"THE DISCUSSIONS" IN THE ROUND
As we go to press the Rome-SSPX discussions appear to be on the brink: the outcome balanced on a knife's edge. The realityis harder to judge because pertinent details, not least the precise nature and extent of the underlying doctrinal differences, have been dutifully guarded by both parties. Nonetheless, based on what we do know, John Lamont's commentary herein considers some vital theological issues, offering a hopeful perspective.
Yet while they are doctrinal and much ink has been spilt on that fact, we also need to view "The Discussions" in the round; to look beyond endless media speculation and spin to the broader pressures mounting within and without the Church.
In the first place, along with the hyperinflated, prejudicial coverage of clerical sexual abuse and the legislative assault on Catholic teaching and conscience worldwide, secular reports seeking to exaggerate and inflame differences between the Society and the Vatican are part of that concerted external attack operating on multiple fronts.
Fresh from witnessing the elevation of 22 cardinals in Rome on 18 February, and having spoken with Vatican officials, American media commentator Glenn Beck, a Mormon, explained the latest anti-Catholic ruse. In a ten minute presentation on his internet Video Network GBTV, he warned that
The Vatican has just been included in Hillary Clinton's US State Department report on "Money Laundering and Financial Crimes." The Holy See is listed as a jurisdiction of concern, for money laundering.
The State Department says the Vatican is vulnerable. 'Hi, we're from the government and we're here to help. Just like we helped the big banks.' Don't do it Catholics! ... I don't think Hillary Clinton's State Department is there to help the Catholic Church. Call me crazy.
This is nothing but a massive hit in the face of Catholics. ... This is Obama's way of saying 'back off and play ball our way. We're not going to back off abortion, gay marriage, or the revamping of America's values.'
Insisting that Catholics are looking down the barrel at a coming physical persecution, Beck adds:
The world now is being re-shaped by evil, way beyond Barack Obama and his administration. They're going after the Vatican because it is a Church of hierarchy. You attack the top and then you can change the Church, change the country, change the world. Once the President and the [George] Soroses of the world take care of the Vatican, how hard will it be to pick off the Lutherans or the Mormons, or whoever? Anybody who stands with the Catholic Church, it is imperative that you understand what is going on now.
Tragically, due to the internal neo-Modernist attack about which Mr Beck is less well informed, most Catholics themselves don't know what's going on. Thoroughly secularised by the "synthesis of all heresies" and the worldly, lukewarm clergy it has spawned, they have lost not only the spiritual wherewithal but also the traditional Catholic benchmarks against which to weigh and interpret the "signs of the times" [Matt. 16:3]. Related in this edition, Lise Anglin's brief encounter with a clueless CINO encapsulates our sorry state: the True Church/New Church divide.
The Holy Father is acutely aware that the debilitating internal assault has made a hopelessly fractured Church an easy target for the external attacks. Hence his unusually sharp and explicit denunciation on Holy Thursday of over 300 Austrian priests lobbying for the abolition of clerical celibacy and in favour of women priests. As if speaking to their wicked counterparts in local Churches the world over, Benedict dismissed their alleged sincerity and condemned their disobedience outright, stating that their campaign was simply "a desperate push to do something to change the Church in accordance with (their) own preferences and ideas."
