2. Has Russia been consecrated to Mary's Immaculate Heart?
Patron: John, I have read conflicting stories about whether Our Lady of Fatima’s request to consecrate Russia have actually happened. This is a scary topic because Our Lady warns us of wars and violence if her requests are not heeded. The world seems to be in chaos today. Can you share your thoughts about this topic?
J. Salza: I am an ardent believer in the message of Fatima, which includes some of the most ominous warnings that God has given us since the apostolic age. But as an attorney who has been trained to examine evidence, I cannot conclude, based on the facts at my disposal, that Russia has been consecrated as Our Lady of Fatima requested.
First, neither John Paul II nor any other pope has ever declared that Russia has been consecrated according to Our Lady’s specific requests. Given the enormity of the Fatima message and the grave consequences that will result if Our Lady’s requests are not heeded, one would think that the pope would issue a document or have a press-conference of sorts (like when JPII and Lucia met in Fatima in 1991), telling the universal Church that the consecration has been accomplished. Doesn’t this make sense? Since the Vatican knows this is such a contentious and confusing question with profound implications, why wouldn’t the pope clarify the matter for us?
In fact, after John Paul II performed his consecration of the “world” to Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart in March 25, 1984, the pope reportedly made some very confusing statements about this consecration. Specifically, both the Italian newspaper Avvenire, as well as L’Osservatore Romano, reported that the pope declared that the consecration according to Our Lady’s request was yet to be performed. The pope was reported as saying “Enlighten especially the people whose consecration and entrusting you are awaiting from us.” The report said the pope made this statement only hours after his consecration of the “world,” to about 250,000 people in St. Peter’s Square.
Second, many people claim that Sister Lucia stated that John Paul II’s consecration in 1984 fulfilled the Blessed Mother’s request. However, it is documented that on at least five separate occasions in the 1980s, Sister Lucia said that the 1984 consecration did not satisfy Our Lady’s request (the most notable statement was reportedly made to the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Sante Portalupi). The rules of evidence refer to this as “inconsistent statements.” In a court of law, this would at a minimum neutralize Sister Lucia’s testimony, if not impeach her as a witness. (NB: If these facts are true, I don’t believe the saintly Sister Lucia was the one contradicting herself; I believe someone else was responsible).
Moreover, Our Lady never employed Sister Lucia to be the one to declare when a valid consecration would be performed. Since the pope is the one making the consecration and is the only person who knows his own intentions, it seems that the pope would have to be the one to declare whether or not the consecration has been completed. Make sense?
Third, we all know that John Paul II said the “world,” and not “Russia” in his 1984 consecration, even though Our Lady specifically requested that “Russia” (not the “world”) be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart. We also know that John Paul II did not have the participation of the world’s bishops in the 1984 consecration. Why is this so important? First and most obviously, because the pope did not follow verbatim what Our Lady requested. Second, and even more enlightening, previous popes effected similar consecrations that did not meet Our Lady’s request either (if they did, then John Paul II would not have performed his consecration in 1984 and would not have said the Russians “still await” the consecration).
In fact, previous papal consecrations were more in line with Our Lady’s requests than John Paul II’s consecration, and yet were still defective. For example, in 1942 Pius XII consecrated the “world” to Mary’s Immaculate Heart, in union with all the bishops. John Paul II’s consecration in 1984 was even less conforming because he didn’t have the participation of the world’s bishops. Pius XII effected another consecration in 1952, which means that Pius XII believed his consecration in 1942 didn’t qualify. If Pius XII’s consecration in 1942 (“world” with the bishops) did not qualify, how can John Paul II’s consecration in 1984 (“world” without the bishops) qualify? This does not make any sense to me.
As alluded to, in 1952, Pius XII consecrated “Russia” to Mary’s Immaculate Heart, but without the union of the world’s bishops. Again, this consecration evidently didn’t qualify either, first because Pius didn’t have the union of all the bishops, and second because Paul VI and John Paul II subsequently did their own consecrations in 1964 and 1984 respectively. These subsequent consecrations affirmed that Pius XII’s 1952 consecration didn’t qualify. Paul VI in 1964 did the same thing that Pius XII did in 1952, consecrating “Russia” without the bishops. If Pius XII and Paul VI’s consecrations (“Russia” without the bishops) did not qualify, then how can John Paul II’s consecration in 1984 (“world” without the bishops) qualify?
Based on the foregoing, I hope you can see that my questions and conclusions are reasonable. I am open to correction on this and any other matter, but based on these facts, I stand by my conclusion.
Patron: But what about the Great Wall of Communism falling? Our Lady promised that Russia would convert if the consecration would be performed properly. Doesn’t the fall of communism mean that the consecration truly has happened?
J. Salza: This can be considered a partial blessing from God, because John Paul II performed a partial consecration. God our Father is faithful and generous, even when we are unfaithful and selfish. We see God granting similar partial blessings in the past for the partial consecrations made by previous popes.
For example, after Pius XII performed his partial consecrations in 1942 and 1952, World War II ended, but the Korean War began. Similarly, after Paul VI performed his partial consecration in 1964, the Korean war ended, but the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam war (both instigated by Russia) began. After John Paul II performed his partial consecration in 1984, the Soviet Union collapsed, but the world is more dangerous than ever before.
Moreover, when Our Lady said, “If they attend to My requests, Russia will be converted and the world will have peace,” she was talking about a spiritual conversion of Russia to her Son, Jesus Christ. She was not talking about worldly, economic benefits associated with the fall of a political regime. Mary’s many appearances have only one purpose in mind: to lead people to Jesus for the purpose of saving their souls. Mary is the one who tells us, “Do whatever He tells you.”
Which brings us to the real issue: has Russia converted to Jesus Christ? Hardly. Russia is still a dangerously anti-Catholic nation, which forbids Catholic evangelization and imposes serious restrictions on establishing Catholic churches in the country. Today, less than one half of one percent of Russia’s population is Catholic. Russia also has the highest rates of abortion, divorce and alcoholism in the entire world. Russia is also a considerable nuclear threat, and still has nuclear arms pointed at the United States. In short, Russia is even more dangerous and morally bankrupt than it was 21 years ago when John Paul II performed his consecration to the world. Are these the fruits of a valid consecration of Russia to Mary’s Immaculate Heart? I cannot say that they are. It certainly is a far cry from the millions of Aztecs who converted to the Catholic faith through the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
3. Vatican II – How authoritative is it?
Kristen: Hello! First of all, I thank you for your website! It is a wonderful way to quickly and easily find thorough Scriptural references for our Catholic Faith! I do, however, have a concern. I see that you have many wonderful links. There is one in particular that interested me, the link to dailycatholic.org for the information on the ecumenical councils. I have concern because the final council listed, Vatican II, is there presented as having let “Satan into the Sanctuary”, and the popes since that council considered invalid. I do not believe this to be true, nor did I find the same attitude in the information on your site, or in the other links on your site that I had the opportunity to explore. I wonder if you have an official stance on this, and I also wonder if there is another website that might have information on the ecumenical councils which does not bash Vatican II and the popes since. I know that you must be incredibly busy, your website must require a lot of work! Just a thought… Again, thank you for providing this wonderfully helpful information!
J. Salza: Kristen, the reason why there is so much confusion on this question it twofold: First, because many people do not understand when the Church teaches infallibly and when she does not. Second, because the texts of the conciliar documents contain ambiguities that can be easily interpreted as contrary to prior Church teaching. I will briefly address both issues.
The First Vatican Council in her Constitution Dei Filius teaches that we have a duty to believe with divine and Catholic faith that which the Church “puts forward to be believed as revealed truth, either in a solemn judgment or by her ordinary and universal Magisterium.” Thus, the Church teaches infallibly in two ways: (1) solemn judgment, or (2) ordinary and universal Magisterium.
The First Vatican Council in her Constitution Pastor Aeternus tells us when the conditions of a solemn judgment are present: (1) The pope must speak as pastor and teach of the whole Church; (2) he must act in the fullness of his apostolic authority; (3) he must clearly express that he intends to bind as revealed truth a doctrine on faith or morals. When these conditions are met, the pope has made a “solemn judgment” which is infallible. A solemn judgment can be issued by the pope ex cathedra (e.g., the pope defines the dogma of the Immaculate Conception or the Assumption of Mary) or through an ecumenical council (e.g., when the pope approves a dogmatic teaching on a matter of the faith which has accompanying anathemas).
The Second Vatican Council issued no “solemn judgments.” While Vatican II did repeat prior dogmatic teaching (e.g., on the Eucharist and Sacred Tradition), it did not define any dogmas or condemn any errors. When Pope John XXIII opened the council, he stated that the council would be “pastoral,” unlike the previous councils. This is why Paul VI said that Vatican II did not issue “any extraordinary statements with a note of infallibility.” So Vatican II is not infallible based upon the first type of teaching, “solemn judgment,” set forth in Vatican I’s Dei Filius.
Before moving on, we should note that condemning error is essential for maintaining the Deposit of Faith. Issuing condemnations of error sustains Catholics in their faith and can lead erring souls to repentance. If the Church does not set the parameters of dogma by failing to condemn error, the faithful have latitude to wander into error and imperil their salvation. I believe the failure of the council to condemn error (especially the evils of the time like Communism and materialism) was imprudent to say the least, it not an outright error in judgment. After all, the primary purpose of the previous councils was not to explicate the faith that the faithful already held in tranquility, but to make clear the errors that were threatening the faith and to refute them by declaring the truths that are directly opposed to them.
Now, regarding Dei Filius’ second type of infallible teaching, which comes from the Church’s “ordinary and universal Magisterium.” The Church exercises her ordinary and universal Magisterium only when (1) the teaching is proposed as revealed truth and (2) is in accord with the universality of Catholic Tradition. Vincent of Lerins in his Commonitorium (A.D. 434) sets forth these criteria when he writes, “What all men have at all times and everywhere believed must be regarded as true.” In other words, for a teaching from the ordinary Magisterium to be irreformable (and thus part of the ordinary universal Magisterium), it must be believed “by all, always and everywhere.” If the teaching doesn’t meet these requirements, it comes from the ordinary (but not universal) Magisterium. Such a teaching must still be given “internal religious assent” (obsequium religiosum) unless sufficient study shows objective reasons to propose emendations and corrections to the teaching.
Was Vatican II an exercise of the “ordinary and universal Magisterium”? Only insofar as Vatican II’s teachings are restatements of prior infallible teaching like on the divinity of Christ or the sinlessness of the Virgin Mary. Otherwise, the Second Vatican Council was an exercise of the “ordinary Magisterium” only. And insofar it was an exercise of the ordinary, but not universal, Magisterium, its teachings are not infallible and are subject to reform.
Many argue that Vatican II was an act of the Extraordinary Magisterium and thus could not have taught error. This is incorrect. The level of authority in the Church’s teaching is not determined by its “accidents” (that is, the external form or appearance of the teaching) but by its “substance” (what the teaching essentially is). For example, the ecumenical Council of Florence (1438-1445) issued a doctrinal teaching on the matter of the sacrament of Holy Orders that was approved by Pope Eugene IV, declaring that the matter was the tradition of the instruments (the presentation of the chalice and host). Thus, the council (which is an “extraordinary” form for teaching) issued a teaching that (1) was proposed as revealed truth. But was the teaching (2) in accord with Catholic Tradition? Was it believed “by all, always and everywhere”?
Pope Pius XII said no when he issued his Constitution Sacramentum Ordinis (1947). The pope corrected the teaching of the Council of Florence by declaring that the matter of the sacrament is the imposition of hands, and that the prayer is the Preface of Ordination (and not the words “Receive the power to offer the sacrifice” as the council of Florence taught). Thus, Pope Pius XII corrected a doctrinal teaching of an ecumenical council because the council’s teaching was not an exercise of the ordinary and universal Magisterium and, hence, subject to reform.
