Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The traditional perspective on Vatican Council II

[Part 3 of 3 of this series.]

by Brian Mershon
April 4, 2006

(From the April 6 edition of The Wanderer)

This is the third and final part of a series of articles, taken from interviews with Msgr. Michael Schmitz, who is vicar general and provincial superior of the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest (ICKSP) in the U.S., and Fr. George Gabet, the North American District Superior for the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP).

As the previous articles have shown, much attention has been focused on the eventual plight of the Society of St. Pius X, especially in light of the 35-minute meeting between Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior general, and Fr. Franz Schmidberger with Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos and Pope Benedict XVI on August 29, 2005.

Since then, there was a five-hour meeting, reported in the international media, with Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos and Bishop Fellay, reportedly, on November 15. All of this has led to endless speculation and rumors, much of which has been laid to rest by Bishop Fellay and Fr. Schmidberger as they have traversed their key apostolates and seminary in the U.S., and have held extensive talks and question-and-answer sessions with their priests, seminarians, and laity.

Since the mid-February meeting of the Roman Curia, there has been deepening speculation, sometimes taking on a life of its own, that something of significance for those laymen attached to the Traditional Latin Mass and sacraments, and the Society of St. Pius X may emerge, at the latest, by Easter Sunday 2006.

With this background, the purpose of this series is to inform Catholic readers of the tremendous growth of the two largest traditional communities currently in full canonical communion with the Church, the ICKSP and the FSSP.

Despite much consternation, argument, and strife within traditionalist Catholic circles, both of these orders have maintained both liturgical and theological Tradition and tradition within the full confines of the Church. The FSSP commenced in 1988 shortly after the episcopal ordinations of four bishops by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. The ICKSP was canonically established in 1990. In less than 20 years, in the midst of one of the worse crises throughout the world in the Church militant, these two communities are flourishing like "lights on top of a hill" as living witnesses to the fullness of the Catholic Latin liturgical and theological Tradition.

Little-known and read articles by Msgr. Ignacio Barreiro, the Human Life International head in Rome, have outlined in great detail a strikingly accurate prediction and assessment of the current pontificate and specifically how the Pope will address, and has this far addressed, traditionalist Catholics' concerns — both regarding the sacred liturgy and the nuances of some of the disputed interpretations of the Second Vatican Council.

These articles are available at the following web sites, and I invite all readers of The Wanderer to read and evaluate their accuracy for themselves: and

One of the most disputed, and most misunderstood, aspects of this debate within the Church — even among educated, orthodox Catholics — is the proper attitude of faithful Catholics to the Second Vatican Council. In fact, as Msgr. Barreiro outlines in the articles cited, at the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI said, "I also wish to confirm my determination to continue to put the Second Vatican Council into practice, following in the footsteps of my Predecessors and in faithful continuity with the 2,000 year tradition of the Church."

Many Catholics of all stripes may have read this without pausing or noticing anything much different than from other previous papal allocutions. However, Catholics who have read Cardinal Ratzinger's overlooked, but very important, address to the Chilean bishops in 1988, noticed something familiar. In that address, then Cardinal Ratzinger stated the following:

"There are many accounts of it [the Second Vatican Council] which give the impression that, from Vatican II onward, everything has been changed, and that what preceded it has no value or, at best, has value only in the light of Vatican II. The Second Vatican Council has not been treated as a part of the entire living Tradition of the Church, but as an end of Tradition, a new start from zero. The truth is that this particular council defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council; and yet many treat it as though it had made itself into a sort of super-dogma which takes away the importance of all the rest."

And so again, this was the message of his address to the cardinals of the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005, when he spoke of some Catholics who looked upon the Second Vatican Council with "a hermeneutics of rupture." This view, according to the Pope, and consistent with the Deposit of Faith, is not Catholic. One council, no matter how close it is to us in history, does not supersede or overthrow Catholic teaching from the previous councils, pontificates, from the Apostles and Jesus Christ Himself.

Finally, as we lead into the interviews with Msgr. Schmitz and Fr. Gabet, we take the words of the late Fr. William Most, as instructive to Catholics of goodwill:

"Because of the claims...made by Archbishop Lefebvre that the Declaration on Religious Liberty of Vatican II contradicted teachings of Gregory XVI, [Bl.] Pius IX, and Leo XIII, we will make a careful comparison to the texts.

"We must add that something taught repeatedly on the ordinary Magisterium level is infallible. Such seems to be the case with the teachings of these three Popes. Hence, no matter on what level Vatican II was teaching in this declaration, the charge amounts to a charge that a general council taught heresy. Then the promises of Christ would be at least largely void.

"It is of capital importance to use sound theological method in all things, especially in this matter. God has made two promises, to protect the teaching of the Church, and to give free will to humans," Fr. Most wrote.

