In my last piece, I showed how Archbishop Viganò rejects many teachings of Vatican II and the Council itself. How does he justify this, given that he is a Catholic archbishop who would naturally be expected to uphold the councils and teachings of the Church? He offers a tendentious theory that claims there were really two councils, one technically “valid” but impotent, and the other a subversive conspiracy that led to the creation of a new, false church:

From Vatican II onwards a parallel church was built, superimposed over and diametrically opposed to the true Church of Christ. This parallel church progressively obscured the divine institution founded by Our Lord in order to replace it with a spurious entity, corresponding to the desired universal religion that was first theorized by Masonry.

How does Viganò think this strange thing happened? He places the blame principally on the theologians who drafted the documents. Although he only explicitly names Edward Schillebeeckx, he must have in mind the full gamut of the “New Theologians,” among whom were Yves Congar, Henri de Lubac, Karl Rahner, and Hans Urs von Balthasar. They were the “protagonists” of the Council, and reminds us that they had been, almost to a man, censured by the Vatican prior to the Council. I will add that legend has it that Cardinal Angelo Roncalli was under suspicion by the Holy Office prior to being elected Pope John XXIII!

Although Viganò says that most of the bishops were pious and innocent, the theologians, who he asserts were modernist heretics and Freemasons, were trying to create a new Church. Since they could not do this openly, they put ambiguous expressions into the documents that would later be interpreted in a heretical way and even “den[y] the true God.” Now, the idea that there are “ambiguous expressions” in the documents is true. The final documents are the result of consensus, as the majority of bishops had to find common ground with the conservative minority. The only way to do this in certain cases was to find ways of saying things on which both sides could agree, even though they held different opinions about how the statements were interpreted.[1] Far from being a nefarious plot, this was the usual business of a council of thousands of bishops who did not all agree about everything. Nor was it happening in secret, as though the bishops did not understand their own documents! They were crafted through multiple drafts, as bishops debated in open sessions and put forth written amendments to the drafting committees. And the vast majority of what Vatican II says is plain enough, particularly on the issue that most vexes traditionalists: “This Vatican Synod declares that the human person has the right to religious liberty” (DH 2).

Viganò says that teaching such as this allowed the later “deviations” like John Paul II’s Assisi gathering, the Abu Dhabi document, the “Protestantization” of the Mass, and of course the infamous Pachamama! Therefore, to combat these, it is necessary first to undo Vatican II itself, since “the roots of these deviations are found in the principles laid down by the Council.” This can be accomplished by a “damnatio memoriae” (condemnation of memory). This means erasing all memory of a persona non grata by removing all artwork of them or written references to them. In other words, the Church would cease to refer to the Council, its documents, the postconciliar writings of the popes, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and revert to the preconciliar papal writings and the 1908 Catechism of Pius X.

Given the radical nature of Viganò’s claim, he was asked for clarification by his English-language publication of choice, LifeSiteNews, as to whether he was really rejecting the Council as such or merely certain “errors” in it. He begins his reply of July 1 by saying “Vatican II is a valid Council.” This pull-quote is intended to deflect criticism, but keep reading: the rest of his statement doubles down on his “two councils” theory: “We can no longer deny the evidence and pretend that Vatican II was not something qualitatively different from Vatican I, despite the numerous heroic and documented efforts, even by the highest authority, to interpret it by force as a normal Ecumenical Council.” He speculates that “intentional fraud” may cause a magisterial act to prove to be “non-magisterial” and in need of later nullification. Putting this theory into practice, he puts the word “magisterium” in scare-quotes when referring to Amoris Laetitia.

The Italian writer Sandro Magister was also quick to call Viganò out, on June 29, for blaming Benedict XVI for having “deceived” the Church.[2] This prompted another reply, on July 3, in which Viganò says that Benedict did not deceive, but was deceived with everyone else. He and the other popes were guilty only of “silence and inaction” rather than “complicity.” This confirms his original statement that “the Council was used to legitimize the most aberrant doctrinal deviations, the most daring liturgical innovations, and the most unscrupulous abuses, all while Authority remained silent.” He adds that, as Professor Joseph Ratzinger, one of the theologians who helped write the documents, the future pope collaborated in this heretical fraud, but has since demonstrated, through unspecified “admissions,” his “partial repentance”! As for himself, Viganò says he has cast off the “unconditional obedience” he once showed to papal authority.

