Loss of a Vatican II priest

Father Mike Tauke

The Rev. Mike Tauke died.

A memorial service was held at the church he helped to build, St. Mary’s in Waverly, Iowa. It’s a big, new, beautiful church. And it was full.

People from all over Northeast Iowa came to mourn this beloved, 71-year-old priest. But some were mourning more than his passing. It seemed that, with his death, another small piece of the promise of the Second Vatican Council died with him.

Tauke was a “Vatican II priest.” He attended seminary about the time that many profound changes from the council were being implemented.

It was Pope Saint John XXIII who opened the council in 1962. He wanted to “open the windows and let in the fresh air”, to engage the Roman Catholic Church with the modern world.

Before Vatican II, the Church was much more shuttered. It had advanced ideas like the “forbidden book index,” where Roman Catholics were forbidden from reading certain books. The index was not abolished until 1966. It produced the doctrine of papal infallibility in 1870. It meant that on matters of faith and morals, it was impossible for the pope to be wrong. And the Church was prone to clericalism—the idea that the priestly class is set apart and set above the laity.

Among other important developments, Vatican II delivered the bombshell that we are all—priests and laity—equally called to holiness. To encourage greater and more prayerful participation in the Mass, the Latin Mass was changed to the vernacular—the language of the people of the church. The priest no longer turned his back to the laity during Mass, but rather faced the people of God during prayer in order to be inclusive. And the laity were encouraged to participate in the ministries of the Mass.

Passive participation by the laity changed to active participation.

Tauke embraced the thinking of Vatican II. In some ways, longstanding rules of the Church were being broken and maybe it suited him. Maybe he was a natural renegade at heart. At his memorial service, phrases like “risk taker,” “sometimes questioned the institutional Church,” and “exclaimer of Wow! during the Mass,” were used to describe him. Clearly, the people loved this priest who was always genuine and sometimes unorthodox.

It seems hard, now, to imagine what the Church was like 100 years ago. We’ve come a long way, thanks to Vatican II and priests like Tauke, but there’s still work to be done.

Clericalism continues to plague the Church and was a contributing factor in the sexual abuse crisis. A reigning feeling of superiority emboldened bishops to knowingly move pedophile priests from one parish to another. After investigative reporting, the laity’s demand for justice, and billions of dollars paid out in lawsuits, the institutional Church now understands it must engage with the modern world in at least one way—it must keep children safe.

Even Pope Francis in a 2018 letter asserted that, “to say no to abuse is to say an emphatic no to all forms of clericalism.”

That’s a strong and recent statement against clericalism by its spiritual leader. It shows the prevalent and relentless nature of what can only be called a disease. Vatican II was never fully implemented well enough to eradicate it.

Most priests do an incredible amount of good in the world and resist the lure of clericalism.

But some cannot.

A sense of kinship was palpable at Tauke’s memorial service. Tauke did not consider himself to be set apart or set above the faithful. He simply joined his brothers and sisters in Christ on a shared pursuit of holiness. He certainly did his part to open the windows and let some fresh air into the institutional Church.

He’ll be missed.

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