From Vatican II to Abu Dhabi: Debate Between Bishop Schneider and Archbishop Viganò

July 28, 2020
Mgr Athanasius Schneider.

On February 4, 2019, Pope Francis with the Grand Imam of the Cairo Mosque signed a Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together. On February 24, 2019, Fr. Davide Pagliarani, Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X denounced this “impious gesture that scorns the First Commandment of God and attributes to the Divine Wisdom, incarnate in Jesus Christ who died for us on the Cross, the statement that ‘the pluralism and the diversity of religions’ is ‘willed by God in His wisdom’” adding that “such talk is opposed to the dogma that declares that the Catholic religion is the one true religion (cf. Syllabus of Errors, proposition 21). When something is a dogma, anything opposed to it is called heresy. God cannot contradict Himself.”

From Dignitatis Humanae to Abu Dhabi Passing through Assisi

In an article dated May 31, 2020, appearing on June 1st on LifeSiteNews, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Auxiliary Bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan, affirmed that “there is no divine positive will or natural right to the diversity of religions,” and he shows that the Abu Dhabi Declaration is the logical consequence of religious liberty promoted under the Second Vatican Council. Here are the most significant extracts from his article, that we will usefully supplement by reading his declaration of June 4, entitled, Catholics and Muslims Share No Common Faith in God, No Common Adoration.

“There is sufficient reason to suggest that a cause and effect relationship exists between the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae, and the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, signed by Pope Francis and Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb in Abu Dhabi, on February 4, 2019. On his return flight to Rome from the United Arab Emirates, Pope Francis himself told journalists: ‘There is one thing … I would like to say.  I openly reaffirm this: from the Catholic point of view the Document does not move one millimeter away from the Second Vatican Council. It is even cited, several times. The Document was crafted in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.” 

The prelate emphasized the rupture introduced by the Conciliar declaration Dignitatis Humanae which announced “a theory never before taught by the constant Magisterium of the Church, i.e., that man has the right founded in his own nature, ‘not to be prevented from acting in religious matters according to his own conscience, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits’ (ut in re religiosa neque impediatur, quominus iuxta suam conscientiam agat privatim et publice, vel solus vel aliis consociatus, intra debitos limites, n. 2). According to this statement, man would have the right, based on nature itself (and therefore positively willed by God) not to be prevented from choosing, practicing, and spreading, also collectively, the worship of an idol, and even the worship of Satan, since there are religions that worship Satan, for instance, the ‘church of Satan.’ Indeed, in some countries, the ‘church of Satan’ is recognized with the same legal value as all other religions.”

“The only condition that Dignitatis Humanae places on religious freedom is that ‘just public order’ be observed (n. 2). And so a religion called ‘the church of Satan’ is able to worship the Father of Lies, so long as they observe ‘public order’ within due limits. Hence the freedom not to be prevented in choosing, practicing, and spreading the worship of Satan, individually or collectively, would be a right that has its foundation in human nature, and is therefore positively willed by God.”

Bishop Schneider distinguishes between the faculty to choose and do evil, on the one hand, and the right to choose and do evil on the other: “Immunity from external coercion in accepting the only one true Faith is a natural right. It is also a natural right not to be forced to carry out evil (sin) or error (false religion). However, it does not follow from this that God wills positively (natural right), that man should not be prevented from choosing, carrying out, and spreading evil (sin) or error (false religion). One has to keep in mind this fundamental distinction between the faculty to choose and do evil, and the right to choose and do evil. God tolerates evil and error and false religions; He even tolerates the worship of the so-called ‘church of Satan.’”

On this subject, we refer to Archbishop Lefebvre’s book, They Have Uncrowned Him (Angelus Press, 1988), where the distinction is clearly made between phycological freedom, or free will, and moral liberty “which concerns the use of free will: a good use if the means chosen lead to the obtaining of a good end, a bad use if they do not lead to that.” Which shows that “moral liberty is essentially relative to the good” (p. 33).

Consequently, Bishop Schneider draws a bold conclusion: “For anyone who is intellectually honest, and is not seeking to square the circle, it is clear that the assertion made in Dignitatis Humanae, according to which every man has the right based on his own nature (and therefore positively willed by God), to practice and spread a religion according to his own conscience, does not differ substantially from the statement in the Abu Dhabi Declaration, which says: ‘The pluralism and the diversity of religions, color, sex, race, and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings. This divine wisdom is the source from which the right to freedom of belief and the freedom to be different derives.’”

