What is happening in the Vatican? Catholics all over the world are in consternation and wondering what sense to make of the news that has broken out in the press and that appears to reveal the existence of an ecclesiastical war going on inside the Leonine Walls, the consequences of which are being deliberately exaggerated by the mass media. Nonetheless, even if it is not easy to understand what is happening, we can make an effort to do so.
It is not without significance that this self-combustion is flaring up right at the moment when the 50th anniversary of Vatican II is about to take place. Among all the documents of that Council, the most emblematic and perhaps the most discussed is the constitution Gaudium et Spes, which the theologian Joseph Ratzinger did not like. In that document, the embrace of the Church with the contemporary world was celebrated with irenic optimism. It was the world of the 1960s, steeped in consumerism and secularism; a world in which grew the shadow of Communist imperialism, which the Council did not want to address.
The Vatican saw the positive aspects of modernity, but was not aware of the dangers and so renounced denouncing its errors, refusing to acknowledge its anti-Christian roots. The Vatican set out to listen to the world and tried to interpret the “signs of the times”, assuming that history would bring indefinite progress (automatically). The Council Fathers appeared to be in a hurry to abandon the past, in the conviction that the future would be propitious for the Church and mankind. Unfortunately, it was not so. In the years following the Council, the vertical pursuit of transcendent principles was replaced by the pursuit of earthly and worldly values.
The philosophical principle of immanence was translated into a horizontal and sociological vision of Christianity, symbolized, in the liturgy, by the altar facing the people. The “conversio ad populum” brought with it unprecedented artistic devastation and transformed the image of the Mystical Body of Christ into that of a social body emptied of its supernatural soul. But if the Church turns its back on the supernatural and the transcendent in order to turn towards the natural and the circumstantial, the teachings of the Gospel, that one needs to be “in the world, but not of the world,” are turned upside down: she stops christianizing the world and is made worldy by it.
The Kingdom of God becomes power structure in which calculation and political reason, human passions, and contingent interests dominate. The “anthropological shift” put a lot of focus on the presence of man to the Church, but very little on the presence of God. When we here speak of the Church, naturally, we do not refer to the Church herself, but to the men who are part of Her. The Church is of a Divine nature which cannot be darkened and that makes Her always pure and immaculate. But Her human dimension can be covered by that soot which Benedict XVI, during the Via Crucis just before he was elected, called “filth” and that Paul VI, faced with the conciliar rifts, defined, with words unwittingly prophetic, “the smoke of Satan” that had entered the temple of God.
Before the weakness and misery of men, the smoke of Satan are the heretical discourses and ambiguous affirmations, which started with the Second Vatican Council and still continue in the Church. Not to mention that the work has not yet begun that John Paul II called a “purification of the memory” – but that we could more simply call an “examination of conscience”, in order to understand where one has erred, what one must correct, and how one must correspond to the will of Jesus Christ, Who remains the only Savior, not only of His Mystical Body, but of a society gone adrift.
The Church is going through an age of crises, but She is rich in spiritual resources and holiness which continue to shine in many souls. The hour of darkness is always accompanied by the hour of light which has kept shining brightly throughout the history of the Church.