Rorate Caeli

Vatican II: A discussion that can no longer be stopped

Whatever might be said about the current situation of the talks between the Vatican and the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), and whatever one's doctrinal position might be, one thing is clear: the frank discussion of the ambiguities of Vatican II and of post-Conciliar Vatican documents vis-a-vis the pre-Conciliar Magisterium has begun, and can no longer be stopped. While it would be easy to exaggerate the quality, extent and openness of the discussion so far, it cannot be denied that signs of it have been appearing in unlikely places, such as the following article that was published last week by the Homiletic and Pastoral Review.

Sept. 20, 2012 by Paul Kokoski. 

More and more, Catholics are shying away from using terms like “proselytizing,” “conversion,” and even “Catholic” in their ecumenical and inter-religious efforts, almost as if they were ashamed of the Gospel, or afraid of appearing as a “sign of contradiction.”

Vatican II’s Dignitatis Humanae states that every person has a “right” to religious freedom. They are not to be “coerced,” in any way, to act contrary to their own beliefs. In seemingly contradictory fashion, the same document exhorts Catholics to use the coercive power of truth in their missionary mandate to “make disciples of all nations”: “The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power.” Dignitatis Humanae thus invites Catholics to be both non-coercive, and coercive, in their dealings with non-Catholics. “Non-coercion” is understood in a negative sense to mean “non-missionary.” “Coercion” is understood in a positive sense to mean “missionary.” Vatican II, then, is inviting Catholics to be both a non-missionary, and a missionary, people. It is asserting, in effect, that two contradictory views of reality are merely different perceptions of the same thing. One can see in this confusion the promotion of a lethal system of religious indifferentism.

This same contradiction is advanced in other documents of Vatican II.  The “Decree on Ecumenism”(4), for example, states that there is no opposition between “ecumenical action” and “full Catholic communion.” This would seem to support the positive theory of coercion, i.e., that of proclaiming truth and correcting error, which has always been at the heart of the church’s missionary mandate. It forged world-wide conquests of many nations to the Catholic faith, and was the cause of countless martyrs. Other sections of the “Decree on Ecumenism” (No 3-4), as well as Vatican II’s “Decree on Religious Liberty,” decidedly support the non-coercive theory which negates the church’s pre-Vatican II missionary mandate of conversion, while implying that the “fullness of Catholic truth” is not necessary for salvation. This latter proposition has become the status quo among the Catholic faithful and church elite, including His Eminence Walter Cardinal Kasper, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope John Paul II. Cardinal Kasper has boldly stated, for example, that: “Today, we no longer understand ecumenism in the sense of a return, by which the others would ‘be converted’ and return to being ‘Catholics.’ This was expressly abandoned by Vatican II.” (Adista, Feb. 26, 2001).

In his speech to Protestants at World Youth Day 2005 (August 19), Pope Benedict XVI also explicitly denied the ecumenism of the return, stating: “And we now ask: What does it mean to restore the unity of all Christians? … this unity does not mean what could be called ‘ecumenism of the return’: that is, to deny and to reject one’s own faith history. Absolutely not!” In his book, “The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood” (p. 87-88), the Pope further states: ” … there is no appropriate category in Catholic thought for the phenomenon of Protestantism today (one can say the same of the relationship to the separated churches of the East). It is obvious that the old category of ‘heresy’ is no longer of any value. Heresy, for Scripture and the early Church, includes the idea of a personal decision against the unity of the Church, and heresy’s characteristic is pertinacia, the obstinacy of him who persist in his own private way. This, however, cannot be regarded as an appropriate description of the spiritual situation of the Protestant Christian. In the course of a now centuries-old history, Protestantism has made an important contribution to the realization of Christian faith, fulfilling a positive function … The conclusion is inescapable, then: Protestantism today is something different from the heresy in the traditional sense, a phenomenon whose true theological place has not yet been determined.”

In his book, Principles of Catholic Theology (pp. 197-198), Pope Benedict XVI further rejects calls for the collective conversion of Protestant churches to the Catholic faith, as “maximum solutions…. which offer no real hope for unity”.

