On Profound Crisis in the Church
(Special Report on a Lecture by
Roberto de Mattei)
Roberto de Mattei
By Vincent Chiarello
COSMOS CLUB, April 9, 2014—The stately Cosmos Club of Washington D.C., located in “Embassy Row” of our nation’s capital was the site of a recent talk by the Italian historian of religion, Roberto de Mattei. The attractive external design of the Cosmos Club is reminiscent of French la belle époque style architecture, and was constructed at the turn of the 20th century.
A crowd of more than 100, including at least four Catholic priests, attended the one-hour lecture in which de Mattei laid out the consequences of Vatican II, the expanded details of which are included in his recently published, The Second Vatican Council, an Unwritten Story.
Roberto de Mattei serves as President of the Lepanto Foundation, which, although American in its origins, maintains an office in Rome and is associated with Italian Christian organizations such as Marcia per la Vita - the March for Life.
He is the editor of the Italian journal,
Radici Cristiane (Christian Roots), and for his work with the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, the Holy See awarded him the insignia of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great.
He is also the author of The Vicar of Christ: Between the Ordinary and the Exceptional, and teaches Church History at the European University of Rome, where he is the head of the Faculty of Historical Sciences.
De Mattei became a focus of attention when he was recently relieved of his position at Radio Maria, a Vatican radio station, after four years. He was told by Radio Maria’s Director, Fr.
Livio Fanzaga, the priest who hired him, that the principal reason for his dismissal was that he had not affirmed the teaching of the Magisterium of the Church (my emphasis), something that still puzzles de Mattei and many others.
In an interview prior to his departure to the U.S., de Mattei stated that he believes that his support in gathering signatures in support of the Franciscans of the Immaculate to offer the Tridentine Mass was “not liked by certain high ecclesiastics, who asked Fr. Livio for my head.” He then added that since Vatican II, while calling for “dialogue” with separated brethren, “...they (the anti-Traditionalists in the Vatican) use a fist of iron toward those within the Church who do not want to stray from the unchangeable Tradition of the Church.”
Why he would become a troublemaker, subversive, or even a heretic to certain members of the Vatican’s dicastri (departments) was a theme, amongst others, that he would try to explain as part of the lecture at the Cosmos Club.
In attempting to describe the changes in the Church over the past half century, Professor de Mattei sought to connect, as a historian, not a theologian, the impact of other cataclysmic events such as the French Revolution, “the mother of all revolutions,” to changing attitudes in the Church, something that another contributor to The Remnant, Prof. John Rao, has also described.
As a historian he could see the early evidence of those consequences as Vatican II unfolded over the arc of a half century, and which are now clearly detectable to any observer. Noticeable changes from the Church’s earlier attitudes, de Mattei emphasized, came about as the Church increasingly adopted, perhaps unwittingly, the philosophical framework of the Italian Communist, Antonio Gramsci, who claimed that Socialism/Communism would “march through the institutions,” but in a nonviolent way. Gramsci’s philosophical victory, de Matttei maintains, is in claiming that “objective truth” would overtake that of “supernatural truth,” and that religious belief would slowly be replaced by a philosophical framework in which in order to survive the Church must modernize. That transformation is described by de Mattei as “principle giving way to praxis,” a situation in which the Church has increasingly “ceased to fight” for its principles. The historical evidence of that reversal, among other accommodations with modernism, “the synthesis of all heresies,” can be found the documents of Vatican II.
While it is fair to say, as one questioner did, that although few recall the four Constitutions of the French Republic during the Revolution, most recall at least one major historical consequence: the guillotine. De Mattei reiterated that it makes little sense to examine the documents of Vatican II in a vacuum; it is what has historically happened to the Church in the intervening half century that really matters. To de Mattei there could be no question that a “profound crisis within the Church” now engulfs it.
Many in the audience that night were aware of the paper delivered by Walter Cardinal Kasper in February of this year to a gathering at the Consistory on the topic of the family in preparation for the Synod that will be held in the Vatican this coming October. The German Cardinal’s paper expressed his (emphasis mine) belief that there should be a willingness by the Church to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments of the Church, including communion. As if on cue, major newspapers in the U.S. and Europe seized upon the prelate’s words to theorize that the Church was, indeed, making an effort to accommodate its principles with the modern world, a primary objective – aggiornamento – of Pope John XXIII in convoking of the Second Vatican Council. Those in the audience who wondered if de Mattei would broach that subject were not disappointed, for Kasper’s proposal came under scrutiny almost at the start of the historian’s talk.
Referring to Cardinal Kasper’s approach as “sociological,” de Mattei described the proposal as being framed in a way that pits “Church doctrine versus real-life convictions of many Christians,” as if one were at odds with the other. Further, the end result of such “situational ethics” changes would, aside from its antithetical nature to Catholic dogma, lead most certainly to “Catholic divorce” and permission of cohabitation. Cardinal Kasper’s overall approach was, then, a plea which de Mattei described as, “...the Church must adapt to the forces of history, not history to the unchanging principles of the Church.”
