The Truth About Vatican II and the Charismatic Renewal

by | Jun 22, 2024

Ralph Martin (RM), Dr. Mary Healy (MH), Peter Herbeck (PH), and Pete Burak (PB) recently discussed Vatican II, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR), and growing attacks on both. The condensed talk is below; the full discussion can be viewed here.

The Importance of Discernment 

MH: Saying recent popes are anti-popes or Vatican II was a false council is outside of orthodox Catholicism. Our contemporary situation requires that we be very discerning; pay attention to those speaking in communion with the Church’s teachings, magisterium, Tradition, and Scripture; and not imbibe things from people outside of the teaching of the Catholic Church.

The Church Before Vatican II 

RM: Pre-Vatican II, there was a desire for Catholics to take God’s Word more seriously and for laity to be more involved in the Church’s mission. Lay movements were starting. There was a call for liturgical reform to help people actively participate in the Mass. Pope John XXIII called for an ecumenical council to surface the good things happening and equip us for the challenges ahead.

PH: In 1958, Fr. Ratzinger said most European Catholics, even those receiving the sacraments, were thinking like the world. A renewal was needed.

MH: Lay people were often viewed as second class citizens in the Church. The universal call to holiness, calling even ordinary lay people to the heights of sanctity, wasn’t widely recognized. The universal call to evangelization—calling the laity to proclaim Christ—also was largely unknown.

RM: There was no sense of lay people’s dignity due to their baptism and the fact that God dwells in them and they’re participants in the Church’s mission. Vatican II addressed these serious problems.

Post-Vatican II Decline 

RM: Post-Vatican II years were a disaster. Most bishops didn’t understand the significant changes that had been made. They relied on theological advisors who said Vatican II was a good start but didn’t go far enough. This engendered a spirit of,

“What else can we change?”

MH: If the Church had been as strong as people claimed, things couldn’t have collapsed so rapidly after the Council. The foundation was weak. Many young religious didn’t have good theological footings or vital, personal relationships with Jesus. It’s no wonder that after the Council, with the theological confusion, many people left the Church.

RM: The devil launched a counterattack after Vatican II: rebellion against tradition and authority, “make love not war,” etc. This began the attack on the family—the Sexual Revolution. It was a perfect storm.

PH: After two world wars, Europe was exhausted, discouraged, and had new philosophical ways of viewing reality. An aggressive scientism emerged that helped the enemy sweep people away from the Church. When the broader culture no longer reinforced identifying with the Church, it was difficult to stand and be faithful. In my little hometown, people just drifted away. They weren’t anchored by a depth of faith.

MH: If Vatican II’s teaching had been deeply assimilated and implemented, things would have been different. At Vatican II, the Church rediscovered the charismatic dimension as one of her constitutive elements, among many other beautiful things. Pope John Paul II spoke of the Council as an extraordinary intervention of the Spirit.

RM: People have been deceived into turning their concern about the disaster after Vatican II into a cause against it, saying they can’t trust the Church anymore or that we haven’t had real popes since John XXIII. The devil has filled people’s minds and hearts with hatred, suspicion, and anger that blocks them from receiving renewal.

What’s an Ecumenical Council?

MH: At ecumenical councils, the world’s bishops teach formally in union with the pope. It is the highest level of magisterial authority; Catholics cannot simply dismiss its teachings. Doctrine develops but never contradicts or completely revises what Christ handed down through the apostles. Rather, the Church enters a deeper understanding of an aspect of faith. Those with proper theological competence may critique aspects of the council’s presentation but not deny its actual teachings.

RM: There is a distinction between council teachings, Church teachings, and pastoral strategy. At Vatican II, there was a feeling of being alienated from culture and a desire to say, “We’re not an enemy of the working person, science, or Protestants. We want to be friends.” Instead of inviting people to convert and repent, the Church took on a “servant of the world” mentality.

PB: Do you need to believe Vatican II’s legitimacy to be in union with Rome?

RM: Correct. Bishop Athanasius Schneider, one of Vatican II’s biggest critics, wrote that Vatican II documents contain only three ambiguous statements. He doesn’t say they’re wrong; he says they’re ambiguous and need clarification. Twenty years after the council, Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger met with the world’s bishops about interpreting Vatican II. They decided that any ambiguity should be interpreted in harmony with Tradition.

Extreme Vatican II critics use Protestant principles of private interpretation—setting themselves over the council and the pope. They’re pontificating from outside the Church.

PH: Vatican II was the largest ecumenical council. The documents were voted on with more than ninety percent approval. The problem was in pastoral strategy and implementation.

