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University of California Press
The Catholic Revolution: New Wine, Old Wineskins, and the Second Vatican Council / Edition 1

The Catholic Revolution: New Wine, Old Wineskins, and the Second Vatican Council / Edition 1

by Andrew Greeley
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How, a mere generation after Vatican Council II initiated the biggest reform since the Reformation, can the Catholic Church be in such deep trouble? The question resonates through this new book by Andrew Greeley, the most recognized, respected, and influential commentator on American Catholic life. A timely and much-needed review of forty years of Church history, The Catholic Revolution offers a genuinely new interpretation of the complex and radical shift in American Catholic attitudes since the second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

Drawing on a wealth of data collected over the last thirty years, Greeley points to a rift between the higher and lower orders in the Church that began in the wake of Vatican Council II—when bishops, euphoric in their (temporary) freedom from the obstructions of the Roman Curia, introduced modest changes that nonetheless proved too much for still-rigid structures of Catholicism: the "new wine" burst the "old wineskins." As the Church leadership tried to reimpose the old order, clergy and the laity, newly persuaded that "unchangeable" Catholicism could in fact change, began to make their own reforms, sweeping away the old "rules" that no longer made sense. The revolution that Greeley describes brought about changes that continue to reverberate—in a chasm between leadership and laity, and in a whole generation of Catholics who have become Catholic on their own terms.

Coming at a time of crisis and doubt for the Catholic Church, this richly detailed, deeply thoughtful analysis brings light and clarity to the years of turmoil that have shaken the foundations, if not the faith, of American Catholics.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520244818
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 03/10/2004
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 237
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Andrew Greeley is a research associate at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago and teaches sociology at the University of Arizona. He is the author of many scholarly books, including The Catholic Imagination (California, 2000), Religion as Poetry (1995), and Catholic Myth: The Behavior and Beliefs of American Catholics (1994), as well as more than thirty novels.

Read an Excerpt

The Catholic Revolution

New Wine, Old Wineskins, and the Second Vatican Council
By Andrew Greeley

The University of California Press

Copyright © 2004 Regents of the University of California
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-520-24481-8

Chapter One

What Happened?

What happened between the end of the Council and the 1974 study? Some blamed the temper of the country in the late 1960s. A youth culture had spawned drug abuse, rock and roll music, sexual promiscuity, and disrespect for authority. This culture had infiltrated the Church and was responsible for the catastrophic change in Catholic belief and practice. Such a view, however, cannot stand up to analysis that shows that the change in sexual attitudes occurred in every age cohort, not just the young. Even those in their sixties changed their minds about birth control, divorce, and premarital sex.

The Council was an obvious target for those who thought there might be some truth in the numbers in table 4. Before the Council, a vigorous Church dominated an obedient and faithful people who kept the rules. After the Council? Confusion, chaos, and rebellion. Answer? The Council was to blame! Pope John was a senile fool! The theologians who ran it were radicals, possibly communist agents! Undo the Council! Go back to the Church of rules and mortal sin!

Such advice is like telling the cowboy whose prize stallion has escaped to lockthe gate of his corral. More moderate Catholics might also say that such a policy suggested that the Holy Spirit must have abandoned the Church in the 1960s, for the bishops of the world, in ecumenical council and approved by the pope, to be so profoundly mistaken. A revised version of the same argument, still popular in some quarters (not excluding the Vatican), is that Pope John was a saintly man who didn't know quite what he was doing and Pope Paul a victim of vacillation who could not make decisions. The theological advisers did not understand sound Catholic doctrine as well as they might have. It is therefore necessary to restore the Catholic tradition as best one can, by emphasizing the continuity of the Council with the past; to modify some of the changes that have occurred since then; and to gradually restore the old discipline. No one who embraced this model, as far as I am aware, explained the dynamics by which the Council caused the decline in religious practice. The argument was generally post-hoc, ergo propter-hoc: the changes occurred after the Council, therefore the Council caused them.

The argument was popular with the revisionists and restorationists whose work prior to the Council had influenced it and whose presence as advisers helped shape it, men such as Jean Daniélou, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Joseph Ratzinger, and the philosopher Jacques Maritain. They turned their backs on their own work, usually without the grace to admit that they were responsible for it.

In the report on the 1974 Catholic school study (Greeley, McCready, and McCourt 1976), I proposed a model that linked the changes to the birth control encyclical. After the Council and until 1968, Church attendance had increased. If one took into account changing attitudes on sex and authority, one could account for all the other declines-attendance at Mass, confession, contributions, support for vocations. I still think that model is useful, but that the dynamics of the change must be explicated more carefully.

