"Pastoral" doesn't really mean anything at all; the Second Vatican Council was really just like all the others.
On the contrary, "Pastoral" means a great deal. By its very nature it precludes all Moral or Dogmatic considerations, and therefore promises to pronounce no anathemas. For a Council, even an Ecumenical Council of the Church, to be "Pastoral" simply means that it is to be concerned strictly and solely with disciplinary, procedural, and administrative matters only. One must concede that it has always been theoretically possible for the Church to convene even an Ecumenical Council while limiting it to such purposes. It has been long understood that infallibility would not apply to such a Council, even if it were a General and Ecumenical (worldwide) Council of the Church, since infallibility only applies to Faith or Morals, not discipline. Such a Council would still, of course, be authoritative and binding on the faithful until its disciplinary measures should be revoked by a later pope or Council.
The fact that the Council refused to follow through as advertised by attempting to pronounce "decrees" and "dogmatic" constitutions is one of the great oversights and tragedies of the modern hierarchy. There is a special class of statements which have been formally promulgated as de fide teachings of the Church. Before any statement could ever be admitted to that exclusive and special class, it must first be subjected to rigorous tests of doctrinal correctness and historical accuracy.
Even after all of that, the statement only gets through by permission of the pope, who is at liberty to refuse to promulgate it even after it has passed all those other tests. Since Vatican II was convened as merely a Pastoral Council, none of these strict tests should have been necessary. Disciplines which prove disadvantageous to the Church can always be revoked or amended by new disciplinary rulings. One ancient Council had ruled that there shall be no new religious orders founded. Within ten years, a later pope abrogated that ruling and gave permission for the founding of a religious order. Since none of the usual tests should have been needed, none of them were provided. For anyone to come along afterwards and claim for the documents of Vatican II a doctrinal or moral infallibility, instead of mere disciplinary impact, is to allow these documents to have "cheated" in that they would gain access to that exclusive and special class of de fide statements of the Church without ever having to have passed the rigorous tests of doctrinal and historical accuracy which all other such statements have had to pass.
Instead of coming through the Shepherd at the front door of these rigorous tests, they leaped over the wall by means of various shenanigans and Church politics. Repeatedly at the Council, Fathers who took exception to the ambiguous or heterodox or even heretical wordings of proposed documents were silenced with the admonition, "But we are not holding a dogmatic Council, we are not making philosophical definitions. This is a pastoral Council aimed at the world as a whole. Consequently, it is pointless to frame here definitions which would not be understood." In other words, "Don't bother with trying to understand the fine print, Your Excellency/Eminence/Holiness, just sign here, if you please." How can documents formulated under such circumstances possibly ever have the weight of infallible doctrinal or moral authority? (They can't, of course; therefore they don't.)
There is one last claim to their being doctrinal and moral instead of disciplinary which must be dealt with. Michael Pavel wrote an article in which he attempted to prove that Vatican II was not merely a pastoral council but dogmatic like all the others. His argument is best described as a reaction to Michael Davies' argument, or rather a slightly caricatured version of Michael Davies' argument. The "Michael Davies" of Michael Pavel's article argued that the documents of the Second Vatican Council can more or less be ignored because they are strictly of a disciplinary or procedural or administrative nature only. Michael Pavel then turns that around and shows numerous places where John XXIII and Paul VI clearly intended these "decrees" and other documentary miscellany from Vatican II should be binding on the faithful (of the Vatican institution) and must be obeyed, and so therefore he concludes that they cannot be merely disciplinary.
The problem with that line of reasoning is that disciplinary rulings are also always expected to be binding on the faithful as well as dogmatic rulings. The only difference is that disciplinary rulings can be revoked by the Church whereas dogmatic rulings are confirmed forever and irrevocable. Actually, Michael Davies' true argument is much more sophisticated than as presented here (or in Michael Pavel's arguments). For one thing, Michael Davies explains that disciplinary rulings of course also must be obeyed, the only exception being where a disciplinary ruling flatly contradicts faith or morals, or else if it is detrimental to one's faith.
As one last nail in the coffin of the notion that Vatican II could ever be taken as part of the Extraordinary and Infallible Magisterium of the Church, I present the words of Paul VI himself as spoken by him in an address on January 12, 1966: "Some ask what authority - - what theological qualification - - the Council has attached to its teachings, knowing that it has avoided solemn dogmatic definitions backed by the Church's infallible teaching authority. The answer is familiar to those who remember the conciliar declaration of 6 March 1964, repeated on 16 November 1964. In view of the pastoral character of the Council, it has avoided pronouncing in an extraordinary way dogmas carrying the note of infallibility. Nevertheless its teachings carry the weight of the supreme ordinary teaching authority."
