From the excerpts of Cardinal Biffi's book, Memorie e digressioni di un italiano cardinale (Cantagalli, 2007) , published online by Sandro Magister, with some corrections:
There were just a few statements of [Pope John XXIII] that I found puzzling. And these were precisely the ones that won over hearts and minds more than any others, because they seemed consistent with people's instinctive aspirations.
There was, for example, his judgment of reproof on the "prophets of doom." [At the opening speech of the Second Vatican Council, Gaudet Mater Ecclesia: At Nobis plane dissentiendum esse videtur ab his rerum adversarum vaticinatoribus, qui deteriora semper praenuntiant, quasi rerum exitium instet.].
The expression became, and remained, extremely popular, and naturally so: the people do not like party poopers; they prefer those who promise good times over those who advance fears and reservations. And I, too, admired the courage and drive, during the last years of his life, of this "young" successor of Peter.
But I recall that a sense of perplexity seized me almost immediately. In the history of Revelation, the true prophets were the ones who usually announced chastisements and calamities, as in Isaiah (chapter 24), Jeremiah (chapter 4), and Ezekiel (chapters 4-11).
Jesus himself, in chapter 24 of the Gospel of Matthew, would have to be counted among the "prophets of doom": his proclamation of future triumphs and impending joys do not usually relate to existence here on earth, but rather to "eternal life" and the "Kingdom of Heaven."
But the people in the Bible who usually proclaim the imminence of tranquil and serene times are, instead, the false prophets (see chapter 13 of the Book of Ezekiel).
The statement from John XXIII is explained by his state of mind at the time, but it should not be made absolute. On the contrary, it would be well to listen also to those who have some reason to alert their brothers, preparing them for possible trials, and those who believe it is opportune to issue calls for prudence and vigilance.
The Christian people must be put on guard and defended against those who actually sow error, without ceasing to seek out his true well-being, and without judging anyone's subjective responsibility, which is known to God alone.
The Silent Council
Communism: the Council does not address this. If one attentively scans the comprehensive index, it is stunning to confront this categorical silence.
Communism was, without a doubt, the most imposing, enduring, pervasive historical phenomenon of the twentieth century; and the Council, despite having proposed a Constitution on the Church and the modern world, does not speak of it.
Beginning with its triumph in Russia in 1917, after half a century communism had succeeded in causing many tens of millions of deaths, the victims of mass terror and the most inhuman repression; and the Council does not speak of it.
Communism (for the first time in the history of human folly) had practically imposed atheism upon the populations subjected to it, as a sort of official philosophy and a paradoxical "religion of the state"; and the Council, although it addresses the case of atheists, does not speak of it.
During the same years when the ecumenical council sessions were being held, the communist prisons were still places of unspeakable sufferings and humiliations inflicted upon numerous "witnesses of the faith" (bishops, priests, devoted lay believers in Christ); and the Council does not speak of it.
A conversation with Pope John Paul II
...I also felt prompted to add a reservation of a pastoral nature: the unheard-of initiative of asking pardon for the errors and inconsistencies of past centuries would, in my view, scandalize the "little ones," those most favored by Jesus (cf. Matthew 11:25): because the faithful, who do not know how to make many theological distinctions, would see these self-accusations as a threat against their serene adhesion to the ecclesial mystery, which (as all the professions of faith tell us) is essentially a mystery of sanctity.
And these were the very words of the pope's reply: "Yes, that is true. That will require some thought." Unfortunately, he did not think about it enough.
In the Conclave of 2005
I would like to tell the future pope to pay attention to all problems. But first and most of all, he should take into account the state of confusion, disorientation, and aimlessness that afflicts the people of God in these years, and above all the 'little ones'.
A few days ago, I saw on television an elderly, devout religious sister who responded to the interviewer this way: 'This pope, who has died, was great above all because he taught us that all religions are equal'. I don't know whether John Paul II would have been very pleased by this sort of elegy.
Finally, I would like to point out to the new pope the incredible phenomenon of 'Dominus Iesus': a document explicitly endorsed and publicly approved by John Paul II; a document for which I am pleased to express my vibrant gratitude to Cardinal Ratzinger. That Jesus is the only necessary Savior of all is a truth that for over twenty centuries - beginning with Peter's discourse after Pentecost - it was never felt necessity to restate. This truth is, so to speak, the minimum threshold of the faith; it is the primordial certitude, it is among believers the simple and most essential fact. In two thousand years this has never been brought into doubt, not even during the crisis of Arianism, and not even during the upheaval of the Protestant Reformation. The fact of needing to issue a reminder of this in our time tells us the extent of the gravity of the current situation. And yet this document, which recalls the most basic, most simple, most essential certitude, has been called into question. It has been contested at all levels: at all levels of pastoral action, of theological instruction, of the hierarchy.
A good Catholic told me about asking his pastor to let him make a presentation of 'Dominus Iesus' to the parish community. The pastor (an otherwise excellent and well-intentioned priest) replied to him: 'Let it go. That's a document that divides.' What a discovery! Jesus himself said: 'I have come to bring division' (Luke 12:51).