I’m Catholic and off the market, but in researching the history of theology programs I became more and more convinced that my Catholicism would have counted as Protestantism for most of the history of the Church.
I’m a layman teaching theology to non-seminarians at a school that (though orthodox) is not approved by the bishop nor adjoined to a parish. We both teach and read all sorts of books that were on the Index. We even (gasp) let lay women learn and teach theology. In the twelfth century, this was Waldensianism. One could be burnt at the stake for less.
This all changed after Vatican II since one can’t throw the doors of the Church open in dialogue with atheists and the world without, a fortiori, opening them to laymen and non-seminarians. Still, there was nothing in the documents of Vatican II that would lead one to think that the Church now approved lay theologians (male and female) or was ready for lay movements to start calling themselves “Catholic” without episcopal approval.* Much of my life as a Catholic is not celebrated or even approved, but tolerated by a Church hierarchy in a relatively weak position. At any other time in the Church, the movement I’m a part of would have either been condemned (like the Waldensians or Protestant movements) or clericalized (like the Franciscans). Either way, I’m out.
While the Church in America has gotten its biggest shot of life from the Evangelicals that started converting in the early 90’s, the irony is that they could have only given this life to a Church reformed (pun intentional) into Protestantism. No bishop is going to let Scott Hahn preach in 1958 or even 1968. This reform was not called for in the documents but (if we take the most parsimonious account) was effected largely through a liturgy which was deliberately re-written to be more Protestant. And I cry Hallelujah.
The fact is that much of my Catholic life is as much the “Spirit of Vatican II” as any tambourine at the front of a Church-in-the-round. For all the mockery of that phrase, I doubt most of us could tolerate a Church devoid of that spirit. If anything, the phrase sugarcoats what actually happened: The Church was made more Protestant.
*While my school isn’t recognized as Catholic, this stops no one from coming. If people think anything about it, they tend to take it as a plus. We love our popes, but in the same way that we have romantic feelings for any foreign potentate or celebrity. The feelings do not scale down to the local bishop.