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June/July 2004

"The Emperor has no clothes!" This, effectively, is what James Larson declared during his series of six articles carried in CO between June 2003 and March 2004. In these analyses he laid bare the dangers of the New Theology and New Philosophy peddled since Vatican II, taking clinical aim in the process at the personal views of the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith himself. In the following piece, taking up the invitation extended in last monthís edition to respond to the critiques, Michael Davies excoriates Mr Larson for daring to challenge the orthodoxy of His Eminence, recapping some of the Cardinalís virtues as regularly recorded in this magazine down the years. In his ensuing response, Mr Larson contends that Mr Daviesí ad hominum attack tells us nothing we donít already know, while variously misrepresenting, evading and simply failing to address specific issues and charges. ... En garde!

Apologia Pro Josef Ratzinger


I am using the term Apologia as Newman did, in the sense of a reasoned explanation, and not in the sense of an apology. The great defender of orthodoxy in the post Vatican II Church certainly has no need to apologize for anything he has said, written, or done in the last forty years. Every Catholic who loves the faith is considerably in his debt.

I was prompted to write this brief apologia as a response to an attack upon the Cardinal by one James Larson in the February 2004 issue of Christian Order, in which this layman, who displays no discernible sign of theological expertise, has the temerity to make an accusation of heresy against the Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), formerly the Inquisition.

Such temerity almost defies belief. I would be somewhat surprised if Larson even knows what heresy is, and so I will tell him. It is the pertinacious denial of a truth that must be believed by divine and Catholic Faith - Canon 1325 - 2 of the 1917 Code and Canon 751 of the 1983 Code. Such truths involve such dogmas as that of the Trinity, The Resurrection, The Real Presence, The Immaculate Conception, the Infallibility of the Pope. The denial has to be pertinacious, that is the person guilty of the denial must have been admonished by his legitimate superior and refused to retract. By no possible stretch of the imagination can the Cardinal have been considered to be guilty of heresy in its correct sense, even in his younger days when he had some rather liberal ideas. One does not know whether to laugh or cry at Larsonís arrant and arrogant nonsense. Having had the honour of meeting Cardinal Ratzinger regularly over the past ten years I know that he would certainly laugh even more than I did at the Larson diatribe.


I have been greatly saddened during the past five years to note the emergence of what I term neo-Protestants. These are men who claim to be serving the Faith, but who, to all intents and purposes, have become Protestants. The essence of Protestantism is that each Protestant is his own pope. He refuses to submit to the Magisterium, the teaching authority, of the Church founded by Our Lord, but makes his personal opinion the ultimate authority of what he will or will not believe. The great weakness among Traditionalist Catholics is a somewhat defective knowledge of the Church, and it was to remedy this that I wrote my book I am with you always, which explains the indefectibility of the Church. The doctrine of indefectibility means that the Church founded by Jesus Christ will endure until He comes again precisely as he constituted it. It will remain an hierarchically governed Church teaching us what we must know and do to be saved, and giving us the grace that we need to live in accordance with that teaching through the seven divinely instituted sacraments. The content of what we must believe is decided for us by the Pope and the bishops in communion with him through the dicasteries established by him for this purpose, above all through the CDF.

Where the Pope is concerned, we are obliged to accept and believe his teaching when it is explained ex cathedra or infallibly, but such pronouncements are very rare. But, explains Cardinal Newman, "Neither in conversation, nor in discussion, nor in interpreting Scripture or the Fathers, nor in consulting, nor in giving his reasons for the point which he has defined, not in answering letters, nor in private deliberations, supposing he is setting forth his opinion, is the Pope infallible." Thus, when the Pope informs us that the post-Vatican II liturgical reform has been a great success, with manifestly good fruits, he is setting forth his opinion and we are perfectly entitled to say that the opposite is true. We would be flying in the face of reality not to take this position.

