Rorate Caeli

De Mattei explains the post-Conciliar crisis

Prof. Roberto de Mattei, author of the award-winning Il Concilio Vaticano II: una storia mai scritta (The Second Vatican II: A story never written), published this stirring review of a recently published book in Il Foglio last week (we owe the translation to our contributor Francesca Romana). He reviews Alessandro Gnocchi's and Mario Palmaro's La Bella Addormentata (Sleeping Beauty), on why the Church entered a deep crisis following the Council, and why she should rise again.

We must use this opportunity to, as a matter of justice, deeply thank Edizioni Lindau s.r.l. for their extreme kindness and gentleness in authorizing our publication of short excerpts of de Mattei's masterpiece. In dealing with clerical authorities recently on a similar matter, the unbelievable ensuing aggravation made us appreciate even more Lindau's wonderfully smooth approach. We can honestly say that de Mattei's book is the ideal historical companion to the more philosophical Iota Unum (whose most recent Italian edition was, by the way, also published by Lindau). Lindau also published the most recent books by Msgr. Brunero Gherardini, including one we particularly wish to recommend, and that should indeed be translated in many languages: Quaecumque dixero vobis, a work on Sacred Tradition that is deeper and wider than its size would indicate.

A rude awakening  for  “The Sleeping Beauty” of the Church after the Council

In less than a year we will celebrate the half a century that separates us from the Second Vatican Council, but the controversies that have accompanied  the recognition of the Acqui Storia Award for my book “The Second Vatican Council: a story never written” (Lindau 2010), confirm just how much that event represents a historical node that has still to be dissolved,  above all in the Catholic world.

“Everyone affirms that there is a crisis, but no-one wants to say that it has been the Council that created it: not in a positive manner but in a negative one:  that of not continuing with doctrinal definitions”,  wrote Don Gianni Baget Bozzo, in 2001 in the opening remarks of his essay “The Anti-Christ”.  Today, however, the questions on the floor are far too numerous and pressing that we cannot continue to avoid them. And Alessandro Gnocchi and Mario Palmaro do not evade these issues, on the contrary, they tackle them head on in their latest book under the highly imaginative title “The Sleeping Beauty. Why the Church entered a crisis after Vatican II. Why She will awaken.” (Vallecchi, 2011, 246 pages, € 12.50):  it is an excellent contribution in understanding  what happened in Rome between the 11th of October 1963 and the 8th of December 1965, and, above all, of what happened in the Church after that fateful three year period.
The Sleeping Beauty is the Church Herself and despite the sins of Her members, remains resplendent and immaculate, because in Herself, She is never sinful.  However, today it would seem that She is asleep, for the reason, that during the last five decades, the errors and betrayals of Her members appear to have plunged Her into a profound sleep, which resembles death.

How else can the paralysis that grips the priests and religious of today be defined if not sleep, when they are faced with the increasing attacks of those who would want to liquidate or twist the doctrines and the very foundation of the Church Herself?  Sins of silence and omission mean “ the soul is asleep”, which has its roots in the Church’s changed attitude towards the world,  proposed by Vatican II: a Council that was proposed as merely pastoral, and not dogmatic, as if all the other previous  dogmatic Councils were not also pastoral.

The fact is that the term pastoral, was nothing other than the transcription, inside the Church, of the kind defined by Gramsci*,  a praxis in vogue during the Sixties. Through the prevalence  of this praxis, it was expected that this same revolution would be brought inside the Church, [a revolution] with which the protest movement would strike Western society in 1968, just a few years later. There was a revolution, but more in the language and the mind-set, than in doctrine.  The praxis was the way in which the Church  related with the world, which, in fact, changed during those years, as Gnocchi and Palmaro note well -  in the abandoning of the Latin language, in apologetic preaching and in the defining and juridical methods of the Church.  Vatican II did not deliberate in an explicit and solemn manner the removal of all the above, nonetheless, the winds of the Council swept these three pillars away from Catholic communications, substituting them with a new way of expressing and  speaking to the faithful.  Latin was abandoned, apologetics were mocked and denigrated and the defining method substituted by new pastoral language, as vague and confusing as the previous was limpid and pure.  Once the primacy of this praxis was accepted, there followed the acceptance of the criteria of the mass-media, as real and authentic ecclesiastical categories: ratings instead of indicating the level of evangelization,  popularity instead of holiness.

