Recently, serious attacks have begun to appear against Mons. Brunero Gherardini’s theological reflections on the Second Vatican Council, as well as the history of that event which I, personally, have offered for examination.
Discussions are never useless, but under the condition that they follow determined rules, beginning with the respect due to opinions which are different from our own. With regard to attacks directed at us, it seems, instead, that the violence and gratuitousness of the accusations, are proportionate to the meagerness of the arguments. Mons. Gherardini, myself and other gallant apologists, such as Father Serafino Lanzetta F.I., Alessandro Gnocchi and Mario Palmaro, are accused, on some web-sites, of being ‘crypto-sedevacantists’ and are lumped together with the Lutherans because of our ‘protestant mentality’ with ‘neo-agnostics pseudo-traditionalists’, with the progressives, which we would be united to because of our ‘individualistic pride’. I do not intend, for the moment, to respond to the accusations directed at me, but I sense it is my duty to intervene in defense of Mons. Brunero Gherardini, not only because of our friendship, but for the sake of justice.
First of all, it should be kept in mind that the main target of these rash attacks, Mons. Gherardini, born in Prato in 1925, ordained to the priesthood in 1948, official of the then Sacred Congregation of Seminaries, after having had the responsibility of the regional and diocesan seminaries in Italy, was called to the Pontifical Lateran University, where from 1968, he taught as Professor of Ecclesiology and was Dean of the Theological Faculty. Pupil and close collaborator of Mons.
Antonio Piolanti, he was a member in charge of the Roman Pontifical Theological Academy, and also of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas. He was Director of the magazine “Divinitas”, canon of the Patriarchal Basilica of St. Peter’s, and until the end of last year, Postulator for the cause of the canonization of Blessed Pius IX. Further, besides being a great theologian, he is noted for his exemplary priesthood, and has never incurred any theological or canonical censure by any ecclesiastical authority.
He has dedicated his entire life to the Church and still serves Her with heightened zeal at an age when most of his priestly peers live in tranquility as retired ecclesiastics. This alone should be sufficient to compel the respect and admiration due to him, and even in the case of differences of opinion, to demand that he be treated with the deference and reverence which his religious habit and his academic career call for, and above all for the esteem which he is, in general, surrounded.
It should be added that on some themes pertaining to the Second Vatican Council, Mons. Gherardini ‘s positions have undoubtedly developed over the years, a consequence of the maturation of his thought, but certainly not into incoherencies and even less in contradictions. The same cannot be said of his main accuser, Fr. Pietro Cantoni, parish priest and author of an unpleasant volume in which some of his disciples present, explicitly, their accusations against Mons. Gherardini.
I know Fr. Cantoni just as well as I know Mons. Gherardini, having had contact with both of them since the beginning of the 1970s. At that time I was assistant to Augusto Del Noce, who disclosed to me that he thought Mons. Gherardini the best living Italian theologian. Piero Cantoni, who was born in Piacenza in 1950, was a young man coming from neo-pagan traditionalism. He had a conversion, due also to an experience of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius preached by Padre Lodovico Barrielle (1897 -1983), and so, a genuine religious vocation matured in him and he entered the seminary at Ecòne, where in 1978 he was ordained a priest by Mons, Marcel Lefebrve. As a result of his intellectual ability, he was nominated professor.
I remember very well at that time, how he was fascinated by the theses of Father Guèrard de Lauriers (1898-1988), noted for his “theses of Cassiciacum”. According to these, from 1965 all the Popes are popes only in “materialiter” (accepting the scholastic term). Father de Lauriers, unlike Abp. Lefebvre , retained, that a Council cannot be erroneous in its decisions: the fact that some conciliar documents were in objective and undoubted contradiction with the perennial Magisterium of the Church, the Pope who had promulgated them, and his successors who had accepted them, by doing so, had lost at least on a formal level, their supreme authority. With this thesis, Father de Lauriers distanced himself from Abp. Lefebvre and in 1981 was consecrated a bishop, validly, but illicitly, by the emeritus Archbishop of Hué, the Vietnamese, Pierre Martin Ngò Dinh Thuc (1897-1984).
Fr. Piero Cantoni was not moved to take the hazardous step some of his religious brothers made by following Father de Lauriers, but he did not renounce the theological ideas which he had absorbed from the French Dominican, though he turned the terms upside down. Recognizing the supreme authority of the Pope, he concluded that the documents that he had retained contradictory with the Magisterium of the Church until then, should (now) have to be considered coherent with it. This simplistic equation, The Council = infallibility, veered towards sedevacantism or towards “concilarism ”.
In 1981, Fr. Cantoni left the seminary at Ecòne with a group of Italian seminarians, was incardinated in the diocese of Apuania, became a parish priest and enrolled in the Lateran University, where he was welcomed in great charity by Mons. Gherardini. He graduated under the Monsignor’s guidance with research done on the “Novus Ordo Missae”. From 1973, the periodical Alleanza Cattolica “Cristianità” had hosted the writings of Abp. Marcel Lefebvre, Abp. Antonio de Castro Mayer and other traditional authors. In 1981,this relationship changed course, influenced by the theological inspirations of Fr. Cantoni. Abp.
Lefebvre, and most of the so-called ‘traditionalist’ world, maintained a different position from the “sedevacantists” and the “concilarists” with which Fr. Cantoni was aligned. With the Episcopal consecrations of June 1988, which were valid, but illicit , Abp. Lefebrve placed himself in a canonically irregular position, which at present, is at the center of discussions between the Fraternity of Saint Pius and the Holy See.