With the gathering up of the Second Vatican Council between the years 1962-1965, a new era started in the practices of the Catholic Church. While formally the Catholic Church was against modernity, it now evolved to a point of coming to terms with liberalism and modernism. After the Second Vatican Council – the Catholic Church accepted that major values such as human rights, separation of the church and state, and liberation of faith were acceptable for the church and reconcilable with the essence of Christianity. The rationale of the Second Vatican Council documents were about the disengagement of the Church from politics. However, the individuals or group of individuals should have responsibility as citizens, using their Christian conscience and respecting their pastors and the Church’’ (Gaudium et Spes 1965). Thanks to the Second Vatican Council, a new period started, in which the relationship between Catholicism and politics was changed. An analysis of this point requires a look at what the standpoint of the Catholic Church was before and after the Second Vatican Council in terms of the ideas of modernity, liberation, religious freedom, and peace. It is also important to regard how the Catholic Church considered social justice and capitalism and the work of the Church over the international organizational community.
In the past stages of history, the Catholic Church has transformed through several stages. Namely, when we look at the first period from the French Revolution to 1978, the Church had a passive total rejection of modernity and saw it as a dark godless force. In the second period, from late 1878 to the 1960s, the Church competed against the hostile order of modernity, acting as a counterpower. During the third period, which is shortly before and after the Second Vatican Council, the Church built an alliance and a partnership with modernity. (Hellemans,2001) During this period, the Church readily accepted that it could unite with the good forces of the modern world and would be able to build a house for common people. (Hellemans, 2001) During the Second Vatican Council, especially in the ‘’Pastoral constitution of the Church in the modern world ‘’(Gaudium et Spes), the Church developed a systematic theological defense of democratic governance, human rights, and economic succour (assistance for the poor). The Church stood up for the suffering of humanity and focused on the importance of human dignity, social institutions, egalitarian political structures, and just economic organizations. (Hertzke, 2001)
Other concepts that the Church revised with the Second Vatican Council were the ideas on sexual morals and the lifting of the rule of celibacy for Roman Catholic priests. Therefore, the Church no longer regarded modernity with distrust but accepted it. In another document, called Dignitatis Humanae, ‘the Declaration on Religious Liberty’ the Church transformed its ideas on how the free spirit of truth was to be protected along with the high dignity of humanity. In this document, there was a defense of the faith against the totalitarian regimes of Nazism and Communism, and there was strong resistance to oppression. The Church now challenged authoritarian regimes and advocated democracy
Another important feature is that the Church accepted the international communities for the advocacy of international social justice. For instance, for peace-making, the Church admitted that the United Nations is a bridge between the people and the states. Furthermore, the Church supported peace-making through diplomacy, protection of human rights, and international social equality, as Pope Paul VI at the United Nations declared in October 1965.
In addition, the Church intervenes in economic life to protect the rights of the poor people. In the Theology of Liberation, Gutiérrez identifies three areas in which humans need liberation: socio-politico, economic liberation from poverty, oppression, and dependence on others for survival, “liberation in the history of all dimensions of human freedom, with mankind being responsible for their destinies,” and freedom from sin, which is the ultimate root of injustice. Indeed, the main focus of the Liberation Theory was social justice. This issue was also mentioned in the documents of the Second Vatican Council and an encyclical of Pope Paul VI (Cellini).
According to another document called Populorum Progressio which was written by Paulo VI and accepted in 1967 after the Second Council, liberalism inaugurated a way for tyranny condemned by Pius XI because it results in international imperialism of money. However, this is not the right way to manipulate economic forces because economics should be in the service of men. Later on, economic imbalances in the international system were commonly addressed in the 1960s and 1970s. For example, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development was held in 1964. After the Council, there were rapid changes in cultural conventions and even a Cultural Revolution in which family and sexual relations in private as well as social and political engagement in the public community were changing. (Gustavo Gutiérrez)
In the Second Vatican Council, modern catholic social teaching was developed. The Church must bring the gospel values to address the crisis in the industrial age such as child laboring, mass suffering, and Marxist Revolutions. These ideas are the basis of the modern catholic social change, and they show how the Church at the Second Vatican Council was transformed. The Church developed its most systematic theological defense of democratic governance, human rights, and economic succor, as stated in the document Gaudium et Spes ‘Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, which is one of the documents in the Second Vatican Council (Hertzke, Allan). This document stated that the Church was in cooperation with the suffering humanity and offered its insight on human dignity as a guide to the development of social institutions, egalitarian political structures, and just political structures. (Hertzke, Allan)
In line with the teachings of the Second Council, The Liberation Theology mentions that the enslavement of the poor countries, the Third World Countries was because of the unlimited greed of the First World Countries. Thus, poor countries can not develop without a major change in the world’s economic system. As Lucio Gera states ‘‘dependency, which is a consequence of underdevelopment, is an inhumane condition and makes poor nations survive in the age of society. This is a situation imposed by imperialism.’’ (Celam 1977) Liberation is both a liberation from sin and liberation from socio-political injustice. Therefore, Christians should fight against injustice as much as they can. As a consequence of these ideas of the Catholic teachings, which were mentioned in the Liberation Theology and also in
the Second Vatican Council Documents, revolutionary movements in Latin America took place during the 1970s. Even some priests like the liberation theologian Ernesto Cardenal were appointed Minister of Culture by the Sandinista government in Nicaragua after the 1979 revolution. Another example is the role of John XXIII in 1962 in the Cuban missile crisis about Francis’ activism on economic and climate issues. Thus, even though the Rationale of the counter documents was the separation of the Church from politics, it is seen in some examples that the Church fought with injustice and got involved in some activism.
In conclusion, as the last word the Second Vatican Council, which gathered between 1962 and 1965, revised the position of the Church in many respects including liberation aspects, its outlook on modernity, intervention in the international community, secularization, and social justice and human rights. After the Second Council, the Church stood up more against child laboring, child suffering and mass suffering, and other issues of injustice as well as equality around the globe.
Mac Sweeney, (qtd. in, Hellemans,2001)
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Roy, O., Schoch, C., & Roy, O. (2020). Is Europe Christian? Oxford University Press. (Roy,Oliver)
Williams, E. E. (2022). Liberation Theology and Its Role in Latin America . Jacopo Cellini (EUI), May 2022
Academic Paper History and Civilization, Angela Romano