There are, however, many authoritative papal pronouncements that do not fulfil the criteria for infallibility but are nonetheless binding upon the faithful, we do not have the right to dissent from them. The Encyclical Humanae Vitae is an evident example. The most usual manner of transmitting authoritative and binding, but not infallible teaching, is through the CDF. It is a cause for great regret that the vast majority of the faithful have not only never seen but do not know of the existence of these pronouncements of the CDF. I append a few examples:

Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons, July 31, 2003.

Note on the Force of the Doctrinal Decrees Concerning the Thought and Work of Fr Antonio Rosmini Serbati 1 July 2001.

Notification regarding certain writings of Father Marciano Visal, CssR, 22 February 2001.

Declaration on the unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the Church —Dominus Jesus, 6 August 2000.

Note on the Expression "Sister Churches" 30 June 2000.

Documents regarding "The Message of Fatima" 26 June 2000.

Notification regarding Sister Jeannine Gramick, ssnd, and Father Robert Nugent. Sds, 31 May 1999.

Considerations on "The primacy of Peter in the ministry of the Church, 31 October 1999.

Notification on the writings and activities of Mrs. Vassula Ryden, 6 October 1995.

A complete collection of the pronouncements of the CDF can be found on the Vatican Website under Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith —Documents of a Doctrinal Nature. In every case they are documents of exemplary orthodoxy from which no form of dissent is possible—but Mr. Larson does not agree— which brings me back to the question of neo-Protestants. In the February 2004 Christian Order he has taken it upon himself to overrule the pronouncement on Rosmini. The 1 July 2001 CDF document concludes as follows:

The Supreme Pontiff John Paul II, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, confirmed this Note on the Force of the Doctrinal Decrees concerning the thought and works of Fr Antonio Rosmini Serbati, adopted in the Sessione Ordinaria of this Congregation and ordered it published.

How any layman claiming to be a Catholic can imagine that he has the authority to overrule a document published with the authority of the CDF and the Pope truly defies belief. Does Larson seriously expect to be taken seriously if he maintains that if any Catholic wishes to obtain authoritative rulings on matters of doctrine he must ignore Rome and submit to his personal Magisterium? Is there any difference between his attitude and those who dissented from Humanae Vitae?

I must insist that James Larson is a Protestant, and I cannot imagine anyone with a modicum of theological knowledge reaching a different conclusion. Those long-time subscribers who have had the good sense to keep and file back-numbers of Christian Order, I must be one of the few readers with a complete set, would certainly profit by reading the article "Difficulties Confronting the Faith Today" published with an enthusiastic introduction by Father Crane. I know from my frequent meeting with this great priest that he would not have so much as considered publishing anything by any theologian who was not impeccably orthodox - but perhaps he lacked the theological insights and expertise of James Larson!
[Editorís note: Notwithstanding this point, it must be said that when Father Crane spoke of John Paul II, whose many excellent papal documents and addresses he also carried in CO, he would often proffer, with a painfully disapproving grimace: "Too much Heidegger!" As regards Cardinal Ratzinger, the Larson critiques would have certainly elicited an even worse response.]

A Digression that is not a Digression

Let me digress without digressing. Younger readers of Christian Order have probably never heard of ARCIC—The Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission. It was established in March 1966 by Pope Paul VI and the "Archbishop" of Canterbury to inaugurate a serious ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.

Its members met at great expense to the faithful in such exotic locations as Malta, Venice, Gazzada (Italy), and in Windsor, Canterbury, and Salisbury. As the popular song remarks: "Nice work if you can get it." Agreed Statements were produced on the Eucharist, Ministry, and Authority, and what was agreed was that the English Reformation was the result of a semantic misunderstanding. It seems that Thomas Cranmer, who hated the Mass as if it had been a living enemy did, in fact, believe precisely what his Catholic opponents believed, and that this was also the case where the priesthood was concerned.

