The Catholic Revolution

Better known as a mystery writer, in writing The Catholic Revolution: New Wine, Old Wineskins, and the Second Vatican Council Father Andrew M. Greeley relies on his professional training as a Catholic priest and sociologist to offer an analysis of the impact of the Second Vatican Council on the Catholic Church in America. What he reveals is a disturbing portrait of a church in disarray. The promises of liberalization that the Council seemed to promise Roman Catholics around the world upon its close in 1965 have never really materialized. Instead, led by a reactionary faction in the Roman Curia, the Church hierarchy has actually reverted to a brand of authoritarianism not seen since the nineteenth century.

While the bishops and clergy in Rome and abroad have managed to regain their once-revered position with Catholics in many other countries, American Catholics have remained resistant to attempts to bring them back in line with the increasingly conservative and autocratic central authority. Having quickly come to appreciate the messages of Vatican II that promoted ecumenism and elevated individual conscience over the pronouncements of clergy as the basis for moral decision-making, American Catholics have simply chosen to ignore Church pronouncements on many issues, especially those involving sexual mores. They remain Catholic, however, because they appreciate the power of their religion’s myths and symbols, powerful forces that continue to give comfort in an uncertain world.

Greeley seems genuinely sorry that the Pope and his principal advisors have chosen to repeal many of what he considers advances made by the Second Vatican Council. At the same time, he laments attempts by American Catholics to blur the lines between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. His greatest regret, however, is that so many of his fellow priests have chosen to set up obstacles for the new American Catholic laity, rather than making them welcome in the Church they continue to support.