On the other hand, the Church can exercise the ordinary and universal Magisterium in many ways outside of papal decrees and ecumenical councils. For example, the pope can propose as revealed truth a teaching that has been believed by all, always and everywhere, in a public speech or radio address (e.g., if the pope reiterated the Church’s condemnation of contraception or her inability to ordain women to the priesthood). Thus, whether a teaching is part of the ordinary and universal Magisterium depends upon whether it is proposed as revealed truth and whether it is a part of Catholic Tradition.
This means that the teachings of the Second Vatican Council must be evaluated in light of the constant Tradition of the Catholic Church. I believe it is difficult to find some of Vatican II’s teachings on ecumenism, inter-religious dialogue, ecclesiology, collegiality, and religious liberty in the Church’s ordinary and universal magisterial teaching, as many erudite scholars have demonstrated (not to mention its directive to completely reform the liturgy which also has no precedent in Tradition). On the other hand, this was the first pastoral council that the Church ever convoked. In short, even if one concludes that some of the council’s teachings are novel, we cannot overreact to these teachings, for they are not protected by Christ’s promise of infallibility. This is the problem with the sedevacantists. They cannot accept that an ecumenical council like Vatican II could teach error on matters of the faith. But an ecumenical council can teach error if that teaching is not part of the ordinary and universal Magisterium.
Kristen: John, thanks for your answer. I think I understand but want to be sure. You are saying that Vatican II was a “pastoral” council that taught infallibly only to the extent that it reaffirmed the Sacred Tradition. But Vatican II was not a “doctrinal” council that provided infallible definitions on its own. Correct?
J. Salza: That is correct, and that is why Paul VI said that Vatican II did not issue “any extraordinary statements with a note of infallibility.” Vatican II’s statements on Catholic dogma are infallible because they reaffirm the infallible dogma already defined by previous councils (such as its statements on the Eucharistic sacrifice). They are not infallible because they were issued by the council per se, since the council was not dogmatic. As I said before, Vatican II’s pastoral directives (such as its directives on liturgical reform, ecumenism, etc.) and its teachings on religious liberty and ecclesiology are not infallible.
For those who argue that Vatican II was a “doctrinal” council, I refer to a post I sent to Robert Sungenis regarding an article on Vatican II written by James Likoudis:
Hi Robert. I just read your article regarding Mr. Likoudis' interpretation of Vatican II as a "doctrinal" Council. In your next dialogue with Mr. Likoudis, you should ask him exactly what the Council doctrinally defined? If Vatican II was a doctrinal Council, as Mr. Likoudis claims, that means it defined doctrines, just like all the previous Councils did. Yet, when you read through the 16 documents of Vatican II, you discover that no doctrines were actually defined by the Council (which is precisely what Pope John XXIII told us would be the case in his opening address).
When Mr. Likoudis claims that the Council took "doctrinal positions…on Ecumenism, religious liberty and non-Christian religions," ask him to explain the doctrinal positions the Council took. After all, a "doctrinal position" must be based on a "doctrine." What is the doctrine of ecumenism? What is the doctrine of religious liberty?
The fact is, the Second Vatican Council never defined these terms, so it could not have taken any "doctrinal positions" with respect to them. The Council issued no such doctrinal definitions. This has led many in the Church to interpret these and other teachings of the Council in ways that are incompatible with the Tradition of the Church (which may simply be because they cannot be reconciled with the Tradition of the Church).
If the Council did not define the doctrines of ecumenism and religious liberty, then Traditional Catholics cannot be accused of going against the Magisterium when it challenges the Church's pastoral initiatives concerning these non-defined teachings. This means the Church's implementation of these initiatives is still subject to debate and reform.
4. Is the SSPX in schism?
Anonymous: John, please give me your thoughts on whether or not the Society of Saint Pius X is in schism. I have friends who attend an SSPX chapel, and they claim that Catholics are allowed to fulfill their Sunday obligation at these chapels. However, other Catholics have told me that attending such chapels is sinful and worthy of excommunication. This is very confusing to me.
J. Salza: In his Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei Afflicta (July 2, 1988), John Paul II declared that Archbishop Lefebvre committed a schismatic act by illicitly consecrating four bishops and thus incurred latae sententiae excommunication. The pope also said that anyone who formally adheres to the schism is subject to the penalty of excommunication. Because the pope is the supreme legislator of the Church, there is the presumption that the pope’s declaration is just. However, we know from history and Tradition that a pope’s power is not absolute and must be at the service of Tradition, lest he abuse his authority.
As a person who loves the papacy and the Traditional Latin Mass, the SSPX situation brings to my mind many troubling issues. According to the 1983 code of canon law (promulgated by John Paul II), illicitly consecrating a bishop is not a schismatic act. That is most likely why the Holy See gave Lefebvre a canonical warning only about excommunication, not schism, before he consecrated the bishops. Thus, Lefebvre’s action seems to be one of disobedience, but not schism. Disobedience of a papal command does not give rise to schism; the person must actually deny the pope’s authority to be guilty of the crime of schism. The “refusal of submission” (subjectionis) under canon751 must be interpreted in the strictest sense, in favor of the perpetrator. Even the liberal Fr. Yves Congar, a staunch critique of Archbishop Lefebvre, correctly explains that schism involves the refusal to accept the existence of the legitimate authority of the pope (e.g., Luther’s rejection of the papal office), and not the refusal to accept a decision of that legitimate authority. A Catholic who refuses, say, to obey the pope’s directive to pray for peace for a given occasion is disobedient but not schismatic.
We know that Lefebvre – unlike a true schismatic - never denied Pope John Paul II’s authority as the Vicar of Christ. In fact, he believed his actions to secure traditional priests were actually serving the pope and the Church at large. The last thing the bishop wanted to do was to sever ties with Eternal Rome. Moreover, the Church recognized Lefebvre as a valid Catholic bishop prior to his act of disobedience. Again, while the pope is the supreme legislator of the Church, his juridical acts must be at the service of Tradition. The salvation of souls is the supreme law of the Church. The pope’s punitive sanctions must also be based on the canon law he promulgated as a matter of justice, otherwise canon law is useless as a means of warning potential offenders. Was it just for the pope to declare Archbishop Lefebvre’s disobedience to be a schismatic act when consecrating bishops without pontifical mandate under canon law is not a schismatic act, and when the Archbishop was simply trying to preserve the traditional priesthood? I certainly have my doubts.
What about SSPX priests? They would not be in schism or excommunicated because of the actions of their superior. Archbishop Lefebvre's actions, however they are interpreted, are not imputed to the other SSPX priests either canonically or theologically. For example, I am good friends with priests from a number of Catholic orders. If their Provincial were excommunicated for schism, that would not mean all the other priests of the order would be excommunicated as well. That is not how the Church handles disciplinary matters. The same rationale would apply to any other action of any leader in just about any sphere.
A problem with John Paul II's Motu Proprio is that it never provided a definition of "formal adherence" to the schism. This omission has caused much hardship for the faithful. Nevertheless, if a person merely attends Mass at an SSPX chapel out of love for the Traditional Latin Mass, including the piety it fosters and the theological clarity it provides, then such a person would not be in schism. In fact, the Ecclesia Dei commission that John Paul II instituted has said the same. The commission declared that Catholics can fulfill their Sunday obligation by attending Masses offered by SSPX priests. Moreover, if the priests of the SSPX were in schism, the Ecclesia Dei commission would not allow Catholics to frequent their Masses, since they would be allowing Catholics to worship outside the Church. This indicates that SSPX priests are not in fact in schism (for example, Catholics could not fulfill their Sunday obligation by attending liturgies offered by the schismatic priests of the Eastern Orthodox churches). The same commission has said that, so long as Catholics attend SSPX chapels out of their devotion to the Traditional Latin Mass (and not because they want to separate themselves from the Roman Pontiff), such conduct is not sinful.
Many in the Church have stated that the SSPX situation is an internal matter of the Catholic Church and that the SSPX is not a counter-diocese or separate ecclesial structure. That the Church regards the SSPX situation as an “internal matter” also suggests that SSPX priests are not in schism (unless, of course, they deny the authority of the Holy Father which they do not). Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos in five separate interviews has stated that the SSPX is not in formal schism, without any rebuke from the Holy See. The case of the Hawaii six also bears this out. Those excommunications would not have been lifted if those six Catholics were attending Masses offered by schismatic priests. Moreover, if the SSPX priests are “suspended,” and thus still subject to the Church’s disciplinary laws, they cannot be schismatics who are outside the Church. You cannot be outside the Church and still subject to her canon law. This is a legal impossibility.
Pope Benedict XVI’s explanations in his Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum (2007) also indicates that the SSPX is not in schism. After Pope Benedict explains that John Paul II’s 1988 Motu Proprio was issued to bring the SSPX into “full unity” with Rome, the pope specifically says that the positive reason for His Motu Proprio, which update’s the 1988 Motu Proprio, is to come to “an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church,” which means the reconciliation between the SSPX and Rome. This indicates quite clearly that the SSPX is inside the Church, because the reconciliation the pope seeks is an “interior” one that will take place “in the heart of the Church.”
Of course, all of this does not change John Paul II’s declaration that Lefebvre and the four bishops committed a schismatic act (why didn’t the pope include Lefebrve’s co-consecrator Antonio de Castro Mayer?). So what do we do? I think we can say that if priests join or are ordained in the SSPX out of their devotion to the Traditional Latin Mass and do not intend to sever their union with the Holy Father, one cannot conclude that such men are schismatics. Most men become SSPX priests because of their devotion to Tradition and the fact that their diocesan bishops are hostile to the Traditional Latin Mass, and even put unjust restrictions upon it (which is contrary to St. Pius V’s Quo Primum Tempore and now Pope Benedict’s Summorum Pontificum, not to mention the immemorial custom of the Church). How can such priests be in schism?
When there is ambiguity in the law, we need to look to other situations for guidance. When you look at the facts surrounding the communist-founded, abortion-supporting Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA) in China, it is hard to conclude that the SSPX priests are in schism. The Chinese government established the CPA in 1957 as a substitute for the Roman Catholic Church in order to sever Catholics from the true Church and the successor to Peter. The first CPA bishop was ordained in 1958 without a mandate from the Holy See. Pius XII condemned the CPA and declared the election of the CPA bishops invalid and their consecrations illicit. The CPA has since ordained nearly 100 bishops, all without any mandate from the Holy See, and in defiance of the pope’s authority, which they all reject. And the Holy See has not declared the CPA to be in schism! Nor does the Vatican any longer call the Orthodox, who also reject the authority of the Holy Father, schismatics.
How in the world can this be? How can illicitly consecrated bishops who reject the authority of the Holy Father and the moral teachings of the Church not be in schism, while bishops and priests who offer the Traditional Latin Mass, embrace the Holy Father, and live the moral and doctrinal life of the Church be in schism?! Something is wrong in the Church. Note also that the canonical provision used to punish Lefebvre in 1988 was actually enacted to punish the illicit consecrations of the CPA, but the Church didn’t use the provisions to punish the CPA consecrations in 2000 as it did to Lefebvre in 1988! Again, something is wrong in the Catholic Church.
We recall that Pope Saint Pius V’s Quo Primum gives every Latin Rite Catholic the right to attend the Traditional Latin Mass, and every priest the right to celebrate the Traditional Mass, forever. Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 Motu Proprio has affirmed this truth. The Traditional Latin Mass is an immemorial custom of the Church, dating back to Saint Jerome and Pope Saints Leo and Gregory the Great, and the Holy Ghost would never allow it to be obliterated. Even Paul VI stated that the Novus Ordo did not repeal, no, could not repeal, the Traditional Latin Mass. Many historians (Fortescue, Jungman, Buonerotte, Gamber, Thommasi, Davies) demonstrate that the Roman canon goes back to apostolic times. It developed organically under the direction of the Holy Ghost over the centuries, with very few changes. It is the most authentic expression of Catholic Eucharistic theology and piety.
