header icons

What Happened to the Tremendous Renewal Possibilities after the Second Vatican Council?

Once a year, Emma and Benoit De Crombrugghe insist that we join them on an outing to Galveston to swim and walk the beaches as we discuss all that really matters.

Emma is from Bolivia and Benoit from Belgium, a physician-researcher at M.D. Anderson cancer hospital. Recently they raised an interesting question. What happened, they asked, to the excitement of the ideas, spiritual life and action that existed among many Catholic groups before the Second Vatican Council?

Their question struck us and we began to reflect on what had happened. We continued our conversation for several months.

Our friends remembered so well what might be called a renaissance of Catholic thought and spiritual life in the decades before the Council. They wondered why the excitement and the vision had dulled. Where could one find it today?

Our reflections on Emma and Benoit’s question came together with our attempt to understand a strange metamorphosis that has seemed to be going on in various Catholic publications.

In that special time of renewal in the decades before the Council there was tremendous enthusiasm about ideas and ideals among clergy, religious and lay people. Wherever you looked there were profound movements such as the liturgical and catechetical renewal. Interest in Sacred Scripture and theological studies blossomed. Scholars went back to the Fathers of the Church, the earliest Sources, to understand better the roots of the faith. The movement toward ecumenism grew as theologians returned to the Sources.

Apostolic movements flourished, with the laity taking responsibility for organization. Participants were encouraged to love God passionately and give their lives to the poor. Passages of the Gospels such as the Ser-mon on the Mount and Matthew 25 which had sometimes been ignored were taken seriously. Spiritual reading and spiritual direction became commonplace. The example of Charles DeFoucauld, a new Desert Father, inspired many, as Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain became a best seller in the United States. There was renewed interest in the spirituality of St. John of the Cross. Bookstores thrived as Catholics insisted on reading spiritual classics and the best of current theological, liturgical, and Scriptural studies. We started two bookstores ourselves. Exciting ideas flowed, and as Peter Maurin, co-founder of the Catholic Worker move-ment put it, the dynamite of the message of the Catholic Church was being exploded in the lives of many who tried to go to the roots and depths of their faith and truly live the Gospel. Some, such as Maurin and Frank Sheed, were so taken up with sharing these ideas that they even stood on soap boxes in Times Square to proclaim the excitement of the Gospel and the tradition of the Church. Both Sheed and philosopher Jacques Maritain recommended to anyone who sincerely desired to grow in the Christian life that they read and re-read the Gospels and the entire New Testament. The Jocist movements, such as the Christian Family Movement, encouraged people to read the Gospels reflectively together, look at social situations around them, and begin to act on their faith. We were able to organize many groups of couples, workers and students on this model

Racial justice and economic justice were concerns addressed by many in the movements. We were founding members of interracial councils, started interracial home visiting, helped to integrate swimming pools, and started a neighborhood council and center in a poor community.

There was a growing aware-ness that while the Kingdom of God only reaches its fullness with the Second Coming of Christ, it begins here and now, and Christians must work to make our world resemble it a little more, helping to bring about the reign of God.

Some of the great writers included Dom Virgil Michel, OSB (who unfortunately died before the Council), Karl Adam, Romano Guardini, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Christopher Dawson, G. K. Chesterton, and for the Catholic Worker movement, Peter Maurin, Dorothy Day and Fr. John Hugo. These writers had also been inspired by Maurice Blondel, who helped people understand that the historical-critical biblical meth-od includes tradition, which he defined as the living out in any age of Biblical ideas. There was a renewal in Thomistic theology a return to St. Thomas himself rather than neo-scholasticism, the rewriting of his work that had developed over the centuries. A theme among many of these writers was a new and deeper under-standing of the relationship between nature and grace, the importance of a correlation between the material and the spiritual They emphasized the Resurrection of Christ, but did not neglect his Passion, understanding the redemptive nature of human suffering when joined to that of Jesus.

The communitarian personalist movement in France empha-sized the freedom the Church gives in living out one’s destiny, vocation. (Not so well known in Western Europe and the U. S. at the time was the development of Polish personalism.) Personalists like Emmanuel Mounier, Nicho-las Berdyaev, and theologian Jean Danielou met at the home of Jacques and Raissa Maritain for discussions, and published their ideas. Mounier, founder and editor of the personalist journal Esprit, was an independent Catholic lay voice and friend of the Catholic Worker via French-speaking immigrant Peter Maurin. Personalism not only stresses the importance of each person and their tremen-dous dignity and destiny while avoiding the danger of narcis-sism, but also avoids the bureaucratization and deperson-alization of human services.

Catholic literature gave flesh to these ideas in image as well as concept. François Mauriac, Georges Bernanos, Charles Péguy, Robert Hugh Benson, Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor, like Fyodor Dosto-evsky in the nineteenth century, emphasized the importance of faith not only in God, but in the human person, in spite of all the sins and spots a person might have. For in the Incarnation, God has taken on flesh as one of us. Because of the Incarnation, it is not enough to lead lives of mediocrity, or as Bernanos put it, we are to be the salt, not the syrup, of the earth.

Louise came into the Church during this time. It was Mark who introduced her not only to St. Thomas Aquinas on the existence of God, but to Karl Adam, Hans Urs Von Balthasar and Henri de Lubac. Mark also knew Fr. John Hugo, Dorothy Day, and the Catholic Worker and shared their ideas with her.
The Catholic Worker

In the United States, the Catholic Worker was the center of much ferment and enthusiasm. As we meet people, even today, we are told of how their visits to the Catholic Worker in New York in the 30s, 40s, 50s or 60s was an unforgettable experience.