Cardinal Kasper’s novel approach to re-thinking the sacrament of marriage is a direct historical result of Vatican II’s emphasis on “pastoral orthodoxy” as being the sine qua non of Church practice, even though it was patently antithetical to accepted Church doctrine for centuries.
For a Traditional comparison to Cardinal Kasper’s proposal, de Mattei pointed to Pope Pius XII, who defined the morality issue in marriage thus: “ Continence within and outside of marriage is a Christian value; sexual union outside the sacrament of marriage of matrimony is a grave sin.” What Kasper was proposing had eliminated those differences, which had been “what the moralists always taught,” and at the same time the German Cardinal was discarding the dogmatic teachings of the pre-Vatican II Church, a major consequence of the Council. It is hard to believe that the participants in that aggiornamento suspected anything like the Kasper proposal would ever be considered, yet alone discussed.
In attempting to explain the apparent amnesia that now is an integral part of current Church teaching, the lecturer devoted a lengthy review of the Vatican II document, Gaudium et Spes(Joys and Hopes), which was “supposed to be the ‘first proving ground’ of the Church’s capacity to enter into dialogue with the world,” or as described by one of the participants, “the promised land of the Council.”
Here de Mattei points an accusatory finger at the Leon-Joseph Suenens, then Cardinal Archbishop of Brussels, who during the Council deliberations was relentless in his effort to “connect the Church’s teaching to the modern world,” and “became an icon of the Second Vatican Council.”
Historically, the primary purpose of Catholic marriage was “to give children to God,” followed by the requirements of “mutual love and respect,” but in July ‘64, Pope Paul VI approved theschema (outline or preliminary text), drafted under the supervision of Cardinal Suenens which omitted that priority and now placed “giving children to God” and “mutual love and respect” on an equal footing. It also inserted that decisions regarding marriage, which of course included the use of birth control, could be left “up to the conscience” of the couple. The dominant role of the human conscience, rather than the application of ethical rules, was a further demonstration that the Council was now being orchestrated by prelates who had an aversion to universal moral laws: individual conscience, not Church doctrine, was to be sovereign in these matters.
When Cardinal Suenens, in an impassioned plea to the Council Fathers questioned the Church’s previous marital priority and claimed that it had been, “over-emphasized to the detriment of the marital union,” he drew an interesting analogy: “Let us avoid another Galileo trial.” At that point, enraged by the speaker’s tone Ernesto Cardinal Ruffini pounded his fist on the table and later characterized Suenens’ words as, “horrendous,” and sought them stricken from the debate.
The Belgian’s rhetoric was so inflammatory that even the pontiff upbraided the cardinal for his “lack of judgment.” Still, efforts to defeat the proposed wording of the document failed, and on December 7, 1965 Gaudium et Spes became one of the landmark documents of the Second Vatican Council. Can anyone today point to any aspect of Catholic family life that is in any way better than it was before Gaudium et Spes?
In his talk, Roberto de Mattei highlighted the history of some, but not all, of the baleful aspects of the Second Vatican Council and the unraveling of Church doctrine and dogma, but he has only scratched the surface. For example, the Church’s current position on ecumenism flies in the face of centuries, if not millennia, of dogma and doctrine; yet, any attempt to call attention the previous Church holdings on this matter is brushed off as medieval in outlook, if not antediluvian.
For a more nuanced and comprehensive analysis, de Mattei’s book on Vatican II should be read by those who seek an understanding of what happened at the Council meetings – and why. Still, in ways that are incomprehensible to many of the Faithful, the Vatican’s hierarchy has plunged the Church into an abyss that has had disastrous effects; yet, any effort to connect the dots between the baleful effects of Vatican II and the current disastrous decline of the Church in many areas is considered to be almost sacrilegious. De Mattei’s treatment at Radio Maria bears witness to that condition.
Toward the end of his talk, de Mattei quoted a French novelist who wrote, “It is necessary to live as one thinks, to avoid winding up thinking as one lives.” To Roberto de Mattei, personal knowledge and understanding are necessary in following the moral and ethical guidelines set up by the Church to avoid a chaotic and uncertain morality. That fight has in large part been lost by the withdrawal of the Catholic Church from the lists of moral combat.
In the end, however, de Mattei believes that the Second Vatican Council was not only a historical event, but an amorphous “Spirit” that has come down over the 50 years, a “Spirit” that has emphasized practice and deemphasized doctrine, but he is firm in his conviction that Christ will see to it that this “profound crisis within the Church” will not be allowed to have its enemies prevail. Of that end de Mattei is certain. ■