In two years, the Catholic Church will mark the second anniversary of the solemn opening of the Second Vatican Council. Yet the debate over the meaning of Vatican II continues throughout the world Church. Some now openly charge that the very idea of a “pastoral” council was a grave mistake and propose that Vatican II should be quietly forgotten. Others continue to insist that the Church underwent a “paradigm shift” at Vatican II, as if something similar to the Copernican revolution that displaced Earth from the centre of the cosmos happened to Catholicism’s self-understanding between October 11, 1962 (when the Council opened) and December 8, 1965 (when the Council closed).
Neither of these proposals does justice to Pope St John XXIII’s intention for the Council. Neither does justice to the Council’s texts read properly. And neither seems aware that the living parts of the world Church today are those that embrace Vatican II in full, having read it in continuity with the Church’s settled tradition.
George Weigel is the Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.