called Lay deacons. Some priests struggled with this part of Holy Orders for married men. The laity for the most part became elated since they were now recognized as an important segment of the active Church. But there were those who revolted at change. Their Church stood without interference for over a hundred years. Now look what they’ve done.
However, we are in a Church that must move ahead. Pope St. John XXIII had it right when he opened the windows of the Church and let the fresh air in, removing the cobwebs and old ideas letting the Holy Spirit be felt and alive in a dying institution. All of us are an integral part of God’s Plan to share His life and love with us. Change, if it is done in a way that brings us closer to God, is essential. I remember a priest friend of mine who was pastor for three local worship sites being combined into one parish responded to a woman at a general meeting when she said she hated change. He asked her how she got to the meeting; on a horse?
Change will always have an effect on everyone. Some will embrace it, while others will reject it. Right now in our local Diocese of Pittsburgh many parishes have been merged into groupings with priests and deacons being shuffled around. A new experience for them but part of the reorganization of man power where needed to establish a more cohesive use of the clergy.
A second issue that no doubt has had a devastating effect on the clergy and laity was the scandal from sexual abuse by priests and deacons. Many bishops have been accused of covering up known pedophiles. I had ministered with some of those accused and it left me with an empty feeling when they were revealed. Countless lay people left the church, withheld monies, and were protesting with disbelief and vowed to quit the Catholic Church. I pray daily that those who left will return, but their hurt is so deep that I fear a large number may never return. Some have and I thank God for their willingness to forgive those responsible.
The third incident that has had a very negative effect is the Corona Virus. Church doors became locked for fear of people contracting this ugly and devastating virus because of close contact with others. Little by little some solutions are being tried to get the Sacraments to the people. But, too many are unable to get to limited Mass schedules and since the obligation has been temporarily removed, there will be those who may not return. It is unfortunate that far too many attended Mass regularly because it was obligatory. Now, with the requirement to attend Mass has been lifted, those who attended to meet an obligation may never return. This is sad. Yet, we must pray for them and welcome the rest back with open arms.
Vatican II is alive and a very positive structure of the Church. Will more changes that may be necessary occur in the future? I am certain they will present themselves as need be. However, we must make sure that the changes do not become changes for the sake of change. St. John XXIII didn’t call for a council just for change. He allowed the Holy Spirit to be his guide. We must also use God’s Presence in the same way.
Scandals in the Church are not new. Hopefully the Magisterium of the Church will always confront the bad apples and correct them as needed.
A new way of living with this Covid-19 may be with us for who knows how long. Adaption to meeting new precautions for all social events, church as well as secular, will become a different type of life for all of us. We must not lose our faith in the challenges that confront us. That may be the only affirmation that God has not forgotten us. Without faith we are destined to succumb from change, scandal, and unknown diseases.
Ralph B. Hathaway, Summer 2020