28 August 2021

Cancelling Pope Benedict: Reflections on a Recent Article and the "Hermeneutic of Rupture"

'[O]ne of the best analyses to date of the impossible theological premises on which Pope Francis has enacted his campaign against the survival of the traditional rites of the Church.'

From Rorate Cæli

Rorate has received this excellent essay by “A Concerned Priest” and is pleased to share it with our readers. It is one of the best analyses to date of the impossible theological premises on which Pope Francis has enacted his campaign against the survival of the traditional rites of the Church.

Professor Martin Madar has written in La Croix (August 9, 2021) a revealing article concerning the larger project represented by Traditionis Custodes. It bears the title “Pope Francis should correct his predecessor on another point.”[0] The project here is one to which all Catholics, especially bishops, should pay close attention because it reveals what is really at stake in the current debates about the future of the traditional Mass. It is not so much the individual author who matters: he stands in for an ecclesiastical party that is very prominent today; were it otherwise, Catholics outside the ivory tower could just ignore this article and others like it.

Here we have yet another rearguard attempt to achieve the permanent institutionalization of the “hermeneutic of rupture” which Benedict XVI had dedicated his pontificate to combatting. We are told in this article that with his motu proprio, “Francis defended both the liturgical reform of Vatican II and the council’s ecclesiology,” but that “to be more thorough...Francis should correct a document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) from 2007, which asserts that Vatican II did not change the doctrine on the church.” In the rest of the article we can easily see the point: the author seems to bang his fist on the table and insist, But, yes! Vatican II really did change everything! Nothing can be the same anymore! You can’t believe like they did before the Council and you can’t worship like they did the before the Council! Although the author slams those he calls “Lefebvrists,” it seems not to occur to him that he shares their basic thesis that “Vatican II changed everything,” disagreeing only on whether the change was good or bad.

We shall return later to the attention paid by the author concerning the clarification made by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2007 and why he opines that it must be overturned. But first, some general considerations. In Catholicism today there are essentially three ways to grapple with the implications of the Second Vatican Council for the life of the Church going forward.

First, there is the more extreme (which does not necessarily mean false) traditionalist “rupturist” view which identifies outright contradictions between the teaching of Vatican II and that of earlier councils or popes, and which sees this rupture as a bad thing whose possibility can only be explained by the fact that the Council did not define dogmas or invoke the charism of infallibility on its teachings [1] and was thus theoretically capable of falling into error. In such a thesis, the resulting situation presses hard upon but does not destroy the indefectibility of the Church, which necessarily presupposes continuity in the Church’s (infallible) teachings.

Second, there is the progressivist “rupturist” view, which also sees an essential difference between pre- and post-Vatican II Catholicism, viewing this as a good thing and going so far as to see the Council as a New Pentecost or even, as one might say today, a Great Reset. The putative contradiction between pre-conciliar and post-conciliar teaching on things like ecumenism or religious liberty is not a problem to be solved but a rupture to be celebrated, since it portends the hoped-for change in other doctrinal spheres such as those of sexual morality or women’s ordination. For them, Vatican II opened the door to a new Church and we need to walk right through it and push back hard when anyone tries to shut the door.

Then there is a third view, which emphasizes the fundamental continuity in the Church before and after Vatican II [2]. It takes as its premise the notion that there cannot be a “new” Church; to suggest otherwise is to destroy the very foundations of Catholicism.

The overriding project of the Ratzinger pontificate was to combat “rupturist” ecclesiology. Pope Benedict’s liturgical initiatives—especially Summorum Pontificum—must be seen in this light. Yes, like John Paul II before him, he was also interested in finding the most just pastoral accommodation for the “rightful aspirations” of the “Catholic faithful who feel attached to some previous liturgical and disciplinary forms of the Latin tradition” [3] and in establishing this pastoral solution on a firm legal basis; yes, he was keenly interested in the question of the liturgy in its own right and saw that the new liturgy itself was not likely to be celebrated reverently, in visible continuity with the historic Roman Rite, unless it were to be infused with the ethos of the old [4]. But even more than that, Benedict XVI wanted concretely to oppose a widespread notion which has become such an unacknowledged assumption of Catholic life over the last half century. As he said in one of his papal audiences: “After the Second Vatican Council some were convinced that everything was new, that there was a different Church, that the pre-conciliar Church was finished and that we had another, totally ‘other’ Church—an anarchic utopianism!” [5].

