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The Catholic Revolution New Wine, Old Wineskins, and the Second Vatican Council

Read Chapter 4
What Happened?

What happened between the end of the Council and the 1974 study?1 Some blamed the temper of the country in the late 1960s. A youth culture had spawned drug abuse, rock and roll music, sexual promiscuity, and disrespect for authority. This culture had infiltrated the Church and was responsible for the catastrophic change in Catholic belief and practice. Such a view, however, cannot stand up to analysis that shows that the change in sexual attitudes occurred in every age cohort, not just the young. Even those in their sixties changed their minds about birth control, divorce, and premarital sex.

The Council was an obvious target for those who thought there might be some truth in the numbers in table 4. Before the Council, a vigorous Church dominated an obedient and faithful people who kept the rules. After the Council? Confusion, chaos, and rebellion. Answer? The Council was to blame! Pope John was a senile fool! The theologians who ran it were radicals, possibly communist agents! Undo the Council! Go back to the Church of rules and mortal sin!

Such advice is like telling the cowboy whose prize stallion has escaped to lock the gate of his corral. More moderate Catholics might also say that such a policy suggested that the Holy Spirit must have abandoned the Church in the 1960s, for the bishops of the world, in ecumenical council and approved by the pope, to be so profoundly mistaken.2 A revised version of the same argument, still popular in some quarters (not excluding the Vatican), is that Pope John was a saintly man who didn't know quite what he was doing and Pope Paul a victim of vacillation who could not make decisions. The theological advisers did not understand sound Catholic doctrine as well as they might have. It is therefore necessary to restore the Catholic tradition as best one can, by emphasizing the continuity of the Council with the past; to modify some of the changes that have occurred since then; and to gradually restore the old discipline. No one who embraced this model, as far as I am aware, explained the dynamics by which the Council caused the decline in religious practice. The argument was generally post-hoc, ergo propter-hoc: the changes occurred after the Council, therefore the Council caused them.

The argument was popular with the revisionists and restorationists whose work prior to the Council had influenced it and whose presence as advisers helped shape it, men such as Jean Daniélou, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Joseph Ratzinger, and the philosopher Jacques Maritain. They turned their backs on their own work, usually without the grace to admit that they were responsible for it.

In the report on the 1974 Catholic school study (Greeley, McCready, and McCourt 1976), I proposed a model that linked the changes to the birth control encyclical. After the Council and until 1968, Church attendance had increased. If one took into account changing attitudes on sex and authority, one could account for all the other declines—attendance at Mass, confession, contributions, support for vocations. I still think that model is useful, but that the dynamics of the change must be explicated more carefully.

There are two major tendencies in interpretation of the Second Vatican Council. The first, which dominated the Vatican at the end of the second millennium, is that the Council was an occurrence, a meeting of the bishops of the world, who enacted certain reforms and clarified certain doctrines. It was therefore an exercise in continuity and not in change; the response and clarification were necessary but they did not drastically change the nature of the Church. To find out what this occurrence, the "Council rightly understood" of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, meant, one must go to the conciliar documents. The second interpretation holds that the Council was a momentous event, indeed one of the most dramatic and important events in the history of Catholicism, a structure-shattering event one could almost call a revolution.

I began to ponder this debate after a conversation with a senior American prelate. He had remarked that the American bishops had made serious mistakes in their implementation of the Council, but that they could not be blamed because they had never had to implement a council before. I agreed, though I thought to myself I probably meant something different than he did. I thought he might have meant that they should have proceeded more slowly and cautiously, while I meant that they should not have tried to make so many changes in the Church while asserting all along that nothing was changing.

