Sunday, February 22, 2009
Pope Benedict, the SSPX, and the dispute over Religious Freedom and Church-State Relations
Last year, commenting on Pope Benedict XVI's historic visit to the United States, Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the SSPX, remarked:
And now, we have a perfectly liberal Pope, my very dear brothers. As he goes to this country [the United States] which is founded upon Masonic principles, that is, of a revolution, of a rebellion against God. And, well, he expressed his admiration, his fascination before this country which has decided to grant liberty to all religions. He goes so far as to condemn the confessional State. And he is called traditional! And this is true, this is true: he is perfectly liberal, perfectly contradictory. He has some good sides, the sides which we hail, for which we rejoice, such as what he has done for the Traditional liturgy.As Fr. John Zuhlsdorf (What Does The Prayer Really Say?) noted, Fellay's remarks are indicative of a point he has maintained: the greater dispute between the SSPX and Rome is not so much over questions involving liturgical reform (and the 'reform of the reform') -- on which there is a great deal of room for agreement -- or even the matter of the excommunications; rather, the chief problem hinges on the Society's objections to Vatican II's articulation of the principle of "religious liberty" and the relationship of civil and religious authority.
This point was made recently in an article by George Weigel: "Rome’s Reconciliation: Did the Pope heal, or deepen, the Lefebvrist schism?" Newsweek January 26, 2009):
... Lefebvre was also a man formed by the bitter hatreds that defined the battle lines in French society and culture from the French Revolution to the Vichy regime. Thus his deepest animosities at the council were reserved for another of Vatican Council II’s reforms: the council’s declaration that "the human person has a right to religious freedom," which implied that coercive state power ought not be put behind the truth—claims of the Catholic Church or any other religious body. This, to Lefebvre, bordered on heresy. For it cast into serious question (indeed, for all practical purposes it rejected) the altar-and-throne arrangements Lefebvre believed ought to prevail—as they had in France before being overthrown in 1789, with what Lefebvre regarded as disastrous consequences for both church and society.As Weigel rightly notes, the scandal over Richard Williamson's anti-semitism is but a sideshow; "what is at issue, now, is the integrity of the Church's self-understanding, which must include the authenticity of the teaching of Vatican Council II":
Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, the pope's spokesman, emphasized to reporters on Jan. 24 that the lifting of the excommunications did not mean that "full communion" had been restored with the Lefebvrists. The terms of such reconciliation are, presumably, the subject of the "talks" to which Bishop Fellay referred in his letter. Those talks should be interesting indeed. For it is not easy to see how the unity of the Catholic Church will be advanced if the Lefebvrist faction does not publicly and unambiguously affirm Vatican Council II's teaching on the nature of the church, on religious freedom, and on the sin of anti-Semitism. Absent such an affirmation, pick-and-choose cafeteria Catholicism will be reborn on the far fringes of the Catholic right, just when it was fading into insignificance on the dwindling Catholic left, its longtime home.
Holy See - "no qualms" with the SSPX's criticism of the Council?Taking issue with Weigel ("A bad year for the Neocon Catholics" RenewAmerica.com February 20, 2009), Brian Mershon asserts:
Maybe Weigel has not read what Cardinal Ratzinger wrote to the Bishops of Chile in his 1988 address where he said that Vatican II was a pastoral Council. And as a pastoral Council, the "Declaration on Religious Liberty" must be understood "in light of Tradition" as Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in his 1988 address. In other words, the proper and orthodox Catholic understanding of the meaning of Dignitatis Humanae in light of the traditional teaching of the Social Kingship of Christ is only still being worked out within the Church. It surely does not negated the perennial teaching of the Social Kingship of Christ the King as Weigel asserts with his typical "altar and throne" analogy.Likewise, Atheistane -- one of the more thoughtful (less knee-jerk) readers of WDTPRS -- comments:
Weigel seems to regard DH, and its prescription for religious liberty and church-state relations, as a settled issue. He is a vigorous advocate for this view and he is vested in it. I can only note that DH was the most contested document at the Council, and stirred the greatest opposing vote (although it still passed comfortably). And that some very respectable (hardly traditionalist) scholars, such as Ernest Fortin and (Weigel’s friend) Russell Hittinger have raised real questions about the tensions between DH and previous Church teachings, and how we are to receive DH in continuity with the latter. Which is another way of saying the issue is not quite as settled as Weigel might like to think. I’m not sure SSPX has the full answer either. But I am intrigued to see how this issue might be opened up again as they try to reintegrate fully with the Church.I think Mershon is correct in noting the contested meaning of Dignitatis Humanae. However, I think Mershon himself might indulge in hyperbole when he boasts: "It seems that the Holy See has no qualms with the SSPX's Catholic understanding about Vatican II."
