Is Second Vatican Council Indisputable?

Source: FSSPX News


Document sans nom

To this question, the French bishops answered in a statement issued by the Permanent Council of the Bishops’ Conference dated January 28: “Under no circumstances will Vatican II be negotiable.” Whereas the Roman decree of January 21 spoke of the “requisite discussions” to “explore as yet unresolved questions”! The note from the Secretariat of State of February 4, from its part, stated: “A full recognition of the Second Vatican Council and the Magisterium of Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict XVI himself is an indispensable condition for any future recognition of the Society of Saint Pius X.” Yet it affirmed again what was said in the decree of January 21: “The Holy See will not fail, in ways judged opportune, to engage with the interested parties in examining outstanding questions, so as to attain a full and satisfactory resolution of the problems that caused this painful rupture.”

Since then, journalists, always quick to offer hasty summaries, have based themselves on an interview granted by Bishop Fellay to the Swiss daily Le Courrier in its February 26 edition, to conclude: “The Society is not ready to recognize Vatican II.” The sentence was the header of the article, and though placed between quotation marks, it is not to be found in the answers of the Superior general (See our Documents section). It does not matter! The sentence was conscientiously repeated by French news agencies and newspapers, which even saw the confirmation of a hardening position in the Letter of the Four Bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X to the Holy Father, dated January 29, and published by Fideliter .

France Presse news agency even gave the following headers to its reports: “Society of St. Pius X (fundamentalist) not ready to recognize Vatican II (Fellay)” concerning the interview published by Le Courrier (AFP, Geneva, February 27, 2009) and “Four Fundamentalist Bishops Not Ready to Accept Vatican II” for the Letter of January 29 (AFP - Paris, March 1, 2009). The French daily Le Monde in its March 1 edition repeated: “The Four Fundamentalist Bishops Whose Excommunication Has Been Lifted Do Not Accept Vatican II.” On March 2, La Croix  took the cue: “Lefebvrite Bishops Expressed Their Rejection of Vatican II to Pope.”

To the reporter of Le Courrier, Bishop Fellay only recalled the constant line of conduct followed by the SSPX since 2000: no canonical status before the doctrinal discussions which must precisely deal with the conciliar texts which are a source of difficulties. The Superior General precisely declared: “The Vatican has acknowledged the necessity of preliminary talks so as to deal with the root questions which come precisely from the Second Vatican Council. To make of the recognition of the council a preliminary condition is to put the cart before the horse.”

The problem came from the fact that the Note, issued by the Secretariat of State, on February 4, stated that for any future recognition of the Society of Saint Pius X, “a full recognition of the Second Vatican Council and the Magisterium of Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict XVI himself [were] an indispensable condition.” While it affirmed, according to the decree of January 21, the determination of the Holy See “to engage with the interested parties in examining outstanding questions, so as to attain a full and satisfactory resolution of the problems that caused this painful rupture.” Here, two questions arise:

1 - Are not the discussions, which the Decree even call “requisite”, to deal with the Council? In that case, we wonder what will be their purpose.

2 - Did the Second Vatican Council which was intended to be “pastoral” become an unquestionable dogma? And in this hypothesis, the French Bishops are right: “Under no circumstance will Vatican II be negotiable.”

Rather than try to answer these questions with the arguments proposed by the Society of Saint Pius X for several years, we wish today to open our columns to an Italian religious attached to the Council and strongly in favor of the “hermeneutic of continuity” propounded by Benedict XVI in his address to the Curia in December 2005. Father Giovanni Scalese, of the Clerics Regular of St. Paul, after having taught in Bologna and Florence, is presently a missionary in Asia. On his blog:, in June 2008, long before the decree of this past January 21, he devoted a study to the question of the council and of its “spirit.” This text; translated from Italian on the website, shows both an intellectual honesty and a sense of the distinctions to be made which are rare today. It proves, if it were necessary, that the Society is not the only one to wonder about the fruits of the council, its worth and its interpretation. We give below some excerpts from this study, (subtitles and emphasis ours).

The Fruits of the Council

“It was a pious illusion to think that it would just need a council to renew the Church. On the contrary, it would seem that the effects of the Council were quite the opposite of what was expected: the liturgical reform caused empty churches; the catechetical renewal spread religious ignorance; the reform of priestly formation emptied seminaries, the opening of the Church to the world, far from fostering the conversion of the world, meant ‘the mundanization’ of the Church herself. It is true that we must consider things with a certain detachment and with a historical sense: in the past, the Church faced many other difficulties and always happily overcame them. This is why we believe that there is no need to worry overmuch. But one fact is certain: we were expecting a “new Pentecost”, and Holy Week came; we were expecting the “springtime of the Spirit”, and the fog of autumn came upon us.”  -- Bishop Fellay said in his interview granted to Le Courrier “These gains [of Vatican II] are pure losses: the fruits of the Council were the emptying of seminaries, novitiates, and churches. Thousands of priests have left the priesthood, millions of faithful ceased practicing or turned to sects. The beliefs of the faithful were denatured . Really, these are queer gains!”