Even from his time as cardinal-prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger saw clearly that opposition to the pre-Vatican II liturgy was more about opposition to the pre-Vatican II Church than it was about about aesthetics or liturgy as such. He put his finger on the problem when he said:

A sizable 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 … 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,” which is why he promoted the practical solution he did: “in order to emphasise that there is no essential break, that there is continuity in the Church, which retains its identity, 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. [6]

That is what was, and is, really at stake: the enduring identity of the Church.

This is not to say that those who prefer the New Mass call into question the Church’s defined (and thus irrevocable) Eucharistic doctrines; but it is to say that 

The “post-conciliar Church” does not have to be a new religion, but the crisis is that its most ardent partisans make it into one, and claim that theirs is the only plausible interpretation. Benedict, again, fought against this tendency, since it undermines the Church’s own self-identity. As he once wrote to the world’s bishops: “Some of those who put themselves forward as great defenders of the Council also need to be reminded that Vatican II embraces the entire doctrinal history of the Church. Anyone who wishes to be obedient to the Council has to accept the faith professed over the centuries, and cannot sever the roots from which the tree draws its life” [7]. Any truly Catholic hermeneutic (rule of interpretation) necessarily has to take this defined principle as its working premise: “That meaning of the sacred dogmas is ever to be maintained which has once been declared by Holy mother Church, and there must never be any abandonment of this sense under the pretext or in the name of a more profound understanding” [8]. That is a dogma of an ecumenical council.

The pressing problem in the Church today, then, is not: Do traditionalists accept Vatican II, but rather: Do the anti-traditionalists accept everything that came before Vatican II? 

When Pope Francis states in his letter accompanying Traditionis Custodes that the decision of Pope Benedict to issue Summorum Pontificum “was above all motivated by the desire to foster the healing of the schism with the movement of Mons. Lefebvre,” he is notoriously misrepresenting the truth. A pope can do many things, but changing history is not one of them. The still-living (!) legislator of Summorum Pontificum has contradicted Francis’s claim. Just a few short years ago, Benedict stated explicitly: “The reauthorization of the Tridentine Mass is often interpreted primarily as a concession to the Society of Saint Pius X. This is just absolutely false! It was important for me that the Church is one with herself inwardly, with her own past; that what was previously holy to her is not somehow wrong now” [10]. Only one of these two popes can be right about his claim, and basic human logic indicates that the one who issued Summorum knows what his own motives actually were.

This is the whole crux of the matter: 

, therefore, does not merely call into question Pope Benedict XVI’s entire theological legacy, but—what is far more serious—calls into question the Church’s own self-understanding. If the premises of 

Now, back to that article in La Croix. How does it privilege the hermeneutic of rupture?

The year 2007 must have been a bad year for people like Dr. Madar, because not only was Summorum Pontificum published, but also the lamented document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This is the double sin which Pope Francis must efface if he is to be the dutiful servant of the cause of rupture. Here is how Madar characterizes Benedict’s double sin:

It is hardly an accident that these two documents were issued within days of each other. Rather, they indicate that Pope Benedict was aware of a close connection between the council’s reform of the liturgy and its ecclesiology. Perhaps he was even responding to those who argued that the liturgy had to change because the ecclesiology had changed. What we hear from Benedict via CDF, however, is that the ecclesiology did not really change. Between the lines, the message seems to be that it would not be correct to restrict the use of the unreformed rite on the account that it is incompatible with the council’s ecclesiology and that its use severs the link between the lex orandi (the rule of prayer) and the lex credendi (the rule of belief).

