Traditionalists claim that the Second Vatican Council departs from traditional Catholic doctrine in certain areas. Conciliar documents concerning religious liberty and ecumenism, they say, contradict traditional Church teaching on these issues. To explain this, traditionalists claim that the Vatican II Council was a pastoral council (a council committed to what is done in practice), rather than a dogmatic council (a council in which dogmas are ratified and infallibly declared) and therefore, is not infallible and may contain errors. But councils are not classified as "dogmatic" and "pastoral", only as "local" and "ecumenical". Vatican II was an ecumenical council, and just like all previous ecumenical council, Vatican II contained both pastoral and dogmatic declarations and statements. Vatican II produced two dogmatic constitutions in Lumen Gentium and Dei Verbum. Even the pastoral constitutions, such as Gaudium et Spes, develops the Church teachings and then applies that teaching to what was going on in the world at the time–here we see both dogmatic and pastoral aspects. Catholics cannot "pick and choose" which conciliar documents to accept–Catholics are obligated to assent to all conciliar documents and decrees, whether they are infallible or just definitively stated. Catholics also cannot interpret Tradition for themselves, because if they acknowledge the Magisterium as the official interpreters of Tradition, they have no right to interpret Tradition privately–this could easily lead to false conclusions, so pandemic in Protestant Churches where everyone is a private interpreter of Scripture, and where each man becomes his own Pope.
Regarding religious liberty, the Vatican II Council states: "The human person has a right to religious freedom. Freedom of this kind means that all men should be immune from coercion on the part of . . . every human power so that in a religious matter neither should anyone be forced to act against his conscience, or impeded from acting according to his conscience privately and publicly, either alone or in association with others, within due limits" (Dignitatis Humanae). The Syllabus of Errors, by Pius IX, on the other hand, said the following: "Every man is free to . . . profess that religion which . . . he shall consider true" (15); "In the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only religion of the state" (77); "Hence, it is worthy of praise that in certain regions called Catholic it has been provided by law that for persons immigrating there it is permitted to hold public worship of each cult" (78). These are false because no one has the right to be wrong (as per 15), it would still be good for the state to profess the Catholic faith (as per 77), and it is not worthy of praise that non-Catholic people in Catholic countries may hold fast to their errors and worship accordingly (as per 78)–it would be worthy of praise if they came to the knowledge of the truth. What Pius IX and other popes (such as Leo XIII) were getting at was that Catholic countries should rule in accordance with, and in support of, the teachings of the true religion, rather than ruling with an attitude of indifference–that one religion is as good as another, and that the state should separate itself from the teachings of the true religion for that reason. Vatican II supports the writings of these popes, and simply states that one cannot be forced to act against his conscience, even if his conscience is misformed, which has always been taught. The Syllabus of Errors was written in the nineteenth century, is a disciplinary, rather than a doctrinal, document, and is no longer followed.
Traditionalists decry the conciliar teachings on ecumenism, and the post-conciliar ecumenical practices that were borne out of the spirit of the Council. They criticize common worship, common prayer, and that Protestant "ecclesial communities", and Orthodox churches, are called a means of salvation. The problem seems to stem from Pope Pius XI's "Mortalium Animos", a papal letter that is critical of the hyper-ecumenical activities of certain Catholics. Pius XI did state: "The Apostolic See cannot on any terms take part in their assemblies, nor is it anyway lawful for Catholics either to support or to work for such enterprises; for if they do so they will be giving countenance to a false Christianity" (8). But this has to be interpreted in light of his earlier statement: "Certainly such attempts can nowise be approved by Catholics, founded as they are on that false opinion which considers all religions to be more or less good and praiseworthy" (1). In other words, Pius XI is objecting to Catholics who worship alongside other Christians with the attitude that it does not matter what one believes–the Mass is equivalent to a Protestant worship service, and what counts is the heart and sincerity. Pius XI forbade Catholics to take part in these ecumenical assemblies for the same reason–because some Catholics had the pan-Christian attitude that one denomination was as good as another, and these assemblies were an expression of that. Most of the past anti-ecumenical papal statements were similar, and often dealt with discipline rather than dogma. A considerable development in doctrine has taken place with regard to ecumenism, and this began years before the Vatican II council. The Holy See published "On the Ecumenical Movement" in 1949, allowed for Catholic-Protestant dialogue, and permitted common prayer to precede and conclude the gatherings. As for calling the Protestant ecclesial communities a means of salvation, this is true. Since the beginning, the Catholic Church has recognized the validity of the baptism of non-Catholics, and since baptism is practiced in Protestantism, it truly can be a means of salvation. The Orthodox Churches have valid sacraments, so they too can provide the people with salvation. True, they are not in the Church, which the Vatican II council also said was necessary for salvation, but as Pius IX said, a century before Vatican II: "It must be held as certain that those who are in ignorance of the true religion, if this ignorance is invincible, are not subject to any guilt in this matter before the eyes of the Lord" (Singulari Quodam). Justin Martyr in 150 A.D. said about non-Catholics: "Those . . . who lived according to reason were really Christians, even though they were thought to be atheists, such as, among the Greeks, Socrates . . . those who lived then or who live now according to reason are Christians. Such as these can be confident and unafraid" (First Apology 46), and Augustine said: "From the beginning of the human race, whoever believed in Him and understood Him somewhat, and lived according to His precepts . . . whoever and wherever they may have been, doubtless were saved through him" (Epistle 102:12). Traditionalists also complain that the Council stated that the Church of Christ "subsists in the Catholic Church" rather than saying it is the Catholic Church, but the Council did not deny the latter, and expressed in the former the truth that the Church (or people of God) exist in the Catholic Church. Ambiguous, yes, but a contradiction of official Church teaching, no.
Nostre Aetate, the Vatican II document on other religions, states: "It [Buddhism] proposes a way of life by which men can, with confidence and trust, attain a state of perfect liberation and reach supreme illumination either through their own efforts or by the aid of divine help. . . She [the Church] has a high regard. . .for the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men. Yet she proclaims and is in duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ, Who is the way, the truth and the life. In Him. . . men find the fullness of their religious life . . . In Hinduism men explore the divine mystery and express it both in the limitless riches of myth and the accurately defined insights of philosophy . . . The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions" (Nostre Aetate, 2). These statements are true. They are nothing more than declarations that Hinduism and Buddhism have good and worthy goals, and that their concepts of God and beliefs, although flawed, do have elements of truth, and all elements of truth, even though they be mixed with error, should be acknowledged as good. As Peter said: "God shows no partiality. Rather, the man of any nation who fears God and acts uprightly is accepted by him" (Acts 10:34-35; See also Rom. 2:12-16).