Monday, January 03, 2011

Magister: Cardinal Biffi Breaks Another Taboo. On Dossetti

From Sandro Magister today: Cardinal Biffi Breaks Another Taboo. On Dossetti.

The Catholic historian Roberto de Mattei recently published a new history of Vatican Council II that is causing a great deal of discussion, because of its method and conclusions.

As for the method, de Mattei strictly keeps to the historical facts, to the unfolding of the conciliar event, because – he maintains – the documents of the Council can be understood and judged only in the light of the incidents that produced them.

As for the conclusions, de Mattei gathers from the reconstruction of this event that the documents of Vatican Council II are in effect sometimes in contrast with previous doctrine. He therefore asks the current pope to advance "a thorough examination" of these documents, "to dispel the shadows and doubts."


Looking only at the historical reconstruction presented by de Mattei, what is striking is the enormous influence that certain individuals and groups had in determining the unfolding of the Council and the creation of its documents.

One of the most influential was certainly the Italian Giuseppe Dossetti (1919-1996, see photo), in his capacity as expert adviser of Cardinal Giacomo Lercaro, archbishop of Bologna.

Before becoming a monk, Dossetti had studied ecclesiastical law, had fought in the partisan war against the Fascists and Germans, had participated in the drafting of the new Italian constitution, and had been one of the leading politicians in the party that governed Italy after the war, Democrazia Cristiana, where he excelled in the mastery of assembly mechanisms.

As a conciliar consultant, Dossetti made use of these abilities. On November 10, 1962, another famous adviser, Dominican theologian Marie-Dominique Chenu, quoted Dossetti in his diary: "The actual battle is waged over procedure. It is always by this means that I have won."

His peak came in 1963, in the second session of the Council, when for a few months Dossetti acted as the de facto secretary of the four cardinal "moderators," one of whom was Lercaro, thereby becoming the hub of the entire assembly.

He was the one who wrote the questions on which the conciliar fathers had to make their statements. On October 16, 1963, four of these questions – on the issue of episcopal collegiality – were published, before they were given to the fathers, in the Bologna newspaper "L'Avvenire d'Italia," directed by Raniero La Valle, a close friend of Dossetti and Lercaro. Irritated, Paul VI ordered a recall of the 3,000 copies of this newspaper that, as every morning, were to be distributed free of charge to the fathers.

Even after the Council, Dossetti continued to exercise a profound influence over Catholic culture, and not only in Italy.

He was the one who gave rise – together with a few of his followers who were historians, Giuseppe Alberigo first among them – to that interpretation of Vatican II which until today has had the greatest fortune all over the world, condensed in the five-volume "History" that has been translated into various languages.

Not only that. For many, Dossetti was also a great model of the fusion of theology and politics. With a strong following among the clergy, the bishops, and Catholics politically active on the left.

But while his manner of interpreting Vatican Council II has been subjected to growing criticism for some time – especially after the memorable speech dedicated to this given by Benedict XVI on December 22, 2005 – no one, until a few weeks ago, had dared to cast doubt, authoritatively and publicly, on the solidity of his theological perspective.

This taboo has been broken by cardinal and theologian Giacomo Biffi, who from 1984 to 2003 was archbishop of Bologna, Dossetti's diocese.

In the second edition of his "Memorie e digressioni di un italiano cardinale," published last fall, Biffi has dedicated about twenty blistering pages to Dossetti.

In them, he lays bare the serious shortcomings in his theology, starting with the way in which he acted at the Council and during the following decades.

The following are the salient passages of Biffi's critique of Dossetti, and of the "Dossettians" of yesterday and today...

You can read Cardinal Biffi's critique on Chiesa.

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