The 2007 responsum from the CDF is noteworthy in several respects. First of all, the document in question is a response to dubia received by the Holy See about some questionable teachings arising in some quarters on the basis of appeals to certain texts of the Council. The Holy Office, acting in concert with the pope, whose duty it is to “confirm thy brethren” in the faith [11], thus showed itself solicitous to fulfil its role of preserving the unity of the faith. That is why “the Congregation wishes to respond to these questions by clarifying the authentic meaning of some ecclesiological expressions used by the magisterium which are open to misunderstanding in the theological debate” [12]. This approach is obviously a marked contrast to Pope Francis’s persistent refusal even to concede an audience to the Eminent authors of the dubia they submitted concerning the interpretation of Amoris laetitia, and its “expressions…which are open to misunderstanding.”

Second of all, the responsum contains five articles (dubia and responses), whereas Madar only addresses the first one, which rather generically states that the “Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to change this doctrine [concerning the Church].” The dubium had asked, “Did the Second Vatican Council change the Catholic doctrine on the Church?” Because he is mostly concerned by the “close connection between the liturgical reform of Vatican II and its ecclesiology,” Madar focuses in his article on the “People of God” ecclesiology promoted by Vatican II, supposedly in rupture with the different ecclesiology attributed to the medieval and Tridentine periods.

In fact, however, as the other four articles of the responsum show, the CDF document is not so much concerned with this internal ecclesiological question that so interests Madar (and certainly at different moments in Church history one aspect or the other of the Church’s doctrine concerning herself may have been emphasized), as it is with reasserting the Church’s understanding of her own identity, in contradistinction with non-Catholic bodies, since many people have understood Vatican II as renouncing the traditional idea that the Catholic Church is the “one true Church” founded by Jesus Christ. Though of less concern for the article in La Croix, because the liturgical implications are not as obvious, the question of whether Catholic dogma about the identity of the true Church has changed is obviously essential for addressing the “rupturist” project overall.

The pre-Vatican II doctrine was very clear: as recently as 1950 a pope could teach plainly, “the Mystical Body of Christ and the Roman Catholic Church are one and the same thing” [13], and recent books like those by Ralph Martin [14] and Eric Sammons [15] have shown that the eclipsing of this truth in the minds of Catholics since Vatican II (whether intended or not) has crippled evangelizing efforts. The responsum is trying to address the question of why the Council (in Lumen Gentium 8) used the expression “subsists in,” rather than the more readily understandable “is,” when speaking of the identity of the Catholic Church concretely existing now with the Church founded 2000 years ago by Jesus Christ. (Actually, though, we should not forget that the Council did also use the more conventional word “is” when defining the Church in another document: “The Holy Catholic Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ, is made up of the faithful who are organically united in the Holy Spirit by the same faith, the same sacraments and the same government” [16].)

The responsum makes clear that the Council’s intention was to find one handy verb which would both reaffirm the identity of the Catholic Church as the Church founded by Christ and teach that certain “elements of sanctification and truth” can be found in communities outside the visible confines of the Church—elements which belong by right to the Catholic Church but which can nonetheless be occasions of grace for those who are non-Catholics in good faith. Without wishing to reopen debates here about whether the subsistit in really was the most opportune way to express these truths (and without judging the success of the CDF’s attempt to justify this change of expression as having “developed, deepened and more fully explained” Catholic teaching), a correct understanding of the point Lumen Gentium is trying to make can be assisted by this insight from Cardinal Newman:

We do not think it necessary to carp at every instance of supernatural excellence among Protestants when it comes before us, or to explain it away; all we know is, that the grace given them is intended ultimately to bring them into the Church, and if it is not tending to do so, it will not ultimately profit them; but we as little deny its presence in their souls as they do themselves; and as the fact is no perplexity to us, it is no triumph to them. [17]

In other words, on this point, as on others, the optimism of Vatican II can benefit by being tempered by a dose of realism.

