Vatican II: a debate between Romano Amerio, Msgr. Gherardini and Msgr. Pozzo
On July 2, Msgr. Guido Pozzo, Secretary of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, gave a conference at the seminary of the Fraternity of Saint Peter in Wigratzbad entitled “Aspects of Catholic ecclesiology in the reception [assimilation] of Vatican II”. In it he declared that “when the Holy Father speaks [in his address to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005—editor’s note] about two different interpretations or hermeneutics, one of discontinuity or rupture with Catholic Tradition, and the other of renewal in continuity, this means that the crucial question about the source, or the truly decisive point in the crisis of disorientation and confusion which has characterized our time even to this day, does not come from the Second Vatican Council per se, and the problem is not the objective teaching contained in its documents, but rather the interpretation of that teaching” [emphasis in the original, as with all the text in bold face that follows—editor’s note].
Msgr. Pozzo’s analysis of the influence of the para-council
Msgr. Pozzo intends to prove that, concerning two controversial points (the first being the unity and uniqueness of the Catholic Church, along with the question of the expression subsistit in from Lumen Gentium 8, and the other—the relations between the Catholic Church and other religions, including ecumenical and interreligious dialogue) “the authentic proclamation of the Church, with regard to its absolute claim, has not been modified substantially with the teaching of Vatican II.”
Hence one can only wonder why the conciliar documents, which in Msgr. Pozzo’s view are so clearly in conformity with Tradition, have given rise to a contrary interpretation on this point. The Roman prelate asks the question and answers: “What is the origin of the interpretation of discontinuity or of rupture with Tradition? It is what we may call the conciliar, or more precisely, para-conciliar ideology which took hold of the Council from the beginning and superimposed itself on the proceedings. By this expression we do not mean something concerning the documents of the Council, nor the intention of the participants, but rather the general framework of interpretation in which the Council was placed and which acts as a sort of internal treatment [conditionnement intérieur] affecting our subsequent reading of the facts and the texts. The Council is not the same thing as the para-conciliar ideology, but the story about that ecclesial event and about the mass media has served in large part to mystify the Council, and that is precisely the para-conciliar ideology. In order to show all the consequences of the para-conciliar ideology as an historical event, one would have to examine the Revolution of 1968, which was based on the principle of breaking with the past and radical change in history. In the para-conciliar ideology, the 1968 Movement meant a new paradigm for the Church in breaking with the past.”
Msgr. Pozzo concluded that we must use “the hermeneutic of reform in continuity” recommended by Benedict XVI “to address controverted questions, thus freeing, so to speak, the Council from the para-council that has become mixed up with it, while preserving the principle of the integrity of Catholic doctrine and of complete fidelity to the deposit of faith handed down by Tradition and interpreted by the Magisterium of the Church”.
At the end of this presentation, one question remains: can the para-council denounced by the Secretary of the Ecclesia Dei Commission be identified with the post-conciliar period? One is tempted to answer in the affirmative, considering that this para-council supposedly endeavored to conform the documents composed between 1962 and 1965 to the spirit of the May 1968 Revolution. But he says also that “the conciliar, or more precisely, para-conciliar ideology … took hold of the Council from the beginning and superimposed itself on the proceedings.” Didn’t this superimposition “from the beginning” have any influence on the composition of the conciliar documents? Msgr. Pozzo thinks that the para-conciliar ideology affected neither the documents of the Council, nor the intention of their authors, but merely supplied “the general framework of interpretation in which the Council was placed and which acts as a sort of internal treatment affecting our subsequent reading of the facts and the texts”. The para-conciliar ideology would then be an external framework conditioning from within our reading of the documents! It appears simpler to see here an influence foreign to Tradition acting directly on their composition.
The testimony of Bishop Lefebvre
This is what Bishop Marcel Lefebvre said straight out in Ils l’ont découronné [They have uncrowned Him]: “It is certain that we, the 250 Council Fathers belonging to the Coetus [Coetus Internationalis Patrum, the group of conservative bishops founded by Bishop Lefebvre, Bishop Carli and Bishop de Proença-Sigaud—editor’s note], tried by all the means at our disposal to prevent the liberal errors from being expressed in the documents of the Council; this means that we were able, all the same, to limit the damage, to change certain statements that were inexact or tendentious, to add a phrase to correct a tendentious proposition or an ambiguous expression.
“But I must admit that we did not succeed in purging the Council of the liberal and modernist spirit that imbued most of the schemas. Indeed, the ones who composed them were precisely those experts and Fathers who were tainted by that spirit. Now, what do you expect? When a document as a whole is composed in the wrong spirit, it is practically impossible to expurgate that spirit; the whole thing would have to be completely rewritten in order to give it a Catholic spirit.
“What we were able to do, through the modi [modifications, revisions] that we proposed, was to have some further points added to the schemas, and this is quite evident: you need only compare the first schema on religious freedom with the fifth draft that was written—for that document was rejected five times and was brought forward again five times—to see that we succeeded nonetheless in attenuating the subjectivism that infected the earlier versions. The same goes for Gaudium et spes; you can see very clearly the paragraphs that were added at our request, and which are present, I would say, like patches sewn onto an old habit: the whole thing doesn’t gel; the logic of the original draft is no longer there; the additions made to attenuate or counterbalance the liberal statements sit there like foreign bodies….
“But the vexing thing is that the liberals themselves systematically employed this method in the text of the schemas: first a statement of an error or an ambiguous formula or a dangerous guideline and then, immediately before or after it, a contrary statement meant to reassure the conservative Council Fathers.” (Ils l’ont découronné, Clovis, pp. 193-194).
