Aftermath of Vatican II Misinterpreted Missions

by Francis X. Rocca

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – On the subject of the Second Vatican Council, Ralph Martin is nothing if not an enthusiast.

The theologian, who teaches at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit and served as an official expert at the October, 2012, world Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization, said the “wonderful things” that came out of Vatican II include an “emphasis on the active role of laypeople, the universal call to holiness, the rediscovery of Christian unity and ecumenism, (and) the desire to affirm whatever we can positively about modern culture.”

But in at least one crucial area, Martin said, the council’s expectations have been gravely disappointed.

Vatican II had as one of its central purposes to “make the Church more effective in proclaiming the Gospel to the modern world,” he said, yet it ushered in a “remarkable decline in the missionary orders that traditionally have carried out evangelization,” along with a “tremendous decline” in observance by Catholics in historically Christian countries.

Martin attributed the loss of Catholic missionary zeal to a widespread misunderstanding of some of Vatican II’s most distinctive teachings. As he argues in a new book (Will Many Be Saved? What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization), many Catholics were confused by the council’s laudable emphasis on ecumenism and interreligious dialogue into thinking that “maybe it doesn’t matter anymore whether people are Christians or not.”