A Council Father on the Legacy of Vatican II

The late Archbishop Thomas Morris, emeritus of Cashel and Emly, was interviewed in 1992 by RTÉ’s religious affairs correspondent, Kieron Wood. Many thanks to Kieron for allowing me to repost the text of the interview:

I’d been a Bishop for two years at the start of the Council. I’d been teaching dogmatic theology and it depended at that time on consulting the authorities, what former Councils had decided. But I was quite insular in my outlook on the Church and my theology. I didn’t know what sort of issues were likely to come up in Rome. In any case the issues didn’t come up that one would have expected.

It wasn’t until we came to the schema on the Church that the newer thinking became apparent– thinking that we weren’t familiar with. I only vaguely guessed at the combination of the North European bishops. I’d heard of a pastoral issued by the bishops of Holland; the late Archbishop McQuaid of Dublin told me about it; he would have regarded it as too advanced, unorthodox. But I didn’t know about the cleavages within the theology schools.

We got the drafts of the various schemata beforehand. They were labelled sub secreto, so that I didn’t even show them to my secretary. I found of course that drafts had been circulated to an awful lot of people besides!

I was relieved when we were told that this Council was not aimed at defining or giving final statements on doctrine, because a statement of doctrine has to be very carefully formulated and I would have regarded the Council statements as tentative and liable to be reformed.

Early on, the question came up of appointing members to the ten commissions. My commission dealt with two projects: the lay apostolate and the communications media. I found the participation in the commission’s work useful, informative and most interesting — but time-consuming. We were put immediately to work on the instruments of social communications.

The first session in 1962 was on the liturgy. I had heard in discussions that the choice of the liturgy schema as the first one was inspired — or engineered perhaps — by the North Europeans. They’d scored many such points against the Roman Curia who were supposed to be managing things.

While it’s possible that Pope John XXIII was manipulated in some ways, I doubt that’s the case with Paul VI. He took a very personal interest in the Council and used to study documents and would send a message down to the Council Fathers to include such-and-such a reservation. These interventions were resented by some of the Council Fathers and more especially by some of the pereti (or experts) and there were some occasions where dominant periti would have staged a certain thing.

A speech was written, perhaps, for a council Father (he was the only one who could speak), but all the periti were massed in the lobby or on the stairs to hear this statement. They would applaud vigorously and the presiding chairman would say “No applause in church” but that was all stage-managed. But I imagine Paul VI was aware of this to a certain extent. That was why he wanted to correct certain things; he saw them getting out of hand.

The beginning of the liturgy schema created an atmosphere where there was a lot of agreement and a certain amount of advance enthusiasm. One of the things that arose was the use of Latin. The post-Conciliar practices went far beyond what was decided and voted on as part of the decisions of the Council.

Just to take a couple of examples: it was contemplated that the Latin language would continue to be the main language of the liturgy, but there could be limited or occasional use of the vernacular.

In 1964 the Irish Episcopal Conference voted at its meeting at Maynooth on how much vernacular there would be in the Mass. We decided we would have to have English in the readings, and otherwise we were rather limited in the amount of the vernacular we would use, with no intention of departing completely from Latin. I still hold that it was a pity that we went the whole hog in practice with the vernacular.

I and most of my colleagues in Ireland had a very high regard for the Catholicism of our own people. They came to Mass on Sunday in big numbers, believing what the Mass is and wanting to honour God. They brought their children to Mass. They took part in the only way they knew: they possibly said their beads or read the Key of Heaven. But many of the liturgical pundits were writing off that kind of piety. They wanted people to be more authentically liturgical and saying your Rosary during Mass was out. I didn’t like that. I felt a lot of these European countries would have been lucky if they’d had people saying the Rosary during Mass! Popular devotions and religion was something I thought ought to have been appreciated a bit more.

The schema on the liturgy took up most of this period. I would have agreed with a lot of things — like revising ceremonial. For example, on a very practical note for Bishops, their ceremonies and their dress were simplified a good deal. I was Master of Ceremonies to my predecessor and vested him many a time. A procession of students would come up with buskins and sandals and different items and it didn’t seem to create an atmosphere of great worship or anything like that.

But other changes came on after that, such as the pectoral cross being worn outside the chasuble. The Pope wears his pectoral cross inside his chasuble — as we always did — and I felt this was an innovation that might have been OK if some approval had been given by the authority of the Church. But there wasn’t, so I said I’d follow the Pope and I’ve suffered for my convictions in places like Lourdes. One of the Masters of Ceremonies there was horrified that I wasn’t going to conform to what the other Bishops were doing.