What irked Magister is that Viganò maintains that Benedict’s “hermeneutic of continuity”—interpreting the Council in continuity with tradition—has “shipwrecked miserably.” This hermeneutic was a “fairy tale,” “an attempt to want to give the dignity of a Council to a true and proper ambush against the Church.” Magister corrects him by pointing out that Benedict never said “hermeneutic of continuity” but “hermeneutic of reform” and “renewal in continuity,” and he spoke in that same address about the ruptures that reform implied, particularly on religious liberty.[3] In refuting Magister, Viganò reveals the emptiness of the supposedly “valid” Council:

I ask you then: what would be the correct interpretation of the Council? The one you give or the one given—while they wrote the decrees and declarations—by its very industrious architects? Or perhaps that of the German episcopate? Or that of the theologians who teach in the Pontifical Universities and that we see published in the most popular Catholic periodicals in the world? Or that of Joseph Ratzinger? Or that of Bishop Schneider? Or that of Bergoglio? This would be enough to understand how much damage has been caused by the deliberate adoption of a language that was so murky that it legitimized opposing and contrary interpretations, on the basis of which the famous conciliar springtime then occurred. This is why I do not hesitate to say that that assembly should be forgotten “as such and en bloc.”

According to Viganò, because its “architects” were modernists, the heretical meanings cannot be erased. Far from retracting his claim that the Council’s documents are corrupt and that the whole Council must be damned, he actually reiterates it. He was even clearer two days earlier in his reply to John-Henry Westen of LSN: “We can ask ourselves whether it may be right to expunge the last assembly from the catalog of canonical Councils.”

If this happens, what remains of the “valid” Council? Nothing. It is a legal fiction, intended to inure Viganò from the accusation of schism.[4] Though he blames the theologians, it was the bishops who debated the documents and submitted thousands of amendments to them, which were incorporated into subsequent drafts until a final draft was reached. It was the bishops that voted overwhelmingly, almost unanimously, to accept the final documents. Once promulgated by Pope Paul VI, these documents became the property of the whole Church. If this Council must be rejected “as such and en bloc,” erased from memory, and removed from the list of councils because it is not a “true and proper” council but an “ambush against the Church”—and not because of “one or two cases” only, but because its documents were written by heretics while the popes remained “silent”—what does “valid” mean? Nothing. The bishops that John XXIII assembled published these documents; that was the purpose of the assembly. If the assembly was valid, so are the documents.

Far from being silent, Pope Paul VI actively promoted the Council throughout his papacy. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis promoted it and even developed some of its teachings further, through both words and deeds. The Catholic Church, which is the people of God united to the hierarchy, manifestly accepts the Council. Viganò may have a church in his mind that rejects it—some hypothetical Platonic ideal—but that is not the people of God led by the Successors of Peter and bishops in communion with him. Deluded by this fantasy, he hopes in vain that the “sensus fidei of the Christian people” will eventually expunge the Council. Roma iam locuta est. Rome has already spoken. The ecumenical council has spoken. The Church has spoken.

[1] An example of this is “nostrae salutis causa” in DV 11, which I will cover in my next post, but there is also the case of “subsistit in” (LG 8), which Viganò mentions. Most dramatically, the debate about episcopal collegiality was so contested that Paul VI had a “note of explanation” appended to Lumen Gentium saying that it cannot be understood in such a way as to rival papal primacy.

[2] Sandro Magister, “Archbishop Viganò On the Brink of Schism. The Unheeded Lesson of Benedict XVI,” L’Espresso (June 29, 2020).

[3] Benedict’s whole speech is worth (re)reading: http://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2005/december/documents/hf_ben_xvi_spe_20051222_roman-curia.html

[4] See Robert Fastiggi, “Is Archbishop Viganò in Schism?” WPI (June 13, 2020).


Image: adapted from “Rome 11 Oct 1962 – Panorama inside St. Peter’s Basilica during the 2nd Vatican Ecumenical Council of the Roman Catholic Church” by manhhai. Licensed under CC BY 2.0


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Dr. Rasmussen is a Religious Studies teacher at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, MD. He has a Ph.D. in Theology and Religious studies from The Catholic University of America, specializing in historical theology and early Christianity. He is the author of Genesis and Cosmos: Basil and Origen on Genesis 1 and Cosmology (Bible in Ancient Christianity 14; Brill, 2019).

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