Special Major Article: “THE RECONCILER: ending the great equivocation on Vatican II” – In age of no dogmas, why should Spirit of Vatican II be the only one?


The History of the Catholic Church does not begin in 1963. On the anniversary of Humanae Vitae, an article by Italian historian Roberto de Mattei, with a reminder of who truly betrayed the Church and the Council — those who dogmatize what they want to say it said while throwing away the entire previous history and doctrine of the Church, which is why they rejected and still reject the firm doctrine merely repeated at Humanae Vitae.

Plus, with Pope Francis’ recognition of the work of Abp. Agostino Marchetto, a vast selection of recent publications that intend to end any equivocation on the history and doctrinal value of Vatican II in relation with the entire history and Tradition of the Church. 

Was the Second Vatican Council a council that was “betrayed”? By whom?

It is a pertinent question, following the publication of Instrumentum Laboris, the Vatican document that will lead the discussion in the upcoming Synod on the Family. The texts cited by Instrumentum Laboris are in fact, only from the Council or post-council, almost as if a radical shift has occurred in the magisterium of the Church since the 1960s on the theme of the family which is of crucial importance today.

The Bologna School has no doubts: there had been this theological and pastoral shift , but Paul VI stifled the incentive. All of the regrets of “The History of Vatican Council II”, written by Giuseppe Alberigo, are staked on the contrast between the “prophet”, John XXIII, who inaugurated the “new Pentecost” in the Church, and the icy John Baptist Montini who ditched it. Behind this historical reading of Vatican II and now re-proposed by Alberigo’s followers, Alberto Melloni, Giuseppe Ruggieri and Massimo Faggioli, is the innovative theology of Marie-Dominique Chenu, Yves Congar and most of all, Karl Rahner.

Up to 1965, during the last weeks of the final session, at a conference entitled “The Council: the beginning of a beginning” , the German Jesuit, presented Vatican II as the beginning of a new era in the history of the Church, destined to renovate the community of believers, in an analogous manner to what had happened at the First Council of Jerusalem. Paul VI had betrayed the Council with the Nota praevia in 1964, in which he wanted to limit the significance of collegiality introduced by Lumen Gentium but most of all [he betrayed it]with the “repressive” encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968.

The controversies that followed Humanae Vitae created the first great hermeneutical rupture among the protagonists of Vatican II.

In 1972 the international journal Communio was founded by Joseph Ratzinger, Hans Urs von Balthasar and Henri de Lubac, and it opposed Concilium in which Karl Rahner, Yves Congar,and Edward Schillebeecks wrote. It was de Lubac who coined the expression “para- council” to condemn that atmosphere of feverish agitation in the years following Vatican II brought on by many theologians to force their conclusions [ideas, interpretations].

In a long interview granted to Angelo Scola in 1985 (“Journey into the Council” Supplement to no. 10, 1985, 30 Giorni, pages 6-30), De Lubac described the “para-council” as a movement of pressure from the media which had intended to influence the Council and post-council on themes such as the primacy of the pontiff and the relationship of the Church with the world.

The same year, Hans Urs von Balthasar, who in 1962 had suggested “Knocking Down The Bastions”(his book, Boria, Turin 2008) in an interview from the same magazine, 30 Giorni, (“Journey into the Post-Council by A. Scola, Edit. Milan 1985), protested that all the expectations of the council had dissolved into “American optimism”. The sitePapalepapale recently re-published an interview given to Vittorio Messori by Balthasar in which the German theologian sustained that ‘dialogue’ had shown itself to be “a chimera” and affirmed the necessity of returning to sound doctrine and “to the Tridentine model” of the seminary.

The interview is, like the previous ones, from 1985, the year of “The Ratzinger Report”, in which Cardinal Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation of the Faith, asserted the need to “return to the authentic texts of Vatican II.” Then, as Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger made many contrasts between the hermeneutic of the texts and the one of the “spirit”. His position was clear from his first famous speech given to the Curia on December 22, 2005, up until the last one , of not lesser importance, on February 14, 2013 to the Roman clergy. Benedict XVI repeated the theses, which held that there was a Virtual Council, imposed by the means of the mass-media and it had betrayed the real Council expressed in the concluding documents of Vatican II. And it is to these texts, distorted by the abusive praxis of the post-council , that we should return in order to re-discover the truth of the Council. Abp.

