Mass Exodus: Catholic Disaffiliation in Britain and American since Vatican II by Stephen Bullivant

I want to share and bring awareness to the results of an excellent study on post Vatican II Catholic disaffiliation.

Vatican II was a council to help the Catholic church meet the demands of modern times. Yet, soon after the Catholic world collapsed and so many people stopped going to church and even stopped calling themselves Catholic. What happened?

Was Vatican II’s desire to change the liturgy and sacraments the cause of the loss of faith?

This is what Stephen Bullivant studies in his new book.

Do you want to know his conclusion?

Catholic retention of it members in American and Britain in the Post Vatican II era was stronger than for Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists and Anglicans. He thinks that this was at least partially due to Vatican II reforms. He even claims that “Had there been no council, scholars might now be writing that if only the Church had timidly embraced the Liturgical Movement… Pope John Paul realized his dreams for a council… ” Stephen recognizes that Vatican II reforms led to a more robust faith life at least in part. Yet, Stephen also notes that because Vatican II had as its aim to renew the liturgy and get people active it is also to blame for losing people. The changes were too fast and the Father’s knew that they were trying to get people engaged and the exact opposite happened. Stephen is clear though, that the situation is complex, there were numerous non-catholic factors at play that were impossible to predict at the time. If the changes of Vatican II were to blame it would only be in part.

Review: Why did so many Catholics leave after Vatican II? | America Magazine In contrast a review from the Jesuits American Magazine disagrees that the Church Fathers could even have predicted that the loss of faith was going to happen.

But it is not quite clear that Vatican II failed because it did not stem the tide of disaffiliation. It is more likely that the Council fathers did not even perceive the scope of disaffiliation on the horizon, the social changes that were to sweep Europe and the United States. And it is possible—although sociologically impossible to prove—that it is the post-conciliar church alone that will have the resources to respond to the real crisis, the one that the Council fathers could not have recognized. Despite this disagreement, there is much to learn from Bullivant’s well-written, often humorous and intelligent engagement with sociology, theology and pastoral practice.

So if you agree with the statement that Vatican II reforms did cause some but not all loss of faith, or with the Jesuit review that it was the reforms themselves that help the church survive and become stronger, Mass Exodus is a good read to get informed. Both would agree that at this point it is almost impossible to tell without going back and not having one and see how things turn out.

That is what I want to point out. Don’t listen to people who tell you if only this or that things would have been much better! The world full of 1000 changes throughout those years was too complex to work out for these scholars and they admit it. Even Stephen says Vatican II was helpful but also possible a hurt to the situation. We just don’t know!

What we do know is that Vatican II theology and spirituality is where we are at now. This is what the Popes are preaching now, and what we are called to do in the eternal Today of salvation.


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