US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Readers sound off on the best and worst of Vatican II

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More than 2,000 website visitors to offered their take on the Second Vatican Council for our October Reader Survey. Although we don't normally include reader feedback online, the sheer volume of responses--and the widely divergent opinions expressed by survey respondents--prompted us to offer a wider sampling of those responses.

Out of respect to respondents' privacy, we have not included their names or locations, but their answers to our questions provide an interesting look at how Catholics view Vatican II 50 years later.

If Vatican II had never happened, the church today would be…

In even worse shape!

More Catholic, holy, united, and apostolic.


The biggest and strongest Church in the world.

Completely irrelevant.

More traditional and would have more adherence to the true faith.

Not as different as many imagine. Changes in contemporary culture would still have happened and affected Catholics.


Smaller but stronger.

Less welcoming and more intimidating to converts, but more orthodox.

Stuck in the past.

Far more stable and relevant.

In need of some reform.

Isolated. It would have circled the wagons and attempted to weather the onslaught of modernism instead of facing it head-on.

Still in the dark ages.

Even less attractive to new believers and less able to retain young people looking for the church to be relevant to their lives.

More vibrant with the missionary spirit which it possessed up until the council.

A quaint sect.

Unable to articulate faith to new generations or deal with the growing voice of non-Christian religions.

Completely out of sync with the world and society.

Filled with worshipers and have a surplus of priests and religious.

Better catechized.


An empty monument to past times.

Even less transparent and authoritarian.

Even less of a voice of the life-giving message of Jesus.

A fossil.

Without me!

One thing that Vatican II failed to sufficiently address is…

The question of a married priesthood.

How the reforms would be followed through and enacted.

Rolling back the power of the Vatican and increasing the power and influence of the laity.

The role of women in the church.

Ensuring the hierarchy would honor the increased participation of lay people.

The needs of the clergy. The council did not anticipate the loss of thousands of priests and nuns, and did nothing to foster vocations.

It's own teaching authority.

The real meaning of collaboration and inclusivity.

Celibacy and divorce.

Birth control.

Homosexuals and their role as children of God.

The ability of the present day church leadership to roll it back.

Lay ecclesial ministry.




Proper worship.


The poor theological and human formation of clergy and religious.

Establishing full communion with the orthodox churches.

Catechesis for youth and young adults.

Continued movement forward with the times.

The relationship between sacred and secular.

Unrestricted power of the papacy.

The gap between the very rich and the very poor.

The importance of knowing our Catholic heritage and theology.

The role of priests in relation to the laity.

Cultural diversity.

Divorced and re-married Catholics.

A continued appreciation of the role of Catholic elementary schools.

Institutional transparency. Everyone needs an auditor, even a successor of the apostles.

How to work for the common good with persons of other religious persuasions.

How bishops are selected.

The limits of papal infallibility.

One thing I think the church has lost since Vatican II is…

A sense of the sacred.

Its moral compass.


The courage to implement it.

The willingness to just do as we are told. This is a good loss!

Gregorian chant.

A reverent liturgy.

Effective catechesis.

A sense of majesty in our liturgical worship.

An appreciation for the depth and richness of its history and culture.


Collaboration among laity and clergy.

A sense of beauty in the liturgy. The music often sounds trite to me whereas older songs offer a beauty of reverence and awe.

The sense of mysticism.

Some of its hypocrisy.


A sense of clerical entitlement. Unfortunately it has crept back in.

Some of its previous mystery and secrecy, and that is a good thing.

The positive feelings that were present after council ended. There is again a feeling of repression.

If the Third Vatican Council started today, the most important topic for it to address would be…


Catechesis. Too many Catholic children are poorly educated in the faith.

Who is Catholic and who is not.

Church-state relations.

A larger role for women in the church.

How to evangelize the world in a way that it would bring a strong faith to all believers.

Papal authority.

Marriage for priests.

Abortion, contraception, the real purpose of marriage, and renewal in the religious life.


Corruption in Vatican finances.

Seminaries and religious life.

Repealing all the documents of the Second Vatican Council.

Economic injustice and poverty in the world.

Addressing a culture of clericalism.

Worldwide poverty and the sharing of wealth--especially wealth held by churches and clerics.

Authority and the abuse of power.

Social justice.

How to modernize the priesthood.

War and peace.

Collegiality and the decision making process in the church.

The dignity of women and the role of the laity in the proclamation of the Gospel.

Accountability on the part of the episcopacy.

How to reopen the windows that have been closed since Vatican II.

And the survey says...

In the print version of our Reader Survey, we published only the survey responses from U.S. Catholic print subscribers. On the following page are the full results representing all 2,084 survey responses.

1. When Vatican II opened, I was:

Not born yet. - 39%

Too young to be aware of what was going on. - 23%

In high school or college. - 23%

An adult. - 15%

2. The reforms of Vatican II have had a positive effect on my own faith life.

Agree - 51%
Disagree - 37%
Other - 12%

3. The area of church life where Vatican II has had the most effect on me personally is:

The Mass. - 44%

The involvement of laypeople. - 27%

Scripture study. - 6%

Ecumenical and interfaith relations. - 5%

The church’s social outreach. - 4%

Other - 14%

4. I have read at least one of the documents from Vatican II. 

Agree - 86%
Disagree - 9%
Other - 5%

5. Sometimes I wish the church could go back to the way it was before Vatican II.

Agree - 39%
Disagree - 50%
Other - 11%

6. It is about time that the church held another ecumenical council.

Agree - 30%
Disagree - 57%
Other - 13%

7. When looking at the implementation of the reforms and renewals that Vatican II called for, I’d say:

The church went too far and needs to restore more pre-Vatican II practices. - 29%

The church was on the right track for a while but has lost its way in recent years. - 26%

The church went beyond what the council called for but is now starting to fix some of those mistakes. - 23%

The church has not gone far enough toward what Vatican II called for. - 13%

The church has done a good job. - 3%

Other - 6%

8. It feels like the church has started moving away from or even rolling back some of the reforms of Vatican II. 

Agree - 57%

Disagree - 31%

Other - 12%

This article accompanies Good council, which appeared in the October 2012 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 77, No. 10, pages 23-27).

Image: Franklin McMahon (Courtesy of the McMahon family)