Petition to Pope Benedict XVI for a more in-depth examination of the Second Vatican Council
Most Holy Father,
Monsignor Brunero Gherardini, a priest of the Diocese of Prato and canon of Saint Peter’s Basilica, who is well known as a former professor of Ecclesiology at the Pontifical Lateran University and as dean of Italian theologians, wrote to Your Holiness in 2009 a very respectful and urgent petition calling for the commencement of a critical debate about the documents of Vatican II, a critical debate that would be conducted in a deliberate and public way. This step was seconded in 2010 by Roberto de Mattei, professor of Church History and the History of Christianity at the European University of Rome and vice president of the National Council of Research.
In his petition, Msgr. Gherardini wrote:
“For the good of the Church—and more especially to bring about the salvation of souls, which is her first and highest law (cf. the 1983 CIC, canon 1752)—after decades of liberal exegetical, theological, historiographical and “pastoral” creativity in the name of the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, it seemed urgent to me that some clarity be created by answering authoritatively the question about the continuity of this council with the other councils (this time not simply by declaring it so but by proposing a genuine demonstration), the question about its fidelity to the Tradition of the Church.” …
In favor of a careful, scientific analysis of the Second Vatican Council
“It seems, indeed, if not impossible, at least very difficult to make this hermeneutic of continuity [with all of the previous Magisterium] that you wish for evident, without first proceeding to make a careful, scientific analysis of the Council in general, of each of its documents, of each of the themes in these documents, of the immediate and remote sources of these themes and these documents…. It would be rather pointless to continue speaking about the Council only by repeating its contents or in presenting it as an absolute novelty.
“But an examination of such scope far surpasses the abilities of one person, not only because one and the same subject requires elaborations at different levels (historical, patristic, canonical, philosophical, liturgical, theological, exegetical, sociological, scientific), but also because each conciliar document touches on dozens and dozens of subjects that only specialists in each of those subjects is capable of addressing effectively.
“Long ago now the idea occurred to me (and now I dare to submit it to Your Holiness) of a grandiose and, if possible, definitive restatement of the last council that would treat each one of its aspects and themes.
“Indeed it seems logical, and to me it seems imperative, that each of these aspects and themes be studied in itself and in the context of all the others, paying close attention to all the sources, and from the specific perspective of continuity with the previous Magisterium of the Church, whether solemn or ordinary. On the basis of a scientific, critical study that is as thorough and unexceptionable as possible, in connection with the traditional Magisterium of the Church, it will be possible then to derive the material for a sure, objective evaluation of Vatican II.
“This will make it possible to answer the following questions, among many others:
1) What is the true nature of Vatican II?
2) What is the relation between its pastoral character (a notion that will have to be explained authoritatively) and its dogmatic character, if any? Can the pastoral character be reconciled with the dogmatic character? Does it assume the latter? Does it contradict it? Does it ignore it?
3) Is it really possible to define the Second Vatican Council as ‘dogmatic’? And therefore to refer to it as dogmatic? To use it as the basis of new theological assertions? In what sense? Within what limits?
4) Is Vatican II an “event” as the Bologna School understands it, in other words, one that cuts all ties with the past and inaugurates a new era in all respects? Or does it relive in itself the whole past eodem sensu eademque sententia [in the same sense and with the same purpose]?
“It is plain that the hermeneutic of rupture and the hermeneutic of continuity depend on the answers that one gives to these questions. But if the scientific conclusion of the examination concludes by allowing the hermeneutic of continuity as the only acceptable, only possible one, then it will be necessary to prove (beyond any declaration) that this continuity is real, that is manifested in the underlying dogmatic identity.
“If it should happen that this continuity cannot be proved scientifically, as a whole or in part, it would be necessary to say so calmly and candidly, in response to the demand for clarity that has been awaited for almost a half a century.”
