How the Zeitgeist Affected the Catholic Church in the U.S. After Vatican II
By Matt Abbott
The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, held from 1962 to 1965 at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, had as its objectives to seek the renewal of the Catholic Church and to modernize its forms and institutions.1 Unfortunately, during and after the Council, the Zeitgeist - the German term for "spirit of the age" - was largely responsible for the decline in certain key aspects of the Catholic Church in the U.S. These aspects are the number of priests and religious, weekly church attendance by its members, and the state of Catholic marriage. The Zeitgeist also fostered the rise of dissident Catholic organizations and individuals who have often misrepresented the teachings of Vatican II in order to promote their own agendas.
Kenneth C. Jones of St. Louis researched and compiled a number of statistics which he titled "Index of Leading Catholic Indicators: The Church Since Vatican II," published in 2003. Among his findings:2 While the number of priests in the U.S. more than doubled to 58,000 between 1930 and 1965, since then, that number has fallen to 45,000, and by 2020, there will be only 31,000 priests left; the number of seminarians (men who are studying to become priests) declined over 90 percent between 1965 and 2002; in 1965, there were 180,000 Catholic nuns, but by 2002, that number had fallen to 75,000; a 1958 Gallup Poll reported that three in four Catholics attended Mass (church) on Sundays, but a recent study by the University of Notre Dame found that only one in four now attend; Catholic marriages have fallen in number by one-third since 1965, while the annual number of annulments (a decree from the Church, sought by Catholics after a civil divorce, asserting that because of a particular defect, a valid marriage was never entered into and thereby allows the parties to marry in the Church) that has risen from 338 in 1968 to 50,000 in 2002.
One area of decline that can, and should, be explored more in detail is Catholic marriage. In the Church, marriage (matrimony) is considered one of the seven sacraments. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "The love of the spouses requires, of its very nature, the unity and indissolubility of the spouses' community of persons, which embraces their entire life: 'so they are no longer two, but one flesh.' They 'are called to grow continually in their communion through day-to-day fidelity to their marriage promise of total mutual self-giving.' This human communion is confirmed, purified, and completed by communion in Jesus Christ, given through the sacrament of Matrimony..." (no. 1644).
This brings us to the issue of annulments. The term is usually used in reference to the sacrament of matrimony. Marriages can be declared invalid for a variety of reasons: lack of canonical form if one party is Catholic and thus required to be married in the presence of a priest, deacon or bishop; the existence of an undispensed impediment; the presence of psychological factors that render one or both parties incapable of knowing what they were doing or of assuming the fundamental responsibilities of marriage.3 Church officials, in the form of a tribunal, are required to investigate all aspects of a marriage and divorce before declaring that marriage null and void. Once an annulment is granted, the parties involved are free to marry in the Church.
One reason for the large increase in the number of annulments in the past three decades has to do with procedural changes in canon law. The main, reason, however, appears to be the fact that the divorce rate, from 1960 to 1991, increased 133 percent.4 The percentage of marriages currently ending in divorce is debatable; but it nonetheless is significant.
There are, of course, a number of reasons why a marriage might end in divorce. An oft-overlooked (and politically incorrect) reason is the widespread use of contraception, even among Catholic married couples. In a published lecture titled Contraception: Why Not?, Dr. Janet E. Smith, Chair of Life Issues at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Mich., discusses why the divorce rate doubled between 1965, when 25 percent of marriages ended in divorce, and 1975, when 50 percent of marriages ended in divorce.5 Smith cites the research of social scientist Robert Michael, who concluded "that as the contraceptive pill became more and more available, divorce became more and more popular."6 In fact, Michael attributed "45 percent of this increase [in divorce] to increased use of contraceptives."
There are three reasons for this, according to Michael. First, his statistical data showed "that those who use contraceptives have fewer children and have them later in marriage...those who have the first baby in the first two years of marriage and another baby in the next couple years of marriage, have a much longer lasting marriage than those who don't." Secondly, Michael found that "since contraceptives have arrived on the scene, there is much more adultery than there was before."
Observes Smith: "People have been tempted, for the history of mankind. It's easy enough to think about wanting to have an affair, but wanting a child out of wedlock is another story. But if most every woman is contracepting, then most every woman is available in a certain sense and there is no real reason to say no. Adultery is absolutely devastating to marriages."
The third explanation, says Dr. Smith, is "that women are financially more independent. They do have fewer children. They do go into the work place. And, again, when they have difficulties in the marriage, it's much [easier] to say, 'Take a walk,' than it is to work it out because they need their husband for one fewer reason than they did before."