Agostino Marchetto, indicated by Pope Francis as the best hermeneutic of Vatican II, is moving along this line, which more and more each day reveals its weakness. The Council of the media, was not in fact less real that the one of the Fathers, to the point that, the theory could be sustained that if there had been a virtual Council , it was exactly the one of the 16 official Council documents, which remained in the compilation of the Holy See’s texts, but was never set concretely into historical reality.

The work of historical and theological revision initiated in the last years of Pope Benedict’s pontificate, opened up, however, a new historical-hermeneutical path. The Council, according to this perspective, was not betrayed by Paul VI, nor by the “mass-media-party” , but by John XXIII who had called it and who directed it until his death on June 3, 1963, between the first and second sessions of the works. The facts seem to confirm this. On January 29, 1960, only 3 months after his election to the papal throne, Pope Roncalli announced the invocation of the Second Vatican Council. The surprise was great, but the preparation of the Council lasted three years, through an ante-preparatory phase (a year) and a preparatory phase (two years).

In the spring of 1960 the consilia et vota were gathered, that is to say, the 2,150 replies received from bishops all over the world, who were questioned on the themes for the future assembly. Then all this material was consigned to ten commissions nominated by the Pope to draw up the “schemas” that would be submitted to the Council. The commissions worked under the supervision of Cardinal Ottaviani , Prefect of the Holy Office until June 1962. This impressive work was gathered into 16 volumes which contained the schemas of 54 decrees and 15 dogmatic constitutions. On July 13, three months before the opening of the Council, John XXIII established that the first constitutional schemas, approved by him, be sent to all of the Council Fathers as a basis for discussion in the general congregations.

They were with regard to: “The fonts of revelation”; “Maintaining the purity of the deposit of the Faith”; “The Christian moral order”; “Chastity, marriage, family and virginity”; “The sacred liturgy”; “The instruments of mass- communication” ; and “The unity of the Church with the Oriental churches”. These documents, which had been worked on for three years by ten commissions, gathered together the best theology that the 20th century had produced. They were dense and articulate texts, which went to the heart of the problems of that time, in persuasive and clear language.

John XXIII studied them with attention, annotating, with comments in his own hand: “ On all of the schemas – recalls Cardinal Vicenzo Fagiolo – there are the following often repeated expressions written on the side: ‘Good’ ‘Excellent’. On one alone , about the liturgy, which stands in fifth place in the volume on pages 167-199, here and there, and always in the Pope’s own hand, some question marks with a sense of wonder and non-approval are written.

“In July 1962, when Archbishop [future Cardinal] Pericle Felici, Secretary to the Council, presented the concilar schemas which had been seen and approved by him, Pope Roncalli commented enthusiastically: “The Council is done, by Christmas we can conclude it.” In reality, by Christmas of that year, all of the schemas of the Council had already been thrown into the sea, apart from the De Liturgia, the one that John XXIII liked the least, but it was the only one that satisfied the progressives. Moreover, the Second Vatican Council would not have lasted three months but three years.

What had happened? In the month of June 1962 Cardinal Léon-Joseph Seunens, new Archbishop of Malines-Brussels, met with a group of Cardinals at the Belgian College in Rome, to discuss a “plan” for the upcoming Council.

Suenens recounts of having discussed a “confidential” document with them, in which he criticized the prepared schemas by the preparatory commissions and suggested the Pope create a restricted commission “for his personal and private use” , “a sort of brains trust” to respond to the great problems of pastoral topicality. In the month of August an appeal also reached the Pope from Canadian Cardinal Paul-Emile Léger, Archbishop of Montreal. The letter was signed by Cardinals, Liénart, Dòpfner, Alfrink, Kònig and Suenens. The document openly criticized the first seven schemas, which should have been discussed by the assembly, affirming that they were not in accordance with the orientation that John XXIII should have given to the Council.

