On the serious case of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò the Holy See is keeping quiet. Not a word from the congregation appointed to watch over the "doctrine of the faith.” Not a word from Pope Francis, whose original mandate, as the successor of Peter, is to strengthen his brothers in the faith.
The calculation underlying this silence is plausibly that of letting Viganò go adrift, alone or nearly so.
In effect, since he has lashed out against Vatican II as a hotbed of heresies, maintaining that it would be best to "drop it 'in toto' and forget it,” the buffer of support around the former apostolic nuncio to the United States has been shrinking.
Viganò reached the apogee of his media success on June 6 with his open letter to Donald Trump, "son of light" against the power of darkness, and with the enthusiastic response of the American president in a tweet that went viral.
But back then the themes were different, more political than doctrinal. They were the ones presented in the previous appeal launched by Viganò on May 8 against - according to him - the "New World Order" of Masonic stamp pursued by those "nameless and faceless" powers that are bending to their own interests even the coronavirus pandemic.
After that of Viganò, three cardinals and eight bishops added their signaturesto that appeal. But if today he were to launch another appeal for banning the whole of Vatican Council II, perhaps even among those eleven no one would be found willing to sign it.
Among the members of the Church hierarchy the one closest to Viganò’s positions appears to be Athanasius Schneider, auxiliary bishop of Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.
In fact, it was one of Schneider's own writings, published on June 6, that gave Viganò his opening to lash out from that point on against Vatican Council II.
With the difference that while Schneider was asking that the individual errors of doctrine contained in conciliar documents be "corrected,” particularly in the declarations "Dignitatis Humanae" on religious freedom and "Nostra Aetate" on the relationship with non-Christian religions, Viganò, in a text published on June 9 and then in all of his subsequent texts, goes on to claim that it is the whole of Vatican II that must be scrapped.
To be precise, this is the formulation that Viganò has given to his thesis, in one of his latest statements, dated July 4, in response to questions from the editor of "LifeSite News,” John H. Westen:
“Anyone with common sense can see that it is an absurdity to want to interpret a Council, since it is and ought to be a clear and unequivocal norm of Faith and Morals. Secondarily, if a magisterial act raises serious and reasoned arguments that it may be lacking in doctrinal coherence with magisterial acts that have preceded it, it is evident that the condemnation of a single heterodox point in any case discredits the entire document. If we add to this the fact that the errors formulated or left obliquely to be understood between the lines are not limited to one or two cases, and that the errors affirmed correspond conversely to an enormous mass of truths that are not confirmed, we can ask ourselves whether it may be right to expunge the last assembly from the catalog of canonical Councils. The sentence will be issued by history and by the ‘sensus fidei’ of the Christian people even before it is given by an official document.”
If this rejection by Viganò of the whole of Vatican Council II is not a schismatic act, it is undoubtedly on the brink. But who among the bishops and cardinals will want to follow him? Probably no one.
Getting back to Bishop Schneider, it must be said that even his arguments appear fragile to those who have a passing familiarity with doctrine and the history of dogma.
His thesis is that already at other times in history the Church has corrected doctrinal errors, some them serious, committed in previous ecumenical councils, without thereby "undermining the foundations of the Catholic faith.” And therefore it should do the same today with the heterodox statements of Vatican II.
In a statement on June 24 Schneider offered two examples of doctrinal errors that were corrected later:
The first attributed to the Council of Constance:
“With a Bull in 1425, Martin V approved the decrees of the Council of Constance and even the decree ‘Frequens’ — from the 39th session of the Council (in 1417). This decree affirmed the error of conciliarism, i.e., the error that a Council is superior to a Pope. However, in 1446, his successor, Pope Eugene IV, declared that he accepted the decrees of the Ecumenical Council of Constance, except those (of sessions 3 - 5 and 39) which ‘prejudice the rights and primacy of the Apostolic See’ (absque tamen praeiudicio iuris, dignitatis et praeeminentiae Sedis Apostolicae). Vatican I’s dogma on papal primacy then definitively rejected the conciliarist error of the Ecumenical Council of Constance.”
