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On Archbishop DiNoia, Vatican II, and the SSPX

Father François Laisney, SSPX POSTED: 10/8/12

The State of the Question

To be able to solve a problem it is important that it first be properly set forth.   No less than eight times in a recent interview of Archbishop Augustine Di Noia, newly-appointed VP of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, either the interviewer or His Excellency himself referenced the “full communion” of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), as if the SSPX were somehow not in “full communion” and the problem was to help them return to “full communion.”  At the end of the interview, Archbishop DiNoia even mentions “another sect, another division.” But from the outset, the “status quaestionis” is badly set out.  On that matter of “full communion”, by the way, there’s an excellent article by Mr Ferrara from The Remnant last year.

If the Archbishop would only study the history of the SSPX he would quickly discover that it was born as any good branch of the Catholic Church, being founded by a fully Catholic Archbishop, Msgr. Marcel Lefebvre, canonically approved by a local ordinary, Bishop Charrière, opened its first seminary at Ecône with the approval of Bishop Adam, and even obtained a letter of praise from Cardinal Wright.

It was only later on when the SSPX was illegally suppressed by Bishop Mamie in violation of Canon Law, and the persecution started, ending in an irregular canonical situation, but NEVER with the SSPX losing full Communion with the Catholic Church. To be unjustly treated by some members of the hierarchy does not cause one to lose full communion. There were quite a few Saints who had to suffer from members of the hierarchy, even “excommunicated” (in Australia, Saint Mary of the Cross was solemnly “excommunicated” by the Bishop of Adelaide, only to be later canonised by Pope Benedict XVI.  Was her excommunication “valid”? Was she “not in full communion”? Sort of like St Joan of Arc?)

The truth is that many have taken their wish for the reality: many churchmen found it easy and practical to treat us “as if we were” outside the Church, as if we were “not in full communion”, because they did not have any real answer to our objections. This notion of “full communion” has been an easy tool to escape the real questions: it allows some to treat some non-Catholics “as if they were” almost Catholics, and to treat some real Catholics (such as us) “as if they were” almost non-Catholics!

When Archbishop DiNoia says: “So I’m sympathetic to the society, but the solution is not breaking off from the Church,” he makes a bad start, because he assumes or presupposes that we would have broken from the Church, which is not true. To have an irregular canonical situation in no way implies a break from the Church, especially when such irregularity is not our fault, but the fault of those who tried to forbid the Traditional Mass in the 1970s. (See my previous article in The Remnant, May 31, 2012, pp. 9-10). By clearly saying that the Traditional Mass had never been abrogated, Pope Benedict XVI set the principle of the whole rehabilitation of Archbishop Lefebvre and of the Society of Saint Pius X. It will be Archbishop DiNoia’s job to draw the consequences of that principle, and fully rehabilitate Archbishop Lefebvre and his society, precisely showing that we have never been outside the Catholic Church, we have never been “a sect”, we have never broken off from the Church, we have never not been “in full communion”.

Can there be Errors in Vatican II

Then almost at the very beginning of his interview, the Archbishop states a new principle, which can nowhere be found in proper Catholic theology, viz. that “the Councils cannot be led into error”, as if every single words of every single document of every single ecumenical council was exempt from all error. The Church never taught such a doctrine. What the Church did teach is that the general Councils had authority to make infallible canons, and these canons were absolutely exempt from error. The rest of the documents usually enjoyed high authority, but had never been thought to enjoy the same infallibility as the canons themselves.

There is a historical example illustrating my point: the Council of Florence (Dz 701) gave as the matter of the Sacrament of Holy Orders the transmission of the chalice – this was the opinion of St Thomas Aquinas – but Pope Pius XII later judged definitely that the matter of that Sacrament was the imposition of the hands of the Bishop (Dz 2301). So unless one claims that the matter of sacraments can change – which no proper theologian would claim, since the matter is part of the very essence of the sacrament, over which the Church has no power, since it is established by Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself – then here you have a simple statement of a Council which happens to be incorrect.

