On July 26, 2017, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, auxiliary bishop of Astana in Kazahkstan, published a column in the Corrispondenza Romana, on the theme of “the interpretation of Vatican II and the current crisis in the Church”. Here are the main points of his article.
The auxiliary bishop of Astana begins by drawing attention to the unprecedented crisis the Church is going through that, to quote his exact terms, is “comparable with the general crisis in the 4th century, when Arianism had contaminated the overwhelming majority of the episcopacy”.
Faced with such a situation – believes Bishop Schneider – it is necessary to keep a higher perspective, with “realism” about the situation on one hand, but also a “supernatural spirit, with a profound love for the Church, our mother, who is suffering the Passion of Christ because of this tremendous and general doctrinal, liturgical and pastoral confusion”, on the other. This summit avoids “two extremes”, says the prelate: “a complete rejection” of Vatican II, and the “infallibilization” that seeks to forbid any debate on the contentious points in the Council.
The “respectful attitude” advocated by Bishop Schneider towards the Council “does not mean,” he explains, “that we are forbidden to express well-founded doubts or respectful improvement suggestions regarding some specific items, while doing so based on the entire tradition of the Church and on the constant Magisterium.”
The prelate is more precise: yes, there are indeed “ambiguities” in the Council. “Those statements of Vatican II which are ambiguous must be read and interpreted according to the statements of the entire Tradition and of the constant Magisterium of the Church.”
With this criterion of discernment, Bishop Schneider believes it becomes possible to see the dogma of Christ the King as fully applicable today; to restore “its true sense” to the universal primacy of the Successor of Peter in the government of the Church; and even to insist upon “the noxiousness of all non-Catholic religions and their dangerousness for the eternal salvation of the souls”. Along the same lines, the prelate voices his doubts as to the definitive character of the conciliar doctrine on religious liberty.
It is in the context of this endeavor to correct the Second Vatican Council – a superhuman endeavor in many ways – that Bishop Schneider places the question of the canonical situation of the Priestly Society of St. Pius X: “An SSPX, canonically and fully integrated in the life of the Church, could also give a valuable contribution in this debate – as Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre desired.” And he continues: “The fully canonical presence of the SSPX in the life of the Church of our days could also help to create a general climate of constructive debate” on Vatican II.
In the end, Bishop Schneider’s column proves to be a particularly interesting contribution: a bishop from “outside” the world of Tradition clearly and concisely, and in a very free way, places the burning question of the ambiguities of the Second Vatican Council and the corrections that need to be made right back at the heart of the matter.
As an outside observer, the hypothetical role the prelate attributes to the Society in the future is not without interest: he sees it as helping to shed light upon the conciliar ambiguities and to bring ever more honor to the priesthood and the liturgy in the Church.
Bishop Schneider seems to be repeating the famous words of Pope John Paul II before the Sacred College on November 6, 1978: “The Council must be understood on the light of the whole Tradition and on the basis of the constant teaching of the Church.”
Archbishop Lefebvre, who accepted this principle, explained its exact meaning to avoid any mistaken interpretations. Judging the documents of the Council in the light of Tradition, he explained on December 2, 1983: “This obviously means that we reject those that are contrary to Tradition, that we interpret those that are ambiguous along the lines of Tradition, and that we accept those that are in keeping with Tradition.” Tradition is like a filter to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Concretely, Archbishop Lefebvre envisaged a gradual resolution of the crisis: “The pope could declare with authority that some of the texts of Vatican II need to be better interpreted in the light of Tradition, to such an extent that it becomes necessary to change some phrases, in order to make them more faithful to the Magisterium of the preceding popes. It needs to be said clearly that error can only be ‘tolerated’, and that it cannot have any ‘rights’, and that a religiously neutral State cannot and must not exist.”
In answer to what would one day become the “hermeneutics of continuity” so dear to Benedict XVI, that is, an artificial determination to incorporate the teachings of Vatican II into the constant Tradition of the Church, he explained: “There are, of course, some conciliar texts that are in keeping with Tradition, and that pose no problem; Lumen Gentium, for example, but also other documents, the one on priestly formation and seminaries. Then there are ambiguous texts, that can nonetheless be ‘interpreted’ correctly according to the preceding Magisterium. But there are also texts that are a blatant contradiction of Tradition and it is in no way possible to ‘incorporate’ them: the declaration on religious liberty, the decree on ecumenism, the decree on the liturgy. In these cases, any agreement is impossible.”