David Gibson Responds to Ross Douthat on Vatican II

On October 12th, the New York Times published Ross Douthat’s NYT column stating that Vatican II was necessary, was a failure (in that it did not achieve its stated goals), and cannot be undone. David Gibson, Director of Fordham’s Center on Religion & Culture, responded to Douthat on Twitter. With his permission, we reproduce his string of tweets.


  1. David Gibson makes a lot of good points. But a few things should be pointed out. While he rightly criticizes Douthat in the 10th tweet about his “post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy, but only does so after engaging in the same fallacy himself a few tweets earlier (4th and 6th tweets).

    In regard to synods, history is full of synods that have been condemned, so to say those gatherings are always a work of the Spirit is a stretch to put it charitably. Perhaps blasphemy if you attribute the Holy Spirit to the Cadaver Synod.

    As for the Holy Spirit protecting an ecumenical council, probably the only guarantee is that outright error is avoided in the proclamations, not that the ecumenical council is guaranteed to bear an abundance of fruit.

    This is not to criticize V2, the Church after 2150 can begin to discern its successes and failings.

    And one of the contenders for most failed council would be the Council of Ferrara-Florence.

    1. Though its precursor sessions in Basel were a seminal event in the history of Western scholarship in terms of the international-level gathering of scholars and what might be called “Creatives” these days, including Greeks. Didn’t do much good for the Church(es) as such, but . . .

      1. Thanks–I guess that I should have read the intro, my bad…but when I had initially googled him he didn’t come up in a list of David Gibsons. The only “religious” DG was a Protestant minister in Aberdeen, and him responding to the column didn’t make sense.

  2. Guillaume Cuchet has something to contribute to the discussion for France, at any rate. Here is an English-language review of his work:
    As for Africa, it would be pertinent to track the number of conversions to Catholicism in Africa (as opposed to baptisms of those born into a Catholic family), 1900-2020. This may relativize the difference the Council made.
    The discussion ought not to leave out Latin America, either.

    1. Cuchet’s facile attempt to nail down an actual date (1965) for a dramatic drop and thus lay the blame on Vatican II is easily refuted. Bullivant and others have demonstrated that the decline had already begun in the 1940s and 50s. Rote memorization of the catechism, etc, had left Catholics ill-equipped to deal with questions arising in the surrounding culture in the period after WWII — an important factor. Social mobility and the rise in car ownership is another.

      However, if one wanted to lay the blame for a decline anywhere, the principal culprit would undoubtedly be television, which has broadened people’s experience, showed them other ways of thinking, and brought about significant changes to the culture in which we live. Television is still changing our culture today, and evolution of the internet has accelerated that change.

      1. To which I would add a general change of sexual mores in the West which has made that church an awkward place to be unless you are in a standard family of non-divorced Mum married to non-divorced Dad with two point something children. “All are welcome?” Don’t think so.
        Has anyone examined the impact of Humanae Vitae on church attendance?

      2. The Catholic Church still has no clue how to engage with single people who are not self-identified as on the track to marriage or clerical/consecrated life.

        Much more than sexual mores, the more general issue is a church whose membership has largely been ruddered by women being the most active members in the trenches, as it were, but excluded per se from the officer class (in the USA, we don’t have the historical experience of sovereign territorial abbesses), and that women have increasingly decided to either opt out entirely or to provide non-violent non-cooperation with their continued marginalization in that regard. Because they can.

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