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The Springtime That Wasn’t

The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) was arguably the most significant event in the Catholic Church in the 20th century.  No other issue has had such wide-ranging effects on Catholics throughout the world, and none (excepting, perhaps, contraception) is debated with as much vigor among Catholics today, more than 40 years later.  Although it was the 21st ecumenical council in the history of the Church, Vatican II was only the fourth in the past 500 years.  More importantly, it remains unique in the sense that no doctrinal definitions or condemnations were issued by this council.  As Paul VI, who was Pope at the close of the council, said, “it had avoided proclaiming in an extraordinary manner dogmas affected by the mark of infallibility.”

What, then, did this council do?  It produced 16 documents stating the Church’s position on various issues, ranging from the nature of the Church and the role of the laity to the reform of the liturgy.  Certain principles were enunciated that seemed to contradict earlier Church teaching, such as those concerning religious liberty and ecumenism.  Some bishops formed a bloc to counter what they saw as liberal trends at the council, the product of la nouvelle théologie.  At the head of this group (the Coetus Internationalis Patrum) was Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, then superior general of the Holy Ghost Fathers, the largest Catholic...

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