Despite the New Evangelism hype, in other words, Pope Benedict knows that we are flatlining; that the neo-triumphalist New Springtime phantom is killing local Churches everywhere, covering over scandals high and low which pile up by the day. With notable exceptions, bishops lead the way. Cowed, whipped and intellectually ill-equipped, they are willing slaves to the good life: content to manage the decay. If they are not turning a blind eye to the Liberalism within or acquiescing in the Liberalism without, they are providing a shameful personal example to their flock (see George Neumayr herein). The theological malformation behind it all is everywhere evident. Consider the following examples:
In the process of jointly responding to an article by Abbè Pellabeuf in 17 December 2011 edition of L’Homme Nouveau, in which he had posed questions about official liturgical translations having undermined fundamental notions of the Catholic faith like sacrifice and Original Sin, the Archbishops of Tours, Toulouse and Langres publicly confirmed the very fear expressed in the article. For instance, they sought to justify a spurious translation of the preface of the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, which in the original Latin text reads: Qui, beatíssimam Vírginem Maríam ab omni originális culpæ labe præservásti ("You preserved the most Blessed Virgin Mary from all stain of original sin"). The liturgical translation they approved reads: Tu as prèservè la Vierge Marie de toutes les sèquelles du premier pèchè ("You preserved the Virgin Mary from all the after-effects of the first sin"). This represents a grave and fundamental metaphysical and doctrinal error that confuses "cause" (Original Sin) with "effect" (consequences). Our Lady was not preserved from all the consequences [toutes les sèquelles] of the first sin, she was plainly and simply preserved from the first sin. Similar examples of egregious episcopal ignorance can be found in the bishops' response to Abbè Pellabeuf in the 10 March 2012 L’Homme Nouveau.
Within a month, on the other side of the world Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, one of the better prelates around, repeatedly signalled the same neo-Modernist mindset during a nationally televised face-off with atheistic evolutionist Richard Dawkins. "Adam and Eve are terms — what do they mean: life and earth. It’s like every man. That’s a beautiful, sophisticated, mythological account," the Cardinal informed his vast TV audience. "[I]t’s a religious story told for religious purposes." In response to which Modernist error a bemused Mr Dawkins posed the logical question: "Well, I’m curious to know if Adam and Eve never existed where did original sin come from?" Touchè. The Cardinal could not respond because he lacked the traditional Catholic understanding to do so, as also on other vital topics raised throughout the show [Q&A, ABC TV, 9/4/12].
Even the best of the hierarchy, it seems, are "diabolically disoriented." Yet how could it be otherwise? The theology of the Modernist madhouse warped young Catholic minds that now rule the ecclesiastical roost. With Genesis deconstructed and reduced to a pious fairy tale, the doctrinal dominoes rapidly fell. In keeping with the previous examples, the majority of neo-conservative and liberal prelates worldwide would also laugh to scorn the ensuing traditional defense of Heaven as an actual place. Australia's Archbishop Bathersby even teaches that Our Lord learnt Who He was by reading the scriptures ("From the Mail," p. 77)!
Yet heterodoxy and heresy are not the only subversive and crippling elements at play. Regular press reports of internal political machinations are also shoring up the external attacks on the Church. The curia is leaking like a sieve, to the point where an internal investigation has been ordered to find those responsible for the constant breaches of confidentiality. On 17 February the National Catholic Reporter's John Allen summarised a small portion of the information that is "putting the Vatican in a highly unfavourable light":
- Letters written to the pope and to the Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, by the current papal ambassador in the United States, Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, complaining of corruption in Vatican finances and a campaign of defamation against him. At the time, he was the No. 2 official in the Vatican City State, and desperately trying to avoid being sent away.
- An anonymous memo written about a new Vatican law against money laundering, which suggests the law contains an enormous loophole — that it blocks action against any offense before April 1, 2011, when the law came into effect.
- Leaked materials fueling charges that the Institute for the Works of Religion (the so-called "Vatican Bank") recently transferred millions of Euro to foreign banks to evade Italian controls, and that it's dodged various Italian inquests.
- Another anonymous document, written in German, describing a conversation Cardinal Paolo Romeo of Palermo, Sicily, allegedly had during a trip to China, in which he predicted the pope would be dead within 12 months and replaced with Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan. That document was passed along to the pope by retired Colombian Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos.