In his recent, well-documented History of Vatican II, Professor de Mattei offered the public a precise, realistic picture of the tormented, dramatic unfolding of that Council, and he concluded:
“At the end of this volume, allow me to address reverently His Holiness Benedict XVI, whom I acknowledge to be the successor of Peter to whom I feel inseparably bound, expressing my deep thanks to him for having opened the doors to a serious debate about the Second Vatican Council. I repeat that I wanted to make a contribution to this debate, not as a theologian, but as an historian, joining however in the petition of those theologians who are respectfully and filially asking the Vicar of Christ on earth to promote an in-depth examination of Vatican II, in all its complexity and its full extent, to verify its continuity with the twenty preceding councils and to dispel the shadows and doubts which for almost a half a century have caused the Church to suffer, with the certainty that the gates of hell will never prevail against Her (Mt 16:18).”
And we, the undersigned, being simple believers, join fully in these respectful, authorized requests. Certain that we do not lack filial respect toward Your Holiness, we make so bold as to add (to the four questions posed above) several of the numerous inquiries which, in our opinion, would certainly deserve a clarifying response, as is brought out in the analyses by Msgr. Gherardini and the theologians and intellectuals who since the beginning of the post-conciliar period have fought to obtain clarifications about Vatican II:
5) What is the exact meaning given to the concept of “living tradition” that appeared in the Constitution Dei Verbum on Divine Revelation? In his recent study on the fundamental concept of Catholic tradition, Msgr. Gherardini maintained that during Vatican II a “Copernican revolution” took place in its way of understanding the Tradition of the Church, since the Council did not clearly define the dogmatic value of Tradition (DV 8); contrary to custom, the document reduces to one (ad unum) the two sources of Divine Revelation (Scripture and Tradition) that have always been admitted in the Church and have been confirmed by the dogmatic Councils of Trent and Vatican I (DV 9). The document even appears to oppose the dogma of the inerrancy of Sacred Scripture (DV 11.2), for why, “after declaring that everything affirmed by the inspired authors comes from the Holy Spirit, is the privilege of inerrancy attributed only to the ‘salutary’ or ‘salvific truths’, as a part of the whole (veritatem, quam Deus nostrae salutis causae Litteris sacris consignari voluit)? If the Holy Spirit inspired everything that the biblical authors wrote, inerrancy should apply to everything, and not just to salvific truths. The text therefore appears to be illogical.”
6) What is the exact meaning to be given to the new definition of the Catholic Church contained in the Dogmatic Constitution (which nevertheless does not define any dogma) Lumen gentium on the Church? If it coincides with the perennial definition, namely that only the Catholic Church is the one true Church of Christ because it is the only one to have maintained over the centuries the deposit of faith handed down by Our Lord and the apostles under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, then why did they try to change it, by writing in a way that is not easily understood by a simple believer and is never clearly explained (we must say), that the “one” Church of Christ “subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. Nevertheless many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible confines. Since these are gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, they are forces impelling towards Catholic unity” [LG 8]? In this formulation, does it not seem that the Church appears to be merely a part of the Church of Christ? A mere part because the Church of Christ is said to include also—besides the Catholic Church—“many elements of sanctification and of truth” located “outside” the Catholic Church? It would follow that the “one true religion [that] continues to exist in the Catholic Church” (Declaration Dignitatis humanae on religious liberty, 1.2) was the religion of a “Church of Christ” that possesses “elements” outside of the Catholic Church. Which can also be understood, if you want, as “the one true religion” that subsists, according to the Council, likewise in the non-Catholic “elements” of “the Church of Christ”?
7) What is the true significance to be given to the notion of the Church understood in its totality as “People of God” (Lumen gentium 9-17), a notion which in the past referred only to a part of the whole, whereas the whole constituted the “Mystical Body of Christ”?
8) What significance is to be given to the omission of the terms “supernatural” and “transubstantiation” from the Council documents? Does this omission also modify the substance of these concepts, as come claim?
By establishing a sort of collective responsibility, doesn’t collegiality cause the individual bishops to lose authority?