Then I discovered in the work of my friend and colleague Professor William Sewell, Jr., a model of social historical analysis (see Sewell 1992). It made me rethink the Council and what it did and didn't do. The Council was, in fact, both an occurrence and an event. It is folly to pretend that the event did not occur or that it can be undone. To understand Catholicism today, one must recognize what has happened and work from there. I must note here that I wrote some time ago that with or without the Council, the same changes would have occurred. Looking back on that statement, I must admit that it was not the most intelligent sentence I ever put on paper. No one knows what would have happened. But the fact is that there was a Council (presumably in Catholic doctrine inspired by the Holy Spirit), and the Church did go through enormous change. One must therefore strive to describe what happened.

Sewell, who has a joint appointment at the University of Chicago in history and political science, is concerned with structures and events, patterns of behavior and historical shifts that drastically reshape those patterns. He does not believe in "social laws," inexorable historical processes that direct the progress of human events. He writes, "Sociology's epic quest for social laws is illusory, whether the search is for timeless truths about all societies, ineluctable trends of more limited historical epochs, or inductively derived laws of certain classes of social phenomena. Social processes are inherently contingent, discontinuous, and open-ended" (Sewell 1996).

Sewell thus rejects the historical models of Weber, Durkheim, Marx, Comte, and all the others who find inexorable trends in human events, including implicitly those who babble today about postmodernism. His description of what actually happens in the "buzzing, blooming pluralism" of the human condition may seem like common sense, but it goes against what many sociologists and most pop sociologists believe. For the purposes of this essay, it also goes against the vague intellectualism of many Catholic commentators who think they can discern the secrets of history and summarize them in a couple of clear and simple paragraphs.

"Adequate eventful accounts of social process will look more like well-made stories or narratives than like laws of physics," argues Sewell. He uses what Robert Merton calls "middle-range" theories to account for contingent phenomena to determine why contingent events (about which there was no inevitability) have such important and sometimes momentous impact on the structures of human existence.

Sewell is also concerned with the "structures" of human behavior, that is, the routine patterns of human action. A structure, according to Sewell, is "the tendency of patterns of relationships to be reproduced even when actors engaging in the relations are unaware of the patterns or do not desire their reproduction." In contrast, an "event" is a series of historical occurrences that results in the durable transformation of structures. There are two dimensions of a structure, the schema—pattern itself—and resources—the motivations and constraints that reinforce the schema and are in turn reinforced by it. Think of Catholics and the obligation of Sunday Mass: it was routine behavior, not explicitly reflected upon, carried out routinely because it was part of being Catholic and it would be a mortal sin to omit it. Sewell, who is not Catholic, gives another illustration: "The priest's power to consecrate the host derives from schemas operating at two rather different levels. First, a priest's training has given him mastery of a wide range of explicit and implicit techniques of knowledge and self-control that enable him to perform satisfactorily as a priest. And second, he has been raised to the dignity of the priesthood by an ordination ceremony that, through the laying on of hands by a bishop, has mobilized the power of apostolic succession and thereby made him capable of an apparently miraculous feat—transforming bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ."

Established and reinforced behavior patterns tend to be stable and durable. However, they can also change, because of external forces or internal inconsistencies within structures themselves. A wartime defeat and devastation can savage the structures of a people (though in fact, in many western European countries after 1945, it seemed that the patterned and reinforced relationships were all that remained). The "fit" between resources and schemas is not so tight that inconsistencies, uncertainties, doubts, and conflicts cannot arise, more so under some sets of circumstances than others. Ruptures may then occur in behavior patterns and motivations—a basketball team swarms off a court to protest a defeat after a referee's decision that seems unfair. Such rupture events become historical events when they "touch off a chain of occurrences that durably transforms previous structures and practices."

To paraphrase and rearrange Sewell's argument, even the accumulation of incremental changes often results in a buildup of pressure and a dramatic crisis of existing practices, rather than a gradual transition from one state of affairs to another. Lumpiness, rather than smoothness, is the normal texture of historical temporality. And while the events are sometimes the culmination of processes long under way, they typically do more than simply carry out a rearrangement of practices made necessary by gradual and cumulative social change. Historical events tend to transform social relations in ways that could not be fully predicted from the gradual changes that may have made them possible. What makes historical events so important is that they reshape history by imparting an unforeseen direction to social development.

