The average age of the members of the Association of U. S. Catholic Priests (AUSCP) is about 70, and one of its aims is to promote the direction and spirit of the Second Vatican Council.
I recently read a blog critical of the AUSCP, a blog which took special note of the average age of the members and commented, "Are you getting the picture here? This is not a youth movement."
The blogger continued, "I'm saying this movement is fading....For a growing number of Catholics, Vatican II is simply another part of Catholic history...What's coming, not too far in the future now, is a re-appraisal...a more sober assessment of Vatican II's strengths and weaknesses, a rediscovery of what Vatican II really says...When that happens, I think the old, V2 pro or con dialectic will be as gone as the dinosaurs."
This assessment may be true. Twenty years from now most of the current members of the AUSCP will be dead. Twenty years from now there may be a reappraisal of the Council. Twenty years from now there may be a more sober assessment of Vatican II's strengths and weaknesses.
But part of the dynamic for that reappraisal and more sober assessment will be the energy expended by the old guys in the AUSCP who cherished and promoted what Vatican II did.
Some of the strongest critics of the AUSCP and their
Vatican II-orientation were youngsters or not even born
when the Council took place.
Some of the strongest critics of Vatican II create a "straw list" of items which they say Vatican II said, and then use their list to ridicule AUSCP's efforts to promote the Council's directions and spirit.
Perhaps the major reason that most of the AUSCP members are 70 or older is that these men remember the days before the Council.
Without denying that there were abuses and misdirection in the immediate wake of the Council, the majority of the AUSCP members cherish the many good results produced by Vatican II's aggiornamento, resourcement, and rapprochment.
A partial list of the happy results of Vatican II includes:
1) greater participation of the people in the liturgy
2) restored awareness that the Holy Spirit works in all the people of God
3) biblical literacy among the laity
4) restoration of permanent diaconate
5) return of the Rite of Christian Initiation
6) renewed emphasis on Church as communio/koinonia (eucharistic ecclesiology)
7) retrieval of the theology of the common priesthood
8) hospitable recognition of other Christians
9) reaching out to the world as friend rather than enemy
10) re-evaluation of marriage as partnership of life and love rather than simply legal contract
11) re-examination of collegiality of episcopacy
12) recognition of the right to religious freedom
The list could go on.
Members of the AUSCP remember what it was like before. They are eager (perhaps anxious) to see maintenance of these changes and the promotion of the directions set by the Council.
They have reason to be concerned.
Vatican II called for an updating of the liturgy, a simplification of the rites, the elimination of accretions, the restoration of elements that were lost. Papal permission to use the pre-Vatican II Mass (Tridentine Rite) which the bishops voted to change is counter to the Council's directives.
Vatican II acknowledged the role of the bishop in his diocese and the role of bishops' conferences when it comes to liturgy and the vernacular. Curial rejection of the US Bishops' translation and their insistence on a new Roman Missal translation that is more than awkward counters the Council's direction.
Vatican II returned to the concept of episcopal collegiality. The idea of a Bishops' Synod with an agenda prepared by the Curia runs counter to the collegial spirit envisioned by the Council.
Vatican II urged ongoing dialogue with members of Christian denominations and with other religions. The current official dialogue barely exists and falls far short of the direction set by the Council.
Most members of the AUSCP lived in the pre-Vatican II church. They experienced both the excitement and the confusion that came as the Council's aftermath. They struggled with the changes, sometimes changes they did not at first want or understand. But they lived it.
For most of the ASUSCP members Vatican II was a gift and they are eager to hand it on to future generations. They do not want the Church to go back to the way it was. They know what it was like. They see the value in what we have in the Vatican II tradition.
It takes a long time for the deliberations of a Council to be reviewed, a long time for its decisions to be accepted.
The AUSCP simply wants to keep the vision alive.
The blogger critical of the AUSCP, of its aged members and their agenda, noted that more and more of the faithful are not buying the concern about Vatican II as proposed by the Association.
That may be true. But the AUSCP believes that Vatican II, as Pope John put it, "rises in the Church like daybreak, a forerunner of a most splendid light. It is now only dawn."
The AUSCP believes that there must be among all of us (clergy and laity) what Pope John asked of the bishops in council: "serenity of mind, brotherly concord, moderation in proposals, dignity in discussion, and wisdom of deliberation."
The AUSCP believes that the Council's documents "have lost nothing of their brilliance," as Pope John Paul II said in 2001. "They need to be read correctly, to be widely known and taken to heart as important and normative tests of the magisterium, within the Church's tradition."
The Holy Spirit, fifty years ago, gave the Church a sense of direction in an ecumenical council, in which the college of bishops has "supreme and full authority over the universal Church" (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 883).
The membership of the AUSCP may be a fading one, but the importance of Vatican II is not.