9) What is the exact significance of the new notion of collegiality? In light of the constant teaching of the Church, what are we to think of the interpretation in the Nota explicativa praevia, the “preliminary explanatory note” placed at the start of Lumen gentium (a note that was put there to nullify the debate among the Council Fathers)? We cite the doubts clearly presented by Romano Amerio:
“The ‘preliminary note’ (Nota praevia) rejects the classic interpretation of collegiality, according to which the subject of supreme power in the Church is the Pope alone, who shares it when he wants with the totality of the bishops convened in council by him. The supreme power becomes collegial only when communicated by the Pope, at his pleasure (ad nutum). The ‘preliminary note’ likewise rejects the opinion of the innovators, according to which the subject of supreme power in the Church is the episcopal college united to the Pope and not without the Pope, who is the head of it, but in such fashion that when the Pope exercises the supreme power, even by himself, he does so precisely as the head of said college, and therefore as a representative of this college, which he is obliged to consult so as to express their judgment. This is a theory modeled on the one that claims that all authority owes its power to the multitude: a theory that is difficult to reconcile with the divine constitution of the Church (which is hierarchical and of divine, not popular, origin). In refuting these two theories, the Nota praevia insists that the supreme power belongs to the college of bishops united to their head, but that the head can exercise it independently of the college, whereas the college cannot exercise it independently of the head (and this is supposedly a concession to Tradition).”
Is it accurate to maintain that assigning juridical powers—those of a real college, properly speaking—to the institution of Bishops’ Conferences has in fact depreciated and distorted the role of the bishop? Indeed, in the Church today the bishops, taken individually, seem not to matter at all, practically speaking (Your Holiness will forgive our frankness). On this point, here is Amerio again:
“The novelty that has stood out most in the post-conciliar Church is the opportunity now for participation [in decision-making] by all Church authorities that are juridically defined organs, such as diocesan and national Synods, parish and presbyteral Councils, etc…. The establishment of Episcopal Conferences has produced two effects: it has deformed the organic structure of the Church, and it has resulted in the loss of authority by the [individual] bishops. According to the canon law in force before the Council, the bishops are successors of the Apostles, and each one governs in his diocese with ordinary power in spiritual and temporal matters, exercising there a legislative, judiciary and executive power (canons 329 and 335). This authority was precise, individual, and except for the institution of the vicar general, not capable of being delegated (whereas the vicar general depended on the willingness of the bishop—ad nutum)…. The Decree Christus Dominus attributes collegiality to the body of bishops in virtue of its “supreme, full power over the universal Church”, which would be in all respects equal to that of the Pope if it could be exercised without his consent. This supreme power has always been acknowledged in the case of the assembly of bishops convened in an ecumenical council by the Pope. But the question arises, whether an authority that can be put into effect only by a superior authority can be considered supreme and does not amount to a purely virtual object, a thing existing only in the mind (ens rationis). Now according to the spirit of Vatican II, the exercise of episcopal authority in which collegiality is actualized is that of the Bishops’ Conferences.
“Here is an oddity: the Decree (in section 37) finds the reason for the existence of this new institution in the need for the bishops of a country to take concerted action; it does not see this new tie of cooperation, which henceforth has a juridical configuration, as a change in the structure of the Church that would replace a bishop with a body of bishops and personal responsibility with a collective responsibility that is therefore fragmented…. By the institution of Bishops’ Conferences the Church has become a multi-centered body…. The first consequence of this new organization is therefore the loosening of the tie of unity [with the Pope]; this has been manifested by enormous dissensions on the most serious points [for example on the teaching of the Encyclical Humanae vitae dated July 25, 1968, which prohibited the use of contraceptives]. The second consequence of the new organization is the loss of the authority of each bishop considered separately as such. They are no longer responsible to their own people nor to the Holy See, because their personal responsibility has been replaced by a collegial responsibility which, belonging to the whole body, can no longer be imputed to the different elements making up that body.”
Is the priest today reduced to the role of an organizer and presider over the assembly of the People of God?
10) What exact significance is to be given today to the priesthood, an authentic institution of the Church? Is it true that since the Council the priest has been demoted from “sacerdos Dei” [“a priest of God”] to being “sacerdos populi Dei” [“a priest of the people of God”] and has been reduced mainly to the role of “organizer” and “presider over the assembly” of the “People of God” and to the role of a “social worker”? In this regard the following should be critiqued: Lumen gentium 10.2, which seems to try to put at the same level the “ministerial” or “hierarchical” priesthood and the so-called “common priesthood of the faithful”—which formerly was considered as a mere honorific title—by its statement that the two “are none the less ordered one to another, ad invicem tamen ordinantur” (see also LG 62.2); LG 13.3, which seems to describe the priesthood as a simple “duty” or office of the “People of God”; the fact that preaching the Gospel is listed as the first priestly “duty” (Decree Presbytorum Ordinis on the ministry and life of priests, 4: “it is the first task of priests as co-workers of the bishops to preach the Gospel of God”), whereas on the contrary the Council of Trent recalled that what characterizes the priest’s mission is in the first place “the power to consecrate, offer, and administer the Body of Blood of the Lord” and in second place the power “of forgiving or retaining sins” (DS 957/1764). Is it true that Vatican II devalues the fact of ecclesiastical celibacy by stating that “Perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven was recommended by Christ… and has always been highly esteemed in a special way by the Church as a feature of priestly life [even though] it is not demanded of the priesthood by its nature” (PO 16); might this last statement be justified by a false interpretation of 1 Tim 3:2-5 and Tit 1:6?