Romano Amerio and his disciple Enrico Maria Radaelli denounce “an abysmal rupture in continuity”
The reader can find an echo of Bishop Lefebvre’s testimony in the third volume of the Complete Works of Romano Amerio, which has just been published in Italy by Lindau under the title Zibaldone. Like the work of the same name by the poet Giacomo Leopardi, it is a collection of “brief thoughts, aphorisms, stories, citations from the classics, moral dialogues, and commentaries on events of the day,” as the Vaticanist Sandro Magistro wrote on July 12 at his website www.chiesa.espresso . Magistro presents Amerio’s book as follows:
“From this strongly critical analysis, which he also applied to Vatican Council II, Amerio drew out what Enrico Maria Radaelli, his faithful disciple and editor responsible for the publication of his master’s works, calls the ‘great dilemma at the heart of Christianity today’. The dilemma is whether there has been continuity or rupture in the Magisterium of the Church before and after Vatican II. …
“Precisely this, in fact, in the view of Amerio and Radaelli, is the cause of the crisis in the conciliar and postconciliar Church, a crisis that has brought it extremely close to its ‘impossible but nearly accomplished’ perdition: having tried to give up on a commanding Magisterium, on dogmatic definitions ‘unequivocal in language, certain in content, compulsory in form, as one would expect that at least the teachings of a council would be’.
“The result, according to Amerio and Radaelli, is that Vatican Council II is full of vague, equivocal assertions that can be interpreted in different ways, some of them even in definite contrast with the previous magisterium of the Church (emphasis ours). And this ambiguous pastoral language is said to have paved the way for a Church that today is ‘overrun by thousands of doctrines and a hundred thousands nefarious customs.” In her art, music, and liturgy as well.
“What should be done to remedy this disaster? Radaelli’s proposal goes beyond the one made recently – on the basis of equally harsh critical judgments – by another respected defender of the Catholic tradition, Thomist theologian Brunero Gherardini, 85, canon of St. Peter’s Basilica, professor emeritus of the Pontifical Lateran University, and editor-in-chief of the journal Divinitas.
“Monsignor Gherardini advanced his proposal in a book released in Rome last year, entitled: Concilio Ecumenico Vaticano II. Un discorso da fare. [The English edition, entitled The Ecumenical Vatican Council II: A Much Needed Discussion, was published this year by Casa Mariana Editrice.] The book concludes with an “Appeal to the Holy Father”. He is asked to have the documents of the Council reexamined, in order to clarify once and for all “whether, in what sense, and to what extent” Vatican II is or is not in continuity with the previous Magisterium of the Church. …
“So then, in his afterword to Zibaldone by Romano Amerio, Professor Radaelli welcomes Monsignor Gherardini’s proposal, but “only as a helpful first step in clearing away many, too many misunderstandings.” Indeed, clarifying the meaning of the conciliar documents is not enough, in Radaelli’s opinion, if such a clarification is then offered to the Church with the same ineffective style of suggestive rather than commanding “pastoral” teaching that entered into use with the council.
“If abandoning the principle of authority and a policy of endless discussion (‘discussionism’) are the sickness of the conciliar and postconciliar Church, getting over it – Radaelli writes – requires doing the opposite. The high-ranking bishops of the Church must put an end to the discussion with a dogmatic, ex cathedra proclamation that is infallible and obligatory. It must anathematize those who do not obey, and bless those who obey.
“And what does Radaelli expect the supreme authority of the Church to decree? Like Amerio, he is convinced that in at least three cases there has been “an abysmal rupture in continuity” between Vatican II and the previous Magisterium: where the council declares that the Church of Christ ‘subsists in’ the Catholic Church instead of saying that it ‘is’ the Catholic Church; where it asserts that ‘Christians worship the same God worshiped by the Jews and Muslims’; and in the Declaration on religious freedom, Dignitatis humanae.”
Is the hermeneutic of reform-in-continuity an adequate remedy?
At the end of his article, Sandro Magister shows that the critique of the council by Romano Amerio and Msgr. Gherardini is hardly acceptable in the pope’s view. “In Benedict XVI, both Gherardini and Amerio-Radaelli see a friendly pope. But there is no chance that he will grant their requests. On the contrary, both on the whole and on some controversial points, Pope Joseph Ratzinger has already made it known that he does not share their positions at all.
“For example, in the summer of 2007 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith made a statement on the continuity of meaning between the formulas ‘is’ and ‘subsists in’ (subsistit in), affirming that ‘the Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to change [the previous doctrine on the Church], rather it developed, deepened and more fully explained it.’
“As for the Declaration on religious freedom, Dignitatis humanae, Benedict XVI himself has explained that, although it departed from previous ‘contingent’ guidelines of the Magisterium, it did so precisely to ‘recover the deepest patrimony of the Church’.
“The speech in which Benedict XVI defended the orthodoxy of Dignitatis humanae is the one that he gave to the Vatican Curia shortly before the first Christmas of his pontificate, on December 22, 2005, precisely to maintain that there is no rupture between Vatican Council II and the previous Magisterium of the Church, but rather ‘reform in continuity’.
And Sandro Magister concludes: “Until now Pope Ratzinger has not convinced the Lefebvrists [sic], who remain in a state of schism precisely on this crucial point. (Does acknowledging the existence of a discontinuity or rupture with regard to Tradition constitute per se a schism? Isn’t it instead the rupture itself that can be called a schism? — Editor’s note.) But – according to what Radaelli and Gherardini write – neither has he convinced some of his children who are ‘very obedient in Christ’.”
On the one hand, Monsignor Pozzo proposes liberating the Council from the para-council, and on the other hand, Amerio and Radaelli demand that the Roman Magisterium stop being “pastoral” so as to be clearly dogmatic. This is the heart of the debate about Vatican II, which Msgr. Gherardini calls “a much needed discussion”. Indeed, it is imperative. (DICI no. 220 dated August 7, 2010)