Petition by Polish intellectuals requesting a more in-depth study of the Second Vatican Council
On September 24, 2011, more than 50 Italian intellectuals sent Benedict XVI a Petition for a more in-depth examination of the Second Vatican Council (see DICI no. 242 dated October 14, 2011). Recently, on April 5, 2012, Polish intellectuals sent to the Holy Father a new petition for a re-examination of the religious liberty, ecumenism and collegiality promoted by Vatican II.
Most Holy Father,
The approaching 50th anniversary of the convocation of the Second Vatican Council and the declaration of the year 2012 as the Year of Faith, announced by Your Holiness in the Apostolic Letter Porta fidei dated October 11, 2011, are good occasions to study in greater depth the teachings contained in the documents of the Council. The chief task of the Council seemed to be in keeping with the appeal made by one of your predecessors, Paul VI, declaring that “the Church must look with penetrating eyes within herself, ponder the mystery of her own being, and draw enlightenment and inspiration from a deeper scrutiny of the doctrine of her own origin, nature, mission, and destiny. The doctrine is already known; it has been developed and popularized in the course of this century.” Indeed, many observers note that Vatican II, which faithfully followed the instructions of Paul VI, has provided the Church with a higher degree of self-awareness (Ecclesia ad intra) and of her relations with the modern world (Ecclesia ad extra). With the advantage of a half century of hindsight, it seems appropriate to evaluate the answer given by the pastoral council Vatican II to this oft-posed question: O Church, what do you say about yourself? (Ecclesia, quid dicis de teipsa?) It must be noted, however, that the focus of this reflection pertains neither to “the practical aspects of the reception and application [of the conciliar documents], both positive and negative,” nor to “the nature of the intellectual assent due to the teachings of the Council”. What is meant by this, rather, is a profound doctrinal and pastoral understanding of the contents of the documents of the Council so as to determine whether—and if so, in what respects—the teachings of the Second Vatican Council have effectively responded to the Church’s aspiration “to strive toward a clearer and deeper awareness of herself and her mission in the world, and of the treasury of truth of which she is heir and custodian.”
In this spirit, a humble petition was recently submitted to Your Holiness by important Italian Catholic representatives from the world of science and the media. The recently completed doctrinal discussions with members of the Society of Saint Pius X, supported by the authority of the successor of Saint Peter, seems to be another manifestation of this reflection. In turn we too, Catholic representatives from the world of science and culture, passionate observers of and participants in Polish public life, respectfully and humble ask Your Holiness to reconsider some of the teachings of the last Council in light of the infallible Magisterium of the Catholic Church. As Catholics engaged in various fields in science, education, social communication or political life, we would like to take the opportunity of this anniversary to drawn the attention of Your Holiness to the consequences of some doctrines of Vatican II, both for the internal life of the Church and for her influence in the public square.
FIRSTLY, we would like to address the conciliar Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis humanae) in relation to the Church’s traditional teaching on the Catholic State, as clearly expounded by the predecessors of Your Holiness, Pope Gregory XVI (Mirari vos), Pius IX (Quanta cura), Leo XIII (Libertas et Immortale Dei) and Pius XI (Quas primas). Chiefly, taking into account the declaration appearing in the introduction of Dignitatis humanae, stating that its doctrine on religious liberty “leaves intact the traditional Catholic teaching on the moral duty of individuals and societies toward the true religion and the one Church of Christ,” we wish to submit to the judgment of Your Holiness the question of whether—and if so, to what extent—the Declaration develops, clarifies or explains in greater detail the constant teachings of the preceding popes on the subject of the Christian State and of the social reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Does the content of the Declaration Dignitatis humanae uphold the Catholic character of the State? For, according to the teaching of Leo XIII, “it is a sin for the State not to have care for religion as a something beyond its scope, or as of no practical benefit; or out of many forms of religion to adopt that one which chimes in with the fancy; for we are bound absolutely to worship God in that way which He has shown to be His will.”
How can we reconcile the right to restrict the public worship of other religious confessions, which the predecessors of Your Holiness granted to leaders of Catholic States in order to preserve the true religion, with the right to freedom from external coercion in public worship for any religion, a right that was raised by Dignitatis humanae to the status of natural law, declaring that it had its foundation in the dignity of the human person? Is not the dignity of the human person, correctly understood, manifested when he or she adores God in the true religion? What is the interpretation suggested by this statement, found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that the right to religious liberty is guaranteed “within due limits,” in other words, “The right to religious liberty can of itself be neither unlimited nor limited only by a ‘public order’ conceived in a positivist or naturalist manner”? Does the expression “within due limits” refer somehow to the objective truth or to the falsity of a given religion? Whatever answer is given to these questions, it is an undeniable fact that Dignitatis humanae contains no reference to the obligation of public authorities to recognize and to protect the true religion, that is, the Catholic religion—an obligation imposed on heads of State in the Magisterium of previous popes.