Face with such confusion, the prelate expressed a hope: “One may rightly hope and believe that a future Pope or Ecumenical Council will correct the erroneous statement made in the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration, Dignitatis Humanae. This error has precipitated a series of disastrous practices and doctrines, such as the interreligious prayer meeting in Assisi in 1986, and the Abu Dhabi Document in 2019. Such practices and doctrines have greatly contributed to the theoretical and practical relativization of the divinely revealed truth that the religion born of faith in Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God and only Savior of mankind, is the only religion positively willed by God… Dignitatis Humanae’s assertion that man has a natural right (positively willed by God) not to be impeded in choosing, exercising, and spreading, even publicly, any form of religion according to his conscience, and the Abu Dhabi Document’s assertion that God wills the diversity of religions, in the same way as He wills positively the diversity of sex (based on man’s nature itself), will surely one day be corrected by the Papal Magisterium of the Chair of St. Peter — the Cathedra veritatis. Indeed, the Catholic Church is and will always remain in time (semper), in space (ubique) and in perennial consent (ab omnibus) the ‘the pillar and ground of the truth’” (1 Tim. 3:15).

Mgr Carlo Maria Viganò.

Correct or Condemn Vatican II?

In an article appearing June 10th in Chiesa e post concilio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, former apostolic nuncio to the United States, agreed with Bishop Schneider’s analysis, but did not share his point of view on a possible solution to the present doctrinal crisis. According to him, more than a correction, it is a condemnation of the Council that must be made, as what the case for the Jansenist synod of Pistoia (September 18-28, 1786).

“The merit of His Excellency’s [Bishop Schneider] essay lies first of all in its grasp of the causal link between the principles enunciated or implied by Vatican II and their logical consequent effect in the doctrinal, moral, liturgical, and disciplinary deviations that have arisen and progressively developed to the present day. The monster [in the etymological sense of a fantastic creature composed of disparate elements borrowed from diverse real beings] generated in modernist circles could have at first been misleading, but it has grown and strengthened, so that today it shows itself for what it really is in its subversive and rebellious nature. The creature that was conceived at that time is always the same, and it would be naive to think that its perverse nature could change. Attempts to correct the conciliar excesses – invoking the hermeneutic of continuity – have proven unsuccessful: Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret [Drive nature out with a pitchfork; she will come right back] (Horace, Epist. I,10,24). The Abu Dhabi Declaration – and, as Bishop Schneider rightly observes, its first symptoms in the pantheon of Assisi – ‘was conceived in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council’ as Bergoglio proudly confirms.” 

This is why the Roman prelate emits some doubts about the efficacy of the solution suggested by Bishop Schneider, for which: “One may rightly hope and believe that a future Pope or Ecumenical Council will correct the erroneous statement made by Vatican II.” Archbishop Viganò retorts: “This appears to me to be an argument that, although made with the best of intentions, undermines the Catholic edifice from its foundation. If in fact we admit that there may be Magisterial acts that, due to a changed sensitivity, are susceptible to abrogation, modification, or different interpretation with the passage of time, we inevitably fall under the condemnation of the decree Lamentabili [a 1907 decree by St. Pius X condemning the errors of modernism], and we end up offering justification to those who, recently, precisely on the basis of that erroneous assumption, declared that the death penalty ‘does not conform to the Gospel,’ and thus amended the Catechism of the Catholic Church.”

And from proposing a condemnation pure and simple, “And when in the course of history various heresies spread, the Church always intervened promptly to condemn them, as happened at the time of the Synod of Pistoia in 1786, which was in some way anticipatory of Vatican II, especially where it abolished Communion outside of Mass, introduced the vernacular tongue, and abolished the prayers of the Canon said submissa voce; but even more so when it theorized about the basis of episcopal collegiality, reducing the primacy of the pope to a mere ministerial function. Re-reading the acts of that Synod leaves us amazed at the literal formulation of the same errors that we find later, in increased form, in the Council presided over by John XXIII and Paul VI. On the other hand, just as the Truth comes from God, so error is fed by and feeds on the Enemy, who hates the Church of Christ and her heart, the Holy Mass and the Most Holy Eucharist.”