Between 1960 and 1991, abortions increased 800 percent.7 The general consensus is that, subsequent to the 1973 Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions legalizing abortion-on-demand, there have been, and continues to be, well over 1,000,000 surgical abortions committed each year. The number of chemical abortions, caused by abortifacient birth control, is estimated to be 14,000,000 each year.8 Sadly, despite the Catholic Church's clear teaching on abortion - that it is an intrinsically evil act - a 1996 study by the Alan Guttmacher Institute has shown that Catholic women are more likely to procure abortions than Protestant women.9 In fact, Catholic women make up 31 percent of the population and account for 31 percent of the abortions.10 (An interesting side note: A major finding of the survey was that 57.5 percent of women aborting their children say they were using a contraceptive the month they became pregnant.)11
Also between 1960 and 1991, child abuse increased more than 500 percent.12 This, of course, has been a problem even in the Church, specifically in regard to sexual abuse by members of the clergy and religious, which has made national and world headlines in the last few years. A study commissioned in 2002 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), done in response to hundreds of sex-abuse accusations that were made in nearly every U.S. Catholic diocese, found that from 1950 to 2002, there were 10,667 cases of abuse.13 Interestingly, the study found that 81 percent of sex crimes committed against children by Catholic priests during the past 52 years were homosexual men preying on boys.14
Such is an illustration of how the Cultural/Sexual Revolution influenced - perhaps "infected" would be a better term - a number of Church officials who seemingly let sexual deviants into the priesthood. Indeed, one could even say that deviancy was even promoted at certain seminaries. Catholic author Michael S. Rose, in his 2002 book Goodbye! Good Men, quotes Father John Trigilio about an incident at the seminary in the 1980's: 15
"'We had the state police come in and arrest one of my classmates because he allegedly went to some 15-year-old kid's house during the afternoon and took pictures of him in his underwear. The rest of us never found out how he knew this poor kid, but we were having an evening class when the trooper arrived with a warrant for his arrest, cuffed him, and took him right then and there in front of everybody. The next day in the local newspaper ran a full story on a Catholic seminarian charged with corruption of the morals of a minor and other things.' Trigilio pointed out that up to the moment of that seminarian's arrest, the suspect was getting excellent evaluations because he was 'tolerant, flexible, and liberal-minded,' i.e., he went along with the faculty on everything."
Other notable aspects of cultural decay between 1960 and 1991: the teen suicide rate increased 214 percent; cohabitation increased 279 percent; the percentage of single-parent families increased 214 percent; the juvenile violent crime rate increased 295 percent; the illegitimate birthrate increased 457 percent; and the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) increased 245 percent.16 In fact, today there are more than two dozen varieties of STDs, from pelvic inflammatory disease (which renders more than 100,000 American women infertile each year) to AIDS (which presently infects 42 million people worldwide and has already killed another 23 million).17
This brings us to the subject - or person, rather - of Alfred C. Kinsey. Kinsey (1894 - 1956) was the director of the Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University.18 The degenerate zoologist, known in certain circles as the "father of the sexual revolution," almost single-handedly redefined the sexual mores of everyday Americans.19 His books Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female weakened the bonds of personal chastity and sexual restraint in the U.S.20 Kinsey was a man who essentially attempted to use science to promote his disordered sexuality. An overview of an investigative report by WorldNetDaily.com, titled "Obsessed with Sex: How Kinsey's fraudulent science unleashed a catastrophic 'revolution' in America," states: 21
"Kinsey, the 'heroic scientist' whose 'research' launched the sexual revolution and provides the 'scientific' basis for it to this very day, was a fraud. He relied on interviews with hundreds of prisoners and sexual psychopaths, while pretending he was surveying normal citizens. He threw out large amounts of data that didn't fit his predetermined conclusions. He encouraged his wife and fellow 'scientists' to engage in wild group sex, and filmed these sessions in his attic. Though Kinsey's widely publicized conclusions that Americans are amoral sexual animals were fraudulent, far worse was the indisputable fact that he encouraged criminal pedophiles to conduct horrifying, Dr. Mengele-like sexual experiments on hundreds of children. That's right, Kinsey relied on friendly child-molesters, whose identities he protected from the law, to sexually abuse literally hundreds of children, ranging from just a few months of age up to 15 years, to gather his "scientific data" on child sexuality."
Ultimately, the sixties culture did influence Catholics who were trying to find their way in the secular culture in regard to sexual morality, with sad consequences in the years to follow.22 To quote Catholic author and social critic E. Michael Jones:23 "The Catholic Left, otherwise known as dissent, is made up of the Catholics who sided with the Enlightenment during the Cultural Revolution of the `60s. Their issue is and was contraception."