My family and I attend the Traditional Latin Mass. As Fr. Faber said, it is the greatest thing this side of heaven. Pope Saint Pius V has definitively declared that Catholics should not have “any scruple of conscience or fear of incurring any penalty, judgment, or censure” for attending the Traditional Latin Mass. While we wait for a complete reconciliation between the Vatican and the SSPX, let us hold fast to Tradition.
5. Can Vatican II’s teaching on Religious Liberty be reconciled with Tradition?
Patron: John, there is a lot of debate on Vatican II’s document Dignitatis Humanae (Declaration on Religious Liberty) and whether it can be reconciled with Tradition. The document appears to go beyond what the pre-conciliar popes have taught regarding religious freedom.
For example, DH says: “This Vatican Synod 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 in matters religious no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs. Nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits…
This suggests that someone can publicly teach error, and no pope has ever made such a statement. Can you please provide me your comments?
J. Salza: The fact that volumes have been written evaluating whether DH is compatible with tradition demonstrates that the document is prima facie ambiguous, if not problematic. Never before in the history of the Catholic Church has a conciliar document caused so much angst and confusion. That being said, any attempts to reconcile DH with pre-conciliar teaching must ultimately be resolved by the pope who is our final authority on earth. In light of the foregoing, I will respond to your inquiry.
We first note that the council at the beginning of the document declares that “it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.” It is quite amazing that an ecumenical council had to declare that it was not going to touch “traditional Catholic doctrine,” as if it had the power to change “traditional Catholic doctrine.” This unprecedented disclaimer only goes to show that what was to follow was going to give some the impression that the council actually did in fact alter “traditional Catholic doctrine.”
What is the “traditional Catholic doctrine”? The council properly identified it as the moral obligation for all men to worship the true God through membership in the Catholic Church. This means that no man has the moral right to be a member of another religion or to worship God outside of the Catholic faith. This is the unchangeable doctrine of the Catholic Church regarding religious liberty. After setting forth this unprecedented disclaimer, the document reveals its intention to “develop the doctrine of recent popes on the inviolable rights of the human person and the constitutional order of society” (No.1). It was to do this by “bringing forth new things that are in harmony with the things that are old” (No.1). The Church has never been so explicit about its intention to “develop doctrine,” and has never said that it was going to teach “new things” that are in harmony with “old things”, in other words, Tradition. The fact is, “new things” cannot be in harmony with Tradition, because Tradition is the Deposit of Faith that was “once for all delivered unto the saints” (Jd 3).
In the very next section, the document sets forth its understanding of “religious freedom.” It says, “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 in matters religious no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs” (No.2). The first part of this declaration can be easily squared with traditional Catholic teaching. The council says religious freedom means immunity from coercion, that is, being forced to act against one’s will. The Church has always taught that man cannot be coerced to believe against his will. For example, Leo III in Immortale Dei (1885) said that “No one shall be forced to embrace the Catholic faith against his will, for as St. Augustine reminds us, Man cannot believe otherwise than of his own free will.” DH is simply reasserting the obvious.
The document’s “development” on religious freedom comes in the second part of the teaching which says, “Nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits” (No.2). This includes “honoring the Supreme Being in public worship,” and the “right not to be hindered in their public teaching and witness to their faith” (No.4). The “development” continues as the document says, “the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person” and “in his very nature” (No.2). “Thus, it is to become a civil right” (No.2). These “developments” certainly challenge the traditional teaching of the Church on religious liberty. How?
First, DH is saying that man has a right to adhere to religious error which is based on his “dignity” and “nature.” If man has a “moral obligation” to be Catholic, then how can he have a right not to be Catholic which is based on his nature? What is from nature is God-given. It is true that the document says this right must “become a civil right” and never says this is a “moral right.” However, because it says the foundation for the civil right is based on a person’s God-given dignity and nature, it certainly implies that a person’s right to profess error is a God-given, or moral right. The only thing that saves the document from professing this error explicitly is the disclaimer at the beginning, where the council said it was “leaving untouched” the traditional teaching that man has a moral obligation to the Catholic Church. Needless to say, associating one’s right to adhere to error with one’s dignity and God-given nature flirts with a serious error. The current Catechism specifically says that man does not have a license to adhere to error (2108).
Second, DH essentially says that man has a “civil right” to adhere to religious error. Never before has the Church ever said such a thing. No pope before Vatican II ever stated that a person has a civil right to teach error in public, which threatens the souls of Catholics and runs afoul of Christ’s Great Commission. Rather, the popes have said that the government can tolerate religious error for the sake of avoiding greater evil or preserving greater good (Leo XIII, Immortale Dei (1885) and Libertas (1888)). The Church’s tradition has never been to legitimize what God merely tolerates. Thus, the “development” of religious liberty in DH is to move from State toleration to State legitimization. This is the major discontinuity between DH and pre-conciliar teaching. The propagation of error is an evil, not a good, and it can be tolerated only to preserve the public welfare by preventing a greater evil. If the public welfare is not an issue, the propagation of error should be prevented, not given the status of a “civil right” (which means the right exists irrespective of the common good). Granted, DH confines the propagation of religious error in public to “within due limits,” but it nevertheless elevates it to a “civil right” based on the “dignity” and “nature” of the human person. These are unprecedented developments in the Church’s teaching on religious liberty.
In the Summa, St. Thomas Aquinas emphasizes this distinction between “toleration” and the moral faculty of “right” in his treatment of human law. Thomas says that human law is derived from the natural law, but “if in any point [the human law] deflects from the law of nature, it is no longer a law but a perversion of law” Q.95, Art. 2, I-II. As applied here, if a civil right (which gives a person a right to worship a false god and influence others to do so) deflects from the law of nature (which imposes upon a person the obligation to worship the true God and influence others to do so), then we have a perversion of the law. Thus, the civil right (and not mere toleration) to publicly profess error, and risk corrupting Catholics in the process, is a perversion of the law which DH sanctions.
It is true that human law cannot forbid all vices. Thomas explains that the purpose of human law is to lead all men to virtue gradually, not suddenly. If human law required men to abstain from all evil, Thomas says that men would break into even greater evils, being unable to bear such stringent precepts. Q.96, Art. 2, I-II. However, Thomas never says that men have a “civil right” to engage in lesser evils. Instead, “human law rightly allows some vices, by not repressing them” (ibid). In other words, the State tolerates some evil to avoid greater evil. Augustine says, “The law which is framed for the government of states, allows and leaves unpunished many things that are punished by Divine Providence” (De. Lib. Arb. i.5). Thus, the focus of Aquinas and Augustine is on the toleration of evil for a greater good, not elevating the evil to a “right,” civil or otherwise. Moreover, the evil that may be tolerated (which DH enshrines as a civil right) – because it is evil and not good – is subject to God’s divine justice.
In short, there is nothing in the writings of the Fathers, doctors, saints or popes that elevates State toleration of evil to a civil right, especially by basing it upon human nature and dignity. There is a distinction between treating evil as a “civil right” (which gives the State the right to allow evil to exist even if the common good weren’t harmed) and merely tolerating evil for the common good (which would allow the State to punish evil even if the common good weren’t harmed). This is why Pope Leo XIII teaches, in Immortale Dei (1885), that “the Church does not condemn rulers who, for the sake of securing some greater good, tolerate false religions.” Again, there is nothing in pre-conciliar teaching about granting civil rights to objectively evil acts (worshiping in and promoting false religions) based on the dignity of the human person. Pope Pius IX similarly condemned the following: “the best condition of human society is that wherein no duty is recognized by the government of correcting violators of the Catholic religion except when the maintenance of the public peace requires it” Quanta Cura (1864).
What is even more astounding is the fact that DH never reaffirms the Church’s infallible doctrine on the Social Kingship of Jesus Christ that Pope Pius XI teaches in Quas Primas (1925). One wonders how the council could have possibly issued a document on the rights of the State without saying one single word about the rights of Jesus Christ. As Pope Leo XIII teaches in Annum sacrum, “the empire of Christ the King includes not only Catholic nations…but all those who are outside the Christian faith.” The State is a creature that is subject to Jesus Christ, who has a double claim upon every individual as both Creator and Redeemer.
Therefore, the State has an obligation to render to Christ the worship that He has revealed to us through the Catholic religion. This truth is reflected in Pope Pius IX’s condemnation of the following in the Syllabus, No. 77: “In the present day, it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only religion of the state, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship.” States have no right to remain neutral regarding religion or to promote secular policies regarding religion. As Paul says in Romans 13:1, “There is no power but from God.” Because all governments derive their power from God, no government has a right to enact a law that is contrary to the laws of God. Through its glaring omission of the Kingship of Christ (Pax Christi in Regno Christi), DH gives the impression that it has given the rights of contemporary man priority over the rights of Jesus Christ.
The only saving grace in DH’s teaching on the “civil right” to publicly profess error is that the right must be constrained “within due limits.” As we have said, if the greater good is harmed, then the religious freedom falls outside of “due limits” imposed by DH and must be restrained. Because the “common good” is a relative condition based upon the evolution of culture, the Church’s approach to religious freedom and the common good in DH is a policy that can change, not a doctrine that cannot change. The Catechism in paragraph 1906 defines the “common good” as “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.” Thus, because “social conditions” change, the “common good” and policies relating to it can also change. This also means that DH is not part of the Church’s ordinary and universal infallible Magisterium, and is subject to amendment and reform in the future.
6. What is the Church’s teaching on “Limbo”?
Patron: John, what is the Church’s teaching on Limbo? Is this still a teaching of the Church? What does the Church definitively say about the destiny of unbaptized babies?
J. Salza: The common teaching and traditional catechesis of the Church has always included the belief in “Limbo.” While the Church never made the teaching a dogma that is binding on the faithful, it has been around for centuries, and popes, councils and fathers have advanced the teaching as part of the Catholic faith. Thus, it cannot be casually dismissed.
The word “limbo” comes from the Latin word limbus which means “on the margin.” Two ecumenical councils (Lyons and Florence), Pope Innocent II (1201), Pope John XXII in his Epistle to the Armenians (1321), Pope Sixtus V (1588) and Pope Pius VI (1794) all teach that limbo is the border of hell. These authorities teach that those babies who die in original sin go down into hell but suffer different punishments from those who die in mortal sin. That is, if hell is the exclusion of the beatific vision, limbo (which also excludes the beatific vision) is the “margin” of hell itself. These teachings are based on Christ’s own teaching: “Unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5); “he who believes and is baptized will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).
Pope Sixtus V in his Constitution Effrænatam (1588) said: “For who would not detest a crime as execrable as this — a crime whose consequence is that not just bodies, but — still worse! — even souls, are, as it were, cast away? The soul of the unborn infant bears the imprint of God's image! It is a soul for whose redemption Christ our Lord shed His precious blood, a soul capable of eternal blessedness and destined for the company of angels! Who, therefore, would not condemn and punish with the utmost severity the desecration committed by one who has excluded such a soul from the blessed vision of God? Such a one has done all he or she could possibly have done to prevent this soul from reaching the place prepared for it in heaven, and has deprived God of the service of this His own creature.”
While the exclusion of unbaptized babies from the beatific vision has been taught by the Church for centuries, whether these babies actually suffer has been debated. Augustine said they are excluded from the beatific vision and suffer in hell, but their suffering is the mildest. He also said that we cannot even conclude that they wouldn’t want to exist in such a state. Aquinas, on the other hand, said they are excluded from the beatific vision but enjoy natural happiness. As with most things, I side with Aquinas. A just God punishes only those who commit deliberate sin. A baby who dies in original sin has not committed a deliberate sin (although his parents who failed to baptize the child may certainly have).
Nevertheless, running the risk of excluding a child from the beatific vision for all eternity by failing to baptize the child is a consequence that is beyond comprehension. The fact that limbo is a debatable issue with such grave consequences underscores just how important baptism is. Baptism is objectively necessary for salvation. Baptism removes the doubt. There is nothing wrong with the Church saying that we have a “hope” of eternal life for unbaptized babies, based upon the justice and mercy of God. But we cannot be assured they these babies are saved, particularly in light of what popes and councils have said about the matter.
