Crisis: Legacy of Pope John?

Crisis: Legacy of Pope John?

Blessed John XXIII – Part 2: Pope of surprises…

(Vatican  Radio)  Blessed John XXIII, born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli died exactly 50 years ago on the 3rd of June 1963, two months after the completion of his well- known encyclical  ‘Pacem  in Terris’. Pope John, now blessed, was elected to the See of Peter on the 28 October 1958 at the age of  77 and was considered by many to  be a sort of caretaker Pope.  But as it happens  he  was a Pope of surprises and during his  four and a half years as Roman Pontiff  launched the Catholic Church into one of the most momentous epochs by calling the Second Vatican Council. Click here to listen

So, what about it – was Pope John XXIII  “The Pope of surprises” or was he, rather, “The Surprised (if not “dismayed”) Pope” 50 years ago when he met his Maker? Was he reminded then of his opening address at the Council in which he remarked: In these days, which mark the beginning of this Second Vatican Council, it is more obvious than ever before that the Lord’s truth is indeed eternal. Human ideologies change. Successive generations give rise to varying errors, and these often vanish as quickly as they came, like mist before the sun.

The Church has always opposed these errors, and often condemned them with the utmost severity. Today, however, Christ’s Bride prefers the balm of mercy to the arm of severity. She believes that, present needs are best served by explaining more fully the purport of her doctrines, rather than by publishing condemnations. Read entire opening address here..

Talk about “famous last words”.

Just how much responsibility does Pope John XXIII bear for the current crisis in the Church? Has withholding the “arm of severity” to those in error, really helped further the Kingdom of Christ?

Comments (55)

  • Firmiter

    I really do think that it is naive to the point of stupidity to blame John XXIII, Paul VI or Vatcan II for the state of the Church today, although I am ready to accept that each of them played a part, greater or lesser as it may be.

    The Church, by her very nature, lives in the world. It would be utterly extraordinary if she were to remain untouched by the wider cultural processes going on about her.

    In order to have a full understanding of Vatican II, we must view it not only looking back from 2013 to 1965, but at least as far back as 1945, and probably back even further to the Modernist crisis of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

    The Church after the condemnation of modernism (with which I wholeheartedly agree) was often a very confined space where expressions of individuality were often looked upon with suspicion. To take a very simple but telling example, this was when seminarians started being forced to go to bed with their soutanes and to remove them only when under the covers. It should be plain to all that, human psychology being what it is, it would not belong before there was a reaction against this. Another example could be the censuring by superiors of the correspondence of men and women religious. (Before anyone gets hysterical, I am not saying that those who imposed such stringent regulation of people’s lives were not in good faith. it is always a mistake to judge the past with the canons of the present. But certainly the longer this strict regimentation of the life of the Church went on, the more likely it was that there would spring up a reaction against it. The West before World War II, and for a certain time after it, was far more deferential to authority than we are today–post 1968, post-Watergate, post-clergy sex scandals–but dissent there was. And because this dissent could have no public expression, it just grew and grew under the surface until it was unleashed with almighty force at Vatican II.)

    Another major factor was Western culture in the wake of World War II. Not only had great swathes of Europe been destroyed by this war, but the war itself brough great social change and upheval (just think about the role of women, or the effect on a country like Britain of having what was effectively an American occupying army camped in her midst for most of the war, with all the social implications of this for what had hitherto been a very insular population). This led to a questioning as to its causes which effectively called into doubt all Western institutions, including the Church. This too would come to the fore at Vatican II.

    I could go on. For example, John XXIII’s papacy coincided in its last years with the presidency of John F. Kennedy. Are we really so naive to think that the youthful optimism that precipitated Kennedy to the Whitehouse was not going to impact the Church? That, for example, the rise of television and popular culture in general was not going to result in the calling into question of the Latin liturgy, to say nothing of the fact that this was going on against the background of a shift in sexual mores which was utterly without precedent in human history? (I always think that this clash of cultures is exemplified very well in the early scenes of the film ‘The Exorcist’, even if the original novel is from 1971.)

    John XXIII was naive in his expectations of the Council. I have conceded as much on another post. Paul VI was left to manage the Council when it had become clear that it was not just going to rubber stamp what Pope John had set out for it. But I do think that but for the prudence of Pope Paul, it could all have been much worse. (Never forget the ‘Nota Esplicativa Praevia’ to ‘Lumen gentium’, or the Creed of Paul VI, the latter pronounced in the face of the Dutch Catechism.)