Christ is King. His Kingship extends over hearts, minds, wills, families, and societies. And God has given men free will to accept or reject these teachings. But men cannot be coerced against their will to embrace the Truth, even if it is for their eternal good.

In other words, as Msgr. Schmitz elaborates below, if a Catholic of goodwill, after much study and reflection, cannot harmonize what appears to be two opposing authoritative teachings of the Church, then the solution is not, "The Church is wrong. Or this ecumenical council, despite being primarily of a pastoral nature, is wrong."

If Pope Benedict XVI lifts the decrees of excommunication against the four bishops of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), and also justly frees the Classical Roman rite of Holy Mass, he is expecting the SSPX to assist in reconciling Vatican II documents "in light of Tradition" through the use of sound theological method.

And indeed, Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos has already alluded to this very prospect more than one time, most recently in his September 2005 interview in 30 Days.

Indeed, Msgr. Barreiro alludes to this in his August 2005 article in the newsletter for The Latin Mass Society. Msgr. Barreiro wrote the following:

"One of the many false representations that have been made against the traditionalist movement is that it is frontally opposed to the Second Vatican Council. Against this accusation we have to insist that we are ready to accept the council, as the Magisterium of the Church teaches that it should be interpreted, in accordance with Tradition.

"With regards to the liturgical reform that is usually ascribed to the will of that council it is important to keep in mind what [Alfons Cardinal] Stickler explains: 'Now, we must underline what should be considered the correct name of the Mass of the Second Vatican Council: the Mass of the postconciliar liturgical commission. A simple glance at the liturgical constitution of the Second Vatican Council immediately illustrates that the will of the council and the will of the liturgical commission often do not coincide, and are even evidently contrary'."

As a prelude to the more important part of this article — the answers given by Msgr. Schmitz and Fr. Gabet — readers should be aware of the following challenge the late Pope John Paul II gave to theologians (and all Catholics of goodwill) in his motu proprio, Ecclesia Dei Adflicta.

"Moreover, I should like to remind theologians and other experts in the ecclesiastical sciences that they should feel called upon to answer in the present circumstances. Indeed, the extent and depth of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council call for a renewed commitment to deeper study in order to reveal clearly the council's continuity with Tradition, especially in points of doctrine, perhaps because they are new, have not yet been well understood by some sections of the Church."

Perhaps this prophetic and overlooked message, and admission (the admission being that the authentic teaching emanating from the council is unclear) by the late Pontiff, after failed negotiations with Archbishop Lefebvre, is exactly what the expectation of this pontificate is regarding the priests, theologians, and bishops of the SSPX.

By having input from those bishops, priests, and theologians "attached to Tradition," a more thorough and comprehensive understanding of true ecumenism, and the true meaning of religious liberty, in harmony with the dogma and doctrine of the faith, as expounded prior to the council, will perhaps emerge in a clearer light for the benefit of the Church. And most important, for the salvation of souls.

For those Catholics who treat Vatican II as a "super-dogma, which takes away the importance of all the rest," as Cardinal Ratzinger's 1998 address to the Chilean bishops warns, they might be surprised to learn that the current Pope's theological writings are critical of some aspects of Gaudium et Spes.

But let us now turn to Msgr. Schmitz, who has a licentiate in dogmatic theology, and Fr. Gabet, North American District superior for the FSSP.

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Q. In Ecclesia Dei Adflicta, Pope John Paul II specifically challenged theologians to take up the task of showing how some of the doctrinal developments in the Second Vatican Council documents could be harmonized, or shown "in light of Tradition," as Pope Benedict XVI has reiterated in the first year of his pontificate.

How are your priestly Institute and Fraternity assisting in carrying this out? I'm particularly thinking of the disputed teachings on ecumenism and religious liberty.

Msgr. Schmitz: First of all, the Institute, with the Church, is of the opinion that there can always be found a homogeneous interpretation of an ecclesiastical document that is in total conformity with the traditional teaching. Some of the documents most discussed mention that — especially the one on religious liberty. At the beginning [it mentions], the traditional teaching is not overthrown by the newer aspects that are underscored in the document.

I am very strong in believing that with the Holy Father, with Pope John Paul II, and with the present Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, you can always find theological ways for a homogeneous interpretation of Catholic doctrine. And if you are not able to find them, then you simply have to study further.

I always recall the teachings of one of our most brilliant professors at the Gregorian University, a very well-known Jesuit, Fr. Becker, who once told us: [paraphrase] "My young friends, if you find in your theological research that your results are not in conformity with the teaching of the Church, there is only one possibility left for you: You have to research further."

