Pontifications

Pontifications


Rewriting history: Vatican II gets a makeover at 50

posted by David Gibson
John XXIII.jpg

Fifty years ago today, Sunday, January 25, 1959, “Good” Pope John XXIII anounced to a small group of cardinals at a prayer service in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls to close the week of prayer for Christian unity that he would convene an Ecumenical Council–a gathering as rare as it is authoritative, able to shift the direction of the church in a way not even a pope can do. At dotCommonweal, church historian Fr. Joseph Komonchak paints the scene. And at NCR, Jason Petosa provides context for this earthquake in the life of the Church–what Jesuit historian John O’Malley in his new book calls “quite possibly the biggest meeting in the history of the world.” The Second Vatican Council, as it would come to be known, ran from 1962-65, and the aftershocks have continued ever since. The Council fathers–2,400 bishops and thousands of aides an experts from around the world–were able to circumvent initial plans by the conservative Roman curia, or Vatican bureaucracy, to thwart any reform and instead set in motion a council that would upend the church in many ways. Not surprisingly, the backlash has been going on ever since, under John Paul II to some degree, and with a persistence that has begun to attract the notice of a wider public, to an even greater degree by Benedict XVI. That was made clearer than ever this weekend when Pope Benedict lifted the excommunications of four Traditionalist, right-wing bishops who are part of the schismatic Society of Saint Pius X, the brainchild of the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebrve. (The CNS story is here.)[Rorate-caeli has all the relevant documents.] This group vehemently rejects the teachings and reforms of Vatican II–such as on religious freedom, ecumenism, or mass in the vernacular–and apart from viewing popes since Pius XII as heretics, there is a deep strain of anti-Semitism running through their ranks. One of the restored bishops, Richard Williamson, is an outright Holocaust denier, as this video shows: Wait, it gets worse: Williamson has also written that “The Sound of Music”–yes, the musical–is “soul-rotting slush” and that “all the elements of pornography are there, just waiting to break out. One remembers the media sensation when a few years later Julie Andrews appeared topless in another film. That was no sensation, just a natural development for one rolling canine female.” (It gets better; read the whole letter.) UPDATE: As the Daily Dish reminds me, he is also a 9/11 “Truther” who believes the Twin Towers were not brought down by planes, etc.

Julie Andrews.jpg

They are an odd crew, to be charitable, and Benedict has done everything possible to court them, both as Cardinal Ratzinger and as Pope. That was clear to me as I wrote my book, “The Rule of Benedict,” in which I try to make it clear that Ratzinger did not get a personality transplant when he became pope–just a different job. But these decisions by the pope continue to surprise many. What surprises me is how little Benedict seems to have gotten for all his efforts. Part of the rationale for restoring the old Latin Rite mass was to bring the Lefebvrists into the fold, and yet at every turn they rejected any hint of compromise. Last summer, after the Lefebvrists rejected a four-point “ultimatum” from Rome–giving them most everything they wanted, asking mainly that they refrain from attacking the Pope–Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, the Vatican official in charge of trying to bring them back into the fold as a priority for his boss got fed up. He called them “insatiable, incredible.” (Castrillon was referring to all those attached to the Latin Mass movement, but his remarks were widely seen in Rome and elsewhere as specifically targeted at the Lefebvrists.) Yet Benedict went ahead and brought them back into the fold, and allowed them to more or less claim victory. Even some conservatives were scratching their heads. As George Weigel told The Times:

“It is not easy to see how the unity of the Church will be enhanced unless the Lefebvrists accept Vatican II’s teaching on the nature of the Church, on religious freedom, and on the evil of anti-Semitism, explicitly and without qualification; otherwise, you get cafeteria Catholicism on the far right, as we already have on the left.”

Well, George is half-right, in that the Catholic right bellied up to the cafeteria hot table a long time ago. And with this decision, Benedict–who was elected as an opponent of “the dictatorship of relativism”–is throwing open the cafeteria line rightward while closing it to the left. Not to mention of course, how this–and many other things–threatens to undo 50 years of Jewish-Catholic dialogue at a time of rising anti-Semitism in the world. More on that another time.What is Benedict doing? Well, as the Italians say, “Quel che un papa puo’ fare, un papa puo’ disfare.” Or, “That which a pope can do, a pope can undo.” The trick will be for the Vatican to show that this is not an arbitrary judgment by Benedict, someting that appears difficult to do, at least so far. The simplest explanation often being the best, I think it’s clear Benedict has much sympathy for the Traditionalists, and hence has always been very solicitous of them. But Benedict is also a realist, and a friend I spoke with this weekend made the astute observation that by bringing the Lefebvrist bishops back into the fold in some capacity, he can hopefully stop the cancer from metasizing (ugly metaphor, sorry) in that these bishops could have gone on to ordain more bishops validly yet illicitly, and they more priests and bishops and so on. If the movement had indeed continued to grow, it could have been impossible to sort it all out. In this way, at least, the Vatican has some say over who they ordain, though they seem happy to let them ordain anyone they want. And of course, they could bolt the fold if Rome says “no” on something.On another level, I think Beendict is using the outreach to the far-right as a way to further his project of retrenchment. By extending the boundaries of what is acceptable to a group that rejects Vatican II, Benedict can legitimize some of those views while moving the goalposts–and thus still keeping himself at “the new center.” This is another strategem in the ongoing battle over the Council. Benedict set out his view of this debate in his first address as Pope to the Roman Curia, in December 2005, when he caricatured those who saw Vatican II as a reforning council as advocating the view that the church was breaking with its past, while those sober, sane souls like himself saw it as in perfect “continuity” with past church teachings–despite the obvious evidence to the contrary on a host of issues. The debate gets almost Orwellian at times, but the damage to the church is all too real. From the begining it was thus. As Notre Dame church historian, Fr. Richard McBrien notes, in his announcement 50 years ago, Pope John (he called his decision, just 100 days after his election as an elderly “transitional” pope, “a little holy madness”) was changed in the official record to reflect a more conservative vision:

