Saturday, November 10, 2012

Pick up your Marbles and Move on!

I was trying to decide whether it might be better to title this little reflection "Rules of Engagement", but that sounded too bellicose. Being at a loss all the way around, maybe I should not even attempt to gather and share my thoughts on RORATE CAELI's post of Bishop Fellay's All Saints talk and the commentary engendered by it over there (see Relevant). One of the comments in the combox alluded to the possibility that the missing component in the equation is "honesty": the contributor, who supports SSPX, would claim that many who hold fast to the Lefebvrian position today want no part of Rome or of obeying any authority; they make it up for themselves as they go along. I don't want to believe that possibility and hence the following little attempt to explain why I think that what is missing might simply be tagged "realism".

A goodly number of years ago a priest friend of mine became embroiled in a conflict with his ecclesiastical superiors on an issue of simple justice. My friend is the last person in the world I would ever class as selfish or self-serving; he was always on the side of the underdog no matter what it cost him personally; he could not tolerate hypocrisy, dishonestly, or aggression by the stronger against the weaker. He wanted little for himself really. At some point, he found himself with others in an assignment where all were expected to serve at the whim of the superior. When he balked and protested directly to the superior on his own behalf and on behalf of his colleagues, the superior resorted to pressure tactics, manipulation and verbal abuse. My friend was soon moved to another assignment for refusing to back down. That is all noble and fine. In our imperfect world we often run across similar circumstances. As we are not talking about a marital relationship but rather a work or professional rapport, these things can stand in a broader context and remain irreconcilable though not damning, as the two people must not necessarily live and work together in our big bright world. I know of lots of people in the world of work who change jobs in order to withdraw from an unhealthy or disagreeable environment. If you think about it, this explains partly the Church's discipline for priests being ordained to the service of a specific diocese and yet for good reasons (or not) having the possibility of changing their diocese of incardination, of finding a new place to belong.

This is where my discourse about realism comes in. Tragically let us say, even after being separated from the situation of injustice, my friend would not relent; he continued to seek consequences from others higher up to punish a man who had treated him and many others unjustly. No one denied the truth of his claims but no one was willing to proceed and pronounce judgment; that's not how things work. Realistically speaking, we can say that life this side of heaven is that way. I see parallels in the Lefebvrian case against Vatican II, which cannot come near to claiming that kind of clarity or cogency of my friend's case against his former boss.

To my mind, no one can seriously defend the thesis that the fathers of the council upset the apple-cart. It is utter folly to claim that if Blessed John XXIII had never called the Council we would not have known the tribulation of these years. Who knows if we would be better or worse off today? Despite liturgical abuse, despite the false irenicism distorting ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue, despite the inadequacy of teaching on religious liberty, democracy or social justice, the alternative closed-ranks defense would have obviated the need for debate on the place of the Church in the world of our time as we would all be required to wear our specific clothing and carry proof of the tax due for being different than the rest in society. This last statement was unfair simply because we don't know how things might have gone.

When Bishop Fellay says that he can't go any farther than he has already gone, I guess I'd like to introduce him to my righteous friend who could not forego insisting on seeing his former boss disciplined for being an oaf (the man's defects did not touch anything regarding the 6th or 9th Commandments). Granted, a few things have gone wrong over the past fifty years and some gravely so, but book burnings have never been popular events and never seen to achieve the results that time and careful scholarship obtain.  Church history keeps coming back to Gioachino de' Fiori and Savonarola... I can't see them ever fairing as well as St. Joan of Arc. I'm sorry!


  1. Your grace, you asked on Rorate Caeli:

    'I'd be grateful if anyone on either side of the aisle could explain how this type of discourse squares with the infallibility controversy at and after Vatican I. What ended up happening to the infallibility dissenters with time?'

    The answer is straightforward. None of the statements of Vatican II with which the SSPX disagree were infallibly taught. Since they are not infallible, it is possible for them to be false; that is what non-infallibility means. The SSPX rejects these statements because on the fact of it they disagree with other magisterial teachings that were infallibly taught; a clear example is the common understanding of the teaching of Dignitatis Humanae on religious freedom, which contradicts infallible teachings contained in Pius IX's encyclical Quanta Cura.