So, it is not possible that there is a contradiction between Church documents that have a high official character. We try to train our seminarians to understand that. Even if there are different themes underscored at different times, the Church always speaks with one voice.

In our seminary, it is our intent that we give that organic and homogeneous outlook on Church doctrine to the young men. In order to do that, we invite internationally renowned philosophers, theologians, and canonists to teach them. We have many very good lay people from the Sorbonne in Paris, and from other good pontifical universities, both priests and lay people, who come in and teach in this sense.

In the future, we are planning on having publications that show how this homogeneous interpretation is possible for every single teaching of the Church.

Q. So, what you and Fr. Becker are saying is that if an individual cannot come to harmonize the teachings of religious liberty and ecumenism, then the problem is not with the Church, but with your lack of understanding?

Msgr. Schmitz: Yes. Exactly.

Teaching The Truth

Q. Fr. Gabet, what is the FSSP doing on Vatican II, "in light of Tradition," religious liberty, and ecumenism?

Fr. Gabet: Right now, we are trying to build up the faculty at the seminary and to have enough priests to send into the apostolate, so we don't have somebody where this is their sole and specific mission.

But all of our priests — we certainly have to teach what true ecumenism is. We see Vatican II, and we look at those documents, and we see them, like Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, in light of Tradition. It is not just Vatican II, but it is all the councils. Vatican II is certainly one of them — from Nicea all the way to Vatican II.

We see that especially with ecumenism, we need to avoid both extremes. Indifferentism, which says, "It doesn't matter what you are because you are going to Heaven anyway." And some Catholics who [might] say, "Unless you are baptized by water, you are not getting to Heaven." [Editor's Note: In other words, deny the theological possibility of "Baptism of desire" and its efficacy for salvation.] We see how strange both of those are — and unfitting for the Church.

So, basically, then, we try to bring people to the Catholic Church. And the way we do that according to Vatican II, is not by watering down the faith, not by a "false irenicism" [quotation from the Decree on Ecumenism], but by actually teaching the truth, by hearing what the other side is saying, and then bringing forth, "What does the Catholic Church teach about that? What did we learn the past 2,000 years that can bring them to the full truth, and to bring them to God in that way?"

We also have to be aware of where they are in their spiritual life. You can't hit them over the head with everything right away. Sometimes it takes time, and all we can do is plant the seeds, but then to be willing to continue that down in the future, and then to be their friend and then to help them to grow in their faith. All of these things need to be taken into account.

Q. At the Una Voce Conference in November in Providence, R.I., Bishop Rifan spoke of true ecumenism in Campos, Brazil, by going door-to-door with Catholic tracts, inviting them to return to Mass, and offering to pray for them.

Do you have any examples like this with Fraternity apostolates?

Fr. Gabet: In Omaha, Neb., at St. Patrick's, we have a Legion of Mary. There is an adult group and 20 people in the teenagers' praesidium. It was just amazing what they are doing there. They go door-to-door and ask people about the faith.

At one time, I had the Jehovah's Witnesses [come to my door]. I had always admired them. I thought, "That's great. They have the courage to go door-to-door to talk about Christ."

And then I realized what they were talking about. One time I was talking to them and found out that they don't even believe that Jesus is God. He is the Son of God, but not God. So I went into deliberating that with them, and then they switched the topic.

[They said,] "Where does it say Trinity?" Of course it is not explicit, but it is implicit. And I would go into that, and then they would change again. And after that, that just blew it for me. All they wanted to do was change me around and sell their magazine.

Our Legion of Mary people would always end by saying, "Okay. We will pray for you." And it was so good, especially the young people. I know one of the young men has entered our seminary, and another young girl has entered the Poor Clares as a nun.

So, it is really good to see that not only has this benefited the people they have come into contact with to bring them into the Church, but they have become holier, and have really given their life to God.

We do that. I find that the Legion of Mary has been most useful because of its structure. "This is what we do, and this is how we do it." Two-by-two. For the young people, with an adult with them, always watching. The Legion already has all the rules and a system. It's all worked out.

Another Angel

Q. How many seminarians do you have with the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter? How many applicants have you been having annually?

Fr. Gabet: The worldwide number of seminarians is 107. We have two full-fledged seminaries: One is in Wigratzbad, Germany, which is our motherhouse. That's the one I attended. There was no English-speaking seminary [then]. We didn't have one here in the United States at that time, so I had to go to Germany.

It's kind of ironic. Here I was. A home boy from Indiana, who had to go to Germany to learn Latin in French. You could choose the faculties — either French or German — but that was it. There was no English. I got to learn Latin through a language I didn't even know.

