The Declaration of Truths recently signed by five bishops provides the Church with a clear document capable of uniting Catholics against the enemies of Holy Church. But in order to unite, faithful Catholics of every stripe will need to agree on this: the pastoral approach of Vatican II must be abandoned — but without abandoning the Magisterium itself.
It is only with great reluctance that devotees of John Paul II can admit the errors of Vatican II. On the other hand, traditionalists are sometimes loath to admit the truths contained in the Council and the conciliar Magisterium. The new Declaration is able to do both with the erudition and alacrity we need today. But let us consider briefly the issues at play here and see a way forward.
In the year 1960, Pope John XXIII refused to reveal the Third Secret of Fatima to the world. Setting aside further controversy, we know since 2000 that this Third Secret was a foreboding vision of the pope, clergy, and people being massacred while an angel cries, “Penance! Penance! Penance!” Thus, we draw from this and the general message of Fatima an assertion about society and a related pastoral approach, both of which Pope John XXIII rejected.
The assertion is that the world is headed for disaster. The world is not getting better in a Hegelian progressivism. Rather, men are corrupting themselves, corrupting society, and plunging souls into Hell. This assessment then forms the pastoral approach before the Council: condemning errors is an act of mercy to save souls and society from ruin. It is made up of two spiritual works of mercy: instructing the ignorant and admonishing the sinner. It is shown particularly in the Syllabus of Errors, whose pattern has now been repeated with the Declaration.
John the XXIII rejected both this claim about society and this pastoral approach. Regarding the warning about disaster, at the opening of the Council, he stated that he “disagrees with these prophets of evil tidings” . He instead stated his belief that on the contrary, “society is being led to a new order of human relations” . Moreover, “now it would seem that men of themselves are inclined to condemn [their own errors]” . Thus, instead of the prior pastoral approach, this contrary assertion means that the Church will “make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity” . Perhaps Papa Roncalli was seeking a spiritual work of mercy by comforting the afflicted. However, he introduced a false distinction into the spiritual works of mercy by implying that the approach before the Council was not merciful. Thus, the Magisterium implicitly rejected Fatima’s view of society and its pastoral approach. Vatican II issued no condemnation of errors and did not exhort the world to penance to avert disaster.
Since that time, as we know, the Church in Euro-America has experienced an unprecedented disaster of faith and morals and the loss of souls. It is instructive to observe that the Second Vatican Council, while exhorting the faithful to “read the signs of the times,” closed in 1965, just as the Sexual Revolution was reaching its peak in the later part of that decade. After this revolution and especially with the advent of the internet and social media, the world changed beyond the imagination of 1965. The epoch that Papa Roncolli hoped for has come and gone. The opportunity for a Vatican II springtime has come and gone. It is now time to recognize that Fatima and the prior Magisterium had the correct pastoral approach, and the message of Vatican II did not.
In the new Declaration, the Council’s pastoral optimism and “pastoralism” are abandoned. Cardinal Burke and the other bishops emphatically begin with a view of the current calamity: “In our time the Church is experiencing one of the greatest spiritual epidemics, that is, an almost universal doctrinal confusion and disorientation, which is a seriously contagious danger for spiritual health and eternal salvation for many souls.”
They then move on to the pre-Vatican II work of mercy: condemning all errors both of faith and morals for the sake of souls. They begin with the affirmation contained in the Oath against Modernism, that faith and morals always maintain the same sense and same understanding, although they can develop in clarity. After Pope Paul VI suppressed the Oath in 1967, the Church lost any regular, public declaration of this crucial phrase until this declaration . This forms the entire basis for the list of propositions and condemnations.
Some of the most notable points in this document are the direct condemnation of Pope Francis’s teaching (nos. 9, 14, et al.), as well as a condemnation of religious freedom (11) and false ecumenism (7) while upholding the duty of states to acknowledge Christ the King (29). It also clearly states that Jews (4), Mohammedans (5), and pagans (6) must all convert to our Lord Jesus Christ and that there can be no intercommunion with heretics and schismatics (38). Thus, the pastoral approach of Vatican II is abandoned in favor of the pre-conciliar Magisterium and Fatima.
Nevertheless, there remains this salient point to observe: the majority of references made to doctrinal sources come from the post-conciliar Magisterium and Vatican II itself. In particular, the Declaration cites multiple times the little known Creed of Paul VI and his Evangelii Nuntiandi, in addition to the well known high points of the John Paul II pontificate: Veritatis Splendor and Ordinatio Sacerdotalis among others. We may consider what this Declaration presents for the consideration of the faithful: can every faithful Catholic admit once and for all that the pastoralism of Vatican II was flawed and must be abandoned? But shall we also confirm the Council and its Magisterium in every truth that it does contain? What this Declaration could do is bring the best that is possible from the Conciliar Magisterium and the best from what came before in order to unite the faithful with a clear confession of faith.
The Church has often steered through the chaos of a crisis with creeds and confessions. Perhaps these forty propositions can form a solid basis for the faithful to unite with and confirm every orthodox cleric, then go to war against the enemies of Holy Church.
 At Nobis plane dissentiendum esse videtur ab his rerum adversarum vaticinatoribus.
 hominum societas novum rerum ordinem ingredi videtur.
 hodie homines per se ipsi ea damnare incipere videantur.
 Christi Sponsae placet misericordiae medicinam adhibere, potius quam severitatis arma suscipere.
Timothy S. Flanders is the author of Introduction to the Holy Bible for Traditional Catholics. In 2019 he founded The Meaning of Catholic, a lay apostolate. He holds a degree in classical languages from Grand Valley State University and has done graduate work with the Catholic University of Ukraine. He lives in the Midwest with his wife and four children.