Paul VI Admonished for Heresy by Two Cardinals
A recent book sheds new light on the events of Vatican II and makes a most remarkable revelation.
Baron Prosper Poswick (1906-1992) was a high-ranking diplomat: Belgian ambassador to the Holy See from 1957 to 1968. During the years of the Second Vatican Council he kept abreast of all that took place on the council floor and behind the scenes. What he observed, he committed to paper in the shape of reports to his government, speeches and personal notes. A weighty collection of these has recently been published in Paris under the title Un Journal du Concile – Vatican II Vu par un Diplomate Belge. Poswick’s unashamed favour for the liberal camp does not diminish the interest of the book’s 800 pages.
Not yet having read it myself I am here transmitting the most striking part, as summarised by Fr. Bruno Schaeffer in the June 2006 number of a French traditional periodical called Le Chardonnet.
It concerns the resistance of the leading conservative bishops to the new doctrine of episcopal collegiality taught in the constitution Lumen Gentium. During the conciliar discussions, in June 1964, the progressive-minded baron noted: “On the subject of the collegiality of the bishops, things are also going badly [i.e. for the liberal cause]. Bishop Felici [the conservative Council secretary], Bishop Staffa [conservative secretary of the Congregation for Seminaries] and others went to explain to the pope that the proposed texts are in formal contradiction with the decisions of Vatican I and that to approve them would constitute an act of heresy, in other words, by approving them the pope would place himself outside the Church. For so grave a threat to be made to the pope, even in a veiled way, shows the vehemence of the passions the topic has unleashed. It amounts practically to threatening the pope with excommunication if he should yield to the conclusions of the commission or, apparently, of the Council itself.”
With the re-opening of the IIIrd session in September 1964 the conservative Fathers, notably Cardinal Browne and Bishop Carli, continued their opposition on the Council floor to texts which Poswick thought were “destined to transform the current appearance of the Church and give her a more ecumenical structure”. Poswick’s note for October 25 accuses the anti-collegiality camp (including Archbishop Lefebvre – “well known for his reactionary mindset”) of claiming that the formulas contained in the schema “contradict the definitions of the first Vatican Council concerning the [papal] primacy and are therefore juridically inadmissible.”
It is well known that the liberal camp ultimately backed down a little on this issue and that a notification known as the “nota prævia” was added to the document by Paul VI attenuating the heretical assault on the papal sovereignty: it is hard to determine what theological censure should be attached to the promulgated text of Lumen Gentium, though of course it remains an unmistakable undermining of sound doctrine and has in practice served to establish ecclesiastical government by easily manipulable episcopal conferences instead of by individual bishops within their dioceses and by the pope, supreme over the whole Church including the bishops.
These unprecedented revelations show one thing clearly: it is untrue that no voices were raised at Vatican II to warn of the danger of heresy; it is untrue that the bishops, and Paul VI in particular, were not admonished.
More disappointingly, they also show a rather naturalistic or politicised mood in the conservative camp, which always avoided directly pronouncing the word “heresy” on the Council floor, despite frequent hints. One example highlighted by Baron Poswick is that of Cardinal Siri who, he says, “has completely collapsed and no longer opens his mouth” since he is “so far compromised [as being] on the conservative side that he is beaten in advance in all the theses he defends”. There are indeed many occasions when it is clear that to speak out would be counter-productive and imprudent. But when the orthodoxy of the episcopate is at peril, results should be a secondary consideration. The duty to bear unashamed witness to the truth, whatever the consequences, ought to be paramount.