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Can Viganò Reopen ‘Dialogue’ about Vatican II?

The latest epistle of Viganò has provoked a wider controversy than has his other recent letters, especially as it comes within days of a highly publicized letter to President Trump that the latter approvingly tweeted about. Remarkably, at least one member of the “mainstream” episcopate has made a statement that is not a pure vilification of Viganò. From the start, ad hominem attacks, calumny, and hit pieces have been the approach given by the “Church of accompaniment” to the carefully documented accusations of Viganò. In short, anything but dialogue. Indeed, the conciliar popes and bishops have sought out and dialogued with heretics, Jews, Muhammadans, and even witches but have largely refused to dialogue with their own brethren about the most salient topic affecting this whole crisis: the documents of Vatican II. This is a discussion that must happen, for which His Excellency may be thanked for placing the terms of this debate into the forefront of the discussion.

For decades there have been two warring parties dominating the episcopacy, the so-called “Liberal” and “Conservative,” who both formed one victorious party at the Council. The former is represented by the journal Concilium and the Bologna school of thought, while the latter was represented by the journal Communio and included such luminaries and popes as John Paul II and Benedict XVI. But the curious unity between them is this: they both defend the Council almost unconditionally. Indeed, the Liberal prelates were all promoted through the ranks by Conservatives — like the infamous Cardinal Martini, who warred against Humanae Vitae and promoted female “priests,” becoming the pattern for his devotee, Jorge Bergoglio (who quoted him approvingly in his last Christmas address).

These parties disagree on the nature of Vatican II, but they are united in ostracizing and vilifying a third party in the episcopate: the traditionalists. This group was known as the Coetus Internationalis Patrum at the Council, whose leading figures were men like Archbishop Lefebvre and Bishop De Castro Mayer. Meanwhile, a growing body of scholarship has been produced by concerned laymen about Vatican II and the New Mass, which has been also ignored by mainstream Catholic academia. I still seek in vain a comprehensive defense of Vatican II from the Conservative side that matches the erudition of Sire, De Mattei, or Ferrara.

Thus, in one of the bitter ironies of the Council, the attempt to “democratize” the Church against “clericalism” has caused millions to leave the ark of salvation, others to stay and be stripped of their inheritance as Catholics, and still others to be left abandoned who seek actual dialogue. This is why the words of Archbishop Viganò in his latest letter provide a welcome relief to many who have been silenced in their search for answers. As Skojec put it, “[t]raditionalists have often lamented that even our ‘heroes’ within the Church are conciliar apologists, almost to a man.” In a sense we can tolerate an apologist for a thing, as long as he can field honest debate about that thing. But Vatican II is a thing about which the two dominant parties aforementioned have attempted to silence all debate.

We can only hope and pray — while doing our part with truth and charity — that this debate will be finally opened by Viganò in a way that was near impossible in the days of Lefebvre against Paul VI and John Paul II. In those days, the traditional movement was almost entirely ostracized, and the reputation of the official Church was still greatly admired. In our day, the traditional critique has only grown with an official exoneration by the pontiff himself (who noted the youth of the movement), while the reputation of the Church has been shredded by the revelations of the dark evil at work in the Vatican and episcopacy. In this context, I offer my own contribution to the debate in one of the fundamental areas that Viganò addresses.

The Documents and Their Fruit

Viganò makes a number of general remarks that must be taken seriously (including critically) as hinges of the debate. One important general observation is about the fruits of the Council as something very different from those of every other council before it:

On closer inspection, never in the history of the Church has a Council presented itself as such a historic event that it was different from any other council: there was never talk of a “spirit of the Council of Nicea” or the “spirit of the Council of Ferrara-Florence,” even less the “spirit of the Council of Trent,” just as we never had a “post-conciliar” era after Lateran IV or Vatican I.

If by the “spirit” of a council we understand the Bologna school of thought, which sees the council as merely one step forward toward more evolution of dogma, we may certainly concede this point. We may also observe that John Paul II believed in some version of this “spirit” as he stated in his first address as pontiff:

[A]s the Council is not limited to the documents alone, neither is it completed by the ways [of] applying it which were devised in these post-conciliar years. Therefore we rightly consider that we are bound by the primary duty of most diligently furthering the implementation of the decrees and directive norms of that same Universal Synod. This indeed we shall do in a way that is at once prudent and stimulating. We shall strive, in particular, that first of all an appropriate mentality may flourish. Namely, it is necessary that, above all, outlooks must be at one with the Council so that in practice those things may be done that were ordered by it, and that those things which lie hidden in it or — as is usually said — are “implicit” may become explicit in the light of the experiments made since then and the demands of changing circumstances. Briefly, it is necessary that the fertile seeds which the Fathers of the Ecumenical Synod, nourished by the word of God, sowed in good ground (cf. Mt 13: 8, 23) — that is, the important teachings and pastoral deliberations should be brought to maturity in that way which is characteristic of movement and life. [1]

Indeed, John Paul II asserted that the interfaith prayer of Assisi was the visible expression of Vatican II.[2] This accords precisely with Viganò’s critique, which connects the dots forward to the Pachamama idol and the Abu Dhabi blasphemy: “If the pachamama could be adored in a church, we owe it to Dignitatis Humanae[.] … If the Abu Dhabi Declaration was signed, we owe it to Nostra Aetate.” John Paul II himself saw his work as carrying forward what was “implicit” in the documents themselves, which undermines the assertions of Benedict XVI in critiquing the bad fruits of the Council as stemming from the press or the wrong hermeneutic and not from the Council itself.