Events, then, should be conceived of as sequences of occurrences that result in the transformation(s) of structures. Such sequences begin with a rupture of some kind—that is, a surprising break with routine practice. But whatever the nature of the initial rupture, an occurrence only becomes a historical event when it touches off a chain of occurrences that durably transforms previous structures and practices.

Sewell's example of such a structure-shattering event is the storming of the Bastille in Paris in July 1789. Paris was on the edge that summer. The crown had run out of money. The Estates General had convened and constituted itself as a National Assembly, and King Louis dismissed the liberal minister Necker, surrounded Paris with troops, and seemed ready to suppress the National Assembly. Underlying the growing tensions between the king and his supporters and the Enlightenment-influenced National Assembly was a sharp division over the nature of sovereignty. Prospects for the harvest seemed poor. Pamphlets and newspapers were flooding Paris with incendiary articles. Mobs ransacked the city.

On the morning of July 14, representatives of the National Assembly government and a mob went to the Hôtel des Invalides to demand the arms that were stored there so that they could create a militia to defend the city against a possible attack by royal troops. They seized more than thirty thousand muskets and then moved to the Bastille to find gunpowder. After a bitter fight in which more than a hundred of the attackers were killed, they captured the fort, released its seven prisoners (forgers and madmen), and killed two government officials and paraded their heads around Paris on pikes.

There had been urban riots in Paris before and the battle for the Bastille was not a militarily important one, but within three days the king recalled Necker, removed the troops around Paris, and came to Paris to submit, in effect, to the wishes of the National Assembly.

At first the Assembly condemned the violence at the Bastille and indeed all political violence. But within two weeks, Sewell writes, its members had changed their minds:

In the excitement, terror, and elation that characterized the taking of the Bastille, orators, journalists and the crowd itself seized on the political theory of popular sovereignty to justify the popular violence. This act of epoch-making cultural creativity occurred in a moment of ecstatic discovery: the taking of the Bastille, which had begun as an act of defense against the king's aggression, revealed itself in the days that followed as a concrete, unmediated, and sublime instance of the people expressing its sovereign will. What happened at the Bastille became the establishing act of revolution in the modern sense. By their action at the Bastille, the people were understood to have risen up, destroyed tyranny, and established liberty.

Within a month other structure-shattering events followed: the abolition of feudal exactions, provincial and municipal privileges, exclusive hunting rights, and the confiscation and eventual sale of the vast properties of the church. The storming of the Bastille, now a culturally defined event, led to the utter transformation of the structures of French society in an outburst of exuberant creativity. The Old Regime would linger on at least till 1830 in one fashion or another. But the New Regime had in fact replaced it.

Would the political and social development of the (then) largest and most powerful country in Europe have been different if that event had not occurred? Did there have to be a revolution and then the bloody wars that lasted until 1815 and struggles in the twentieth century up to 1945? Was the development on balance good or bad? Might a more peaceful evolutionary transformation of power have been less traumatic for France? There are many different answers to these questions, and indeed the politics of France for two centuries have been, in part, a battle between those who accept the Revolution and those who in some sense do not. But the important point in Sewell's analysis is that the storming of the Bastille, once interpreted as a revolutionary, momentous event, shattered and eventually replaced the social, political, and religious structures of France.

I now propose to apply Sewell's model to Vatican II, and to argue that while the Council's various documents, taken singly or together, were not, in and of themselves, the cause of the shattering of structures in the Catholic Church, the Council, as (irrevocably) interpreted, was, in addition to and beyond its decisions, a historical event of enormous importance for the Church.

