As Ambrose Bierce wrote: “Conservative: a statesman who is enamoured of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.” In my darker moments I think this applies to every reform, including Vatican II. But I think that most Catholics would agree, the changes in the Church, at least in the developed world, have been a mixed bag.

The liturgy has been-ill reformed, and too often converted into entertainment or a way to gratify the narcissism of the celebrant. Attendance is way, way down. Perhaps a smaller number of people are attending but are really paying attention, if only to the show in the sanctuary – a smaller but more faithful Church? Or just a smaller Church?

The big change has been in the zeal of Catholics to convert others. Before it was often based upon a distorted triumphalism – outside the (juridical) Church there is no salvation. But now zeal (again in the developed world) has been abandoned for the feeling that all religions are equal and that everyone will be saved, so why try to convert a neighbor or a Hindu. 66% of white American think that Hinduism can lead to eternal life, according to the Pew Forum.

I think that before Vatican II in some ways the Church had adopted all too well to the modern world. In the sexual abuse crisis, as early as the 1950s it was clear that bishops regarded abusers as sick and therefore not responsible and needing only treatment. Totally justifiable righteous indignation and horror at what the abusers had done (such as Father Gerald Fitzgerald showed) were absent among bishops, who functioned with a bureaucratic and psychological mindset. The aftermath of Vatican II made this bad situation even worse, as confusion about moral standards spread among the clergy and laity.

Many of the positive reforms have not yet born much fruit – and there is no guarantee they ever will – which is not to say they should have not been made. History is not necessarily progress – sometimes it is two steps forward and one back, sometimes one step forward and two back, and most of the time the proportions of good and evil remain about the same, although their manifestations may change, or, as Ambrose Bierce wrote…

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