Rorate Caeli

The SSPX and the Hermeneutic of Continuity: A Report from the SSPX "Convegno" in Rimini

Rorate presents the following translation, by Fr. Charles W. Johnson, of the Messa in Latino report on the SSPX "Convegno" in Rimini, held from October 22 to 24, 2010.

Meeting of Lefebvrists at Rimini: A Summing Up

It’s necessary to recognize clearly that in these times the superiors of the Fraternity of St. Pius X do not let themselves be swayed to grant interviews or make declarations concerning relations with Rome. And these are not indirect comments but true and authentic revelations from behind the scenes of the Vatican dialogues. After the interview reported yesterday (Messa in Latino is referring to this -- CAP), here is a summing up of the meeting held at Rimini in the last few days (for which we thank Marco Bongi, who sent it to us).

In one of his recent interviews, Monsignor Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the FSSPX, listed Italy as one of the countries in which the congregation founded by Mons. Marcel Lefebvre was expanding the most. This phenomenon emerged clearly in the 18th Meeting of Catholic Studies which, as every year, the Lefebvrists celebrated at Rimini at the end of October. The generous participation of the public, the authority of the speakers, the level of some new publications that were introduced, and, above all, the undoubted charisma of the Superior General, all contributed not a little to bring about the feeling of a rising force in traditional Catholicism in Italy, which is to be seen in the positions held by the Fraternity.

After an historical excursus, the true work, properly so called, of Friday evening, October 22nd, began with an introductory talk by the superior of the Italian district, Don Davide Pagliarani. He dealt with the theme, much debated, of the so-called “hermeneutic of continuity” in the interpretation of Vatican Council II.

The entire, detailed presentation concentrated on expounding and demonstrating a very precise thesis: the complex of ideas bound up with the hermeneutic of continuity, although most likely owing their origin in the intentions of Benedict XVI to salvaging the Council in some way, contains as in a “nutshell” the substantial failure of the same Council.

This basic idea was then laid out from a variety of perspectives:

1 – If the principle aim of VCII was that of explaining better the dogmas of the Faith to contemporary man and then, for at least forty years after its close, it never arrived at a univocal interpretation of its texts, it is evidently the result that, at least as far as communication is concerned, the Council was a failure.

2 – If someone, wishing to contest this obvious consideration, were to bring in the example of the slow application of certain other Councils, such as Nicea or Trent, he would err regarding history. Those Councils were received slowly because there was opposition to their application, not because there was a difficulty interpreting their texts.

3 – If we admit that there are problems with interpreting the conciliar texts, to whom would it pertain to give an authentic interpretation of these texts? Certainly not to theologians or bishops, but to the Supreme Authority that promulgated them, i.e. the Pope. And what was the first such interpretation given them by Benedict XVI [i.e., as a peritus at the Council—translator]? Certainly that of rupture. It is enough to consider certain important magisterial acts: for instance, did the liturgical reform rely on a hermeneutic of continuity? Can the [inter-religious—translator] meetings at Assisi be properly placed within the concept of ecumenism as enunciated by Catholic doctrine before VCII? In other words, it is incontrovertible that the hermeneutic of rupture has been adopted, albeit in the past, by numerous documents of the Papal Magisterium.

4 – A hermeneutic of continuity ought to presuppose as well continuity in the kind of language employed. Now, we can easily see that, while the definitions of Councils in the past retain their clarity and are recognizable as definitions even today, the language of VCII appears today as out-dated, linked to a 1960’s mentality, and profoundly different from the language of our own day. Would it then be necessary, as Cardinal Martini wanted, to hold a Council for each generation?

5 – Because the expressions of VCII are not definitions, it becomes difficult even to analyze them according to traditional interpretive criteria. Often in a single sentence, or a few lines later, perfectly orthodox expressions are found side by side with others that are plainly and willfully ambiguous. It becomes impossible to apply the interpretive rules always used by the Church unless there is first applied to the conciliar documents the classic canons of [dogmatic] definitions.