11) What is the exact significance of the principle of “creativity” in the Liturgy, which without any doubt results from the fact of having granted to the Bishops’ Conference a broad competence in this matter, including the option of experimenting with new forms of worship so as to adapt them to the characters and the traditions of the people and so as to simplify them as much as possible? All this is proposed in the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium on the liturgy: art. 22.2 on the new competencies of the Bishops’ Conferences; 37, 39 and 40 on adaptation to the characters and traditions of the peoples and on the criteria for liturgical adaptation in general; articles 21 and 34 on liturgical simplification. Were not similar options for innovating in liturgical matters condemned in all ages by the Magisterium of the Church? It is true that the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium still calls for the supervision of the Holy See over the liturgy and innovations in it (SC 22.1, 40.1-2), but this supervision has proved incapable of preventing the widespread devastation of the liturgy, which has driven the faithful out of the churches, and this devastation continues to be unleashed even today, despite disciplinary action and the intention of Your Holiness to eliminate abuses. Could not competent studies bring to light the reasons for this failure?
What difference is there between conciliar religious liberty and secular freedom of conscience?
Obviously we cannot formulate all the questions that the documents of the Council raise and that are related to the present situation of the Church. On this subject we venture to add only the following:
12) The principle of religious freedom, proclaimed by the Council for the first time in the history of the Church as a “natural” or “human right” of the person, whatever his religion, and thus a right superior to the right of the one Revealed Truth (our Catholic religion) to be professed as the true religion, in preference to the others that are not revealed and therefore do not come from God; this principle of religious liberty is based on the presupposition that all religions are equal, and consequently its application promotes indifferentism, agnosticism and eventually atheism; as it is understood by the Council, how is this principle distinguished really from the secular freedom of conscience that is honored among “the rights of man” that were professed by the anti-Christian French Revolution?
13) Doesn’t present-day ecumenism also seem to lead to a similar result (indifferentism and the loss of faith), given that its principal aim seems to be not so much the conversion (as much as possible) of the human race to Christ as its unity and even its unification in a sort of new world Church or religion that is capable of ushering in a messianic era of peace and fraternity among all peoples? If those are the aims of present-day ecumenism—and they are already found in part in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes on the Church and the modern world—then doesn’t this ecumenical dialogue seem to drift dangerously toward a certain “agreement between Christ and Belial” [cf. 2 Cor 6:15]? Shouldn’t the whole dialogue of the post-conciliar Church with the contemporary world be reconsidered?
Most Holy Father,
The questions that we have had the audacity to pose to you in this humble petition certainly may displease that part of the hierarchy that already declared that they did not appreciate Msgr. Gherardini’s petition two years ago. We mean that part of the hierarchy that does not yet seem to have understood the exceptional seriousness of the crisis that has afflicted the Church for fifty years; a crisis whose pre-conciliar premises burst onto the scene during the Council, as the book by Professor de Mattei has demonstrated, and before that, more succinctly, the book by Fr. Ralph M. Wiltgen, S.V.D., and the one by Professor Romano Amerio.