This reaction by Archbishop Viganò aroused in Bishop Schneider the desire to clarify his thoughts in “Some reflections on the Second Vatican Council and the current crisis in the Church,” published on June 25th, in the Remnant Newspaper online, where he resumes some element of his book Christus Vincit: Christ’s Triumph Over the Darkness of the Age (Angelico Press 2019). In it may be found homage rendered to Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre:

“Within this context, it was Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in particular (although he was not the only one to do so) who began, on a larger scale and with a frankness similar to that of some of the great Church Fathers, to protest the watering down and dilution of the Catholic faith, especially regarding the sacrificial and sublime character of the rite of Holy Mass, that was occurring in the Church, and being supported or at least tolerated, even by the high-ranking authorities in the Holy See. In a letter addressed to Pope John Paul II at the beginning of his pontificate, Archbishop Lefebvre realistically and aptly described in a brief synopsis the true extent of the crisis in the Church. I am continually impressed by the clear-sightedness and prophetic character of the following affirmations: ‘The flood of novelties in the Church, accepted and encouraged by the Episcopate, a flood that ravages everything on its path — faith, morals, the Church’s institutions — could not tolerate the presence of an obstacle, a resistance. We then had the choice of letting ourselves be carried away by the devastating current and adding to the disaster, or of resisting wind and wave to safeguard our Catholic faith and the Catholic priesthood. We could not hesitate. The ruins of the Church are mounting: atheism, immorality, the abandonment of churches, the disappearance of religious and priestly vocations are such that the bishops are beginning to be roused’ (Letter from December 24, 1978). We are now witnessing the climax of the spiritual disaster in the life of the Church to which Archbishop Lefebvre pointed so vigorously already forty years ago.”

Bishop Schneider also wanted to emphasize the analytical works critical of the Council, carried out these 50 years: “In approaching matters related to the Second Vatican Council and its documents, one has to avoid forced interpretations and the method of ‘squaring the circle,’ while of course keeping all due respect and the ecclesiastical sense (sentire cum ecclesia). The application of the principle of the ‘hermeneutic of continuity’ cannot be used blindly in order to eliminate unquestioningly any evidently existing problems, or to create an image of harmony, while there remain shadows of vagueness in the hermeneutic of continuity. Indeed, such an approach would transmit artificially and unconvincingly the message that every word of the Second Vatican Council is inspired by God, infallible and in perfect doctrinal continuity with the previous magisterium. Such a method would violate reason, evidence, and honesty, and would not do honor to the Church, for sooner or later (maybe after a hundred years) the truth will be stated as it really is. There are books with documented and reproducible sources, which provide historically more realistic and true insights into the facts and consequences regarding the event of Vatican II itself, the editing of its documents, and the process of the interpretation and application of its reforms in the last five decades. I recommend, for instance, the following books which could be read with profit: Romano Amerio, Iota Unum: A Study of Changes in the Catholic Church in the 20th Century (1996: Sarto House); Roberto de Mattei, The Second Vatican Council: An Unwritten Story (2012, Loreto Publications); Alfonso Gálvez, Ecclesiastical Winter (2012 Shoreless Lake Press).”

Discern and Denounce

On undertaking a discernment among the Vatican II texts, the prelate noted: “Some who criticize the Second Vatican Council say that, although there are good aspects to it, it’s somewhat like a cake with a bit of poison in it, and so the whole cake needs to be thrown out. I do not think we can follow this method, nor the method of ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water.’ With regard to a legitimate ecumenical Council, even if there were negative points, we have to maintain an overall attitude of respect. We have to evaluate and esteem all that is really and truly good in the Council texts, without irrationally and dishonestly closing the eyes of reason to what is objectively and evidently ambiguous and even erroneous in some of the texts. One has always to remember that the texts of the Second Vatican Council are not the inspired Word of God, nor are they definitive dogmatic judgments or infallible pronouncements of the Magisterium, because the Council itself did not have this intention.”

But this discernment does not prevent a denunciation of the general spirit that animated the council, and that Bishop Schneider defines in these terms: “on the eve of the Second Vatican Council, a considerable part of the episcopacy and professors in the theological faculties and seminaries were imbued with a Modernist mentality, which is essentially doctrinal and moral relativism and worldliness, love for the world. On the eve of the Council, these cardinals, bishops, and theologians loved the forma mentis — the thought pattern — of the world (cf. Rom 12:2) and wanted to please the world (cf. Gal 1:10). They showed a clear inferiority complex towards the world.”