But I’ve seen fashions come and go. There was one fashion which came for a little while and then went again of wearing a wooden cross to proclaim humility and poverty. But I didn’t agree with either — if they’re proclaimed too much!

Another matter was altars facing the people. They were only permitted, not obligatory, and I don’t think it was contemplated they would become as common as they have. Immediately after the Council, the fashion developed of tearing out the altars and putting up altars facing the people in just about every Church. Saying Mass with your back to the people was rather reprobated in the Council opinions. Communion in the hand, that was grasped at by the nuns and it spread from them.

At the opening Mass of the Council, I was near the altar and heard Pope John XXIII speak about the serious difficulties and sufferings of earlier Councils because of undue interference of the civil authorities, Kings and Emperors and so on. I put a note in the margin of the sermon: what about interference by the media?

It’s an almost insuperable temptation for the media to influence the events they report, perhaps by an implication of approval or disapproval. I felt that good Pope John wasn’t aware that this would happen, but I saw it happening. I knew the Irish journalists who were reporting and I saw their methods, though they weren’t the most reckless of the reporters there.

There was a confused position about the news of the Council: how much would be released and how much published. The Irish journalists got into the habit of attending the press conferences (of the Dutch Bishops). I think the Dutch Bishops were largely involved in an information office which was set up and issued a regular newsletter, I-DOC. It was nearly always in favour of the liberal position. And that was where several of our Irish reporters received their theological training! They got a good strong diet then of liberal views!

There was a lack of foresight on the part of the people organizing the Council. They should have organized relations with the press and media a bit better.

Our draft on the media was the first one and we weren’t to blame entirely because we were told to cut down drafts and reduce them to a few general principles.

I feel that, at a lot of points, the implementation of the Council decisions has gone beyond the Council. Earlier on there was a phrase going around: ‘the Spirit of Vatican II’. I think the ‘Spirit of Vatican II’ meant the misuse of Vatican II to bolster up some idea of one’s own. I think the implementation of the Council has been very uneven throughout the world. A lot depended on what was there before the Council. You don’t change the practice in a diocese overnight just because there’s been a Council.

There was so much that had been accepted and put into books that, well, we didn’t disagree with, but we didn’t agree with. There was a good deal of continental theology with which we weren’t familiar and it would take some time before we could absorb it — if we are to absorb it.

I would have agreed with Archbishop John Charles McQuaid of Dublin who wanted to reassure the ordinary people that there was to be no change in the doctrine of the Church and they needn’t get worried about that. I wouldn’t always have agreed with Archbishop McQuaid; he was too conservative for my taste. But I would certainly have agreed with him in that. It was a good time to reassure people.

Of course, the strength of Irish Catholicism has been its conservatism. Going back to the beginning of the eighteenth century, it wasn’t the priests that held onto the Faith, it was the people. Ignorant people, faction-fighters, poitin-makers, but people with faith, and from them sprang the priests. But Irish Catholicism is short in a lot of ways. Lack of consistency, for example. We did need to change, but we haven’t changed yet. We need prayer, genuine prayer based on a relationship with God, and then a changed attitude to our neighbour. The valley of the squinting windows is an Irish invention and a lack of charity is all too common among the Irish people.

As to the interpretation of the Council, the theologians are the ones who encourage trends and develop theories and if they don’t defend the essentials, then the essentials are in great danger. After all, it has been the theologians who have led the Church astray in so many cases and so many countries.

But today the theologians have fairly well divided themselves. In America, I wouldn’t rely on some of the big theologians at all. I think some of the theologians over there have sold out on the modern favourite questions of morality and sex, abortion, marriage, and they were teaching in important positions. And some of our own Irish theologians would have done us no great good.

I still think that the lay apostolate is one of the great discoveries of Vatican II. But, on the negative side, I’d say there’s been a change in the generalized attitude to authority which may be attributed to the Council. The old, flat condemnation by bishops and the Church was final– you were condemned, that was the end of you. Now there’s a growing attitude, I think, of “We-e-ell, things might not be the same in five years’ time”. And I think some of that would have come from the general discussion and digestion of Vatican II that’s gone on.

I think Pope John XXIII expected the Council to end by the Christmas of 1962, but once it began, it had to be brought to some sort of conclusion. It would be very hard to say it’s a pity it happened at all.

But the over-influence of the Council isn’t as great now as it was a dozen years ago. We used to all claim the support of Vatican II for our own pet ideas, but I don’t think we do that now as much as we used to. The Council is history now.

The Council was meant to bring the Church up to date — aggiornamento. But it hasn’t percolated down sufficiently to the ordinary folk and it hasn’t been taken up with sufficient enthusiasm by hierarchies. It was a brave attempt but I don’t think it succeeded in doing that.