Instances of Pope John Paul II’s support for the non- coercion theory are seen in the Assisi gatherings of October 1986 and January 2002. During Assisi 2002, John Paul provided “arranged” places in the Convent of Saint Francis for the practitioners of “the great world religions,” from Animism to Zoroastrianism, to enact their assorted cultic rituals. The inevitable public impression left by the Assisi event, especially when filtered through the prism of the secular media, was that all religions are more or less pleasing to God—the very thesis rejected as false by Pope Pius XI in his 1928 encyclical, Mortalium Animos.

Other indications of Pope John Paul II’s support for the non-coercive theory is: (1) his public kissing of the Koran during a 1999 visit to Rome; (2) the bestowal of pectoral crosses— symbols of episcopal authority—on Anglicans George Carey and Rowan Williams; and, (3) his active participation in pagan worship at a “sacred forest” in Togo.

False Ecumenism

The post-Vatican II contradiction of accepting both a coercion (conversion) and non-coercion (non-conversion) theory of ecumenism, simultaneously, was explicitly propounded by the Holy See’s representative to the Moscow Conference (November 30 – December 1, 2011), who stated: “Religious freedom should include the right to…convert… {and be} understood…as immunity from coercion.” (L’Osservatore Romano, December 14, 2012).

Now, there is no way to reconcile contradictory principles (in this case, coercion and non-coercion) without abandoning the principle of non-contradiction. The only conceivable way around this is to search, through “dialogue,” for a common language that can produce the appearance of supporting the two contradictory principles, at one and the same time. This, of course, is impossible without slipping into syncretism, which is exactly where the church is headed today.

Ecumenism is today viewed as a process of the recognition of values that are contained identically in every religious belief, with a greater or lesser prominence. There is, thus, never any movement from one religion to another, but only a process of “deepening” the truth one possesses by reference to the truth possessed by others, so that dialogue always brings enrichment to both parties. In effect, “dialogue,” and not Catholic faith, becomes the foundation for truth.

The word “dialogue” represents perhaps the biggest change in the mentality of the Church after Vatican II. The word was completely unknown and unused in the Church’s teaching before the council. It does not occur once in any previous council, or in papal encyclicals, or in sermons, or in pastoral practice. In the Vatican II documents, it occurs 28 times, twelve of them in the decree on ecumenism. It became the master word of post-conciliar thinking. People not only talk about ecumenical dialogue—dialogue between the Church and the world, ecclesial dialogue—but by an enormous misapplication: a dialogical structure attributed to theology, pedagogy, catechesis, the Trinity, the history of salvation, schools, families, the priesthood, the sacraments, redemption, and to everything else that had existed in the Church for centuries without the concept being in anybody’s mind or the word occurring in the language. The word marks a movement from the certain to the uncertain, the positive to the problematic. It essentially reduces evangelization from that of an authoritative proclamation to a dispute, or a conversation.

One of the major problems with dialogue, among others, is that it is impossible for everyone to dialogue due to insufficient knowledge. Yet, Vatican II’s decree on ecumenism states that everyone has a right to argue: “The concern {of ecumenical unity} extends to everyone, according to his talent.” At the local level of Church life, everyone can now participate—not as the Catholic system previously envisaged, by each person contributing his knowledge and playing his own proper part—but by everyone giving his opinion, and deciding on everything. This is exactly what has happened to the complete detriment of unity, and to the decay of both morals and faith. Nowhere is this more evident than in the legion of liturgical abuses.

The difference between the old and the new sorts of dialogue can be seen very clearly in the ends assigned to them. The old sort is aimed at demonstrating a truth, at producing a conviction in another person, and ultimately at conversion. The new dialogue is not directed towards the refuting of error, or the converting of one’s interlocutor.

