I very much appreciate Archbishop Viganò taking the time to respond to my article that appeared in Inside the Vatican on July 27, 2020. However, I found his response, posted on August 10th at Inside the Vatican, disappointing, for he was evasive, and did not address the points I made, but rather made a further case for his own position. He hardly mentioned what I termed the Spirit’s “severe grace,” that followed upon Vatican II, and he entirely passed over what I termed the Spirit’s “beneficent grace” that was the direct result of Vatican II. In this light, I will now make my response to his letter.
First, instead of addressing my Inside the Vatican article, the archbishop brings to the fore a piece I wrote for The Catholic Thing (October 8, 2019). He does so because he thinks he can turn my own argument there against me, that is, to falsify what I wrote in Inside the Vatican, and so use it to promote his own highly ideological agenda. This is a very clever tactic, but one that does not work.
In my Catholic Thing article, I argued that Pope Francis, although the Pontiff of the Catholic Church, has become, for all practical purposes, the leader of those elements within the Church that are verging on schism, such as the bishops of Germany. Archbishop Viganò attempts to interpret my description of this double role as my dividing Pope Francis (the Pontiff) from Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the “exuberant” Argentinian. The archbishop then argues, in his letter to me, that the same can be said of the Second Vatican Council, that is, that the Council, while an authentic ecumenical council, ended up promoting an agenda that was schismatic and even heretical—the culprits being Pope John XXIII and those bishops and cardinals in league with him. Thus, as Pope Francis is both the Pope of the Church, and yet the leader of a potentially schismatic church, so the Council is both an authentic Council, and yet one that has, through its documents, provoked a schismatic church, one that, in its teaching on faith and morals, is contrary to previous Councils and magisterial teaching. In so doing, Vatican II has lost its magisterial legitimacy.
There is a twofold error within the archbishop’s very ingenious but problematic analysis. First, my analysis of Pope Francis as embodying two roles, that of Pontiff and that of being the practical leader of schismatic elements in the Church, is not the dividing of him into two different personae – that of Pontiff and that of the exuberant Argentinian. Rather, the problem I was calling attention to is not that they are two in some schizoid manner, but that they are one – Pope Francis as the authentic pontiff is the same person, the same pope, who is encouraging and allowing schismatic elements to take root within the Church. This “oneness” is precisely what makes the situation so dangerous and worrisome.
Second, in attempting to use, in a misleading and erroneous manner, my analysis of Pope Francis in relation to a possible schism, the archbishop passionately attempts to provide an analysis of what took place at Vatican II, but this strategy also fails. Vatican II is not one entity as an authentic Ecumenical Council, and another entity that fosters schism and heresy. There may have been all sorts of scheming and skullduggery going on before, during, and after the Council, but that does not nullify Vatican II’s authenticity.
Vatican II is not, to use the archbishop’s term, a “container-council” into which false doctrine was poured. What counts is what the Council taught, though one has to take into account, as the Council itself did, of the magisterial authority of each of it documents. As Dogmatic Constitutions, Lumen Gentium and Dei Verbum have much greater magisterial authority than those documents that are titled Decrees and Declarations. Even worse, because the archbishop sees Vatican II as a “container-council” into which heretical elements were smuggled, he designates it “a devil council.” If such was and still is the case, then we would have to admit that Ecumenical Councils do not necessarily teach reliably the faith handed down from the apostles, even where a council, including Vatican II, intends to state definitive doctrine.
Such a position smacks of being the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit. One has essentially placed one’s own judgement over that of the Council. Yes, there may be some ambiguities, but such ambiguity is not unique to Councils. There has always been some give-and-take when it comes to language, but whatever noetic content is contained in such language, it must be interpreted within the overarching previous magisterial and conciliar teaching. That being said, the archbishop consistently overstates the ambiguity contained within Vatican II, and equally consistently overlooks the clarity contained in Vatican II – often in opposition to the very issues that the archbishop is so concerned about, such as Modernism.
Furthermore, the archbishop, as noted above, accuses Pope John XXIII of being the instigator and leader of the charade that became the “devil’s council.” Such an unproven accusation borders on calumny. Pope John, to his credit, perceived what many did not see, the dire need for the Church to renew itself. It was the Holy Spirit and not the devil who inspired him to call the Council. Moreover, although Pope John did not live to see the aftermath of the Council, specifically what I term the Spirit’s “severe grace,” I am confident he would not have been pleased, but he would have recognized that these aberrations clearly manifested why the Church was in need of radical reform and renewal.