The bottom line is that, in the absence of a revelation or dogmatic statement by the pope, we will never be certain about these babies’ eternal destiny. Based upon the foregoing authorities, one can reasonably conclude that exclusion from the beatific vision is more likely, and eternal bliss in heaven less likely. But we just don’t know. We need to commend these children to the mercy of God who is not bound by His sacraments. We should never underestimate His mercy.
7. What are we to think of the “Sedevacantists”?
Rich: John, what is your position on sedevacantism. I have heard sedevacantists speak and have read a lot of their material. They are very intelligent people and are quite convincing. How are we to respond to their position?
J. Salza:Rich, “sedevacantists” should change their name to “capitavacantists” (empty heads) because their heads must be empty to argue that we have no pope. I don’t mean to denigrate these people, and I acknowledge that many of them are very intelligent. But I completely reject their position. They have overreacted to the crisis in the Church in a way that is Protestant, not Catholic. This is how I approach the subject.
First, it was in connection with the appointment of Peter over the Church that Christ promised the gates of hell would not prevail against her (Mt 16:18). Thus, if there is no Peter, there is no Church, and the gates of hell have prevailed. If the sedevacantists are right (that we have no pope and we don’t know where the next pope will come from), then this makes the Savior’s promise a lie and Christianity a false religion.
Second, the First Vatican Council infallibly teaches that the Church endures always because Peter has “perpetual successors.” The Council makes it clear that the Church’s perpetuity exists, not because of the office of Peter, but because of the person of Peter, for the office would mean little without the person. Anyone who denies this teaching is anathema. Again, if the Sedevacantists argue that there is no person in Peter’s office, then the Church no longer exists because her perpetuity depends upon Peter’s successors. Such a position is anathema.
Sedevacantists rebut by saying we can have a gap in papal successors because we have gaps (interregnums) in papal successors after a pope dies. But don’t you think Vatican I took this into account when it taught that there must be perpetual successors to Peter’s chair? Don’t you think the council knew about interregnums? Of course it did. The First Vatican Council has already dealt with the issue of Sedevacantism by infallibly declaring that Peter would always have perpetual successors, notwithstanding required interregnums after the death of a pope. Sedevacantists deny that the Church has perpetual successors because they claim we haven’t had a pope in 48 years and don’t know where the next pope is coming from.
No one is denying that a pope can lose his office if he becomes a formal heretic. Robert Bellarmine, a doctor of the Church, taught that a pope would lose his seat if he were to deny or doubt an article of divine and Catholic faith and obstinately persist in his belief. I am not aware of any reputable theologian who denies Bellarmine’s teaching. Note that the pope must not only deny Catholic truth, but he must also do it knowingly and pertinaciously. In other words, he must be confronted about his heretical beliefs still persist in his error. This means that the pope must be a formal (not just a material) heretic.
The issue is not whether a pope can lose his office for formal heresy; he can. The issue is how do we determine when the pope loses his office for formal heresy. How do we determine when this happens? This is the sole issue on the question of Sedevacantism.
The Sedevacantists would have us believe that this determination can be made in an unofficial, informal capacity by a .00001 percent of the Catholic population in factious, grass roots efforts made up primarily of lay people. Not only is this illogical, but no where in the Church’s 2,000 year history is there any precedent for such a position.
Instead, the Church has indicated that such a determination would have to be made in a formal, official capacity such as the invocation of an ecumenical council. This is the teaching of Sts. Anthony of Florence and Alphonsus Liguori, the latter being a doctor of the Church. In fact, this has been the practice of the Church when investigating the heresy of a pope.
For example, when Pope John XXII in 1331 taught in a series of sermons that the holy souls do not see God until the Last Judgment, Cardinal Orsini called for a general council to declare the pope a heretic. As a result, the pope stated that he had not intended to bind the Church to his teaching and retracted his error the day before he died.
Similarly, when Pope Honorius (625-638) in an informal letter approved Sergius’ formula that Christ had one will, the Third Council of Constantinople (680-681) posthumously condemned Honorius and Sergius for heresy. Pope Leo II affirmed the council’s condemnation (Honorius’ teaching was unofficial and thus did not invoke the Church’s charism of infallibility).
These two examples demonstrate that when a pope is suspected of heresy (which could cause him to lose his office), the determination of whether the pope is in fact a heretic must be done in a formal and official capacity, presumably through a general council. Moreover, even though Honorius was condemned by a pope and an ecumenical council, he was never declared to be an anti-pope! Honorious was still considered the pope!
There is nothing in the Church’s tradition that says the determination of whether a pope is in heresy can be made by the public opinion of .00001 percent of the Catholic population, made up mostly of lay people who have no formal role within the Church’s official, ecclesiastical structure. Further, even where a pope is condemned for heresy (like Honorius) by a general council, the heresy must be formal (i.e., knowingly denying an article of Catholic faith) for the pope to lose his office. Such a situation, while possible, is quite unimaginable. Even Martin Luther, the psychotic alcoholic who called the Vicar of Christ an “ass-head,” was given a chance to explain himself before the Church condemned him. Shouldn’t the Holy Father get the same due process?
Sedevacantists rebut by saying that an official determination cannot be made since all (or most of) the Cardinals and bishops are imposters. This, of course, begs the question. Who made that determination? And if that were really true, then they dig themselves an even deeper hole. Not only are there no perpetual successors to the chair of Peter, there are no cardinals available to elect a new successor! This means that there is no more Catholic Church and the gates of hell have prevailed.
We should also point out the difference between judging the pope and resisting him. In the Bull Cum Ex Apostolatus (1559), Pope Paul IV declared that the pope is “judged by none in this world,” but “may nonetheless be contradicted (resisted) if he be found to have deviated from the faith.” Thus, there is a distinction between judging or deposing a pope, and resisting a pope. The esteemed 16th century theologian Francisco Suarez even taught that a pope could be a schismatic and hence resisted, but would still retain his office as successor to Peter. Indeed, there must be an official determination of formal heresy by the Church hierarchy before a pope can be deposed and lose his office.
In short, the Sedevacantist thesis rests entirely upon the private judgment of its own adherents. Sedevacantism is, in fact, nothing more that Protestantism by professing Catholics – a hodge-podge of private opinions by splintering factions without any internal controls. This is why various branches of sedevacantism have already elected about 20 different popes throughout the world! They are sure that we don’t have a true pope, but they cannot even agree on who the real pope is!
All this, of course, puts the cart before the horse. That is because the Sedevacantists have not proven that John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II or Benedict XVI have become formal heretics (nor do they have the authority to make such a determination). In fact, they have not even proven that these popes have taught formal heresy. I will admit that a few of Pope John Paul II’s words and actions have been ambiguous at times. The popes, just like the rest of us, succumb to weakness. But this does not prove heresy. And it certainly does not prove the personal sin of formal heresy for no individual is the pope’s judge.
Moreover, none of the five popes mentioned above have bound Catholics to anything contrary to the faith. Although we are experiencing a liturgical and theological crisis in the Church, the fact is that Catholics are free to practice the faith as they always had before 1958. Sedevacantists argue that true popes would not have allowed such harm to come to the Church. Says who? God Himself warned us that the Church would house wolves in sheep’s clothing. The Church’s esteemed theologians teach that a pope can indeed cause harm to the Church, and when he does so he must be resisted. Sedevacantists should also look back to the Arian crisis when almost the entire Church – except for a handful of bishops – embraced the Arian heresy. Even the pope flirted with the heresy. But no one declared that the Church lacked a pope.
While I sympathize with their concerns, Sedevacantism is an over-reaction to the theological, liturgical and disciplinary crisis in the Church (which I heartily acknowledge exists). Just as Protestants criticize every wayward utterance of the pope to prove that the Catholic Church is false, Sedevacantists do the same thing to prove that the Catholic Church has no pope. They are both in grave error.
8. No criticisms of Pope John Paul II?
Danny: John, I have spent a lot of time reading your apologetics in your books and on your websites. I must say, you are truly among the best Catholic apologists in the business.
It is obvious that you have a traditionalist “bent,” and so I wonder why you haven’t more written about all the problems in the Church. Many of your traditionalist brethren have called a spade a spade, criticizing the popes and the prelature when needed. Pope John Paul II is a great example. He has done many things that have been offensive to Catholic sensibilities, like kissing the Koran, saying the Old Covenant has never been revoked, praying with pagans, etc. How come you haven’t criticized John Paul II for these aberrations? I would love to see your mind dissect these matters for us.
J. Salza: Danny, thank you for your kind words. Yes, I am a Traditional Catholic, and yes, some of the things that the late pope has done have not squared with the Church’s perennial tradition and praxis. All of the defenders of the papal office, including Jacobazzi, Cajetan, Cano, Suarez, and Bellarmine taught that a pope could indeed break with the Church’s tradition, while not binding the faithful to error. Nevertheless, we must be careful not to judge the pope, for he is the Vicar of Christ, and has no judge but God. Thus, we must let God be the judge. Yet, because God has given us an objectively knowable body of tradition, we can know whether the pope’s words and actions are consonant with this tradition, for the pope’s words and actions must be at its service. We must also keep in mind that the pope, the papa, is our spiritual father. If we wouldn’t post criticisms of our earthly fathers on internet websites, we better think hard about posting criticisms of the Holy Father on the web, particularly when they are invariably (and erroneously) interpreted as criticisms about the person of the pope.
The problem I see with many of the criticisms of Pope John Paul II is that they fail to make a distinction between the pope’s objective words and actions and his subjective intentions. The critics act like they know the mind of the pope. They often don’t make the proper distinctions. Objectively speaking, we can conclude that the Vicar of Christ should not venerate a book that denounces Christ (the Koran) or ask for God’s blessings upon the false religion of Islam. We may even say that such actions objectively cause grave scandal. But we do not know what the pope’s subjective intentions were when he did those things. Maybe it was John Paul II simply being the over-indulgent father who acted impetuously and wanted to express his love for Muslims but, presumably, not their religion. That is most likely the case. When Catholics, instead, immediately conclude that the pope has become an apostate or was really praising the false religion of Islam, they are judging his subjective intentions. They have no right to make such a judgment.
While we are not to judge the pope, we can resist him if he commands something that is contrary to the faith or would cause scandal. Scripture reveals how the pope can be lawfully resisted in such cases (Gal 2:11), and the same is affirmed by Augustine and Aquinas. The papacy is not an office of absolute and arbitrary authority. For example, if the pope commanded me to kiss the Koran, I would lawfully resist him. If the pope commanded me to pray with pagans, I would lawfully resist him. If the pope told me to invoke my patron Saint – John the Baptist – to bless Islam, I would resist. As Peter and the apostles said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). These, of course, are extreme examples, which means that resisting a pope must be a rare occurrence. Cardinal Newman says that we must be able to say, in the presence of Almighty God, that we cannot act upon a papal injunction; otherwise, we must.
I believe it is proper for Catholics to raise their concerns about the pope’s objective words and actions in a respectful way and according to their own abilities. In fact, John Paul II’s own canon law 212 provides for the same. But when it comes to the Vicar of Christ, this has to be done with the utmost respect and dignity. I am not sure that websites run by lay people are the best medium for this. Further, the pope must always get the benefit of the doubt. He must be given a chance to explain himself. At most, we may carefully question objective words and actions, and hope our inquiries bring about clarification. But we can never judge the pope’s subjective intentions. This can be gleaned from Pope Paul VI’s Constitutio Cum Ex Apostolatus Officio (1559) which says that, on the one hand, the pope can “be judged by no one in this world,” but on the other hand, also says that the pope “may be corrected if he is apprehended straying from the faith.”
9. Can Catholics be cremated?
Ray: John, I have always understood the Church to teach that Catholics cannot be cremated. However, a friend told me that the Church has changed its position on cremation. Is this true?