These themes were reprised soon after by Alessandro Gnocchi, a noted journalist and Catholic essayist. He dwelt on an examination of certain aspects of Benedict XVI’s pontificate, which, though muted, are profoundly disorientating for some groups of those classifying themselves as “Catholic.” The acts of the Pope that can be defined as “in conformity” with the previous [papal] “style” are not those which shall live on in history: before long, no one will remember the visits to mosques or to Lutheran churches. Instead, what is striking is Summorum Pontificum, the lifting of the excommunications, the opening of theological dialogue with the SSPX, the letter to bishops following the outcry over the lifting [of the excommunications], and, in a different arena, the speech at Ratisbon and the Year for Priests.

Extending a “line of credit” to the SSPX, according to Gnocchi, has profoundly displaced certain categories of Catholics that were quite at home in the cultural climate of the last pontificate. He defined such persons as “polite conservatives” or “quibblers” [uomini cavillo]: those, that is—and everyone was invited to list for himself the names of such—who were accustomed to the necessity of always choosing “a lesser evil,” who always managed to find some line or comma in every document from the Bishops Conferences that could give comfort to their consciences as self-described good Catholics.

Those, in other words, who believed themselves to be seated at the extreme right of the “Conciliarly correct” find themselves shoved aside, and they consider it extremely irritating.

The first step towards a restoration—still according to Alessandro Gnocchi—must necessarily be a shedding of light upon the past. To know what actually happened at the Council, during its preparation, and in the following years. It will also be important to find persons, outside the traditional world, who can corroborate our positions. For example, what Msgr. Gherardini has written assumes an importance which is much greater than if the same thing had been put forth by a member of the Fraternity.

Among other things, during the meeting, there was a presentation of Alessandro Gnocchi’s new book, entitled The Last Mass of Padre Pio [L’ultima Messa di Padre Pio]. In it is recounted the profound attachment the Saint had towards the immemorial Liturgy.

After Gnocchi, it was Prof. Corrado Guerre’s turn, a veteran apologist and friend of the Franciscans of the Immaculate. His report, with the significant title “God Is Catholic,” developed the argument along classical lines to contrast ours, the true religion, with the concept of the divinity found in Islam, in eastern religions, and in Protestantism.

Another impressive moment at the meeting occurred during the first afternoon with the talk by Cristina Siccardi, a journalist and writer, recently having become closer to the FSSPX. Her book dedicated to Mons. Marcel Lefebvre, published by SUGARCO, has in fact received numerous favorable and dissenting comments in the Catholic world. To her indubitably belongs the credit for having written the first-ever Italian biography of the great transalpine prelate.

Siccardi related, in a simple, conversational manner that did her credit, her meeting with the figure of Lefebvre. She came to him almost by chance during the course of her research for the publication of a biography of Paul VI. Her curiosity was aroused by the importance Montini attributed to the subject of Ecône in the face of the phenomenon’s relatively inconsistent smallness.

She intended thus to pursue this theme more profoundly and made his acquaintance; notwithstanding the exaggerated media reports, he immediately seemed to her to be a giant of the contemporary Church.

Today, at last, despite publishers’ long-standing silence, it seems that the French prelate has truly begun to interest Italian readers. After Cristina Siccardi’s book—at the Rimini conference of course—there was the presentation of a book “hot off the presses,” published by SUGARCO as well. It is an anthology of unpublished articles entitled quite significantly: I Hand on to You What I Have Received [Vi trasmetto quello che ho ricevuto]. It was also announced that other works dedicated to Mons. Lefebvre were in preparation as well.

The meeting ended with a long interview by Alessandro Gnocchi of Mons. Bernard Fellay. The Superior General of the FSSPX illustrated at length the spread of this religious congregation throughout the world.

As for relations with Rome, he used once more the image often discussed of two waves. The wave of auto-demolition continues on, but when Benedict XVI was elected, another wave, though small, began to attempt progress in the opposite direction.

The greatest problem, the bishop admitted, is that when one is speaking with curial authorities, one never knows if one’s interlocutor is sympathetic or not. Within the Curia an unprecedented struggle is underway.