By accepting the world’s mass-media language, the Church was compelled to submit to its rules.  The aim of the Church is the proclamation of the Truth, whatever it costs, while in the universe of the mass-media, the aim of the message is not the transmission of the truth, but only the diffusion of the message itself. But the message, at times, is spread more widely when it hides or deforms a truth,  and the success of the communication prevails over the truth of the message communicated.  Since the means is the message, in the final analysis, the scene is dominated by the means of communication, which communicate only themselves. In philosophical terms, they are not interested in what Kant would have called the thing in itself, the “noumenon”, but the phenomenon.   What is “true” is only that which is communicated and to what extent the message is diffused.

What are the fruits of this pastoral change? The most evident and sensational is in the crisis of the priesthood.  To give an example, in France on the eve of the Council, almost a thousand priests were ordained each year. In 2010 there were 88 priests ordained, less than 10 percent of what took place way back then. But going beyond the numbers, what is evident and palpable is the crisis in spirituality, which is expressed in the substitution of contemplation with that of the primacy of action. The majority of priests today are affected by the disease of “doing” , in other words, of a frenetic activism which makes them forget prayer and adoration.

The little abbot with the  red convertible sports car who presents himself to Guareschi’s Don Camillo, or Verdone’s** Don Alfio in “Io, loro e Lara”***, but also the parish priest that each one of us (may) encounter in the nearby church, incarnate a human form, a son – legitimate or illegitimate – that is another question – of  the Second Vatican Council.  They show the full tragedy of a Catholicism, which, Gnocchi and Palmaro explain well, “has changed centuries of metaphysics into pitiable  anthropology.”  The volume closes on a note of supernatural optimism which must characterize the thought and actions of every Catholic.  Who will be the Prince Charming that awakens the Sleeping Beauty?

Perhaps it will be the faithful themselves, the flock that has been abandoned,  “who will be obliged to request that Tradition, the Doctrine of the Church as well as the Mass and Sacraments are respected and restored to the people as God so desires.”  That this is the right road to take is confirmed by Giovanni Franzoni during a recent speech at a theological conference held in Madrid on the 18th of September this year.  Franzoni, born in 1928, ex-priest and ex-abbot of the Benedictine Monastery , San Paolo fuori le Mura, is one of the few surviving conciliar Fathers (together with his friend, Mons. Luigi Betazzi, emeritus Bishop of Ivrea).

In that speech, after having reconstructed the spirit, the expectations and the  disillusionment of the progressives, during and after the conciliar assizes, he comes to this conclusion: “To sum up, I would like to show the heart of the contrasts that have weighed on the Catholic Church for decades in this way: for Wojtyla and Ratzinger, Vatican II has to be seen in the light of the Council of Trent and Vatican I; for us, instead, those two Councils have to be read, and seen with a sense of proportion, in the light of Vatican II. Therefore, given these opposing angles, the differences are irremovable.”

For Franzoni, in short, as it is for the School of Bologna and even for some members of the “ecclesial white whale”****, the rule of faith is the Second Vatican Council.  The way suggested by John Paul II and Benedict XVI and followed by Gnocchi and Palmaro in their fine book, is the one opposite, of the  re-reading and when necessary, critical, of  the Second Vatican Council in the light of Tradition.

                                                                               Roberto De Mattei, “Il Foglio”, October 13, 2011
* Antonio Gramsci – one of the founders of the Italian Communist Party and the major Communist thinker in Western Europe in the 20th century.
** Verdone - an Italian comic actor and film director
*** “Io, loro e Lara” – Italian film directed by Verdone.
**** “Ecclesial white whale” in Italian “balena bianca ecclesiale” originally referred to the former Christian Democratic Party, the DC.