Vatican II Abuses

RM: Terrible abuses and a drifting away from solid doctrine and morality occurred after Vatican II. The temptation is to return to a prior security instead of following the Holy Spirit. I periodically attend the Latin Mass, which communicates something of God’s holiness. Its reverential aspects positively affect the Novus Ordo, but the solution isn’t going back to a pre-reformed liturgy. It’s going forward with faith, conversion, repentance, and evangelization. Some people say the right liturgy and receiving communion on the tongue can solve everything. But that’s not true.

MH: External signs can deepen our reverence at Mass. Yet there’s danger in focusing too much on externals. Even Jesus rails against those who overemphasize the length of their tassels. Externals are poor substitutes for conversion of heart from a personal encounter with the living Jesus.

PH: After the council, crazy things happened, but with John Paul II, much went underground. Then, with Pope Francis, confused things began coming from Rome. The Lord’s saying, “What are you leaning on? I’m here, I’m the rock. Trust in my Word, the catechism, the saints, and the magisterium.”

PB: There is a genuine desire to worship, love, and serve the Lord. These battles weaken our position with the real enemy. As Paul says,

“We are not contending against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness.” (Eph 6:12)

Beginnings of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR)

RM: Pope John XXIII prayed,

“Lord, renew your wonders in our day as by a new Pentecost.”

He said we have a desperate need for the Holy Spirit, a glance that’s prophetic, and something that communicates the Lord’s reality.

MH: Some claim the beginning of the CCR was Protestant, but the Church was born with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Over time, that understanding of its apostolic heritage was lost. However, a dynamism of the Holy Spirit exists in other radically converted Christian traditions—and they reminded us of our apostolic heritage. The DNA of today’s Church is the DNA of the Church in the Acts of the Apostles, with signs, wonders, forgiveness of sins, love of the Father, praise of God, the gift of tongues, and other charisms of the Holy Spirit. This work of God has returned to prominence today; it’s not an aberration.

RM: Some Duquesne University professors read The Cross and the Switchblade about a New York City pastor who couldn’t make a dent in the gang culture until he prayed, and God filled him with the Holy Spirit. Then, he preached with more power and prayed with people who were delivered from drug addiction and demonic oppression. After reading the book, the Duquesne professors wanted more. They found an ecumenical prayer group and were prayed with for a greater release of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

Those professors held a retreat for students to renew the Sacrament of Confirmation. In preparation, the students read the Acts of the Apostles. During the retreat, the students encountered God’s holiness. They prostrated themselves and manifested spiritual gifts. When the professors told Bishop John Wright, who later became a cardinal, he trusted them to guide the students. In 1969, Bishop Alexander Zaleski released the first official statement recognizing the movement’s potential. From the beginning, there was an intention that this be developed in the very sound heart of the Catholic Church.

Is the CCR Truly Catholic?

PH: The CCR has the popes’ attention, clarity from bishops, and serious documents. The office for the CCR is in the Vatican, doctrinal committees and the Council for the Laity are discerning it, and there’s magisterial guidance. A Catholic movement is authentic when it’s discerned by the magisterium—which has been extremely clear about this. St. John XXIII, St. John Paul II, St. Paul VI, Pope Benedict XVI, and other bishops and theologians also have deeply discerned this.

RM: Local levels of the renewal may be solid or not and still need discernment.

MH: The grace of baptism in the Spirit usually leads to a deeper life in the Spirit and an understanding of the call to holiness. It often comes at the beginning of a serious walk with Christ. It’s not a reward for climbing the mountain of holiness. Many immature people get filled with the Holy Spirit and overwhelmed by God’s love. If their character is not fully mature, they exhibit immature tendencies that hurt, confuse, and scandalize people. There’s a need for pastoral oversight and discernment, just as St. Paul gave the church in Corinth and elsewhere.

PH: I was shocked when Bishop Athanasius Schneider wrote that only a few bishops have approved the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. Throughout hundreds of international missions, we’ve encountered bishops, archbishops, cardinals, priests, and religious sisters engaged with the Charismatic Renewal—and most want to be rightly related to their bishop and the Church.

What is a Charismatic Catholic?

PB: Let’s distinguish between the normative charismatic life and the renewal movement as an organization. To celebrate the Church’s birth on Pentecost is to be Catholic. The Sacrament of Confirmation perpetuates that grace. Then, there’s the Charismatic Renewal—a distinctive thing God has done, validated by the popes and bishops.

