Our friends at Rorate have a bit of an interview with the distinguished theologian Msgr. Brunero Gherardini (an old prof at the Lateran back in my day).
My E and C.
Msgr. Brunero Gherardini on the SSPX
On September 29, 2010, Messa in Latino published an article from the pen of Msgr. Brunero Gherardini, containing various reflections on the Vatican – SSPX dialogue. The following is a private and unofficial translation made by some friends of Rorate.
On the Future of the Fraternity of St. Pius X
Monsignor Brunero Gherardini has been so kind as to give us the following reflections on how he sees the future of the SSPX.
During a friendly colloquium some friends asked me how I look at the future of the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X upon the conclusion of the talks taking place between the Fraternity and the Holy See. We talked a long time on this subject and were of divided opinions. Therefore, I would also like to express my own opinions in writing, in the hope – if this be not presumptuous of me, God forbid! – that this may benefit not only friends, but also the (two) parties of the dialogue.
First of all I would emphasize that nobody is “a prophet or the son of a prophet.” The future lies in the hands of God. Sometimes it is possible to predict it, at least to some extent. Other times it escapes us completely. We must also take into consideration the two parties finally working on a solution to the now long-standing problem of the “Lefebvrists,” who, up till now, have remained duly silent regarding the discussions, in a laudable and exemplary manner. This silence, however, is of no help to us in foreseeing possible developments. [It is probably for the best that the principals in the discussions have been so close with information. Yes, we burn with interest and curiosity, but, for the most part, people out there… out here… aren’t capable of understanding the reports or discussing what they hear. In turn, the buzz created could wind up being more like a white noise that begins to drown out and confuse the dialogue.]
However, “voices” have also been heard – and not a few at that. The facts on which they base their conjectures remain unknown. I will therefore examine some of the opinions expressed on the aforementioned occasion, and afterwards I will express my own.
1 – There were those who judged in a positive way a recent invitation to “come out of the bunker in which the Fraternity – in order to defend the Faith from the attacks of the Neo-modernists – had barricaded itself during the post-conciliar period.” It was easy to show the precariousness of such an opinion. That the Fraternity for some decades has been in a bunker is evident; unfortunately, it is there still. However, it is not evident if it entered there of its own accord or if it was made to do so by someone else, or urged by events themselves. It seems to me – if we wish to speak of a bunker – that it was Mons. Lefebvre who led his Fraternity there on that day, the 30th of June, when, after two official warnings and one formal admonition to withdraw from his projected “schismatic” act, he ordained to the episcopate four of his priests. This was a bunker, but not one of schism properly so called, [Keeping in mind early on that John Paul II thought what they did was “schismatic” (cf. Ecclesia Dei adflicta) here is the necessary distinction towards which the Holy See moved to express over time.] because even if he “refused to submit to the Supreme Pontiff” (CIC 751/2), there was no malicious intent and no intention to create an “anti-church.” The act was instead determined by love of the Church and a sort of pressing “necessity” for the continuity of genuine Catholic Tradition, which had been seriously compromised by post-conciliar Neo-modernism. [Therefore it was a schismatic act but not one which actually resulted in schism. The question now remains open, however, whether – over time – there will effectively be a the schism toward which Lefevbre’s act tended but didn’t at that moment accomplish.] But a bunker it was: it was a bunker of disobedience touching the limits of defiance, a deadlock with no way out in view. Not a bunker for safeguarding compromised values.
It is hard to understand why “in order to defend the Faith against the attacks of Neo-modernism,” it was really necessary to “barricade oneself in a bunker,” that is to say: give way to the Modernist heresy and let it flood in. [This has always been a serious question in my mind. As a matter of fact, I have always been disappointed that they darted off to do their own thing, leaving many like-minded priests and people behind to fight an even tougher battle without their help. Their disobedience made it easier for liberals (most of the establishment) to paint all traditionally-minded Catholics with the brush of disobedience, even while those same liberals were far outside the pale themselves. ] No, because the inundation by heresy was constantly opposed. The Fraternity above all attends to the formation of priests, this being their special task, even if carried out in a position of canonical condemnation, and therefore outside the official ranks, with, however, the consciousness of working for Christ and for His Church, the holy, catholic, apostolic and Roman Church. Above all, they have founded and are directing seminaries, promoting and sustaining theological debates – often with a remarkably high profile – publishing books of relevant ecclesiological value, and rendering an account of themselves by means of internal and external newsletters. And all of this is done openly, thus demonstrating– though regrettably from the margins – the force with which the Church can exercise her mission of universal evangelization. The effects of the active Lefebvrist presence may be considered modest and in fact not very conspicuous for two reasons:
- the canonically irregular condition in which it operates,
- and its dimensions; as is said: “la mosca tira il calcio che può” (“the fly lifts whatever foot it can”).
However, I am profoundly convinced that it is just for this reason that we must thank the Fraternity: in the context of a secularization which has now reached the frontiers of a post-Christian era—an era which does not hide its antipathy for them—they have held and still hold high the torch of Faith and Tradition. [I warmly agree.]
2 – During the debate which was mentioned at the beginning, someone referred to a conference during which the Fraternity was asked to have more confidence in the contemporary ecclesial world, if necessary resorting to some compromises, because the “salus animarum” demands– as a Lefebvrist has said – that we take this risk. Yes, but certainly not the risk of “compromising” our own or others’ eternal salvation.