Maurin saw the tradition of the Church and its liturgy as a source of life and light in what he called a new Dark Age. He presented the models from Catholic tradition of Sts. Francis and Benedict and the ancient Irish monks for life in the modern world and taught the Catholic Workers about the papal encyclicals and the methods of the saints.

The CW movement is not liberal or conservative, said Peter, but radical. As he said, “People are just beginning to realize how deep-seated the evil is. That is why we must be Catholic Radicals, we must get down to the roots. That is what radicalism is–the word means getting down to the roots.”

Peter saw the dangers of totalitarianism not only in Communism (to which the Worker presented a Catholic alternative) and fascism, but even within so-called demo-cracies. He did not accept the secular philosophies of recent centuries, but decried the separation of the sacred and the secular and the fragmentation that resulted from it. He did not accept bureaucracy or the idea of five-year plans and constant studies before doing anything. He rejected usury (the charging of interest) in economics because of the teaching of the prophets of Israel and the Fathers of the Church, but also because he saw how destructive the practice was.

Catholic Workers studied patristics to support their stand against the use of force and military might. The theology of pacifism was developed in the pages of The Catholic Worker. In The Catholic Worker Dorothy Day criticized the robber barons for gaining their wealth on the backs of workers.

Protesting war and mistreatment of workers in the culture was difficult, although the Catholic Workers perse-vered, bringing protest to a new level of spirituality as they prayed an hour before any picketing. They could survive the discouragement of not being able to achieve change quickly in society because they could always return to prayer and to the Works of Mercy. They believed that any Christian work in the world depends on God’s grace.

Solidarity among Movements

Jacques and Raissa Maritain came from France to visit the Catholic Worker in New York several times. Peter Maurin was able to translate for Maritain, who at that time did not speak English well. In his book Wings of the Dawn, Stanley Vishnewski told of Maritain’s talks at the Worker on the necessity of using pure means to work toward good ends in any efforts in the world, a constant teaching of the Church through-out the centuries. Maritain’s words became a cry at the Catholic Worker-“Success or failure, but with pure means!” In a similar vein in Europe, Balthasar was writing, “Success is not one of the names of God, but consuming fire is.” (Machiavelli was not accepted.)

Dorothy and many Catholic Workers attended national litur-gical conferences. Dom Virgil Michel and other Benedictine priests visited the Worker and gave talks on the liturgy as the worship of the Mystical Body of Christ. They emphasized the social nature of worship and the responsibility of those who participated in the liturgy to care for others in the Mystical Body. This theology excluded no one-everyone was a member or potential member and therefore should be treated with dignity, and not, for example, have bombs dropped on them. Dorothy visited Msgr. Hellriegel, one of the first to implement participation in the liturgy, as well as Dom Virgil Michel at St. John’s College. Dialogue Masses were celebrated very early at the Worker. Dorothy and Peter were invited to give talks across the United States. When we attended various conferences we would see the same people representing different movements.

Many in these movements recommended Distributism, an alternative social philosophy and economics. Distributism emphasizes decentralization or subsidiarity, the dignity of workers, and private property for everyone, not just the wealthy. It was perhaps best described by E. F. Schumacher in the words, “Small is beautiful.” It was incorporated into the papal social encyclicals. Distributists such as Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Fr. Vincent McNabb and the Catholic Workers opposed both laissez-faire capitalism (Do what you want) and Communism, rather emphasizing small businesses and the local. The Catholic Rural Life movement was a part of this.

Didn’t Include Everyone

There was something special about the pre-Vatican II ferment that Benoit remembered. We are Catholic Workers today-and Catholic-because of the depth of what we read and experienced in them.

However, not everyone knew about or accepted the theology that informed the movements. The average Catholic and average priest and Bishop were not so attuned, perhaps even unaware of the depth of thought that informed the action of these renewal groups, or even that they existed. Some theologians who helped to develop the ideas were under a cloud in the Church and forbidden to teach in the years before the Council. Some called the Catholic Workers Communists, which was a powerful way to try to minimize their contribution.

Different from the Dominant Culture

A noticeable characteristic that the vital movements before the Council did not have was an identification with Enlightenment philosophers or what had come to be called the Liberal (capital L) tradition.

The thinkers of the Catholic renewal did not follow Adam Smith, Machiavelli, Immanuel Kant, John Locke, John Stuart Mill, Max Weber. They critiqued aspects of the dominant bourgeois Liberal culture not compatible with the Gospel, insisting on the primacy of the spiritual in contrast to the primacy of economics in all aspects of life, where what one wears, the size of one’s house or car, the preoccupation with how the stocks are doing, crowds out the spiritual–a society described by Michael Polanyi as “a mere adjunct to the market.” As Peter Maurin put it, followers of Christ should be “go-givers” rather than “go-getters.”

In response to those who contended that organized reli-gion interferes with individual freedom, the thinkers of the Catholic renaissance argued that in Christianity there is a deep freedom. They pointed out that those who fear a loss of freedom in making the leap of faith might have not reflected on how unfree they are as they live in blind obedience to the commands of the State, to the patterns and rules of everyday life. Even if they believe they are rugged individualists, most people feel that it is absolutely necessary to obey fashion and buy advertised products-even though it may mean the destruction of the environment and the impover-ishment of many people through the methods of production.