I will consider three structures of twentieth-century Catholicism that shaped the Catholic institution: the centralization of power in the Vatican; the post-Tridentine understanding of sin; and the conviction that the Church is the immutable. Prior to Vatican II, it was assumed that decision making flowed downward, and that those who disagreed with the pope or any higher Church leaders were no longer Catholic. It was further assumed that the primary goal of a good Catholic was the salvation of his or her soul, a goal that could be attained by avoiding sins and keeping all the rules (which were de facto the same thing), or, once sins were committed, by confessing them in species and number. It was finally assumed that the Church could not change, had not changed, and would never change. These "schemas," reinforced by such "resources" as theories of the divine origin of the Church and papal infallibility, set the parameters of Catholicism inside the worldviews of the Counter-Reformation, the centralization of papal power at the First Vatican Council, and the condemnation of Modernism at the beginning of the twentieth century.

It might have been true that pluralistic decisions about power had been characteristic of the Church for many centuries (for example, in the internal governance of some religious orders). It might have been true that in its long history the Catholic Church had often changed (most recently on such issues as slavery and coeducation). It might have been true that one ceases to be a Catholic not when one disagrees with the pope but only when one joins another church or formally and explicitly renounces the faith. Finally, it might have been true that the central truth of Christianity was God's forgiving love, which Christians were to imitate. Nonetheless, in the minds of most of the laity and the clergy and those who were not Catholic, Catholicism before Vatican II was in fact a centralized, immutable, and sin- and rule-driven heritage. Most of the bishops who attended the Council came to Rome fully accepting those assumptions.

On the surface, the Catholic Church in 1962 was not nearly as edgy as the populace of Paris in 1789. Yet Pope Pius XII, the predecessor of Pope John XXIII, who would convene the Council, had instigated changes during his long administration that might, in retrospect, seem seditious. He approved changes in the liturgy of Holy Week, the modern critical study of the Bible, and, in effect, birth control, by accepting the rhythm method. A new emphasis on the Mystical Body of Christ, the teaching that the laity, as well as the pope and the bishops, was in some fashion the Church, suggested to small groups of laity that perhaps the Church ought to listen to them. Scholars, digging into the liturgical, theological, and organizational history of the Church, found a much more variegated Catholicism than the existing official structure of immutable centralization indicated. Bishops, however conservative, did not like the heavy-handed behavior of the curial dicasteries. An increasingly well-educated Catholic laity was uneasy with the rigidity of the Church. Married people found the birth control teaching difficult, a teaching that became a matter of heavy emphasis only after 1930 (Noonan 1965). Parish priests were increasingly uneasy with the apparent insensitivity of the Church to the problems of the laity, and the "Catholic Action" movements were producing cadres of well-informed, dedicated laypeople. Finally, the disaster of World War II and the surprising rebirth of Europe following the war created an atmosphere in which many Catholics felt that some modifications in the Church's various stances might be appropriate. None of these events, separately or in combination, seemed then to have constituted a prerevolutionary situation. In retrospect, they can be seen as the raw material for drastic change; in Sewell's terms, the resources for new structures.

Nonetheless, there were signs of slippage. As I have noted, by 1963, half of the Catholics in America did not think birth control was always wrong, and studies showed that most American Catholic women practiced some kind of contraception before the end of their fertility. Still, many, if not most, probably confessed to their use of birth control. Moreover, the Catholic hierarchy in the United States was already bringing pressure on Rome to obtain some sort of relief for divorced and remarried Catholics, this despite the official posture that the Catholic Church could not change its teachings on marriage. Only in retrospect, however, do these issues suggest that there was serious ferment in Catholicism in the United States, or anywhere else, when Pope John convened the Council.

The Council's preparatory commissions, dominated by the Roman Curia, had prepared draft documents for the first session of the Council that would have turned it into a rubber stamp for the then existing ecclesiastical structures. Most bishops, it would seem, were prepared to vote for them and go home, still able to tell their people what they (in the bishops' minds) wanted to hear: Nothing had changed.