Mons. Fellay gave some examples in evidence: a German Trappist monastery had written the Pope to ask permission to return to the ancient Liturgy and the ancient rule. Benedict XVI received their request kindly, but the letter of permission never reached its addressees. When a new, different part of the request came to the Pontiff’s attention, he was astonished that the previous letter never arrived.

Cases like this, according to the Superior of the FSSPX, are quite frequent.

He recounted as well that even in the episode of the subdiaconate ordinations of 2009 that were transferred, in an extraordinary move, from Germany to Ecône, the German bishops succeeded in obtaining a declaration by the Secretariate of State that made permission for the ordinations dependent on an integral acceptance of VCII. But with a telephone call, Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos assured Mons. Fellay that that was not the Pope’s understanding.

“Which were we to trust then,” concluded Mons. Fellay, “the official documents or a telephone call from a Cardinal?”

Finally, the bishop commented on the conference given by Msgr. Pozzo at the time of the priestly ordinations of the Fraternity of St. Peter.

He thought certain statements were “interesting” in that, for example, they admitted that the hermeneutic of rupture was already put into operation during the Council and not simply after its conclusion. Otherwise, there was the suggestion of a possibility of correcting certain conciliar texts, but each of these items remains only the beginning of a long process.

Marco Bongi


Giovanni A. Cattaneo said...

I take comfort that at least today there is a confrontation and denial is no longer part of our mental attitude.

Pope Benedict XVI has proven him self a true servant of the Church.

Cruise the Groove. said...

"He recounted as well that even in the episode of the subdiaconate ordinations of 2009 that were transferred, in an extraordinary move, from Germany to Ecône, the German bishops succeeded in obtaining a declaration by the Secretariate of State that made permission for the ordinations dependent on an integral acceptance of VCII. But with a telephone call, Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos assured Mons. Fellay that that was not the Pope’s understanding"

So again we see an affirmation from the Holy Father that the FSSPX are allowed to ordain priests, at least during short bursts of time.
It seems more and more obvious that there are traitors in the Curia that are trying desperately to sabatoge anything good that the Holy Father is trying to do for the FSSPX.
Apparently the Holy Father does one thing and some of the other powers that be travel in the opposite direction.

Anonymous said...

So... did those Cistercians finally get permission to use the old Cistercian rite?

-- Vellius Paterculus

Anonymous said...

So... did those Cistercians finally get permission to use the old Cistercian rite?

-- Vellius Paterculus

Yes- i believe he is speaking of the Abbey of Mariawald.

John McFarland said...

In English, "cavil" and "caviler" always or almost always refer to quibbling in a critical way -- on the attack, if you will.

It appears from Mr. Gnocchi's remarks about "uomini cavillo" that in Italian, cavilers are also those who quibble defensively -- for example, in defending the acts of Vatican II.

Although we don't have the usage in English, we certainly have the phenomenon to which it refers.


I was very heartened to learn of the greater availability of books about the SSPX in Italian, and the increased interest that presumably underlies the greater availability.

It gives me hope that American "Benedictines" might also start to learn something about the "Lefebvrists."

Br. Anthony, T.O.S.F. said...

There is no use in wasting time trying to correct the texts of Vatican II. The modernist spirit is prevalent throughout the documents and not just in particular places. The Council must go!

Ben said...

I'm not really sure what the 'ambiguous' teachings of Vatican II (that are so often alluded to, in this report and elsewhere) are meant to be.

Maybe some practical directives of 'Sacrosanctum Concilium' left a lot of leeway for 'interpretation', but as far as doctrine itself goes, I'm not aware of real ambiguity in a reasonable reading of any of the conciliar texts themselves.

One possible exception that might be argued, discussed elsewhere on this site, is 'Dei Verbum' 11 on inerrancy, but as many commentators have shown, a careful reading, especially in full context, shows the continuity with previous doctrine. But 'preconciliar' documents themselves often require a 'careful reading' , even just to make them consistent with one another.