J. Salza: Ray, the Church has always taught that Catholics cannot be cremated because cremation implicitly denies faith in the resurrection of the body. This is why opposition to cremation goes all the way back to the Old Testament period. Cremation has its origins in pagan and seditious practices.
The 1917 code of canon law provided the following:
Your confusion stems from the fact that the current Catechism and 1983 code of canon law appear to call into question the Church’s traditional teaching. For example, CCC 2301 provides: “The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.” Canon 1176 §3 of the 1983 code provides: “The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burial be retained; but it does not forbid cremation, unless this is chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching.”
So, what are we to make of this? Is this a change in the Church’s teaching or isn’t it?
One can argue that the Church has opened the door to the possibility of cremation if there is no denial of the resurrection or motives that are anti-Christian. While I personally don’t agree with this argument, I note the following points:
1. While the CIC 1176.3 provides a negative statement which is cursory and ambiguous, CCC 2301 provides a positive statement about cremation. The positive statement permits cremation unless one denies faith in the resurrection. This, on its face, would seem to mean just what it says, that I am permitted to be cremated unless I deny faith in the resurrection. If I don't deny the resurrection, even if I am not ignorant, I can be cremated.
2. The negative statement of CIC 1176.3, while stated in the negative, also permits cremation unless it is chosen for reasons contrary to Christian teaching. I don't see how the negative statement requires one to demonstrate Christian reasons for choosing cremation. It only requires one who has chosen cremation not to have chosen cremation for non-Christian reasons. For example, if I choose cremation for financial reasons, but do not deny the resurrection, the Church evidently would not prohibit the cremation canonically, because I have not chosen cremation for non-Christian reasons.
3. The issue of cremation also differs from the head covering issue that I have addressed elsewhere in our Q&A section because of the statement in the Catechism. With regard to head coverings, the Catechism is silent, and there is no Magisterial teaching abrogating the head covering custom. Thus, we can argue that the Church has not revoked the immemorial custom of head covering (and only the Church's Magisterium could revoke such a custom; canon law could not). But with cremation, the Catechism is not silent. It says that the Church permits cremation unless faith in the resurrection is denied.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, I would argue that a single statement from the Catechism, which relies exclusively on a relatively ambiguous law, does not revoke an immemorial custom. Moreover, the law, which is stated in the negative (which makes it ambiguous, i.e., “the Church does not forbid cremation if…”) is inconsistent with prior canon law and Catholic teaching. We would need a papal or Magisterial statement to overrule an immemorial custom of the Church. I believe that the current code of canon law backs up my argument. For example:
No law in the 1983 code abrogates or derogates from the 1917 prohibitions against cremation or the Church’s 1926 condemnation of cremation. CIC 1176.3 earnestly recommends the pious custom of burial, and thus prohibits cremation unless the reasons for choosing cremation are not contrary to the Christian faith. Note that CIC 1176.3 is examining the motives of the one requesting cremation. The Church has always held that cremation is permissible only in emergency situations like war and disease. Outside of such emergencies, there would seem to be no legitimate reasons for cremation, and certainly no Christian motives for doing so.
While CIC 1176.3 may have attempted to relax the previous prohibitions, it did not do a very good job of it. We cannot say that the current law is “expressly” or “directly contrary” to prior law, or has “completely” reordered the earlier law. This means that the previous prohibitions on cremation have not been abrogated.
Because CIC 1176.3 is ambiguous and non-definitive (by “earnestly recommending” burial but “not forbidding” cremation for Christian motives which, by the way, don’t exist), then the revocation of the 1917 prohibitions on cremation are not presumed. Rather, the 1983 law must be harmonized with the prior law prohibiting cremation. Because the 1983 law opens the door by allowing cremation if the reasons are not opposed to Christian teaching, but does not provide us with such reasons, then we can presume that the only legitimate reasons for cremation which are not opposed to Christian teaching are for emergency situations (e.g., war and disease).
Thus, a centenary or immemorial custom, such as the prohibition against cremation (which has existed for 2000 years), has attained the force of law by its uninterrupted practice in the Church. Even a canon law allowing cremation cannot overrule an immemorial custom, most especially a law like CIC 1176.3 which is ambiguous and fails to revoke the Church’s previous prohibitions. This is why we need a papal or Magisterial declaration to overrule the immemorial custom against cremation.
I don’t believe a statement like the one provided by CCC 2301 (which requires a factual analysis of a person’s motives) overrules an immemorial custom. If, for over 4,000 years, cremation has been viewed as denying faith in God and resurrection, an ambiguous statement in the 1992 Catechism does not suddenly make cremation permissible for any reason. In summary, while the 1983 code of canon law and the Catechism have opened the door for an examination of a person’s motives who is requesting cremation, they have provided no guidance on what legitimate motives could possibly exist. In the absence of such guidance, we must rely on the Church’s 2,000 year-old teaching that cremation is permissible only in emergency situations such as war and disease.
10. Do SSPX priests have jurisdiction to hear confessions?
Anonymous: John, I was researching the issue of whether or not the priests of the SSPX can hear confessions and found this write-up on Jimmy Akin’s blog. Mr. Akin concludes that the SSPX priests do not have jurisdiction to hear confessions. Do you agree? Could you please comment on Mr. Akin’s analysis?
J. Salza: Sure. Please be advised that I am providing you my opinions only. My opinions are subject to the judgment of the Roman Catholic Church, who alone has the authority to resolve with finality this very difficult issue. The question of jurisdiction of SSPX priests (which refers to the right to exercise their ministry) is a very important one affecting many souls. I pray that the Church will definitively resolve this issue for the good of these souls, if her canon law has not already done so.
J. Akin: The limits of the principle of ecclesia supplet ("the Church supplies") are spelled out in the Code of Canon Law as follows:
§2. The same norm is applied to the faculties mentioned in cann. 882, 883, 966, and 1111, §1. The immediately relevant part of this canon to the situation of confessions is §2, which applies the principles of §1 to the faculties for hearing confessions mentioned in Canon 966. In order for those faculties to be supplied, the conditions mentioned in §1 must be satisfied (mutatis mutandis for the fact we are talking about sacramental faculties rather than the power of governance).
Per §1 (via §2), one of two situations must exist for the Church to supply the missing faculties in
a particular case. Either:
2. There is a positive and probable doubt of law or of fact regarding whether the faculties exist.
J. Salza: I agree. But let’s define some terms. First, let’s deal with the first prong of Canon 144. “Common” refers to a community of believers. It is generally defined as a group of reasonable persons (i.e., average Catholics). “Error” refers to a mistake which, here, means an erroneous belief. So the question is whether a group of reasonable persons would erroneously believe that an SSPX priest had ordinary jurisdiction based on law or fact.
Now, let’s deal with the second prong of Canon 144. “Doubt” is a state in which the mind is not able to make a decision between contradictory conclusions. The doubt is “positive” when there are probable reasons for one or both decisions. The doubt is “probable” when there is strength to the foundation for the decision. Let’s keep these terms in mind as we proceed with our analysis.
J. Akin: In the case of whether an SSPX priest has faculties, there is no question of law but only a question of fact: Does the priest have faculties from the competent authority to hear the confessions of the faithful in the local area?
J. Salza: I agree that this is a question of factual common error and not legal common error, but disagree with the way in which Mr. Akin has framed the question.
In determining factual common error, the proper question is not whether the priest has faculties, but whether a group of reasonable persons would erroneously believe that an SSPX priest has faculties based on the facts. What facts would lead a group of reasonable persons to believe an SSPX priest has faculties? If they saw the priest celebrating Mass in a Catholic chapel, which publicly advertised its Mass times, and where hundreds of people regularly gathered on Sundays for Mass. It seems to me that a group of reasonable persons (average Catholics) who witnessed these facts could erroneously believe that the SSPX priest had faculties. Moreover, it is not necessary that the people actually believe the priest has faculties; only that a group of reasonable persons could be induced to believe he had faculties.
As an aside, if we were addressing legal common error (which we are not), the question would really be whether a group of reasonable persons would erroneously believe an SSPX priest had faculties based on the law. The answer would be “No” because, as Mr. Akin correctly points out, Canon 969 gives the local ordinary alone the competency to confer faculties, and SSPX priests have not been granted faculties by their local ordinaries.
J. Akin: The only authority competent to grant the faculty of hearing the confessions of the faithful in the local area is a local ordinary:
The diocesan bishop is one such ordinary, though a given diocese may have additional ordinaries capable of granting faculties.
J. Salza: I agree.
J. Akin: This focuses the question as follows: Is there (a) a common error or (b) a positive and probable doubt as to whether a local ordinary of the diocese has granted an SSPX priest the faculty of hearing the confessions of the faithful? A common error is a term of art referring to an error affecting a certain community whereby a reasonable and prudent person would give his assent to the error (see the green CLSA commentary on Can. 144 for further elaboration on this point).
J. Salza: Yes, we have already defined these terms. Mr. Akin is referring to pages 193-194 of the CLSA.
J. Akin: Even though the people attending an SSPX chapel form a community capable of having a common error, it does not appear that a common error exists on this point since it is implausible on its face that a local ordinary in communion with the pope would grant faculties to an SSPX priest. This means that a reasonable and prudent person would not give his assent to the idea that the local ordinary has done so, and thus there does not appear to be a common error.
J. Salza: I have to disagree with this analysis. Mr. Akin says that an SSPX community is “capable of having a common error,” and then says that common error does not appear to exist. The fact that a community is capable of common error is precisely what triggers supplied jurisdiction. If a fact could induce Catholics to believe that a priest has faculties, the Church supplies jurisdiction under Canon 144 on the grounds of factual common error. Would a community of average Catholics be induced to believe that a priest has faculties if they saw that priest celebrating Mass and hearing confessions in a Catholic chapel? Particularly when the chapel is in the public square, advertises its Mass times, has hundreds of congregants and all the other indicia of a Catholic parish? (Remember, the community doesn’t have to actually believe it; only that they could be induced to believe it.) I believe the answer to this question is “Yes.” This is why the community of believers is “capable of having a common error.”
It is not much different than seeing a priest sitting in a chair on a remote beach vested with a stole and hearing confessions. A community of reasonable persons could be induced to believe that this priest has faculties. Of course, the Church supplies faculties only for cases where the person acting would have been capable of exercising the power (he must be a priest). Thus, if this same community of believers saw a teenage boy or a woman attempting to hear confessions, the Church would not supply faculties no matter what the community believed. Moreover, in such an outrageous case, a community of reasonable persons could not believe that the boy or woman had faculties in the first place, and thus there is no factual common error.
J. Akin: Is there a positive and probably doubt as to this question? It does not appear so. A doubt is a situation in which a person cannot make a decision between contradictory conclusions. In this case the doubt would involve a person being unable to make a decision about whether the local ordinary has granted the priest faculties.
J. Salza: I have to disagree with this analysis as well. Mr. Akin erroneously limits the doubt to whether a person is “unable to make a decision about whether the local ordinary has granted the priest faculties.” Canon 144 says the Church supplies faculties “in positive and probable doubt of law or fact.” We have already seen that there are arguments for factual common error. There may also be doubt as to whether there is factual common error. Thus, there may be “doubt of law,” namely, the application of Canon 144’s factual common error exception to SSPX priests. The only question is whether this doubt is positive and probable.
J. Akin: For the faculties to be supplied via ecclesia supplet, the doubt would have to be positive and probable. A positive doubt is one in which there are arguments both for and against the idea in question. It does not appear, apart from very bizarre circumstances, that there would be any arguments supporting the idea that the local ordinary has supplied faculties to an SSPX priest, meaning that any such doubt on the part of the faithful would not be positive. Given the massive improbability of the local ordinary doing so, it does not appear that it would be a probable doubt, either. Thus in the absence of a doubt that is both positive and probable, and in the absence of a common error, the principle of ecclesia supplet would not be engaged and the Church would not supply the faculties to an SSPX priest.
