Rorate Caeli

In defense of Mons. Brunero Gherardini - Part 1

Recently, serious attacks have begun to appear against Mons. Brunero Gherardini’s theological reflections on the Second Vatican Council, as well as the history of that event which I, personally, have offered for examination. Discussions are never useless, but under the condition that they follow determined rules, beginning with the respect due to opinions which are different from our own. With regard to attacks directed at us, it seems, instead, that the violence and gratuitousness of the accusations, are proportionate to the meagerness of the arguments. Mons. Gherardini, myself and other gallant apologists, such as Father Serafino Lanzetta F.I., Alessandro Gnocchi and Mario Palmaro, are accused, on some web-sites, of being ‘crypto-sedevacantists’ and are lumped together with the Lutherans because of our ‘protestant mentality’ with ‘neo-agnostics pseudo-traditionalists’, with the progressives, which we would be united to because of our ‘individualistic pride’. I do not intend, for the moment, to respond to the accusations directed at me, but I sense it is my duty to intervene in defense of Mons. Brunero Gherardini, not only because of our friendship, but for the sake of justice.

First of all, it should be kept in mind that the main target of these rash attacks, Mons. Gherardini, born in Prato in 1925, ordained to the priesthood in 1948, official of the then Sacred Congregation of Seminaries, after having had the responsibility of the regional and diocesan seminaries in Italy, was called to the Pontifical Lateran University, where from 1968, he taught as Professor of Ecclesiology and was Dean of the Theological Faculty. Pupil and close collaborator of Mons. Antonio Piolanti, he was a member in charge of the Roman Pontifical Theological Academy, and also of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas. He was Director of the magazine “Divinitas”, canon of the Patriarchal Basilica of St. Peter’s, and until the end of last year, Postulator for the cause of the canonization of Blessed Pius IX. Further, besides being a great theologian, he is noted for his exemplary priesthood, and has never incurred any theological or canonical censure by any ecclesiastical authority.

He has dedicated his entire life to the Church and still serves Her with heightened zeal at an age when most of his priestly peers live in tranquility as retired ecclesiastics. This alone should be sufficient to compel the respect and admiration due to him, and even in the case of differences of opinion, to demand that he be treated with the deference and reverence which his religious habit and his academic career call for, and above all for the esteem which he is, in general, surrounded.
It should be added that on some themes pertaining to the Second Vatican Council, Mons. Gherardini ‘s positions have undoubtedly developed over the years, a consequence of the maturation of his thought, but certainly not into incoherencies and even less in contradictions. The same cannot be said of his main accuser, Fr. Pietro Cantoni, parish priest and author of an unpleasant volume in which some of his disciples present, explicitly, their accusations against Mons. Gherardini.
I know Fr. Cantoni just as well as I know Mons. Gherardini, having had contact with both of them since the beginning of the 1970s. At that time I was assistant to Augusto Del Noce, who disclosed to me that he thought Mons. Gherardini the best living Italian theologian. Piero Cantoni, who was born in Piacenza in 1950, was a young man coming from neo-pagan traditionalism. He had a conversion, due also to an experience of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius preached by Padre Lodovico Barrielle (1897 -1983), and so, a genuine religious vocation matured in him and he entered the seminary at Ecòne, where in 1978 he was ordained a priest by Mons, Marcel Lefebrve. As a result of his intellectual ability, he was nominated professor. I remember very well at that time, how he was fascinated by the theses of Father Guèrard de Lauriers (1898-1988), noted for his “theses of Cassiciacum”. According to these, from 1965 all the Popes are popes only in “materialiter” (accepting the scholastic term). Father de Lauriers, unlike Abp. Lefebvre , retained, that a Council cannot be erroneous in its decisions: the fact that some conciliar documents were in objective and undoubted contradiction with the perennial Magisterium of the Church, the Pope who had promulgated them, and his successors who had accepted them, by doing so, had lost at least on a formal level, their supreme authority. With this thesis, Father de Lauriers distanced himself from Abp. Lefebvre and in 1981 was consecrated a bishop, validly, but illicitly, by the emeritus Archbishop of Hué, the Vietnamese, Pierre Martin Ngò Dinh Thuc (1897-1984).

