Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Vatican II And The Curia

Last time we made a stop in this series, we discussed the various reactions to the conciliar summons from Pope John. We also became somewhat familiar with the side of the innovators, progressives, or whatever you want to call them. By the accounts of all the commentators we are examining, they were a group who were unified by their desires to change Church teaching on one or more subjects.

Opposing this group at Vatican II was the Curia. Let's clear something up real fast, though. When any of our commentators mention "the Curia," they are really only talking about one part of it. The Curial boogeyman for all these guys, as well as the innovators at Vatican II, was the Holy Office. That's right, The Inquisition. If you can narrow it down to a single person, the Big Bad was Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani (shown above), Secretary of the Holy Office.

Why was this guy and his particular part of the Vatican machinery such a huge threat? It's quite obvious. These were the doctrinal enforcers. It was their job to examine and sanction heresy whenever and wherever they found it. Naturally, if your party is planning to come in with your primary intention being to change Church doctrine, you are going to have the Holy Office as a huge problem.

Naturally, our commentators share the view that the initial conflict at the Council was between the Curia/Holy Office and the innovators, while granting that further organized resistance emerged as the sessions progressed and it became clear to all parties that the Rhine group was working as a unified body. Everyone should appreciate the frankness of our authors here. It allows us to see the battle lines clearly and understand that the source of the conflicts was the idea of a true Magisterium, as opposed to the vacillations of Modernism.

Consider the Protestant view expressed by Robert Brown that conciliar conservatives were guys "who had spent most of their lives in Rome, nurtured in the tight, defensive patterns of Vatican I."

MacEoin is even more harsh, claiming that the "close-mindedness" among many of the Council Fathers was the result of being "raised in the seminaries established on the instructions of the Council of Trent" and how such seminaries were "giving students only the official side of a question." Disregard whether this is even an accurate description. It's clear that the real problem is that they were being taught orthodoxy and how to defend it. The problem for guys like MacEoin (in his own words) was that "the result was not genuine education but indoctrination." Try to figure out why Catholic indoctrination is bad. Then reflect upon all the great post-Tridentine saints, and ask yourself why MacEoin is so eager to attack such wise and holy people.

Two paragraphs later, he identifies this group as the "hard core of the opposition." "These were the men who in the Holy Office were charged with preserving the purity of the faith by banning books and silencing lecturers . . ."

If this isn't enough, MacEoin actually quotes from Hans Kung as his authority by saying that the greatest hindrance to the progress of the Council is the "fundamental antagonism which has become evident in all things, an antagonism which is not so much between the majority of the Council and a group of the Curia, which, although small in number and without any backing of the faithful, is exceptionally powerful in that it finds itself in possession not only of the most important key positions of the Curia but also of the Council itself."

This opens the door to another remarkable item that we'll see regularly. Our three anti-orthodoxy commentators (MacEoin, Blanshard, and Brown) all portray a great curial conspiracy behind every curtain, while somehow, the innovators consistently win. We'll see the specifics of how this plays out as we go along. Consider, though, that MacEoin has an entire chapter devoted to this topic (Chapter 8) and even concludes the book with an ominous tone by saying that the Council will have accomplished nothing if the Curia is not radically reformed, if not completely abolished in its present state.

Even when Brown talks about Pope John, he can't help but take the stuff the Holy Father did in favor of the traditional faith as Curial machinations contrary to all goodness:

It is impossible to tell how Pope John would have fared had he lived through the duration of the council. Some feel that his charismatic gifts would have been sufficient to lead the council to unprecedented heights. Others argue, with some plausibility, that he would have been hopelessly outmaneuvered by his own curia, as he had been, for example, on the earlier occasion when he signed the document Veterum Sapientiae, a wholly unrealistic demand that all seminary instruction be given in Latin- a demand that was almost universally ignored, even though appearing over the papal signature.

Yep, no way Pope John could have actually meant what he signed, especially since he did so with rather extraordinary trappings, putting the instruction in an apostolic constitution and signing it on the very altar of St. Peter's. It was all a big curial conspiracy. Keep all this in mind, though, because this whole line of thinking is bent to the singular purpose of showing that Pope John's real "goodness" was in letting the innovators have their way.


Cardinal Ottaviani is described by Brown as a "seasoned opponent of change." As such, he and his comrades were high-profile targets for attack, especially since nobody was going to go after the Pope himself. Blanshard admits that "there was no frontal attack in St. Peter's on . . . papal infallibility" but "nevertheless, there was a strong tangential attack on the operations of the Roman papal machine" with critics preferring "to aim their barbs at the most vulnerable part of the Roman apparatus . . . the Curia."

This is best demonstrated by Cardinal Frings of Cologne (a staunch member of the Rhine group) providing "the most dramatic moment of the second session," per Brown. This oft-forgotten bit of history may be one of the most far-reaching elements of the whole Council.