    I was talking about these questions recently with a fellow priest. He thinks that the mistake was in calling the Council in the first place, but I fundamentally disagree. The last Council had been Vatican I (1869-1870) which is really not much more than an appendix to Trent (on and off from 1545 to 1563). John’s successor would have faced increasing demands for a Council and would have had to concede, perhaps with results that would have made Vatican II look tame.

    I think that it was even providentisl that Pope John called Vatican II when he did. If we wish to have a sample of what might have happened had he called it just six years later, just think about the reaction to Humanae Vitae (1968).

    June 8, 2013 at 11:37 am
    • j.kearney

      There is a great deal in what you say, yes, there were great cultural shifts in attitudes to authority and morals. This was led by profit making organisations who had power and influence to exploit and make money by changing people. Thus a booming sex industry grew up, and women encouraged into the workforce to be exploited. One wage would have bought a home in the fifties but in the sixties two salaries were necessary. The truth is the Church was not ready in so far as the education in the schools on the Catechism, certainly better than the nothing we have today, was still not enough to help the younger generation answer the questions they were suddenly faced with. What we needed was Catholic Apologetics, a real in depth study of `Why the Pope was Infallible`, why `we tturn to Mary`, `why adultery is wrong from a social point of view rather than just a personal one`. This education was not there and millions were taken from us. The Church through the Spirit should have been able to cope with any crisis, but she was not ready. Add to that that the enemies of the Church were installed in top jobs in the Vatican. Pope Paul VI, is a puzzle to me. If I say the Pope is infallible I think him. He allowed so many errors to go through, he even introduced the Novus Ordo, and that makes me furious, on the other hand he did as you say introduce the Great Credo of the People of God, and miraculously `Humanae Vitae`. I am puzzled. I can only put it down to the Holy Spirit protecting the Church despite him.

      June 8, 2013 at 4:40 pm
      • Christina

        On looking at the blog on my return from the Conference I was most interested in the exchanges between you and Firmiter, and I think that his post at 7.00pm on June 8 should be sent to every priest in these islands! However, if I have correctly understood you in your statement The truth is the Church was not ready……millions were taken from us, you are claiming that the Catholic body at the beginning of Vatican II was, to all intents and purposes, religiously illiterate. Forgive me if I have misunderstood. The truth is that religious illiteracy was not a characteristic of the immediately pre-conciliar Church. At no time in her history in the western world had the laity been better instructed in the truths of the faith, and better equipped to pass on those truths. I was there as school pupil, student and teacher, and I know what I’m talking about! However, that Catholic illiteracy is a characteristic of the post-conciliar church and a poisonous fruit of the Council, only a fool could deny.

        The pre-conciliar, adequately-instructed Catholic would add to Firmiter’s statement that The Church, by her very nature, lives in the world by saying that she is also not ‘of this world’, and would be familiar with James 1, 26-27 re keeping oneself ‘unspotted from this world’. I suspect that most of the poor seminarians, struggling to remove soutanes while hindered by blankets, would have understood the underlying lesson!

        The utter bewilderment of the well-catechised Catholic in the aftermath of Vatican II can hardly be imagined by those (now the great majority) who came later. To them the Church spoke through those immediately responsible for the care of their souls – their priests and bishops, many of whom expressed their own bewilderment from the pulpits and in their correspondence, while submitting to, and reminding us of, that unquestioning Catholic ‘obedience’ that until that time had been a sure anchor. We understand now that dissent had festered in the theological ‘intelligentsia’, unsuspected by most of us, clerical and lay, at least since the early C20th. I do not agree with Firmiter’s image of a great dam of dissent within the Church waiting to burst. I think rather, as Father Wiltgen shows in The Rhine Flows into the Tiber that the Council gave an unprecedented opening to the Devil, whereby the faithful were deceived by the greatest confidence trick of all time and the dissent of relatively few was enabled to spread like ‘the smoke of Satan’ througout the obedient Catholic body. Had the ‘spirit’ speaking to Pope John when he had his great ‘inspiration’ been the Holy Spirit, he would have pulled up the drawbridge. Instead, he opened the windows.

        June 11, 2013 at 12:07 pm
      • editor

        Brilliant and crystal clear comment, Christina. You’re sailing up the pay scale!