- Two internal Vatican memos, including one written by Cardinal Atillio Nicora, who heads a new financial watchdog agency, warning that recent modifications to the Vatican's law against money laundering would be seen as a "step back" on reform, and could create "alarm" among international regulatory bodies
"Internally," writes Allen, "the situation has some Church leaders alarmed and, in a few cases, hopping mad. For one thing, bishops around the world would like to think they can share confidential information with the pope and [Secretary of State, Cardinal] Bertone without reading about it in the newspapers. ... As one senior prelate, who's nobody's idea of a flaming liberal, told me this week, 'I wouldn't bring a problem here right now to save my life'." Allen goes on:
Externally, where perception is often reality, it almost doesn't matter if the documents are truly damaging. The public take-away already is that the Vatican is once again mired in scandal, fueled by churchmen stabbing one another in the back. That perception makes it more difficult to tell any other story about the Catholic Church (including basically good news for the Vatican, such as its recent sex abuse summit or its efforts at financial glasnost), and hardly provides a promising launch to Benedict XVI's project of a "new evangelization."
In sum, while it is impossible to tell where the truth lies — whether the curia is deeply infiltrated and compromised or if it is just workaday Italian intriguing and backstabbing — it is grist to the anti-Catholic mill, and music to the ears of Hillary, Obama & Co. Moreover, it all speaks to Mormon Glenn Beck's commentary on his return from Rome. Directing his Catholic viewers to Ephesians 6:11, he insisted:
You are seeing a high-stakes game at a level that most people, including me, do not even begin to understand. ... [The Vatican] are gearing up for a spiritual battle unlike anything we've seen. I met with them, I talked with them. They know this is about good and evil, and they are watching even those around the Pope in the Vatican.
As old as the Church, this anti-Catholic conspiracy is real enough (an alliance of "Heretics, Jews and Heathens [who] have made a unity against Unity," as Augustine put it). But the more prosaic reality is that Pope Benedict, besieged on all sides and clearly losing patience, is hoping a reconciliation with the SSPX will inject a mega-dose of uncompromising Catholic adrenaline into this ailing Body of Christ. We saw this plainly expressed in his unprecedented March 2009 Letter of explanation to the Church hierarchy, defending his decision to remit the excommunications from the SSPX bishops [CO, June/July 2009]. While pointing out to the Society that "the Church’s teaching authority cannot be frozen in the year 1962," and expressing deep fatherly concern that the SSPX flock not "drift farther from the Church," he rebuked the neo-Modernists "who put themselves forward as great defenders of the Council." These, he stated, "also need to be reminded that Vatican II embraces the entire doctrinal history of the Church. Anyone who wishes to be obedient to the Council has to accept the faith professed over the centuries, and cannot sever the roots from which the tree draws its life."
Yet as we have often documented with a heavy heart, the Holy Father's commitment to the Vatican II vehicle he helped engineer is itself a stumbling block. Was it really necessary to place the defense of that problematic pastoral Council and its texts (often ambiguous, contradictory or superficial as he readily admits) at the very centre of discussions? After all, SSPX objections merely echo similar concerns voiced by eminent theologians who also accept the validity of the Council while decrying its subversive content and purpose. The highly esteemed Msgr Bruno Gherardini, to cite just one, insists that “Modernism hid itself under the cloak of Vatican II,” and that “Modernist corruption has hidden itself within the Council documents themselves.” The ongoing harvest of rotten Conciliar fruits, therefore, cannot all be attributed to rebellious appeals to a bogus "spirit of Vatican II." That malign "spirit" is often spelt out by the slippery "letter" of the Council itself; in weasel-worded phrases like "The Church of God subsists in the Catholic Church," instead of ‘The Church of God is the Catholic Church.’ As a wag observed: Anybody can say "is." Only an expensive lawyer can say "subsists."
Regardless, Tùbingen Benedict's unflagging devotion to the Council has not dampened Bavarian Benedict's yearning to have its most severe critics piped aboard the mangled Barque of Peter — "a boat about to sink," he warned dramatically in 2005, "a boat taking in water on all sides." It seems that the Benedictine anomaly is trumped by this pressing corporate reality, requiring all hands on deck — even those "sectarian" zealots he once felt "we cannot resist too firmly" [Principles of Catholic Theology, 1987, pp. 389-90].