The Second Vatican Council opened on October 11, 1962. On October 13, the first general congregation was inaugurated , but at the opening of the session, an unexpected turn of events occurred. The order of the day foresaw the voting to elect the representatives for the Council Fathers in the ten commissions appointed to examine the schemas drawn up by the preparatory commission. Cardinal Liénart, supported by Cardinals Frings, Döpfner and König, protested the omitted consultations of the Episcopal Conferences and asked for their convocation before voting for the commissions.

Everything had been organized by the exponents of the “nouvelle théologie” the night before at the French Seminary of St. Clare. Cardinal Tisserant, president of the assembly conceded the postponement and the consultation of the Episcopal Conferences, called to indicate the lists of the new nominations for the commissions. The role of the Episcopal Conferences which had not been anticipated by the rules, was officially sanctioned. The existence of an organized party thus came to light – the “European Alliance” which obtained the nomination of almost all of its own candidates in the commissions. The Episcopal Conferences were guided by the experts and theologians more than the bishops themselves who were part of them, and many of the former who had been condemned by Pius XII were now preparing to carry out a decisive role in the Council.

Moreover, since among the Episcopal conferences the best organized was the German one, the role of the German theologians was decisive. Among the German theologians however, one in particular stood out, the Jesuit, Karl Rahner, whose influence in the Council was determinant. Father Ralph Wiltgen, in his fundamental work, The Rhine Flows Into The Tiber (New York 1967) sums it up efficaciously: “Since the position of the German Bishops was adopted by the European Alliance and again, given that the position of the Alliance was generally accepted by the Council, it was enough for one theologian alone to convince the German language Bishops of his personal ideas so that the Council would make them its own. This theologian existed: Father Karl Rahner from the Society of Jesus.” From then on, a different history of the Council was written.

For those who would like to follow this path more deeply, besides my book, The Second Vatican Council. A story never written (Lindau, Turin 2011), I suggest also the reading of some recent books which offer precious starting points to reflect upon. A concise and dense little volume, The Parallel Council. The irregular beginnings of Vatican II (Fede e Cultura, Verona, 2014, pp 125) and a vaster study, Unam Sanctam: A Study of the doctrinal deviations in the Catholic Church of the 21st century (Solfanelli, Chieti, 2014, pp.438).

Paolo Pasqualucci raises explicitly the question of the betrayal that occurred during the first working days of the Council. Pasqualucci is an eminent Professor of the Philosophy of Law and has taught in several Italian universities. As a legal scholar, he mainly focuses on the numerous illegalities that deviated the Council from its natural course, causing the shipwreck of the preparatory work and opening the door to the advocates of the “new theology” . “Rarely – he recalls – had an Ecumenical Council been prepared with such great care, conscientiousness and respect for the rights and opinions of everyone.

The praxis of Vatican I was followed, elaborating and perfecting it.” (p. 13). The rejection of the schemas was a true and real” procedural brigandage”, which Pasqualucci identifies in these points: sabotage of the elections of the sixteen competent members of the Council; the inversion of the order of the day and the postponement of the vote for the commissions; the shelving of the discussion in the hall, on the schema about the Fonts of Revelation with the consequent creation of a mixed commission, controlled by Cardinal Bea, for his re-writing. The schemata were re-done from top to bottom with a completely different spirit and cut.

Another important contribution is offered by a young but already affirmed theologian, Father Serafino M. Lanzetta, from the Franciscans of the Immaculate, in Vatican II. A Pastoral Council. The Hermeneutic of the Council Doctrines(Cantagalli, Siena, 2014, pp. 400). Father Lanzetta uses previously unpublished sources, mainly from the secret Vatican Archives, following the route that brought the distorting of the preparatory schemas. Lanzetta focuses in particular on the passage from Aeternus unigeniti to Lumen Gentium and from De fontibus Revelationis to Dei verbum – the two constitutions that made up the supporting pillars of the Council’s magisterium and which present elements of criticism and ambiguity. In order to unravel these problems, Lanzetta follows the method of questioning the Council itself, most of all, in desiring the discovery of its mens – that which animated the Fathers and that which determined their choices and decisions.

