Collegiality: error of Vatican II (2)

Part 2

Our review of the historical outbreaks of illicit "collegiality" will have prepared us for encountering its resurgence during and after Vatican II. Fr. Wiltgen tells us (The Rhine Flows into the Tiber. p. 228) that "the most important and dramatic battle" of this Council was that over collegiality, how the term was to be understood with regard to Chapter 3 of the Constitution on the Church [Lumen Gentium]. He distinguishes three current interpretations.

On Collegiality (continued)

Firstly, there was the conservative interpretation. The pope alone had supreme authority, by divine right. He could on occasion, if he wished, extend this authority to the college of bishops, e.g., by summoning a General Council. This was an extraordinary measure, and the bishops' temporary share in the pope's supreme authority was of human right only. This was the traditional view, often called "ultra-montane." It was that of the International Group of traditionalist bishops at the Council [Coetus Internationalis Patrum], and probably also of the silent majority of the bishops, as far as they had any definite view on the matter.

Secondly, there was a liberal interpretation, maintaining that the only subject of supreme authority was the collect of bishops in union with its head, the pope. The pope exercised his authority only as the head of the college and as representing it. So he was bound in duty to consult the bishops previous to any important decision. The bishops shared the supreme authority by divine right, in virtue of their consecration. General Councils were an ordinary exercise of this authority, and should be of frequent and regular occurrence. This was the view of the ultra-progressive faction, and was close to that of the Gallicans or conciliarists of the past.

Between these extremes was a somewhat vaguely conceived and expressed third, or moderate, interpretation. According to this view the pope was the subject of supreme authority, and likewise the college of bishops in union with him, its head. The pope's consent was a necessary element of the college's authority. The pope had supreme authority by divine right, and was always free to use it; the episcopal college also had it by divine right, but was not always free to use it. It could not act without its head, and so depended on the pope in any exercise of supreme authority. This was the view favored by Pope Paul VI and the less extreme of the liberal Council Fathers and it was this which was adopted in the schema to be voted on. It was a kind of compromise, aiming at avoiding the conciliarist heresy and preserving the unity of authority in the Church.

The battle was fought out during the second and third sessions of the Council (1963-1964). The Rhine was by this time flowing strongly in the former bed of the Tiber; a team of progressive Moderators had been appointed, the Theological Commission was mainly progressive, and a task force of progressive periti was busy drafting new schemata to replace those which the Party had torn up [cf. the article, Archbishop Lefebvre Preparing the Council]. The defenders of tradition, on the other hand, were less well organized, and therefore had less influence, and their protests were often ignored. The details of maneuvering and voting may be studied in Fr. Wiltgen's pages. As early as October 1963 a preliminary vote to sound the state of opinion had been imposed by the Moderators, contrary to regular procedure, and had shown an impressive majority for the liberal side. This vote was greeted in Bolshevik phrase by one of the exultant periti (Fr. Yves Congar, O.P.) as "the Church's October Revolution."

Pope Paul VI's personal sympathies were with the liberals, and he was inclined to let matters take their course. But as the date for the final vote on Lumen Gentium drew near, and appeals for his intervention grew more frequent and pressing, he became uneasy. The final text of Chapter 3 of the schema had been found seriously ambiguous. As Archbishop Staffa, of the Curia, expressed it, "these propositions are opposed to the more common teachings of the saintly Fathers, of the Roman Pontiffs, of provincial synods, of the holy Doctors of the Universal Church, of theologians and of canonists. They are also contrary to century-old norms of ecclesiastical discipline." In fact, he said, they were substantially identical with the views of the Jesuit Father Giovanni Bolgeni (1733-1811), which theologians and canonists had for long unanimously rejected as "unacceptable and foreign to the sound tradition of the Church."[1] The archbishop and more than seventy other bishops petitioned the Moderators for time to address the assembly before voting on this chapter began. The petition, though quite in order, was refused.