Experience reveals that the post-conciliar period was devoted to the interpretation of the council, rather than to its implementation. After the council—armed with the new concept of “dialogue,” and indistinct and confused terms, like “spirit of the council”— innovators introduced these ideas in order to extract or exclude from the faith, elements they needed to extract or exclude. Using these terms, they could illuminate or obscure, gloss over or reinforce, individual parts of a text, or of a truth, as they saw fit. To this, the innovators added another technique, characteristic of those who disseminate error: that of hiding one truth behind another, enabling them to behave as if the hidden truth were not only hidden, but simply non-existent. The innovators also adopted words like “but” in their speeches in order to destroy, in their secondary assertions, what they laid down—yet still wished to maintain— in their principle assertions.

The goal now is to seek, with those outside the Church, a common language that can be used to smooth over and make one, contradictory and divergent paths, so as to include all people, and all beliefs, and, ultimately, to usher in a new world order. A classic example is the 1999 Vatican-Lutheran agreement on justification, which was framed to give one the impression that good “works” are both necessary, and not necessary, for salvation. Paragraph 39 of the agreement states, for example, that although “Catholics affirm the ‘meritorious’ character of good works… justification always remains the unmerited gift of grace.” Thus it is through dialogue—not Catholic truth—that doctrinal contradictions are made “to appear in a new light” (paragraph 41).

Another dialectic attempt to eliminate the law of non-contradiction is found in the new “Good Friday prayer for the Jews.” The new prayer infers that Jews both do, and do not, need to be converted. Pope Benedict XVI, in Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times (Ignatius Press, 2010) explains away his ambiguity in this way: “I thought that a modification was necessary in the ancient liturgy, in particular in reference to our relationship with our Jewish friends. I modified it in such a way that it contained our faith, that Christ is salvation for all. That there do not exist two ways of salvation, and that, therefore, Christ is also the savior of the Jews, and not only of the pagans. But also in such a way that one did not pray directly for the conversion of the Jews in a missionary sense, but that the Lord might hasten the historic hour in which we will all be united {emphasis added}.” Now, the anticipated “historic hour” of unity did not prevent Jesus from trying to “directly” convert the Jews over to himself. Nor did it prevent the pre-Vatican II church from doing the same. Why, then, should the post-conciliar church feel it necessary to refrain from doing so? Can it not be inferred, from this lack of conviction and fear of offending non-Catholic sensibilities, that the New Evangelization is being driven by a senseless shame of the Gospel?

Another example of the desire to gloss over, and obfuscate, contradictions is found in Nostra Aetate (3-4), which deliberately suggests that Muslims and Jews both do, and do not, believe in the one true God. (i.e., it is asserted that they both believe in the God of Abraham, but not in the God, Jesus— the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.)

Of course, any religion that purports to include all religions, is no religion at all. It is merely the strengthening of sound division under the appearance of unity. And no attempt at a common language will rectify this. One cannot reconcile what cannot be reconciled—especially in matters of morals and faith.


The church has failed miserably in her missionary mandate, not because of laziness or a lack of numbers. Rather, it is because she has quite simply lost sight of her own mandate. She doesn’t know, for example, whether to convert non-Catholics to the one true faith, or to merely wish them well in the safe haven of their own religious beliefs. Vatican II sanctions both opposing views as equally necessary. It is as if the Catholic Church is just one of many other churches, all of which need to “converge” toward a total Christ who is immanent in all denominations.

More and more, Catholics are shying away from using terms like “proselytizing,” “conversion,” and even “Catholic” in their ecumenical and inter-religious efforts, almost as if they were ashamed of the Gospel, or afraid of appearing as a “sign of contradiction.” In this confused state of diabolical disorientation, the Church has lost her ability to speak to the modern world about God with any clarity or conviction. She has, in fact, lost her salt, and become tasteless. Indeed, a kind of de-evangelization has set-in.

In order to erase the prevalent indifferentism, and growing skepticism, among Catholics, the church needs to re-examine her relationship with the modern world, and clarify her understanding of Christian unity. Otherwise the Church’s missionary activity will be reduced to nothing more than literacy programs, irrigation schemes, agricultural improvements, and health services—that is, the advancement of civilization rather than religion.