First, Pete and now Re-Pete?

John_Paul_IAt The Catholic Herald, the UK’s best Catholic weekly, there is a thought provoking piece by Damien Thompson.  Read the whole thing over there, but here are a few snips:

It’s 1978 all over again

I’ve been thinking about that surreal period because my cousin has kindly given me three copies of Time magazine from 1978. The cover stories are: “In Search of a Pope” (August 21); “The New Pope, John Paul I” (September 4); and “John Paul II” (October 30). Reading them has been quite a culture shock, especially for a magazine journalist. So many lucrative full-page ads – eight of them for cigarettes in one issue alone. Dozens of exquisitely written colour pieces, published without bylines: Time’s hacks were so spectacularly well paid that they didn’t care if their names were missing.


When Paul VI died, the Church was still going through the identity crisis provoked by the Second Vatican Council. Paul was the pope who initiated drastic and increasingly ugly liturgical changes; he was also the author of Humanae Vitae, which dismayed Catholic liberals. By the time St John Paul died, the factionalism had subsided. It was a slow process – in his first few years, he was careful not to upset liberal dioceses – and of course there were still conservatives and progressives. But they had to operate within parameters set by John Paul. So, too, did his successor, whose supposedly hardline traditionalism evaporated once he became Benedict XVI.

Now, in contrast, the factions are again flexing their muscles. The Church, disturbed by Amoris Laetitia and several other small wars initiated by the Vatican, is dividing along geographical lines. The articles from 1978 talked about the Dutch, Latin American and Polish churches as if they were rival denominations. That way of thinking is creeping back.

The direction of the Church is once again negotiable, even if John Paul II managed to cross women priests off the agenda (and can we even be certain of that?). Like Paul VI, Francis is out of step with committed lay Catholics, the difference being that he is theologically to the left of his critics.

But an even bigger difference is that secular society takes no more than a polite interest in the Church. It’s fair to say, as it was 39 years ago, that everything hangs on the choice of the next pope. When the moment comes, Catholics will be able to draw on unimaginable amounts of information compared to 1978. But they will look in vain for the meticulous, expensive and even-handed coverage squeezed between the ads for bourbon and Buicks in my vintage magazines. Time, like the rest of the world, has moved on.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Dimitri_Cavalli says:

    What’s the point of trying to make the Church respectable (or “relevant”) to people who hate us and would never attend (or return to) Mass if we had their worthless seal of approval?

    Is the Holy Father and the cardinals aware that the liberal Protestant denominations have free-fallen despite embracing every single liberal fad of the last century? (Animal-rights, veganism, and “personhood” status for apes and whales are next.)

    In the desire to make themselves more relevant, certain institutions and persons have made themselves irrelevant.

  2. Lisa Graas says:


  3. DavidR says:

    Follow. The. Money.

  4. robtbrown says:

    Missionary activity is an essential component of the Church. That includes trying to bring back the lapsed. It is true, however, that the Church Relevant, Lowest Common Denominator has been shown not to work.

    Formation and the first 5-10 years of the priesthood usually establish what a priest will be the rest of his life. Francis was ordained in 1969, and very often he seems like a typical 1970s Jesuit.

    On the other hand, if he regularizes the SSPX, I’ll be satisfied with his papacy.

  5. rdb says:

    It is more like 1974. At the papal and episcopal level (in many instances) it is as if the magisterial teaching of the papacies of Popes St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI never existed. We need no more proof of the need for a rigorous and thorough theological education of seminarians.

  6. Phil_NL says:


    I beg to disagree. Although I’m from after 1974, I daresay that in several places, depending on the country sometimes even a lot of them, the situation is greatly different. Why? Because we’ve had 1974, and quite a bit of the Church has moved on. The people responsible for the 70s and the fruits of that decade have long ceased to darken the doorstep of churches in these places. St JPII and BXVI have often named several decent, sometimes even outstanding, bishops in succession. Seminaries have emptied, but the few men that remain – even if rather leftist politically – are at least not heterodox. The bishops, priests, and the Catholics still in the pews, now have experience with the silly season, and no appetite to repeat it.

    That doesn’t mean that the Rich Roman Life (RRL (TM)) has returned in those places as before (many a guitar has regrettably lingered), or that cross-contamination of those places where the silly season never ended isn’t possible, but the same mistakes will not be repeated. Most likely others will be made, but the misguided energy of the 1970s is at least gone.

    To name one example: I won’t brag about the state of the Church here in the Netherlands, but it leading the banners of change, lay empowerment and whatnot, as in the 1970s, is unimaginable today. (It seems the Belgians and Germans are still – or perhaps belatedly – infected though). That knowledge, those experiences, will be used going forward.

  7. rdb says:

    Dear Phil_NL, I don’t think we disagree that much. Very few active Catholics under the age of 50 really believe in a return to the silly season of the seventies. A great majority of those who have left are really unaware of the dynamic and life-giving Catholicism found among those who offer authentic sacred liturgy in both the OF and EF, in teaching authentic Catholicism and the various ways Catholicism is thriving (whatever ‘option’ one chooses). Are there some who have left because the Church refuses to ordain women or let homosexuals get married? Sure. But there are more who have never experienced authentic Catholicism. Most received just enough Catholicism to be inoculated to the real thing.
    My main reference is to the most crucial choice made, especially in the US – the choice of bishops. Right now, that choice is primarily in the hands of two US cardinals, one a “moderate” the other an outlier among other bishops. Popes St John Paul/Benedict XVI choose, by and large orthodox men but they were not ideological in their choices. Pope Francis’ picks, for the most part are ideological. And in regards to that (which supports your point) this is the time for the laity to speak up and make a mess! Hagan lio!