In our souls and consciences as believers, this petition, written with all deference toward You, seems perfectly in harmony, we dare say, with the work of restoring, renewing and purifying the Church Militant that Your Holiness has courageously undertaken, despite resistance and difficulties of all sorts that are known to everyone. We are referring not only to the unyielding actions of Your Holiness against the corruption of morals that has penetrated a sector of the clergy, nor the clean-up operation in well-known charitable institutions and aid programs that are no longer Catholic except in name. We are referring also to the “liberation” of the celebration of Mass in the ancient Roman rite (improperly called “Tridentine, given that its canon, according to a sure tradition, goes back to apostolic times) and of the administration of the sacraments and of the rite of exorcism according to the pre-conciliar ritual. We are referring also to Your remission of the excommunications which (for well-known disciplinary reasons) weighed on the bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X, founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the “lifting” of which had been requested of Your Holiness respectfully and persistently, while launching an “International Rosary Crusade” for that intention, which had a widespread following among the Catholic faithful.
In all these arrangements, which are certainly of the utmost importance to the Church and which You made motu proprio [on Your own initiative] with Your full authority as Supreme Pontiff that is derived from Your potestas iurisdictionis [power of jurisdiction] over the whole Church of Our Lord—in all these things our sensus fidei as simple Catholic laymen sees the obvious work of the Holy Ghost. We therefore conclude our humble petition by invoking the aid of the Holy Ghost so that, in this enterprise of reestablishing Christ at the heart of Catholicism, Your Holiness might also include the hoped-for review of the Council.
With an assurance of our filial devotion and respect,
In Domino et in corde Mariae [In the Lord and in the Heart of Mary].
September 24, 2011
The signatures of almost 50 Catholic leaders follow, among them:
Prof. Paolo Pasqualucci, professor of philosophy; Msgr. Brunero Gherardini, dean of the Italian theologians, professor of Ecclesiology; Msgr. Antonio Livi, professor emeritus of epistemology at the Lateran University; Prof. Roberto de Mattei, Università Europea di Roma; Prof. Luigi Coda Nunziante, personally and in his capacity as president of the association Famiglia Domani; Dr. Paolo Deotto, chairman of Riscossa Cristiana (www.riscossa cristiana.it); Prof. Piero Vassallo, professor of philosophy, co-chairman of Riscossa Cristiana; Dr. Virginia Coda Nunziante; Dr. Pucci Cipriani; Fr. Marcello Stanzione and the entire Militia of St. Michael the Archangel; Prof. Dante Pastorelli, Governor of the Venerable Confraternity of St. Jerome and St. Francis of Assisi in San Filippo Benizi, Florence, and president of Una Voce (Florence); Calogero Cammarata, president of Inter Multiplices Una Vox (Turin); Dr. Cristina Siccardi – Castiglione Torinese (TO); Dr. Carlo Manetti – Castiglione Torinese (TO); Alessandro Gnocchi; Mario Palmaro; Mario Crisconio, Knight of the Order of Malta, Governor of the Pio Monte della Misericordia (Naples), president of Una Voce (Naples); Enrico Villari, Ph.D., engineer (Naples); Marcello Paratore, professor of philosophy (Naples); Giuseppe De Vargas Machuca, First Governor of the Reale Arciconfraternità e Monte del SS. Sacramento dei Nobili Spagnoli (Naples); Giovanni Turco, university professor, president de la International Thomas Aquinas Society, Naples division; Giovanni Tortelli, writer, research specialist in canon law and Church history (Florence).
This Petition is promoted by the website of Riscossa cristiana , with the text in Italian. (Subheadings and translation : DICI no. 242 dated October 14, 2011)
 B. Gherardini, “Petition to the Holy Father”, an appendix to: The Ecumenical Vatican Council II: A much needed discussion (Frigento, AV: Casa Mariana Editrice, 2009) [translated from French].
 R. de Mattei, Il Concilio Vaticano II: Una storia mai scritta [Vatican Council II: A story never written] (Turin: Lindau, 2010), 591.
 B. Gherardini, “Quod et tradidi vobis: La Tradizione vita e giovinezza della Chiesa,” in Divinitas, new series, 2010 (53/1-2-3): 165-186.
 Romano Amerio, Iota Unum (Nouvelles Editions Latines, 1985), 82-83 (§44). [Translated from French.]
 Ibid., 431-433 (§§232, 233) [translated from French].
 B. Gherardini, Quale accordo fra Cristo e Beliar? Osservazioni teologiche sui problemi, gli equivoci ed I compromessi del dialogo interreligioso (Verona: Fede & Cultura, 2009).