“To doubt the Council is to doubt the intentions of those very Fathers who exercised their collegial power in a solemn manner cum Petro et sub Petro in an ecumenical council, and, in the final analysis, to doubt the Holy Spirit himself who guides the Church.” This is the fundamental reason Pope Francis gives in the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes for the ultimate abolition of the celebration of the Mass according to the traditional form of the Roman Rite. The supporters of these celebrations supposedly doubt the Council and thus call into question the Holy Spirit’s assistance to the Church.RORATE CÆLI: Can a Catholic Have “Doubts” about Vatican II? — Article by Jean-Pierre Maugendre
Can a Catholic Have “Doubts” about Vatican II?†Jean-Pierre MaugendreRenaissance CatholiqueSeptember 20, 2021“To doubt the Council is to doubt the intentions of those very Fathers who exercised their collegial power in a solemn manner cum Petro et sub Petro in an ecumenical council, and, in the final analysis, to doubt the Holy Spirit himself who guides the Church.” This is the fundamental reason Pope Francis gives in the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes for the ultimate abolition of the celebration of the Mass according to the traditional form of the Roman Rite. The supporters of these celebrations supposedly doubt the Council and thus call into question the Holy Spirit’s assistance to the Church.
To doubt, according to Larousse, is both “to be uncertain about the reality of a fact” and “not to have confidence in.” It seems difficult to question the very existence of the Second Vatican Council. The question of trust is more delicate and could be formulated as follows: Is it permissible to question whether it was indeed the Holy Spirit who directed the Council? First of all, it is surprising to note that the Holy Father seems to think that the opponents of the Council are questioning the intentions of the Council Fathers. However, it is clear that the objections or reservations about the Council expressed by Archbishop Lefebvre, Bishop Schneider, Msgr. Gherardini, Jean Madiran, Roberto de Mattei, etc., concern texts and facts, not intentions, which, as we know, even if they are good, can pave the way to hell, and remain the secret of consciences.
The course of the Council
Opened on October 11, 1962 by Pope John XXIII, the Council ended on December 8, 1965 with the famous closing address of Paul VI. Is it reasonable to think that during these three years the 2,500 Council Fathers were continuously faithful to the breath of the Holy Spirit? A few facts, among others, allow us to doubt it.
As early as October 13, the date of the first meeting of the Fathers, things did not go as planned. While the participants were supposed to vote to elect the members of the working commissions based on the lists of those who had participated in the elaboration of the preparatory schemas, Cardinal Liénart, President of the Assembly of Cardinals and Archbishops of France, and then Cardinal Frings, President of the German Bishops’ Conference, intervened so that the vote would not take place immediately, but at a later date, in order (they argued) to allow the Fathers to get to know each other. The vote took place on October 16, with intense lobbying to promote bishops in the commissions who were largely different from the ones who had prepared the initial plans. The Council opened with a veritable rebellion against the modus operandi planned and validated by the pope. Some historians speak of “the October revolution in the Church.” Was that day of October 13 really animated by the Holy Spirit?
On October 30, Cardinal Ottaviani, prefect of the Holy Office, already elderly and almost blind, intervened to protest against the radical changes to the Mass that were being proposed. Caught up in his subject, he exceeded his allotted speaking time. Cardinal Alfrink, president of the session, had his microphone cut off. Cardinal Ottaviani noticed this and, humiliated, had to sit down again. The most powerful cardinal in the Curia had been silenced, and many of the Council Fathers applauded with joy. “See how they love one another.”
In October 1965, four hundred and fifty Council Fathers sent a petition to the commission in charge of the document on the Church in the world [Gaudium et Spes], asking that the question of Communism be addressed, which did not seem to be unrelated to the subject. Mysteriously, this petition disappeared and the question was not addressed. It was later learned that secret negotiations had taken place in 1962 between Cardinal Tisserant, representing the Holy See, and Archbishop Nicodemus, representing the Moscow Patriarchate, ensuring that the question of Communism would not be discussed at the Council in exchange for allowing the presence of Eastern Orthodox observers. This silence on the part of the Council caused astonishment among the bishops, especially those from Eastern Europe and Asia, who were suffering from Communist persecution.
The texts of the Council
The Acts of the Council represent 789 pages in the text published by Éditions du Cerf in 1966. They consist of four “constitutions” (two of them dogmatic), nine “decrees,” three “declarations” (a new category), and various “messages.” Many of these texts are long, very long, too long. They all breathe (in Cardinal Ratzinger’s expression) a “naïve optimism,” which no longer seems to be very relevant.
As for the degree of authority these documents possess, the question is lost in conjecture. Is it possible to entertain doubts about a “pastoral” constitution on the Church in the world “today” (Gaudium et Spes) that was written in 1965? Or about a decree on the means of social communication (Inter Mirifica) written in 1963, therefore before the appearance of the Internet? For example, it institutes an annual day in each diocese “during which the faithful will be instructed in their duties in this area and invited to pray for this cause and to make financial contributions to it.” Is it not pathetic, with the benefit of hindsight, that Gaudium et Spes states: “At the same time there is a growing awareness of the eminent dignity of the human person, who is superior to all things and whose rights and duties are universal and inviolable”? At a time when abortion is commonplace and publicly funded, and at a time when the application of Sharia law is becoming more and more widespread, this statement is at least doubtful. And let us not forget the serious doctrinal questions posed by the declaration on religious freedom Dignitatis Humanae, or that on relations with non-Christian religions Nostra Aetate.
After the Council
The words of the Gospel are clearer than the conciliar texts: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. By their fruits you shall know them… A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire” (Matt 7:15-19). We will not be cruel enough to insist on the advanced state of decomposition in which the Church finds itself today: the collapse of vocations and religious practice, the absence of liturgical and doctrinal unity, the virtual schism of the Church in Germany, etc. Not to mention the increasing distance of civil legislation from the teaching of the Church or even from simple respect for the natural law. Faced with this collapse, the most lucid of the innovators justified themselves: “Without the Council, the situation would be worse.” Objectively, on the one hand it is difficult to imagine anything worse, and on the other hand there is never a shred of reasoning to support this desperate statement. The massive and inescapable fact is that the communities and priests who have maintained traditional forms of practice and apostolate have not only not participated in this general collapse, but have even burgeoned in the midst of a generally very hostile ecclesial environment.
This is perhaps the crux of the difficulty. For Pope Francis, ordained in 1969, as well as for bishops who have just retired (Bishop Minnerath, etc.), the years of the Council were those of their studies and their first steps in the priestly life. They sincerely believed in the “new Pentecost” that was to regenerate the Church. However, at the end of the road the result was not there; quite the contrary. Hence an understandable bitterness. Worse: the methods they had all rejected turned out to be fruitful. They now enliven the youngest and most dynamic part of the Christian people. This is an unbearable affront that should be wiped out because it raises a painful question that many people refuse to ask themselves: Have we not made a mistake?
Courageous men can, like the first apostles after their failure to follow Christ to the Cross, come to sacrifice their lives for God in the end. But ah… l’amour-propre!