MH: Not everyone is called to the CCR. It’s one movement the Church recognizes. It has been part of the Church from the beginning, as affirmed by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Not everybody is called to like praise and worship music, go to prayer meetings, or have a charismatic spirituality, but all are called to be alive in the Holy Spirit, knowing the Father’s love in a deeply personal way. The charismatic renewal has brought many things into the Church’s consciousness, like praise and worship music, talking about hearing from God in prayer, charisms, and healing masses.

PH: Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa said,

“The charismatic renewal was born to help renew the whole Church.”

Pope Paul VI said,

“It’s an opportunity for the Church.”

For ourselves and others, it’s produced a relationship with the Holy Spirit, with God’s Word coming alive, passion for the sacraments, charisms, deeper personal prayer, and a desire for mission and evangelization.

RM: About 160 million Catholics can testify that the CCR radically changed their lives for the better. There are living witnesses to this across the world.

Understanding ‘Baptism in the Holy Spirit’

MH: John the Baptist said,

“I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming . . . he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Lk 3:15-16)

Baptism wasn’t yet a sacrament. “Baptize” meant “immerse,” so he was saying, “You are going to be immersed into God’s Spirit and power, the love between the Father and the Son.” Pentecost fulfilled that promise, and when people asked what to do, Peter said:

“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

Baptism, and later, confirmation, convey that same grace of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. These sacraments should conform us to Christ, divinize us, and raise us from the dead so we can share in God’s glory. Realistically, this often doesn’t happen at the specific moment of baptism or confirmation, because the person interiorly resists or lacks the proper disposition of faith. Baptism in the Holy Spirit is not a new sacrament; it helps bring alive grace given through baptism and confirmation. This enables people to truly come to know the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and live radically as disciples of Christ.

RM: St. Thomas Aquinas said there can be validly conferred sacraments that aren’t fruitful due to obstacles. The CCR helps people remove those obstacles—like sin, ignorance, fear, etc.—and embrace the gifts received in baptism and confirmation. When converts came into the Church, the apostles wanted to make sure they received the fullness of faith. In Acts 8, Samaritans are baptized, but the Holy Spirit doesn’t fall on them until Peter and John pray with them. There’s a certain visibility to Pentecost. In Acts 10, the Lord tells Peter to go into the household of a Gentile called Cornelius. While Peter preaches to Cornelius, the Spirit falls like it did at Pentecost, and Peter baptizes those present. Peter explains,

“The Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” (Acts 11:15-17)

The apostles didn’t fully believe before Pentecost. Even at the Ascension, they didn’t understand why the Lord was leaving or why they hadn’t overthrown the Romans. They ran away during the crucifixion and kept the doors locked after the Resurrection. They needed Pentecost to understand with a depth of conviction, overcome their fears, and boldly proclaim the Gospel.

PH: Catholics are baptized in the Holy Spirit at baptism. But as Pope Paul VI said, there usually are spiritual gifts that have not been awakened, understood, or cooperated with. This grace awakens those realities and brings us into a deeper living relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We are facing the rise of an aggressive, pagan culture that makes it difficult to live as disciples and be animated by the Holy Spirit. Baptism in the Spirit gives us grace and strength amid the collapse around us.

Emotions vs. Emotionalism

MH: One accusation against the CCR, sometimes rightly so, regards emotionalism. We must distinguish between emotionalism—an artificial attempt to stir up emotions—and authentic emotion. However, emotions haven’t historically been absent in Christian life, liturgy, and prayer. Augustine wept at hearing religious music. Aquinas discussed a torrent of grace causing delight in the soul. God made us with emotions—but emotions shouldn’t lead us. Reason should guide our human complexity. Nevertheless, Aquinas says that when acts of virtue are accompanied by passion or emotion, they are more perfect acts. Christianity is not stoicism. Of course, emotions must be rightly ordered. And people with deep emotional wounds—practically everybody today—need healing. Very often, the Lord does that through baptism in the Holy Spirit.

In today’s disordered culture, we can show all the emotion we want at football games or movie theaters but not at church. How can we be emotionally neutral when God’s beloved Son has died for us so we can share in his divine life? The Psalms exhort us to worship God with emotion, cry out with songs of joy, and clap our hands. It’s in the Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s letters.

PH: The Bible shares many ways to express the love of God: rejoicing, dancing, singing. Some people think that’s shallow and emotional—that the only proper disposition before God is to be solemn. Solemnity and silence are important to the spiritual journey. But the Christian life is the full human experience. Jesus was Jewish, and Jewish people loved to dance. David danced and celebrated. It’s part of the whole picture; we shouldn’t try to fit holy people into a little box. The CCR helped awaken the idea of letting the heart sing, declaring God’s praises and magnifying the Lord.