  8. Gabriel Syme says:

    It’s fair to say, as it was 39 years ago, that everything hangs on the choice of the next pope

    And how!

    Which is exactly why we should hope and pray for a minimum of consistories to occur under Francis. The thought of a conclave offers hope, but also makes me feel sick with nerves!

    We really need Burke or Sarah. Both are as good as it gets today. Burke has an advantage in that he is slightly younger but then, as an American, some people may dislike the idea of the Pope coming from a super-power nation (I’d be cool with it, personally). Sarah’s ethnicity and background would make it more difficult for liberals to criticise him which would be funny.

    Even Cardinal Ranjith could do a job for us, as a less obvious choice. I think avoiding any contemporary Western Europeans is probably a good policy.

    I don’t think there is much romance left in modern conclaves, but imagine the name Schneider or Fellay was announced. My head would explode with sheer joy. (After all, any Catholic male could be elected, not just a Cardinal. My own odds were 500/1 the last time I checked – haha!).

    We cannot tolerate any of Francis’ acolytes continuing the direction he has set the Church on. So, a big “no” to Tagle and the like, thank you. God spare us.

    One of my daily prayers asks God to “soon grant us a bold and orthodox Pope” and for Him to “restore order and clarity to His Church”. I hope He answers this prayer!

  9. joekstl says:

    This post has a reference to Humanae Vitae “which dismayed Catholic liberals.” Not really. At least three quarters of Catholic couples totally ignore it, and to identify all of them as liberals is a real stretch. And most of them have not left the Church, at least in my experience in New York, Florida, and the Mid-West.

    [You have a distorted view of philosophical anthropology. People who are not virtuous are not truly happy. Moreover, most of the people whom you seem to admire knew that what they were doing was wrong… condemned in their own conscience, for God cannot be deceived. And woe… more woe… to any priest who aided them in their vice. They will face the Judge.]

  10. Filipino Catholic says:

    Unfortunately, Francis is showing no signs of needing replacement any time in the foreseeable future, and I suspect the heat will remain on and the calx of the Church will be roasted, decomposed into two parts. One will drift away and leave as insubstantial as gas, while those that remain will be forced to endure like metal in a furnace. The only questions are how long will the heat remain (“what of the night”, in Biblical parlance) and how much metal is indeed present in the calx.

    “The morning cometh, also the night: if you seek, seek: return, come.” –Isaias 21:12

    My eyes are peeled for Saturday, a.d. III Id. Mai.

  11. hwriggles4 says:

    Good comments about Catholics who were born after 1974. I recall reading about the attendance at a Call to Action conference in Detroit (i.e. a dissenting group) and even secular articles reported that the average age of attendance was 60, plus or minus a few years.

    Last night after 5:30 pm Mass, I had the pleasure of meeting four students from the University of Dallas who were between 20 and 23. These students are considering religious life, (three women, one man). One thing we discussed was that the Young Adult Catholics today have more resources to become better formed than my generation (I graduated high school in the mid 1980s) had.

    In 2017, there is EWTN, Theology of the Body, Steubenville Conferences, better formed priests and permanent deacons (I have heard from more recently ordained permanent deacons that several diaconate programs following the short time after Vatican II (i.e. 1970s) were pretty bad – some dioceses were figuring out what to do), Catholic Student Centers with meat and potatoes (not just social halls), reverent Masses, and Religious Education Directors with enthusiasm, zeal, and orthodoxy.

    The young are the future of the Church, and meeting these four students from the University of Dallas is a welcomed Witness to Hope.

  12. Robert_H says:

    Fr Z said: Moreover, most of the people whom you seem to admire knew that what they were doing was wrong…

    Father, I didn’t take joekstl’s comment to be in admiration of the dissenters of Humanae Vitae. I suspect his experience is similar to mine. (I’m a Catholic convert at age 30ish, now in my 40’s, in a diocese in Michigan.) [I took it that way, and I’m right. He dissents from HV.]

    It’s as if H.V. simply isn’t even thought about by the majority in the pews around me.

    Very conservative (in the political sense) Catholics have paid ZERO attention to H.V., [Then they are not Catholic in the deep sense.] and the liberal Catholics even less. I am friends with several conservative Catholic men who will admit to having been sterilized. [Everyone sins. Not everyone repents.] They attend Mass every weekend and it wasn’t until our sixth child came along that they gave up “joking” with me that I’d follow in their surgical footsteps one of these days. [Yah.. hilarious. What good company you keep.]

    I’ve never been to more than a handful of Masses at their parishes, but the scuttlebutt seems to be that the priests at these parishes never preach on H.V., do not make an issue of their flock’s use of contraception, and may even allow it if approached in the confessional. I am inclined to believe the scuttlebutt, especially when you notice how few four/five/six/seven children families are at these parishes compared to the more orthodox parishes in the diocese. (Either that, or there is a remarkable amount of saintly restraint and/or infertility out there.)

    All that said, you are very correct about their unhappiness. [Everything else aside, that’s the bottom line. And it is not just happiness here, but happiness in the life to come, which is a lot longer.] Some of the wives of the sterilized men I know have made mention to my wife of their desire for more children – none are happy with their situation, to say the least. [It’s all very sad.]

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