Bishop Alan Clark from the Catholic side, and the Reverend Julian Charley from the Anglican side wrote commentaries giving contradictory interpretations of the statements. Bishop Clark claimed that as the statements nowhere stated that the Eucharist was not a sacrifice or that anyone but an ordained minister could preside at the Eucharist, this meant that the Eucharist was a sacrifice and that laymen could not preside. Dr. Charley claimed that as the statements nowhere stated that the Eucharist was a sacrifice, or that no one but an ordained minister could preside at the Eucharist, this meant that the Eucharist was not a sacrifice and that laymen could preside at it.

The Agreed Statements received the support of almost all the bishops in England and the so-called Catholic press. Only Faith magazine and Father Crane in Christian Order denounced the agreements for what they were, a cynical and calculated betrayal of the Catholic Faith.

I took the commentaries of Bishop Clark and Dr. Charley to Rome and showed them to the Croatian Cardinal Seper, Prefect of the Congregation for the Faith. I spent several hours with him going through them page by page, helped by my Croatian wife who was able to clarify any English phrases which were not clear to him on a first reading. Before we left he assured me that there was no chance that his Congregation would rectify agreements based on ambiguity.

In January 1982 the ARCIC Final Report was published, and for the Ecumenical Establishment in England and Rome it was imperative that it should be ratified by the Vatican. I wrote a detailed critique of the Final Report which was published with an wholehearted endorsement by Father Crane in the October 1982 issue of Christian Order.

In 1981, following the death of Cardinal Seper, the Pope had appointed a new Prefect of the CDF, the Bavarian Cardinal Josef Ratzinger. Would he, I wondered, take the same firm line as his predecessor? If his congregation were to endorse the Final Report it would have been a disaster of unthinkable proportions, Rome would have committed itself to what Father Edward Holloway described correctly as "a betrayal of the Catholic Faith". The pressures on the new Prefect to endorse the Final Report were enormous, but Cardinal Ratzinger replied to it in the manner that has characterised his entire tenure of office - where the authentic Catholic Faith is concerned there can be no compromise.

In the October 1982 issue Father Crane published a devastating editorial denouncing the Final Report, a detailed critique that I had written, and the entire text of Cardinal Ratzingerís response. [See Fr Craneís editorial and Mr Daviesí superb critique – Ed.]. Father Crane was kind enough to comment:

The article which follows by Michael Davies bears a striking similarity to the CDF critique, which follows it. In places Davies makes the same criticism as the CDF and in virtually identical terms. Yet his critique was completed several weeks before that by the CDF was published. There could hardly be a more authoritative endorsement of the criticisms made by Mr. Davies.

My presumption is that Cardinal Ratzinger had studied the material that I had left with his predecessor. His response contained a clear affirmation of the Catholic Eucharistic teaching, which James Larson claims that he denies, and a firm rejection of the ambiguities of the Final Report. I will not examine the CDF report in detail because, as the saying goes, "the plot thickens".

The powerful Pontifical Council for promoting Christian Unity was outraged and dismayed by the action of the CDF which it regarded as a declaration of war. It was imperative for the credibility of the Unity Council that Rome should endorse the Final Report, and it devised, as Baldrick would have put it, a very cunning plan to achieve this. The Final Report was to be sent to all the hierarchies in the world for their evaluation before Rome, that is to say Ratzinger, made its final evaluation. The rationale behind this ploy was that if many or most hierarchies found the Final Report satisfactory Ratzinger would have to do so if he was to conform to the sacred post Vatican II spirit of collegiality. Almost every hierarchy that sent a response to the Final report found it perfectly satisfactory, including, to their shame, the Bishops of England and Wales who, one might have hoped, would know something of the history of Anglicanism and must have known that the teachings of the two communions on the Eucharist and Priesthood were incompatible.

In what it probably envisaged as a damage control exercise, the Holy See arranged for its final response to be produced jointly by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and The Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

The hand of the latter is evident in some ecumenical platitudes giving a warm welcome to The Final Report, expressing its gratitude to the members of ARCIC, and hailing its work as "a significant milestone not only in relations between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church but in the ecumenical movement as a whole."