J. Salza: Again, we are not limited to Mr. Akin’s question of whether “the local ordinary has supplied faculties to an SSPX priest.” There are no reasonable arguments supporting that conclusion. The question, rather, is whether there is “positive and probable doubt of law,” namely, the application of the law recognizing factual common error, for ecclesia supplet to be triggered. As applied here, there are arguments supporting the idea that a community of reasonable persons (average Catholics) would believe an SSPX priest had faculties, leading to factual common error. There may also be arguments supporting the idea that a community of reasonable persons (well-informed Catholics?) would not believe an SSPX priest had faculties so that there is no factual common error (however, it seems that these arguments would not be as strong since it is not what the community actually believes, but only what a community of reasonable persons would be induced to believe).
Thus, there is “positive doubt” concerning whether the law of factual common error applies to SSPX priests (“doubt of law” can deal with the law’s meaning, application, existence, extension, force or cessation). The doubt also appears to be probable because there are strong arguments in favor of the conclusion that a community of reasonable persons (average Catholics) could be induced to believe a priest celebrating Mass in an SSPX chapel has faculties. Thus, it seems to me that there is “positive and probable doubt of law” which leads the Church to supply jurisdiction to SSPX priests to hear confessions. This is consistent with the Church’s supreme law: The salvation of souls.
In summary, if a fact could induce Catholics to believe that a priest has faculties, the Church supplies jurisdiction under Canon 144 on the grounds of factual common error (first prong). If a positive and probable doubt exists as to the application of this law (of factual common error), the Church still supplies jurisdiction under Canon 144 (second prong). In my opinion, SSPX priests meet both the first and second prong, or, at least the second prong of Canon 144. This is sufficient for ecclesia supplet to apply.
J. Akin: There is also a further problem with the idea that the Church might supply faculties: namely, that the Church supplies missing faculties to its own ministers and not to priests in a state of schism. Thus it does not supply faculties to Eastern Orthodox priests. Those priests, never having been baptized or received into the Latin Church, are not subject to the Latin Church's canon law (Can. 11) and thus not required to have faculties per Can. 966. SSPX priests, however, typically have been baptized or received into the Latin Church and thus are required to have faculties per Can. 966.
J. Salza: Mr. Akin assumes SSPX priests are in “schism,” but the Magisterium has made no such declaration. Pope John Paul II declared that Archbishop Lefebvre performed a schismatic act by consecrating bishops without papal mandate, but did not declare all of the priests of the SSPX to be in schism. The actions of a superior are not imputed to the members of his religious order, either theologically or canonically. John Paul II’s Ecclesia Dei commission has also stated that Catholics can fulfill their Sunday obligation at Masses offered by SSPX priests. That SSPX priests are not in schism has been repeatedly affirmed on at least five separate occasions by Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos in public interviews. If SSPX priests were in schism, the Church would not allow Catholics to frequent their chapels since they would be allowing Catholics to worship outside of the Church. That SSPX priests are “suspended” further demonstrates that they are not in schism, since schismatics cannot be subject to canonical suspension because they are outside the Church and not subject to the Church’s canon law.
Further, Canon 1335 provides that where a latae sententiae censure has not been declared, the prohibition on celebrating the sacraments is suspended whenever a member of the faithful requests a sacrament or sacramental or an act of governance “for any just cause.” As applied here, John Paul II did not declare a latae sententiae excommunication against SSPX priests. Thus, assuming SSPX priests are suspended, they are nevertheless allowed to celebrate the sacraments licitly if a member of the faithful so requests for any just cause. A desire to attend the Traditional Mass, which right was secured by Pope Saint Pius V and recognized by Pope John Paul II, is certainly a just cause. Sound, spiritual direction in the confessional for the welfare of one’s soul is also a just cause. The salvation of souls is the supreme law of the Church.
Further, Canon 844, sec. 2 provides that the Christian faithful can even approach non-Catholic ministers for Penance, the Eucharist and Anointing of the Sick in whose churches these sacraments are valid if it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister for the sacraments. If SSPX priests were really not Catholics (which is not true), Catholics could still approach them for the sacraments if it were physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic priest. Unfortunately, in many Novus Ordo parishes, Catholics in good conscience believe that it is morally impossible to approach their priests for the sacraments, due to their questionable intentions in celebrating the sacraments (e.g., whether they intend to offer the Sacrifice; because they deny mortal sin, etc.), grave disregard for liturgical rubrics, abuses of the Eucharist, modernist theology, immodest dress, and anything else that endangers their souls and the souls of their children. The faithful have a right to be certain of the doctrine and the sacraments that they receive.
Further, it makes no sense to me that a Catholic can receive the sacraments from a non-Catholic minister but not from a Catholic (SSPX) priest. Canon 844 demonstrates that the Church wants the faithful to have the broadest access possible to the sacraments of Jesus Christ. Why? Because the supreme law of the Church is the salvation of souls. SSPX priests do what they do for that very reason.
We must also remember that canon law is not the only law of the Church that applies to situations like this. There are traditional, ecclesiastical and hierarchical laws, and even the general principles of law (virtue of equity, epikeia), that are fundamental and divine, even if not written down (see canon 19). All these laws are ordered to the supreme law: salus animarum suprema lex. Man has an obligation to save his soul, and thus has a right to receive the means of salvation. While the law of receiving jurisdiction from the hierarchy is a divine law, it is subordinated to the superior law of exercising the priestly ministry. When there is a conflict, the superior law must prevail over the inferior law, which is why ecclesia supplet exists. A man’s right to receive the means of salvation should never be limited by positive law, for in such cases, “the letter killeth” (2 Cor 3:6). This is why the Church can fulfill what the hierarchy does not do through supplied jurisdiction. Mother Church does not abandon her children, even when the hierarchy does. Finally, I don’t understand how the Church would recognize the validity of SSPX Masses but not confessions. The sacrament of confession is integrally linked to the sacrament of the Eucharist. You need one (confession) to generally receive the other (the Eucharist). I believe the Church’s law on ecclesia supplet resolves the question. Nevertheless, let us pray for a definitive judgment from the Church on this matter.
J. Akin: They ain't got 'em.
Thus it is going to be hard to build a case for ecclesia supplet validating the confessions heard by SSPX priests.
J. Salza: As I have demonstrated, it is not hard to build a case for ecclesia supplet under the Church’s divine and canon laws. That the Church allows Catholics to fulfill their Sunday obligation at SSPX chapels is also favorable to the position of supplied jurisdiction. I don’t believe we can be as definitive as Mr. Akin is against supplied jurisdiction, especially since Rome has not definitively resolved it. The question is too complicated and many souls are affected. Based on the foregoing, in my opinion, the law favors supplied jurisdiction for SSPX priests
11. Did the Second Vatican Council teach error?
Gino: John, so much has been written about the “errors of Vatican II.” You have stated that Vatican II was a pastoral council and that it was an exercise of the non-infallible Magisterium. Could you please comment on the specific areas of Vatican II that were not part of the Church’s “ordinary and universal Magisterium,” as you have written? What are the areas that may appear to conflict with the Church’s Tradition? You always provide a very reasoned and balanced approach and I really appreciate that. It is obvious that you are a Traditional Catholic, but you don’t spew the venom that many Traditionalists are apt to do. Thank you in advance for your response.
J. Salza: Gino, it would take a lot of time and effort to provide you with a comprehensive answer, so I will focus on some of the more contentious areas. Before doing so, let me mention an important point: Assessing the teachings of Vatican II in light of Tradition is required by Tradition itself. It is not being disobedient to the Church or disrespectful to the Holy Father. Our inquiries and assessments are at the service of truth and the supreme end, which is our salvation. Theologians and apologists make these assessments because they love Christ and desire only His truth. Some people get nervous about questioning the Church’s pastoral and non-binding teaching, but the Church herself encourages and even requires us to bring our concerns to her pastors, which we must do in a respectful and humble manner according to our abilities.
I will begin by briefly addressing the premise of Vatican II: aggiornamento! (which, in Italian, means “update”). When Pope John XXIII opened the council, he made it clear that the council’s objective was to update the manner in which the Faith was taught to conform more closely with the thinking of modern man. If you read his opening address on October 11, 1962, the pope mentions several times the council’s desire of “bringing her (the Church) up to date” in light of “modern thought,” the “conditions of modern life,” the “modern world,” in order to achieve a “unity of mankind.”
We note that such a principle was condemned by St. Pius X in Pascendi, No. 11 and Lamentabili, Nos. 63 and 64, and by Pius XII in Humani Generis. Of course, Pope John XXIII knew this, and so we must assume his “updating” methods or objectives were distinguishable from the “updating” condemned by the pre-conciliar popes - but the Church has never explained this distinction. In fact, Pope John Paul II warned us to discern the fruits of Vatican II from those which come from “the prince of this world” – the devil (Dominum et vivificantem, 1986). This is an incredible disclaimer for an ecumenical council, unlike anything we have ever seen from previous popes.
The underlying motive of the council in updating the faith was “ecumenism” (a term the council repeatedly used but never defined). We must presume the good faith of the pope, that is, that he was seeking to convert as many souls to the Catholic faith – the only goal of ecumenism – by making the Church’s teaching, shall we say, more palatable. The pope even said that the Church wished to use “the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity” to accomplish this end.
To prepare the faithful for what was to follow, the pope made a distinction between the “deposit of faith” and “the way in which it is presented” to indicate that the former is unchangeable while the latter may change. That is, the pope was revealing that the council was going to change the way the Catholic faith was presented by previous councils, and this turned out to be very true. As we mentioned, not only did the council fail to define dogma and condemn error like previous councils, but it also introduced many ambiguous statements and terminology, some of which I will address below. We must mention that, never previously, did the Church ever “update” the manner in which she taught the faith to conform to the times. Why has the Church always guarded against “updating” the faith with new expressions and terminology?
Because both the faith and the way it is expressed are timeless. In fact, many of these expressions are considered infallible ecclesiastical traditions that have been inspired by the Holy Ghost and thus cannot be set aside without incurring anathema (Nicea II). The lex orandi necessarily effects the lex credendi, and if you change the former, you will affect the latter. The unprecedented creativity and experimentation in the Catholic liturgy – which has been followed by a loss of faith in the Real Presence – proves the point. The Church has always held that cultures must adapt to the necessities of the Catholic rite, leaving no room for creativity and experimentation (my thoughts on the liturgical revolution is a separate animal and are thus beyond the scope of this answer).
With that background, I will address some of the “updates” in the Church’s teaching that have provoked much consternation. For example, Dei Verbum, No. 8, says, “the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.” If the “Church” in this statement refers to the individual members of the Body, then this statement is in line with Tradition. As fallible human beings, we are constantly moving toward the fullness of truth as our fallible intellects receive and process the truths given to us by the infallible Magisterium. However, if the “Church” in this statement refers to the Mystical Body of Christ, then it would not be reconcilable with Tradition. As I have said, we need to give the council the benefit of the doubt and attempt to interpret these statements in light of Tradition.
The problem with the statement is that, on its face, it gives the impression that the council is speaking about the Mystical Body, as it refers to the Church as “her” at the end of the statement. This gives the reader the impression that Church does not already possess “the fullness of divine truth,” which would be contrary to Catholic Tradition. Jesus told His apostles that the Spirit of truth “will guide you into all the truth” (Jn 16:12). That means the Church has already received the fullness of the truth from the Holy Spirit as Christ promised. If the Church does not already have “the fullness of divine truth,” but is only “moving forward toward it,” then how can we say she possesses the Deposit of Faith (1Tim 6:20)? Thus, this statement from the council can be read to suggest that either the Church doesn’t have the fullness of divine truth, or, what she has must be modified as she progresses toward its fulfillment. It is a confusing statement, to say the least.
