Abp. Pozzo on SSPX: Disputed Vatican II Documents Are Non-Doctrinal


The Second Vatican Council

In a recent interview published by the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit (32/2016), Italian Archbishop Guido Pozzo (64), Secretary of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei (PCED), made some important statements concerning his qualitatively progressing negotiations with the Society of Saint Pius X — negotiations which fall under the purview of the PCED. His comments make it clear that the process of formal inclusion of the SSPX is advancing, and that Pope Francis has offered a personal prelature to the SSPX – similar to the structure under which Opus Dei operates.

There is a section in the interview that is especially worth noting, inasmuch as it may facilitate proper doctrinal discourse among a wide range of conservative and traditional Catholics. In it, Archbishop Pozzo explains why it may be possible for the SSPX to be fully integrated into the structures of the Catholic Church without their previously accepting some of the documents of Vatican II, namely Nostra Aetate, about interreligious dialogue; the decree Unitatis Redintegratio, on ecumenism; the Declaration Dignitatis Humanae, on religious liberty; and, finally, other texts relating to the question of the relationship between Christianity and Modernity. While saying that “the Council is not a pastoral superdogma, but part of the completeness [sic] of tradition and the continuous Magisterium,” Pozzo makes clear that there are some texts of the Council that are not doctrinal and are thus not binding on the Catholic conscience. Pozzo stresses that “the Church’s tradition is developing, but never in the sense of a novelty – which stands in contrast to the previous teaching – but which is a deeper understanding of the Depositum fidei, the authentic deposit of the Faith.” Pozzo continues, by saying that

In this [same]  sense, all [the]  Church’s documents have to be understood, also those of the Council. These preconditions, together with the obligation to affirm the Creed, the recognition of the Sacraments and of the papal primacy are the basis for the magisterial declaration which the Fraternity has been given to sign. These are the preconditions for a Catholic, in order to be in full communion with the Catholic Church.

In discussing the question of the specific documents of Vatican II, Pozzo insists that certain documents are indeed binding upon Catholics for them to affirm and to accept, such as

the teaching on the sacramentality of the Episcopal office and its consecrations as the fullness of Holy Orders; or the teaching on the primacy of the pope and of the college of bishops in union with its head [sic], as presented in the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, and as interpreted by the Nota explicativa praevia which had been requested by the highest authority.

With regard to the earlier-mentioned documents above – Nostra Aetate about interreligious dialogue; the decree Unitatis Redintegratio on ecumenism; and the Declaration Dignitatis Humanae on religious liberty Pozzo explicitly says:

They are not about doctrines or definitive statements, but, rather, about instructions and orienting guides for  pastoral practice. On can [thus legitimately]  continue to discuss these pastoral aspects after the [proposed]  canonical approval [of the SSPX], in order to lead us to further [and acceptable]  clarifications.

When asked by the journalist as to whether the Vatican has now come to the idea that the varied Council documents have different dogmatic weights, Pozzo very importantly states:

This is certainly not a [later]  conclusion on our part, but it was already clear at the time of the Council. The General Secretary of the Council, Cardinal Pericle Felici, declared on 16 November 1964: “This holy synod defines only that as being binding for the Church what it declares explicitly to be such with regard to Faith and Morals.” Only those texts assessed by the Council Fathers as being binding are to be accepted as such. That has not been [later]  invented by “the Vatican,” but it is written in the official files themselves.

In response to a possible critique that important Council declarations such as Nostra Aetate could thus be more fully and openly denied, Pozzo declares:

The secretary for the Unity of Christians said on 18 November 1964 in the Council Hall about Nostra Aetate: “As to the character of the declaration, the secretariat does not want to write a dogmatic declaration on non-Christian religions, but, rather, practical and pastoral norms.” Nostrae Aetate does not have any dogmatic authority, and thus one cannot demand from anyone to recognize this declaration as being dogmatic. This declaration can only be understood in the light of tradition and of the continuous Magisterium. For example, there exists today, unfortunately, the view –  contrary to the Catholic Faith – that there is a salvific path independent of Christ and His Church. That has also been officially confirmed last of all by the Congregation for the Faith itself in its declaration, Dominus Jesus. Therefore, any interpretation of Nostrae Aetate which goes into this [unfortunate and erroneous]  direction is fully unfounded and has to be rejected. [my emphasis added]

Pozzo concludes that the ongoing SSPX discussions should always now be about “a hermeneutic of the documents on the background of the continuous tradition.” He adds: “Tradition certainly is not a lifeless fossil, but it certainly also does not mean an adaptation to any kind of contemporary culture.”

Pozzo even shows his understanding and sympathy for the Society of Saint Pius X when he politely concludes his interview with these words:

In such a difficult moment of confusion and lack of orientation as we have it today, it is the task of those who want to remain loyal to the tradition of the Church to promote the re-strenghtening of the Christian faith and of the mission. I hope that the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X – when fully integrated – will also thus be able to make its contribution to this missionary apostolate and to the strengthening of the Catholic Faith in our society and in our world.

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