What frustrates Madar most about the corrective provided by the CDF in 2007 is the very assertion that Vatican II did not change any doctrine. For him it is important to assert that “the council’s ecclesiology represents a micro-rupture with the preconciliar ecclesiology.” To bolster his desire to overturn forever the supposedly clericalist ecclesiology of the Tridentine era in favor of a more democratic ecclesiology, he appeals to a well-known Notre Dame dissident:

The council’s renewal of liturgy was a logical and necessary follow-up to its renewal of ecclesiology. It could not have been otherwise. As Richard McBrien observes, “How could the council have spoken of the whole Church as the People of God, and then have allowed the Church’s central act of worship to remain a clerical rite, in an unintelligible language, with little or no meaningful role for the rest of the faithful?”

Latin Mass-going Catholics do not object to a theology of the Church drawing on the concept of the People of God, with its traditional biblical resonances. There is no contradiction between an ecclesiology that draws attention to the Church as the People of God and the celebration of the old Mass, which Madar denounces as “clericalist,” even though Vatican II emphasizes that “the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood...differ from one another in essence and not only in degree” [18]. The Old Testament antecedent of the People of God was clearly hierarchical, and this too sheds light on the New Testament Church, as we see in the rich typology of the traditional rites of ordination. So, Latin Mass-going Catholics do not object to the contributions that Vatican II can make to the theology of the Church; what they do object to, as all Catholics must, is the desire of the “rupturists” to banish the ecclesiology of Trent and Vatican I and Leo XIII and Pius XII in order to push a Marxist and overly horizontal interpretation of the People of God, and then on that basis to preclude the celebration of the inherited liturgy.

As one would expect, when Vatican II speaks of the Church as the “new People of God” [19], it cites a well-known line from the New Testament: “those who believe in Christ…are finally established as ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people…who in times past were not a people, but are now the people of God’” [20]. Protestants had already falsified the import of this verse by overlooking the fact that when God constituted His People under the former alliance, He used almost identical words: “you shall be to me a priestly kingdom, and a holy nation” [21]. When the Lord God constituted the people of Israel, He also gave them their sacred hierarchy, their Temple cult, and their minute and fastidious ritual—a liturgy which La Croix would certainly denounce as “a clerical rite…with little or no meaningful role for the rest of the faithful.” However, the People of God does not exist in opposition to an inherited and carefully articulated liturgy; it is constituted by the possession of such a liturgy!

Council of Trent

Even under the New Covenant, priests are also part of the People of God, and Vatican II states, “older [priests] should likewise endeavor to understand the mentality of younger priests, even though it be different from their own” [22]. The sledgehammer approach of Traditionis Custodes seems to indicate that many members of the geriatric Vatican II generation have not made peace with this teaching and that they still recoil unsympathetically in horror from the cassocks and Latin Masses which are part of the natural habitat of the younger clergy today.

The People of God surely also includes the “young persons” referred to by Benedict XVI, who “have discovered this liturgical form, felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them” [23]. Oddly enough, those who most vociferously promote a democratic view of the Church are often the ones most inclined to defend the clericalist power structure of the Bergoglio Vatican, in which a narrow court of fawning sycophants disregards the sentiments of the “little people” and imposes rigid norms from on high.

Ideologues who have latched onto their own idea of Vatican II are pathologically incapable of responding to Vatican II’s prophetic invitation to read “the signs of the times” [24]. One of those signs is that fact that, since the imposition of the liturgical reform, the overwhelming majority of the “People of God” who were supposed to be the beneficiaries of this new user-friendly liturgy glowingly described in Dr. Madar’s article have in fact stopped coming to Mass at all, and of those who do come, most do not believe in the Real Presence or that the Mass is a true propitiatory sacrifice. On the other hand, another sign of the times is the attraction felt by people born in the 1980s, ’90s and 2000s for a liturgy that connects them to their Catholic past. Does their voice not matter? Are not all sheep worth smelling?

Far from being a threat to the legacy of Vatican II properly understood, the restoration of the traditional Latin Mass provides the visible reaffirmation that the Church is at peace with herself, and it is only in the context of such a pax ecclesiastica—a necessary self-confidence—that any Council can be properly received. The establishment of this peace was the life’s work of Benedict XVI; and far from serving the interests of Vatican II, the hermeneutic of rupture in fact makes its reception untenable. By asking Pope Francis to push this hermeneutic even further, Madar and his ilk are showing their hand and exposing the entire conciliar experiment to failure.