Furthermore, the document does not get around to posing the question about religious tolerance that was explicitly and unambiguously asserted by one of the predecessors of Your Holiness, Pope Pius XII: “The duty of repressing moral and religious error cannot therefore be an ultimate norm of action. It must be subordinate to higher and more general norms, which in some circumstances permit, and even perhaps seem to indicate as the better policy, toleration of error in order to promote a greater good…. First: that which does not correspond to truth or to the norm of morality objectively has no right to exist, to be spread or to be activated. Secondly: failure to impede this with civil laws and coercive measures can nevertheless be justified in the interests of a higher and more general good.” An analysis of the Declaration on religious liberty in its entirety creates an unmistakable impression that this document reflects a liberal rather than a Catholic concept of the State. In this sense, it supports the kind of separation of Church and State that was condemned by Saint Pius X in his Encyclical Vehementer nos, and furthermore it seems to ignore the fact that it is necessary to subject the State to the rule of Christ. This necessity, with its advantages, was clearly explained by Pope Pius XI: “If, therefore, the rulers of nations wish to preserve their authority, to promote and increase the prosperity of their countries, they will not neglect the public duty of reverence and obedience to the rule of Christ.” It is interesting to note in this regard that the attempts to resolve the inevitable tension between the teaching that emerged from Vatican II on religious liberty and the Magisterium of the popes before the Council all run in the same direction. Essentially, these attempts end up relativizing the teachings proposed by the predecessors of Your Holiness about the Christian character of the State and the social rule of Jesus Christ. The constant guidelines provided by the Magisterium of the Church are subjected to criticism, according to the rules of “historicism,” as though they were documents with merely historical value and capable of being evaluated by man’s natural reason. In the best case, the critique gives rise to an attempt to “purify” the papal teachings of their supposed “accretions from the post-Constantinian era” that are reflected in obsolete and/or impracticable teachings about the Christian State that are nonviable in the modern world. We leave it to the judgment of Your Holiness to decide whether this “method of studying” acts of the Magisterium is legitimate. Nevertheless, as Catholics who are actively engaged in the public life of Poland, we cannot refrain from remarking that the idea of the liberal State, which is essentially neutral in matters of religion, effectively stifles the legitimate aspirations of Poles and also contradicts the most deeply-rooted values in the history of the Polish nation.
SECONDLY, we wish to direct the attention of Your Holiness to the conciliar Decree Unitatis redintegratio on ecumenism and, in particular, to the ambiguous statements included in article 3: “The brethren divided from us also carry out many liturgical actions of the Christian religion. In ways that vary according to the condition of each Church or community, these liturgical actions most certainly can truly engender a life of grace, and, one must say, can aptly give access to the communion of salvation. It follows that the separated Churches and communities as such, though we believe they suffer from the defects already mentioned, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church.” The many elements of “sanctification” and “truth” present outside the limits of the Church are also mentioned in the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, in paragraph 8. How else could the expression “can aptly give access to the communion of salvation” be understood, if not as an assurance that persons are capable of attaining salvation outside the Catholic Church, thanks to rituals and practices of other Christian denominations? However, the question that arises is how this interpretation can be reconciled with the traditional doctrine, Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, [“No salvation outside the Church,”] which declares that the Catholic faith is a prerequisite for salvation, or with the teaching about the unity of the Church established, in particular, by Leo XIII: “And to set forth more clearly the unity of the Church, he [St. Cyprian] makes use of the illustration of a living body, the members of which cannot possibly live unless united to the head and drawing from it their vital force. Separated from the head they must of necessity die…. The Church of Christ, therefore, is one and the same for ever; those who leave it depart from the will and command of Christ, the Lord—leaving the path of salvation they enter on that of perdition.” What is the relation between these statements from Unitatis redintegratio and condemned propositions 16 and 17 from the Syllabus of Pius IX? Besides the doctrinal problems set forth above, it is obvious that the pastoral practice of ecumenism has distanced itself from the traditional understanding of the apostolate to promote the unity of Christians which, according to Pius XI, “can only be promoted by promoting the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it, for in the past they have unhappily left it.” Essentially, as Professor Romano Amerio noted in his monumental study, Iota Unum, the word “return” (reditus) is found nowhere in the text of the Council’s Decree on ecumenism. The idea of the return of separated Christians to “the one true Church of Christ, We say, which is visible to all, and which is to remain perpetually, according to the will of its Author, exactly the same as He instituted it,” has been replaced by the idea of the conversion of all Christians to Jesus Christ: “But we rejoice that our separated brethren look to Christ as the source and center of ecclesiastical communion. Their longing for union with Christ impels them ever more to seek unity, and also to bear witness to their faith among the peoples of the earth.” Among