There are two major tendencies in interpretation of the Second Vatican Council. The first, which dominated the Vatican at the end of the second millennium, is that the Council was an occurrence, a meeting of the bishops of the world, who enacted certain reforms and clarified certain doctrines. It was therefore an exercise in continuity and not in change; the response and clarification were necessary but they did not drastically change the nature of the Church. To find out what this occurrence, the "Council rightly understood" of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, meant, one must go to the conciliar documents. The second interpretation holds that the Council was a momentous event, indeed one of the most dramatic and important events in the history of Catholicism, a structure-shattering event one could almost call a revolution.

I began to ponder this debate after a conversation with a senior American prelate. He had remarked that the American bishops had made serious mistakes in their implementation of the Council, but that they could not be blamed because they had never had to implement a council before. I agreed, though I thought to myself I probably meant something different than he did. I thought he might have meant that they should have proceeded more slowly and cautiously, while I meant that they should not have tried to make so many changes in the Church while asserting all along that nothing was changing.

Then I discovered in the work of my friend and colleague Professor William Sewell, Jr., a model of social historical analysis (see Sewell 1992). It made me rethink the Council and what it did and didn't do. The Council was, in fact, both an occurrence and an event. It is folly to pretend that the event did not occur or that it can be undone. To understand Catholicism today, one must recognize what has happened and work from there. I must note here that I wrote some time ago that with or without the Council, the same changes would have occurred. Looking back on that statement, I must admit that it was not the most intelligent sentence I ever put on paper. No one knows what would have happened. But the fact is that there was a Council (presumably in Catholic doctrine inspired by the Holy Spirit), and the Church did go through enormous change. One must therefore strive to describe what happened.

Sewell, who has a joint appointment at the University of Chicago in history and political science, is concerned with structures and events, patterns of behavior and historical shifts that drastically reshape those patterns. He does not believe in "social laws," inexorable historical processes that direct the progress of human events. He writes, "Sociology's epic quest for social laws is illusory, whether the search is for timeless truths about all societies, ineluctable trends of more limited historical epochs, or inductively derived laws of certain classes of social phenomena. Social processes are inherently contingent, discontinuous, and open-ended" (Sewell 1996).

Sewell thus rejects the historical models of Weber, Durkheim, Marx, Comte, and all the others who find inexorable trends in human events, including implicitly those who babble today about postmodernism. His description of what actually happens in the "buzzing, blooming pluralism" of the human condition may seem like common sense, but it goes against what many sociologists and most pop sociologists believe. For the purposes of this essay, it also goes against the vague intellectualism of many Catholic commentators who think they can discern the secrets of history and summarize them in a couple of clear and simple paragraphs.

"Adequate eventful accounts of social process will look more like well-made stories or narratives than like laws of physics," argues Sewell. He uses what Robert Merton calls "middle-range" theories to account for contingent phenomena to determine why contingent events (about which there was no inevitability) have such important and sometimes momentous impact on the structures of human existence.

Sewell is also concerned with the "structures" of human behavior, that is, the routine patterns of human action. A structure, according to Sewell, is "the tendency of patterns of relationships to be reproduced even when actors engaging in the relations are unaware of the patterns or do not desire their reproduction." In contrast, an "event" is a series of historical occurrences that results in the durable transformation of structures. There are two dimensions of a structure, the schema-pattern itself-and resources-the motivations and constraints that reinforce the schema and are in turn reinforced by it. Think of Catholics and the obligation of Sunday Mass: it was routine behavior, not explicitly reflected upon, carried out routinely because it was part of being Catholic and it would be a mortal sin to omit it. Sewell, who is not Catholic, gives another illustration: "The priest's power to consecrate the host derives from schemas operating at two rather different levels. First, a priest's training has given him mastery of a wide range of explicit and implicit techniques of knowledge and self-control that enable him to perform satisfactorily as a priest. And second, he has been raised to the dignity of the priesthood by an ordination ceremony that, through the laying on of hands by a bishop, has mobilized the power of apostolic succession and thereby made him capable of an apparently miraculous feat-transforming bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ."

Established and reinforced behavior patterns tend to be stable and durable. However, they can also change, because of external forces or internal inconsistencies within structures themselves. A wartime defeat and devastation can savage the structures of a people (though in fact, in many western European countries after 1945, it seemed that the patterned and reinforced relationships were all that remained). The "fit" between resources and schemas is not so tight that inconsistencies, uncertainties, doubts, and conflicts cannot arise, more so under some sets of circumstances than others. Ruptures may then occur in behavior patterns and motivations-a basketball team swarms off a court to protest a defeat after a referee's decision that seems unfair. Such rupture events become historical events when they "touch off a chain of occurrences that durably transforms previous structures and practices."