His speech to the cardinals on January 25, 1959, mentioned two specific goals of the council: “the enlightenment, edification, and joy of the entire Christian people,” and “a renewed cordial invitation to the faithful of the separated Churches to participate with us in this feast of grace and brotherhood [sic], for which so many souls long in all parts of the world.”Significantly, the pope’s actual words on that occasion were watered down in the official edition of the address. The non-Catholic Churches were reduced to “communities,” and they were not to “participate with us in this feast of grace and brotherhood” but to “follow us in the search for unity and grace.” It has ever been thus that Vatican officials sometimes take it upon themselves to “correct” the words of a reigning pope, without his knowledge or approval. It may be why John XXIII once complained that he was “in a bag,” not always free to act on his own, according to his own best pastoral and theological insights.

Benedict XVI seems to be acting on his own, even though he often chides the rest of us to sentire cum ecclesia, “to think (and act) with the church.” Sources say he took this step–as he did the restoration of the Latin Mass–against the strong and express advice of some of his closest collaborators. Another Italian saying: Roma locuta, causa finita.



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Charles Cosimano

posted January 26, 2009 at 3:23 am


Well, anyone who despises The Sound of Music can’t be all bad. I once wrote that the reason Hitler landed in hell was that he let the Trapp family get away!
But, as I’ve said before, no one outside the Catholic Church is going care very much what the Vatican says or does about anything now. If the embryonic stem cell testing on spinal cord injuries is successful, the Bishops and the Pope are going to look like a tortilla that has been stepped on by an elephant.



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Melchior Cano

posted January 26, 2009 at 10:20 am


“Last summer, after the Lefebvrists rejected a four-point “ultimatum” ffrom Rome–” And yet, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Only speculation on the SSPX’s response until the Decree from the Congregation of Bishops, in which they quote Bishop Fellay accepting the conditions from Rome. This is sloppy journalism.
“Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, the Vatican official incharge of trying to bring them back into the fold as a priority for his boss got fed up. He called them “insatiable, incredible.” I hope everyone clicked through the link. Its clear that Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos is referring to those Catholics attending diocesan parishes and pushing for wider use of the Extraordinary Form, not to the SSPX. This goes beyond sloppy journalism and into an attempt to hoodwink your readers. An apology or an explanatory note is owed by you Mr. Gibson.



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rphjr60

posted January 26, 2009 at 12:18 pm


The Society of St. Pius X its four bishops and its members are STILL not in communion with the Catholic Church. The lifting of the excommunications is a powerful gesture, but the bishops were still illicitly ordained and are exercising an illicit ministry they are still suspended. For instance, a wedding by two Catholics in a SSPX chapel would be invalid because their priests do not have faculties. In other words, there is still a long way to go before this group is in full communion with the Catholic Church.
I think David, you are right that one thing this gesture is aimed at doing is to discourage these bishops from ordaining more bishops. At this point, if they did that, they would be excommunicated all over again. This is an olive branch to this group, but they are not yet a legitimate part of the Catholic Church.



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Ge0ffrey

posted January 26, 2009 at 1:53 pm


Acts 19:11-12 (RSV) And God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.



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Your Name

posted January 26, 2009 at 2:12 pm


Melchior Cano: No attempt to “hoodwink,” as you say. As per your objection regarding Castrillon’s comments, I did add a clarifier to note that he was painting a broad brush, but was seen (by sources in Rome) as clearly targeting the Trads. Thanks for that.
As far as the ultimatum–all reports I read and everyone I spoke with at the time said concretely that the Traditionalists had rejected the ultimatum. If you have any citations to the contrary, please include the,
Thanks. DG



