With the stunning announcement of the Holy Father’s resignation to take place on February 28, the speculation will begin as to his successor will be and as to the direction the new pontificate will take. Of particular interest to me is the “hermeneutic of continuity” of Pope Benedict in respect to the Second Vatican Council. This is a hot issue at the very moment the Holy Father announces his resignation.
The Holy Father’s appeal to a renewal of faith based on the proper assimilation of the texts of the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church is being rejected, in very the name of the faith, in favor of some “more faithful” and “holier” version of Catholicism. In fact, this is the appeal of traditionalism: it represents a more vital commitment to the faith than can even be mustered by the Vicar of Christ. I am sure we will witness from the traditionalists the hope and prophecy of a more “dogmatic” papacy.
Wait for a much louder drum beating. It is coming.
Unfortunately, this time for faith has become a time for something else. Call it doubt, or pride, or private judgment. Or how about “protest”? At least that does not sound so judgmental. There is a solid tradition of protest within the Church, especially when it is public, and most especially when it is directed against the judgments of the Holy Father. Right? Wrong.
In the last year or two a mythology has solidified in which it is suggested that the Holy Father’s assertion of a hermeneutic of continuity as the correct interpretation of Vatican II was actually an invitation to dialogue about whether the Council could be reconciled with Tradition. On September 14, 2011, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith delivered to the SSPX a doctrinal preamble for them to sign as the basis for their reconciliation. We know for sure that the preamble required them to accept Vatican II and the New Mass but left open for legitimate discussion “the examination and theological explanation of individual expressions and formulations contained in the documents of Vatican Council II and later Magisterium.” Not only has the SSPX so far refused the sign the preamble, but Bishop Fellay, Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X, has blamed the Vatican for sending mixed signals. Publicly the Holy See has maintained the necessity of the hermeneutic of continuity, but Fellay claims that privately certain high-placed Vatican officials told him that the SSPX would have to modify nothing of its opposition to the Council and the New Mass. Fellay even became convinced that the Holy Father was willing to abandon the teaching of the Second Vatican Council in order to make it possible to regularize the Society, the existence of which is based on its opposition to the Council. The facts concerning the Holy Father’s teaching paint another picture, but now his resignation will inspire a new round of dissent.
Just a couple of days ago, the Pope Benedict descried both the false pessimism and false optimism in respect the Council. All is not well in the Church today, but beware of the false prophets. The Church remains, as it always has been, under the protection of the Holy Spirit.
I wish to present here a partial chronology of this “Time for Faith (Protest)” that the traditionalists and crypto-traditionalists are nurturing. I believe the history of the last few months is an open window through which one may clear view the workings of crypto-traditionalism and what we can expect from them as we look forward to a new pontificate:
- September 6, 2012: Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais of the SSPX reveals that on June 30, 2012, the Holy Father wrote to Bishop Fellay informing him that indeed it was his will that “to be truly reintegrated into the Church it is necessary [for the SSPX] to truly accept the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar Magisterium.” In other words, in his only recent direct communication with Fellay, the Holy Father has acted consistently with what he has always said and done and has confirmed the official pronouncements of the CDF.
- November 1, 2012: Bishop Fellay reveals that details of the Holy Father’s letter to him of June 30. The Holy Father insists on three conditions for the regularization of the SSPX: 1) the Society accepts that “the Magisterium is the authentic judge of Apostolic Tradition”; 2) “It is necessary for us to accept the fact that the Council is an integral part of Tradition, of Apostolic Tradition”; 3) “it is necessary to accept the validity and the liceity of the New Mass.”
- November 30, 2012: Archbishop Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, writes that the only legitimate interpretation of the Council is that of “the hermeneutic of reform in continuity,” as taught by Pope Benedict. He goes even further and declares that anyone subscribing to a different position holds to a “heretical interpretation” of the Second Vatican Council.