Posted on February 21, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 45 Comments.

  1. thanks, Shane, – very interesting read!

  2. Confirms so much that I expected. Fascinating.

  3. Superb interview which needs to be read internationally. Thanks for making it available. Thanks to Kieron Wood too. Keep up the good work. This is all helping to gradually debunk the liberal falsehoods.

  4. The Hippie Council was, and continues to be, an immense tragedy. So much destruction, not least of souls. I feel sorry for the bishops and periti behind it. As Ezechiel 3 and 34 make clear, they’re going to be called to very painful account.

    “At the close of a long life (for I was born in 1905 and I now see the year 1990), I can say that it has been marked by exceptional world events: three world wars, that which took place from 1914 to 1918, that which took place from 1939 to 1945, and that of the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965. The disasters caused by these three wars, and especially by the last of them, are incalculable in the domain of material ruins, but even more so in the spiritual realm. The first two paved the way for the war inside the Church….”

    -Abp. Marcel Lefebvre, Spiritual Journey

  5. Thanks for that posting. I realize the comments were made 20 years ago but, even then, I believe His Grace was way too leniant in his view of that council. He speaks of just some of the post conciliar destruction that was abundantly clear even in 1992 (and prior to that). The council was a “brave attempt?” Brazen might have been a better choice of words.

  6. Why would a council meet that isn’t trying to define and clarify something?

    If you’re talking and not making things more clear, by definition you’re making things less clear. At best, useless chatter. At worse, confusion nonsense. Result? 50 plus years after the council I don’t think any two people can tell is what it was for and how we benefited.

  7. The Council was a tragedy. Today we have Catholic churches that look like
    secular conference halls with little or no iconography; we have priests who do not vest; we have Protestant hymns; we have crowds of lay people surrounding the altar handing out communion–all of them in secular dress. We have watered down fasting rules for Lent; nuns who wear skirts and trousers and go around in BIG Hair. Tragic, but it is not the Catholic Church anymore. The Novus Ordo Mass is so disjointed and “Lutheran” in its absence of majesty or mysticism. Catholic Church architecture is a disgrace–new churches in the US suburbs, as I said, resemble secular meeting halls, and many of the great churches in the world have been stripped of their high altars. What is this if not apostasy? It is time to go to the Orthodox Church!

  8. Ya but…but someone once told me vcii was a supercouncil- the greatest thing , EVER. Could they’ve been wrong?!

    • “…this particular council defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council; and yet many treat it as though it had made itself into a sort of superdogma which takes away the importance of all the rest.”

      -Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as head of the CDF, address to the Chilean bishops in 1988

    • @ Sammy. Of course they were wrong! Vatican Council II was a diabolic-Jewish-Masonic fabrication in order to make the Church renege on her glorious past and change-invalidate-corrupt her sacraments and doctrine.

    • judge it by its fruits

  9. What utter rot! Of course it was successful! Vatican Council II was successful in destroying the Catholic Church forever!

    • Care to elaborate. “…destroying the catholic church forever?” You mean the church will NEVER bounce back? This is Our Lord’s church- what makes you think it is destroyed forever? What utter nonsense! Haven’t you ever heard of God using/allowing evil to bring about a greater good?

      • Human history has run its course. The Church has betrayed Our Lord. The Church has become unfaithful. The Catholic Church is no more. What is next is WWIII, brief worldwide reign of the Antichrist, the conversion of Jews, the burning up of the planet, the resurrection of the living and the dead, the last judgment and the new Jerusalem coming down from Heaven. It’s all in St. Matthew Ch. 24, 2nd Epistle of St. Peter, 2nd Epistle to the Thessalonians by St. Paul and in St. John’s Apocalypse.

  10. He doesn’t think it succeeded? What an understatement. Maybe Fr. Luigi Villa is right when he says, “I believe there will come a day when Vatican II will be declared ‘null and void’ in a solemn judgment of the Supreme Pontiff. It will appear as an anomalous stone, abandoned at the back of a cemetery” (Villa 10). I hope so.

    Villa, Luigi. “Watican II About Face.” Oconomonowoc: The Apostolate of Our Lady of Good Success, 2011.

    • Let’s only hope! Fr. Malachi Martin used to say that the council was allowed by God to occur in order to cleanse His church of the rot of modernism etc. Unfortunately it cannot happen fast enough for me.

      • “Malachi Martin used to say that the council was allowed by God to occur in order to cleanse His church of the rot of modernism etc.” What utter hypocrisy or stupidity or both! Vatican Council II happened against the Will of God and it caused the Final Apostasy of the Church as St. Paul forewarned in 2nd Thessalonians Ch. 2.