        June 11, 2013 at 12:27 pm
      • Christina

        Aw shucks!

        June 11, 2013 at 4:52 pm
    • Thurifer

      Interesting post Firmiter. This is only vaguely related. Here’s a youtube link of Kennedy’s Requiem Mass, said in Latin by Cardinal Cushing. You can hear him kind of mumble the Latin halfway in the video.

      June 9, 2013 at 1:46 am
  • Firmiter


    There is another factor which we have to take into consideration when talking about the ‘state’ of the Church which is the reality which St. Paul described as the Mysterium Iniquitatis, the Mystery of Iniquity.

    There are personal beings, Satan and his demons, who inhabit the spiritual realm and are literally hell bent on destroying the Church and those who adhere to Christ. For reasons both internal and external to the Church, Catholics are probably less defended now against the power of evil than at any other time in their history.

    We seem to live in a period in which the Devil has been unchained. We are now at the point where about twenty percent of pregnancies in the world end in abortion. (Just think about that. It is an incredible proportion.) There have been about 70 million abortions in the U.S. alone since abortion was legalized, and last year there were about twelve thousand in Scotland. This is a holocaust, human sacrifice offered on an untold scale. Look too at the attacks on the traditional family as same-sex marriage laws are being rushed on to the statute books of numerous countries.

    The Mystery of Iniquity has made great inroads into the zcurch of our time, not least among clergy and religious. I once asked an exorcist I met on the Continent if he thought Satan had in fact been unchained. He replied in the negative, saying that it only seems that way because there has been such a decline in the practice of orthodox Christianity, thus laying bare the ordinary activity of the Devil.

    One of the highest pastoral priorities for the Church is to begin to contrast the power of Satan explicitly, and this cannot come about without a return to preaching and teaching in an orthodox way about the four last things, as well as about the other truths of our faith. Without these, Christ loses all significance and from the Son of God made man becomes just a prophet and ultimately just a nice guy.

    Catholics no longer give any serious thought to God’s judgment. In their funeral Masses the priest more often than not wears white vestments, signifying that salvation is a foregone conclusion. We have made God in our own image, and since most of us are lazy, mediocre, unprincipled and inconstant, we think that God is the same.

    But God is not like us. He respects our God-given created liberty. He allows us to turn our back on Him if we so desire, even to the point of allowing us to enter into eternal damnation if so we choose. The would be no sense in God saving us against our will.

    June 8, 2013 at 7:00 pm
  • Athanasius


    Much of what you say I agree with, but not with your assessment that Vatican II really has nothing to do with the present crisis in the Church.

    The Church has seen many worldly upheavels in her 2000-year existence, many of which have threatened her existence and the lives of souls. But the Church being a divine institution met these challenges with her magisterial authority, teaching and instructing in the truth without compromise – “in season and out of season,” as St. Paul says.

    With Vatican II we saw a change of direction from the age old dogmatic position of the Church. Instead of declaring the truths of the Faith more forcefully at a time of world rebellion against God, the Modernists decided to engage in “dialogue.” Since Satan is the prince of this world, and since it is the first rule in exorcism that one does not enter into dialogue with the demonic, which spirits are far superior in intellect to man, the inevitable result was that the demonic influence entered the Church and set about her destruction from within.

    That’s what Pope Paul VI recognised when, in 1972, he lamented: “Through some fissure in the walls, the smoke of Satan has entered the Church and set her on a path of auto-destruction.”

    At no time in the history of the Church has there been a desire expressed by the Popes or in the dogmatic Councils to modernise the Church in order to accommodate the times. On the contrary, such an idea is foreign to the mind of the Church andis, in fact, condemned in various Papal Encyclicals as inevitably fatal in its effects on the Catholic Faith. With hindsight, we now see all too clearly the pre-conciliar wisdom of the Popes and Councils.

    As for Humanae Vitae. That is infallible declaration by Pope Paul VI, not at all the same as the non-infallible teachings of Vatican II. Hence, the same declaration would have been made by another Pope had Paul VI delayed it. The Holy Spirit protects the Church in these matters of universal faith and morals, so the world, no matter how rebellious, simply could not have altered that teaching. Nor will it ever be able to alter it.

