In his recent book Light of the World, Pope Benedict XVI made the following comment about the Second Vatican Council: "The Council came into the world in the interpretation devised by the media more than with its own documents, which are hardly ever read by anyone."
It is not surprising, then, that the last forty or so years have produced all kinds of opinions about the Council. For some it was a huge mistake, others are upset because of some perceived ambiguous statements, whereas others are happy to interpret the documents to serve their own "trendy" agenda.
Then, of course, there are those who have little concern about the contents of the documents themselves, and appeal to a contrived "spirit of Vatican II" to accommodate their desire for constant change. Some even credit no less than the Holy Spirit for inspiring them to believe and do what they want, thereby confirming them in their "cafeteria" Catholicism.
Vatican II was not a mistake. It was a genuine General Council of the Church, just as genuine as Nicea, Trent, Vatican I and all the other 18 General Councils in the 2,000 year history of the Church. Each of them is the highest expression of the magisterium (teaching authority) of the Church - the Pope and bishops in union with him. Every General Council has the assistance of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 15:28 concerning the Council of Jerusalem).
As for ambiguity in some passages of the Vatican II documents, a similar accusation could just as easily be levelled at the Bible itself. There are at present about 30,000 different denominations all basing their teachings on the Bible.
As for the "Spirit of the Council," there is no evidence for it in the documents, nor is there any evidence that the Holy Spirit can be claimed as the inspiration for a new and different Church that will change matters of faith and morals to suit the spirit of the age. The Holy Spirit, after all, is the "Spirit of Truth" (John 15:26).
Benedict XVI has declared that the documents of Vatican II should be interpreted in the light of "The hermeneutic of continuity" with the millennia old Church founded by Our Lord. No doubt it will take time, with the help of the Holy Spirit, for the effects of erroneous interpretations of Vatican II to disappear.
There are encouraging signs that this is already happening. It is worth noting from history that it is not uncommon for a period of conflict to follow a General Council. A renewed Church: Yes! A new Church: No!
FR M. DURHAM
A retired Queensland priest