Whether or not Madar and others of his ilk who are trying to push the waning Bergoglio pontificate in an even more explicitly rupturist view like it or not, any renewal in the Church today is going to have to accept as a given not only the “legitimacy” of Vatican II as a validly convened Council, but also the immutability of Catholic doctrine. 

Although Ratzinger himself certainly wanted on the whole to “save” Vatican II with his “hermeneutic of continuity” [25], he did also hint at the possibility that the only way to integrate Vatican II may also be, in a way, to relativize it, in the sense of receiving it only in relation to the Tradition that came before and not the other way around. As he pointed out already in 1988:

There are many accounts of it which give the impression that, from Vatican II onward, everything has been changed, and that what preceded it has no value or, at best, has value only in the light of Vatican II. The Second Vatican Council has not been treated as a part of the entire living Tradition of the Church, but as an end of Tradition, a new start from zero. The truth is that this particular Council defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council; and yet many treat it as though it had made itself into a sort of “super-dogma” which takes away the importance of all the rest [26].

Evaluations will differ as to how effective Pope Benedict’s solution was ever likely to be. By trying to save the conciliar “project,” perhaps he was ultimately trying to fix a gaping wound with a band-aid. Maybe the providential fallout over Traditionis Custodes is that the bishops of the Church, who on the whole are as startled and disoriented as everyone else by Pope Francis’s rigid and unpastoral motu proprio, will start to ask questions that for decades have been preemptively disqualified before the discussion could even begin. Is Vatican II, very much a product of its times, really the most solid basis for renewal in the Church of the twenty-first century? Does its juridical legitimacy as a Council really mean that all its pastoral orientations are effective or that none of its doctrinal formulations may be tainted with ambiguity? Given the catastrophic collapse of every single Catholic indicator over the last fifty years, are we not permitted to ask if there may be some causal relationship between the tree and the fruits? As one American bishop recently observed: “I’d like to point out that there is a difference between accepting the validity of the Second Vatican Council and believing that it has failed in its objectives” [27].

No Catholic—be he layman, theologian or bishop—should even start to absorb Vatican II until he has, for example, digested the Catechism of the Council of Trent and the great encyclicals of popes like Leo XIII, Pius X and Pius XII, and maybe even spent time with the much maligned classic pre-Vatican II theology manuals [28]. When Vatican II itself tells us that the Council “leaves untouched (integram) traditional Catholic doctrine” [29], it stands to reason that no one can adequately receive the Council to whom that “traditional Catholic doctrine” is not already second nature. One reason that the “hermeneutic of rupture” has enjoyed so much success and has been undergoing such a quasi-official recrudescence under Pope Francis is that so many of those whose reflexes are soundly Catholic but who simply accept Vatican II as a “given” do not have the solid foundation provided by the anterior doctrinal Tradition of the Church, which would be necessary for them to contextualize Vatican II and to oppose the errors of this hermeneutic of rupture.

Unwittingly, even many of the orthodox have accepted as if by osmosis the idea that Vatican II, unlike any earlier council, really does represent a “new beginning.” Regardless of how sanguine one is about the pastoral reforms of Vatican II or how hesitant one is about the occasional ambiguities in its wordy documents, 

The article in La Croix tells us: “To retire the experiment of Summorum Pontificum more thoroughly, Pope Francis should revisit the question of whether Vatican II changed the doctrine of the church.” But Summorum Pontificum is not the experiment that needs retiring. Articles like Madar’s—and, fundamentally, Traditionis Custodes itself—do more to discredit Vatican II in the eyes of Catholics than even the most strident traditionalist critique, because their premise is one that the Catholic conscience can never accept: the idea that the Church can contradict herself and still be herself.