Against this background of universal emergency we find the papal desire for reconciliation referenced again in a fervent appeal to the Society's leadership, on the Feast of St Joseph, by Msgr Nicola Bux, a consultor to the CDF. Pleading with them to "Come to Rome in complete safety" (as St. Catherine of Sienna implored the Avignon popes), he wrote:
The Holy Father's heart trembles: he awaits you anxiously because he loves you, because the Church needs you for a common profession of faith before a world that is each day more secularized and that seems to turn its back to its Creator and Saviour hopelessly.
In the full ecclesial communion with the great family that is the Catholic Church, your voice will no longer be stifled, your contribution will be neither ignorable nor ignored, but will be able to bring forth, with that of so many others, abundant fruits which would otherwise go to waste.
Msgr Bux clearly relishes the traditional weight the SSPX would lend to post-conciliar correctives, as well as to initiatives like the Youth for Purity Crusade and pro-life efforts, as evidenced elsewhere in this edition. But emotive appeals, however sincere and true, will not move the Society. Quite rightly. And yet the intellectual argument must not crush the Providential opportunity paternally offered by the embattled Vicar of Christ. Failure to seize the imperfect moment with a view to building upon it, painstakingly, in the fullness of time, would be a very costly judgement call for the Society. Afflicted with internal failings and fractures of its own, it is they who need to reconcile with the Body of Christ, however sick and enfeebled, not vice versa. Put another way: as significant as its contribution to fighting both the mutineers and the external assailants would certainly be, Christ will save the sinking Barque of Peter with or without the SSPX, or anyone else. He graciously prefers, however, to let us share the burden of His suffering Body, and thus His glorious victory.
Only reconciliation, therefore, can heal the Society of ills born of long separation from the centre and source of unity. Benedict desires this inner healing, too. In his 2009 Letter he wrote:
I myself saw, in the years after 1988, how the return of communities which had been separated from Rome changed their interior attitudes; I saw how returning to the bigger and broader Church enabled them to move beyond one-sided positions and broke down rigidity so that positive energies could emerge for the whole.
Realistic members of the SSPX, eternally grateful to the Society for having saved their faith amid the Modernist anarchy, yet who lament the personal and corporate harm triggered by these "interior attitudes," would concur with the Holy Father. As would Father Paul Aulagnier, the first priest ordained for the Society and the priest closest to Archbishop Lefebvre.
Long ago, the SSPX youth had already expressed their agreement with Fr Aulagnier's own fears about their not having experienced a "normal ecclesiastical situation" and the danger of "psychological schism." For holding such views and passing on the concerns of the grass roots to the SSPX hierarchy he was sidelined. After publicly airing his desire for reconciliation, he was finally expelled from the Society in October 2003.
If the implacability flagged by the treatment of Fr Aulagnier and other 'dissident' clergy still persists — if, to the ears of SSPX adherents, the above papal words sound like a recipe for compromise with the pervasive errors of the day — then there is little likelihood of an agreement, never mind a successful reintegration of those who accept one. On the other hand, if they understand the Pope's intention as simply inviting them to accept the fertile and mollifying work of Grace, for their personal benefit and that of the whole Church, there is hope.
Certainly, Archbishop Lefebvre himself would have understood and responded to the Pope's call, just as he accepted then-Cardinal Ratzinger's proposal in 1988 (only to change his mind because he did not trust the curia to uphold it). This might surprise those who picture Lefebvre as an intransigent figure loathe to negotiate with a neo-Modernist establishment. Some insist that he would not have entered discussions at all. Others say he would have pulled up the drawbridge for good last October, after Assisi III. Fr Aulagnier, who would know, corrects these false impressions.