A Pastoral Council

“Vatican II was called and was introduced as a ‘Pastoral Council’. As far as I know, this was the first time in the history of the Church that a pastoral Council was convoked. At most, there had been disciplinary councils, which, as if by chance, were all resounding failures (such was the case with the 5th Lateran Council, which, before the Council of Trent, had vainly tried to reform the Church of that age); but never had we heard of pastoral councils. Usually councils were convoked to define the doctrine to be believed. On the contrary, this was excluded ex professo: ‘The main objective of this Council is not to discuss such or such a topic of the fundamental doctrine of the Church… For this, there is no need of a Council… It is necessary that this certain and immutable doctrine, which must be faithfully respected, be explored more thoroughly and presented in such a way as to answer the demands of the age… We will have to have recourse to a manner of presenting the things which best corresponds to a teaching which is especially of a pastoral character’ (John XXIII, Address on the occasion of the solemn opening of the Most Holy Council,  October 11, 1962).

Hence, the problem was not to define the doctrine (since it was already defined), but to find a new way of presenting it. An objective more than legitimate on the part of the Church, whose duty is not only to define and to keep the truth, but also to spread it far and wide. Then we could object once more, using the very words of the Pontiff: Was there need of a council for that? Could they not realize that, since it was not a matter of doctrinal issues, but only of pastoral strategy, they were running the risk of putting forth an immense effort destined to become very soon outdated by new events? Didn’t they realize that by acting so, they were giving to the Council a resolutely contingent character, bound to the transitory character of the historical moment? No one can ignore that today’s world is completely different from what it was forty years ago. Can we still consider the Constitution Gaudium et Spes, with its naive optimism, as relevant for today’s world, characterized by disillusion, if not pessimism and despair? — Consequently, does it not amount to dogmatically impose upon the Church a “pastoral strategy” already obsolete today when it is affirmed that under no circumstances, ‘will the Council be negotiable’?

How to interpret the Council?

“The Council must be interpreted at the light of the uninterrupted tradition of the Church. Nothing can be said against this. Unless other criteria of hermeneutic are pointed out.

“Precisely, the consideration of the specific character of the Council comes first: if we wish to interpret Vatican II correctly, we must always bear in mind that it is, as we have said above, a pastoral council; this means that it has a contingent character bound to the conditions in which the Church and the world were at the time it took place. We cannot make an absolute of Vatican II. And the very reverse happened: what intended to be and was indeed a pastoral Council (consequently with all the limitations this implied) became at a certain juncture more constraining than a dogmatic Council. All the dogma of the Catholic Faith could be questioned, but let him beware he who would question Vatican II. As an example of this absurdity: to this day, the reconciliation with the Lefebvrites is subordinated to an unconditional acceptation of the Council. But can’t they see the absurdity of this? In ecumenical dialogue, we strive precisely to determine the essential points on which we can all agree (in necessariis unitas), ignoring accidental diversities (in dubiis libertas); inside the Catholic Church what is uniting us would no longer be the same Faith, but the acceptation of a Council which defined itself as pastoral!” — No comment!

Returning to the Letter of the Council

“There is no question here of criminalizing whomever, even less so poor Paul VI who did all he could to oppose extremist interpretations of the Council. But unfortunately, such was the climate, that all were in some way contaminated, and maybe in all good faith, they were led to detach themselves from the letter of the Council.

“The ‘spirit of the Council’ was like a poison which permeated all the fibers of the Church. If we now want to purify the Church, we must not annul the council, but free it from the alleged ‘spirit of the Council.’ What is the antidote? A return to the letter of the Council, in which is expressed the true spirit of the Council, which is also the spirit of the uninterrupted tradition of the Church. (…)

“Consequently, inasmuch as it is legitimate to discuss about the Council, we must admit that, if we want to find a balance between the different ‘souls’ of the Church, it will probably be found only in the letter of the Council itself, the fruit of the efforts of the Council Fathers, of the wise mediation of Paul IV, and especially, of the assistance of the Holy Ghost.” — Here we disagree. Fr. Scalese, like Benedict XVI, considers that a return to the letter of the council would serve as an antidote to the “spirit of the Council,” a spirit of rupture, moving away from a letter in continuity with Tradition. It seems to us that the letter of the Council was too often the fruit of a compromise between progressivists and traditionalists for it not to be itself compromised, that is to say ambiguous at the very least. And about this question there must be room for “requisite discussions”!