Madar’s title suggests that one pope should “correct” his predecessor, and this premise is perhaps more correct than he knows. If the Catholic Church is to survive at all—which is a foregone conclusion, given the divine promises—then it is certain that a future pope will have to correct Pope Francis and put to rest forever the progressivist hermeneutic of rupture. For, when a pope needs correction, it is not because he has 

The fact that even relatively feeble reaffirmations of the immutability of Catholic dogma under the Ratzinger pontificate—like in the 2007 CDF document we have been considering or the earlier 

A. M. D. G.


[0] The article is behind a paywall.

[1] In a doctrinal note preceding the conciliar constitution Lumen gentium, an interpretive key is provided by this declaration already given by the Theological Commission of the Council on March 6, 1964: “Taking conciliar custom into consideration and also the pastoral purpose of the present Council, the sacred Council defines as binding on the Church only those things in matters of faith and morals which it shall openly declare to be binding. The rest of the things which the sacred Council sets forth, inasmuch as they are the teaching of the Church’s supreme magisterium, ought to be accepted and embraced by each and every one of Christ’s faithful according to the mind of the sacred Council. The mind of the Council becomes known either from the matter treated or from its manner of speaking, in accordance with the norms of theological interpretation” (emphasis added). At his general audience on January 12, 1966, after the Council had been closed, Pope Paul VI reiterated this proviso: “There are those who ask what authority, what theological qualification, the Council intended to give to its teachings, knowing that it avoided issuing solemn dogmatic definitions backed by the Church’s infallible teaching authority. The answer is known by those who remember the conciliar declaration of March 6, 1964, repeated on November 16, 1964. In view of the pastoral nature of the Council, it avoided proclaiming in an extraordinary manner any dogmas carrying the mark of infallibility.”

[2] This view covers something of a spectrum, depending on just how sanguine one is about the contributions of Vatican II or how concerned one is about its “points of doctrine which, perhaps because they are new, have not yet been well understood by some sections of the Church” (John Paul II, Ecclesia Dei Adflicta, 5.b, emphasis added). On the one hand, the fact that the teachings of Vatican II are not infallible should not cause one to leap automatically to the conclusion that they are necessarily erroneous. One the other hand, the sheer verbosity of this Council compared to every other Council in history, combined with the fact that it did not define any dogmas or issue any anathemas, with the precise language that both dogmatic definitions and anathemas require, opens the possibility that the Council could here and there contain ambiguities and even quite serious ones—all the more reason to apply to this Council a hermeneutic of continuity (or better yet, a hermeneutic of continuity by means of correction with Tradition), rather than a hermeneutic of rupture. When one encounters an ambiguity without having already absorbed the Tradition, in practice that ambiguity is likely to lead one into error.

[3] Ecclesia Dei Adflicta (July 2, 1988), 5.c.

[4] The meaning of the expression “Roman Rite” is very different for Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. For Benedict, it is a descriptive term: the Roman Rite as it slowly developed in history and became something that was passed down before being codified at the time of Pope Pius V after the Council of Trent. For Pope Francis, the Roman Rite is a purely juridical reality—something popes can simply create or discard as they see fit. Ratzinger’s view is this: “The Pope is not an absolute monarch whose will is law, but is the guardian of the authentic Tradition, and thereby the premier guarantor of obedience. … That is why, with respect to the Liturgy, he has the task of a gardener, not that of a technician who builds new machines and throws the old ones on the junk-pile” (“The Organic Development of the Liturgy,” 30 Days, 2004, no. 12), whereas Pope Francis feels able to make the mind-blowing statement that after a continuous usage of centuries, the historic Roman Rite is in 2021 quite simply not part of the Church’s lex credendi. This statement, like others in Traditionis Custodes, is contradicted explicitly by a claim of Ratzinger/Benedict which is much more grounded in reality: “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” (Fontgombault Conference, 2001, emphasis added). Since Pope Benedict clearly stated that the old rite “was never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, was always permitted” (letter Con Grande Fiducia, July 7, 2007), this means that Pope Francis is being disingenuous when he speaks of “the decision to suspend the faculty granted by my Predecessors” (emphasis added); in fact, Summorum Pontificum did not simply “grant a faculty” so much as it acknowledged a reality! The ecclesiological—and even ecumenical—implications of the differences between the views of Ratzinger and Bergoglio are striking, because Papa Francesco has an absolutist view of the papacy in which the pope has the power to change even reality and questions of fact. The repugnance with which Orthodox Christians and Protestant “fellow travellers” must regard such a parodied display of papal absolutism is not difficult to imagine. The Vatican II decree on ecumenism states: “All in the Church must preserve unity in essentials. But let all, according to the gifts they have received enjoy a proper freedom, in their various forms of spiritual life and discipline, in their different liturgical rites, and even in their theological elaborations of revealed truth” (Unitatis Redintegratio, 4).

