No Salvation Outside the Pastoral Council?

March 31, 2021

On the Corrispondenza Romana website of February 10, 2021, the historian Roberto de Mattei has taken up Pope Francis’s declaration during the meeting organized by the Office of Catechesis of the Italian Bishops’ Conference.

The Pope had affirmed there that the Second Vatican Council “is the magisterium of  the Church. Either you are with the Church and therefore you follow the Council, and if you do not follow the Council or you interpret it in your own way, as you wish, you are not with the Church. We must be demanding and strict on this point. The Council should not be negotiated.” 

The Italian scholar comments: “By these affirmations we have the impression that according to Pope Francis, those who criticize the Second Vatican Council put themselves outside the Church. However, today the criticisms about the Second Vatican Council do not come from an obstinate minority of traditionalists, but from a growing sphere of Catholics, who have recognized the catastrophic consequences of Vatican II.” 

“Moreover, what does ‘follow Vatican II’ mean? Adhering strictly to its documents? Yet these documents are widely disregarded, starting with the indications in liturgical matters from the constitution Sacrosanctum concilium. Other council documents are unclear and are open to opposing interpretations.”

“Does Pope Francis share Pope Benedict’s ‘hermeneutic of continuity’ whereby these documents should be interpreted in coherence with the Tradition of the Church, or should the documents be interpreted according to the ‘spirit of the Council’ as the School of Bologna [represented by Giuseppe Alberigo, a supporter of discontinuity. Editor's note] would like? In this second case should also Benedict XVI’s hermeneutic be considered outside the Church?”   

The Church historian notes that “Pope Francis said that opposition to Vatican II made him think of ‘a group of bishops who, after Vatican I, left, a group of lay people, to continue the ‘true doctrine’ that was not that of Vatican I: ‘We are the true Catholics.’”

“Today they ordain women. The strictest attitude, to guard the faith without the Magisterium of the Church, leads you to ruin. Please, no concessions to those who try to present a catechesis that does not agree with the Magisterium of the Church.”

This reference to the Old Catholics, anti-infallibilists of the 19th century, inspires Roberto de Mattei with a very relevant connection about contemporary progressives: “Pope Francis’s historical reference is to the so-called “old Catholics” who in 1870, rejected the dogma of papal primacy, were excommunicated and left the Church.  

However some ultra-progressive theologians like Andrea Grillo [professor of sacramental theology and liturgy at the Saint Anselm Institute in Rome. Editor's note], did not appreciate Pope Francis’s criticism of those dissident Catholics.”

“Grillo opposes their disobedience with the ‘obedience’ of the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck who accepted instrumentally the position of Vatican I, [the dogma of papal infallibility. Editor's note] to better control the German bishops.” Bismarck’s position, according to Grillo, “indicated a possible shift: that of  reducing all authority in the Church to the Pope.”

“Something that, almost a century later, Vatican II took great care to revise.”- which the progressive scholar praises, who continues: “Here then is the point. Obedience to Vatican II is the structural acquisition of its ‘pastoral nature.’ That is, a difference between ‘the substance of tradition’ and ‘the developing of  its position.’”

“The great season inaugurated by the Second Vatican Council –  which we are just at the beginning of – involves profound rethinking of the ‘institutional forms’ in relationship to ‘the substance of tradition.’ So we might discover that a few of the elements that led some people 150 years ago ‘not to accept’ Vatican I, today, in the light of Vatican II, may have become common patrimony.”

We cannot thank Andrea Grillo too much for defining the contribution of Vatican II in this way: the pastoral - non-doctrinal – council must be regarded as a structural acquisition of the Church. But as this pastoral nature is evolving, according to ever-changing needs, it offers the Church a structure of variable geometry.

Therefore, not to accept the structural acquisition of this pastoral character is to disobey the Council. But it is above all to obey the principle of non-contradiction that makes us refuse a soft structure, as we reject a squared circle.