There are two ways in which the Holy Ghost can protect the Church from teaching errors: first in helping those members of the teaching Church to do their duty and guiding them to express accurately the teachings of Our Lord, according to the promise: “He will bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you” (Jn 14:26). Thus the Holy Ghost does not teach a new doctrine, but helps them to keep the ancient deposit of Faith.

The second way is with men of the Church who do not want to teach with doctrinal precision, who do not want to make “dogmatic” decrees, then the Holy Ghost simply lets them speak “as men”, but not as “doctors of the Faith”, in particular preventing them from binding in any way. A simple example of that can been seen in the document “Dominus Iesus”: twenty times in that document the obligation to believe is asserted one way or another (either “one must believe”, or “it is contrary to Catholic doctrine...”): every single time such binding words are used, it is the traditional doctrine that is being reiterated.  On the contrary, some of the novelties of Vatican II – which can still be found in that document – are never asserted as something that must be believed!

The contrast puts in light these two ways in which the Holy Ghost helps His Church: when men of the Church are doing their duty to “transmit that which they have received” (1 Cor. 11:23), then the Holy Ghost empowers them to assert these truths with strength and clarity; when they depart from their duty, He prevents them from imposing such novelties on the faithful.

One can see the same ways of the Holy Ghost working within the Saints. It is well known that some Saints – even Doctors – erred on this or that point of Faith (not yet defined). They were strong on the points of Faith that they defended; they were unsure on those points on which they may have erred. For instance, St Augustine was unsure as to whether the soul of each man was directly created by God, or whether it was transmitted by the parents (that second opinion was later rejected by the Church). St Augustine wrote a whole book “on the origin of the soul”, in which he rebuked a deacon Victor for arguing against transmission of the soul from the parents as a way of avoiding the dogma of Original Sin. St Augustine basically says: I am unsure on the question of the origin of the soul; I incline towards the opinion that the soul is transmitted by the parents, but what I deem important is that, whatever way the soul comes to be, it is infected by the Original Sin of Adam.

He was firm on the dogma which he was defending (Original Sin) against the Pelagians; he was unsure on the error he was inclined to. Similarly St Thomas Aquinas argued that Our Lady was as pure as possible so long as one affirms that she is redeemed by Our Lord: so he stated that she was sanctified on the second instant of her life. But that he was not satisfied by this is clearly demonstrated by the fact that he justifies the feast of the Immaculate Conception, saying that she was sanctified still on the very day of her conception... This is clearly an embarrassing way to acknowledge her Immaculate Conception (IIIa q.27 a.2 ad 3m).

So, was the Holy Ghost assisting at Vatican II? Yes, both ways. Whenever the Council fathers taught that which had been taught before He was indeed helping them, “reminding them whatsoever Our Lord had taught” (Jn 14:26); but when they were adventuring themselves and taught novelties (and we are not the only ones who say there are novelties in Vatican II—Pope John Paul II himself said so in his motu proprio Ecclesia Dei), then the Holy Ghost was assisting the Church, preventing them from binding the faithful to such novelties.

I do not say that everything that is not positively said to be binding is a novelty and false. There are many things that were said in continuity with previous doctrine, without binding expressions and which, precisely because they are – and in as much as they are – in continuity with constantly-taught doctrines of the Church, are nevertheless not only true but binding. But I do say that there is room for errors, precisely in those things which have not been “clearly said to be binding,” and especially in those novelties which are opposed to the previous teachings of the Church. My point here is that to pretend a-priori that there cannot be any error whatsoever is not a Catholic principle.


In the above-mentioned interview, the interviewer himself introduces some rather offensive notions when he affirms: “Some Catholics have decided to stick to ‘frozen’ tradition.” A simple look at the situation of the Church today would rather make one think that the novus ordo is slipping into some kind of lethargy, while traditional chapels are usually thriving. Real life does not consist in evolution, but rather the transmission of the life received from parents: mutant genes are the result of errors of copy, whereas good and sound genes are the one which are not erroneously copied, they are those which are “transmitted as they have been received!”

Religious Freedom

Archbishop DiNoia then says that “the Society thinks, of course, that the whole teaching on religious liberty is a departure from the Tradition. But some very smart people have tried to point out it’s a development that is consistent.”