Another example can be found in Lumen Gentium, No. 8, where the council says, “The Church, however, clasping sinners to her bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal.” As in the first example, if the “Church” refers to the individual members of the Body, then this statement is in line with Tradition. The members of the Body are always in need of purification because we are sinners. However, because the text identifies the Church by referring to “her” bosom, it certainly follows that the council could be describing the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, and not the individual members of the Body. If that were the case, this statement would be problematic, because the Mystical Body of Christ has no need of purification. St. Paul is clear that Christ, by giving himself up for “her” (Eph 5:25), has sanctified and cleansed her so “that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:26-27). Thus, the Church does not to be purified, sinners do, and it is through the holy and spotless Church that this purification of the sinner comes about, through the sacraments.
Another example, Lumen Gentium, No.8 (as well as Dignitatis Humanae 1 and Unitatis Redintegratio 3) says, “the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church.” (Note that this teaching has been affirmed by the CDF’s Dominus Iesus (2000) and Responses to Questions (2007)). This statement can be interpreted as a change in the Church’s ecclesiology because the perennial teaching of the Magisterium is that the Church of Christ is (not “subsists in”) the Catholic Church. By using “subsists,” the council can be interpreted as saying that the “Church of Christ” is larger than the “Catholic Church,” because the Church of Christ could also presumably “subsist” in non-Catholic communities. This non-traditional interpretation is bolstered by the council’s statement that “elements of sanctification and truth” can be found outside the Catholic Church’s visible structure (the 2007 Response explains that this is precisely the reason why the council used “subsists”).
The Catholic Church has never taught such a thing (which is why Dei Verbum doesn’t cite any precedent for its teaching and which is also why this teaching is not from the ordinary and universal Magisterium). The infallible teaching of the Church is that, outside of her, there is no salvation (Extra ecclesiam nulla salus est). Pius IX taught that those outside of the Catholic Church can be saved only if they are invincibly ignorant of the need to be in the Catholic Church to be saved and live a life of faith, hope and charity. It is true that grace operates in the souls of those “outside” the Catholic Church to draw individual people into the Catholic Church (this grace comes from Christ through the Catholic Church alone). But the Church has never taught that non-Catholic communities are a means of that grace, particularly when these communities teach heretical ideas and live in rebellion against the Catholic Church. That is, the Church has never taught that grace operates in non-Catholic communities as communities, but only in the souls of individual persons. There can be no fellowship between light and darkness (2Cor 6:14).
Thus, the ambiguity of “subsists in” implies that the Catholic Church has only the “fullness” of the means of salvation (not the exclusive means), and that other non-Catholic communities can have “less full” means of salvation. But if the means of these non-Catholic communities are “less full” than the Catholic means, that “means” that the salvation they are offering cannot be the same salvation as the Catholic Church. Yet, salvation is an all or nothing proposition! One cannot be partially saved. It is not possible for deficient means to provide the same salvation. Having some elements of an automobile does mean the automobile is going to work to get you to your destination. Either one is saved only by the Catholic Church, or he is not saved by the Catholic Church at all.
The council of Trent teaches that the sacraments of the Catholic Church are necessary for salvation, not just a means to nourish the soul. If non-Catholic communities do not have the seven sacraments, then how can they possibly be a means of salvation? Or is the council saying that the Catholic Church is subsisting invisibly in non-Catholic communities? If so, where has the Church ever taught such a thing? As we can see, the term “subsists” is ambiguous at best, and raises more questions than answers. The Church did not have to use the word “subsists” to reaffirm the traditional teaching that grace can operate in the souls of non-Catholics who may be saved in spite of (not because of) their false religions. This terminology has blurred the perennial Catholic teaching that non-Catholic religions are not a means of salvation; they are obstacles to salvation.
In Unitatis Redintegratio, No. 6, and Guadiam et Spes, No. 62, the council says that if “there have been deficiencies in moral conduct or in church discipline, or even in the way that church teaching has been formulated – to be carefully distinguished from the deposit of faith itself – these can and should be set right at the opportune moment.” This is another striking statement. Where has the Church ever taught that her formulations of Church teaching (doctrine?) have been insufficient? It seems to me that such a notion would give Protestants – the presumed target of ecumenism - less confidence in the Catholic Church. I don’t believe the Bride of Christ needs to make such humbling statements in reference to her teaching office. This notion seems again to flow from the premise of aggiornamento, where Catholic teaching needs to be updated to conform to the times. Even if the council is attempting to distinguish between doctrine and the way doctrine is lived and expressed, we noted that if you tinker with the lex orandi, you will necessarily effect the lex credendi. And haven’t we seen the fruits of this tinkering in the last 40 years, especially as it relates to the Holy Mass?
One of the more confusing documents is the council’s decree on religious liberty (Dignitatis Humanae). The council says that there are two elements to religious liberty. The first element regards a person’s freedom from coercion: “This Vatican Council 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 no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits” (No.2). This teaching, which acknowledges a man’s right to be protected from coercion, is perfectly consistent with the Church’s Tradition, such as the teaching of Pope Leo XIII in Immortale Dei.
The second element, however, regards a person’s alleged freedom to publicly profess error. The council says, “Nor, on the other hand, is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience, especially in matters religious” (No.3). The council further says that “religious communities rightfully claim freedom in order that they may…honor the Supreme Being in public worship” and “have the right not to be hindered in their public teaching and witness to their faith, whether by the spoken or by the written word” (No. 4). In other words, the council says that people have the right to publicly adhere to and profess religious error. Further, the council says that this “right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature” (No.2).
The council stated that it desired to leave untouched the traditional Catholic doctrine that all men have a moral obligation to be Catholic. In fact, it could not change this teaching because it is part of the ordinary infallible Magisterium. Thus, it appears that the council is only referring to a person’s right to adhere to error in the civil (not moral) sphere. Indeed, the council says that the right to religious liberty should “become a civil right.” Nevertheless, this is the first time that the Church has said that a man should have a civil right to profess error, and not simply acknowledge the State’s right to tolerate his error if for the common good. The “development” here seems to be moving from State toleration to State legitimization. This teaching does not reaffirm the Social Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ whose rights take precedent over those of man, and fails to mention that no law can be enacted that is contrary to the will of God. Of course, the document does not deny (only omits) the Traditional teaching on Christ’s reign in societies and governments, but it is very hard to understand why the council would not even mention the doctrine – not one word of it – when talking about the rights of the State, which are always subordinate to the rights of Jesus Christ.
Some traditionalists point out the council’s statement that religious liberty flows from man’s very nature, and this can give one the impression that a man’s right to publicly profess religious error is a natural, God-given right. The council did not say that man has a natural right to profess error, but basing a man’s right to religious liberty on his very nature and dignity does confuse the issue. If the council were saying such a thing (which it does not explicitly do), then the teaching would be irreconcilable with Catholic Tradition, which holds that man does not have a natural right to adhere to error, only the freewill to do so. If the council is saying that a man has only a civil (but not moral) right to publicly profess error, then this probably can, with some difficulty, be reconciled with Tradition, because the State can tolerate error for the greater common good, but again, the council does go beyond previous teaching which never elevated the toleration of error to a civil right. Even so, because this supposed civil right is premised on the “common good,” and the “common good” is a relative, not absolute, condition, the council’ willingness to acknowledge the right to publicly profess error does not regard dogmatic teaching, but only social policy – a policy that is not infallible and subject to reform.
Other ambiguities that come to mind are the council’s repeated use of the phrase “People of God” (not the Mystical Body of Christ) to describe the Church, which gives some the impression that it is more inclusive than just Catholics and those with a desire to be Catholic; referring to the act of redemption as the “Paschal Mystery” which includes also the resurrection and ascension, instead of properly identifying the act of redemption as the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ which appeased God’s wrath against sin (and also implies that redemption has already occurred for man instead of professing that redemption occurs when a man dies in a state of grace); the notion of collegiality whereby the college of bishops seem also to exercise the supreme power of jurisdiction, even though there cannot be two “supreme” powers, the pope and the college of bishops; the notion that the Incarnation has raised human nature “to a dignity beyond compare” (Gaudiam et Spes, No. 7) whereas the Church has always taught that man’s wounded nature is restored to dignity through the sacraments (not the Incarnation). These points, when if read in light of Tradition, may be more easily dismissed, but I raise them to be thorough and to provoke further study.
We also see the statements on ecumenism which often fail to clearly communicate that conversion to the Catholic Church is the one and only goal of ecumenism (we must assume that this was the council’s only objective); while many traditionalists argue that ecumenism cannot be found in the Church’s patrimony, Pope Eugene at the Council of Florence engaged in ecumenical efforts with respect to the Eastern schismatics – that is, he reached out to them to bring them out of their schism and back to the true Church (we must admit that inter-religious prayer meetings, for example, have no precedent in Tradition and were even prohibited by pre-conciliar popes); we should also note that inter-religious dialogue with an evil world, if not for the purpose converting souls to Catholicism, would be at odds with many Scriptural injunctions (Tit 3:10-11; 2 Jn 1:10-11); and we further not that the council even suggests that by dialoging with non-Catholics, Catholics may come to a “deeper realization…of the unfathomable riches of Christ (Unitatis Redintegratio, No. 11), while never explaining how a Catholic who is faithful to the infallible Magisterium could come to a deeper understanding of Christ by associating with objective heretics.
We also see the council referring to heretical and schismatic sects as “churches” even though there is only one Church; we see unprecedented positive appraisals of false religions (Judaism, Islam, even pagan religions) which keep people in the bondage of sin and in opposition to grace, and even stating that we should “promote the spiritual and moral goods found among these men” (Nostra Aetate, No. 2), even though these “spiritual goods” are opposed to revealed truth, and without explaining how such a promotion of these “goods” will save these poor people from damnation (even though we must admit that there are elements of truth in other religions, but that this truth alone will not save these non-believers outside of the grace God gives through the Catholic Church); and we see promoting the Protestant notion that the Old Testament Scriptures explain the New Testament (Dei Verbum, No. 16), rather than stating that the New Testament explains the Old and not vice-versa (I used this Protestant technique in my book The Biblical Basis for the Papacy, noting that it was a Protestant, not a Catholic, technique (p.10)). Again, these are the thoughts of a lay apologist - who has spent years studying the documents and who is trained to analyze the written word - and who will happily welcome (with great relief) any arguments that can bridge the gap between the ambiguities in these statements and the pre-conciliar precision of prior teaching.
It is quite evident to me that the Church took a risk with Vatican II, and this risk has produced a lot of rotten fruit. We need to be honest about the situation. I have tried to be objective in my assessments, looking simply at the language of the texts in light of Tradition, and I always presume the good intentions of the Holy Father. Too many traditionalists are quick to denounce the pope and declare that the Church is apostate. The other extreme is to ignore the problems and pretend that the Church is enjoying a “springtime” (she is not, as mere statistics show). The issues are on the table, and we need to let people of good faith address them. If some of these evident ambiguities can be reconciled with Tradition, then let’s bring forth the evidence. Let’s not call each other names and accuse each other of disobedience. Please. This is a search for truth. While the liturgical revolution has been quite upsetting to me, I don’t get too distraught over Vatican II’s textual ambiguities that we have discussed, because they come from the ordinary Magisterium only, and are thus reformable (for those who disagree, the burden is on you to prove your case). This is a key distinction that Catholics must understand. This should give some peace to those Catholics who have been troubled by council’s teachings. Don’t worry, Christ is still in charge of His Church.
12. Was Archbishop Lefebvre excommunicated?
Rich: John, from what I know about Archbishop Lefebvre, he was simply trying to preserve the traditional Catholic priesthood by ordaining those four bishops. Even though the Church declared that the archbishop excommunicated himself, there are many canon lawyers and theologians who believe that the archbishop was not excommunicated. I attend a traditional Latin Mass chapel and this “cloud” of excommunication is troublesome. What is your view on this matter?
J.Salza: Rich, first of all, the Church allows you to attend the Traditional Latin Mass even at SSPX chapels. This is the latest word from the Ecclesia Dei Commission created by Pope John Paul II to handle matters regarding the SSPX. Moreover, you have the right as a baptized Catholic to attend the Traditional Mass, which right was secured by St. Pius V and confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI. This is your Catholic patrimony. This is how you are going to save your soul. People attend the Old Mass because it gives the greatest honor to Christ, not because they want to separate themselves from Christ.