[5] General Audience, March 10, 2010.

[6] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, in Alcuin Reid, ed., Looking Again at the Question of the Liturgy with Cardinal Ratzinger: Proceedings of the July 2001 Fontgombault Liturgical Conference (Saint Michael’s Abbey Press, 2003), pp. 20 and 149, emphasis added. Luther objected especially to the prayers of the Offertory and the Canon of the Roman Mass, as these prayers unmistakably express Catholic doctrine concerning the sacrificial nature of the Mass. The excision of these prayers in the liturgical reform raises uncomfortable questions.

[7] Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church, March 10, 2009.

[8] Vatican Council I, Dei Filius, cap. 4, 14.

[9] One of the tragic ironies of Traditionis Custodes is that Pope Francis, in his quest for unity, focuses on supposed breaches in unity caused by those attached to the traditional Mass but passes over in complete silence the very real disunity coming from the growing schism in Germany, the diversity of pastoral practices occasioned by his own Amoris Laetitia, the scandal of celebrity priests and even some bishops who promote LGBT ideology in rejection of Church teaching, etc. Pope Francis has tolerated or even actively abetted these offenses against unity, something everybody knows, even if many bishops are afraid to acknowledge this publicly. Even if some caustic traditionalists occasionally fall into faults against charity which are unfortunately encouraged by social media, it is not a bad tone which undermines the unity of the Church, but error, since all Catholics are bound to be united in the profession of the same (immutable) faith. To the extent that doctrinal error goes unchecked, to that extent the unity of the Church is undermined.

[10] Last Testament in His Own Words, Ignatius Press, 2017, pp. 201-202 (emphasis added). Already in 2001, Cardinal Ratzinger had stated: “Personally, I was from the beginning in favour of the freedom to continue using the old Missal, for a very simple reason: people were already beginning to talk about making a break with the pre-conciliar Church, and of developing various models of Church—a preconciliar and obsolete type of Church, and a new and conciliar type of Church. This is at any rate nowadays the slogan of the Lefebvrists, insisting that there are two Churches, and for them the great rupture becomes visible in the existence of two Missals, which are said to be irreconcilable with each other. It seems to me essential, the basic step, to recognise that both Missals are Missals of the Church, and belong to the Church which remains the same as ever” (Looking Again at the Question of the Liturgy, pp. 148-9). If anything, Pope Benedict’s decision to liberate the traditional Mass in Summorum Pontificum was, far from being a “concession” to the Society of Saint Pius X, rather a challenge to their way of thinking, with its emphasis on the rupture effected at Vatican II and through the reforms subsequently carried on in its name. One of the ironies of Traditionis Custodes is that, in qualifying the Novus Ordo as the “unique [i.e., only] expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite,” Pope Francis is implying that the reformed liturgy expresses a different theology than that expressed by the liturgy which the Church had used for many centuries—and which the Church had defended against the accusations of heretics. Whereas Pope Benedict made a noble attempt at demonstrating the basic continuity of the Church before and after Vatican II, Pope Francis is implicitly lending comfort to the theses of the more “extreme” traditionalists. If there really is such a rupture, then Pope Francis has perhaps made a very damning admission.

[11] Luke 22:32.

[12] Responses to Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church (June 29, 2007), Introduction.

[13] Pius XII, Humani Generis, 27.

[14] Will Many Be Saved? What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization, Eerdmans, 2012.

[15] Deadly Indifference: How the Church Lost Her Mission and How We Can Reclaim It, Crisis Publications, 2021.