    What may have altered, however, had Vatican II not opened the Church up to infiltration by the spirit of the world, is that the world would have kept a certain moral compass. Whether they admit it or not, the nations and their governments largely legislated in accordance with how the Catholic Church might react. This kept many of them in check for they feared the backlash of the power and authority of the Church. Once that was removed by Vatican II through the adoption of the “reconciliation” and “dialogue” approach, it was open season for the devil.

    It is a sad fact that there is little or no exercise of authority in the Church today, either in suppressing error within or challenging immorality without. Ours today is a “talking Church,” not a “teaching Church.” What this means is that the Church’s authorities dialogue while the enemies of God destroy. Yes, Vatican II has played a central role in the present apostasy, just as Our Lady foretold in the Third Secret of Fatima.

    June 8, 2013 at 10:59 pm
    • j.kearney

      Agreed. Authority was the approach of Jesus, not dialogue.

      June 9, 2013 at 7:49 pm
  • Miles Immaculatae

    At the CT conference one of the speakers said the best and simplest analogies of the Modern Crisis I have ever head:

    The Church is like an alcoholic (at least the human part), before the alcoholic admits they have an alcohol problem, they will never be healed and no therapy will ever work. The Church’s problem is Vatican II. Until it admits this, no therapy, like for example ‘the refrom of the reform’/ ‘hermeneutic of continuity’, will ever work.

    June 9, 2013 at 9:32 pm
  • Athanasius

    Miles Immaculate,

    Yes, that was a very good analogy. I heard the speaker at the Conference say that and thought it very profound. Unless they recognise the sickness, they can’t, or rather won’t apply the cure.

    June 9, 2013 at 10:10 pm
  • Athanasius

    In a recent interview with L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Walter Kasper, one of the most liberal prelates in the Church, made this astounding statement:

    “In many places, they had to find compromise formulas, in which, often, the positions of the majority are located immediately next to those of the minority, designed to delimit them. Thus, the conciliar texts themselves have a huge potential for conflict, open the door to a selective reception in either direction.”

    Well, what can we add to this? It proves everything Traditional Catholics have been saying for the past 50 years about the UnCatholic “spirit of Vatican II.”

    June 9, 2013 at 10:19 pm
    • Petrus

      Well said, Athanasius!

      June 10, 2013 at 8:38 am
  • Leo


    Thank you for highlighting those extraordinary and indeed damning words of Cardinal Kasper. That quote should be up in lights for the duration of this appalling crisis in the Church.

    Perhaps the following distinctly unambiguous words from one of the successors of Peter, might serve as an appropriate and succinct commentary:

    “When a document is clearly ambiguous or contradictory one must condemn the heretical statements as they appear, despite what contradictions and ambiguities they are camouflaged in…those who let heresies slip by because they are veiled in wilful ambiguity cannot be excused and allow the faithful to be led ‘by subtle errors to their eternal damnation.’” – Pope Pius VI, Auctorem Fidei, August 28, 1794

    June 10, 2013 at 11:22 pm
    • Athanasius


      Yes, absolutely!

      And Bishop Athanasius Schneider has called for an Index of Vatican II errors. Perhaps the time has come for the authorities in Rome to finally re-visit those documents with a view to exorcising all that obscures the truth.

      June 10, 2013 at 11:39 pm
      • Christina

        Love the deliberate mistake!!!

        June 11, 2013 at 12:18 pm
  • Leo


    I fear that Bishop Schneider and the rest of us might be waiting a while yet. That said, I think similar calls are going to be heard with increasing frequency. The more, the better.

    I know this is not new to regulars on this blog, but I think it is well worth recalling Archbishop Lefebvre’s prescient efforts to head off the grave dangers inherent in the use of ambiguous language in the Conciliar texts.

    I think it is completely reasonable to state that these ambiguities (modernist time bombs is a more descriptive term) were planted under the guise of the Conciliar texts being “pastoral”. Don’t anyone take my word for it. Here’s Father Rene Laurentin, a conciliar perito, one of the best known chroniclers of Vatican II and a journalist of La Croix:

    “Another ambiguity went through the whole Council itself: the one involving the word ‘pastoral’. This adjective, launched by John XXIII, was a success…Its usage remained vague and pragmatic during the first session…The wish was to find a solution for opposing tendencies: That which was ‘pastoral’ escaped the requirement for rigor that is posed by doctrine…” – L’Enjeu et le Bilan du Concile, 1966, pp359-360

    In the face of this danger to sound and unerring doctrine, Archbishop Lefebvre proposed the eminently reasonable safeguard “that each Commission should put forth two documents: one more dogmatic (that is, in scholastic language), for the use of theologians; the other more pastoral in tone, for the use of others, whether Catholic, non-Catholic or non-Christians.” – I Accuse the Council, p. 6.

