Bishop Athanasius Schneider on interpreting Vatican II

DSC01443Last May, I attended the Rome Life Forum, a gathering of more than 100 pro-life leaders from around the world.  One of the speakers was Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Auxiliary Bishop the of Archdiocese of Maria Santissima in Astana, Kazakhstan.

During the conference, I had the pleasure of sitting next to him at lunch one day. He was most interested to hear I was an Ordinariate member and asked me many questions about our Divine Worship.  Do we receive on the tongue? Worship ad orientem, that kind of thing.

He’s an impressive man.  Of German descent, he grew up in the Soviet Union and for years his parents were imprisoned in the gulags. He told a story about how there were no priests when he was growing up, so no Eucharist, but every Sunday, his father and mother would worship privately in their home in communion with a Holy Mass being said elsewhere in the world.   He speaks at least a half dozen languages well—can switch easily from English to French as he did at our table, to German, to Italian, to Spanish and I imagine he speaks Russian as well.

So, with interest, I read this op ed of his submitted to Rorate-Caeli on the proper interpretation of the Second Vatican Council.  I think one can easily extrapolate from this talk to the proper interpretation of Amoris Laetitia or any other papal document or pronouncement.

He writes:

There must be created in the Church a serene climate of a doctrinal discussion regarding those statements of Vatican II which are ambiguous or which have caused erroneous interpretations. In such a doctrinal discussion there is nothing scandalous, but on the contrary, it will be a contribution in order to maintain and explain in a more sure and integral manner the deposit of the immutable faith of the Church.

One must not highlight so much  a certain council, absolutizing it or equating it in fact with the oral (Sacred Tradition) or written (Sacred Scripture) Word of God. Vatican II itself said rightly (cf. Verbum Dei, 10), that the Magisterium (Pope, Councils, ordinary and universal Magisterium) is not above the Word of God, but beneath it, subject to it, and being only the servant of it (of the oral Word of God = Sacred Tradition and of the written Word of God = Sacred Scripture).

From an objective point of view, the statements of the Magisterium (Popes and councils) of definitive character, have more value and more weight compared with the statements of pastoral character, which have naturally a changeable and temporary quality depending on historical circumstances or responding to pastoral situations of a certain period of time, as it is the case with the major part of the statements of Vatican II.

The original and valuable contribution of the Vatican II consists in the universal call to holiness of all members of the Church (chap. 5 of Lumen gentium), in the doctrine about the central role of Our Lady in the life of the Church (chap. 8 of Lumen gentium), in the importance of the lay faithful in maintaining, defending and promoting the Catholic faith and in their duty to evangelize and sanctify the temporal realities according to the perennial sense of the Church (chap. 4 of Lumen gentium), in the primacy of the adoration of God in the life of the Church and in the celebration of the liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium, nn. 2; 5-10). The rest one can consider to a certain extent secondary, temporary and, in the future, probably forgettable, as it was the case with some non-definitive, pastoral and disciplinary statements of various ecumenical councils in the past.

The following issues – Our Lady, sanctification of the personal life of the faithful with the sanctification of the world according to the perennial sense of the Church and the primacy of the adoration of God – are the most urgent aspects which have to be lived in our days. Therein Vatican II has a prophetical role which, unfortunately, is not yet realized in a satisfactory manner.

Interestingly,  Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, who has been given the role of the interpreter of Amoris Laetitia takes an opposite view to how one interprets this document vis a vis Scripture and Tradition.  From One Peter Five’s Maike Hickson a year ago:.

Austrian Catholic website reports that on 7 July, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn published an interview in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, in which he said that Amoris Laetitia is a binding doctrinal document. From now on, says Schönborn, all the previous magisterial texts concerning marriage and the family “have to be read in the light of Amoris Laetitia.”

Schönborn also said in this interview – a fuller excerpt of this text has now been published in English in the Jesuit journal Civiltà Cattolica – that it is “obvious” that Amoris Laetitia is an act of the Magisterium since it is an Apostolic Exhortation. reports:

All previous magisterial statements concerning marriage and the family now have to be read in the light of Amoris Laetitia, Schönborn stressed, and just as today the First Vatican Council (1869-1870) must be interpreted in the light of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

I’m uneasy with that approach, especially if the idea is that new stuff always trumps old stuff, even the plain meaning of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ.   New stuff can shed light on old stuff—the way the Nicene Creed sheds light on Scripture, to reveal the doctrine of the Trinity, but the Creed does not abrogate Scripture or contradict it, only brings Revelation into a greater clarity.

When we were preparing to come into the Church, papal infallibility and ecclesiology were two areas where we needed catechesis, especially to banish any vestiges of “Branch Theory” that were still kicking around.  I was able to come to accept papal infallibility under the modest Vatican I definition and to see the Pope as a sign of unity for the Church and as the guarantor of the deposit of faith.  In other words his job is not to come up with novelties, but to defend what the Church has always believed.