He points out that Lefebvre continued to negotiate with Ratzinger well after the inaugural Assisi shocker in 1986. He had denounced the event as "demonic" and "an indescribably impious act against our Lord Jesus Christ." Yet negotiations a year after Assisi I led to the official visitation to Econe by Cardinal Gagnon. In other words, the Archbishop was always open and receptive.
In Regards sur le Monde of 16 March 2012, Fr Aulagnier also restated that he himself is in favour of an Apostolic Administration such as that granted ten years ago to the late Mgr Rangel and his traditional flock in Brazil; an agreement he believes Msgr Lefebvre would have long concluded. Aulagnier voiced his own reasons for reconciliation many years ago to the General Council of the SSPX ("of which I was a member by the "vox populi"). He later elaborated on these in his book Plaidoyer pour l’unitè [Plea for Unity, 2009]. Maintaining that his views had not changed in the slightest, he presented a lengthy extract from. Chapter 3, titled: "Why the FSSPX should accept the Roman solution," which included the following reflections:
Mgr Lefebvre, always looked to normalise his situation with the authorities of the Church. He was in favour of this "normalisation" and this "reintegration." ... Certainly, he wanted Rome to rediscover its Tradition but he never made it a first condition for "normalisation" as Mgr Williamson seems to want. ... The least "movement" of Rome was for him an occasion of hope and great receptiveness. He was Roman and knew that one cannot do without Rome. "Mother and Mistress of all the Churches" from which we receive everything. We should not forget it.
Even before the doctrinal resolution of the crisis in the Church, Mgr Lefebvre was therefore in favour of a normalisation of the situation of the FSSPX with Rome. But not on any condition. It was necessary that we be given the "liberty" or better "certainty" of being able to pursue our apostolate "as we are." He never stopped demanding that Rome takes us "as we are". ... Mgr Lefebvre was neither a "doctrinarian" nor an "ideologue." He had a very concrete and practical mind, even juridical. The experience he had in Africa in the organisation of African episcopal conferences which he created, gave him experience of practical organisations that allowed the realisation of requisite and desired goals. He knew the importance of the practical to obtain a particular end. He loved "organisational pragmatism," the art of leaders.
By delaying agreement with Rome for so long, Fr Aulagnier clearly believes that the SSPX leadership has not been faithful to the spirit and thought of Archbishop Lefebvre, despite their protestations to the contrary. But he is convinced they will come to it: that "common sense will prevail!" As stated at the outset, we pray that by the time you receive this edition, it has indeed prevailed and that the Society has thereby re-entered the ecclesiastical bloodstream to become the antibody of neo-Modernism it is meant to be; to assist in healing the diseased and lacerated Body of Christ, aided by the softening and illuminating Grace it will surely earn through reconciliation.
In any event, Fr Aulagnier's concluding appeal to his SSPX brethren in Plaidoyer pour l’unitè retains its resonance:
It is evident that the doctrinal crisis in the Church will not be settled by the sole fact of the normalisation of our situation. But this normalisation will allow us a better and easier apostolate. The fact that they consider us as "excommunicated and schismatic" even if there is nothing in it, does not facilitate things. What do we have to fear if our profession of faith remains clear and our juridical structure guarantees us a just liberty? It is then that our missionary fervour will be greater and we will again happily welcome the faithful. It was the fundamental predisposition of Mgr Lefebvre. He thirsted for souls and their salvation. He was not afraid of being the Good Shepherd who leaves his ninety-nine sheep to go and search for the "lost sheep."
The normalisation of the situation of the FSSPX in the Church is also a question of faith and love for the Church. How can we continue to wait while Rome is calling us and proposing a reasonable solution which satisfies all the demands of Mgr Lefebvre? How can we not look, as Mgr Lefebvre desired, constantly in this same letter of 21 November 1987 to Cardinal Gagnon, to put our strength at the service of the Church and to collaborate in the work of Evangelisation. In these conditions, to remain outside and wait for the resolution of the crisis, seems to me to be a solution neither respectful nor filial.
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