The second attributed to the Council of Florence:
“An opinion different from what the Council of Florence taught on the matter of the Sacrament of Orders, i.e. the ‘traditio instrumentorum’, was allowed in the centuries following this Council, and led to Pope Pius XII’s pronouncement in the 1947 Apostolic Constitution ‘Sacramentum Ordinis’, whereby he corrected the non-infallible teaching of the Council of Florence, by stating that the only matter strictly necessary for the validity of the Sacrament of Orders is the imposition of hands by the bishop. By this act, Pius XII did not implement a hermeneutic of continuity but, indeed, a correction, because the Council of Florence’s doctrine in this matter did not reflect the constant liturgical doctrine and practice of the universal Church. Already in the year 1914, Cardinal W.M. van Rossum wrote concerning the Council of Florence’s affirmation on the matter of the Sacrament of Orders, that this doctrine of the Council is reformable and must even be abandoned (cf. ‘De essentia sacramenti ordinis’, Freiburg 1914, p. 186). And so, there was no room for a hermeneutic of continuity in this concrete case.”
It is not surprising that when reading these lines a distinguished historian of the Church such as Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, president from 1998 to 2009 of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, should have been taken aback by the errors contained therein and evident to him.
He therefore sent Schneider a quick summary of the inaccuracies. Which he then put in writing in this note received by Settimo Cielo:
“The Council of Constance (1415-1418) put an end to the schism that had divided the Church for forty years. In that context, it has often been stated - and recently repeated - that this council, with the decrees 'Haec sancta' and 'Frequens’, defined conciliarism, the superiority of the council over the pope.
“But this is not true at all. The assembly that issued those decrees was by no means an ecumenical council authorized to define the doctrine of the faith. It was instead an assembly of none but the followers of John XXIII (Baldassarre Cossa), one of the three 'popes' who were contending at that time over the leadership of the Church. That assembly had no authority.
“The schism lasted until the assembly of Constance was joined by the other two parties as well, meaning the followers of Gregory XII (Angelo Correr) and the 'natio hispanica' of Benedict XIII (Pedro Martinez de Luna), which happened in the autumn of 1417. Only from that moment on did the 'council' of Constance become a true ecumenical council, albeit still without the pope who was eventually elected.
“So all the proceedings of that first 'incomplete' phase of the council and its documents did not have the slightest canonical value, although they were effective at the political level in those circumstances. After the end of the council the new and only legitimate pope, Martin V, confirmed the documents issued by the 'incomplete' pre-conciliar assembly, except for 'Haec sancta’, 'Frequens’, and 'Quilibet tyrannus'.
“'Frequens’, valid because it had been issued by the three former factions in concert, did not require confirmation. But it does not teach conciliarism at all, nor is it a doctrinal document, but simply regulates the frequency of the convening of councils.
“As for the Council of Florence (1439-1445), it is true that in the decree 'Pro Armenis' it affirmed that in order for priestly ordination to be valid this required the 'porrectio instrumentorum’, meaning the conferral of the instruments of his office upon the one ordained. And it is true that Pius XII in the apostolic constitution 'Sacramentum Ordinis' established that for the future this would no longer be necessary, and declared as the matter of the sacrament the 'manus impositio' and as its form the 'verba applicationem huius materiae determinantia'.
“But the Council of Florence, regarding priestly ordination, did not deal with doctrine at all. It only regulated the liturgical rite. And it must be remembered that it is always the Church that orders the ritual form of the sacraments.”
That does it for Cardinal Brandmüller's memo on the “fake news” that is feeding the contestation of Vatican II which has its leading exponents in Schneider but even more so in Viganò.
It is striking that, at 91, Brandmüller should be the only cardinal who is raising an articulate critical voice against the operation for the rejection of the Council that has exploded in recent weeks.
Likewise striking is the silence on the Viganò case of another cardinal who is habitually very combative and vocal, Gerhard L. Müller, former prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith and therefore apt to be quite sensitive to such questions.
Unfortunately, however, Müller is also one of the three cardinals who signed Viganò's political manifesto of May 8 against the "New World Order.” Is it perhaps because of this careless antecedent that he now feels obligated to keep quiet?