We'll address this in detail in a minute, but first -- to indulge our curiousity -- let's run through some of Pope Benedict XVI's own thought on this particular subject and see if it does in fact coincide, to some degree, with Weigel's?
Benedict XVI on church-state relations
In Soul of the World: Notes on the Future of Public Catholicism, Weigel speaks of the Church's encounter with democracy as a development from hostility (Gregory XVI and Pius IX) to toleration (Leo XIII and Pius XI) to admiration (Pius XII and John XXIII) to endorsement (Vatican II and John Paul II), and in the late 1990's, to internal critique -- such that
Prior to the Council, the Church was speaking to democracy from "outside"; since the council, the Church has, in a sense, spoken to democracy from within the democratic experiment as a full participant in democratic life, commited, through its own social doctrine, to the success of the democratic project.Chapter 6: "Catholicism and Democracy: Parsing the Twentieth-Century Revolution" pp. 99-125 charts in greater detail the development of the Church's relationship and critique of liberal democracy described above. Weigel's views on religious freedom (and the expansion of the Catholic understanding of such by Pope John Paul II) and democracy are also conveyed in Freedom and its Discontents: Catholicism Confronts Modernity (1991).
Let's now consider just a few commentaries by the Pope Benedict himself on matters involving religious freedom and the jurisdictions of church and state:
Benedict's 'hermeneutic of continuity' and defense of Vatican II
When Mershon complains that "there has been precious little theology done to show the connections between the Council's teaching on religious liberty and the continuous, unbroken line of teaching from multiple Popes previous to the Council that condemned 'religious liberty'" -- it seems to me that Benedict himself (following his predecessor) might be in a position to best explicate the 'Conciliar' understanding of this, according to a 'hermeneutic of continuity'.
Returning to Benedict's 2005 address to the Roman Curia, for instance, he asks the question: "Why has the implementation of the Council, in large parts of the Church, thus far been so difficult?" and answers it in terms of a battle of two hermeneutics.
The first is one of "discontinuity and rupture" between the Council and all that which preceded it -- which, considering the Conciliar texts themselves compromised by concessions to past tradition, moves beyond them in pursuit of an undefined "spirit of the Council", open to the whims of change and sentimentality.
Benedict contrasts this with a hermeneutic of reform (or 'continuity') - presented first by Pope John XXIII in his Speech inaugurating the Council on 11 October 1962 and later by Pope Paul VI in his Discourse for the Council's conclusion on 7 December 1965, according to which the intent of the Council was to "to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion" in faithfulness to the deposit of faith -- seeking only contemporary ways of expounding and presenting it.
Later, the Pope applies this in defending the Conciliar understanding of "religious freedom":
... if religious freedom were to be considered an expression of the human inability to discover the truth and thus become a canonization of relativism, then this social and historical necessity is raised inappropriately to the metaphysical level and thus stripped of its true meaning. Consequently, it cannot be accepted by those who believe that the human person is capable of knowing the truth about God and, on the basis of the inner dignity of the truth, is bound to this knowledge.Benedict closes his address by asserting that "today we can look with gratitude at the Second Vatican Council: if we interpret and implement it guided by a right hermeneutic, it can be and can become increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church."
Will the SSPX come to terms with Benedict?
Is the SSPX amenable to such a "right hermeneutic" as proposed by Benedict? -- -- A sampling of commentary directly from the SSPX's own website may instil some doubts about the possibility of them ever seeing "eye to eye" on the Council:
In an interview with the Italian national daily Corriere della Sera, Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos indicated that "in our discussions, Bishop Fellay recognized the Second Vatican Council, he recognized it theologically. Only a few difficulties remain... it involves discussing aspects such as ecumenism, liberty of conscience."
If someone thinks that I have watered down our position, he is wrong. Our position remains exactly the same.
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