Now, let’s look at the canonical issues regarding the excommunication of Archbishop Lefebvre and the four bishops (Williamson, de Galarreta,Tissier de Mallerais and Fellay). Lefebvre consecrated the bishops on June 30, 1988, and on July 1, 1988 Cardinal Gantin sent a decree of excommunication to Lefebvre and the other bishops. Lefebvre was accused of consecrating bishops without pontifical mandate in violation of canon 1382, as well as being a schismatic under canon 1364,1 – both of which impose a latae sententiae excommunication for those violations. This means the perpetrator excommunicates himself by virtue of the act; the Church does not excommunicate the offender. I have already addressed the schism issue in this Q&A section so I will focus here on the issue of excommunication.
It is true that Archbishop Lefebvre disobeyed Pope John Paul II by consecrating bishops without pontifical mandate in violation of canon 1382. It is also true that John Paul II said that the archbishop excommunicated himself. Because John Paul II was the supreme legislator of the Church, we must presume that his interpretation of the law was accurate and binding. However, that is not the end of the story. First, we know from history that a pope may abuse his authority in excommunicating a Catholic, for example, by making an error in judgment, as was the case with Pope Victor’s excommunication of the Asiatic churches, or being pressured or succumbing to weakness, as was the case of Pope Liberius’ wrongful excommunication of Athanasius, who became a great saint and doctor of the Church. This is not common, but it does happen. The pope’s authority must always be at the service of Tradition.
Second, canon law mitigates or eliminates canonical penalties under certain circumstances. For example, canon 1323,4 provides that one is not liable to a penalty who, when violating a law, “acted under the compulsion of grave fear, even if only relative, or by reason of necessity or grave inconvenience, unless, however, the act is intrinsically evil or tends to be harmful to souls.” As applied here, the Archbishop made it clear in his sermon on June 30, 1988 that he believed he was acting out of necessity in consecrating the bishops to retain the traditional priesthood and Mass which was all but abandoned by the bishops at that time. The archbishop was concerned about the Modernism that had ravaged the Church (remember these consecrations took place shortly after the scandalous Assisi prayer meeting) and was genuinely worried that, without traditional bishops, he would have orphaned his seminarians. When one reads his sermon, it is clear that the last thing the archbishop wanted to do was separate himself from Eternal Rome. Of course, the act of consecrating a bishop is not intrinsically evil, nor is it harmful to souls (especially when Lefebvre wasn’t purporting to grant the bishops jurisdiction or set up an ecclesial structure in opposition to the Church).
As we have said, the pope is the supreme legislator of the Church. We also conclude that the pope disagreed with Lefebvre about there being a “reason of necessity” to go forward with the consecrations. Those opposed to Lefebvre’s actions argue that the pope’s judgment that there was no necessity settles the matter. However, canon law regards what is in the mind of the offender, not the pope. Canon 1323,7 says that no one is liable to a penalty who, when violating a law or precept, “thought, through no person fault, that one of the circumstances mentioned (i.e., necessity) existed..” In other words, if Lefebvre (not the pope) “thought, through no personal fault,” that a “reason of necessity” existed to consecrate the four bishops, then he would not incur excommunication under canon 1382.
Can anyone credibly argue that Archbishop Lefebvre did not really think there was a “reason of necessity” or “grave inconvenience” which motivated his consecrations? I don’t think so. I think any honest Catholic would conclude that the archbishop truly believed, “through no personal fault,” that he had a case of necessity or grave inconvenience. But even if one wants to accuse the archbishop of being culpably erroneous in his assessments, canon 1324,1 says that the penalty is diminished for one who (8) “erroneously, but culpably, thought that one of the circumstances [necessity] existed,” and (3) where the penalty is diminished, “the offender is not bound by latae sententiae penalty.” Thus, even if the archbishop was culpably wrong in his assessments, canon 1324 would diminish his canonical penalty to something less than excommunication.
Thus, on a purely canonical basis, I don’t see how the excommunications stick. With this analysis, I mean no disrespect to Pope John Paul II. I am simply applying the law to the facts. Many reputable canon lawyers and theologians have reached this same conclusion. The canon law enacted by John Paul II looks to the mind of the perpetrator in determining whether a “reason of necessity” or “grave inconvenience” mitigates or eliminates a canonical penalty. Archbishop Lefebvre knew canon law. He based his decision to consecrate the four bishops on this law providing for “reason of necessity” and “grave inconvenience.” If Catholics cannot rely upon canon law to govern their actions, then we have an absolute monarchy and not the Catholic Church.
13. What do you think about the new Good Friday Prayer?
Paul: John, as you know, Pope Benedict changed the Traditional Latin Mass Good Friday prayer for the Jews. What do you think of the new prayer?
J. Salza: Those of us who attend the Old Mass and hold fast to the Tradition of the Church are never thrilled when changes are made to the perennial Roman rite. Nevertheless, it goes without saying that we must accept the pope’s change in obedience because, as Aquinas teaches, this change does not affect the Faith. In fact, as we will see, it retains and promotes it. Moreover, I believe that Pope Benedict’s change to the prayer was an act of Divine Providence, because it not only reaffirms the Traditional Catholic teaching that the Jews must repent and come to Christ to save their souls, but also because it indicts the Good Friday prayer used in the Novus Ordo, which will hopefully prompt a change to that prayer as well.
In the 1962 version of the Roman Missal, the prayer is as follows:
Let us pray: and also for the Jews, may our God and Lord remove the veil from their hearts; so that that may acknowledge Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Almighty and everlasting God, who drivest not away from Thy mercy even the Jews: hear our prayers, which we offer for the blindness of that people: that, acknowledging the light of Thy truth, which is Christ, they may be rescued from their darkness.
Pope Benedict has revised the prayer to say:
Let us also pray for the Jews: that God our Lord might enlighten their hearts, so that they may acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Savior of all mankind. (Oremus et pro Iudaeis. Ut Deus et Dominus noster illuminet corda eorum, ut agnoscant Iesum Christum salvatorem omnium hominum).
There is no appreciable difference between the old prayer and the revised prayer. Both prayers ask God to enlighten the hearts of the Jews (which means a veil is over their hearts, as St. Paul said in 2Cor 3:13-16), so that they will realize that Jesus Christ is their Savior (which means that the Jews cannot be saved without Christ). Yes, Pope Benedict’s prayer does not refer to the “blindness” or “darkness” of the Jews, but that doesn’t mean the Jews are no longer blind or in darkness. All people are blind and in darkness without Christ. The new prayer also doesn’t refer to God’s “mercy” toward the Jews like the old prayer does, but that doesn’t mean God will not have mercy on the Jews. He will if the Jews repent. Thus, the new prayer is the same in its essence as the old prayer. And that is why the Jewish leaders like Rabbi David Rosen and Abe Foxman are in an uproar. They were hoping for a change in the prayer, and they didn’t get one.
Now, let us look at the Good Friday prayer in the Novus Ordo rite:
“Let us pray for the Jewish people, the first to hear the word of God, that they may continue to grow in the love of his name and in faithfulness to his covenant.”
Why didn’t the Jewish authorities get upset when the Novus Ordo prayer was published? Because the Novus Ordo prayer does not reflect Catholic theology – the very theology that the Jews reject. In fact, the prayer contradicts Catholic dogmatic teaching that the Jews do not have their own covenant with God outside of the New Covenant of Jesus Christ. How can the Jews “continue in faithfulness to his covenant” when they have no covenant with God outside of the New Covenant, which is why we are supposedly praying for their conversion? The reason is because the Novus Ordo prayer for the Jews is not a prayer for conversion. It is a prayer for them to continue to be faithful to “his covenant.” What covenant could this possibly be? It cannot be the Old Covenant, for both Scripture and the Magisterium declare that the Mosaic Covenant, as a legal entity, has been revoked. But it also cannot be the New Covenant of Christ – the only covenant through which God grants salvation – because the prayer is for the “Jewish people” who are outside the New Covenant. It also cannot be the Abrahamic covenant, since this covenant of faith has been transformed into the New Covenant of which the Jews are not members. The ambiguity of this prayer, alone, is sufficient for it to be rejected by all faithful Catholics.
In summary, I agree with Rabbi Walter Homolka – Pope Benedict’s new prayer “deprives the acceptable 1970 form of the prayer of its credibility.” Amen! Pope Benedict’s new prayer deprives the Novus Ordo prayer of its credibility because it completely contradicts it. May the Holy Father’s change to the Traditional prayer bring attention to the grave errors in the Novus Ordo prayer, and also to the perennial teaching of the Magisterium that the Old Covenant has been revoked, and the Jews, like all people, can only be saved in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.
14. Changing the U.S. Bishops’ catechism on the eternal validity of the Mosaic Covenant for the Jews?
Gino: John, check out this news release. The US Bishops voted to correct the error in their catechism for adults about the Mosaic covenant being “eternally valid” for the Jews.
J. Salza: Gino, I am very aware of this latest development. However, it opens up another can of worms. That is because the proposed language also contains inaccuracies. In reference to Romans 9:4, the bishops are proposing to insert the word “belong,” even though the Greek in Romans 9:4 does not contain a verb after the phrase “Who are the Israelites” (hostis eimi Israelites hos ho huiothesia kai ho doxa kai ho diatheke kai ho nomothesia kai ho latreia kai ho eppagelia).
In other words, the US bishops are going to confuse the issue even more. How can the covenants “belong” to the Jews when the Mosaic covenant has been revoked, and the New Covenant belongs not to the Jews but to those who are baptized into Jesus Christ? This seems to be an ecumenical ploy to pacify the liberal, Judaizing faction within the Church. Isn’t this just another way of saying that the Jews are still in a covenantal relationship with God? The answer is yes, according to Father James Massa, the executive director of the USCCB Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
According to Fr. Massa, the Jewish people “are in a real relationship with God based on a covenant that has never been revoked” (If that is true, then why change the Catechism at all, for that is what it currently says!?) What covenant do the Jews have with God that has not been revoked? If Fr. Massa is referring to the Abrahamic covenant which has been transformed into the New Covenant of Jesus Christ, then the adherents to this covenant are no longer “Jews,” but Christians (albeit with Jewish ethnicity). If, however, Fr. Massa is referring to the Mosaic covenant, then his view is heretical, for the Mosaic covenant has been abolished by the New Covenant of Jesus Christ (Rom 7:4; 2Cor 3:14; Gal 3:10-12; Eph 2:15; Col 2:14; Heb 7:12,18; 8:13; 10:9). And what else are we supposed to believe, when Fr. Massa says that the current wording of the Catechism – that the Mosaic law is “eternally valid” for the Jew – is not “flat-out wrong” but only “ambiguous” and needed to be “qualified”?
Evidently, this “qualification” is effected by inserting the word “belong” into Romans 9:4, even though the word is not in the original Greek, and no Church Father, medieval theologian, council or pope ever said that the Old Covenant still “belongs” to the Jews as the basis of an ongoing covenantal relationship they would have with God, or that the New Covenant belongs to the Jews as non-baptized Jews who persist in their unbelief. At most, Paul in Romans 9:4 is saying that the Jews were the first to receive “adoption, glory, covenants, and the law,” but these promises have all come to fulfillment through faith in Jesus Christ “who is over all, God blessed forever” (Rom 9:5). Nevertheless, according to Father Massa, the unbelieving Jew is still somehow incorporated – although not fully – into “the saving Covenant of Christ,” evidently on the basis of his exegesis of Romans 9:4.
It will be a shame if the U.S. Bishops’ Catechism for Adults continues to obscure the fundamental theological issue that it should, instead, be teaching clearly and succinctly – that the Old Covenant has been revoked and has no salvific value for the Jews, and that the Jews, like the rest of humanity, can be saved only through the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.