Catholic Social Teaching and the Second Vatican Council
On October 11, 1962, more than two thousand Roman Catholic bishops, cardinals, and other members of the hierarchy assembled in Rome for the Second Vatican Council. This extraordinary event, which lasted three years, would lead to profound changes within the Church. For many Catholics, Vatican II is best known for its reforms to change the Latin Mass and to lift the Friday meat ban. But more profoundly, the Council attempted to reshape the place of the Church in society. The Council offered a reconsideration of church law and policy concerning a wide variety of areas including religious life, the Mass, and the place of the Church in a rapidly modernizing world. While the documents were not intended to be political, reappraisal of its place in society forced the Church to reconsider the Catholic role in politics. The call from the Council was for more active engagement with the world to help improve the human condition. By the mid-twentieth century, the Church finally recognized that it had to adjust.
The message of Vatican II signified a major shift in the Church, away from a static worldview. A contest between conservatives, who tend to view religion in abstract, ahistorical terms, and those who see religion as evolving through history has long existed within the Church. 1 At the Second Vatican Council, however, the latter view was applied to the development of Catholic social teaching. According to theologian Charles Curran, the "shift that occurred in Catholic social teaching was from classicism to a historical consciousness. Classicism talked about the eternal, the immutable, the unchanging tendencies, using deductive meth-