Rorate Caeli

‘The Council and the Eclipse of God’ Installment XIX: The Council’s Failure to Condemn the Moral Evil of Communism - by Don Pietro Leone


A.   The Council’s Failure to Condemn the Moral Evil of Communism [1]



John XXIII with Vitalij Borovoj and Vladimir Kotjarov. the two observers of the Russian Orthodox Church who partcipated at the Second Vatican Council.

Historical Sketch


Despite the claims to charismatic inspiration for the Council, the opinion of many of the Fathers that large parts of Europe would become overtly Communist, were later shown to be mistaken. Such an opinion led to the policy of ‘the outstretched hand.’ In accordance with this policy, the Kremlin permitted two prelates of the Patriarchate of Moscow to attend the Council on condition that the Council made no explicit condemnation of Communism [2]. It seems that in 1962 a secret meeting had been arranged in Metz between Cardinal Tisserant and Metropolitan Nikodim to this effect. In 1964 Pope Paul VI agreed with the prelate responsible for re-elaborating the chapter in Gaudium et Spes on atheism that any condemnation of Communism should be avoided. He encouraged him by telling him: ‘Yes, it is at the same time delicate and indispensable’ [3].  The editors of the document maintained that a condemnation would not have conformed to the pastoral character of the Council, and would have constituted an obstacle to ‘dialogue’ with the Communist régimes.


Cardinal Tisserant 

Metropolitan Nikodim

(They had a a secret meeting in 1962 in Metz, to help with the muzzling of the Council on Communism) 

The Traditionalist ‘International Group of Fathers’ made an appeal to the other Fathers of whom 334 joined in complaining that Communism had not been condemned. The petition consisting of the Fathers’ modi (amendments), together with their signatures, was handed in by Monsignors Proença Sigaud and Lefebvre on the final day established for such communications. 71 additional Fathers wrote 10 days later, and a further 30 at the beginning of November. The lateness of the arrival of these two subsequent batches of documents did not, however, disqualify them from consideration by the Commissions in question, since they counted as ‘adhesions’ to the 335 amendments already handed in.

An excerpt from an article in The Times of London in 1965

The petition reached Monsignor Achille Glorieux, who, however, failed to convey it to the Commissions working on the schema. Father Wiltgen described the fact that one man had been able prevent a document of such importance from reaching the commission to which it had been officially addressed, as a great tragedy and a major scandal. On the subsequent protest of Monsignor Carli, Monsignor Glorieux claimed that the petition had arrived after the time limit, which the Council Secretary Monsignor Felice promptly showed to be false. The following month, Monsignor Garrone, Relator of the Commission for the Schema, affirmed in the general congregation that the Commission’s procedure conformed to the Council’s ‘pastoral aim’, with the ‘express will’ of the two Popes, and the tenor of the discussions on this subject on the Council floor. Monsignor Carli presented a recourse that the assembly be given the amendments, as was allowed for by the rules, but the petition had mysteriously disappeared [4].


Monsignor  Achille Glorieux - claimed that the petitions from the Bishops (that would have pleaded with the Council to condemn Communism )  had arrived after the time limit, which the Council Secretary Monsignor Felice promptly showed to be false.

Furthermore, it turned out that Cardinal Tisserant had not even convoked the relevant Presidential Counsel to examine the recourse, because, as he later explained to the Pope in a meeting in the Pope’s study on the 26th November, Cardinal Wyszynski, a member of the Counsel, was so intransigently opposed to Communism. All the members of this meeting, which consisted also of Cardinal Cicognani, and Monsignors Garrone, Felice and Dell’Acqua, agreed that that the Council should not renew the condemnation of Communism. Consequently, the sections of Lumen Gentium concerning atheism remained substantially the same. Amongst the few amendments admitted, the most significant shall now be examined.


Cardinal Amleto Giovanni Cicognani, along with other prelates at a meeting with the Pope on November 26, agreed thet the Council should not condemn Communism. 


Analysis of Text


‘The church… cannot cease, as in the past, to deplore, sadly yet with the utmost firmness, those harmful teachings and ways of acting which are in contrast with reason and with common human experience, which cast humanity down from the noble state to which it was born’ (LG 21).


The Pope ensured that this text was furnished with a footnote, after the words: ‘as in the past’, referring to other Papal encyclicals which did explicitly condemn Communism, although the footnote does not state this expressly. We see then that the complaints of the Fathers were not accepted, and Communism was not explicitly condemned. The Fathers of the International Group had warned that: ‘…to-morrow the Council will be reproved – and justly so – for its silence on Communism which will be taken as sign of cowardice and conniving’ [5]. Archbishop Lefebvre wrote subsequently: ‘the refusal by this pastoral Council to issue any official condemnation of Communism alone suffices to disgrace it for all time, when one thinks of the tens of millions of martyrs, of people having their personalities scientifically destroyed…’ [6].


We saw above that Monsignor Garrone had warned that the condemnation of communism would not be ‘pastoral’, as though pastorality consisted merely in the administration of the internal affairs of the Catholic Church. But the primary meaning of pastorality, as we have observed above, is governance: principally through the proclamation of Truth and Morals and the condemnation of error and evil, proclamations that are to be addressed not just to Catholics, but to the whole world. An example is the Church’s constant condemnation of Freemasonry in the past. For this reason the condemnation of Communism would indeed have been eminently pastoral, in condemning its evil and in warning Catholics against supporting it. The Council’s failure to condemn it can only be understood as resulting from a lack of Faith and of the courage which Faith brings with it, so as to prefer peace between men to the Truth [7].


Cardinal Willibrands with Metropolitan Nikodim leaving together on the last day of the Second Vatican Council, where Communism was not even mentioned in the Council documents never mind condemned. 

[1] RdM VI 9; MD pjc ch.11

[2] Pope Paul VI sent a note to Monsignor Felice during the Council concerning the possibility of such a condemnation, referring to ‘the Council’s engagements... not to speak of communism (1962)’ (‘gli impegni del Concilio... di non parlare di comunismo (1962)’ ). The date cited appears to refer to the meeting in Metz and to confirm the Vatican’s commitment not to condemn Communism in any form during the Council.

[3]Oui, c’est à la fois délicat et indispensable

[4] ‘a member of the Commission admitted that this was by no means the only intervention which had been ‘sidetracked in this way’ cf. Cardinal Heenan, A Crown of Thorns p.343, MD pjc p.152

[5] Fr. Wiltgen the Rhine Flows into the Tiber, p. 274, MD pjc, p.150

[6] Lettres aux amis et bienfaiteurs, 9, MD pjc, p.149

[7] which constitute futher examples of the false principles of scepticism and  subjectivism