From this comes the primary critique from Viganò of the Council’s fruit on the dogmatic level:

Among other things, this Council has proven to be the only one that has caused so many interpretative problems and so many contradictions with respect to the preceding Magisterium, while there is not one other council — from the Council of Jerusalem to Vatican I — that does not harmonize perfectly with the entire Magisterium or that needs so much interpretation.

The Conservative defenders of the Council assert (correctly) that every council is followed by a period of chaos and upheaval, and we can cite the most famous Council of Nicea as a prime example of that. But notice the difference: each of the previous councils articulated a clear doctrine against heresy, and the chaos that erupted was instigated by those heretics who were condemned or by the political powers seeking to obstruct the council or compromise with heretics. It is quite clear that the cause of this chaos could be charged not to the council’s words themselves, but rather to the disobedience of the faithful to those authoritative decrees.

Now, we may note two very important exceptions to this general statement of Viganò: Constance and Vatican I. Both of these councils were emergency councils that attempted to solve the problem of schismatic popes (in the case of Constance) and state-appointed bishops and republican revolutions (in the case of Vatican I). As a result of many historical factors, these councils were either semi-abrogated (as Constance was) or incomplete (as Vatican I was).

Especially with Vatican I, we may qualify Viganò’s assertion about previous councils. Here we note that a certain “spirit of Vatican I” emerged in the form of absolute papal positivism — contrary, however, to text of Pastor Aeternus — which became the forerunner to Paul VI’s extreme positivism. Despite official efforts to the contrary, Vatican I left unanswered questions about the nature of Tradition in relation to the power of the pope. These weaknesses of that post-conciliar period were exploited by the heretics at Vatican II to create the situation we have today, wherein the popes and bishops expect blind obedience to contradictory statements. When the faithful seek answers and dialogue, and an articulation of the hermeneutic of continuity, the bishops’ only answer is to command obedience. It is the height of clericalism because it refuses to explain and teach — the very meaning of the word “Magisterium” — and expects blind faith to the assertion of “continuity.”

This is the reality that Viganò says he finally realized:

I confess it with serenity and without controversy: I was one of the many people who, despite many perplexities and fears which today have proven to be absolutely legitimate, trusted the authority of the Hierarchy with unconditional obedience. In reality, I think that many people, including myself, did not initially consider the possibility that there could be a conflict between obedience to an order of the Hierarchy and fidelity to the Church herself. What made tangible this unnatural, indeed I would even say perverse, separation between the Hierarchy and the Church, between obedience and fidelity, was certainly this most recent Pontificate.

This is the silver lining of the Francis pontificate: it has caused an awakening among all the Conservative defenders of Vatican II — including Viganò himself. It has forced the few orthodox and courageous bishops to fully articulate and condemn the truths and errors of our time. Most of all, it has brought about the recognition of the true doctrine of the First Vatican Council, which Bl. Pius IX unsuccessfully sought to engender during that post-conciliar period, approving the following clear interpretation of Vatican I:

It in no way depends upon the caprice of the Pope or upon his good pleasure, to make such and such a doctrine the object of a dogmatic definition: he is tied up and limited to the divine revelation, and to the truths which that revelation contains; he is tied up and limited by the Creeds already in existence, and by the preceding definitions of the Church; he is tied up and limited by the divine law and by the constitution of the Church. [3]

The efforts of the traditionalist movement can be boiled down to these words. They simply assert that even the pope and even an ecumenical council are “limited” by what has come before: Tradition and traditions. In short, it is the phrase of Ripperger: Tradition retains a binding force.

[1] “Urbi et Orbi,” Oct. 17, 1978

[2] Presentando la chiesa cattolica che tiene per mano i fratelli cristiani e questi tutti insieme che congiungono la mano con i fratelli delle altre religioni, la giornata di Assisi è stata come un’espressione visibile di queste affermazioni del concilio Vaticano II. John Paul II, Address to the Roman Curia, Dec. 22, 1986

[3] This was the Joint Pastoral Instruction issued by the Swiss bishops and approved and praised by Pius IX. Dom. Cuthbert Butler, The Vatican Council (Newman Press, 1962), 464

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