'Unitatis Redintegratio' 3 affirms that only in the Catholic Church can the fullness of the means of salvation be obtained. 'Dignitatis Humanae' says that the traditional doctrine on the moral duty of individuals and societies to the true religion and the One Church of Christ remains intact, and has a whole section on the limits of religious liberty. (The 'Catechism of the Catholic Church', 2104-2109, had no great trouble synthesising preconciliar and conciliar teaching on the topic. And indeed the post-conciliar Magisterium has achieved a comparable synthesis over virtually the whole range of doctrine. )

If, in the same text, one sentence is clear and another sentence is ambiguous, it seems fairly obvious by the normal rules of human communication that to get at the true intention of the author, we interpret the ambiguous sentence in the light of the sentence whose meaning is clear.

This necessity isn't a particular 'defect' of Vatican II - it's a general fact of language. It just isn't possible to pack all possible clarifications into a single sentence. Certainly in the Scriptures, and in the teachings of Our Lord himself, we interpret a sentence that seems obscure to our minds (of which there are quite a few), in the light of another sentence which is clearer.

Liberals in the Church make their way, not by bringing forward supposedly 'ambiguous' texts, but by ignoring and contradicting the relevant texts altogether, and appealing to the notorious 'spirit' of the Council.

Cruise the Groove said...

Please do yourself a favor and read this book by Michael Dvies entitled 'Liturgical Time Bombs of Vatican II" and you will see why so many faithful Catholics are concerned about the concrete truth that there are deliberate and commonplace ambiguities placed in the documents of the Second Vatican Council.

rams said...

Its very interesting to see how, slowly but surely, the comments of for example "Br. Anthony, T.O.S.F." seem to become more and more in line with the mainstream official party line of the church. While those like "Br. Anthony, T.O.S.F." and "John McFarland" have been saying the same thing all along- the mentality of many prominent churchmen has been shift slowly towards theirs. Interesting indeed...

Ben said...

Cruise the Groove -

Thanks for the book recommendation - I'll try to get hold of it.

'Liturgical timebombs' does sound like a reference to practical, prudential errors of governance rather than doctrinal errors. The latter, albeit in 'non-infallible' pronouncements, would be far more obviously confronting and difficult for Catholic faith to come to terms with, unfortunate though the former would be.

I don't deny there may have been theologians and others trying to get unorthodox doctrinal teachings into the Council texts. And they may have actually succeeded in getting (not false but) ambiguous statements in there.

The Holy Spirit can deal with this, and always has! Ecumenical Councils are often a bit of an adventure (read about the proceedings of Constantinople II!), but with divine protection always becoming manifest in the final product.

The true interpretation of the ambiguous statements is found in the unambiguous ones, which all the (signing) Fathers (and above all Paul VI himself) likewise assented to: these unambiguous orthodox affirmations render orthodox the integral meaning of the whole text.

Since the orthodox interpretation of the whole is at least logically compatible with the ambiguous statements, whereas the unorthodox interpretation of the whole is logically incompatible with the unambiguous orthodox statements, the orthodox interpretation is the only reasonable one.

Rams -

I don't believe it will ever become mainstream to say, with Br Anthony, (due respect to him), 'The Council must go'. Discarding Vatican II, (supposing the Holy Spirit could allow such a thing) would deal a blow against the credibility of the Ordinary Magisterium, the devastating results of which would dwarf our present problems.

Yes, we can accept that there could be errors here and there among non-infallible magisterial statements, but if the Church said an entire Ecumenical Council was to be thrown out, why would anyone take serious notice of the Ordinary Magisterium ever again?

David said...

I don't think Vatican II will ever be "thrown out" - at least there are no precedents for that concerning previous ecumenical councils. However, I think that over the next few generations (by which most of us will have gone to our reward) there will be a strong dogmatic condemnation of errors to which the Modernist reading of the Council documents has given rise. And maybe - many years hence - a future pope will apologise for the confusion and scandal that were brought about by the ambiguous texts of the Council and the naivete of so many of the Council Fathers.

John McFarland said...

Dear rams,

I'm afraid that you're wrong regarding the officials of the Church.

What is afoot among them is the effort to find a diagnosis of the undoubted problems that is different from the diagnosis of the SSPX and its fellow travelers like Brother Anthony, and therefore can justify a treatment of the problems that does not involve putting Vatican II in the defendant's chair.

P.S. John McFarland is my real name, and so it doesn't need quotes.