The archbishop also accuses Pope Paul VI of not simply allowing the evils that followed Vatican II to continue, but that, in his silence, he was actually sanctioning them. Again, this is a false reading of history. My judgement is that Pope Paul VI was somewhat weak in character, and, having been traumatized by the massive backlash against Humanae Vitae, and believing that the majority of the world’s bishops would not support him, as they had failed to do with regard to Humanae Vitae, he concluded that he was helpless in rectifying the situation. He lost hope. However, in the midst of the chaos, we must remember that Pope Paul did publish his encyclical letter, Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, on priestly celibacy (1967), and his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, on evangelization, neither of which promote the devil’s agenda. Surely, the devil was and still is quite perturbed by them. Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi was, is and will continue to be the foundational document for the new evangelization, an evangelization that Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI so strenuously promoted. Above all, perhaps, Paul VI authored The “Credo” of the People of God, which beautifully, clearly, and robustly professes the true faith of the apostolic Church. Thus, Paul VI should not be maligned as the archbishop does. Interestingly, while he is critical of John XXIII and Paul VI, the archbishop is silent about John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The reason for such silence, it seems to me, is that they do not fit the archbishop’s demonization of Vatican II. In accord with their Petrine ministry, they defended and promoted a proper interpretation of Vatican II, and so fostered an authentic renewal within the Church. Pope Francis, to my mind, seems to further some of the erroneous tendencies that the archbishop finds in Vatican II. As is well known, I am not a great admirer of Pope Francis, but I do not see him as a Vatican II pontiff. I see him rather as one whose heart does not beat in unison with the conciliar fathers.
I want now to address what I consider to be a very important component of Vatican II’s reception – the sensus fidelium – the sense of the faithful. After the Council, many lay Catholic men and women were, and are still, scandalized and angry by what took place, especially within their local Eucharistic celebrations. Yet, in the midst of all the bedlam, most of them never doubted that Vatican II was a true Ecumenical Council, an authoritative hierarchical assembly of the Church to which they belong. Moreover, most of the laity did not condemn the Council as such for what was taking place within their parishes. Rather, they recognized that the aberrations they were experiencing were the products of their sincere but misguided, and often wacky, pastors. Their very sense of the faith confirmed, and continues to assert, the Spirit-filled authenticity of Vatican II.
Archbishop Viganò sees the Second Vatican Council as schismatic, and even more than this, as heretical. My concern is that, in his radical reading of the Council, the archbishop is spawning his own schism. Through the all-pervasive social media, he, and those who voice opinions similar to his own, are leading God’s people, particularly the young, not into the Church but out of the Church. This leading out of the Church is also a leading into a church, a church they falsely believe is the true Church. There is a gnostic elitism within the archbishop’s ideological agenda – he and his followers are truly in “the know.” They “know” the falsity that resides in Vatican II and, in so knowing that falsity, they have commandeered the true faith to themselves. If it appears that the ultra-progressive liberal agenda is the work of the devil, so the ultra-conservative agenda is also the work of the devil. And, in the midst of these warring factions, the devil rejoices. Archbishop Viganò, I fear, has played into the hand of the devil – the very devil he fears the most. In so doing, his “liberal” opponents rejoice, for they know that the archbishop has lost all ecclesial credibility.
Upon reading the archbishop’s letter to me, the question came to me, and it has come to others a well: Did he actually write the letter? Yes, he signed the letter, and the letter may express his thought, but was he the one who composed on his computer the main arguments contained in the letter? I suspect not. The archbishop customarily writes in a hasty, meandering, stream-of-consciousness manner. Because of this manner of composing, he often does not express himself in a clear and logical manner, and thus, often he has to offer later corrections or clarifications. In his present letter to me, the style is much different. The arguments are clearly and logically put forward, though they are, while clever, counterfeit. Nonetheless, the stylistic marks of this letter manifest a hand that is not the archbishop’s. This does not undermine the letter’s authenticity, but it does mean that the archbishop is influenced by someone who shares the same false ideology as himself, and maybe in a manner that exceeds his own.
I would like to close by adding one personal note. Although I am willing to engage in the battle that is now being fought with ever greater intensity within Christ’s body, I can never arrogantly think that I am at the forefront of this battle. I know that there are bishops in the United States who are also very concerned about the present ecclesial situation. I hope and pray that they find a way in which they could properly join, as leaders, in the fray, for they possess an apostolic mandate, and so their voices carry magisterial authority, an authority that I, and others like me, do not possess. They are apostolic preachers of the Gospel, apostolic interpreters of Vatican II, and the apostolic shepherds who guide their flocks into the way of truth.
(Note: The opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of other CWR contributors or of Ignatius Press.)
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