The aggiornamento of the Catholic Church was the objective Pope John XXIII had assigned to the Vatican II Council. In fact, the conciliar Fathers rejected the schemas prepared by the Curia. The death of John XXIII and the election of Paul VI made Vatican II the prey for innovators who composed a council fitting their idealistic desire, supported in that by Pope Paul who in his closing speech proclaimed his infamous cult of man. The seismic wave was so universal and so quick to destroy Catholic practices that, as soon as 1966, to wise commentators the era after the council appeared as a time for potential schism, so much the innovators had proven themselves to be out of control and the episcopal body without any intention to disavow them. The Dutch Church, at the leading hedge of this movement, showed itself to be the strongest in its contestation of the Roman Catholic Church. But Cardinal Alfrink, as Louis Salleron reported in his chronicle of Carrefour, 3 February 1971, had no intention to part with the Church, a Church which practically gave him a free pass. Salleron commented: the notion of schism does not go away, it evaporates. Taking on Father Louis Bouyer’s book, The decomposition of Catholicism (Paris, 1968), he notes: how can we be schismatic in a Church that is becoming so diversely different?
In 1977, in his book Rome is no longer in Rome, the Catholic historian Hubert Montheillet, author of many detective novels and great amateur of unsolved mysteries, makes known without reserve his adherence to the Liber accusationis in Paulum sextum brought by Fr. Georges de Nantes to Rome in 1972. For Montheille who sides with de Nantes’s argumentation, Pope Paul VI is in fact “heretic, schismatic, and scandalous”. But, he holds against de Nantes his position on Bishop Lefebvre’s 1976 ordination without Roman approval, qualified by de Nantes of a schismatic act. In what way, Montheillet asks, could disobeying a schismatic pope be a schismatic act. Where is the logic of this accusation?
“You are no longer in the Church!”
In the immediate era after the Council, the ordinary faithful old enough to remember and who doubted openly the pertinence of theological or liturgical novelties saw themselves being discredited in one but recurrent sentence: you are no longer in the Church. Nothing less. Being baptized carried no weight where the adherence to the spirit of the Council had not regenerated the previous affiliation. To be in or to be out, it was a judgement pronounced without appeal by a self-appointed magistrate, changing the brotherly condition to pure weight to be handled promptly. Certainly, in normal times, the supreme authority of the Church is sole theoretically to qualify of schismatic formaliter, and not an ecclesial lobby group which has for intention to contest Rome the right to oppose its heterodox divisive objectives. In practice, he who thinks himself to be ahead in terms of understanding and formulating new orientations for the Church has no intention to part with Her. Quite the contrary, as he carries the hope of communicating his enlightened conviction to as many faithful as possible, through the institutional system in place and a complaisant personnel, he pushes out without shame those opposed to his scheme, without fearing a coalition of the latter in some schismatic revival. Without fear indead, for those who agree to denounce a situation often find themselves with not enough common grounds to unify them.
The individual and the lobbyist carry distinctive risks. A living organism that knows no longer to identify the category from the compatible nutrients is a sick organism. A society that knows no longer to distinguish between its friends that is to be included from its enemies that are to be destroyed, will quickly fall victim of this incompetence. If there are no longer “doctors of the Truth of the Gospel”, innovators are able to show their power and measure it to the apparent disappearance of all authority in the service of the Truth and to the faithful lacking reliable guidance. This authority perdures but it serves a new motto: Quiet in the ranks! Truth, even more than public order, requires pushing back the deviants and exposing their deviance. But, for the enemy to call on the law when wanting to change it, isn’t this for a bishop like awakening the old order, stifling the Spirit, revealing the narrowness of his mind. From a love of order, condition to peace, to an order of love, a fiction worthy of Aristophanes The Clouds, it became, before 68 France but after and because of the Council, the interdiction to forbid!
Why is it that the institution did not react to this practical renunciation, to this abandonment of episcopal duty when the painful obvious consumption of the parishes was only formulated but by obscure nobodies, at their own risk, for the glory of God? By which evil scheme the Catholic Church, Mother and Mistress of Truth, soul of French Christendom since King Clovis, has let herself to be corroded to the bone without any reaction from the hierarchy? Refreshed with the incomparable dignity that Vatican I, interrupted by the troops of the Risorgimento, had only been able to offer to the Sovereign Pontiff, John XXIII had claimed to revitalize the Church. Certainly, he did not live long enough to hold on to his promise. So, in what hands exactly has the “Holy” Ecumenical Council been able to play the role of the Trojan horse, to the point of corrupting the large ecclesial body, arch of salvation of societies, temple of the definitions of duty, and particularly of our duties to God? It happens that the imposing episcopal body, for the past fifty years, has sanctuarized its Council, after it praised this body like never before. We are going to try to understand why, how, and who in fact has vigorously battled against the self-destruction of the Church? Not many popes, only courageous hunted priests, many families, educated laities, faithful from the kneelers…
Renown witnesses of the Council and of the following years, have in real time described what they saw. They have publicly expressed their own consternation, and the one they received through a voluminous amount of letters. Among the French, let us point out to the Dominican Fr. Bruckberger, who had a chronicle in the French newspaper L’Aurore (1976-1977), to Louis Salleron, in Carrefour (1968-1974), Jean Madiran in Itinéraires, created in 1956, Edith Delamare in Monde et Vie, and the atypical Hubert Montheillet who declared in 1977: “Rome is no longer in Rome.” These incisive attempts, sometimes a bit brutal, tried the impossible: that is, to be heard. These writings also can be found in opportune compilations, regardless of the ephemeral format. The clamor at the time is unequivocal: the Church of France is dying, and the French bishops act with those who are destroying Her as their friends.