Archbishop Staffa's next move was to write to the Pope, and many cardinals and others did likewise, warning him of the ambiguities in the apparently moderate text and of the danger that it would be interpreted in the extreme sense after the Council. But the Pope still took no action, relying as he did on the Theological Commission. Then, at the eleventh hour, one of the extreme liberals accidentally dropped a brick. He had written about some of the ambiguous passages, indicating how the Party would interpret them in the future,[2] and the paper fell into the hands of the objecting cardinals. They took it straight to the Pope, who at last saw that he had been deceived by the theological commissioners, and was reduced to tears of distress. This providential accident saved the situation, for papal intervention followed immediately. Since time was so short, it took the unusual form of a Prefatory Explanatory Note, about two pages long, which was to be attached to Chapter 3, to remove the ambiguities and make it quite clear that the conciliar text was to be interpreted in the moderate sense, and not in the extreme liberal sense. The final vote followed, with almost unanimous acceptance of the text as thus qualified.

So far, so good: one time-bomb at least had been diffused. Orthodoxy had been saved, and "collegiality" had been reduced to a duly subordinate rank, by a stroke of monarchical authority—or rather, should we not say, as on so many similar occasions, by the intervention of the Holy Ghost. But what was this intruder, this parvenu which had been giving such trouble to the Church in Council? It had no place in the traditional magisterium, and few of the bishops can ever have bothered their heads with it. Theology had nothing particular to say about it, and the name itself was newly coined. "Collegial" and "collegiate" were familiar words, but "collegiality" was unknown until the eve of Vatican II. The text of the Council itself never mentions it. It had suddenly sprung up, under liberal hands, and become a kind of talisman or obsessive slogan, for the advancement of questionable ideas. Nobody at the Council, it seems, was able or willing to define it. Insofar as it was more than a tautology, it suggested either something heterodox, such as Gallicanism, or something absurd, such as the coexistence of two supreme authorities in the Church. The whole thing was hopelessly vague and unnecessary. At best it seemed to embody an indeterminate craving for some additional kudos to be given to the bishops to counterbalance the papal primacy of Vatican I and all previous tradition. Could not the Church have been content with her God-given constitution, together with the ancient and venerable concept of a pervasive Christian charity binding all ranks of the Church into one body: what the Greeks called koinonia, and the Latins communio? Was not this infinitely more satisfactory than the neologism of "collegiality," which even a council text could not safely make into much more than a verbal quibble? It was indeed repeatedly suggested by the wiser heads in the Council that the whole subject should be dropped indefinitely, for fuller study, especially as this Council professed to be purely pastoral.[3] But this advice fell on deaf ears, for the dominant Party was not going to see its Trojan Horse put out to grass.

The Party was of course infuriated by the Explanatory Note, which substantially and logically restored the status quo ante and should have nipped the October Revolution in the bud. But has it really done so? Obviously not. The Church has been seething with revolution ever since the Council. The liberal or neo-modernist movement has grown out of her control, and reveals itself more and more clearly as a movement to change the constitution of the Church from a theocratic monarchy to a democratic synarchy. This is what they mean by aggiornamento: assimilation to a neo-pagan and socialist world which has no use for monarchs, human or divine. Revolutionaries are allergic to authority, except such as can be deputed by the sovereign People to councils and committees—namely, themselves. The Party, beginning as a group of German and Dutch bishops and their experts, and spreading rapidly over the rest of Europe and the west, has felt itself strong enough, wherever convenient, to ignore the letter of the Council texts (here as in the liturgy) and to act as though the Council had endorsed the extreme liberal interpretation of "collegiality." It found further support in the Council's decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops, which gave a new and special importance to episcopal conferences (ch. 3, 38) and led to the creation by Paul VI of a permanent Synod of Bishops. It was only too likely that these assemblies would be dominated by the leading party, the liberal-modernists. The episcopal conferences, which formerly had a useful deliberative function, have now become organs of decision, forming common policy by their majority vote, and so diminishing the personal responsibility of their members. The bishop was formerly a monarch in his own diocese, subject only to the pope, and a Father in God to his people. He is hardly that any longer, being bound in all matters of importance by the majority decisions of his conference.