Mounier and Berdyaev saw the central historical problem of the age as the ascendancy of the bourgeois spirit. For them, the word “bourgeois” is a spiritual state and a direction of the soul in which the emphasis is always on the material aspects of life, the expedient, the comfortable, the useful and pleasurable. They lamented that the will to power and affluence had triumphed over the will to holiness and genius.

Virgil Michel, writing during the Great Depression, was especially strong in his criticism of ruthless capitalism, as he insisted social responsibility in economics was essential to a true celebration of the liturgy. After hearing about a sermon in which Jesus was described as the first capitalist, he pointed out the tragedy that the “bourgeois spirit of capitalism in American society had the power to reach into the very sanctuaries of Christian churches and influence the preaching of the Gospel and the celebration of the Eucharist.” In his book on the encyclical Quadragesimo Anno. he described with Pius XI the terrible effects of the excesses of capitalism on the workers. Unfortunately, Michel’s views were not represented at the Council because of his death at a young age.


The “bourgeois liberalism” critiqued by the renewal thinkers was Liberalism with a capital L, different from what the average person means when they use the word “liberal.” Liberalism fea-tures individualism, laissez-faire (often brutal) capitalism, a division between the sacred and the secular, a belief in human progress as the ultimate goal of the lives of individuals and civilizations, and a rejection of past cultures..

Liberalism replaced the web of mutual obligations which had previously bound people togeth-er, with a society based on competition and individualism, with nations based on com-merce, and war to protect commercial interests.

Liberalism is epitomized in the thinking and writing of Adam Smith, who regarded the financial market as a beneficent order which comes about as by an invisible hand from acts of enlightened self-interest. Smith said one could not work toward the common good because there were too many complicated factors with the “hand” to be able to discern what that good might be. Recent decades have shown that the invisible hand has a knife in it for the poor.

Smith, as his followers do today, argued that habits and dispositions traditionally con-sidered deadly sins (greed, envy and pride) actually helped and were virtues in the economic system. Thus, as people become greedier, their wants multiply and the resultant demand for goods generates employment, income, and tax revenue. The idea of seeking one’s self-interest turned ethics upside down. In the medieval period a just price was determined for one’s work. With Smith the deadly sins became things like standardizing a just price for one’s work (now called price fixing) or interfering with the market.

Smith and his contemporaries introduced the division of labor, in which the work is focused on a tiny component of production, making it difficult for the mass of workers to address any question of meaning or ethics regarding their work.

John Calvin encouraged the adoption of economic Liberalism among Christians when he accepted usury after so many centuries of Church teaching against it.

Although many of its proponents were English, Liberalism emphasizes the concepts of liberty and democracy developed during the French Revolution-a somewhat strange model for liberty, built on the guillotine, the persecution of so many thousands, the destruction of monasteries and martyrdom of nuns and priests, as well as the first institution of the military draft. One problem of the revolution’s cry, “liberty, equality, fraternity,” was that the equality part (or even liberty) was not then and never has been implemented. Liberalism seems to have been built on a false understanding of liberty, where liberty is confused with license, especially in economics.

Various types of Liberalism have evolved, such as Kantian Liberalism, utilitarian Liberalism (in which a person’s value depends on their being useful), and Modus vivendi Liberalism.

Liberalism was and democracy were presented as allowing all points of view to be represented on what was purported to be an equal basis. The method, developed during the time of the Enlightenment when Revelation and the practice of the faith were explicitly rejected by intellectuals, was the privatization of religion. One could only enter the marketplace of ideas after accepting the Liberal stance.

Later versions include Max Weber’s establishment of the institutional bureaucratic prac-tices that Peter Maurin critiqued so strongly. This style of Liberalism, while maintaining subjectivism and individualism, was marked by “objectivization”-one must be objective in presenting the facts, sup-porting them with technique, “research” or opinion polls, rather than with tradition. Here entered in also the ideology of bureaucratic expertise, the idea of “experts” in various fields, encouraging the fragmentation of the person.

Liberalism rejects the doctrine of pure means to good ends. Weber argued that ends cannot even be defined because they are questions of values and values cannot be rationally settled.

Neoconservatives (also known as neoliberals) today try to put St. Thomas Aquinas in their camp on Liberalism in politics and economics. It turns out they are quoting Lord Acton, who claimed Aquinas was the first “Whig” (an English political party). Kenneth Craycraft has shown that the quotes Acton put forth for this premise are out of context-they are “at best an interpolation, at worst a fabrication.” Aquinas’ natural law is not the same as the rights language of Liberalism, his view of the State is not the same, his view of economics is not the same (he condemned usury).

In defense of Liberalism in the nineteenth century, in order to justify the removal of monarchs in favor of democracy, Lord Acton made the comment, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts abso-lutely.” MacIntyre recently adapted the famous line to critique bureaucratic, managerial Liberalism: “All power tends to co-opt and absolute power co-opts absolutely” (After Virtue, p. 109). Today the absolute power of the multinational corporations is as great as that of any king.

Liberalism replaced canon law and the concept of covenant with contracts and contract law. It was Arthur Penty’s and Maurin’s contention that the economics of Christian civiliza-tion was corrupted when the Law of the ancient Roman Empire was brought back.

Great Expectations and What Really Happened

But back to the original question. What ever happened to the enthusiasm and the excitement of those ideas, Benoit wanted to know.