RM: The Church’s current approach to emotion is impoverished, with over-intellectualism and suspicion of emotion. Jesus wept, got angry, and rejoiced.

MH: Even St. Paul desired that men lift holy hands in prayer (1 Tm 2:8).

RM: Some of my deepest moments of prayer have been in silence, but some have been in fervent charismatic worship with an intense connection to the Lord. You can experience profound, deep worship like in the Psalms.

Sometimes when people are focused on the Lord, they experience a bodily response like shaking. Some people get fascinated with that and try to reproduce it, and there can be peer pressure to have similar experiences. There are abuses, exaggerations, and bad leadership. But there also are genuine bodily responses to a true action of God.

MH: At Pentecost, people thought the apostles were drunk. They displayed outward signs of a deeper reality. I know countless testimonies of people bowled over by the Lord, sometimes literally falling in the Spirit, but then getting up a different person, radically committed to the Lord, having experienced his love and being healed of deep personal wounds. They serve and give of themselves in a more profound way.

The Gift of Tongues

RM: We see three different kinds of speaking in tongues on Pentecost. First, people hear the apostles speaking in myriad languages, which may be a miracle of speaking or of hearing. For instance, St. Vincent Ferrer only knew his native language, but people heard him speaking in their own languages. Second is a ministry gift, where somebody speaks something that they don’t understand at a prayer assembly and somebody else interprets it. And third is the gift most often discussed, when a person prays in tongues, speaking mysteries to God without understanding what’s being said.

“We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” (Rom 8:26)

The Spirit moves in sounds we don’t understand to allow us to connect with the Lord in a particular way. It’s not necessary to pray in tongues. But the act of surrender involved in yielding to speaking in tongues can bring about a further yielding that becomes part of a way of life.

MH: If praying in tongues opens you to the demonic, why would St. Paul say,

“I thank God that I speak in tongues.” (1 Cor 14:18)

Why would the catechism list it as a charism of the Holy Spirit (2003)? Jesus said,

“What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent.” (Lk 11:11)

When people are praying and it moves into this vocalization led by the Holy Spirit, they should not be afraid that the Lord will let the enemy enter them. Making people afraid in that way is from the enemy, who enters people’s lives through practice of the occult, serious sin, and repeated unrepented sin.

PB: Jesus says to judge a tree by its fruits. Some attacks against the CCR are myopic, drawing massive conclusions from singular instances. They’re not looking at Church teachings through the magisterium, the popes, and the lived experience of joy, peace, hope, and evangelization—all the things the Church is supposed to be.

About the Author

<a href="" target="_self">Renewal Ministries Staff</a>

Renewal Ministries Staff

Renewal Ministries seeks to foster renewal in the Catholic Church by helping people grow in holiness and equipping them for evangelization and ministry with the power of the Holy Spirit. We pray that these blog posts will encourage and strengthen you!


  1. Jesusa Estella Gonzalez

    Praise God. You have wisely and beautifully explained the changes that have occurred in our Catholic Church. I will pray for the Holy Spirit to keep us in God’s Divine Will.

  2. Aleta Bolton

    I live near Portland OR. My husband was a music minister for years in 2 Catholic Churches. The Bishops here ended the Chrismatic movement in the early 1990s. I have stopped going to church altogether after they closed churches for 9 months. Between the ultra liberal catholics and the bishops and preists wanting to go back to the 1600s (this is a direct statement from one of them). I believe the church is in apostasy.

    We are reading our Bibles and listening to good Bible teachers through the internet and praying God leads us to a faith community. We have talked to many priest and they ridicule or get angry when we try to talk to them about the Holy Spirit. One said “I don’t allow the Holy Spirit to control much”.

    I am amazed you are allowed to still have this ministry. Please pray for catholics in the pacific northwest.

  3. John Waligorski

    This was a great discussion. I watched the full discussion on You Tube. This discussion really helped me understand the Charismatic Renewal Movement and Vatican II. In fact it inspired me to write a series of three articles on the Second Vatican Council and its influence upon the turbulent times of the late 1960’s for my blog ( I believe that the Holy Spirit flowed from the Council into the undercurrent of the anti-war and civil rights protest, and the chaos of society, planting “seeds of love” that blossomed into the Charismatic Renewal Movement within the Catholic church and the Jesus Movement in the secular world.

  4. Amy Louise Maloney

    This is very helpful. I think explaining this misunderstanding about Vatican II would be beneficial to spread in the many different conferences held around the country and parish missions.

  5. Jack Brinker

    I live hearing truth. God bless your ministry.


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