The hand of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is seen in the detailed analysis of the Agreed Statements, an analysis which differs in few respects from the 1982 critique of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which had so effectively set the orthodox cat among the ecumenical pigeons. It should be noted, however, that the 1991 Response comes not with the authority of the two Congregations which prepared it, but with the full authority of the Holy See itself.

The Ratzinger Response

In what way, then, does the Vatican find The Final ARIC Report wanting? When referring to the Vatican one is, of course, referring to Cardinal Ratzinger. Bear in mind that Larson considers him to have rejected Catholic Eucharistic teaching and to be an heretic!

Regarding the Eucharist, the Vatican, that is to say Cardinal Ratzinger, notes the failure of the Report to accept that the Sacrifice of Calvary is made present in the Mass "with all its effects, thus affirming the propitiatory nature of the Eucharistic sacrifice, which can also be applied to the deceased:

For Catholics "the whole Church" must include the dead. The prayer for the dead is to be found in all the Canons of the Mass, and the propitiatory character of the Mass as the Sacrifice of Christ may be offered for the living and the dead, including a particular dead person, is part of the Catholic faith.

Where the Real Presence is concerned, Cardinal Ratzinger warns correctly that such affirmations as the statement that the Eucharist is "the Lordís real gift of Himself to his Church" can certainly be interpreted in conformity with the Catholic faith, but are insufficient to remove all ambiguity regarding the mode of the Real Presence which is due to a substantial change in the elements:

The Catholic Church holds that Christ in the Eucharist makes Himself present sacramentally and substantially when under the species of bread and wine these earthly realities are changed into the reality of his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. On the question of the reservation of the Eucharist, the statement that there are those who "find any kind of adoration of Christ in the reserved sacrament unacceptable", creates concern from the Roman Catholic point of view.

This is a somewhat surprising statement from someone who rejects the substantial presence of Our Lord in the Sacrament!

Where the priesthood is concerned, Cardinal Ratzinger tackles head-on the ambiguity made clear in the commentary and clarification of Dr. Charley, an ambiguity open to the possibility of a layman celebrating the Eucharist. It also refers directly to Anglican teaching that Our Lord instituted only two sacraments, Baptism and the Eucharist, and that the five other sacraments of the Catholic Church are only of ecclesiastical institution:

Similarly, in respect of the ordained ministry, The Final Report would be helped if the following were made clearer: —that only a validly ordained priest can be the minister who, in the person of Christ, brings into being the Sacrament of the Eucharist. He not only recites the narrative of the institution of the Last Supper, pronouncing the words of consecration and imploring the Father to send the Holy Spirit to effect through them the transformation of the gifts, but in doing so offers sacramentally the redemptive sacrifice of Christ. —that it was Christ himself who instituted the Sacrament of Orders as the rite which confers the priesthood of the New Covenant... The ARCIC document does not refer to the character of priestly ordination which implies a configuration to the priesthood of Christ. The character of priestly ordination is central to the Catholic understanding of the distinction between the ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood of the baptised. It is moreover important for the recognition of Holy Orders as a sacrament instituted by Christ, and not therefore a simple ecclesiastical institution.

The Vatican Response also demonstrates that the ARCIC concepts of the Apostolic Succession and the Interpretation of Scripture are incompatible with those of the Church.

Disillusioned Liberals

Despite the attempts by ecumenical bureaucrats to put a brave face on what amounted to nothing less than a de facto rejection by the Vatican of the fruits of a quarter of a century of jet-setting ecumenical chit-chat in exotic locations, at the expense of the ordinary faithful, some leading liberals could not conceal their bitterness.

"Unity Report Dismays Senior Bishop" read a front page headline in the 6 December 1991 issue of Englandís then ultra-liberal Catholic Herald. The "senior bishop" in question was Bishop Alan dark of East Anglia, and the first co-chairman of ARCIC. Bishop Clark stated that he was "naturally disappointed" by the Vatican Response, that Anglican members of the Commission "were depressed about it", that it would "make life difficult" for ARCIC in the future and that the Response "showed no interest in or understanding of the workings of the commission".