The Second Vatican Council brought great expectations and a high pitch of enthusiasm. The Council was going to implement the pre-Vatican II renaissance. It had to be a supernatural intervention. We were going to have a renewed Church with profound liturgy which everyone would understand, Catholics steeped in the Scriptures. People would flock to the new Mass and their lives would be transformed. Many were ecstatic. There would not be so much emphasis on rules and regulations, but spiritual prac-tices from the heart. The sacrament of penance (confession) would take on a whole new meaning. The sin mentality would disappear in favor of growth-filled lives. Catholic social teaching would become alive and influence the culture. The old wineskins would be tossed, and exchanged for new ones filled with the richness of the Gospel. The old image of the Church as a fortress against the world would be abandoned, with an openness to the world. We were going to put a completely different face on Catholicism, one that would make it acceptable to modern culture, which had not appreciated it, and in the United States had even persecuted it.

As the story was told under the pseudonym of Xavier Rynne in the New Yorker magazine, in a cloak and dagger fashion liber-als took over the deliberations of the Second Vatican Council and the role of the Roman Curia was totally undermined. Contrary to this account and popular opinion, however, the agenda was rather formed by European Bishops who had been schooled in the liturgical and biblical movements. They wanted to be sure that the Council documents were not just a rehash, but included the best of the renaissance movements. Unfortunately, the accounts by Xavier Rynne (later unmaksed as a Redemptorist priest) turned the Council into “us against them,” instead of providing an objective evaluation of what happened.

The Church was ripe for change. The idea of relating one’s faith to the modern world, becoming more relevant, caught everyone’s attention, including that of the Bishops. But the words turned out to be different than those of the renaissance. Words such as “relevant to the world,” and “authentic,” were thrown around, without any apparent reference point for deeper meaning.

Failure of Implementation?

Pope John XXIII made it sound so easy. Having been a part of the renaissance, he thought we had a strong faith foundation and could comfor-tably relate to the world in a new way. In the wider culture, however, the individualism of Liberalism and utilitarianism competed with the doctrine of the enormous dignity of every person made in the image and likeness of God.

Many Catholics were unpre-pared, not only to accept changes that might come in the liturgy, but to face a culture in significant ways hostile to their faith. But it was not possible to put in six weeks of sermons what took years to accumulate in years of study, prayer, experience and liturgical conferences. Priests and people were still not adequately prepared.

In the attempt to embrace the modern world, some adopted ideas from the secular culture that made them feel that most things Catholic were old-fashioned and irrelevant to modern life. Maybe psychology was the answer, they thought. Psycho-babble competed with the New Testament, even in novitiates.

Everything was “demythologized.” The emphasis became seeking the Kingdom only here and now instead of in eternal life. As the Communists had said, maybe talk of eternity was just “pie in the sky when you die.” One should concentrate on oneself and one’s self-actualization in the world today (a concept different from the Christian model of development of the divine gift in one’s vocation).

After the Council, some people left the Church because change was not fast enough to respond to rising expectations not having been met, which triggered a loss of faith. They wanted democracy, and at once, since they had been enlightened by the “Enlightenment.” Re-form meant instant Protestantism with only a figurehead like the Archbishop of Canterbury.

We were to some extent a part of this. With great enthusiasm we entered the world of professional people, believing it would be a profound experience, sharing with people with all the education. There, we dis-covered, the big three were not people like de Lubac, Balthasar, or St. Francis, but Marx, Freud, and the survival of the fittest of Darwin. It was an experience of incredible shallowness and individualism. We had found much more richness in the Church and with priests and religious we knew.
Challenge of Implementation

The implementation of Vatican II presented a tremendous challenge to the American church. Some Bishops felt that with American know-how this could be done quickly and so it was. However, changes in the Church were connected with women no longer covering their heads, dropping the Rosary, Benediction and the Way of the Cross and not eating meat on Friday rather than turning to the profound practice of the faith and growth in holiness called for in the documents.

Why didn’t it Turn Out as Expected?

We spoke with Benoit at length about all of this. It was a long walk on the beach.

What were some of the reasons for the failure to carry on the great expectations of the pre-Vatican II renaissance? Why didn’t the people flock to the liturgy and have lives transformed and deepened as they heard the Gospel in their own language? Why did it seem that there was a loss of faith rather than the hoped-for renewal? Why were narcissistic conversations replacing the chal-lenging ones in the renaissance about how to radically live the Gospel and make this world a little better place for the poorest.

Revolution Hijacked?

As many popular revolutions in history have been hijacked or stolen by certain politicians, some say that the Second Vatican Council was hijacked. It might be better to argue that the great Revolution of the Heart renaissance, which the Council was meant to bring to the fore of Church life and teaching, was stolen. Were the people robbed? It wasn’t just a few conservatives complaining. Some liberals and even radicals had the same impression. Leaders of the liturgical move-ment before the Council, such as Msgr. Hellriegel, were very disappointed with liturgical experi-mentation in the 60s and 70s.

In his book Love is the Measure Jim Forest described the reaction of Dorothy Day, a giant of the renewal movements, to what happened:

“A major area of distress for [Dorothy Day] during the 1970s was what seemed to her the erosion occurring in the spiritual life of her fellow Catholics, including those in the Catholic Worker movement. More than ever Catholics seemed attentive to social issues she had been raising for forty years, but they were increasingly neglectful of the disciplines of the Church that were fundamental to her. ‘Penance seems ruled out today,’ she noted repeatedly. It pained her to notice co-workers skipping Mass and not taking the time for prayer. ‘With prayer, one can go on cheerfully and even happily, while without prayer how grim is the journey,’ she commented. . . .