    I do not see the parallel between your friend's situation and that of the SSPX. The SSPX were a Catholic order in good standing, who then had their canonical standing removed. In order to recover that standing, they have been told that they must assent to statements that they consider to be untrue, viz. that there are no errors in Vatican II and that there are no problems with the Novus Ordo. They refuse to assent to these statements, and hence they are denied canonical status. It is not a grudge that they choose to retain.

    1. Thank you, John!
      Your answer is cogent on both points, but try approaching my Vatican I question by moving the accent from adjective to substantive: controversy and dissenters. Take it as an exercise similar to my denying Fellay the possibility of arguing his case from the decrees of the Council of Florence, which never really set sail.

      Believe it or not, my friend bore no grudge against his abusive boss. He wanted justice for all, including those who took his place and perhaps supported the nonsense. Why is it not true, regardless of the class of documents produced by Vatican II and the authority attributed to them, that Bishop Fellay is doing anything short of asking the Pope to light the torch to the bonfire?

    2. Thank you for your courteous reply. There are a few points to be made here.

      i) With respect to Vatican II and to Catholic Tradition (understood in the sense of sacred tradition that demands the assent of faith) generally, the SSPX position is that they are asking for justice for Catholic teaching itself. That is not something that Catholics in general, Catholic bishops, or the Pope can move on from. Catholics have a duty to adhere to Catholic Tradition, and Catholic bishops and the Pope have a duty to preach that tradition. One could reply that they are wrong about what Tradition contains, but that is a theological claim that is distinct from the claim that the SSPX should move on from their concerns with Vatican II. No doubt the CDF has criticised the SSPX position on tradition and its contents in the doctrinal talks between the Society and CDF theologians, but as the content of these talks is secret we cannot evaluate the positions of the CDF and the SSPX on these matters - especially the position of the SSPX, since one can reasonably suppose that it conforms to the Society's public positions, while the responses of the CDF to the SSPX objections are completely unknown.

      2) Bishop Fellay is on record as saying that the SSPX accepts 95% of Vatican II. The SSPX theologian Fr. Gleize has identified four teachings of that council as incompatible with tradition. (See here - - for references.) That does not seem like putting a torch to Vatican II. Indeed, as the article referred to mentions, the SSPX upholds more of that council than the majority of Catholic theologians.

      3) On the specific question of the situation between the SSPX and Rome, we are unfortunately not well informed. We know that Bp. Fellay submitted a doctrinal statement to the CDF and that the CDF rejected it and presented him with a different statement that he and the SSPX generally found unacceptable, but the contents of both these statements - quite absurdly - remain secret. Bp. Fellay has been relatively forthcoming about the contents of these statements, but the CDF has said nothing about them, and the statements themselves are unavailable. One cannot conclude that the SSPX is in the wrong on this specific issue without knowing exactly what they accept and what they refuse to accept.

    3. Thanks, John! Once again, very fine. I hope we'll see more clearly yet this side of heaven.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Thanks, Monsignor! I don't think Bishop Fellay is either, but I guess I find it awkward when upright or honest folk ask for equal treatment with "transgressors". Many times over the course of my life I have been disciplined because people expect more of me (oldest child or whatever).... ergo?

  3. Your Excellency,

    I'm just a faithful, but my understanding of the situation is this:

    1) The SSPX is objectively right in saying that some teachings of Vatican II (religious liberty, ecumenism, collegiality,...) are irreconcilable with tradition and were not infallibly taught.

    2) There is no way that the Pope is going to agree with the SSPX on point 1, because he thinks that it would cause a tsunami within the Church.

    3) The more the SSPX pushes for the Pope to admit 1, the less it is going to get from Rome.

    4) A compromise needs to be worked our where both sides save faces and principles.

    Am I correct?