The occurrence that played a role something like the storming of the Bastille was the sudden opposition of two leaders of the western European Church, Cardinals Joseph Frings of Cologne and Achille Lienart of Lille.3 At issue was the matter of voting for members of the various conciliar commissions, which would shape the documents on which the bishops would vote. The voting procedure had been slanted by the Curia. Elderly men with enormous personal prestige who had suffered through the war, Lienart and Frings demanded at the first meeting of the Council on October 13, 1962, that the Council fathers be given the opportunity to select the men who would serve on the various commissions. They requested that the voting be postponed for a single day, during which the names of men who were not on the list prepared by the Curia could be circulated. That night the pope agreed. It was clear then to at least some of the bishops that it would be their Council, not the Roman Curia's. The bishops, it turned out, had power in practice as well as in theory. The Vatican bureaucracy could be defied.4 There was indeed a pluralism of power in the Catholic Church. As Melissa Jo Wilde observes, "The importance of Lienart's motion cannot be overstated. In the end, the elected commissions were far more diverse both ideologically and nationally than they would have been had the preparatory commission simply been re-elected. Furthermore, not only did the postponement prevent the conservatives from gaining absolute control of the conciliar commissions and eventually the very unsatisfactory preparatory constitutions from being approved, but it seems to have started in a change in many of the less motivated bishops" (Wilde 2002).

On that October day, the Catholic revolution had begun. The initial battle over something so apparently minor as selecting drafting committees would change the Catholic Church forever.

That there could be pluralism of power in the Church was a very dangerous truth, as subsequent events would demonstrate. Very few Catholics, lay or clerical, realized at the time what had happened. As the Council went on, the bishops, by overwhelming votes, endorsed a broad range of changes. Joseph Komonchak has noted three overarching changes: The Council proposed a far more nuanced evaluation of the modern world; it introduced the necessity of updating and reform into the Church; and it called for greater responsibility in the local churches. The press reported, with increasing fascination and exuberance, the alteration of the unalterable.

I note five crucial changes that transformed the structures of the preconciliar Church. Here are the first three:

The liturgy. On Septuagesima Sunday, 1965, almost every altar in a Catholic church in the United States was turned around. For the first time in at least a thousand years, the priest said Mass facing the congregation, and he said it partially (soon totally) in English. If the Latin liturgy could be abandoned that easily after more than a millennium (and seven-eighths of American Catholics approved of the change), the Catholic Church could certainly change.

Ecumenism. The Council was now willing to admit that Protestant denominations were indeed churches and that Catholics should strive for mutual understanding with them in friendly dialogue. The heretics, schismatics, Jews, and infidels down the street were now suddenly separated brothers and sisters. Overnight, Catholicism was willing to change when it wanted to.

Meat on Friday. This change resulted from a decision of the American bishops after the Council was over. It may have been the most unnecessary and the most devastating. Fish on Friday had been a symbol that most visibly distinguished American Catholics from other Americans.

Bishops continued to insist that nothing had really changed. None of these reforms touched on the essence of Catholic doctrine. But such distinctions were lost on the laity (and on many of the clergy, too). The immutable had mutated; what would change next? When one considers the rather moderate nature of these changes, one is puzzled by the insistence that the Council caused all the subsequent trouble the Church would experience.

The centralization of authority was not yet in jeopardy, however. Change in itself did not mean that ordinary priests or laypersons could make their own decisions about the conditions under which they would be Catholic. Yet implicit in the newly discovered mutability of the Church (and in the bishops' revolt against the Curia) was the notion that if something ought to be changed and would be changed eventually, it was all right to anticipate the decision and change on one's own authority. The gradual drift in this direction in the late 1960s put the centralized authority structure of the Church in grave jeopardy.

Could the bishops have been more cautious in implementing the Council? Was the prelate I quoted above correct about the bishops' mistakes? They might have left Friday abstinence alone, but liturgical reform and ecumenism by themselves would have created a heady atmosphere in which the expectation (often eager) of more change would have swept the Church. Two subsequent developments, however, called the authority structure of the Church further into question.

