Church: What solution out of the crisis

Par l'abbé Claude Barthe

Français, italiano

Ineluctably, and before long, the Church will be facing some vital issues. The decomposition of Catholicism is accelerating, and not just in Germany. As a result, the manifestation of a schism de facto between on one side a Catholicism of conservation (in the sense used by Yann Raison du Cleuziou to characterize Catholics who have maintained a sort of “conservatory”) and on the other a liberal-conciliar type of Catholicism. Great upheavals may offer the opportunity to well-determined bishops, sent by All-Powerful Providence, to engage in the difficult fight of a renewal. Would there be such men among the Successors of the Apostles?

A salvation which can only be but hierarchical

The Church, because of Vatican II, is deep into a crisis completely atypical where the usual operation of the Magisterium are like jammed. This comes from the novelties taught by this Council and from this sort of dismissal such as departing from the infallible Magisterium, at least as a reference, and replacing it by Pastoral teaching. The most visible sign of this new era can be observed in a liturgy in itself pastoral, weakened, sometimes considerably, in terms of its theologic significance.

Since the divine Constitution of the Church is founded on the pope and the bishops, a solution out of the crisis, in the end, remains in a complete turn around and a set of strong actions by the Pope and Bishops in union with him. Necessarily, they will have to dedicate themselves to a thorough ecclesiological change in the context of a society where Catholics are no longer the majority. The Church will find again her conscience to be the supernatural totality of her Mystic body on earth, in the small options imposed on her by a situation of ideological persecution by the modern world[1].

Such is the end, but, before that, the faithful of the Church (in different times, one could have also mentioned Christian princes), animated by the sensus fidelium, can surely work greatly in this direction, notably by conserving the traditional lex orandi. But the adequate preparation to the change we described would be – or is already, though not yet strong – the reforming action of the Successors of the Apostles in forward communion with the pope that would now be a restorer.

We should not neglect the fact that if the full confession of the Catholic faith becomes again one day, as it should, the affiliation criteria to the Church, the slow braking unity which has been taking place between Catholics[2] for fifty years is going to necessarily transform itself in an open schism. This will happen in blood and tears, morally speaking that is. But it will also be liberating for the truth is, in essence, redeeming, and this applies to schismatics as well, as they are called to discernment and conversion. For we cannot unfortunately expect cute solutions to so deep a crisis.

Departing from a “soft” Catholicism, returning to an “uncompromising” Catholicism

What program can we draw for the hierarchy of the future and, in a near future, for these bishops that are anticipating and preparing the renewal of the Church? We will address in coming issues of Res Novæ several topics related to reforms, and, before that, some prolegomena to the reform, such as the recomposition of the liturgy, the return to End Times preaching, the restoration of discipline in regards to communion, the teaching of what we would call simply catechism, moral – especially moral in marriage -, and priestly formation.

But fundamentally, like Georges Weigel says, in his book The next pope[3] – the editor gave a copy to each of the cardinals during last August consistory -, it is right to stand out from a “soft” catholicism and return to a “uncompromising” catholicism. It is, as he said, an “iron law” that, within the frame of the confrontation of christianity with modernity and postmodernity, only the communities that are well aware of their identity in matters of doctrine and moral are surviving and even blooming: “The next pope will have to remember that dogma is freedom.” The anonymous cardinal who took the pseudonym of Demos, author of a memorandum on the next conclave, repeats the old song: “The Successor of Peter, as head of the College of Bishops, who are also the Successor of the Apostles, plays a fundamental role for unity and doctrine. The new pope will have to understand that the secret of Christian and Catholic vitality comes from the fidelity to the teachings of Christ and to Catholic practices[4].”

But what we are to expect from a future pope of a restoration of Catholicism, we have to expect it first from his bishops whom we suggested we could say were in forward communion with this pope who has not yet join their rank[5]. It is the pope that George Weigel expressively wishes for, the Cardinal Demos and the Bishops ready to declare themselves deliberately reformers. It is also the wish of the Cardinalis review, started by young French editors and addressing all the cardinals of the world[6].

But this pope, and first his bishops, will find themselves facing a double constraint, external and internal. A very strong external constraint: Catholicism lives and survives in a world affirming its secularism through a social and institutional pressure, indeed liberal, but in fact very dictatorial. Sociologists Philippe Portier and Jean-Paul William, in The religion in contemporary France. Between secularism and recomposition[7], put together a typology and an analysis of these indifferent minded people and atheist, who have become the majority in contemporary societies since the rupture of the years 1960-1970. They are “affirmed secularists” or “indifferent secularists” who evolve in a world where religion is absent. These authors explain that this world without God is not an empty space: indeed, it is articulated around an ethic based on a heavily subjective and very pregnant autonomy. Furthermore, an ethic that delegitimizes all tentative of a return of the Catholic Dogma and Moral and penalizes systematically those who defend it.

But also an internal constraint: the movement of adaptation to the Modern world will hold for a long time many hierarchical positions and will strongly opposed any comeback of the conservation movement. As a proof, the virulent opposition Benedict XVI met when he only intended to implement nothing more but a more conservative interpretation of the Council. This gives an idea of what an opposition to the adoption pure and simple of a traditional ecclesiology will be.

Turning the page

Our anticipated reflections may seem as day dreaming. Yet, for a century, the overall of Catholics unsettled by the oppositions between the traditional Magisterium and a new one of a pastoral type have not stopped entertaining this dream of a redeeming recovery. They have consistently call for the pontifical Magisterium to correct itself and to express itself in the old ways: simply put, to express itself as Magisterium again.There have been many questions, dubia, under the most diverse forms, from the very straight forward Liber accusations of Fr. Georges de Nantes in 1972 asking Paul VI to judge himself, to the respectful dubia  from Cardinals Caffarra, Meisner, Burke and Brandmüller, asking Pope Francis in 2016 to decide on the subject of the opposition between traditional moral and chapter VIII of Amoris lætitia, in other words to condemn with magisterial authority his own teachings.