Catholics, conversion must come about in the sense of ongoing reform in the Church. If the commitment to the unity of all Christians is set within this framework, will it not eventually compromise, or completely eradicate, the apostolic and missionary spirit at all levels of the Church’s life? By denying any effort aimed at leading heretics and schismatics to the Catholic Church, do we not run the risk that even the slightest allusions to the return of non-Catholics to the fold of Rome will be perceived in the public square as a sign of intolerance or as “hate speech”? The problem is not only with ecumenism in the strict sense, but also and perhaps above all with the contemporary interreligious dialogue that was promoted by the Declaration Nostra Aetate of the Second Vatican Council, On the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions. As Professor Romano Amerio says, the dialogue has long since lost its strictly religious dimension and has been transformed into a purely naturalistic activity aimed at the building of “a world more worthy of man”: “The new ecumenism thus tends to move out of the properly religious sphere, based on supernatural premises, and to move into the secular sphere, thus modeling religious unity more and more on the humanitarian internationalism supported by the United Nations Organization.” At this stage, however, a question arises: Does this program elucidate the Church’s mission in the modern world? Doesn’t it turn the theological virtue of hope into a purely natural hope for the building of an earthly “civilization of love”? Isn’t this new approach to relations between the Church and non-Catholic Christians and non-Christians tantamount to a violation of the commandment of love of neighbor, which should be manifested in efforts to win his eternal salvation (“admonish the sinner”)? At the same time, doesn’t this new concept aim at establishing a rather curious new order that would attempt “to build a better world with the members of other religions”?
THIRDLY, we take the liberty to ask Your Holiness to reconsider the Council’s doctrine on collegiality, described in paragraph 22 of the Constitution Lumen gentium, and in article 4 of the Decree Christus Dominus, On the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church. On the one hand, the doctrine expressed seems to leave intact the Church’s infallible teaching on the primacy of Rome: “The Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as Pastor of the entire Church, has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.” On the other hand, however, Lumen gentium introduces the college of bishops as a new juridical instrument holding the supreme authority in the Church in communion with the Pope: “The order of bishops is the successor to the college of the apostles in their role as teachers and pastors, and in it the apostolic college is perpetuated. Together with their head, the Supreme Pontiff, and never apart from him, they have supreme and full authority over the universal Church.” Despite the precise clarifications of the Preliminary Explanatory Note (Nota explicative praevia) indicating that the college—lacking any permanent mode of existence—“only occasionally … engages in strictly collegiate activity, and that only with the consent of its head,” a problem remains when we try to reconcile the conciliar declaration on collegiality with the statement that there is only one holder of supreme authority in the Church. This statement was, in any case, explicit in the Dogmatic Constitution Pastor aeternus of Vatican I. A question arises therefore, as to whether a solemn dogmatic definition can, in principle, require a supplementary “clarification” or “additional information.” Pursuing the argument further, it should also be considered whether the general principle of collegiality, as it has been implemented in the activities of Bishops’ Conferences, does not impair—or else undermine—the direct power of the bishop in their particular Churches. An important fact worth noting: the Decree Christus Dominus of Vatican Council II seems to express doubts as to the very possibility of the effective exercise of ordinary episcopal power: “It is often impossible, nowadays especially, for bishops to exercise their office suitably and fruitfully unless they establish closer understanding and cooperation with other bishops.”
Holy Father, the problems mentioned above lead to a more general reflection about a certain specific quality of the Magisterium in the conciliar and postconciliar periods. According to the expressions frequently used by Your Holiness, the correct interpretation and the implementation of the last Council are possible only in light of a correct hermeneutic of reform. Recently there have been quite a few discussions on the correct interpretation of the Second Vatican Council and on the elimination of errors in interpreting it. Fifty years after the convocation of Vatican II, the Council’s teachings continue to be the subject of controversies, necessitating constant clarification by means of additions and adjustments; doesn’t this mean that because of the Council the present-day Magisterium is ceaselessly preoccupied with itself, instead of being engaged in exploring the deposit of the faith? Does this state of affairs show that the Council truly transmitted “the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion,” in keeping with the wishes of Blessed Pope John XXIII? Keeping in mind the doubts expressed above, can we legitimately say that “not only should the Second Vatican Council be interpreted in the light of the preceding documents of the Magisterium, but also some of the earlier Magisterial documents can be better understood in light of the Second Vatican Council”? We think that the questions that we submit to the judgment of Your Holiness in this letter are summed up well by the words of your predecessor Pius XII: “But if the Church does exercise this function of teaching, as she often has through the centuries, either in the ordinary or in the extraordinary way, it is clear how false is a procedure which would attempt to explain what is clear by means of what is obscure. Indeed, the very opposite procedure must be used.”