“The practice of artificial birth control by Catholics dismayed her, and she was appalled with the growing acceptance of abortion in the larger society: ‘I say make room for the children. Don’t do away with them.’

“She was saddened by the frequent expressions of contempt toward the Popes and bishops-though she granted that there had been Popes who reminded her more of vultures than doves. . . “Her gratitude for Pope John XXIII was undiminished; she regarded him as a saint and published a prayer begging his intercession for the farm workers in one of her columns. But she felt that many were using the renewal he had inspired to vandalize the Church..”

Once, when regular bread had been used for the Mass instead of special hosts, Dorothy was found on her knees after Mass picking up the crumbs. When a coffee cup was used for a chalice, she buried the cup in the backyard so that it would never be used again for coffee.

Neglect of Important pre-Conciliar Scholarship

While so much good came out of the Council, some of the profound ideas of the renais-sance did not make it into the documents, let alone into the implementation of renewal after the Council. Some of the leaders were not present at the Council, either because they had died or were not invited as periti (e.g., Virgil Michel, Romano Guardini, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, John Hugo). Since Virgil Michel had died, there was no one to make the connection between liturgy and social criticism and responsi-bility. The influence of Karl Rahner, who emphasized assimilation to the secular culture and de-emphasized transcend-ence and immortality, muted some of the renaissance themes. Rahner implied that the culture of modernity, the Enlightenment and “progress” was as much a “must be” (in some fatalistic sense?) as was the Cross (Mission and Grace, 1963). It was theology like Rahner’s to which Alasdair MacIntyre re-ferred as a re-run of Feuerbach when he said, “nothing has been more startling than to note how much contemporary Christian theology is concerned with trying to perform Feuerbach’s work all over again.” (MacIntyre, Marxism and Christianity) Feuerbach rejected transcen-dence and immortality and gave impetus to Marx and Engels.

Ironically, in the climate after the Council theologians like de Lubac, Ratzinger, and Balthasar were then criticized as conservatives for the same views they had presented before the Council.

The 1960s

But who did the hijacking? One thing that is clear is that the hijacking was not a one-man or one-woman show.

The Church made a big opening to a world in which Liberalism held sway. At the time of the Council, however, movements protesting war and affirming civil rights for African Americans became more and more prominent in the U. S. At the same time, the cultural revolution of the 60s took place.

The kind of disappointment from rising expectations not having been met which affected those who hoped for change in the Church swept these move-ments as well. Some involved in the protests against the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement turned to violence. The Black Power movement grew out of the impatience of those who lost faith in what they saw as the slow process of nonviolence, especially after Martin Luther King was killed. There were riots in the cities.

The student activism of the 60s was meant to throw off bourgeois Liberalism. Instead of following the market, they said, follow your bliss. Seeing Christianity as intertwined with industrial capitalism, young people often began to reject both. They looked to Eastern religions, the Age of Aquarius or psychology as alternatives. They had not heard of the pre-Vatican II renaissance.

The individual rights language of Liberalism began to evolve into narcissistic rights move-ments. It was as if the concept of human rights was mugged by narcissism. These movements grew to represent the extreme individualism associated with the will to power of Nietzsche. The language of tolerance occurs in both Liberalism and post-modernism, but it began to appear that little would be tolerated but the individual’s or group’s ambitions.

Professors featured post-modern writers in literature and philosophy. Gradually, post-modernism began to compete with the dominant Liberalism. Situation ethics became popular.

In the name of freedom, the flower children threw off all restrictions. Somehow, the cam-paign of the students to undermine the bourgeois life-style led to the abandonment of the tie between long-term commitment and sexuality. Traditional morality began to seem inde-fensible and, following Kinsey, every kind of sexual practice, including sexuality with young people, was presented as fine and free.

The attempt to counteract the bourgeois ethos with a freedom without spiritual roots in this turbulent time did not bring the hoped-for results. Many of those who did not destroy their minds with drugs later found solace in becoming bourgeois Yuppies themselves.

The sixties culture, however, did influence Catholics who were trying to find their way in the secular culture in regard to sexual morality, with sad con-sequences in the years to follow.

As these events were occurring in the “developed” countries, Liberation theology was becoming alive in Latin America. It was often rather fierce because it addressed the terrible gap between rich and poor and the desperation of so many people. Liberation theology brought this suffering to the attention of the world, along with information on the role of multinational corpor-ations and the U.S. government in creating very unequal situations. Unfortunately, some liberation theologians included Marxist analysis in their solution to the problem and that aspect eventually tended to discredit some of their work.

In the U.S., the charismatic movement began to flourish, a movement that saved the faith of many Catholics after the Council when their traditional faith practices had seemed to be abandoned.

As the flower children turned to bourgeoisity, others who had been enthusiastic about the movements for peace, civil rights and social justice said they were mugged by reality. They said the movements for peace and social justice did not work and joined movements to bring Liberalism back into economics and politics. They came to be called neoliberals or neoconservatives.

Long before the collapse of Communism in 1989, these neoconservatives had been working diligently not only politically but in the Church in their attempt to bring back Liberalism back to economics and politics. They argued that future progress justifies the suffering caused by today’s economic system and that ultimately neoliberal policies will trickle down to help the poor. As Mill had said, “the greatest good for the greatest number,” except the reality is that the greatest number is the poor and it has not trickled down. The theory of the neocons, like that of Smith before them, allowed companies to charge whatever they wanted for their products, pay as little as possible to workers and function without restriction from national governments.