And yet, we were able to do it, by the grace of God. He just helps you the whole way. Every time there is an obstacle, there is another angel to help you pass over that obstacle. It's a good help to prove a vocation that way. When I entered, I thought, "Well, OK, I knew I was going to be a seminarian," but I don't know if I'm going to be a priest or not. "You're going to have to show me this, God," and He certainly did.

I was ordained in 1997. It was a six-year program then, now increased to seven. I spent all six years over in Wigratzbad, Germany. We had just begun our seminary here, first of all in Elmhurst, Pa., and then finally in Denton, Neb.

There are two seminaries, one in Wigratzbad, Germany, our motherhouse, and the other in Denton, Neb., which is Our Lady of Guadalupe seminary. Our headquarters is in Elmhurst, Pa.

We have two places for first-year students. One is in Lyons, France, and the other is in Australia. These are for first-year spirituality students at this time.

We have 60 seminarians at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary, and we could house as many as 100 seminarians.

In the past three years, we've had 300 to 400 inquiries from young men. From this, we had 200-250 who actually sent in their applications. From these, some were able to begin immediately, while others had other obligations. So of course we focus on those who are able to begin immediately for the upcoming year.

Some of them had other obligations to their families like a sick mother or a sick sibling they felt they had to take care of first. Or some had creditors they had to pay off. And some of them wished to complete their academic degrees. And we really encourage this too, especially if they brought it up.

There are two different ways of looking at this. Sometimes you want to strike while the iron is hot. If God is saying "Hey, get me to the seminary," then they really should go. But at the same time, if you want to look at it logically, you might want to have them have something to fall back on.

If they are going to go the seminary, their first year of spirituality is to test that vocation. Is God actually calling me to the priesthood or not? And the second thing is, "Is God calling me to the Fraternity of St. Peter?"

And being more specific: "Is this the seminary I want to go to?" And third, of course, the Fraternity looks at the individual. "Is he right for the Fraternity of St. Peter?" We have to discern.

"Is the seminary I want to go to?" Would he be a good member of the group? Does he love the Traditional Mass and the sacraments? Does he have the virtues he will need as a priest? All of these things have to come together.

Normally, for the past three years, we have accepted 16 to 18 seminarians per year. So, in the last three years, we have accepted 51 men. Part of the reason here is not only seminary space. It is also the faculty.

You really don't want to have classes bigger than 20 or 30, especially with the first-year guys whom you're really trying to see. Do they have a vocation or not? They are doing this discernment. And we also have to look at them. So we want to make sure we have the faculty there, not only to form priests, but to form good, holy, traditional Catholic priests.

We do have to grow our faculty too. We're still working on that. We have done a lot better.

We have taken some of our best priests, and have sent them on to further studies. Some for two or three years. And some of them are coming out now, and we're putting them into the seminary. For me and the district, it is hard to do that when we have places we could open.

But we're not in this for the short term. We're in it for the long range. We know if we're going to continue to be something good for the Church, then we're going to have to have good, holy, traditional Catholic priests formed. So we need to have the best faculty there. We've had to sacrifice in the district to supply good professors — good faculty members — for the seminary. But it will pay off for us. That is good.

Q. How many apostolates does the FSSP have in North America? How many priests do you expect to ordain this year and the next?

Fr. Gabet: At this time, we have 34 apostolates in 31 dioceses within the United States and Canada, which is the North American District. This year, we expect to have five priests ordained, with one for Australia, and he will be ordained in Australia. He has completed his studies at Wibadzgrad. And we should have three deacons, so we should have three more priests ordained next year. But we have many more subdeacons coming up in the future, so it should be growing as we go.

[Editor's Note: After the next two classes, Fr. Gabet said the FSSP seminary classes are considerably larger and thus, with God's grace, should yield substantially more priests for the growing, and growing number of, Traditional Latin Mass communities.]

A Work Of Grace

Q. Finally, what do you think is fueling the growth of Classical Roman rite communities?

Msgr. Schmitz: I believe the growth of the Traditional Latin Mass and the discovery of the deep spiritual life by so many is really a work of grace. We should not underestimate it.

With all of our very understandable human efforts and our activities, that at the end, without grace, without the help of the supernatural world...without the help of the angels and the Blessed Mother...and in the very end, with our Savior who has done it all, it is not impossible to bring the Church back to where it was, and to where it should it be.

I believe we should have great confidence in the collaboration of grace.

Brian Mershon is a commentator on cultural issues from a classical Catholic perspective. His trade is in media relations, and his vocation is as a husband to his beloved wife Tracey and father to his six living children. He attempts to assist his family and himself in attaining eternal salvation through frequent attendance at the Traditional Latin rite of Mass, homeschooling, and building Catholic culture in the buckle of the Bible Belt of Greenville, South Carolina.

© Copyright 2006 by Brian Mershon

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