A little before in these Reflections, he observed: “Through the Second Vatican Council, and already with Pope John XXIII, the Church began to present herself to the world, to flirt with the world, and to manifest an inferiority complex towards the world. Yet clerics, especially the bishops and the Holy See, are tasked with showing Christ to the world — not themselves. Vatican II gave the impression that the Catholic Church has started begging sympathy from the world. This continued in the postconciliar pontificates. The Church is begging for the sympathy and recognition of the world; this is unworthy of her and will not earn the respect of those who truly seek God. We have to beg sympathy from Christ, from God, from heaven.”

An Act of Repentance

In an interview given to Phil Lawler on the American site Catholic Culture, Archbishop Viganò considered that the solution to this doctrinal crisis, “The solution, in my opinion, lies above all in an act of humility that all of us, beginning with the hierarchy and the pope, must carry out: recognizing the infiltration of the enemy into the heart of the Church, the systematic occupation of key posts in the Roman Curia, seminaries, and ecclesiastical schools, the conspiracy of a group of rebels—including, in the front line, the deviated Society of Jesus—which has succeeded in giving the appearance of legitimacy and legality to a subversive and revolutionary act. We should also recognize the inadequacy of the response of the good, the naivety of many, the fearfulness of others, and the interests of those who have benefited thanks to that conspiracy.”

Essentially, the Roman prelate hopes for an act of repentance: “After his triple denial of Christ in the courtyard of the high priest, Peter ‘flevit amare,’ he wept bitterly. Tradition tells us that the Prince of the Apostles had two furrows on his cheeks for the rest of his days, as a result of the tears which he copiously shed, repenting of his betrayal. It will be for one of his successors, the Vicar of Christ, in the fullness of his apostolic power, to rejoin the thread of Tradition there where it was cut off. This will not be a defeat but an act of truth, humility, and courage.”

An Indirect Response to the Holy See

In an article called “The Development of Doctrine is Fidelity in Novelty,” published on June 22nd in Vatican News, by Sergio Centofanti, vice director of editorial direction for Vatican communications, responded—without naming him—to Abp. Viganò. The Swiss news agency was not fooled which it affirmed on June 23: “the Holy See reacts to criticisms made against the Second Vatican Council by Archbishop Carlo Viganò, former nuncio to the United States.” But is this official spokesperson for the Holy See convincing? Not very. He was the one who, in a previous Vatican News article on May 25, felt the need to defend John Paul II’s encyclical Ut unum sint, caught—according to him— “between prophecy and resistance,” while it should help “us to see the reality of today’s Christian communities with a renewed ecumenical commitment.” Does this ecumenical commitment come up against resistance from obtuse ante-conciliarists or from obstinately stubborn facts? The question does not touch Sergio Centofanti’s mind, who then declares: “Certain doctrinal criticisms of the current pontificate show a gradual but increasingly clear-cut separation from the Second Vatican Council—not from a certain interpretation of some texts, but from the Council texts themselves. Some interpretations that insist on contrasting Pope Francis with his immediate predecessors thus end up openly criticizing even St John Paul II and Benedict XVI, or by passing over in silence some fundamental aspects of their ministry that represent evident developments of the latest Council.”

If the vice-director for Vatican communications will carefully reread Bishop Schneider and Abp. Viganò, he will see that their criticisms relate indeed to conciliar and post-conciliar teaching and not to the magisterium before and after the election of Francis.

Plainly, Sergio Centofanti wrote: “The Second Vatican Council, with its Declarations Dignitatis Humanae, On Religious Freedom; and Nostra Aetate, on the Relation of the Church with non-Christian Religions, makes a leap forward that recalls the Council of Jerusalem of the first Christian community that opened the Church to all humanity. Faced with these challenges, Saint John Paul II affirmed that “the pastor must show that he is ready for authentic boldness.” Paul VI had written to Abp. Lefebvre that the Second Vatican Council did not have “less authority,” and was “even, in certain aspects, more important than that of Nicea” (Letter of June 29, 1975). For Sergio Centofanti this was not enough: Vatican II must be compared to the Council of Jerusalem “of the first Christian community.” And the leap performed by the last council seemed to him, à la John Paul II, audacious. He ignore that there also exists perilous leaps where the return to earth can happen in a brutal fashion.