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Youngling

posted January 26, 2009 at 11:23 pm


I first noticed the Catholic Church (as an adult) when, at a time when I was a purely nihilistic neo-pagan, Pope Benedict was elected. I didn’t know anything about the man, and had been entirely uninterested in his predecessor, but for some reason he made me prick up my ears.
My pricked ears pulled the rest of my body upright as I sat up straight when Pope Benedict issued Summorum Pontificum, I knew, although still myself not a believer (in anything much at all) that this was something beautiful.
I had the fortune to witness an SSPX Mass shortly thereafter, and was mesmerised. All I had ever known to be involved in Christianity, a religion rejected by my family several generations ago, was banal platitudes, ethical norms that in no sense depended on any kind of transcendent being at all and on the other side, weird Americans who seemed to believe God was basically the head of a giant pyramid scheme. I had never come across the richness and beauty that Christianity can and does offer, the amazing breadth of it.
I believe that these things were vital conduits of God’s grace in my life. I am so thankful for them all. I have an enduring affection for the SSPX despite their obvious flaws for this reason.
Look back over history at all the kooky opinions bishops have held. Yet the Church survived, thrived, did fine, Bp. Williamson is not a threat, but the SSPX’s separation has wounded the Church, has ostracised tradition and perhaps most important of all has put many thousands of souls in peril.
I have actually wondered quite seriously if the invalidity of their confessions at present is not to some large part depriving them of graces they absolutely need to develop the kind of humility that everyone is angry at them for lacking. If they can be brought back into the Church then thousands of people who are right now receiving invalid sacraments will be receiving valid ones! And not just this generation, if the SSPX does not come back, their followers children, their children’s children, down the generations will suffer from this schism. Would you inflict that on them over the historical opinions, however reprehensible, of one man?



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Goodguyex

posted January 27, 2009 at 12:39 pm


Yes, the bishops are not exactly ordained.
I have a hunch that these guys, with some grumbling on several sides will be welcomed into the legitimate Catholic traditional counterpart, the Priestly Society of St. Peter (Fraternitas Sacerdotalis Sancti Petri) FSSP. Their full priestly status can be made fully validated.
I would be reasonably happy with this, not perfect, but OK.



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Briney

posted January 27, 2009 at 5:47 pm


Thanks for the analysis. It is a sad day when the Pope reaches so far to the right while millions find little to hold them in the Church of their baptism. Alas.



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Jimmy Mac

posted January 28, 2009 at 7:23 pm


I think that so many good and holy people, who are disgusted, dismayed, disaffected and disappointed by and with this church, leaving that B16 needs to extend his hand down into the gutter to keep the numbers up, the churches open and … of course! … the coffers filled, but this time with 30 pieces of traitors’ silver.
He will get what he wants, but won’t keep a lot of the fold.



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Your Name

posted January 29, 2009 at 10:19 am


To correct a previous comment about the ordinations of the SSPX bishops:
These bishops were validly ordained (so they are real bishops), but they were illicitly ordained (which is why they and Lefebvre incurred latae sententiae excommunication). Their Sacraments, all seven of them, are validly (though perhaps not licitly) administered.
In other words, their Eucharist, their absolutions, and their ordinations, as well as the other four, are valid. A similar, though not identical, situation is with the Eastern Orthodox Churches. All of their sacraments are recognized as valid, even though they are separated from Rome. The SSPX is more closely aligned with Rome, even though full communion may not be present.



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Johannim

posted March 26, 2009 at 3:00 pm


NOT SURPRISING, BELIEFNET HAS SCREWED THING UP AND BUYS INTO THE ETHOS AND ANTI-CATHOLIC BAITING OF THE REVISIONIST SECULAR PRESS (WHICH IS DYING A SLOW DEATH WORLDWIDE). THE SOCIETY OF ST. PIUS THE 10TH WAS NEVER BY THE VATICAN CONSIDERED HERETICAL OR SCHISMATIC AS CARDINAL CASTILLO HAS REPEATED & REPEATED & REPEATED AND YET BELIEFNET AND IT’S FELLOW TRAVELLERS AKA SECULAR PRESS CONTINUE IN THAT MYTH.THEY ARE IN AN IRREGULAR POSITION IN THE CHURCH SINCE ARCHBISHOPS LAFEVRE CONSECRATED FOUR MEN BISHOPS AGAINST THE WISHES OF JP2. THESE FOUR BISHOPS “WERE” IN SCHISM UNTIL RECENTLY. THE PRIEST AND LAITY INVOLVED WITH SSPX WERE NEVER IN SCHISM, GET IT STRAIGHT BELIEFNET FOR A CHANGE. THE LIBERAL CUMBYA CHURCH IS DYING AND LITERALLY MILLIONS OF CATHOLIC YOUTH AND YOUNG PRIESTS ARE GOING TO THE TRIDENTINE LITURGY EXCLUSIVELY. RELIGIOUS ORDERS THAT HAVE RETURNED TO ORTHODOXY ARE EXPERIENCING A BOOM IN VOCATIONS AS ARE ORTHODOX RELIGIOUS SEMINARIES. THE 60’S REVISIONIST & REACTIONARY CHURCH IS DEAD THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IS AGAIN BECOMING CATHOLIC –SHALOM



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