    The former documents, whose purpose was “to eliminate all ambiguity and error”, would serve as the ‘official interepreter’, as it were, to the points in the pastoral documents. – Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, A Bishop Speaks, p. 16. The liberals weren’t best pleased of course, and “the proposal was met with violent opposition.”

    The Archbishop explained the reason:
    “Liberals and Progressives like to live in a climate of ambiguity. The idea of clarifying the purpose of the Council annoyed them exceedingly. My proposal was thus rejected.” – I Accuse the Council, p. 4

    As we all know, the Modernists aversion to, and dread of, the precise, rational and unambiguous language of Scholasticism has been recognised since Pope Saint Pius X combatted the “synthesis of all heresies.” The solid wall of protection offered by Scholastic Theology and Philosophy against attacks on the Deposit of the Faith, has of course been recognised for centuries. Another Pope who faced large scale heresy testified to this protection, in words which are very relevant when we consider the schemes and programs of Archbishop Lefebvre’s adversaries, and modern day revolutionaries.

    Pope Sixtus V, saw in Scholasticism “this tight and perfect cohesion between cause and effect, this symmetry and order resembling those of an army in battle array, these luminous definitions and distinctions, this solidity of argumentation and subtlety in controversy by means of which light is separated from darkness, truth distinguished from error, and the lies of heresy, deprived of the prestige and fictions enveloping them, are unveiled and laid bare.” – Triumphantis, 1588

    When have we heard such words from the See of Peter in the last five decades?

    (Note: The quote from Father Laurentin above and the words of Pope Sixtus are taken from a very informative book by Atila Sinke Guimaraes, entitled, In the Murky Waters of Vatican II. It deals with the whole issue of ambiguity during the Council in great detail.)

    June 11, 2013 at 1:21 pm
  • Athanasius


    The truth is that if the original schemata of the preparatory Commissions (three years of theological work) had been left in tact, then there would have been no ambiguity in the conciliar documents.

    That these schemas were rejected all at once in the First Session of the Council (October 13th, 1962 – think Third Secret of Fatima!), should be sufficient for any right thinking Catholic to realise that Vatican II was infiltrated by Modernists, architects of “the Synthesis of all Heresies.” Yet, what do we find instead? We find Popes and prelates celebrating that devastating event as if it were some New Pentecost. It is truly tragic, truly a “diabolical disorientation” the likes of which the Church has never before experienced in her hierarchy.

    June 11, 2013 at 2:19 pm
  • Leo


    Thanks for making that very important point about the original schemata. Their rejection really was a portent of what was to be unleashed later. Surely this ties in with your words on Saturday about Our Lady of Quito who spoke about the world-wide crisis in the Church in the late 19th Century culminating in a disaster for the Church, described by Her as occurring “shortly after the middle of the 20th Century.”

    As is widely known, Archbishop Lefebvre was a member of the Central Preparatory Commission. In Open Letter to Confused Catholics, p. 107, he wrote that the work of preparing the schemata “was carried out very conscientiously and meticulously” and that “in them the Church’s doctrine is absolutely orthodox. They were adapted in a certain manner to our times, but with great moderation and discretion.” No wonder the modernists wanted rid of them.

    The Archbishop also saw at first hand the clashes between the upholders of traditional Catholic teaching, under Cardinal Ottaviani, and the progressivists such as Cardinal Bea, notably at a meeting concerning the schemata concerning religious liberty, or more correctly put, religious tolerance.

    As explained in Romano Amerio’s classic book, Iota Unum (P. 82 onwards), in the course of the rejection of the original schemata, the Council’s rules were broken, under the authority of the Pope.

    The following is a rather neat summary of what happened up to November 1962.
    “Thus, according to John XXIII, the council was called by command of the Holy Spirit, and the council which John prepared was then promptly turned on its head by the same Holy Spirit, working through a French cardinal (Cardinal Achille Lienart). We now have an open confession of this repudiation of the council as originally conceived, from Fr. Chenu, one of the spokesmen of the modernizing school.” – Iota Unum, p. 85

    June 11, 2013 at 4:15 pm

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