- Circa December 2, 2012: Archbishop Augustine Di Noia, Vice-President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, the commission responsible for the dialogue with the SSPX, writes a private letter to Bishop Fellay which distributed to all the priests of the Society. (This letter is not made public until January 21, 2013). The Archbishop calls for mutual charity and reaffirms the requirements of Donum Veritatis on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, which precludes public dissent from magisterial teaching, and forbids the use of the mass media“to exert the pressure of public opinion” on the pope and bishops who are responsible for the deposit of the faith, or to act in such a way as to create a “’parallel magisterium’ of theologians.”
- December 5, 2012: Professor Roberto de Mattei, without any apparent knowledge of Archbishop Di Noia’s letter to the SSPX, uses the mass media to challenge Archbishop Müller’s correction of the dissenters from Vatican II. De Mattei asserts that Archbishop Müller has “elevated the Second Vatican Council to the position of the one and absolute dogma of our times.” De Mattei suggests that the archbishop has failed to acknowledge the “pastoral” character of the Council’s teaching and is treating it as a “super dogma,” a tendency that Joseph Ratzinger criticized. De Mattei supports his position by cherry-picking from Ratzinger/Benedict’s teaching.
- December 28, 2012: Bishop Fellay claims that the Second Vatican Council does not belong the Church but to her enemies, namely, “the Jews, the Masons and the Modernists.” He also says that rather than admit that the New Mass is valid, the SSPX prefers to say that it is “evil.”
- January 21, 2013: Archbishop Di Noia’s letter to the SSPX is made public.
- Circa February 9, 2013: Philosopher and theologian, Professor Enrico Maria Radaelli, publishes a new book in which he supports the contentions of another theologian, the late Fr. Divo Barsotti concerning Vatican II’s alleged betrayal of Tradition. “In Radaelli’s view, the current crisis of the Church is not the result of a mistaken application of the Council, but of an original sin committed by the Council itself,” namely, the abandoning of “dogmatic language.”
- February 11, 2013: Pope Benedict announces his immanent resignation.
So aside from those who openly align themselves with the SSPX there is a spectrum of dissent from the teaching of Pope Benedict on the matter of Vatican II that operates on a “hook or by crook” basis. Some are more bold and blatant than others. But all of them, if they can fruitfully cherry-pick from Pope Benedict, they will. When the traditionalists and crypto-traditionalists can get away with claiming the Holy Father actually is prepared to reject or modify Vatican II, they will not hesitate to make the assertion.
The most recent foray into traditionalism by Professor Enrico Maria Radaelli and the SSPX sympathizers (# 7, above) is pretty blatant. The traditionalist and crypto-traditionalist bloggers and news providers will give Radaelli the necessary tools to turn his “scholarship” the propaganda it needs to be in order—in disobedience to Donum Veritatis—to increase pressure on the Holy See.
Radaelli is in clear dissent from the Holy Father’s position. He places in radical opposition the preconciliar “dogmatic language” of the magisterium and the “pastoral language” of the conciliar and postconciliar magisterium. He claims that from this language “almost” two churches have remerged and separated. Corresponding to dogmatic language is the traditionalist Church of the SSPX and their sympathizers, and to pastoral language corresponds “almost all of the bishops, priests, and faithful, including the current pope.”
Radaelli also aligns himself with Monsignor Gherardini and Roberto de Mattei in using pressure tactics to shame the Holy See into reassessing the objective value of the Second Vatican Council. Unfortunately, Fr. Zuhlsdorf has joined his voice to that of Radaeli in crypto-traditionalist fashion, only offering the caveat that his post “might upset people,” and claiming that “some parts” of Radaeli’s propaganda “make sense.” I find it hard to excuse Fr. Zuhlsdorf insofar as he just throws up some excerpts from Radaeli without clarifying that the logical conclusion of all this, and one that is explicitly reached by Radaeli, is that Vatican II and the postconciliar popes, including Pope Benedict, have betrayed Tradition, and that the real guardians of the deposit of the faith are not the present magisterium but the SSPX and their sympathizers, the “faithful” remnant of the Catholic “protest-ants.”
Look out for more wishful thinking. There will be heaps of it.
God bless Pope Benedict for his faithful ministry.