Frings basically said that the procedures of the Holy Office were a "scandal to the world" and (laughably, in my opinion) "a source of harm to the faithful and out of harmony with modern times." Yeah, because so many practicing Catholics were spiritually wounded by not being able to pick up the latest crap from Matthew Fox. This whole shpiel came about because the Holy Office could basically condemn a book without actually talking to the author about it. I have no idea why this is so scandalous, since ambiguity is of itself reason enough to be condemned. Due process might be something we are entitled to under the Constitution, but I'm not sure that it has any roots in Divine Law.

Cardinal Ottaviani retaliated by saying that Frings's comments were a "reflection on the Vicar of Christ," especially since the Pope was de facto the prefect of the Holy Office. Personally, I think this is a legitimate argument. All these folks lining up to praise John XXIII and condemn Ottaviani should ask themselves how His Eminence got into such a position of power in the first place.


You guessed it. Pope John put him there. Why would "The Good Pope" appoint such a monster to so high a position? Maybe because he agreed with him a lot and thought he would do a hell of a job. I'm just sayin'.


Even Blanshard admits that, though the "view of the Holy Office as the voice of the Pope is correct," in reality, it is "the Vatican center of intellectual terror."


By the way, most folks attribute Cardinal Frings's speech against the Holy Office as being written by a young theological expert from Germany. Maybe you've heard of him- Fr. Joseph Ratzinger. I don't have time here to go into the evolution of the current Holy Father's perspective on things, but you can get a good idea from David Gibson's book The Rule of Benedict (which certainly isn't meant as a work of praise) or Fr. Aidan Nichols's work The Theology of Benedict XVI. If you want the historical events, it's probably best to go with the former. Still, it's pretty ironic to look back and see those same criticisms that were lobbed at Cardinal Ottaviani be laid on Pope Benedict's doorstep back when he was with the CDF.


Ultimately, it was for good reason that Fr. Wiltgen, who gives the most unbiased historical account, had an entire section in his book entitled "The Roman Curia Under Fire." I close this section with an account delivered by Fr. Wiltgen regarding the schema on the liturgy. Read this and you'll have a good idea of the respective players:


On October 30, the day after his seventy-second birthday, Cardinal Ottaviani addressed the Council to protest against the drastic changes which were being suggested in the Mass. . . (quotes omitted). . . Speaking without a text, because of his partial blindness, he exceeded the ten-minute time limit which all had been requested to observe. Cardinal Tisserant . . . showed his watch to Cardinal Alfrink (a Rhine group guy whose imprimatur somehow wound up on the heretical Dutch Catechism), who was presiding that morning. When Cardinal Ottaviani reached fifteen minutes, Cardinal Alfrink rang the warning bell. But the speaker was so engrossed in his topic that he did not notice the bell, or purposely ignored it. At a signal from Cardinal Alfrink, a technician switched off the microphone. After confirming the fact by tapping the instrument, Cardinal Ottaviani stumbled back to his seat in humiliation. The most powerful cardinal in the Roman Curia had been silenced, and the Council Fathers clapped with glee.


The Curia would eventually develop allies as the other Council Fathers began to note the Rhine group's concerted actions. This would eventually lead to the formation of the "International Group of Fathers," composed mostly of bishops from Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Latin America.
With the stage now set, we will begin our endeavor of tracking each session, each schema, and each final document.


Stay tuned.

5 comments:

Turgonian said...

Thanks for doing this. I'm learning a lot and might decide to pick up one of the books you use.

Kind regards,

Turgonian, currently residing north of the Rhine.

Alexander said...

It never ceases to amaze me that a lot of folks simply don't know about this stuff - people who should know. Like well known Catholic apologists, TV, and radio personalities.

Simply giving the old "well the Bible is ambiguous sometimes" line just doesn't cut it anymore. Denying that actual problems with this council will not help the crisis of faith, clinging to ambiguity and an inferior Mass will only make things worse. /rant

Joe said...

I would hesitate to include then-Fr. Ratzinger among a list of people such as the Rhineland Cardinals (not because I believe everything he did prior to his papacy was perfect by a long shot) but then-Fr. Ratzinger later to become Cardinal Ratzinger now the Holy Father himself was not and cannot be classified among the heretics ... I know you weren't doing that, but it is possible to read your post in that way and it could be dangerous to do so. :)

Joe (you know me as RCJ ;) )

Throwback said...

I'm not saying any of these guys are heretics. Well, except for Hans Kung, but we all knew that already. I don't want to use the h-bomb unless it's expressly called for.

Cardinal Alfrink, for example, always claimed that his imprimatur was being used without permission.

As for Fr. Ratzinger, I think you'll be surprised how much in the Rhine camp he was. Ultimately, this is what makes his break with Kung, Rahner, and so forth, all the more dramatic.

Mark of the Vineyard said...

«The Curia would eventually develop allies as the other Council Fathers began to note the Rhine group's concerted actions. This would eventually lead to the formation of the "International Group of Fathers," composed mostly of bishops from Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Latin America.»

Can you elaborate some more on this?