I was reading an older book written during the first years of Pope Saint John XIII’s pontificate. The writer was commenting on how hard it will be for the new Pope to reconcile all the world’s many problems including the Soviets and a spread of communism to many countries around the world tied to a promise of economic development.
“She (The Church) has wanted civil rights and political liberty accorded to all peoples ready for it, but has felt a constraint in pushing it forcefully lest she seriously offend her own daughter nations and bring on a greater harm to her own freedom and well-being. Pope John will have to be a Solomon to decide on the better course. Is a bird in the hand worth two in the bush? The hordes in Asia and Africa are the potential Catholic peoples of the future. They must have assurance that the Church is their friend by her pushing ardently for their civil rights. Otherwise they would listen to the siren voice of the Soviets. The Church offers them the true faith, the greater good, but humanly they like the antipasto before the main dish of a bit of rice or the appetizing cocktail of civil rights.” (Pope John XXIII His Life and Character by Paul Christopher Perrotta page 213)
The problem lies in the fact that civil right movements in themselves sometimes got tied up into things that the Church could not whole heartily accept even if most of the message was dear to her heart. (We can think of the Black Lives Matter Protests today – most of the message is good and the Church would love to help, but the parts about destroying a Father-Mother-Child family system and more access to Abortion the Church must whole heartily reject) This happens throughout history and in most important themes in world history. Its not black and white, good or bad. The various movements are not perfect and never ideal, they are mixed.
Hence, when we view Vatican II or its formative years and the following implementation, we have to hold it to that standard. There was so much going on! Communism was still real, Asia and Africa cried for further integration with Europe in terms of Church leadership, the sexual revolution, and drastic changes in the way most lived their lives due to modernization of technology and urbanization along with an increase in general education. The Popes needed to make big changes or risk becoming irrelevant. The problem is some of the choices were Solomon type problems. If we remember the story about the two women and the baby. One whom was the real mother and whom who was not went to Solomon to settle the matter. The fake mother switched her dead child with the living one. Thus, when Solomon said to split the baby in two, the real mother was not okay with that, but the fake mother was. The problem was solved but one mother went away childness nonetheless. Its the same here. Perhaps some parts of the world were hanging onto a system that needed to be re-aligned with the faith (The created culture and system of piety was dictating the faith instead of the faith dictating the culture and systems of piety – perhaps to some degree). When the Council and the Popes sought to change this not everyone was going to be pleased. One woman would have her child restored and the other left with not so much. Solomon answers don’t always mean everyone is pleased. They simply mean they are right in God’s eyes. The world is even more Global now, more complex than ever before. Hence, I think we need to give the Popes some credit for choices we ourselves cannot always see ourselves. (not that it is our place to judge a Pope in the first place)