      • How should a church filled with clergy who are modernistic be dealt with? It’s very obvious the pre-vat.ii council church had a problem. Pius X had stated it early on in early 1900s. How else should it have been occured?

  11. @ Sammy. God will deal with his apostate clergy the same way he dealt with his Jewish Deicide people. Extermination and extinction.

  12. @ Tom and Sammy. Here’s an example of todays’s clergy.

    Adam and Eve? That’s just mythology, says Pell
    BY: NICOLAS PERPITCH From: The Australian April 10, 2012 12:00AM
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    AUSTRALIA’S Cardinal George Pell has described the biblical story of Adam and Eve as a sophisticated myth used to explain evil and suffering rather than a scientific truth.

    Cardinal Pell last night appeared on the ABC’s Q&A program, where he was debating British evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins.

    Cardinal Pell said humans “probably” evolved from Neanderthals but it was impossible to say exactly when there was a first human. “But we have to say if there are humans, there must have been a first one,” he said.

    According to Genesis, God created Adam and Eve as the first man and woman.

    Asked by journalist Tony Jones if he believed in the existence of an actual Garden of Eden with an Adam and Eve, Cardinal Pell said it was not a matter of science but rather a beautiful mythological account.

    “It’s a very sophisticated mythology to try to explain the evil and the suffering in the world,” he said.

    “It’s certainly not a scientific truth. And it’s a religious story told for religious purposes.”

    Cardinal Pell argued that the “great atheist movements” of Hitler and Stalin were the personification of social Darwinism.

    “It’s the struggle for survival, the strong take what they can, and the weak give what they must and there’s nothing to restrain them.” he said. “And we’ve seen that in the two great atheist movements of the last century.”

    Professor Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, rejected the notion as “ridiculous”.

    He said Stalin was an atheist and Hitler was not, and they each perpetrated their acts for different reasons.

    Towards the end of the debate, the head of the Catholic Church in Australia appeared to lament his struggle to promote Christ.

    “My life would be much easier if I didn’t have to go into bat for . . . Christian principles,” he said.

    Cardinal Pell then mused that he sometimes wondered if he should regret his life’s work, before asserting: “No, no.”

    • I am aware of the clergy today. There are quite a number who have lost the faith. I do not believe all clergy are like these examples you gave. I also do not believe the church is totally lost, IMO.
      Wolfrano, do you believe in the Fatima message and the statement that in the end , Mary’s Immaculate Heart will Triumph and Russia will be converted? Or are you of the belief of some if not all sedes take: that Russia has already been consecrated by Pius xii and the peace spoken of by Our Lady has already passed?

      • @ Tom. I believe in the true Fatima Message written by Sister Lucia before she was killed and opened in 1960, not on the messsage written by Cardinal Ratzinger.

        Thus, Russia is no longer communist. It has gone back to its precommunist roots, that is, back to the principles laid down by the Russian Orthodox Church.

      • My point is that a pope will have to consecrate Russia eventually , with the few bishops remaining after a lot of bishops having left the church, that there is still a church left, and the period of peace will ensue. I don’t believe Russia is consecrated. Russia still has plans for world domination, and is prepared to invade Europe with her vast armaments ready for war soon. I don’t believe it has gone back to its pre-communists roots – it’s still in hiding. The official Fatima message IMO is not totally true. I believe there is an unrevealed portion left. So in your view, Russia is still awaiting the consecration??

      • @ Sammy. Pope Pius XII was the last catholic Pope in history. He consecrated Russia during his reign. Today Russia is Christian Orthodox not atheist communist.

      • Sorry , I don’t buy it. Sr. Lucy said Pius xii consecration didn’t take, and this was before your claimed “Lucy was killed in 1960” argument. And he wasn’t the last pope. So your argument falls short. The Russian church is run by the KGB and never have converted to the true faith.

      • >>>”… In the end, My Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to Me, and she will be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.” It is obvious we haven’t experienced this period of peace since Pius xii, the triumph of the IH has yet to occur and there is the issue of “The Holy Father” consecrating Russia, then the “conversion”- as the script goes. How is the Holy Father going to consecrate Russia with ALL the bishops , when it could of occurred during Pius’ reign and did not, when the church was at its height and yet no peace. The obvious conclusion is , even before VCII,the bishops did not place any emphasis or belief in Fatima. It is impossible for the consecration to have occurred then or now.

  13. I wish you crazy Americans would stop judging the rest of the world by your standards. Please God, create a planet US. Let them all go there and leave the rest of the world in peace. 🙂

  14. Not one of the commenters so far has noted the “Reform of the Reform” instituted by our present pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI. He is a gift of God and through him the Holy Spirit is, through return to authentic liturgy, gently returning the badly trimmed barque of Peter to an even keel so it can voyage safely through the storms of history.