The only problem for him is that of the smartest of those who tried, Fr. Brian Harrison, now clearly states that he does not intend to show the continuity, but, acknowledging that the idea of a “right to be tolerated” is “what was new in the doctrine” of Vatican II, he merely tries to show the non-contradiction with previous doctrine. He himself acknowledges that it would be sophism to pass from the “duty to tolerate” on the part of the authorities (pre-Vatican II’s doctrine) to a “right to be tolerated” on the part of the individual, regardless of the truth (Vatican II’s doctrine): there is no continuity between both doctrines.

One of the comments posted after the interview asks for a precise example of contradiction between previous doctrine and Vatican II’s doctrine. Religious Freedom is a good example. The Church taught before that “what does not correspond with truth and the moral law has no objective right to existence, propaganda or action” (Pius XII, Ci riese, 6 Dec. 1953). Now Vatican II declares that the “human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that, within due limits, nobody is forced to act against his own beliefs, nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his convictions in religious matters, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others.” (DH2) This right in its generality (i.e. encompassing any religion) is false. Either there is or there is not any right: the affirmation and the negation are contradictory.

Some try to avoid that conclusion by saying that Pius XII spoke of “objective rights” and Vatican II spoke of “subjective rights” (the rights of the person): this is a vain defence, since rights are always subjected in a person; thus saying that error has no objective rights means nothing else than that persons have no subjective rights to error!

Others – and this is the line of Fr Harrison – tried to say that Vatican II does not teach that there is a right to practice false religion, but merely a right to immunity from coercion in practicing false religion.  That defence also is vain, since good deserves a reward but evil deserves a punishment (i.e. needs to be corrected, to be straightened); error is the evil of the intelligence, and cannot at the same time have a right to immunity and a need to be corrected; immunity and correction are two opposite things. Even if one considers an error without evil will, an error where one has been more deceived than deceiving himself, it is still not good to leave such error uncorrected (I do not say that it ought to be punished, but it ought to be corrected), and therefore there cannot be a right for an error to remain uncorrected. In other words, not only error is bad, but immunity for error is bad: it is the privation of the good of correction; there cannot be a right to immunity for something bad, as such.

Indeed many persons consider any coercion as evil, because they consider human freedom an absolute: but such a mind is not Catholic. This goes explicitly against the Gospel where Our Lord gives orders to his servants “compelle intrare” (Lk 14:23), literally “force them to enter” into the Heavenly banquet! Man is not the ultimate rule of good and evil, and therefore his freedom is not without a rule from above, i.e. from the Divine Goodness towards which all his choices must be directed. That which helps him to make the right choice, the choice for God, for truth, for goodness, is indeed a help, even if at the beginning one may resent that help; St Paul was thrown down from his horse, and is forever in Heaven, thanking God for that! Thus some coercion is good (not all, but some). Now if there were a right to be immune from coercion in the religious domain, then any such coercion would be wrong by itself (only the circumstances of not respecting the common good/peace would permit such coercion, not the error itself). Who does not see the contradiction between “all coercion (in religions matters) is by itself wrong” (as opposed to the “right to be immune from all coercion”) and “some coercion is good”? Vatican II teaches the first; the Church had always taught the second.

The last effort to escape the contradiction is to claim that Vatican II does not deny that false religions have no rights, but simply denies to the State the right to interfere in religious matters. This too is opposed to the constant teaching of the Church, that Christ must reign (1 Cor. 15:15), not just over individuals but over all the kings of the earth and over all nations as such (ps. 71:11). Not only individuals can and must recognise the truth of the Catholic religion, but also kings as such (see St. Leo the Great’s letters to the emperor). And this is the best source of blessings for a government and a country.

Because of its spiritual nature, many have a hard time grasping the novelty of the doctrine of Vatican II. But if we would transfer that doctrine on more practical matters, one would easily understand. Indeed the Church always taught that killing and stealing were wrong, and “had no right”. Now if a council would come and declare that “the human person has a right to immunity from coercion on the part of any human power, in such wise that, within due limits, nobody is to be restrained from stealing/murdering, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others,” would not such a “right” be manifestly wrong, and in contradiction with previous Church’s teaching?