One might respond that Cardinal Ratzinger had understood, or rather seen through, the workings of Bishop Clarkís Commission only too well, which explains why it had been repudiated so emphatically. An editorial in the same issue of the Catholic Herald expressed liberal disillusionment with the Holy See very clearly:

The Vaticanís reaction this week to the ARCIC Report has disappointed some and worried others, while those who said all along that ARCIC was nothing more than a talking-shop, and that Rome would never agree to its decisions, are now basking in their superior knowledge. Catholics on the Commission feel their church has let down the Anglicans with whom they shared so much for so long, while some of the Anglicans wonder whether there is much point in going on with the discussions.

The Catholic Bishop of Brentwood, Thomas McMahon, wrote a letter to The Times, which was published on 7 February 1992, in which he took it upon himself to make what amounted to a public apology to Anglicans for the Vatican Response:

As Roman Catholics we need to examine our own conscience. For centuries, and even on occasions since Vatican II, we have implied, if not expressed, an "ecclesiological superiority" towards other churches, which must often have made them feel like second class citizens. Sadly, some may be inclined to see the recent Vatican Response to the first Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, wrongly or rightly, as a further sign of this.

What is most astonishing, most alarming, is the fact that although these deficiencies were obvious to a layman like myself, with no specialised theological knowledge, almost every Catholic hierarchy in the world pronounced in favour of the ARCIC Statements. The gravity of this fact cannot possibly be exaggerated. Can there have been such a virtually universal failure of the Teaching Church since the Arian heresy? What is almost certain is that had not Cardinal Ratzinger had the courage and integrity to ignore the pressure put upon him the Vatican would certainly have endorsed the Final Report, and that our ecumenically-minded Pontiff would have done so with enthusiasm. [See "Truth Prevails (The Vatican Response to ARCIC)" by Michael Davies, CO, June/July 1992 – Ed.]

Post-ARCIC Ratzinger

Larson might well maintain that although Cardinal Ratzingerís 1991 refutation of the ARCIC final report is not totally heretical, he has obviously lapsed into heresy since that date.

Let me share with him and the readers of Christian Order some very recent comments by His Eminence. Dom Alcuin Reid, OSB, has done us all a great service by arranging for the publication in English of the lectures given at the Fontgombault Conference in 2001 under the title: Looking Again at the Question of the Liturgy with Cardinal Ratzinger [St. Michaelís Abbey Press, St. Michaelís Abbey, Farnborough, Hampshire, GU14 7NQ, £11.95, post free in the UK, 159 pages. Available on-line from]. Readers who are also members of the Latin Mass Society may have read my review of the book in a recent issue of its journal. There are many excellent lectures contained in the book, but I will refer only to those of the Cardinal.

He analyses the thinking of a representative selection of contemporary theologians and liturgists and concludes that: "A sizeable party of Catholic liturgists seems to have practically arrived at the conclusion that Luther, rather than Trent, was substantially right in the sixteenth century debate," and adds: "one can detect much the same position in the post-conciliar discussions on the priesthood." He refers also to theologians who share Lutherís opinion that it is: "the most appalling horror and a damnable impiety to speak of the sacrifice of the Mass ". The Cardinal then states:

It is only against this background of the effective denial of the authority of Trent, that the bitterness of the struggle against allowing the celebration of Mass according to the 1962 Missal, after the liturgical reform, can be understood. The possibility of so celebrating constitutes the strongest, and thus (for them) the most intolerable contradiction of the opinion of those who believe that the faith in the Eucharist formulated by Trent has lost its value.

