History of the Catholic Church since 1962

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Post Vatican II history of the Catholic Church includes the recent history of the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).



In the aftermath of World War II, religious existence came under fire from communist governments in Eastern Europe and China. [1] Although some priests have since been exposed as collaborators, [2] [3] 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. [1] [4]

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 worldwide 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. [5] [6] 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 Romania 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 the 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 . His communications include almost 1,090 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 modernization 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. [7]

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 institutes. 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.) [8] 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. [9] 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). [10] Intended as a continuation of Vatican I, under Pope John XXIII the council developed into an engine of modernisation. [10] 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. [10] 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. [11] Efforts by the Church to improve Christian unity became a priority. [12] 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. [13]

Post-Vatican II history

Liturgy reforms

Changes to old rites, ceremonies and church architecture following Vatican II stunned many Catholics, who spoke of it as Wreckovation. Some stopped going to church, while others tried to preserve the old liturgy with the help of sympathetic priests. [14] 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. [15] 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." [14] In 2007, with his apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum , Benedict XVI reinstated the Tridentine mass as an option, to be celebrated upon request by the faithful. [16]

The scholar Romano Amerio, author of Iota Unum, [17] is widely regarded today as having written one of the most detailed accounts of changes and issues in the post-Conciliar Church. [18]

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. [19] 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". [20] 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. [21] Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have denounced the movement as dangerous and "a fundamental threat to the faith of the church" [22] because, as Edward Norman explains, the Church considers it an attempt to establish a Christian society "through the coercive machinery of political management". [23] The Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff was twice ordered to cease publishing and teaching. [24] 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. [19] The movement is still alive in Latin America today, though the Church now faces the challenge of Pentecostal revival in much of the region. [25]

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. [26] [27] 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. [28]

Role of women

Efforts in support of the Catholic ordination of women led to a ruling against it in 1976 by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ( Declaration on the Question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood ). Pope John Paul II later issued two documents to explain Church teaching. Mulieris Dignitatem was issued in 1988 to clarify women's equally important and complementary role in the work of the Church. [29] [30] 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. [31] [32] [33] The group Roman Catholic Womenpriests began performing ordination ceremonies for women in 2002, the validity of which is nonexistent, as the Church has issued orders of excommunication for any and all participants, invalidating any Sacraments issued by them.

Capital punishment

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. [34] However this statement of the Pope also in the Catechism is a prudential judgement thus Catholics may have a legitimate diversity of opinion on this. [35]

On 2 August 2018, it was announced that the Catechism of the Catholic Church would be revised to state that the Church teaches that "the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person". [36] [37] A full letter to the bishops regarding the change stated that it was consistent with the previous teachings of the Catholic Church regarding the dignity of human life, and that it reflected how modern society had better prison systems with a goal of criminal rehabilitation that made the death penalty unnecessary for the protection of innocent people. [38] Within two weeks, 45 Catholic scholars and clergy signed an appeal to the cardinals of the Catholic Church, calling on them to advise Pope Francis to retract the recent revision made to the Catechism, [39] on the grounds that its appearance of contradicting scripture and traditional teaching is causing scandal.

US sex abuse cases

Mainly in the United States, several major lawsuits emerged in 2001 claiming that priests had sexually abused minors. [40] Some priests resigned, others were defrocked and jailed [41] and financial settlements were agreed with many victims. [40] 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. [42] [43] 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. [40] [43] [44] [45] Some bishops and psychiatrists contended that the prevailing psychology of the times suggested that people could be cured of such behavior through counseling. [44] [46] 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". [47] The US Church instituted reforms to prevent future abuse by requiring background checks for Church employees; [48] and, because the vast majority of victims were teenage boys, the worldwide Church also prohibited the ordination of men with "deep–seated homosexual tendencies". [46] [49] It now requires dioceses faced with an allegation to alert the authorities, conduct an investigation and remove the accused from duty. [48] [50] 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. [42] 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. [51]

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.[ citation needed ]

