Now Allowed: “Serious and Constructive Criticism of Vatican II”?

With this mailing, the “ Email List” takes on a new identity: «Ad Rem» A Weekly Email Message from the Prior. The simple format will remain essentially unchanged. Besides site updates and news about the Crusade, I plan to offer a brief, ad rem (“to the point”) commentary on a timely or otherwise important matter in each number.

Addendum: Several hours after this issue was emailed, I came upon an article Brian Mershon wrote on this new Institute (Renew America web site). While it does not touch upon the doctrinal question I address below, it gives much good information.

Last week, I made mention of the new pontifical rite Institute of the Good Shepherd. There is now a Wikipedia article on the new institute. What most interests us in the developing news is the doctrinal question outlined in that article:

“The Holy See granted the members of the new institute exclusive use, as the institute’s own rite, of the earlier form of the Roman liturgy. For their part, each of the founding members personally undertook to respect the authentic Magisterium of the See of Rome with “complete fidelty to the infallible Magistrium of the Church”. The members of the institute may engage in a criticism of the Second Vatican Council that is serious and constructive and in accord with Pope Benedict’s address of 22 December 2005 to the Roman Curia, while recognizing that it is for the Apostolic See to give the authentic interpretation of the Council. ”

The article footnotes a document in French, the Communiqué des prêtres de l’Institut du Bon Pasteur (Official Announcement of the priests of the Institute of the Good Shepherd). That Communiqué has a noteworthy passage concerning the new Institute’s approach to doctrinal questions surrounding Vatican II:

Par ailleurs, chaque membre fondateur reconnaît personnellement «respecter le Magistère authentique» du Siège Romain, dans «une fidélité entière au Magistère infaillible de l’Église» (Statuts II §2). D’un point de vue doctrinal, conformément au discours du pape Benoît XVI à la Curie Romaine le 22 décembre 2005, les membres de l’Institut, autant qu’il est en eux, sont engagés par une «critique sérieuse et constructive» du Concile Vatican II, pour permettre au Siège Apostolique d’en donner l’interprétation authentique.

Our (very unofficial) Translation: “In addition, each founding member personally agrees ‘to respect the authentic Magisterium’ of the Roman See, with ‘complete fidelity to the Infallible Magisterium of the Church’ (Statutes II §2). From a doctrinal point of view, in accordance with the address of Pope Benedict XVI to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005, the members of the Institute, as far as they are able, are engaged in ‘a serious and constructive critique’ of the Second Vatican Council, in order to bring about an authentic interpretation of the Council by the Apostolic See.”

This is significant. To the best of my knowledge, it has never been officially and explicitly allowed for anyone to offer a ” serious and constructive critique” of the contents of Vatican II. The misinterpretations of the Council, the atrocities committed “in the spirit of the Council,” have always been fair targets; but a critique of the texts themselves? That was never allowed. All who dared point out inconsistencies between the texts and the perennial Magisterium were dismissed as “integrists” and lumped in with extreme liberal “dissenters” like Hans Kung and company.

In his December 22 address to the Roman Curia, the Holy Father spoke of interpreting the Council in light of tradition. But here, we have an apparent permission to go beyond that. It’s one thing to render a traditional interpretation where there is an ambiguity. It is quite another to assert that something is out of continuity with the Church’s tradition. This could be the beginning of a sea change, a way for the Holy See to allow traditionalist theologians, without being accused of “dissent,” to show the serious theological problems they have with some of the conciliar texts — all in a spirit of complete fidelity.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a decree in May of 1990, Donum Veritatis, “On the Ecclesiastical Vocation of the Theologian.”It draws a distinction between the “collaborative relations” of a theologian and the Holy See on the one hand, and “dissent,” on the other. Here is a key passage that may be ad rem:

“28. The preceding considerations have a particular application to the case of the theologian who might have serious difficulties, for reasons which appear to him well founded, in accepting a non-irreformable magisterial teaching.


“29. In any case there should never be a diminishment of that fundamental openness loyally to accept the teaching of the Magisterium as is fitting for every believer by reason of the obedience of faith. The theologian will strive then to understand this teaching in its contents, arguments, and purposes. This will mean an intense and patient reflection on his part and a readiness, if need be, to revise his own opinions and examine the objections which his colleagues might offer him.

“30. If, despite a loyal effort on the theologian’s part, the difficulties persist, the theologian has the duty to make known to the Magisterial authorities the problems raised by the teaching in itself, in the arguments proposed to justify it, or even in the manner in which it is presented. He should do this in an evangelical spirit and with a profound desire to resolve the difficulties. His objections could then contribute to real progress and provide a stimulus to the Magisterium to propose the teaching of the Church in greater depth and with a clearer presentation of the arguments… .”

It would not at all surprise me if the members of the new Institute applied this text of erstwhile Cardinal Ratzinger to themselves and asked if the decree would allow them, as theologians serving the greater good of the Church, to enter into a “collaboration” with the Magisterium, without being accused of “dissent”: two words contrasted at length in Donum Veritatis.

This could, in theory, officially give voice to those of us who respectfully criticize certain vague and attenuating passages in the Conciliar texts concerning extra ecclesiam nulla salus.

We shall see.