The fact that such theories are being propagated by Catholic theologians and liturgists would be bad enough if they were confined to their particular circles, but, insists the Cardinal:

The serious nature of these theories comes from the fact that frequently they pass immediately into practice. The thesis according to which it is the community itself which is the subject of the Liturgy, serves as an authorization to manipulate the Liturgy according to each individualís understanding of it. So-called new discoveries and the forms which follow from them, are diffused with an astonishing rapidity and with a degree of conformity which has long ceased to exist where the norms of ecclesiastical authority are concerned. Theories, in the area of the Liturgy, are transformed rapidly today into practice, and practice, in turn, creates or destroys ways of behaving and thinking.

The Cardinal insists that this is an intolerable situation. We can, he insists, have confidence in the Council of Trent. "Trent did not make a mistake, it leant for support on the solid foundation of the Tradition of the Church. It remains a trustworthy standard." In his recent books Cardinal Ratzinger has made frequent references to the fact that, since the concept of offering the divine Victim has now been lost, the Community is now celebrating itself, its own consciousness of what it is, which means that, in effect, it is celebrating nothing. He continues:

One thing should be clear: the Liturgy must not be a terrain for experimenting with theological hypotheses. Too rapidly, in these last decades, the ideas of experts have entered into liturgical practice, often also by-passing ecclesiastical authority, through the channel of commissions which have been able to diffuse at an international level their "consensus of the moment," and practically turn it into laws for liturgical activity. The Liturgy derives its greatness from what it is, not from what we make of it. Our participation is, of course, necessary, but as a means of inserting ourselves humbly into the spirit of the Liturgy, and of serving Him Who is the true subject of the Liturgy: Jesus Christ. The Liturgy is not an expression of the consciousness of a community which, in any case, is diffuse and changing. It is revelation received in faith ind prayer, and its measure is consequently the faith of the Church, in which revelation is received.

The Cardinal considers the Missal of 1962 to be a bulwark of orthodoxy which must continue to be celebrated:

It seems to me indispensable to continue to offer the opportunity to celebrate according to the old Missal, as a sign of the enduring identity of the Church. This is for me the basic reason: what was up until 1969 the Liturgy of the Church, for all of us the most holy thing there was, can not become after 1969—with incredibly positivistic decision—the most unacceptable thing. If we want to be credible, even with being modern as a slogan, we absolutely have to recognize that what was fundamental before 1969 remains fundamental afterwards: the realm of the sacral is the same, the Liturgy is the same...this Missal of the Church should offer a point of reference, and should become a refuge for those faithful who, in their own parish, no longer find a Liturgy genuinely celebrated in accordance with the texts authorised by the Church. There is no doubt, on the one hand, that a venerable rite such as the Roman rite in use up to 1969 is a rite of the Church, it belongs to the Church, is one of the treasures of the Church, and ought therefore to be preserved in the Church.

One can hardly imagine a Modernist or heretic making so impassioned a plea for the continued use of the Mass of St. Pius V which embodies the Eucharistic teaching of Trent.

Larson claims to have read many books by Cardinal Ratzinger and found little to praise in any of them. I would recommend the following, all but the last published by the Ignatius Press: The Spirit of the Liturgy; Feast of Faith; Salt of the Earth; Milestones (part one of his autobiography); God is Near Us, a beautiful exposition of the nature of the Mass; and Looking again at the Question of the Liturgy with Cardinal Ratzinger. If I had to recommend just one it would be the latter as in addition to the very fine lectures by the Cardinal there others which are well worth studying by Professor de Mattei of Una Voce Italy and Professor Robert Spaemann of Pro Missa Tridentina.

Pig-flying flat-earther

There is much more than I could write concerning Larsonís attacks on Cardinal Ratzinger, but I have devoted far more time to him than he deserves. I glanced through his quite ludicrous attempt in the March issue to prove that the Cardinal rejects the teaching of Trent on Original Sin. I could take him far more seriously if he wrote an article claiming to prove that the world is flat and many a flying pig has gone over the edge never to return. If Larson cares to respond to my critique he is most welcome, but I would certainly not waste a second of my time by entering into a debate with him. I have taken a vow, and I shall not repent, that I shall never mention the name Larson again.

Click here for Mr Larson's response