To understand what Pastor Austin is saying about the current Roman Catholic Church, there is a good article in the November 2012 issue of First Things.
Thomas Joseph White writes about 2 schools of thought that dominate the interpretation of Vatican II. There is the progressive reading of it by Hans Kung and Edward Schillebeeckkx. It has encouraged liberation of women, dialogue with world religions, liberalization of sexual mores, the extensive use of the laity in the mission of the church and liberal political advocacy.
The other school of thought is countercultural and led by Hans Urs von Balthasar and Joseph Ratzinger.
I don’t have access to the article, it is currently for subscribers only. The “two schools” idea may be true to some extent, and it is certainly a common way of looking at the Catholic Church (makes things simple, define camps). In this way of thinking, Benedict is *conservative*, and other voices are *progressive*. Many people even think suggest Benedict would like to go back to pre-Vatcian II, or that he does not embrace the teachings of Vatican II. However, if one reads Theological Highlights of Vatican II, 1966, by Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, you will find that he was almost shockingly and emphatically in the *progressive* camp at the council. Yet, if you read Fr. Ratzinger of 1966, and Pope Benedict of 2012, you find much the same thinking with some small shifts in focus, but certainly no radical evolution in thought. He is much the same person today as he was in 1966. His book is composed 4 smaller booklets that he wrote after each session of the council where he was a participant as an official ‘peritus‘. What a gift we have in this first hand account of the entire council, written long before the divisions that are painted today had really formed.
You might be amazed at his fascinating review of the councils discussion on the role and relationship of the pope, Bishops, vertical Catholicity vs horizontal Catholicity, etc..
In talking about a (much needed in his mind) re-emphasis by the council on the importance on of episcopal collegiality, he says that “[t]his view provided a bridge to the Eastern Churches which have kept alive a stronger consciousness of community than the West. It also emphasized that the individual bishop existed not for his own community alone, but that he shared in the overall responsibility for the Church; mutual responsibility was in fact the task of the entire Church.”
The importance of “horizontal Catholicity” had been lost somewhat since Trent due to the Church’s strong focusing on ‘vertical Catholicity’. The council put new emphasis on the importance of bishops colleges, and decentralized “a series of powers which had been concentrated up to now in the papacy.”, but also re-emphasized that this in no way denied the Church’s understanding on the unique and important role of the successor of Peter.
When he talks on the Decree on Ecumenism, Fr. Ratzinger recounts how: “A breathless hush came over St. Peter’s Basilica when Coadjutor Archbishop Elchinger (Strasbourg) in his intervention of November 19, 1963, admitted the Church’s past errors: ‘Until now we have often not dared to confess historical facts which are less than favorable to the reputation of our Church. Now the time has come…to admit and confess historical truth — even when it is bitter….Until now, when there were controversies between separated Christians, we frequently rejected doctrines we thought erroneous. Now the time has come to recognize with greater respect that there is also a partial truth, in fact often a profound truth in every doctrine taught by our separated brethren, which we should profess along with them….”
In the chapter on session 3, he recounts the session on divine worship. He acknowledges that in this area: “a profound crisis occurred in the life of the Church. Its roots reach far back. In the late Middle Ages, awareness of the real essence of Christian worship increasingly vanished. Great importance was attached to externals, and these chocked out essentials.” He goes on the say the “Luther’s protest against the Catholic Church therefore involved a very basic protest against Catholic liturgy, which he denounced as idolatrous. He supplanted it with a simplified devotion concentrated on God’s Word. This is not the place to discuss the loss of substance that accompanied this amputation. Without doubt vital members were removed along with diseased ones (as is often frankly stated by Protestant theologians today). But we want here to study the internal Catholic development. The Catholic reaction to Luther’s attack took place at Trent. The reaction on the whole was inadequate”.
He goes on into more detail, and talks about how the reaction at Trent centralized all liturgical authority in the Sacred Congregation of Rites, the impact was that the “fate of the liturgy in the West was now in the hands of a strictly centralized and purely bureaucratic authority.” and that this had the result on the liturgy to “dooming it to internal decay”
So the voices who claim today that Pope Benedict is “a conservative” and “counter cultural” figure who wants to take the Church back to pre-Vatican II are in my opinion uninformed. Pope Benedict embraced Vatican II and the reforms enthusiastically, and was among the enthusiastic progressives there (this is why some VERY conservative schismatic Catholics see Benedict, and Blessed Pope John Paul II, as apostate. In fact this book has been quoted on some of those sites).
That being said, he has rightly said, over and over again, that Vatican II (indeed any council) needs to be viewed through a ‘hermeneutic of continuity’, not a ‘hermeneutic of rupture’. I suppose this is why some voices consider him *conservative*, because some voices have tended to take the much needed reforms of Vatican II, and distort them into saying that the Church somehow rejected what it once held to be true, or as a license to believe and do whatever we want with the liturgy.
He closes the book by recounting the council hearing this joint Catholic Orthodox declaration lifting the mutual Catholic-Orthodox excommunications of 1054:
3. One cannot pretend that these events were not what they were during this very troubled period of history. Today, however, they have been judged more fairly and serenely. Thus it is important to recognize the excesses which accompanied them and later led to consequences which, insofar as we can judge, went much further than their authors had intended and foreseen. They had directed their censures against the persons concerned and not the Churches. These censures were not intended to break ecclesiastical communion between the Sees of Rome and Constantinople. ….
A. They regret the offensive words, the reproaches without foundation, and the reprehensible gestures which, on both sides, have marked or accompanied the sad events of this period.
B. They likewise regret and remove both from memory and from the midst of the Church the sentences of excommunication which followed these events, the memory of which has influenced actions up to our day and has hindered closer relations in charity; and they commit these excommunications to oblivion.
C. Finally, they deplore the preceding and later vexing events which, under the influence of various factors—among which, lack of understanding and mutual trust—eventually led to the effective rupture of ecclesiastical communion.