Legacy of Coercion and Shame
Can an institution like the Roman Catholic Church be waylaid by a group of ruthless hucksters who are willing to use the papal office to impose bad decisions that have caused and continue to cause immense suffering upon the faithful?
Yes. Let me explain. . . .
Vatican II was an immense turning point for Roman Catholicism. The windows were thrown open. Instead of using confrontation and bullying, Catholics were retrained to respect Jews, Protestants, and Muslims and to engage in dialogue. Instead of maintaining that the Latin language and the Latin liturgy was sacrosanct, Catholics were invited to praise God in their own tongues and in rites that were suitable to their cultural roots. Instead of pretending that obedience to the Catholic Church was the surest means of eternal salvation, Catholics were coaxed to work side-by-side with all persons of good will to bring Gospel values to bear upon every society and to expose the social sins of racism, militarism, and sexism that are a scourge to those whom the Lord loves. Thus the Catholic Church set aside its imperialism and its triumphalism in favor of serving the servants of God. As Jesus said, “I have come to serve and not to be served.”
Even before the Vatican Council II was closed in late 1965, many of the bishops present believed that the new direction of the Church was foolish and wrong-headed and that the imperialism and triumphalism of the past had to be resurrected so that the Church would again be feared and respected by both its adherents and its enemies.
During the course of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), free and open discussions gradually took hold among the assembled bishops once the curial grip on the Council was challenged. Within this aggiornamento  that was endorsed by John XXIII, the bishops discovered how creative collaboration with each other and with the Holy Spirit served fruitfully to create sixteen documents overwhelmingly approved by the assembled bishops. Given the diversity of viewpoints and the diversity of cultures among the two thousand participants, this consensus building was an extraordinary mark of the charismatic gifts of the movers and shakers gathered at the Council.
As Paul VI took over the direction of the Council after the untimely death of John XXIII, he at first endorsed the processes of collegiality that had operated during the initial two years. With the passage of time, however, Paul VI began to use his papal office on multiple levels by way of limiting the competency of the bishops and by way of pushing forward points of view that he and the curia favored. After the Council, this trend accelerated and can best be seen by analyzing the content and reception of three encyclicals, Indulgentiarum Doctrina (1/1/67), Sacerdotalis Caelibatus (6/24/67), and Humanae Vitae (7/25/68).
Thirteen months after the close of Vatican II, on the first day of January, 1967, Paul VI took the document on indulgences that was roundly criticized and rejected during Vatican II and, with only modest revision, published it under his own name as Indulgentiarum Doctrina (“The Doctrine of Indulgences”). In so doing, Pope Paul VI opened the new year with an Apostolic Constitution designed to teach the bishops and theologians scattered throughout the whole world what many of them had roundly rejected at Vatican II. Was the Pope deaf to the applause that Archbishops Alfrink, König, and Döpfner had received for their criticisms of this very same document thirteen months earlier? Had he not read the written reports of a dozen episcopal conferences expressing their deep dissatisfaction with the draft document? And was he not now shoving it back into their faces with the whole force of his papal office?
Indeed he was! Even further, Paul VI boldly claimed in his encyclical that “indulgences” had apostolic origins–a claim that cardinals and Protestant observers at the Council refused to accept. Furthermore, Paul VI further strengthened the papal grip on the practice of indulgences because he was quite aware that, in so doing, this promoted and augmented the power of the papal office within the universal Church. Thus, Indulgentiarum Doctrina received the enthusiastic support of those who wanted to stall dialogue with Protestants and to exalt papal imperialism and triumphalism.
Paul VI, during the final meeting of Vatican II in 1965, made an extraordinary intervention to forbid any discussion of the rule of priestly celibacy since he had elected to study this issue himself. Accordingly, on 24 June 1967, Paul VI published an encyclical on priestly celibacy known as Sacerdotalis Caelibatus.
Even if the manifest theological and historical flaws within Sacerdotalis Caelibatus could be forgiven in the name of the personal piety of Paul VI, one can hardly overlook the clear evidence of the Gospels to the effect that Jesus never mentioned celibacy when he chooses any of his disciples. Peter, who is clearly recognized as a married man, receives no admonition to separate himself from his wife. But, more importantly, we read in 1 Tim 3:2 that “a bishop must be above reproach, married only once [a one-woman man]” and, in Tit 1:7, we read that a presbyter should also be “someone who is blameless, married only once, whose children are believers.” Instead of discovering a “flowering of Jesus’ gift of celibacy,” therefore, we find in the late apostolic tradition the requirement that bishops and presbyters must have a wife and children. Why so? For this reason: “For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he be expected to take care of God’s church [which is an extended family]?” (1 Tim 3:5).
How can Paul VI expect us to respect him as a reliable teacher when he fails to notice these things right before his eyes in the Sacred Scriptures? And what if he did notice these things but deliberately omitted to mention them because they entirely negate his pious arguments in favor of priestly celibacy? Then, in that case, we would have to conclude that Pius VI is a dishonest scholar not worthy of our attention. All in all, this brings us to the embarrassing sticking point of having to decide whether Paul VI is either incompetent or dishonest or a curious mixture of both.
With the renewal of the Church following Vatican II, hundreds of thousands of priests anticipated a relaxation of the rule of celibacy. The adamant position taken by Paul VI in his encyclical Sacerdotalis Caelibatus killed their hope for any compassionate change. Many Spirit-filled priests, facing a crisis of conscience between their call to ministry and their call to marital intimacy, decided to apply for laicization. All told, 200,000 priests worldwide made anguished decisions to leave their ministry in order to marry. Paul VI treated them as “traitors” to the calling of Jesus–they had “not prayed sufficiently,” he chided them.
When ministers within Anglican, Episcopalian, and Lutheran denominations were welcomed into the Catholic communion during the last forty years, it was particularly difficult for long-suffering priests to notice how easily Rome was able to relax the rule of celibacy for these former Protestant pastors who were escaping churches that endorsed the ordination of women. I myself have frequently heard bitterness expressed by older priests on this matter. In effect, Paul VI arrived at a very flawed decision in this matter that was biased heavily against loyal Catholic priests at the same time that it was biased in favor of “Protestant deserters” who were fleeing their churches because women were being ordained. This has caused and continues to cause enormous resentment for most priests and for those who are close to them, especially women who feel called to priesthood. The American bishop who said, “I doubt whether the Lord would be pleased with our loneliness,” may have been saying what so many others knew in their hearts but were afraid to reveal lest they be judged as “disloyal” to the Holy Father.
John Paul II went so far as to systematically refuse all petitions for laicization. He thus insured that disloyal priests would never receive any official sanction of their marital love from the Church. Thus, here again, compassion was dead, collegiality was rigorously avoided, and papal imperialism was being exalted.