In a recent interview, Cardinal Muller, recently deposed as Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith gave the following interview, now translated into English on Rorate-Caeli:

 “Perhaps Cardinal Schònborn has a vision contrary to mine, but perhaps he has a position contrary also to what he had before, seeing as he has changed it.  I think that the words of Jesus Christ must always be the foundation of the Church’s doctrine.  And nobody – until yesterday – could say that this was not true. It is clear: we have the irreversible revelation of Christ. And the Church has been entrusted with the depositum fidei, i.e. the entire content of revealed truth. The Magisterium does not have the authority to correct Jesus Christ.  It is He, if anyone, Who corrects us. And we are obliged to obey Him; we must be faithful to the doctrine of the apostles, clearly developed in the spirit of the Church.”

I find those words reassuring.  “It is He, if anyone, Who corrects us ….”



Rising above factionalism and power games

Andrea Gaggliarducci’s Monday Vatican is a weekly read.  Today’s offering is especially good. In it, he touches on the controversy engendered by La Civilta Cattolica’s article on the “ecumenism of hate” and Pope Benedict XVI’s message to the funeral of Cardinal Joachim Meisner, one of the four “Dubia” cardinals.

Here are some highlights, but do go over and read the whole thing:


In [Pope Benedict XVI’s]way of thinking, there is no “political way,” but merely the search for the will of God. His speech on the hermeneutic of continuity, delivered to the Roman Curia at Christmas 2005, went in this direction. In the end he invited everyone to leave aside political categories, and to enter the heart of the mystery of the Church. To sum it up, Pope Benedict asked his audience always to use the renewed glasses of faith to look at reality.

This approach was rejected by those who made ideological counter positions the main theme of their work. For this reason, they were marginalized during Benedict’s pontificate. Under Pope Francis, they grabbed the occasion to retake the reins of the cultural debate.

Under Pope Francis, and probably despite him, the debate is really similar to that of the 70s: nuances are marginalized, issues at stake are framed in political language, the theme of faith is kept in the background.

For this reason, anytime the impression is given that Benedict still has something to say, his thinking is violently marginalized.

Early in Pope Benedict’s pontificate, I went to Montreal to hear a talk by John L. Allen Jr.  In it, he said many on the progressive side were expecting a “giant flushing sound” of dissidents being swept out of the Church with the advent of the Church’s doctrinal enforcer to the papacy.  Then, it didn’t happen.  Allen pointed out Benedict saw the Catholic Church as a family, not in ideological terms.   I wish I could find my original article for his exact words.  But that thought stayed with me.  Many people wished Pope Benedict had cleaned out dissidents from the Church and fault him for not having done so. But in light of yesterday’s Gospel reading on the wheat and the tares, it’s worth revisiting that thought.

I’m also reminded of a time I went to see my spiritual director bristling with the latest thing that had scandalized me coming out of the Vatican.

“How’s your prayer life?” Fr. Francis kept asking, to every “Yes, but ….blah blah blah” complaint I had.

So, how’s my prayer life? How’s your prayer life?  Are you relying on, totally dependent upon God in Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit to bring renewal to your life and consequently to the Church of which you and I are living stones?

Here’s another extensive quote from Monday Vatican.  I don’t usually do this for copyright reasons, but it’s mostly a quote of a quote of Pope Benedict’s about the dictatorship of relativism.

The theme of the dictatorship of relativism has thus returned to the center of the debate. This dictatorship asks the Church not to surrender its principles, but to give up talking about them in the public sphere; it asks not that the Church should quit evangelizing, but that it should avoid speaking explicitly of Christ; it asks not that the Church remain silent, but that its speech should be drawn from a secular vocabulary.

In the end, it is useful to look back to another moment in which Benedict used the metaphor of the barque of Peter. It was April 18, 2005, and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Dean of the College of Cardinals, was celebrating the Missa Pro Eligendo Romani Pontifice prior to the conclave which elected him pope.

Speaking about St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, Cardinal Ratzinger reminded his hearers that Paul asks us to be really adult in the faith, since being children in faith leads to being “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4: 14). This description is very timely! How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking? The small boat bearing the thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves — flung from one extreme to another: “from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and so forth.”

Cardinal Ratzinger went on: “Every day new sects spring up, and what St Paul says about human deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error (cf. Eph 4: 14) comes true. Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine”, seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires”.

But – the Cardinal concluded – “We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An “adult” faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth. We must develop this adult faith; we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith. And it is this faith – only faith – that creates unity and is fulfilled in love”.

Oh, for a true, adult faith!  For a faith deeply-rooted in friendship with Christ.

Msgr. Newton interview at Catholic World Report

The Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham Msgr. Keith Newton has given an interview to Catholic World Report!