But isn't every council followed by a period of doubt and confusion on the part of the faithful? Won't people eventually get used to having Vatican II around and soon let things return to normal? Maybe the decline in religious interest is temporary.
This claim has sometimes been made in response to the figures cited by traditional Catholics that Vatican II and its associated chaos has caused in decreased mass attendance, baptisms, marriages, religious vocations, and increased marriage annulments. I have never seen a better example of putting two different things, not merely apples and oranges, nor even apples and baseballs, but apples and hand grenades, into similar sized and shaped little boxes painted the same color, and therefore referred to in the same way.
True, a certain amount of chaos has followed each Council, including Vatican II, but there the similarities end. With reference to each Council from Nicaea to Vatican I, the chaos, confusion, loss of faith (as measured by every possible criteria), and disunity (doctrinal and rubrical as well as organizational) was always amongst those who rejected the Council, never amongst those who accepted it. With Vatican II, one finds that precisely reversed. All of the chaos, confusion, loss of faith, and disunity is amongst those who accept Vatican II and who show that by trying to implement, each one of them, their own interpretations of its directives.
But aren't things getting better now? I know that many crazy abuses and so forth have happened, but isn't the pendulum starting to swing back to normalcy?
This rumor keeps coming around again and again, and so far it has always been false. People keep thinking that their indefectible Church cannot go any further off course. Somehow it has got to start getting better! This false rumor gets a new breath of life every time some positive action takes place at the Vatican, such as the promulgation of Humanae Vitae (in 1968), Paul VI's admission regarding the Smoke of Satan being in the Church or regarding the auto-destruction of the Church (in 1972), the election of John Paul II (in 1978), some of the condemnations of Hans Kung and Edward Shillebeeckx and his apology for liturgical abuses (in 1980), the 1984 and 1988 indults, the promulgation of the new Catechism (1992), Veritatis Splendor (in 1993), Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (in 1994), Evangelium Vitae (in 1995), the election of Cardinal Ratzinger to be Benedict XVI in 2005, etc. but each time it is a beginning which has come to nothing.
Since the Vatican institution is no longer identical to the Roman Catholic Church, there is no reason or necessity for it to return to normalcy. The persons who spread that rumor only say it so as to put people back to sleep, spiritually, so they won't notice that their ship is still sailing for disaster, and for that matter, they are on the wrong ship in the first place! No such "swinging of the pendulum" is needed within the traditional Catholic movement. Their ship, unmistakably united to the Barque of Peter, is already sailing exactly right on course.
The only way the Vatican institution can ever be put back on course in any real or lasting way is for Vatican II to be revoked. Furthermore, all this talk of the Church being like a pendulum, or like a door swinging each way as if it needed to be boarded up with cedar planks (Song of Solomon 8:9) is sheer nonsense. The world may indeed be that way, but the Church is rooted firmly on the Rock of St. Peter. Anything which swings back and forth, or which obviously needs to swing back, as the Vatican institution does, is quite obviously not rooted on the Rock of St. Peter.
Yet Another Question:
Hasn't the Church always had trouble? Why should we regard today's troubles as some sort of more serious crisis than before?
It is true that the Church has always had troubles and difficult times of various sorts. There has always been a certain criminal element which was trying to ruin or destroy the Church. Vatican II was a quantum leap in making that criminal element much more serious than ever before. A good way to illustrate it is with a town which is suffering somewhat from the presence of gang activity. So long as the gang is merely on the fringe of society, selling drugs or prostitution on street corners when no one's looking, the problem can be readily helped by granting more authority to the leadership of the town, such as by hiring more police officers or allowing the judges to give longer sentences.
Imagine how much more serious the crime problems in that town would be if a key member of the criminal gang were to be elected as Mayor, and as Mayor were to go on to appoint other members of his criminal gang as trial judges, Chief of Police, etc. This is exactly what happened to the Church (or more specifically the Vatican institution) at Vatican II. It used to be that you could follow the leader because he spoke for the true interests of the Faith, but that is no longer so.
Griff L. Ruby
Griff's book is available from iUniverse.com Books for $26.95 or can be read on-line at www.the-pope.com We at The Daily Catholic strongly urge you to share it with all you can for that could be the gentle shove that moves your friends back to where the True Faith resides forever, rooted in the Truths and Traditions of Holy Mother Church as Christ intended and promised.