Beloved Father, we come to You with the humble request to be so kind as to examine the questions set forth above, which have already been brought to the attention of Your Holiness on several occasions. We are deeply convinced that this reflection, carried out during the Year of Faith, will arouse, to put it in the words of Your Holiness, “in every believer the aspiration to profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction, with confidence and hope.”
With our most sincere prayers for Your Holiness, we wish to express to You our profound filial devotion.
SIGNERS: Maciej Andrzejczak, translator, contractor ; Dr. hab. Jacek Bartyzel, professor at UMK, instructor, board member of the Center for Culture and Tradition ; Grzegorz Braun, stage manager ; Dr. Zbigniew Czapla, instructor ; Marcin Dybowski, publisher ; Dr. Mariola Fortuna, theologian; Artur Górski, deputy to the Sejm RP 5th, 6th & 7th-term; Prof. Dr. hab. Grzegorz Grzybowski, employee of the Polish Academy of Sciences; Prof. Dr. hab. Tomasz Grzybowski, instructor; Piotr Kamiński, instructor; Sławomir Hazak, Szamotulskie Środowisko Tradycji; Dr. Krzysztof Kawęcki, instructor; Dr. Marcin Masny, publicist, translator; Dr. Adam Matyszewski, theologian, member of the Church Music Commission of the Diocese of Plock; Piotr Mazur, Board Member of the Center for Culture and Tradition, member Zarządu Towarzystw Gimnastycznych Sokół w Polsce; Stanisław Michalkiewicz, publicist; Artur Paczyna, head of the Rady Głównej Śląskiego Środowiska Wiernych Tradycji; Stanisław Pięta, deputy to the Sejm 6th and 7th term; Dr. Justyn Piskorski, Esq., UAM; Paweł Pomianek, theologian; Arkadiusz Robaczewski, head of the Center for Culture and Tradition; Dr. Piotr Szczudłowski, pedagogue; Dr. Teresa Świrydowicz; Dr. hab. Kazimierz Świrydowicz, professor UAM; Joanna M. Tryjanowska, Esq.; Prof. Dr. hab. Piotr Tryjanowski, instructor; Dr. hab. Piotr Tylus, instructor; Maciej Walaszczyk, journalist; Piotr Walerych, deputy to the Sejm RP 1st-term, member of the Polish Council for Television Programming (1995-2002); Robert Winnicki, Head of the Rady Naczelnej Związku Młodzieży Wszechpolskiej; Dr. Marcin Woźniak, instructor; Krzysztof Wyszkowski, founder of the Wolnych Związków Zawodowych Wybrzeża; Dariusz Zalewski, publicist, popularizer of Thomistic ethics of education; Zbigniew Zarywski, entrepreneur, fundraiser; Artur Zawisza, deputy to the Sejm (5th-6th term), businessman; Michał Zieliński, economist, Korporacja Akademicka Legia.
 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Note with pastoral recommendations for the Year of Faith.”
 Paul VI, Encyclical Ecclesisam suam, 9.
 Cf. Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, “General Instructions,” in Sobor Watykanski II. Konstytucje, Dekrety, Deklaracje [Vatican Council II, Constitutions, Decrees, Declarations] (Pallotinum, 1967), 12-14.
 Cf. Rev. Fernando Ocariz, “On adhesion to the Second Vatican Council,” L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, 2 December 2011.
 Paul VI, Encyclical Ecclesiam suam, 18.
 Petition to Pope Benedict XVI for a more in-depth examination of Vatican Council II.
 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2105.
 Leo XIII, Encyclical Immortale Dei, 6.
 Gregory XVI, Encyclical Mirari vos; Pius IX, Encyclical Quanta cura.
 Dignitatis humanae, 2.9.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2109.
 Ibid., 2110.
 Pius XII, Ci riesce, Discourse to the Fifth National Convention of Italian Catholic Jurists (December 6, 1953).
 Pius XI, Encyclical Quas primas.
 Condemned by Pope Pius XII in his Encyclical Humani generis.
 Cf. the Athanasian Creed: “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith. If anyone does not keep this Faith whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.”
 Leo XIII, Encyclical Satis cognitum.
 Respectively: “In the worship of any religion whatever, men can find the way to eternal salvation, and can attain eternal salvation.” “We must have at least good hope concerning the eternal salvation of all those who in no wise are in the true Church of Christ.”
 Pius XI, Encyclical Mortalium animos.
 Unitatis redintegratio, 20.
 Ibid., 6.
 Romano Amerio, Iota Unum (Kansas City, 1996), 568.
 Lumen gentium 22.
 Christus Dominus 37.
 Cf. Benedict XVI, Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei, 5.
 John XXIII, Opening Address to Vatican Council II (October 11, 1962).
 Rev. Fernando Ocariz, op. cit.
 Pius XII, Humani generis, 21.
 Benedict XVI, Porta fidei, 9.