The abandonment of the workers was a great tragedy of the post-Vatican II era .The effects of the Industrial Revolution depicted so well by Charles Dickens had been eradicated to some degree in the post-World War II organization of labor, but returned with a vengeance in global economics, in maquiladoras paying slave wages. We were told that slave wages were better than no wages and that working in these factories was better than living in the country.

The failure of labor unions to establish a more permanent role and place in economics may have given the impression that labor’s role can’t be established and/or is an unimportant factor thus letting the working man or woman pull themselves up by their own bookstraps at the mercy of capital. This, however, is the opposite of Catholic social teaching.

The neoconservatives lobbied the Vatican, published books in many languages and lectured around the world (including many poor countries) claiming that Catholicism endorses neoliberal capitalism. They attempted to rewrite Catholic social teaching in favor of neoliberalism, arguing that the economics of liberalism and “free trade” (in actuality neither free nor fair) would create wealth and everything would be better, even though there might be a “few human displacements” along the way.

Those who say that the culture overwhelmed the Church after the Council have perhaps not understood the negative impact of this new Liberalism in the culture. The greatest tragedy, the worst hijacking after the Council has been the attempt to misrepresent the voice of the Catholic Church in favor of the economics of Adam Smith and preemptive wars.

After 1989 the “neocons” seemed to redouble their efforts to push their economics and politics in Eastern Europe and the countries of the former Soviet Union, always in the name of the Church.

Liberalism in economics returned to the universities, controlling business schools across the United States and in other countries, both in secular and Catholic universities. Graduates of these programs tell us that they have basically been taught to be robber barons. At the same time, certain neo-conservative spokespersons are claiming that robber barons never existed, that they were simply maligned (a revisionism almost similar to saying the Holocaust did not exist).

In the past decades, bad labor practices were combined with outrageous usury when the interest on loans made to governments of poor countries throughout the world was immorally raised over and over again. The countries had to continue to borrow money to pay the interest. In order to do so, the countries were forced to reorganize their economies on neoliberal lines, privatize their government services (giving them to companies like Enron), and obligate their citizens to grow food for export instead of for their own people. Even the IMF admits that this “structural adjustment” did not help their economies. Everything was not better and the few displacements became millions of people on the move as desperate migrants from the countries of the South, created the biggest migration since the fourth century (JPII).

As economic conditions became worse and worse, Pope John Paul II called a Synod of America and in that Synod Exhortation, Ecclesia in America, he clearly and unequivocally condemned neoliberalism, asked all in the America(s) to live in solidarity, and affirmed the preferential option for the poor.

The Holy Father has taken strong stands against what he calls a new colonialism. How-ever, George Weigel, Michael Novak and Fr. Robert Sirico did not join him in his campaign for debt relief for poor countries, or his concern for the care and rights of migrants. The Acton Institute has a link on their web-site to declare that debt forgiveness is flawed and morally ques-tionable. These men get so much publicity in the U. S. that people think they are the Church.

Frank Pasquale argues that a central defect in Liberal thought is leaving the market and its advertising to determine what is good for people and for smaller institutions. When markets promote certain types of people to positions of responsibility, they influence disproportionate-ly the concept of what is good for all. Pasquale suggests that “if these wealthy or powerful people are more likely to have a certain conception of the good than people generally, and they in turn use their money and power to advance this con-ception of the good, we might think that their actions ought to be ‘neutralized’ to some extent.” Liberals, he argues, “have long been proud of their efforts to stop the state from promoting certain conceptions of the good; but they need to realize that concentrations of social and economic power can be just as oppressive as political power-and often control political power itself.”

MacIntyre considers the mod-ern corporation dangerous because it “splinters morality into dissociated parts and makes moral incoherence the norm” and places limits on what questions may and may not be treated as relevant.” (Rowland, 56).

In this climate it is no wonder that the executives of Enron used their skills to enrich themselves while they abandoned the workers and may have grossly overcharged the people who depended on the services in energy and water that they provided in many countries. They represented the apex of success. This is what it is all about. They followed the bible of economics. How could anyone think they are bad? They live in respectable neighborhoods. They are not mafia or gangsters, although their goals are the same-money and power.

The National Catholic Reporter

Part of our reflection about what has been happening in progressive Catholic newspapers and magazines is the question of how they could possibly be connected with laissez-faire, brutal capitalism and support for the idea of the manifest destiny of the United States to wage pre-emptive wars. We will use the National Catholic Reporter newspaper as an example.

When the National Catholic Reporter, a lay effort, began not long before the Second Vatican Council, it was welcomed as a vehicle for publishing the news the best of the pre-Council renewal. Over the years, how-ever, it has developed a tendency to label persons and ideas as liberal or conservative and to rather harshly advocate positions in opposition to the Vatican. Apparently in an attempt to influence the upcoming papal politics, John Allen,NCR’s correspondent in Rome, is today separating the sheep from the goats or the good guys from the bad guys in regard to the implementation of the Council. He has been featuring in a very positive way northeastern Catholic neocon-servatives and libertarians who advocate laissez-faire capitalism and have very publicly disagreed with the Vatican on war and peace. He tells about his lunches with these men in his columns.

