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Iowa bishop blasts ‘spirit of Vatican II,’ calls it ‘a ghost or demon that must be exorcised’

October 16, 2009

In a new pastoral letter on Church renewal, Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City denounces false interpretations of the Second Vatican Council and calls upon Catholics to “reclaim and strengthen our understanding of the deposit of faith.” Bishop Nickless, originally a priest of the Archdiocese of Denver who served as Archbishop Charles Chaput’s vicar general, writes:

The question arises: Why has the implementation of the Council, in large parts of the Church, thus far been so difficult? Well, it all depends on the correct interpretation of the Council or - as we would say today - on its proper hermeneutics, the correct key to its interpretation and application. The problems in its implementation arose from the fact that two contrary hermeneutics came face to face and quarreled with each other. One caused confusion, the other, silently but more and more visibly, bore and is bearing fruit.

On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call “a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture,” it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the “hermeneutic of reform,” of renewal in the continuity of the one subject – Church – which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.

The hermeneutic of discontinuity risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church. It asserts that the texts of the Council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the Council …

It is crucial that we all grasp that the hermeneutic or interpretation of discontinuity or rupture, which many think is the settled and even official position, is not the true meaning of the Council. This interpretation sees the pre-conciliar and post-conciliar Church almost as two different churches. It sees the Second Vatican Council as a radical break with the past. There can be no split, however, between the Church and her faith before and after the Council. We must stop speaking of the “Pre-Vatican II” and “Post-Vatican II” Church, and stop seeing various characteristics of the Church as “pre” and “post” Vatican II. Instead, we must evaluate them according to their intrinsic value and pastoral effectiveness in this day and age …

The so-called “spirit” of the Council has no authoritative interpretation. It is a ghost or demon that must be exorcised if we are to proceed with the Lord’s work.

Outlining pastoral priorities for his diocese, Bishop Nickless urges priests to offer Mass with greater reverence, hear Confessions for more than one hour per week, and promote Eucharistic adoration, the Liturgy of the Hours, and Marian devotion. “The use of the vernacular has certainly opened up the treasures of the liturgy to all who take part, but this does not mean that the Latin language, and especially the chants which are so superbly adapted to the genius of the Roman Rite, should be wholly abandoned,” he adds.


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  • Posted by: - Oct. 21, 2009 4:24 AM ET USA

    Bishop Nickless is explaining what currently needs to be heard. So many fellow catholics don't truly understand what all the Vatican II talk is about. We need holy men of influence, like Bishop Nickless, to continue to step-up and put the cards on the the faithful (us) can put it into action! I can ask 50 random people in my parish, "Whats wrong with Vatican II?" and they will either not know what Vatican II is, or they will actually think theres something wrong with it!

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Oct. 18, 2009 9:53 AM ET USA

    "Iowa bishop blasts ‘spirit of Vatican II,’ calls it ‘a ghost or demon that must be exorcised’ " Why entitile this article thus, and risk scandalizing an obviously caring and competent Bishop? Why not "tell it like it is (or was) " and say "Bishop Objects to Unsupervised and Incompetent Implementation of Vatican II" Vatican II came from Rome and as such should have been diligently supervised by Her. The blood of many lives in on the hands of her prelates.

  • Posted by: - Oct. 18, 2009 9:43 AM ET USA

    Fr. Neuhaus noted that it's quite common for Councils to fail (prudentially). Vat II was first hijacked when the Pope's agenda was thrown out. By COMPLETELY restating the faith, but with ambiguity, the "hope" was encouraged that the the faith could be changed. Discontinuity was the human intention of the Council--but the Holy Spirit wouldn't allow it in any overt way. However, it will always remain a prudential failure of enormous dimensions. It's time we stopped defending its prudence.

  • Posted by: seraphic avenger - Oct. 17, 2009 1:08 PM ET USA

    Excellent! And, unfortunately, too rare, even and especially among certain others among Chaput's stable of aux-bishops: We've been fervently WAITING for Ab. Jose Gomez here in San Antonio to make such bold, overt witness to the Faith of the Apostles in either statement or policy. Meanwhile, the Spirit of Vat-2 continues to roll on and further the fruits of the 2nd Protestant Revolt.... How much longer, Lord?

  • Posted by: peggyann - Oct. 17, 2009 12:53 PM ET USA

    Thank you Bishop. So many of my own family and friends seem to believe what they learned early in their Catholic education is no longer relevant to participation in the Church. There is so much confusion regarding life issues, obligations to the Faith, seeking counsel when in doubt. It seems as though many I know are becoming as the Protestants have in making up their own individual "churches" but are not willing to leave the Church. They instead struggle to change the Church from within.

  • Posted by: - Oct. 17, 2009 7:31 AM ET USA

    One of the most beautiful experiences is to witness a bishop proclaim the truth for all to hear. Thank you Bishop Nickless. Sioux City, how blessed you are!

  • Posted by: rng2 - Oct. 16, 2009 7:04 PM ET USA

    This is a precise and excellent pastoral letter and not surprising that it comes from a priest who learned from Archbishop Chaput. The more influence the Church can feel from the good Archbishop's wisdom, the better off we will be. Bob Gadbois Marysville, WA

  • Posted by: - Oct. 16, 2009 6:19 PM ET USA

    Thank God for Holy and involved Bishops like Bishop Nickless. As our Holy Father himself said, if we wish to reform the Church do so from within, not from without. I believe the intent of Vatican II (though I, myself was not Catholic prior to Vatican II) was to bring us closer to Jesus' explanation of the "Kingdom of God," wherein every Christian has access to the God, not just those who are ordained or entitled through some special qualification. To do otherwise is to sin as Adam did.

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Oct. 16, 2009 2:51 PM ET USA

    How do we get him transferred to San Francisco? I know you won't be able to post this because you will have received too many identical ones.

  • Posted by: ltoscan2645 - Oct. 16, 2009 10:12 AM ET USA

    What a great analysis, by an obviously orthodox Bishop,