Fr. Piero Cantoni was not moved to take the hazardous step some of his religious brothers made by following Father de Lauriers, but he did not renounce the theological ideas which he had absorbed from the French Dominican, though he turned the terms upside down. Recognizing the supreme authority of the Pope, he concluded that the documents that he had retained contradictory with the Magisterium of the Church until then, should (now) have to be considered coherent with it. This simplistic equation, The Council = infallibility, veered towards sedevacantism or towards “concilarism ”. In 1981, Fr. Cantoni left the seminary at Ecòne with a group of Italian seminarians, was incardinated in the diocese of Apuania, became a parish priest and enrolled in the Lateran University, where he was welcomed in great charity by Mons. Gherardini. He graduated under the Monsignor’s guidance with research done on the “Novus Ordo Missae”. From 1973, the periodical Alleanza Cattolica “Cristianità” had hosted the writings of Abp. Marcel Lefebvre, Abp. Antonio de Castro Mayer and other traditional authors. In 1981,this relationship changed course, influenced by the theological inspirations of Fr. Cantoni. Abp. Lefebvre, and most of the so-called ‘traditionalist’ world, maintained a different position from the “sedevacantists” and the “concilarists” with which Fr. Cantoni was aligned. With the Episcopal consecrations of June 1988, which were valid, but illicit , Abp. Lefebrve placed himself in a canonically irregular position, which at present, is at the center of discussions between the Fraternity of Saint Pius and the Holy See.

(Riscossa Cristiana, Feb. 7, 2012 - Author: Prof. Roberto de Mattei - Translation and contribution: Francesca Romana)


  1. GQ Rep12:24 AM

    Thank you for your brave and noble defense of both a great theologian and scholar, but of also the most balanced and accurate presentation of Vatican II and it's unfortunate consequences over the last 50 years.
    Monsignor Gherardini's only offense is that he has spoken the truth about Vatican II, and many progressives and so called "neo-con" Catholics don't like to be confronted with reality. They like to leave Vatican II on it's pedistal where they have enshrined it. To them, Vatican II can do no wrong. That is a violation of valid judgement.

    God bless Msgr. Gherardini,his magnificent scholarship and service to the Church. Also the same to you at this website/blog for the defense of the a true reading of Vatican II, and in general a defense of our Catholic Church and tradition.

    You have always tried to present topics (even hot topics) in a fair, balanced and honest way devoid of vitriolic rhetoric, bias, and convenient half-truths twisted to fit your purpose (as other more liberal groups websites have when discussing similar topics).

    That's the mark of real professionalism. It's awesome.


  2. Brian1:27 AM

    Fascinating. Thank you for publishing this. I eagerly await Part II.

  3. Good liberals, knowing they can't postulate arguments defensible on their face, leverage ad hominem attacks.

    None other than now Cardinal Ranjith prefaces Msgr. Gherardini's book, The Ecumenical Vatican Council II, a Much Needed Discussion.

    That anyone would have the wherewithal to challenge the liberals' super-dogmatic dream council blows their minds; they simply can't wrap their heads around such "insouciant" "disrespect" and "disregard" for their dream-child, Vatican II.

    Well, as Gherardini has said, let's have a "discussion"! But liberals refuse to have a serious discussion because they would have to show their cards, and their cards will be trumped by Tradition!

  4. We eagerly await the great Professor de Mattei's recent work on "Vatican II: a history untold till now" in English.

    Thanks for publishing this as well.

  5. Thank you, NC, for posting this very informative portion of Dr. De Mattei's piece. I too look forward with the greatest interest and anticipation to the next installment. The more I read De Mattei the more I like him, so I Googled around and found, somewhat (at least!) to my surprise that he is the holder of a chair at the European University of Rome, located on via Aldobrandeschi, and so presumably with some connection to the Legion of Christ, whose general position on the Council, at least as I have read it, would not be the same as Prof. De Mattei's. I hope he will be able to continue his work there. It is a very interesting connection.

  6. Brian4:38 AM

    It is interesting how, according to Prof. Roberto de Mattei, an overly literalistic view that a Council (or Pope) cannot be at all mistaken in any of its decisions or teaching leads inexorably to either sedevacantism or conciliarism, i.e., to either the false conclusion the there is no current Pope or to the rigid belief that the documents of Vatican II must, henceforth, serve as the one and only lens through which Catholic Tradition and dogma MUST be interpreted.

    Could it be that Mons. Gherardini, Prof. Roberto de Mattei, and Archbishop Levevbre are correct, i.e., could it be possible that the Second Vatican Council and post-Conciliar popes may have been mistaken in some of their teaching?

    In other words, is it possible that a good Catholic can hold the belief that some, perhaps even much of conciliar and post-conciliar teaching expressed Catholic teaching inadequately, and that pre-conciliar popes provided a more clear and prudent explication of our Catholic Tradition?

  7. Gratias7:28 AM

    The closer we get to the regularization of SSPX the stronger the resistance to traditional Catholics will be. If there is no agreement the forces of Vatican II will gain more time to organize their opposition. Summorum Pontificum is the greatest danger to them, that is why they give no quarter.

  8. The attacks upon Msgr. Gherardini are redolent of that suffered by clergy, in the UK, who questioned the changes prior to and emanating from Vatican II and the eventual introduction of the NOM. I recall a parish priest, in Redhill, Surrey, warning of the trends, which have emerged as fact, as far back as 1960.

