Part 1.

Top down governance from Rome has brought significant declines in Catholic Church membership, both worldwide and here at home.

It has lost its way after shunning its rebirth by Vatican II.

Is there hope? Yes, in my humble opinion but it will take time.

As many know, Vatican II was an ecumenical council that lasted from 1962 to 1965, an assembly of Roman Catholic religious leaders meeting to settle doctrinal issues, update the liturgy and much more, the first such assembly in nearly 100 years. Most prominently, says Xavier University’s Peter A. Huff, the council broadcasted the church’s willingness to operate in the contemporary realm.

Today, Vatican II is credited with essentially shaping the modern Catholic Church. But there are a fair number of Catholics who still look fondly on the old ways and adoption of the Vatican II reforms is incomplete.

Under Pope John Paul II, Vatican II’s promise of a renewed and strengthened Church for the twenty-first century was squandered. Old habits die hard. However popular he was, Pope John Paul II was also unyielding and authoritarian. He put the brakes on Vatican II liturgical reforms and only appointed bishops who did not accept some or all of the Vatican II reforms. His successor, Pope Emeritus Benedict, followed in his shoes in this regard.

Now, with the dreadful and ever-expanding revelations about clergy sex abuse and the accompanying coverups, all can see the harm that can result when rigidity, ego and ambition overcome organizational evolution and renewal.

Pope Francis. Then Pope Francis came along. Most Catholics were enthused over this welcomed breath of fresh air. The common reaction: “Hallelujah, Happy Days Are Here Again!”.

Based on what they heard and saw in the early days of Pope Francis’ papacy, Catholics had high expectations that with Pope Francis’ Vatican II spirit, necessary changes were coming.

Much of the enthusiasm for his papacy is now waning.

Yet, Pope Francis has had significant successes in his six years in office. He overhauled the ever-dodgy Vatican Bank; he speaks up for the needs of immigrants and the poor; demonstrated uncommon humility by kissing the feet of male and female youthful offenders on Holy Thursday; shut down the disgraceful Vatican investigation of women religious; and championed the canonization of martyred archbishop Oscar Romero that had been short-circuited over Catholic conservatives’ disquiet with regard to “liberation theology”.

Very recently, Pope Francis has released a years-in-the-making proposal to significantly revamp the Vatican bureaucracy, having already reduced the excessive compensation and lavish lifestyles of many in the Vatican and elsewhere.

But many Catholics are disappointed that the Church has yet to take appropriate and necessary action in the clergy sex abuse crisis, although that is only one among many concerns of most Catholics.

At the same time, a largely conservative Catholic hierarchy consisting primarily of high-level Catholic prelates and bureaucrats in the Vatican (known as the Roman Curia) continues to resist the modernizing efforts of Pope Francis.

Despite claims of the conservatives, the changes in Church policy proposed by Pope Francis are quite moderate. For example, while many if not most American Catholics endorse the concept of married and female priests, neither is supported by Pope Francis.

As evidence of the challenges faced and the frustration endured, the mild-mannered Pope Francis is reported to have said his opponents in the hierarchy and Roman Curia suffer from “spiritual sickness” and are practicing “malevolent resistance.”

This post is the first of three. All are available at

Chuck Wellborn

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