Birth control. An attempt to preserve the authority structure of the Church in fact weakened and eventually came close to destroying it. There was strong sentiment among the bishops at the Council to address birth control, but Pope Paul VI, not trusting his fellow bishops with the issue, removed it from conciliar debate. Instead he appointed a special commission, which included married laypeople, to report to him on the subject. The existence of the commission became common knowledge. Laity and clergy alike assumed that if change were possible, it would occur, especially after learning that the commission had recommended change almost unanimously.

As I explained in the previous chapter, by the time the pope turned down the recommendations, the "lower orders" of the Church had already made up their minds. In terms of protecting the authority structure of the Church, it would have been better if the pope had never established the commission, or if, once it was established, he had followed its recommendation, or if he had left the matter alone. In the confusion, disappointment, and anger that followed Paul VI's Humanae vitae (1968), laity and clergy embraced the principle of following one's own conscience. It was this development, more than any other, that shattered the authority structure. It is often argued that priests and laypeople cannot make such decisions for themselves. Perhaps they should not, but in fact they did and do. It is further argued that they cannot be good Catholics if they make such decisions, but in fact they think they can.

This is what happens when a historical event shatters a behavior pattern and the resources that support it. The dialogue goes something like this:

"They had no right to do that!"

"But they did.

"Therefore we must force them to reverse what they did."

"That clearly is not possible. You have tried to force them for three decades now and it has not worked. You need another approach."

Unfortunately, the last sentence of the dialogue is not accepted.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, every age segment in Catholic America changed its convictions about the legitimacy of birth control, and, more ominously, about the right of the Church to lay down rules for sexual behavior. Authority was no longer centralized; it had become pluralistic. Similarly, acceptance of papal infallibility fell to 22 percent of Catholics in the United States. Catholic laity, with the support of the lower clergy, had decided that it was not wrong to be Catholic on one's own terms. Such was the fruit of the Second Vatican Council—not a series of documents, but a phenomenon that transformed the behavior patterns of Catholics with regard to their Church. Catholics who decided that contraception was not wrong justified that decision by appealing not to a pope who did not understand but to a God who did. The point is not whether such a justification was proper, but that it helped to erode the mortal sin structure of preconciliar Catholicism.

Priests and nuns. A fifth critical change in the structures of the preconciliar Church was the dispensation of priests to leave the priesthood and enter ecclesiastically valid marriages, often with former nuns. This development confirmed not only the possibility of change, but the willingness of Church authorities to back down in the face of pressure.

In effect, the lower orders asked the following questions: If the Church could permit men who had left the priesthood to marry, why could it not permit them to marry while still active in the priesthood? If it could change the playing field on liturgy, ecumenism, and Friday abstinence, why not on birth control and the role of women in the Church? If so many "mortal" sins were no longer sinful, was it necessary to worry so much about sin? There are complex theological replies to these questions, but they didn't seem credible to many Catholics, who concluded, unfairly perhaps, that the Church could change whatever it wanted, if only it wanted to.

Currently, a large majority of both priests and laypeople reject the Church's official teachings on the ordination of women, birth control, premarital sex, in utero and in vitro fertilization, oral sex, and the legality of abortion under some circumstances. There is also strong movement in the direction of tolerance for homosexuality. Moreover, media surveys indicate that the laity believe that they can disagree with the pope on these issues and remain good Catholics. Central authority has lost its credibility (it has lost it on social issues like immigration, too). Thus the vigorous efforts of John Paul II to impose his teaching about the ordination of women seem to have had little effect on the attitudes of either lower clergy or laity. The structures of assent, the patterns of motivation and behavior that would have worked smoothly thirty years ago in response to such papal rulings, are simply no longer available. Catholics believe that the Church can change and that they can disregard the pope when it comes to making decisions, especially about sex and gender. Many American Catholics diminish whatever dissonance they may feel by cheering the pope when he comes to this country but ignoring what he says.