    Clergy, to-day, are nor prepared to face up to the logic of Msgr. Gherardini's tome, as it would destroy the quick-sand upon which their ministry is based.

    And Yes, Msgt. Lefebvre will be vindicated!

  9. Like Malta said, this is what happens when liberals are told the truth, they can't take it, thus the Ad Hominem invectives.

    As with all liberals, they cannot have an intelligent, adult conversation about a given topic they hold on to. Their only replies are like those out of a tele-marketer's playbook.

    God bless the good Monsignor. The reactions show he's done some good.


  10. Francis11:49 AM

    Very true. Liberalism is in itself an ideology that contradicts, and in most cases eliminates, established laws which come from God and nature. Liberalism is grounded in emotion, social engineering and modernism, that's why it is a self defeating and relativist ideology. When man becomes God, as liberals propose, everything can be changed that they consider "unfair", "archaic"and "traditional". Vatican II is part of their ideolgy. Everything before 1965 was bad (ie archaic) and everything after Vatican II was good (ie liberal and modernist). Yet liberalism being an ideology that has no strong foundation, cannot survive or be defended in a rational way by its proponents, therefore they must attack people they consider "conservative" and "traditional" and label them as extremists, rigid, racist, anti-woman or homophobic because that is their only defense.

  11. Cantoni was a seminarian at Ecône when I was there. Though I was aware he went over "to the other side" at some point, I had not heard all these details.


    "This simplistic equation, The Council = infallibility, veered towards sedevacantism or towards 'concilarism'."


    I, for one, will be very interested to see how (or if) Professor de Mattei is able to offer another equation based on concepts drawn from traditional, pre-Vatican II ecclesiology.

  12. Roman Catholic4:06 PM

    Prof. Roberto de Mattei is the founder of Centro Lepanto, which is an affiliate of Tradition, Family and Property, which was founded by Prof. Correa de Oliveira.

  13. Actually, the arguments of Gherardini (as well as SSPX) technically agree with the so-called "simplistic equation".

    Ghereardini, for example, says the following in his book:

    "A Council, as I have repeatedly pointed out, is the undeniable guarantee of true Catholic doctrine, the supreme pinnacle of the authentic and solemn Magisterium of the Church." (p. 213)

    Therefore, if a council produced some fasle teaching -- then by definition it can't be authentically magisterial. This is how Gherardini says it:

    "Someone has even gone further and has asked if an Ecumenical Council can fall into error in Faith and Morals...It is my opinion that this might be able to be verified, but in the very moment it is verified, the Ecumenical Council ceases to be such."

    So, the million dollar question is whether or not Vatican II was a legitimate and authentic act of the Magisterium -- guaranteed to be preserved from errors in faith. Again, Gherardini affirms the following....

    "Above all, it must be said – and in a clear and resounding way – that the Council was not a secret meeting like those which had already occasionally taken place, but which lacked form and especially substance; rather, this was a true and proper Ecumenical Council, with all of the approval of authenticity and conciliar validity." (p. 39)

    The arguments presented by the SSPX are not much different, however, they conclude that the council was not a legitimate or authentic act of the magisterium. The basic logic goes like this....

    "...the exercise of the magisterium is the employment of a function: even if most of the time this usage is correct, it always remains possible that the titular of a function may exercise the act defectively, which amounts to failing to accomplish the act...It thus appears that this magisterium was marked by a grave deficiency in its very act...when a council produces bad teaching, it is not the work of the magisterium; in fact, it is contrary to the magisterium, that is to say, against Tradition."

  14. The so-called simplistic equation is also substantially affirmed by the SSPX. For example, the study that was sent to the Holy See (along with the response to the doctrinal preamble) affirms the following as an "incontestable principle".

    "...the Church’s Teaching Authority is always assisted by God, and this assistance is necessary to assure the indefectible transmission of the deposit of faith. In this sense, the merely ordinary teaching authority also benefits from a certain charism of truth."

    The SSPX afirms this. But as said above -- the argument against Vatican II (and post Vatican II) -- is that it does not truly measure up to authentic acts of the magisterium, as such. So, true Pope but illegitimate or false "magisterial" acts.

  15. It is a known fact that the Council of Florence erred when defining the form of the Sacrament of Order, right? An error which Pius XII corrected with his Apostolic Constitution "Sacramentum Ordinis".

    Doesn't this fact alone prove as false the "Council = infallibility" equation?

  16. El Eremita, Gherardini has even gone further:

    "This [the general guidance of the Holy Spirit at a Council] does not mean that the Holy Spirit may not encounter formal or material resistance from the free-willed men who give life to the counciliar event. It is from this possibility that there arises the great risk which casts itself upon the background of the Council...namely, the possibility that it may even fail in some way. Someone has even gone further and has asked if an Ecumenical Council can fall into error in Faith and Morals. The opinions are at variance..."


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