Well over a decade ago I took a course from Scott Hahn in which he posed an elaborate question about responding to a Protestant interpretation of a passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans.
Students offered rebuttals based on the Letter of James and other teachings from Scripture and Tradition. Finally Dr. Hahn interrupted, saying, “Wait a minute! Romans is a ‘home game’ for Catholics.” He emphasized that Romans is not a “Protestant” book that needs to be countered with a “Catholic” book like James; he wanted our class to understand Romans and claim it as our own.
We have to understand that a similar dynamic is at work when it comes to dissident Catholics and Vatican II. In books such as Rome Has Spoken (Maureen Fiedler and Linda Rabben, eds.), we hear about the “rigid,” out-of-touch teaching of the pre-Vatican II Church. Vatican II came along and modernized–that is, changed–the Church’s position. Now we’re enduring consecutive pontificates that have forsaken Vatican II’s reforms and have retrenched in the old view.
The assumption on the dissidents’ part is that Vatican II is on their side. Our primary response should not be to quote from the Council of Trent or other reliable sources to “counter” or just plain ignore Vatican II.
Instead, we have to realize that Vatican II, as a legitimate ecumenical council of the Church, is a “home game” for us. Rather than work around Vatican II, and thus play into the dissidents’ strategy of pitting Vatican II against older tradition or the current papacy, we must learn what Vatican II really taught–without all the spin or the well-documented misadventures in implementation–and actually use the Vatican II documents to our advantage for the good of the Church. We’ll discover that Vatican II affirms teachings such as priestly celibacy, the inerrancy of Scripture, papal authority, and the need for moral conscience to be formed in accordance with Church teaching.
And of course now we have the authoritative Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is nothing other than the “Catechism of Vatican II.”
The foregoing is an excerpt from an article I wrote for the November 2002 issue of This Rock magazine entitled “The Grammar of Dissent.”