Indeed, in 1968, when then-Pope Paul VI promulgated the encyclical Humanae Vitae - which reaffirmed the Catholic Church's constant teaching that contraception is intrinsically immoral - a number of American Catholics, clergy and laity, reacted with public dissent. There had been speculation that the Pope would "reverse" the Church's teaching, primarily because an advisory commission he formed to study the issue advised him to do so. But such was not the case, much to the dismay of the Church's secular critics and the Catholic dissenters. It is currently estimated that 80 to 90 percent of Catholic couples use some form of contraception, in violation of Church teaching.
In the 1970s, Call to Action was formed. Call to Action is a group of purported Catholics who dissent from the Church's teachings on issues pertaining to contraception, homosexuality, the male-only priesthood and other matters. These dissenters on the left speak of an endless array of stunted imitation "churches" such as AmChurch, HouseChurch, GreenChurch, FemChurch, NewChurch, WomenChurch, FutureChurch, FreeChurch, WeChurch and MeChurch - anything and everything but the authentic Roman Catholic Church.24 As they implement concepts such as "small faith communities" and "constitutions" at every level, the dissenters hope that the Church will be reduced from a single immovable rock to a disorganized heap of pebbles, each of which is completely different from every other.25
In conclusion, it is all too apparent that the decline in key aspects of the Catholic Church in the U.S. were due, directly and indirectly, to the zeitgeist: specifically, the Cultural/Sexual Revolution of the 1960s, which had its roots in the Enlightenment. Essentially, the corrupt clergy and laity in the Church have been infected, to varying degrees, by the very worst elements of society. Of course, this is no way absolves their misbehavior and, in some cases, outright criminal activity. If anything, they should know better. Everything considered, however, it makes more sense to blame the crisis in the Church on the widespread cultural and moral decay instead of on Vatican II itself.
1. Rev. Peter Stravinskas, ed. Our Sunday Visitor's Catholic Encyclopedia (Indiana: OSV, 1991) 954-955.
2. Patrick J. Buchanan, "An index of Catholicism's decline." (WorldNetDaily.com - Dec. 11, 2002) Retrieved online on Nov. 9, 2004 from http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=29948
3. Stravinskas 72-73.
4. Brian Clowes, The Facts of Life (Virginia: HLI, 1997) 264.
5. Matt C. Abbott, "Rush Limbaugh, divorce, and contraception." (Cruxnews.com - July 2, 2004) Retrieved online in Nov. 2004 from http://www.cruxnews.com/abbott/abbott-02july04.html.
7. Clowes 264.
8. American Life League. Retrieved Nov. 2004 from http://www.all.org/issues/abstats.htm.
9. Alissa J. Rubin, "The Catholic Abortion Paradox." Retrieved in Nov. 2004 from http://www.beliefnet.com/story/63/story_6301_1.html.
11. Catholic World News, "Survey Say Catholics Have Higher Rate Of Abortion" (Aug. 8, 1996) Retrieved in Nov. 2004 from http://www.cwnews.com/news/viewstory.cfm?recnum=1480.
12. Clowes 264.
13. Julia Duin, "Gay priests cited in abuse of boys." The Washington Times. (Feb. 28, 2004) Retrieved in Nov. 2004 from http://www.washtimes.com/national/20040227-111236-5901r.htm.
15. Michael S. Rose, Goodbye! Good Men (Ohio: Aquinas, 2002) 243.
16. Clowes 264.
17. Sue Ellin Browder, "Kinsey's Secret: The Phony Science of the Sexual Revolution." (CatholicExchange.com - Nov. 12, 2004) Retrieved in Nov. 2004 from http://www.catholicexchange.com/vm/index.asp?vm_id=2&art_id=25979.
18. William A. Borst, "Deadly Designers" (Mindszenty Report, newsletter of the Cardinal Mindszenty Foundation, Nov. 2004) 2.
20. Borst 2.
21. Nov. 18, 2004. Retrieved from http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=41368.
22. Mark and Louise Zwick, "What Happened to the Tremendous Renewal Possibilities after the Second Vatican Council?" (TCRNews2.com) Retrieved in Oct. 2004 from http://www.tcrnews2.com/Vat2Zwicks.html.
23. E. Michael Jones, "Internet in Gaza: Sexual Liberation as Political Control." Culture Wars Feb. 1997: 30.
24. Brian Clowes, 'Call to Action or Call to Apostasy?' (Virginia: HLI, 1997) 6.
(Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic journalist and commentator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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