The plenitude of the priesthood, episcopal evanescence
The Truth which made the Church what she has become, is reputed unbearable to the man of today, because it is found incompatible with Modernity. This, Saint Paul helps us to understand with his famous aphorism Oportet hæreses esse to the Corinthians. It is good that error expresses itself, so that those who speak the truth be honored. Such is precisely the cleavage the episcopate refuses, siding with the deviants on the basis that they want to avoid dividing the Church! Such is the obstinate assessment which, sixty years after the beginning of the Vatican II Council, continues to scandalize Catholic conscience. To read or revisit the witness of the time helps us realize that nothing has changed, but the acceptance of a status-quo which allows anything and everything except denouncing the apostasy. In this sense, a true old-fashioned schism would have been the expression of a vital energy at the service of a main idea. By contrast, the episcopal evanescence which comes with accessing the “plenitude of the priesthood” is one phenomenon most disconcerting following the Council, because too general to target individualities and too durable for not being systemic.
The hypothesis according to which the Council would not have been applied properly is contradictory with the fact that the bishops responsible for its practical application were those who had approved the schemas. The same council Fathers thus found themselves more able than anyone to proceed, or to ask that be put in practice the works prepared in optimal agreement with the spirit of the new times. The defrocking en masse, the immediate diminution of the number of vocations, the new fads of priests, the spectacular defection of practicing catholics, all this triggered no alarm among the hierarchy, except with the ambiguous Paul VI, affecting a certain anxiety but taking no firm actions. As to the case of the French bishops, they have been inflexible towards any criticism of the Council and its direct consequences. Here is a good example to lead us on the way: Advent 2021 saw the reappearance in the French text of the Catholic creed the expression “consubstantial to the Father”, corresponding with exactitude to the Latin text consubstantialem Patri, as translated since Nicea. Yet, in 1964, and until the recent changes we just mentioned above, French speaking faithful were imposed for the translation the same consubstantialem Patri, the use of the expression “of the same nature as the Father” which broke with the former usage, and betrayed the exact sense, coupled with a theological absurdity. Some seven hundred signatures of educated Catholics appeared on a petition in 1967, requesting from the bishops the restitution of the “consubstantial”. Brought to Cardinal Lefebvre, President then of the French Bishops Conference, it was unsuccessful and received a spicy negative response: “When a group of faithful [among which many academicians !] is busy gathering signatures in great number so to present the hierarchy with a petition in order to obtain, through a public declaration, that the bishops take position, it looks too much like a distrust towards the hierarchy, doubting its integrity. And even more so since all through the Council, various reviews unceasingly made heard that some bishops… […]. Should the bishop intervene, he gives the impression he is being pressured and that he is acting in a partisan way. He looses his authority.”
The anecdote will dispense us from long developments. Lumen Gentium 20/27 incenses like never the role of the bishops. To the faithful who thought of the bishop as successor of the Apostles, appointed by the Pope, paragraph 27 scales it up. “The bishops, as vicar and Christ’s delegate, govern the particular Churches entrusted to them […]. This power they exercise in the name of Christ, is a proper power, ordinary and immediate […]. The pastoral charge […] is entrusted to them in plenitude, and we should not see in them the vicars of the Roman Pontiffs, for they exercise a power of their own, and it is in all truth that we call them chiefs of the people they govern. As such their power isn’t diminished by the supreme and universal power, but on the contrary is affirmed, fortified and defended by him.”
In plain english, “the holy ecumenical council”, as if to repair the Vatican I Papal “preferential treatment”, erected in a Dogmatic Constitution the plenary priesthood of the Ordinaries in a feudal status of immediate Christic Right. If the result is the fussy preservation of an Olympian authority as long as it remains above the melee, and that a protocol worthy of the Spanish Court holds a distance away the pauper of a large dusty Third Estate, here we find ourselves far from the kindness of a Mgr Myriel, benefactor of Jean Valjean, or the realistic pugnacity of a Mgr Freppel as he faces the enemies of the Church. What is precious to an L G bishop? First of all, holiness by right, linked to the brand new status that no assessment could withered; Second of all, the canatus of Spinoza: “Every being tends to persevere in being,” especially if the situation so favorable one would want to remain…
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Schism, magic schism! By its own doing, did the episcopal body not reached its end, that is to say, in half a century, exclude from its communion all these paupers clung to the Faith of the old days? Did those who doubted a geographic schism, made insignificant at first glance by the deconstruction of the ecclesial fabric, think about the real division which took place under our eyes, and that a sane deference prevented from being called an abandonment of paternity? Blinded by their brand new dignity, they have left everything behind, partaken of Ambrosia and Nectar, these useless retrograde paupers, gone, at last… leaning on the balcony of Epicurus, they laugh at our earthly torments. They shall answer. No doubt about that!
Philippe de Labriolle