At the same time Allen has been writing off in a sentence or two some of the most profound theologians of our time as terrible conservatives, implying that they are dangerous to the Church and the State. He has implied that anyone associated with Communio theology (including two new Cardinals, one of whom we know personally) is to right not only of John Paul II, but of Attila the Hun, if you can imagine putting a pioneering theologian like Henri de Lubac there. He sometimes seems to be saying that John Paul II is great, but the much of the Curia is bad and anyone who doesn’t endorse Liberalism is bad. We do not mean Allen is out to lunch (that would be an argument ad hominum), but that his many lunches have influenced his views.

Allen seems to imply that acceptance of Liberalism is antecedent to accepting the Gospel. Having been fed with a rich diet of Mounier, Berdyaev, Dostoevsky, de Lubac, Maurin and Day, we are uncomfortable with this stance.

With Allen’s columns the NCR, which appeared as a champion of the poor and an advocate of social justice and peace, seems to have changed. Editors of the NCR also recently proudly emphasized that the president of their Board of Directors is a CEO of a major corporation.

Allen has negatively compared the Catholic Worker with powerful neo-Calvinists who defend the very economic policies which uproot the immi-grants and refugees who pour Casa Juan Diego. These are the same people who misappropriated the philosophy of com-munitarian personalism and fraudulently called their libertarian economics “personalism.”

Is the NCR shifting from advocacy for social justice to neoliberal economics? Why is it endorsing neoconservatives and leaving aside some of the major themes of the John Paul II’s writings regarding solidarity with the poor? It would seem that neocons famous for lobby-ing in Rome in favor of their theology of wealth creation and preemptive war have somehow lobbied the innocent NCR.

Perhaps it will help us to understand what is going on if we turn to David L. Schindler and Alasdair MacIntryre. Both of these men have pointed out that various shades of liberalism (small l) and conservatism today have the same underlying philosophical base, even though they appear to be different. It is confusing. Heartless laissez-faire capitalism is promulgated by those whom society calls very conservative. Those opposed to them are called liberals. Clinton, known as a liberal, supported and continued Reagan’s policies in global economics. It seemed odd that Reagan supported un-documented immigration (which might be something compas-sionate liberals might reasonably support) but for conservative reasons–to help businesses have a cheap labor source.

Schindler argues that John Courtney Murray, whose thought is often used to defend the Liberal model as the only way to have religious freedom, conflated the sacred-secular distinction typical of neoscholastic thought into a Church-state distinction more typical of the theology of the Reformation, including an understanding of the Church as a purely juridical entity. Such a concept of the Church is inconsistent with Mystical Body or Communio theology and affect very much the way the Church relates to the world. (Communio Summer 1995).

In addition to the different manifestations of Liberalism, MacIntyre has contended that our culture is at war with three competing or rival philosophies Liberal, postmodern (Nietzsche) and Augustinian-Thomist traditions of the Church.

Aidan Nichols, O.P., describes the predicament of the average person caught in this culture: “The subjectively valued indi-vidual in an objectively value-less world resembles the smile on the face of a Cheshire cat.”

Nichols finds things no better with philosopher and cultural critic Friedrich Nietzsche and his followers who “capitalized on the philosophical frailties of Liberalism, at once radicalizing its individualism and unmasking its illusion that in a heartless cosmos respect for human hearts still makes sense… [In post-modernism] it is only by violence that one arbitrary meaning is assigned where another, equally ground-less, would do.” (Intro., Culture and the Thomist Tradition after Vatican II).

Why have neoliberals been so successful in this culture? They are successful because they appeal to the business world, giving them theological per-mission to reap great profits in spite of injustices and justify preemptive wars to protect U.S. commercial interests. This became painfully obvious in their recent opposition to the voice of John Paul II and the Cardinals and Archbishops of Rome on the invasion of Iraq by the United States. As we try to be a voice for the voiceless billions, however, we have to face the reality that Catholic neoliberals are very powerful in Rome, despite their public opposition to the concerns of John Paul II. Their work is often funded large corporations who benefit from their theories.

Dignity, Solidarity, Subsidiarity

The Gospel cannot be captured by the Enlightenment or by bureaucracy or by heartless capitalism; neither can it be captured by narcissistic rights movements.

In several recent documents the Pope has insisted that the central ideas of Catholic social teaching are dignity of the human person (including the worker, the baby in the womb, the elderly) as well as solidarity and subsidiarity. Huge multinational corporations do not meet any of these criteria. The Holy Father has insisted that Catholics make a preferential option for the poor, an option for those who have the least, for migrants uprooted by the economic system, for persons considered to be expendable in society. It is very difficult to reconcile this Catholic teaching with either the dog-eat-dog competition of Liberalism or with the Nietzschean power model.

The culture of death decried by John Paul II is supported philosophically by both Liberalism and postmodernism. Indivi-dualism of both kinds insists on the right to choose individually without reference to the dignity of every human person made in the image and likeness of God.

Those who say that Liberalism is necessary for religious free-dom almost have to notice that what we have is not religious freedom. Pope John Paul II recently pointed out that “One must never give in to the pretences of those who, having an erroneous concept of the principle of Church-State sepa-ration and of the lay character of the State (Maritain made this important distinction in Freedom in the Modern World and Integral Humanism), aim to reduce religion to a merely private sphere for the individual, not recognizing the Church’s right to teach her doctrine and to give moral judgments about matters that affect the social order” (speaking to a represen-tative of Mexico, Feb. 24 2004)

We need the Church to ask the deeper questions. The most basic questions about economics are not generally asked. Why, for example, should everything be related to a mythical (or immoral?) figure like the GDP, which assigns virtue to having the largest number possible of people in prison, since the “prison industry” is counted in it?

