VATICAN II attempted to change the Roman Catholic Church from an insular and defensive purveyor of 19th century religious practices to one with an incarnational theology and a vigorous recognition that the laity are called to be holy and to participate actively in the Church. Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen tried to live this out in his Seattle archdiocese, making changes that empowered both men and women and trying to build a diocese that was indeed “the people of God.”
A record of this important work and its devastating fallout are at the heart of A Still and Quiet Conscience. Hunthausen’s early years growing up in a close and very Catholic family, attending an old-school seminary, serving at Carroll College and as bishop of Helena, Mont., and now living in prayerful retirement, are interesting bookends. However it is a fearsome Vatican investigation into Hunthausen and its ambiguous result that are the center of this well-researched and helpfully indexed book.
I was angered when I read of the duplicity, divisions, and cover-ups within the Catholic Church in the last years of the 20th century. The “irregularities” cited as the reason for the investigation into Hunthausen were practices also found in other (uninvestigated) U.S. dioceses, such as letting people discuss the ordination of women, allowing unleavened bread at Communion, and allowing the gay rights group Dignity to worship on church grounds.
When I reached high school and started dating, my relatives had a lot of questions: "This girl you’re going to the movies with: Is she Catholic? Slovak? What’s her family’s last name? What does her father do for a living?"
She had to be Catholic, of course. Preferably Slovak. If not, some other nearby nationality. Anything less would get disapproving comments. Those questions may sound odd now, but they mattered back then. The Catholic Church had only recently concluded Vatican II, which tried to bridge centuries of animosity between churches. Accepting Protestants as equals was something new. And many of the immigrants in my neighborhood were trying to preserve the culture and traditions that they brought from Europe. They were afraid of losing their heritage in the new land.
For them, traditional marriage meant choosing someone from the same faith, the same ethnic background. Simply put, they were afraid. Terrified, actually. They feared that if marriage changed, their world would fall apart.
That's why to so many people, my relationship wasn’t about finding someone who fit me — it was more about me finding someone who fit them.
DERBY, Conn. — The Rev. Janusz Kukulka can’t say for sure that his parishioners are sinning more, but they sure are lining up at the new confessional booth to tell him about it.
For years, Kukulka, was content with absolving sins in a private room marked by an exit sign to the right of the altar St. Mary the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church.
But something happened during Lent this year. For the first time, Kukulka really noticed the two confessionals missing from the rear of his church. They’d been gone for four decades, ripped out during the 1970s to make room for air conditioning units during a renovation inspired by the Second Vatican Council.
They must have been a thing of beauty, Kukulka thought. He imagined their dark oak paneled doors and arched moldings to match the Gothic architecture of the church designed by renowned 19th-century architect Patrick Keely.
Their absence was striking, especially when the Archdiocese of Hartford had asked parishes to extend their confession hours during Lent, part of a public relations campaign to get Catholics to return to the sacrament of reconciliation.
So, one Sunday Kukulka announced his desire to the congregation. “I told them I wanted a visible confessional,” he said.
He got one within a week.
Fifty years ago hundreds of elaborately robed leaders strode into St. Peter's Basilica in a massive display of solemn ecclesiastical pomp. It signaled the start of a historic three-year assembly that would change the way members of the world’s largest Christian denomination viewed themselves, their church and the rest of the world.
It was the first day of the Second Vatican Council, more popularly known as Vatican II, which was designed to assess the church’s role in a rapidly changing world. Leading the prelates was Pope John XXIII, who said frequently that he convened the council because he thought it was time to open the windows and let in some fresh air.
For many Catholics, the air came in at gale force.
As a result of Vatican II, priests started celebrating Mass in the language of the countries in which they lived, and they faced the congregation, not only to be heard and seen but also to signal to worshippers that they were being included because they were a vital component of the service.
“It called for people not to have passive participation but active participation,” said New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond, who chairs the Committee on Divine Worship for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Prayer is not supposed to be a performance. We’re supposed to be actively participating.”
Fifty years after Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council to modernize the Roman Catholic Church, the legacy of that watershed summit that revolutionized Catholic life is at the core of a dispute between the Vatican and American nuns.
In April, the Vatican accused the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the umbrella group that represents the majority of American nuns, of “doctrinal confusion.” As LCWR leaders meet this week (Aug. 7-11) to plot their response to the Vatican, many of the sisters say they are just following the spirit of Vatican II.
“This is not just about the Vatican versus the nuns. This really is about the future of how we interpret the message of the Second Vatican Council,” Sister Maureen Fiedler told the PBS program “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.”
The Catholic church is reeling from the several sexual abuse allegations that have come to light over the past three months. Downplaying the severity of this scandal will only further damage the already beleaguered church's image and credibility. Many in the media blame Pope Benedict XVI for the mismanagement of the sexual abuse crisis.