To paraphrase and rearrange Sewell's argument, even the accumulation of incremental changes often results in a buildup of pressure and a dramatic crisis of existing practices, rather than a gradual transition from one state of affairs to another. Lumpiness, rather than smoothness, is the normal texture of historical temporality. And while the events are sometimes the culmination of processes long under way, they typically do more than simply carry out a rearrangement of practices made necessary by gradual and cumulative social change. Historical events tend to transform social relations in ways that could not be fully predicted from the gradual changes that may have made them possible. What makes historical events so important is that they reshape history by imparting an unforeseen direction to social development.

Events, then, should be conceived of as sequences of occurrences that result in the transformation(s) of structures. Such sequences begin with a rupture of some kind-that is, a surprising break with routine practice. But whatever the nature of the initial rupture, an occurrence only becomes a historical event when it touches off a chain of occurrences that durably transforms previous structures and practices.

Sewell's example of such a structure-shattering event is the storming of the Bastille in Paris in July 1789. Paris was on the edge that summer. The crown had run out of money. The Estates General had convened and constituted itself as a National Assembly, and King Louis dismissed the liberal minister Necker, surrounded Paris with troops, and seemed ready to suppress the National Assembly. Underlying the growing tensions between the king and his supporters and the Enlightenment-influenced National Assembly was a sharp division over the nature of sovereignty. Prospects for the harvest seemed poor. Pamphlets and newspapers were flooding Paris with incendiary articles. Mobs ransacked the city.

On the morning of July 14, representatives of the National Assembly government and a mob went to the Hôtel des Invalides to demand the arms that were stored there so that they could create a militia to defend the city against a possible attack by royal troops. They seized more than thirty thousand muskets and then moved to the Bastille to find gunpowder. After a bitter fight in which more than a hundred of the attackers were killed, they captured the fort, released its seven prisoners (forgers and madmen), and killed two government officials and paraded their heads around Paris on pikes.

There had been urban riots in Paris before and the battle for the Bastille was not a militarily important one, but within three days the king recalled Necker, removed the troops around Paris, and came to Paris to submit, in effect, to the wishes of the National Assembly.

At first the Assembly condemned the violence at the Bastille and indeed all political violence. But within two weeks, Sewell writes, its members had changed their minds:

In the excitement, terror, and elation that characterized the taking of the Bastille, orators, journalists and the crowd itself seized on the political theory of popular sovereignty to justify the popular violence. This act of epoch-making cultural creativity occurred in a moment of ecstatic discovery: the taking of the Bastille, which had begun as an act of defense against the king's aggression, revealed itself in the days that followed as a concrete, unmediated, and sublime instance of the people expressing its sovereign will. What happened at the Bastille became the establishing act of revolution in the modern sense. By their action at the Bastille, the people were understood to have risen up, destroyed tyranny, and established liberty.

Within a month other structure-shattering events followed: the abolition of feudal exactions, provincial and municipal privileges, exclusive hunting rights, and the confiscation and eventual sale of the vast properties of the church. The storming of the Bastille, now a culturally defined event, led to the utter transformation of the structures of French society in an outburst of exuberant creativity. The Old Regime would linger on at least till 1830 in one fashion or another. But the New Regime had in fact replaced it.

Would the political and social development of the (then) largest and most powerful country in Europe have been different if that event had not occurred? Did there have to be a revolution and then the bloody wars that lasted until 1815 and struggles in the twentieth century up to 1945? Was the development on balance good or bad? Might a more peaceful evolutionary transformation of power have been less traumatic for France? There are many different answers to these questions, and indeed the politics of France for two centuries have been, in part, a battle between those who accept the Revolution and those who in some sense do not. But the important point in Sewell's analysis is that the storming of the Bastille, once interpreted as a revolutionary, momentous event, shattered and eventually replaced the social, political, and religious structures of France.


Excerpted from The Catholic Revolution by Andrew Greeley Copyright © 2004 by Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents

List of Tables

Part I. Old Wineskins
1. A Catholic Revolution
2. The "Confident" Church
3. The Wineskins Burst
4. What Happened?
5. "Effervescence" Spreads from the Council to the World
6. How Do They Stay?
7. New Rules, New Prophets, and Beige Catholicism
8. Only in America?
9. Why They Stay
10. Priests

Part II. The Search for New Wineskins
11. Recovering the Catholic Heritage
12. Religious Education and Beauty
13. Authority as Charm
14. Liturgists and the Laity


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