The inside of the horizon in which the theologian moves is the one of the classical distinction between dogmatics which regard doctrine, and the pastoral which depends on and must be guided by it. Father Lanzetta shows how the pastoral was predominant in Vatican II, even to dictating its agenda and the direction of the debates, but refuses to make of it a theological principal. For the Franciscan theologian, the doctrinal data of Vatican II must be read in the light of perennial Tradition (p.37). “ The only thing that can be the guide in understanding Vatican II is the entire Tradition of the Church: Vatican II is not the only, nor will it be the last council in the Church, but a moment in its history.” (pp. 74-75).

What slows down the debate is the reverential metas that every Catholic rightly holds towards the supreme ecclesiastical authorities. This reverential respect, however, cannot reach the point of deforming historical and theological truth. Under this aspect, Pope Francis’ pontificate facilitates discussion. The weight of the hermeneutic of Benedict XVI which laid heavily on the debate during his pontificate, has unexpectedly become lighter after his abdication. After renouncing the papacy, Benedict’s Council made an exit from history and the Council of his adversary, Cardinal Kasper remained in history: the Council is being implemented by pastoral praxis and, after fifty years of pastoral praxis, announces the coming liquidation of Catholic morality. The upcoming Synod of Bishops should pay attention.

The fundamental theme in Instrumentum Laboris, as in Cardinal Kasper’s speech at the extraordinary Consistory on February [2014], is one of abyssal distance between the doctrine of the Church on marriage and the family and contemporary Catholic praxis. In this document the yardstick of measuring doctrine becomes sociology, praxis turns doctrine upside down and the Church is capsized.

This is the title of a volume recently published by Enrico Maria Radaelli, The Church Capsized. An Aesthetic enquiry on the theology, form and language of Pope Francis’ Magisterium (Gondolin, Milan, pp. 314) with a preface written by Monsignor Antonio Livi. Radaelli, who is a disciple of Romano Amerio, is an attentive observer of the process of “de-dogmatization” which Vatican II started off and which seems to have reached its apex with Pope Francis’ magisterium.

Over the last 50 years, the mutation of the Church’s language has had an effect in its contents, [thus] altering the deposit of the doctrine itself. In analyzing Lumen Fidei by Pope Francis, Radaelli notes that in a encyclical based on the virtue of the faith, one is struck by the total absence of a net and precise definition of the virtue of faith (p.68). One is even more struck, by the total absence of the word “dogma”, a concept which by now has been banned by the Church for fifty years.

“ What is the use – affirms the philosopher from Milan – of an encyclical on the Faith which doesn’t denounce the errors and heresies currently swarming in the Church, which does not single out and anathematize the errors? “ (p.257). For Radaelli, who develops strong criticism of “the theology of the Event” of “the Encounter” and of “the Experience”, “imperative and dogmatic language should return and be serenely recognized as the first and leading language, before any other language in the Church (p.73).

In the preface of the volume, Monsignor Antonio Livi, even if he does not share some of the author’s ideas, defends his right to manifest them, as he defended the articles by Alessandro Gnocchi and Mario Palmaro in Il Foglio, as every Catholic is free to have his opinion heard in the sphere of those theological and pastoral choices which do not regard dogma, but are open to debate.

We are in a situation where the Church does not define nor anathematize , but leaves freedom of discussion open. In bookshops, in seminaries, in Catholic universities, the theses of the ultra-progressive writers are all the rage. They deny the actual existence of the concept of “orthodoxy” as we see in the latest number from the magazine Concilium.

In this age of de-dogmatization, why dogmatize Vatican II? The word today is that of praxis, of lived experience, from which truth should come forth. If this is so, why not listen to the voice of the ones who propose Christianity experienced through Tradition, which does not deny the primacy of doctrine, which does not recreate truth, but which recalls and conforms itself to the unchangeable Truth?