[16] Orientalium Ecclesiarum, 2. The external bonds of unity which are constitutive of the true Church mentioned here are globally the same as those specified by Pius XII in his great encyclical on the Church: “Actually only those are to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith, and who have not been so unfortunate as to separate themselves from the unity of the Body, or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed” (Mystici Corporis, 22).

[17] Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching, Lecture 3, 5, emphasis added. John Henry Newman has been canonized by Pope Francis himself and is often hailed as a precursor of Vatican II, although many scholars, like Stanley Jaki, dispute this overly facile attribution.

[18] Lumen Gentium, 10, emphasis added.

[19] Lumen Gentium, 9.

[20] I Peter 2:9-10.

[21] Exodus 19:6.

[22] Presbyterorum Ordinis, 8.

[23] Letter accompanying Summorum Pontificum, July 7, 2007.

[24] Gaudium et Spes, 4. The Council refers on multiple occasions to the necessity of discerning the “signs of the times.” It is interesting that the Holy See, in a highly clericalist vein, sent its heavily skewed survey about the Latin Mass in 2020 only to the world’s bishops (many of whom said they did not even receive it), as opposed to consulting the People of God in general. (For that matter, while paying lip service to the authority of bishops, Pope Francis in fact ties their hands, as he did in 2016 when taking away their discretion in the erection of clerical and religious societies of diocesan right, in a way that treats bishops more as branch managers of Catholic Church, Inc., than as successors of the Apostles with true jurisdiction over their dioceses.) This strange lacuna goes directly against the teaching of Vatican II: “They [the clergy] must willingly listen to the laity, consider their wants in a fraternal spirit, recognize their experience and competence in the different areas of human activity, so that together with them they will be able to recognize the signs of the times” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 9). Many lay intellectuals, musicians, architects, students, and parents in the traditional movement have plenty of insights they can share with the hierarchy, in keeping with this invitation extended by Vatican II. The traditional laity would be delighted if Pope Francis and his Curia would “consider their wants in a fraternal spirit.” Whereas Summorum Pontificum made provisions for the faithful to contact their priest, then their bishop, then the Holy See itself in order to find practical ways to facilitate their aspirations, Traditionis Custodes harshly closes the door on the People of God and even orders bishops to see to it that “groups” of such faithful are not even allowed to form!

[25] In the famous Address to the Curia on December 22, 2005, Benedict uses the expression “‘hermeneutic of reform,’ of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us,” adding that the Church “is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God” (emphasis added), but in 2007 he did also adopt the expression “hermeneutic of continuity” (Sacramentum Caritatis, 3, n. 6).

[26] Address to the Bishops of Chile, July 13, 1988.

[27] Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, interview with Catholic World Report, July 27, 2021. On this question of whether an ecumenical council can fail to achieve its goals, Joseph Ratzinger once stated, speaking specifically of Lateran Council V, which preceded the outbreak of the Protestant Reformation by a few years: “Not every valid council in the history of the Church has been a fruitful one; in the last analysis, many of them have been a waste of time,” and the Council he refers to carried on its work “without doing anything effective to prevent the crisis that was happening” (Principles of Catholic Theology, p. 378).

[28] Rusty Reno, in his article “Theology after the Revolution,” First Things, May 2007, notes that “Ressourcement does not work if students have neither context nor framework in which to place the richness and depth of the tradition … without a standard theology, the Church will lack precisely the sort of internally coherent and widespread theological culture that is necessary for understanding and employing bold new experiments and fruitful recoveries of past traditions.”

[29] Dignitatis Humanae, 1; the word integram has the sense of whole and entire, undiminished. The context here is Catholic teaching on religious liberty: “Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.” See, for example, the writings of Professor Thomas Pink for one interpretation plausibly seeking continuity between pre-conciliar teaching on religious liberty and the teaching of Dignitatis Humanae.

[30] Quoted by Claudio Pierantoni in, Lamont and Pierantoni, eds., Defending the Faith Against Present Heresies, Arouca Press, 2021, pp. 237-8, emphasis added.

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