Nothing Contrary to Tradition in Vatican II?

Archbishop DiNoia has “tried to argue (…) that all they [the SSPX] have to do is to say there’s nothing in the Council that is contrary to Tradition”; however in this he opposes Pope Benedict, who as Cardinal Ratzinger said that Gaudium et Spes was an “anti-syllabus”; Cardinal Congar had said too that this same document said “almost the exact contrary of the Syllabus”, and Cardinal Suenens had called the Council “1789 in the Church”. To pretend that there is nothing contrary when there is such opposition is to make one’s wishful thinking into the reality.

Archbishop DiNoia is quite right in saying that one should not reduce what we must believe to what has been solemnly and infallibly defined. However, between “nothing is to be believed except that which is solemnly and infallibly defined”, and “everything is to be believed,” there is room for the right attitude, the Catholic attitude, that is to be believed, which is in continuity with the constant previous teaching of the Church; that is to be rejected which is in opposition with the previous constant teaching of the Church. Much evidence exists, such as the declarations quoted just above, to show that there are within the second Vatican Council some declarations in opposition to the past teachings of the Church.

Doctrine of the Church, Doctrine of Churchmen

Then Archbishop DiNoia rightly says “the necessary requirements of being fully Catholic” is to say: “Yes, I do believe the Church is preserved from error by the Holy Spirit.” Yes, the SSPX does believe that. But we don’t believe that whatever churchmen say is “Church’s doctrine”! There are – and today there are many – churchmen who teach their own private opinion (and errors and even heresies) from their pulpits, some even who don’t believe in the reality of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, and have very ambiguous statements about that (the new head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith has had some rather disturbing words on the subject!)

So, how do we recognise the Church’s voice in the voice of churchmen? When they are “transparent” to what they received from the Church, i.e. when “they transmit that which they have received”, when they teach the age-old Doctrine of the Church: then truly “he who heareth you, heareth Me” (Lk 10:16). But when they teach novelties, they are no longer transparent; it is no longer Christ who speaks through them, but rather they speak on their own. Though for a while in the Church there may be some errors – even against the Faith – widely spread, such as during the Arian crisis, these errors will not prevail.  We do believe that the Holy Ghost works in His Church, the Roman Catholic Church, to protect her from errors. Yet we ought to fight for the truth and denounce the errors, as Saint Athanasius did. Precisely, the Holy Ghost wants such docile instruments to fight for the truth – the ancient deposit of Faith – against the novelties of the innovators. It is by empowering them that the Holy Ghost actively protects the Church from error!

Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus

Now Archbishop DiNoia continues – no longer rightly – and says “the Church has always affirmed [the possibility of salvation of non-Christians], and it has never denied it.” This is not only false, but even explicitly opposed to the dogma Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. Pope Pius IX explicitly says it is a Dogma, and it has been taught as such – unanimously – from the very beginning. What he may be confused about is that the Church – in the proper explanation of that dogma – teaches Baptism of Blood and Baptism of desire [read my little book about it published by the Angelus Press], but the Church does not teach that those souls who are saved by these “baptisms” are saved “outside the Church” – on the contrary!

The Church explicitly affirms that these souls are part of the Church; this is often expressed as being part of the “soul” of the Church (See St Pius X’s catechism). It was bad theologians from the 1930s that started to say that these were saved “outside” the Church, completely forgetting that the Church teaches the necessity of the Catholic Faith and charity in order to have Baptism of Blood or Baptism of desire. Sorry, your Excellency, it is not possible to be a Saint without the Catholic Faith; it is not possible to be formally Lutheran or Anglican and be a Saint.  “He that does not believe shall be condemned”, said Our Lord Himself, and He certainly would not settle for a false faith. It is therefore the true Faith that He requires. So if someone who looks to be a Lutheran outside is saved, it is because he is a Catholic inside; it is in spite of the Lutheran church, not by it that he is saved.

We will pray that, to enable him to successfully fulfil his mission as vice-president of the Ecclesia Dei commission, His Excellency will correct his doctrine on that most important point of Faith.

May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Guardian of the Faith, obtain for Archbishop DiNoia from the Holy Ghost the required graces of light and strength!

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