  4. Dear Bedwere!

    Thank you! You are talking common sense, but your proposal of compromise starts from the presumption that SSPX is lily white, a group whose bishops not that long ago have been freed of the penalty of excommunication (capital punishment, so to speak) for having committed the crime of accepting episcopal ordination without a papal mandate (a concrete and severe breach to what Christian unity means concretely).

    It it were the truth, plain and simply, which were at stake, the Pope would have to agree with them tsunami or no, but it is not that simple. Vatican II may sound different on certain topics, but it is not. The problem, if you will, is that as was the case with Lateran IV, so Vatican II was not a final solution to problems which were ultimately better faced by the Church in the post-conciliar period following Trent. 50 years is a lot, but perhaps not enough. We're seeing that the new Code of Canon Law from 1983 needs more than a little fine-tuning.

    SSPX just needs to come home and help face the challenges of living the faith.

    Ad Gentes 7 says all need to convert into the Chruch for salvation and LG 16 , AG 11,LG 8 are 'zero cases' according to the apologist John Martigioni

    John Martigioni has opened the path to a traditional and rational interpretation of Vatican Council II and the SSPX should take it.

    He has indicated that the present interpretation of Vatican Council II is false when it uses a false and irrational premise. The same premise is being used by BIshop Bernard Fellay.

    Since the SSPX assumes that Vatican Council II contradicts the traditional teaching on other religions this is a clear sign that it is using the false premise of the visible dead saved.It assumes that those saved with the baptism of desire and in invincible ignorance are not 'zero cases', as Martigioni says, but that they are known cases in 2012.So they are exceptions to the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus.

    This is also the misunderstanding of Archbishop Gerhard Muller and Archbishop Augustine Di Noia and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,Vatican.They expressed this error of 'zero cases alive in 2012', in their interviews with the National Catholic Register when asked about extra ecclesiam nulla salus. Archbishop Muller indicated that invincible ignorance was an explicit exception to the dogma and Archbishop Di Noia said grace in Lumen Gentium referred to an exception(LG 8). Martigioni is saying that invincible ignorance and elements of sanctification are not known exceptions to the dogma or to Ad Gentes 7 which says all need faith and baptism for salvation.

    In the past the SSPX wanted the Vatican to show them a traditional interpretation of the Council, with the hermeneutic of continuity but there was no theologian available. The theologian Cardinal Luiz Ladaria S.J, Secretary of the CDF, assumes those saved in invincible ignorance etc are known cases in 2012 and so are exceptions to extra ecclesiam nulla salus.(See Christianity and the World Religions, International Theological Commission).So he could not be expected to support Tradition.

    John Martigioni, who is now also the Director of Evangelisation in the Diocese of Birmingham,Alabama,USA has answered two important questions which the CDF has been avoiding.

    He has said that in the year 2012 we cannot know any one saved in invincible ignorance, the baptism of desire, a good conscience, seeds of the word (AG11), imperfect communion with the Church. Also that these cases annot be considered exceptions to the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus and the Syllabus of Errors. This opens up a new interpretation of the Council ,one which is also rational and does not claim that we can see ghosts or that the Holy Spirit expects us to see the visible dead.

    Even if we could know, in this lifetime, which we can’t, that someone has been saved even though they were invincibly ignorant, or if someone has been saved through the Baptism of Desire, etc., it would not be an exception to extra ecclesiam nulla salus. This is because they would be saved through the Church by some extraordinary means known unto God alone. So, it would still be that outside the Church, there is no salvation. -John Martigioni

    A member of the Diocesan Staff under Bishop Robert J.Baker he observed ‘How can zero cases of something be considered exceptions?’

    I asked:You would also agree that since implicit intention, invincible ignorance and a good conscience(LG 16) are possibilities mentioned in Vatican Council II and not defacto,known exceptions to the dogma, so Vatican Council II in these cases does not contradict extra ecclesiam nulla salus ?

    He replied,'Yes, I agree that none of those things would contradict extra ecclesiam nulla salus.'
    -Lionel Andrades


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.