Filed under: Books and Movies, Culture and Catholicism, Vatican II | Tags: Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, Benedict XVI, Carli, Catholic, collegiality, Father Ralph Wiltgen, Siguad, SSPX, The Rhine Flows Into the Tiber, Vatican II
Archbishop Lefebvre gave an exclusive interview to Father Ralph Wiltgen, the author of The Rhine flows into the Tiber during the second session of the Council. It took place during the furious debate on collegiality and you may find a record of it on page 89 of the book. It was at this time, after a fiery speech by Archbishop Sigaud of Brazil, that an association formed among Siguad, Archbishop Lefebvre, and Bishop Carli, of Italy; Carli was added to the “small committee” of Sigaud and Lefebvre in resisting the thrust of the Council during the first session. Sigaud had attracted Carli’s attention with his spirited condemnation of collegiality, which was being pitched by the modernists as a mere balancing correction to the strong statement of the Vatican I affirming the infallibility of the pope and the monarchical nature of his power. In the ‘new way’ of looking at things, the pope would have become an ‘aristocrat among aristocrats’ rather than a monarch, as Wiltgen characterized it, and his power would be shared. Archbishop Sigaud saw that the interventions were leading to the support of a kind of permanent ecumenical council to which bishops would be elected by other bishops and delegated to carry out the duties of the entire episcopal college. This would assure them of “true collegiality” and in effect compromise the strength of the papacy as Christ had instituted it through Peter and as Trent had formally taught it.
Wiltgen called their association a “midget alliance” (opposition to the liberal European bloc did not completely organize itself until the third session) but he asked Archbishop Lefebvre for an interview. After discussing Archbishop Lefebvre’s concern for the authority and pastoral responsibility of individual bishops, whom Lefebvre believed could easily be bullied in the name of collegiality by a few aggressive members on a national committee (a matter on which Wiltgen asserts the Archbishop ‘spoke with authority,’ having been for 11 years the founder of episcopal conferences throughout Africa while serving as apostolic delegate for French speaking Africa), Wiltgen reports a comment by the Archbishop during the interview that is as useful to us today as it was then. What was needed, the Archbishop said, “at this Catholic Council” was not a grouping of Council fathers on national or linguistic lines, as hitherto, “but a grouping. . . on international lines, by schools of thought and special tendencies.” In that way it would be possible to see what the bishops thought, rather than what the ‘nations’ thought. “For is the bishops, not the nations, that make up the Council.” (op cit, 90)
This formulation does not reveal if the Archbishop grasped the darkly cynical tactic of using former colonies as spokespersons for their former European handlers, one way liberals developed their arguments of smoke and mirrors. But anyone involved in an apostolate of flesh and blood will appreciate the profound practicality of Archbishop Lefebvre’s insight. Name the school. Name the antecedents. Name the fellow travelers. Name the problem right. Make or break can very often depend on a single magical term, and the ability to link to it, google it (the equivalent, back in the day), and sort with it. Without the potent term, there is no link, either to history or to authority. Without the correct term, the message is lost, and the crowd goes to hell hungry, and quiescent.
Archbishop Lefebvre’s suggestion to the Council was not taken. The Council instead used a trick that would become a favorite tactic of leftist movements. They manipulated the discussion so that ideas already condemned by the Church were presented under a different guise as the innocent thought of a nation, a people, even a tribe, not as a rejected philosophical concept. Any criticism would have to be read as an attack upon those peoples and nations, not an attack on an idea. It was easy to suggest that an ‘attack on people’ was–racism; fascism; at the very least an abuse of common courtesy. Discussion is easily stifled in this way.