It was this exaltation of the episcopal conferences, with the connivance of the reigning pope, which made it possible after the Council for the liberal-modernist party to assume complete control of the Church and to push through its October Revolution, regardless of all past dogmas and definitions, regardless even of the literal sense of Vatican II's decrees. No individual bishop would have dared to adopt measures such as the virtual destruction of the Holy Mass in favor of a kind of Protestant Lord's Supper, or to make liturgical innovations which entail grave irreverence towards the Blessed Sacrament, or to imperil the faith and morals of Catholic school children by scrapping the orthodox catechism for the sake of modernist ones of the Dutch type and imposing a salacious "sex education" in line with neo-pagan practice. All these monstrous "mutations" have been carried out by a nameless impersonal "Episcopate," and the despairing faithful, so recently glorified as the "People of God," have no redress, no appeal—no more than Soviet citizens have against the decisions of the Politboro. Indeed the Church now has a Dictatorship of the Bureaucracy very similar to theirs. Moreover, in spite of some salutary papal interventions at the Council, it seems unhappily as though the post-conciliar pontiffs have tacitly accepted the collegial revolution and in practice abdicated their lawful supremacy. To mention but one example: Pope Paul VI allowed his one outstanding service to religion, Humanae vitae, to be practically neutralized by the resistance of the liberal episcopate, with the result that the moral pestilence which it condemns has now become endemic, in the Church as in pagan society. The same "collegial" process has been at work below the episcopal level, proliferating councils, commissions and committees of every kind, and eroding the personal responsibility of priests. The sanctuary, the pulpit, and even the tabernacle have been invaded by the progressive laity, male and female. The net result of this collegial-democratic devolution is the destruction of Catholic unity, with a different religion in every parish. If the Pope is no longer to be monarch in the Church, neither will the bishop be monarch in his diocese. Everything will be put into commission, the talking will never cease, and the hungry sheep will not be fed. Can any sane Catholic pretend that this is the kind of charge that Christ laid on His apostles?

The committee men are of course adept at the game of passing the buck. An American president could say of himself: "The buck stops here." In the pre-collegial Church the buck used to stop at each bishop in his own diocese, or in the last resort at the pope. But in a collegialized Church, if the Holy Father himself goes collegial, the buck stops nowhere, and no redress of grievances or correction of abuses can any longer be expected. We have waited for so many years for a papal intervention to restore order in the Church, but it has not come. How much worse must the "smoke of Satan" become before the fire-brigade is called in?

The Church's doctrines have not changed. They stand as before, firm and irreformable; pointing the way to eternal life. Her rebellious children have turned away from them and are walking in the opposite direction, following illusory new "orientations." But she has other children who remain faithful to the truth once received. They are at present in the dog house, but not permanently. Theirs is the promise: "the gates of hell shall not prevail." Its fulfillment they must leave to God's good time.

Tu autem, Domine, in aetemum permanes... Tu exsurgens misereberis Sion: quia tempus miserendi eius, quia venit tempus." (Ps. 101)


1 Wiltgen, op. cit. p. 230.

2 Dulac (La Collegialite Episcopale Deuxieme Concile du Vatican, p. 145) notes that Fr. Schillebeeckx (who himself disapproved of this duplicity), writing in a Dutch journal in January 1965, quoted a number of the Theological Commission as having said with regard to the extreme view of collegiality: "We express it diplomatically, but after the Council we shall draw the implicit conclusions." For some specimens of the "time-bombs" and ambiguities see Michael Davies: Pope John's Council, ch. 6 and passim. [and Fr. Franz Schmidberger's Time Bombs of the Second Vatican Council]

3 See, for example, a letter to Pope Paul from Cardinal Larraona and others (including Archbishop Lefebvre), dated October 18, 1964, and the pope's "disconcerting" reply (Lefebvre: I Accuse the Council, pp. 55-71).