Catholic men and women in executive positions in inter-national banks and corporations have conferences and conver-sations about how to make globalization more human-but they often work for companies whose basic raison d’etre and way of functioning is not moral. By this we do not mean making some profit-businesses on the Distributism model also make a profit-but rather the violation of the most important principles of Catholic social teaching outlines above.

Examples: 1. Recently we spoke with a priest in Honduras, asking how we could assist the people there in developing cooperatives. His first response was that it is very dangerous still in Central America to mention cooperatives because there is so much fear of Communism. One’s life may be in danger. Then he told of how he himself had tried to start one. Since it was necessary to have some funds to begin and the people did not have funds, the priest went to Citibank to ask for a loan in his own name. The bank official responded, “Sí, Padre, we love to lend money to gringos. That will be 40% interest, compounded monthly.”
In today’s economy, who decides the ethics of this transaction?

2. Many companies which had plants in Mexico to take advantage of cheap labor are moving to China, where, Nestor Rodriguez (Head of the Sociology Department of the Univ. of Houston) has told us, they will only have to pay $.67 a day, and that only once a year, while the companies receive interest on the money for an entire year. Who decides the ethics of this move?

The prevailing philosophies have not created the civilization of love that recent Popes have called Christians to build. The signs are everywhere in our global world: desperate immigrants leaving so many countries in droves, Africa dying, the culture of death in our own country and terrorism abroad.

There is no reason that Catholicism or democracy should be tied to the policies of the World Trade Organization. There is no reason that demo-cracy must be tied to brutal capitalism as we know it in Third World countries. There is no reason that democracy must be tied to the culture of death. There is no reason democracy must be tied to either Liberalism or post-modernism. It can be disentangled from neoliberal economics.

In regard to economics, the words of Dorothy Day when she was interviewed for a diocesan paper explain it all:

Q. “What is in your opinion the root cause of the tremendous gap between haves and have-nots?”
A. “One cannot answer this question without taking into consideration the entire history of the United States, man’s nature, his fall, and his redemption. To put it simply, the root cause of the gap is man’s greed, avarice, acquisitiveness, his fear of insecurity, and the lack of attention to the teachings of Jesus and the saints throughout the ages” (Catholic WorkerFebruary 1965).

Dorothy and Peter, like the saints of centuries, believed that as Christians we should live according to what we believe and be leaven to the culture rather than be so influenced by it that we no longer recognize ourselves. They wanted to overcome the dualism of believing in one way and living as if those beliefs had little relationship to one’s daily life.

It is amazing what a few persons gathered together can do with the help of God’s grace, but it certainly would help if laws were made to foster the concept that small is beautiful and that workers have dignity, rather than almost always responding to lobbyists for the biggest companies.

We need the renaissance, which not only led many people to a more profound experience of their faith and changed their lives, but also produced a sense of enthusiasm and hopefulness.

This kind of “faith living” has emerged in many of the lay movements that have thrived since the Vatican Council. When we speak and share with members of the Focolare movement from Brazil or Italy or members of Sant’Egidio from Boston, members of Com-munion and Liberation from Paraguay or Houston, members of the Neocatechumenate from Honduras or Houston, their sense of the Church as the Body of Christ and their own discipleship soon emerges. They are examples of solidarity and subsidiarity.

The Holy Spirit continues to inspire. The words from Section 22 of “The Church in the Modern World” of Vatican II sums up how Christians can live their faith and relate to our culture.

“For since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery.

“Such is the nature and the greatness of the mystery of man as enlightened for the faithful by the Christian revelation. It is therefore through Christ, and in Christ, that light is thrown on the riddle of suffering and death which, apart from his Gospel, overwhelms us. Christ has risen again, destroying death by his death, and has given life abundantly to us so that, becoming sons in the Son, we may cry out in the Spirit: Abba, Father!”

Where are Emma and Benoit? They live in Houston. Emma is building schools and a church for the poorest in her beloved Bolivia and Benoit’s dream is to come to work with Mark at Casa Juan Diego.

For Further Reading

Wendell Berry, various books.
Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness. Harper San Francisco.
Henri de Lubac, The Drama of Atheist Humanism. Ignatius Press.
Kenneth R. Craycraft, Jr., “Was Aquinas a Whig? St. Thomas on Regime.” http://www.ewtn.com/library/BUSINESS/FR94302.HTM
Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue and Three Rival Inquiries, University of Notre Dame Press.
Francis M. Mannion, “Liturgy and Culture: A Failed Connection”http://www.liturgysociety.org/JOURNAL/volume%205-number%203/volume%205-3-editorial.htm.
Peter Maurin, Easy Essays. (Catholic Worker Bookstore, Washington, D.C.)
Emmanuel Mounier, Personalism. Univ.of Notre Dame Pr.
Frank Pasquale, “Market and Culture: the Naiveté of Neutrality,”www.psa.ac.uk/cps/1998/pasquale.pdf.
Joseph Pearce, Small is Still Beautiful, UK. Harper Collins.
Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia in America.http://www.cin.org/jp2/ecclamer.html
Pope John Paul II, Encyclical: Laborem Excercens (On Human Work).www.papalencyicals.net.
Pope Pius XI, Encyclical: Rite Expiatis (St. Francis, Herald of the Great King). http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Pius11/P11RITEX.HTM.
Tracy Rowland, Culture and the Thomist Tradition after Vatican II. Routledge.
David L. Schindler, Heart of the World, Center of the Church. Eerdmans.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXIV, No. 2, March-April 2004.