Benedict decentralized beatifications,[ citation needed ] and in 2007 reverted the decision of his predecessor regarding the conduct of papal elections by the changing the §75 of Universi Dominici gregis . [52] In 2007 he set a Church record by approving the beatification of 498 Spanish Martyrs.[ citation needed ] His first encyclical Deus caritas est discussed the nature of love and how it informs one's participation in a just society. [53] In an address at the University of Regensburg, Germany, [54] 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. [55] During this Regensburg address Benedict quoted a Byzantine emperor who said Muhammad had brought the world only things "evil and inhuman". [56] After the Pope explained his quote, [57] 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. [58] Pope Benedict has spoken out against human rights abuses in China, Darfur, and Iraq and encouraged protection of the environment and the poor. [56] He spoke strongly against drug dealers in Latin America [59] and Catholic politicians supporting abortion laws. [60]

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". [61] Some Protestant 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. [62] 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." [63]

Pope Francis

See also


  1. 1 2 "Pope Stared Down Communism in Homeland – and Won". CBC News. April 2005. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  2. Smith, Craig S. (2007-01-06). "Ties to Communist Secret Police Snare Polish Bishop". The New York Times . Retrieved 2008-05-24.
  3. "Slovak Church Plans to Review Its Past 50 Years". The New York Times . Agence France-Presse. 2007-02-14. Retrieved 2008-05-24.
  4. Smith, Craig (2007-01-10). "In Poland, New Wave of Charges Against Clerics". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-23.
  5. Audience for the directors of mission activities in 1944 A.A.S., 1944, p. 208.
  6. Evangelii praecones . p. 56.
  7. Cath. Encyclopedia 1967, p. 563
  8. Sullivan 2002, p.21
  9. "Vatican Council II", New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. XIV, p. 563
  10. 1 2 3 Duffy, Saints and Sinners (1997), p. 270–6
  11. Paul VI, Pope (1963-12-04). "Sacrosanctum Concilium". Vatican. Archived from the original on 2008-02-21. Retrieved 2008-02-09.
  12. Duffy, Saints and Sinners (1987), p. 274
  13. "Roman Catholic-Eastern Orthodox Dialogue". Public Broadcasting Service. 2000-07-14. Retrieved 2008-02-16.
  14. 1 2 Bokenkotter, A Concise History of the Catholic Church (2004), p. 410
  15. Bauckham, Richard, in New Dictionary of Theology, Ed. Ferguson, (1988), p. 373
  16. Apostolic Letter "Motu Proprio data" Summorum Pontificum on the use of the Roman Liturgy prior to the reform of 1970 (July 7, 2007)
  17. Amerio, Romano (1896). Iota unum : a study of changes in the Catholic Church in the XXth century. Kansas City MO: Sarto House. ISBN   978-0-9639032-1-1.
  18. "The End of a Taboo: Even Romano Amerio Is "A True Christian"". chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it. Retrieved 2021-03-04.
  19. 1 2 "Liberation Theology". BBC. 2005. Retrieved 2008-06-02.
  20. Aguilar, Mario (2007). The History and Politics of Latin American Theology, Volume 1. London: SCM Press. p. 31. ISBN   978-0-334-04023-1.
  21. For more on Romero, by a former colleague, see Sobrino, Jon (1990). Archbishop Romero: Memories and Reflections . Maryknoll, NY: Orbis. ISBN   978-0-88344-667-6.
  22. Rohter, Larry (2007-05-07). "As Pope Heads to Brazil, a Rival Theology Persists". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-21. Benedict's main involvement in dealing with liberation theology was while he was still Cardinal Ratzinger.
  23. Norman, The Roman Catholic Church an Illustrated History (2007), pp. 176–7
  24. Aguilar, Mario (2007). The History and Politics of Latin American Theology, Volume 1. London: SCM Press. p. 121. ISBN   978-0-334-04023-1.
  25. For liberation theology's persistence, see Rohter, Larry (2007-05-07). "As Pope Heads to Brazil, a Rival Theology Persists". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-02. For the threat from Pentecostalism, see Stoll, David (1690). Is Latin America turning Protestant?: The Politics of Evangelical Growth. Berkeley: University of New York Press. ISBN   978-0-520-06499-7.
  26. Paul VI, Pope (1968). "Humanae Vitae". Vatican. Archived from the original on 2011-03-19. Retrieved 2008-02-02.
  27. Norman, The Roman Catholic Church an Illustrated History (2007), p. 184
  28. Dugger, Carol (2006-05-18). "Why is Kenya's AIDS rate plummeting?". International Herald Tribune. Retrieved 2008-02-21.
  29. John Paul II, Pope (1988). "Mulieris Dignitatem". Vatican. Archived from the original on 2007-01-07. Retrieved 2008-02-21.