On the other hand, defection from the Church has not increased appreciably in the United States. Moreover, Catholic acceptance of such central truths as the existence of God, the divinity of Jesus, the resurrection of the dead, and the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist (however explained) has not changed. The majority of American Catholics still attend the Eucharist at least once a month.

Father John W. O'Malley S.J. summarizes neatly the paradox of the Catholic revolution (though he doesn't call it that) in analyzing the response of Catholics to the 2002 sexual abuse crisis:

American Catholics love their church, but it is the church they experience every day in the priests they know and in the other Catholics in the pews with them—the church as "the people of God," not as a hierarchical institution. It is not by any means that they see these two as unrelated to each other, but they know, quite correctly, that the second is subordinate to the first and has no claim to existence except to further the first. The church is not its ruling class.

This is a distinction many Catholics could not have made before the council. Large numbers of Catholics at the time of the Reformation were in practice aware of the distinction and made it, dismayed though they were by the behavior of popes and bishops. The ecclesiology of the subsequent centuries, however, obscured this distinction badly, especially from the 19th century until the mid-20th. Critics may grieve that the teachings of Vatican II were never properly propagated, but this message about the church as a horizontal as well as a vertical reality seems to have come crashing through clear, loud and strong. Catholics may not be able to quote the council's "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church" (1964), but they got the point of that document: the church is defined in the first instance not through hierarchy and clergy, but through all its members, without regard to ecclesiastical status or office. (O'Malley 2002)

Is a restoration possible? At one time many bishops hoped that the new Catechism of the Catholic Church would instruct Catholics on what they had to believe and do, and lead to a restoration. Such a hope was patently naïve. The twenty years of the present papal administration have been devoted to the centralization of authority and resistance to further change. All the evidence suggests that these efforts have had little impact. The old structures no longer exist and new, inchoate ones are in place. Thirty-five years after the Second Vatican Council, thirty of those years devoted unsuccessfully to restoration, the elimination of the structures that emerged from that historic event seems most improbable.

What is the content of the new structures, the "resources" for the new schemas, to use Sewell's term? A research project on the Catholic identity of young Catholics (Hoge et al. 2001) indicates that those under thirty are less likely to emphasize authority and sin and likelier to emphasize the presence of Christ in the Sacraments, the Real Presence, concern for the poor, and devotion to Mary the mother of God—a thoroughly Catholic identity if very different from the preconciliar identity.

Can Catholicism live with these new structures? Should it? To the first question it must be said that the Church has often in the past lived with very similar structures, indeed for much of its history. To the second I must reply that that is beyond my skills as a sociologist to judge. However, the new structures are not likely to go away. Purely from the viewpoint of a sociologist, I would suggest that perhaps the time ahead might well be a period of reconsideration and readjustment to what has become the reality of the emerging structures of contemporary Catholicism.


1. Segments of this chapter first appeared in Commonweal. I am grateful to the editors for permitting me to reprint them here.

2. Apparently, in this theory, the Holy Spirit cannot be counted on to guide an ecumenical council, but he can be counted on to guide a pope—so long as the pope agrees with us.

3. Cardinal Frings's personal theologian at that time was Joseph Ratzinger, who could be called an important agent of the revolution. In subsequent years, especially as he rose to power in the Church, Ratzinger rejected much of what the Council had achieved—never once acknowledging that he had changed his mind nor explaining theologically how it was possible to repudiate the work of all the bishops of the world as approved by the pope. He changed his mind, without explaining how or why, on liturgical reform, the Synod of Bishops, the power of the national hierarchies, and divorced and remarried Catholics.

4. But only for a time. When the bishops went home, the Curia took over again. It will be a long time before they risk a repetition by permitting all the bishops of the world to gather in Rome. The stage management of the Synod of Bishops (which meets every three years in Rome)—which was supposed to provide for "collegiality" between the pope and his brother bishops—demonstrates that the Curia has learned its lesson.