Prior to this expected condemnation, the cardinals involved, and many others, have taught this traditional doctrine. Certain bishops even went as far as suspending the implementation of the new discipline for “remarried” divorcees.

There is actually no need to denounce the Second Vatican Council to denounce Amoris lætitia, since indeed, from Humanæ vitæ to Benedict XVI, most of the traditional pre-conciliar moral doctrine was left untouched. Yet, the chock of the resignation of Pope Benedict followed by the election of Francis in 2013, has had a great contribution bringing to the reflection the effects, Bergoglism, to the cause, Vatican II. The critic of the Council, thanks to the rejection provoked by pope Francis, has won a certain rightful place in the Church[8]. In this way, it appeared that the declaration of Abu Dhabi[9], signed by Pope Francis, like the successive meetings in Assisi presided by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, was founded on the “respect” that Nostra ætate n.2 gives to non-Christian religions[10]. As such, Ratzinguerian blogs now give a wide exposure to critical debates on Vatican II Council, whereas it used to be reserved to traditionalists’. As such the book directed by Aldo Maria Vall, L’altro Vaticano II. Voci su un Concilio che non vuole finire[11], gathered quite a panel of diverse authors but, who all had in common great reservations in regards to the last council.

Very logically actually, A. M. Valli brought up the ultimate question, conclusion to the immense discontent from which Catholicism has been suffering since 1965: to escape this situation, what are we to do with Vatican II? A question all those who have tried without success to keep the Council in line, though without ever questioning the Council, seek to answer, such as Benedict XVI with his “hermeneutic of the reform or the renewal in the continuity”. It is interesting to note actually that, fatally, wanting to keep in line the Council leads to putting it into questions. The process initiated by the same Benedict XVI with Summorum Pontificum in 2007 was going in this sense, not only because it affirmed the right to the existence of the pre-Vatican II liturgy, religious cultural expression of the past, but also because by throwing the idea of a “reciprocal enrichment” of the new liturgy and of the old liturgy, it was looking to give strength to the recurrent idea of the “reform of the reform”, that is to say to the one of the progressive correction of the liturgy of Paul VI by the neighboring Tridentine liturgy.

This “reform of the reform” is typically a process of transition – that Pope Ratzinger unfortunately did not complete, except in regards to few details in his celebration of mass -, which can be applied to the liturgy by these bishops or by a pope who would have a firm desire to be a reformer who restores. It will be necessary because the new liturgy has created habits deeply anchored who, even in a climate favorable to a return to the ancient forms, will make it an obligation to arrange for some transitory phases. This slow process applied to the lex orandi will inspire, analogically of course, a momentum of a return of a dogmatic nature to the lex credendi. A  bit of a far-off analogy, even thought it might be a temporarily transition, in the conceptual expression of the truth.

So, why speak of a “reform of the reform” in matters of doctrine? It seems to us that we should  consider the contentious items of Vatican II like some sorts of objections, some videtur quod non, presented to the Magisterium, as in the Medieval schools they used to present objections to the Master in Theology. To these objections, the Master would issue responses, by explaining his thought with all the necessary distinctions. Isn’t this the way Pius XII proceeded when, to give an exemple among many, to the adage “Outside the Church, no salvation” its contemporaries objected the apparent injustice of this affirmation considering the feeble proportion of men who had been able to receive the light of the Revelation since the beginning of humanity and still today. Pius XII, with Mystici Corporis, responded that in the secret of God “those who by an unconscious desire and longing have a certain relationship with the Mystical Body of the Redeemer” can reach salvation: those too, that God alone knows, are thus saved by the Church (like, the other way around, those who though seem as if they belonged to the Church are actually separated from Her by heresy and thus have condemned themselves).

This would come to an authentic rectification of the disputed topics, which would seek for example a voice to qualify separated Christian, not of “imperfect” Christian (Unitatis redintegratio, n.3), which is of a questionable orthodoxy, but as the ones being offered, in virtue of the “elements” of the Church which exist in their community, such as baptism, Scripture (ibidem), a preparation and an invitation to return to communion to Christ and to the Church.

This work of doctrinal correction is surely the most important of the works the successor of the Apostles, aware of the necessity of a restoration of the Church – of a true reform – will have to put in place for a future pope and very much have to exercise already, in the name of the sollicitude they owe to the whole Church (Fidei Donum, then alsoin Lumen Gentium 23), for the sole reason that they are bishops, doctors of the faith.

Fr. Claude Barthe

[1] Voir Res Novæ, November 2022, For a true reform of the Church.

[2] Voir Res Novæ, October 2022, The magisterium like an eiderdown fluff.

[3] Parole et Silence, 2020. Il prossimo papa, Fede e Cultura, 2021.The Next Pope, Ignatius Press, 2020.

[4] A Memorandum on the Next Conclave Is Circulating Among the Cardinals. Here It Is – Settimo Cielo – Blog – L’Espresso (repubblica.it).

[5] Voir Res Novæ, June 2022, Since the pope says nothing, may the bishops speak!

[6] Cardinalis – The magazine of the Cardinals (cardinalis-magazine.com).

[7] Armand Colin, 2021.

[8] See Res Novæ, March 2021, The criticism of the Council is flourishing.

[9] “Pluralism and diversity of religions, color, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom”.

[10] “ [The Catholic Church] regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.

[11] Chorabooks, Hong Kong, 2021.