  30. Bokenkotter, A Concise History of the Catholic Church (2004), p. 467
  31. 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."
  32. John Paul II, Pope (1994-05-22). "Apostolic Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men Alone". Vatican. Archived from the original on 2012-01-18. Retrieved 2008-02-02.
  33. Cowell, Alan (1994-05-31). "Pope Rules Out Debate On Making Women Priests". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-12.
  34. "The Death Penalty Pro and Con: The Pope's Statement". PBS. Retrieved 2008-06-12.
  35. Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 June 2017. <http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/cdfworthycom.htm>.
  36. "New revision of number 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty – Rescriptum "ex Audentia SS.mi"". Summary of Bulletin. Holy See Press Office. 2 August 2018. Retrieved 3 August 2018.
  37. Winfield, Nicole (2 August 2018). "Pope Francis changes Catholic teaching on death penalty, now 'inadmissible' in all circumstances". Chicago Tribune . Retrieved 2 August 2018.
  38. "Letter to the Bishops regarding the new revision of number 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty, from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith". Summary of Bulletin. Holy See Press Office. 2 August 2018. Retrieved 3 August 2018.
  39. Various (Aug 15, 2018). "An Appeal to the Cardinals of the Catholic Church". First Things.
  40. 1 2 3 Bruni, A bible of Shame (2002), p. 336
  41. Newman, Andy (2006-08-31). "A Choice for New York Priests in Abuse Cases". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-13.
  42. 1 2 Owen, Richard (2008-01-07). "Pope calls for continuous prayer to rid priesthood of paedophilia". Times Online UK edition. Times Newspapers Ltd. Retrieved 2008-03-31.
  43. 1 2 Terry, Karen; et al. (2004). "John Jay Report". John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Retrieved 2008-02-09.
  44. 1 2 Steinfels, A People Adrift (2003). pp. 40–6
  45. Frawley-ODea, Perversion of Power: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church (2007), p. 4
  46. 1 2 Filteau, Jerry (2004). "Report says clergy sexual abuse brought 'smoke of Satan' into church". Catholic News Service. Archived from the original on 2004-06-26. Retrieved 2008-03-10.
  47. Walsh, John Paul II: A Light for the World (2003), p. 62
  48. 1 2 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (2005). "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People". United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Retrieved 2007-10-08.
  49. Pope Benedict XVI (2005). "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". Vatican. Archived from the original on 2008-02-25. Retrieved 2008-03-09.
  50. "Scandals in the church: The Bishops' Decisions; The Bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People". The New York Times. 2002-06-15. Retrieved 2008-02-12.
  51. Shakeshaft, Charol (2004). "Educator Sexual Misconduct" (PDF). US Department of Education. Retrieved 2008-04-12.
  52. Moto Proprio, De Aliquibus Mutationibus, June 11, 2007
  53. Deus caritas est
  54. 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: "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-06-22. Retrieved 2012-07-23.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  55. Benedict XVI, Meeting with the representatives of science in the Aula Magna of the University of Regensburg (September 12, 2006)
  56. 1 2 "Profile: Pope Benedict XVI". BBC. 2008-04-16. Retrieved 2008-06-24.[ permanent dead link ]
  57. "Text of Pope's statement". BBC. 2006-09-17. Retrieved 2008-06-24.
  58. Kleiber, Reinhard (2008). "Iran and the Pope Easing Relations". Quantara. Archived from the original on December 31, 2010. Retrieved 2008-06-24.
  59. "Pope Benedict XVI: God Will Punish Drug Dealers". Fox News. 2007-05-12. Retrieved 2008-06-24.
  60. Pullella, Philip (2007-05-09). "Pope warns Catholic politicians who back abortion". Reuters. Archived from the original on May 12, 2007. Retrieved 2008-06-24.
  61. "Responses to questions regarding aspects of the doctrine of the Church". Vatican. 2007-07-10. Archived from the original on 2008-04-04. Retrieved 2008-06-28.
  62. Di Cadore, Lorenago (2007-07-10). "Pope: Other denominations not true churches". NBC News. Retrieved 2008-06-24.
  63. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops ... Responses to Certain Questions Concerning Artificial Nutrition and Hydration, Congregation for the Doctrine ... www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/euthanas/index.shtml

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