The liberal idea, for example, that “Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true,” had been thoroughly deconstructed by Catholic theologians, and condemned in various terms by Pius IX, Pius X, Pius XI, Pius XII, and Leo XIII. But the liberal bloc at the Council presented it as a new idea championed by the Americans, the ones who saved Europe and beat Hitler in the Great War. And those Americans should know if a concept worked or not! The churches there were bursting with Catholics, nowhere had the Faith grown more luxuriantly than the place where it was free. To gainsay the liberal European alliance would be to insult those dear Americans! (They used Bishop Meyers of Chicago often. Cardinal Spellman sometimes upset their stereotype, though!) Anyway, it was not embracing whatever religion, it was a new thing altogether, ‘laicity,’ that’s more religious, it’s nuanced.
One wing wished to use ‘religious freedom’ to wave at communism under which the Church was persecuted; the other wished to use it to satisfy their fever for unity with protestantism. Only the traditionalists wished to resolve the matter in continuity. Cardinal Ottaviani, of all who spoke, made sense: quoting Wiltgen (164): “He said that the declaration stated a principle which had always been recongized, namely, that no one could be forced in religious matters. But the text was guilty of exaggeration in stating that ‘he is worthy of honor’ who obeys his own conscience. It would be better to say that such a person was deserving of tolerance or of respect and charity. ‘The principle that each individual has the right to follow his own conscience must suppose that the conscience is not contrary to the divine law, he [Ottaviani] asserted. There was missing in the text ‘an explicit and solemn affirmation of the first and genuine right to religious freedom, which objectively belongs to those who are members of the true revealed religion.’ Their right was at once an objective and a subjective right, he said, while for those in error there was only a subjective right.”
The particular term that Council fathers wished to stifle was the designation ‘liberal.’ The previous two centuries had seen the explicit Catholic denunciation of the school of thought represented by that word. The church had already spoken on liberalism: liberalism is a sin, and Catholics are not permitted to practice it. Pius IX first said it in his Allocution “Jamdudum cernimus” and then forcefully repeated it in the Syllabus of Errors, which, because it is teaching ex cathedra, is required for Catholics, unlike the Council, to obey both exteriorly and interiorly. The Syllabus is published still, as it must be, on the Vatican website side by side with the Council’s own counter-Syllabus, Gaudium et Spes, its complete opposite, according to Joseph Ratzinger, quoted on the cover of his Les Principes de la Theologie Catholique, 1982, where he evidently bragged of the fact. The reader is invited to compare the two. One is clear as water; the other — not so much.
It is urgent that we heed the Archbishop’s words and continue to press for the discussion of issues around “schools of thought and special tendencies.” We should not suffer quietly anymore announcements such as ‘German bishops call for married clergy,’ last week’s headline. We should write our little fingers off: not German bishops: liberal bishops. Now that SSPX’s talks with the Vatican are drawing to a close, without any movement on the liberal side, it may be that our task (for some sad and undetermined time) to simply begin to give the faithful, in a fervent evangelical outreach to deliver only one lesson, a new syllabus developed from the talks themselves. ‘Here on the one side is Liberalism. This is what the popes say about it. Here is how it has affected us. And here on the other is Tradition. This is how tradition would make the crooked ways straight.’ And we may have to spend our Saturday afternoons passing out educational and invitational leaflets at the mall and the sports arena and in our neighborhoods, until the people themselves rise and up and say, not to a civic oppressor, but to our very own Church: No more. Get the liberalism out!
Protest seems to be in season now, and muslims seem to be opening a door Vatican II was certain was closed, in islam’s strong desire for a religious state. In spite of attempts to always characterize islam’s teaching on the religious state as identical to terrorism, the US media nevertheless inadvertently discloses enough to potentially arouse curiosity among our own citizens. It could give us a platform for discussion, if we can take advantage of the opening, for as many Americans want the Christian religion to be a part of the constitution, as they told Gallup in 2008, as the people in Iran want sharia to be a part of theirs, and comparably to most other countries where muslims are in the majority. We too want a religious state; we just don’t know what to call it yet. Let’s teach us. Now that the talks are over, it would seem we have some time to fill.
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