Was Vatican II responsible for the Catholic Church’s decline in the West?

My fellow Ordinariate member from the United States Shane Shaetzel has a new post up at Catholic in the Ozarks about how Vatican II actually saved the Catholic Church.

He writes:

 In spite of its flaws (and there were some flaws of ambiguity which many have taken advantage of) the Second Vatican Council, combined with the witness of Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, are what breathed life back into the Catholic Church during that inevitable and unavoidable collapse in the latter half of the 20th century.

What many of my good traditional Catholic friends just don’t understand is that the collapse of Christian faith in the Western world was UNIVERSAL. It didn’t just affect the Catholic Church. Nearly every western Christian church was affected. Anglican churches were nearly obliterated. Methodist churches saw declines. Lutheran churches struggled to survive. As a result, many of these mainline Protestants fled their traditional denominations and formed new ones, particularly in the United States, where starting new churches is easy. This was the Evangelical boom that occurred in the 1970s through 90s. One has to understand. These Evangelical churches didn’t just pull in new members out of thin air. Rather, they simply captured long-established Christians who were fleeing their liberal mainline denominations, and liberal clergy in the Catholic Church. The Protestant collapse that happened in the last decades of the 20th century had nothing to do with Vatican II. I dare say, most of them could care less about Vatican II, and some of them never even heard of it.

Had Vatican II never happened at all, the implosion of Western Catholicism would have been worse not better. I say this because, prior to the Council, most Catholics generally ignored the Scriptures, and saw Catholicism as a list of rules and traditions, not a living and breathing Church organism.  Some people took advantage of ambiguities within Vatican II, to introduce those innovations and renovations they had been planning since the 1950s. It is interesting to note however, that those very same people opposed the proper implementation of Vatican II as taught by Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. When Vatican II was implemented properly, by these two great popes, what we saw was a PRESERVATION not a destruction.

I cannot stress this enough. As a former Protestant, I know. The errors of Modernism, that my traditional Catholic friends rightly oppose, are not native to the Catholic Church, and they certainly had nothing to do with Vatican II.


Modernism swept over Western Christianity like a tsunami, and it all started in the 1950s, right after World War II. As for Vatican II, it couldn’t have changed this. The council was both used and abused, by those in the Church who had their own agendas. However, when Vatican II was used properly, it became an instrument of preservation, that slowed the decline of Catholicism in comparison to what was happening in mainline Protestant denominations.

The popes have told us that Vatican II still has not been fully implemented. Traditional Catholics shutter [sic–should be shudder] when they hear these words, because all they can think of is the Modernist abuses of Vatican II that have occurred over the last 50 years. However, they must understand that when the popes said this, what they meant was that the Modernist abuses of Vatican II were never part of Vatican II, and what is needed is a Hermeneutic of Continuity in implementing the conciliar reforms. We’ve only seen a little of this over the last 50 years, but every time we saw it, the Church was preserved, souls were saved, and the decline of Catholicism was reversed.

I might quibble a bit on his historical analysis, as Modernism has been a problem for far longer than since the 1950s, but it had certainly reached tsunami proportions by then.

When the writings of the Second Vatican Council are read through the lens of Modernism and the latest sociological and psychological pet theories, yes, you are going to have disaster on your hands.  But read through the lens of the living Catholic Tradition going back to the Apostles—through the eyes of faith– the Council’s contribution to Church renewal has yet to be properly worked out.  Both progressives and traditionalists see the Council as a rupture because of the event of the council and its aftermath.  They say the documents are the virtual council—the real Council was the event.   But 100 years from now, the documents will be more important  than the aftermath because we can already see a correction taking place as more and more younger people get drawn to beauty in the liturgy and the 1970s hippie Masses become ever more out-of-date.

Reading Yves Congar’s Journal of the Council, it is so interesting to see him stressing a return to Scripture and Tradition in the face of what he considered a rigid ultramontanism that saw the Pope as a monarchical power and as Vicar of Christ tantamount to being the voice of Jesus Christ—the Pope as a more important source of revelation than Scripture and Tradition.

It’s therefore ironic to see progressives now falling into the ultramontanist camp since they think (erroneously) Pope Francis is going to singlehandedly change Church doctrine and discipline, regardless of what Scripture and Tradition say.

Now those arguing for Scripture and Tradition and for a more modest view of the papacy are traditionalists!

One thing for sure:  the Anglican Ordinariates would not have been possible were it not for the Second Vatican Council.

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