A great read.  Here’s an excerpt:

Msgr. Keith Newton: I was born in Liverpool, in the Northwest of England, in 1952. I was brought up in a proud working-class family. My father was a gas welder for all of his life, though sadly he died the age of 54, when I was just 23 years old, and had just been ordained as an Anglican deacon.

My mother, for most of her life, worked in a small grocery shop—the sort that no longer exist in Britain—where everything was sold, from loose tea to sliced bacon. She worked in the shop at the bottom of our road, which was very much a community shop where everybody knew each other.

My mother was born on the same road where I was born and my father was born four roads away. I have one older brother who still lives near Liverpool.

My mother sent me to Sunday school each Sunday from an early age, although at that time my parents did not practice their religion. I was confirmed in the Church of England at the age of 11 and have continued being a committed Christian ever since then. I served at the parish Eucharist and was involved in the parish youth club, where I met my future wife.

CWR: How did you develop an interest in going into ministry?

Msgr. Newton: I was involved in the life of the church from my early teens. This was a lively Church of England parish with a vicar and often three or four young curates. I felt a calling to the priesthood in the Church of England at about the age of 15, but like many young men was embarrassed to tell anybody as I thought I wouldn’t have the right character, qualifications, or background. It was only when one of the curates asked me if I had thought about ordination that I was able to talk about it openly, only to discover that all the clergy were hoping that I had a vocation.


Patronal Festival in Australia

A great event coming up!  I would love to be able to attend this.  I am a big Tracey Rowland fan.  If on those occasions where the Vatican decides it wants to seek out women theologians and scholars, why aren’t they all of her competence and orthodoxy?

Any Australian readers attending this and want to blog about it or send me a report and some photos I can post?  Put in a comment and I’ll keep your details private.


An article about the Oxford Movement’s legacy

I personally think Anglicanorum coetibus and the Personal Ordinariates for former Anglicans in the Catholic Church is a legacy of the Oxford Movement.

Here’s an excerpt from an article by Duane W.H. Arnold over at Virtueonline that I find most interesting:

After many, including most notably, John Henry Newman, made their way to the “safe harbor” of the Roman Catholic Church, it seemed that the movement was dead.

Three factors, however, ensured its continuing vitality. These three factors, I believe, are still worthy of imitation in our own time and circumstances.

Firstly, the intellectual foundation established by the early leaders in their scholarly and literary activities, notably the Library of the Fathers, made a major contribution to the study of Church History and spirituality. Many of the Church Fathers had never even been available in translation. The study of the Fathers, once a key element in Reformation theology, had largely been abandoned by Protestants. Among Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, the Fathers were the domain of the few, not the many. Now, the situation changed. Critical texts, once nowhere to be found, were prepared. The new movement honored learning and scholarship and provided opportunities for the same all the way from the smallest local parish to the oldest universities in the land.

Secondly, their emphasis upon a renewal of the Church’s liturgical life made worship central and re-established the Holy Eucharist as normative Christian worship – a consequence of their reading of the early Fathers – something that has influenced the renewal of the Church’s liturgical and sacramental life to this day. Liturgical texts were revised, hymns were written, ancient prayers were translated, and people were instructed as to the meaning of what was said and done in church. Moreover, liturgy – literally “the work of the people” – allowed for the active participation of the laity in worship.

Thirdly, the Oxford Movement went beyond the academic and upper class environment in which it had been born. In practical terms, this was a result of sympathetic clergy being given the worst possible parish assignments by their church superiors, usually in the slums of city centers, which it was thought would kill the movement. It had the opposite effect as clergy made the Incarnation, the love of worship, and social concern central to their lives, and filled their churches with those who lived on the fringes of society. The beauty of Jesus in worship was a light in the darkest industrial centers of America and England as almost abandoned churches were painted, restored, renewed and filled with those who had never before entered a place of worship.

Hmmm, I wonder how much the Oxford Movement might have played in the Ressourcement Movement of many Second Vatican Council theologians—to go back to the Church Fathers, the sources, and so on.


And now a positive note—on Silence

Have come across this review of Cardinal Robert Sarah’s book The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise while I was looking for a quote by him that had something to do with our focusing on Christ, instead of on partisan arguments, and defensive positions.

Cardinal Sarah’s words move me in ways I remember a Cardinal Josef Ratzinger affecting me back before I became a Catholic—with words I found inspiring and profound, and made me hungry for more of the Spirit that animates them.

Here’s an except of Bill Staudt’s review at Denver Catholic:

In the Catholic world, it was a year of silence. Martin Scorsese fulfilled his longstanding dream to adapt Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence for film. The book chronicles two young Jesuits in Japan searching for their lost mentor, rumored to have abandoned the faith. Japan experienced a massive number of martyrdoms as the Emperor banned the newly established religion in 1587, as it was gaining converts quickly. The novel asks: “Why is God silent in the face of this persecution?” Endo writes: “Behind the depressing silence of this sea, the silence of God … the feeling that while men raise their voices in anguish God remains with folded arms, silent.” It’s a question many people ask: Why is God silent?