It is probable that his words do not convey the [speaker’s] intentions. Or that the true weight of his words is not known. Compromise is something we should avoid in matters of the Faith. And the Fraternity reminds us – as does each authentic follower of Christ – that the “Yes yes, no, no” of Matthew 5:37 (James 5:12) is the only reply to be made when asked to compromise. The cited text continues: “for whatever is more than this is from the Evil One”: this involves even and especially compromise, at least when compromise means a renunciation of one’s own moral principles and one’s own raison d’être.
To tell the truth, when the discussions between the Holy See and the Fraternity started, I too heard a rumor of a possible compromise. That is to say, of an unworthy kind of conduct, which the Holy See itself would probably be the first to shy away from. A compromise on anything which does not involve the profession of the authentic Faith is possible and even plausible. However, that is never the case as far as non-negotiable values are concerned. Moreover, this would be a contradiction in terms, inasmuch as the compromise itself is the object of a “negotium” and one that carries a risk: the risk of the shipwreck of the Faith. The very idea that the Holy See could propose and accept such a compromise is repugnant to me; the Holy See would gain much less than “a mess of pottage” and would assume the responsibility for inflicting a grave wrong. It is also repugnant to me to think that the Fraternity, having taken as the standard of its very existence the Faith without compromises, should then slip on a banana peel by renouncing its raison d’être. [And…. so?]
I add that, to judge by some indications, it may not be wholly unfounded to say that the methodology being employed by both sides does not seem to permit a very large perspective. It is the methodology of point, counter-point: Vatican II “yes,” Vatican II “no,” or at the most “yes, but ….” This requires that on one side or on the other, or on both, one’s guard is lowered. Is this an unconditional surrender? For the Fraternity to place itself in the hands of the Church would be the only really true Christian behavior, [OORAH!] if there did not exist the reason for which [the Fraternity] exists and which made it “secede to the Aventine” (so to speak), namely Vatican II which – especially in some of its documents – is, according to the letter, opposed to that which the Fraternity believes in and that for which it labors. With such a methodology, there is no middle way in sight. It is either capitulation or compromise. [And so what would work? They would all have to be in a room together, for an extended period of time, as they hammered things out, rather than sending point-counter-point essays back and forth on certain hard questions. That and both sides would have to let the guard down.]
Such a fundamental outcome could be avoided if one would follow another methodology. [What will he suggest, I wonder.] The “punctum dolens” of all the controversial issues is called Tradition. Each side calls attention to it constantly, while simultaneously having a totally different conception of it. [NB…] Papa Wojtyla declared officially in 1988 that the Fraternity had a notion of Tradition that was “incomplete and contradictory.” One would, therefore, have to demonstrate the reason for such an incompleteness and contradiction. But what is most urgent is the necessity for both parties to arrive at a common concept, a concept which can be shared bilaterally. Such a concept would then become the instrument by which all the other problems could be solved. There is no theological or ecclesiological problem which could not be unlocked with this key. If, though, the dialogue were to continue with each side keeping to its own point of departure, then there will either be a dialogue between the deaf, or – in order to demonstrate that they have not dialogued in vain – they would give free access to compromise. [Keep those labels in mind. “Dialogue of the deaf” on the one hand, and “compromise” on the other.] This would be the outcome especially if the Fraternity were to accept the term “apparent contrasts,” apparent because they do not involve dissensions of a dogmatic character but only ever-changing interpretations of historical facts. Then the Fraternity would declare its own demise, because they would have wretchedly substituted their Tradition, which is that of the Apostles, with the flimsy, inconsistent, and heterogeneous notion of the “living Tradition” of the Neo-modernists.
3 – In our amiable colloquium we discussed one last question, expressing more hope than concretely founded expectations: the future of the Fraternity. This very subject has recently been treated by the web-site “Cordialiter” with an idyllic anticipation of the happy tomorrows awaiting the Fraternity: a new canonical status (new? yes, new, because up to now there has never been one); the beginning of the end of Modernism; [Fraternity] priories overrun by the faithful; the Fraternity transformed into an “autonomous super-diocese.” For my part, I too expect great things from the hoped-for settlement being worked out, with my feet, though, a bit more firmly on the ground.
I try to look at things in a more acute way in order to see what could happen tomorrow. The specialty of the Fraternity, as has already been said, is the formation of young men for the priesthood and the care of priestly vocations. Therefore, they should not open themselves up to fields of endeavor other than seminaries, this being their true “theater of operations.” In both their own and others’seminaries, more than anywhere else, the nature and purpose of the Fraternity can be given expression.
Under which canonical profile? It is not easy to foresee. However, it seems to me that since they are a priestly fraternity this ought to suggest a canonical arrangement like a “priestly society” placed under the supreme governance of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. Otherwise, the fact that it already has four bishops could suggest as a solution a “Prelature,” with a juridical configuration that the Holy See, at an opportune time, could determine more precisely. This does not seem to me to be the principal problem. More important is undoubtedly both the settlement within the Church of this contentious issue, scarcely comprehensible at a time when dialogue is undertaken with everyone, as well as the emancipation of a force hitherto confined to the idea and the ideal of Tradition, so that it may operate not from a bunker but in the light of the sun and as a living and authentic expression of the Church.
Sept. 27, 2010
What do you think of Gherardini’s assessment?
Would the best approach be to hammer out a common definition of “Tradition”?
Should they be confined to formation of priests in seminaries? I find that intriguing.
Finally, Benedict XVI is the Pope of Christian Unity.