    Abuse of the Eucharist as permitted by willful misunderstanding of “the spirit of Vatican II” resulted in abuse of mankind in artificial contraception, the sexual revolution, abortion, human cloning & euthanasia; not to mention wars, which are the punishment for sin, and the global economic depression which is settling on all “first world” nations.

    Only a world-wide miracle can undo all this evil; however through the intervention of the Mother of God as explained at Fatima, that miracle will happen when enough people heed her message. Reforming the liturgy to appropriate reverence for the Eucharist is the first evidence that some people are living & praying as Our Lady asked. As the liturgy returns to worship fitting and proper for God, the other evils will be dealt with.

  15. The Church is going through her passion. Remember, all of the apostles abandoned Our Lord and he was betrayed by His own chosen apostle. Only John came back with Our Lady and stood by the cross as Our Lord suffered. We need to be faithful as those few women and one man….standing by the cross, awaiting His glorious resurrection, as we remain faithful to His Church. If the Church been betrayed by Vatican 2, something greater will restore her. Hang in there and pray because the springtime of Holy Mother Church is coming.

  16. Yes,we faithful all lament on the unholy changes that have occurred to our Catholic Church.However,I believe The Holy Spirit ,has drawn a circle around the alter in regards to the Consecration.There have been no approved changed in the Rubics since Vatican One.This is one area the Litergy is intact.I think we can see hope for future restoration in the Mass with the recent ,New Missal changes. The prayers reflect the proper translations from the Latin text. I thank Christ for this Change.

  17. Thanks for sharing this, very interesting and informative

  18. How about letting the Pope decide what needs to be changed and what doesn’t. There are some dissident archbishops and cardinals making negative comments about the church from time to time, just like.Archbishoip Morris did. If there was anything wrong, the Popes since the council till today would have corrected what was wrong. There was lots of misinterpretations of certain things by individual priests, but that does not mean the council was of a negative nature. I gew up under the Latin Mass and didn’t have any idea what was happening. All I knew was that every so often the priest would turn toward the congregation and say some Latin words and then turn back toward the altar. Most of the adults would sit and say the Rosary during the Mass and then eventually we would get up to receive the Eucharist. It’s obvious that the council changing the Mass into the vernacular made a whole lot of sense. The Mass became alive to us and we are participating in it. It is obvious that this is what God wanted for us, not the other way.

  19. You boys should stop dreaming and read Apocalypse Chapters XVII and XVIII.

  20. Many thanks for sharing this article, keep up the good work!

  21. Regarding the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary–no pope has ever claimed to have done it. ‘Nuff said.

  22. You boys and girls should stop believing in Satan Claws coming down the chimney and in the Tooth-fairy putting money under your bed. Instead listen to what Fr. Malachi Martin, Bishop Milingo and Fr. Gabriel Amorth have to say regarding the Vatican and Church Hierarchy..

  23. K.M.B.
    I miss the quiet, solitude of Mass,the beautiful statues,mostly I miss kneeling at the Altar rail contemplating the reception of the Holy Eucharist. We now have opera singers as Cantors, who perform as if Mass was an opera, and receive the Body and Blood of Christ, standing in long lines, while singing. I also miss the Tabernacle in the center of the main Altar, and not in a tiny room with eight chairs. Nonetheless, I understand some of these changes had to be made because of the shortage of Priests. I will go on loving my Lord, no matter how many changes are made.

  24. Read Michael Rose ,Ugly as Sin, Rose is a Notre Dame architect professor.His book deals with how our Churches were changed into meeting places.Some,not all. One can find churches were Christ is the center. Pray for our priest and Christ ‘s Church, don’t lose hope.

  25. It only maters what we do with our lives. We can show our love and gratitude to Our Lord by loving Him in the Eucharist and living the two greatest commandments.

    The early Christians converted Rome by the powerful force of grace through frequent confession and the mass. Sacramental grace was unleashed and Rome converted.

    The laity will have to do the work. It is up to each and every one of us. What joy there is knowing we tried our best in remembrance of Our Lord’s passion. He suffered so terrible.

    Let us make Him happy and show our gratitude with acts of love and gratitude. The world can be changed! All for Jesus, Mary and Joseph.


  2. Pingback: Interview With Vatican II Council Father | timothyandtitus

  3. Pingback: A Council Father on what happened at Vatican II | Catholic Canada

  4. Pingback: Archbishop Heenan of Westminster on the Council in 1964 | Lux Occulta

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