This year also saw the release of Cardinal Robert Sarah’s second interview book, The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. Cardinal Sarah, originally from Guinea, Africa, serves as the Prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Coupled with Scorsese’s film, his book makes a significant contribution. God is silent because, Cardinal Sarah tells us, silence is the language of God (238). We generally think of silence as a sign of absence or impotence, but Sarah points us to a deeper reality. God is present, but due to our inability to enter silence with a listening heart, we do not hear his voice.

“At the heart of man there is an innate silence, for God abides in the innermost part of every person. God is silence, and this divine silence dwells in man. In God, we are inseparably bound up with silence. … God carries us, and we live with him at every moment by keeping silence. Nothing will make us discover God better than his silence inscribed in the center of our being. If we do not cultivate this silence how can we find God?” (22).

Probably the most productive spiritual discipline I have ever cultivated is that of sitting in silence, in the present moment, not allowing myself to drift away in the thought stream, but gently rising above it, to experience that Presence of God in stillness.

I am aiming to do a half hour in the morning, and a half hour at night, though not always successful at carrying that out.  That in addition to praying the morning and evening offices—often doing the morning office via conference call at

Then add to that the Rosary, and once a week the Seven Sorrows Rosary, which is obligatory for those in the Spiritual Motherhood of Priests.   I would also like to add at least an hour of Adoration.

All these disciplines I find beneficial, but the discipline of silence, of stillness, of waiting patiently on the Lord in quietness and rest makes all the others more fruitful.



Ha ha ha! Will the real Manicheans please stand up?

In Romans 2:1 it says:  “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, whoever you are, when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon him you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”


This piece by James R. Rogers at LibertyLawsite is, I found quite funny.  But oh oh, maybe it’s a hate site, since it’s in Texas, has Liberty in the title and is ‘Murrican and on the wrong side of the good/evil dichotomy.

The irony is that Spadaro and Figueroa succumb to the Manichean temptations, and apocalyptic rhetoric, which they ascribe to their subjects. We’ll return to that in a moment. The point I think they try to make, but lose in their ham-handed argument, is that conservative Christians in the U.S. need to be wary that, in the heat of political battle, political commitments don’t efface their more-important spiritual commitments. This is a temptation to which American evangelicalism, in particular, too-easily succumbs, and seems also to be a risk for a segment of American Catholicism today. (Politically Progressive American Christians have their own idols as well, but of a different ilk than Christian conservatives.)

First, Spadaro and Figueroa charge their subjects with political Manichaenism. I prefer the term be used to describe dualistic religious views in which good and evil are equally powerful. While there is a tendency towards forms of Manichaenism in the folk-spirituality of many American Christians (and is ubiquitous in Hollywood films portraying supernatural evil), these Christians typically are highly pietistic, and not particularly political.

Spadaro and Figueroa use the adjective not to identify any real Manichean heresy, however, but instead to communicate their disapproval of the rhetorical use of what they consider over simplified black and white moral categories.

Before we get to their argument, one must note the irony of Spadaro and Figueroa’s article is that there is no gray in their treatment of those they accuse of Manichaenism. It’s all just black and white for them as well; just absolute good versus absolute evil. The only difference is what they condemn as absolute good and absolute evil.

I am not a dualist who sees black and white, good and evil as equal.   No, I believe in an all good, all powerful God in three Persons, Father Son and Holy Spirit and that Christ has conquered evil, sin and death.   I also do not wish to participate in polemics and partisanship.   But sometimes, it’s a little bit fun to see someone hitting back at people who traffic in stereotypes and label and dismiss tactics that all too often are applied against Christians of all stripes except the most progressive.

I work in a secular environment that is largely dominated by left-leaning people who have little or no understanding of religion and some have the most ridiculous stereotypes about Christians.  I have also seen those stereotypes used by political parties in Canada to demonize politicians who are Christian and prolife as somehow “scary” and unCanadian or anti-Canada’s Charter of rights and freedoms.   These are libels and cheap shots that could easily make an already marginalized group—-Christians who take their faith seriously—into scapegoats.  But it happens nonetheless and has been employed even by past prime ministers of this country (and used even by members of the same religious groups they are attacking, because in politics all’s fair in love and war or something).

I have also found that among many folks I meet on the left, it’s considered objective reality that equal marriage is a civil rights issue, or euthanasia is a right so people can choose how and when they die or abortion is a women’s rights issue.   Anyone who disagrees is deemed evil, stupid or both.   Sometimes, I get tired of it.

So, ha ha ha, may the real Manicheans please stand up.