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Prof. Roberto de Mattei, Rome November 29, 2018Diane Montagna/LifeSiteNews

ROME, November 30, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — The discontinuity of Pope Francis’ “disastrous” pontificate with the Church’s Tradition is the “ripe fruit” of Vatican II’s emphasis of praxis over doctrine, a noted Catholic historian has said. 

In a Nov. 29 speech in Rome, Professor Roberto de Mattei also explained what he believes to be the right way for Catholics to resist Pope Francis’ “paradigm shift.”

De Mattei is an Italian historian and president of the Lepanto Foundation. He has taught at various universities and has served as vice-president of the National Research Council, Italy’s leading scientific institution.

The conference, titled “Pope Francis, five years after: continuity or rupture in the Church?,” was co-hosted by the Lepanto Foundation and Tradition, Family, and Property. It featured Msgr. Nicola Bux, the theologian consultor to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints whose recent interview with Aldo Maria Valli gained considerable attention, and José Antonio Ureta, author of Pope Francis’s “Paradigm Shift,” an analysis of the first five years of the current pontificate.

Need for balance

The Catholic historian began his talk by noting that “balance” is one of the most needed virtues in the current crisis in the Church.

“Balance, along with patience, is the virtue of the strong,” he said. “Balance is prudent strength, or strong prudence. Those who say, ‘I prefer to deceive myself about the Pope rather than to be right about him’ manifest an imbalance,” he noted. “But there is also an imbalance in those who say: ‘Since the Pope deceives himself and deceives me, it means that he is not the Pope.’”

Prof. de Mattei said a balanced position rests on the “fundamental distinction” between the Church, which is “holy and immune from all error,” and the men of the Church, “who can sin and err.” If the shepherds of the Church teach error, he said, it is not only “lawful” to resist them, but even a “duty” when the common good is at stake (Gal. 2:11).

“But resistance is not always enough,” de Mattei argued. He said situations may arise when the laity must separate themselves from errant shepherds, and here balance is also needed.

“We are talking about a spiritual and moral separation, which does not question, on the juridical level, the legitimacy of those who govern the Church,” he explained, comparing it to that lawful parting of spouses who cease living together but without divorcing or saying their marriage is invalid.

“If the ecclesiastical authority were then to impose canonical sanctions against those who remain faithful to Tradition, it would provoke a formal division in the Church,” he explained. In such cases, “the responsibility for rupture” would fall to the authorities “who exercised their power illegitimately,” and not on those who, respecting canon law, only remained faithful to their baptism.

The Catholic historian also warned the laity not to rashly reject the validity of Pope Francis’ papacy should such sanctions be imposed. He said the correct response would be: “These sanctions are unjust and illegitimate, even if you are, until proven otherwise, the legitimate Pope.” 

“Until proven otherwise” means that a pope can lose his pontificate for a variety of reasons, including heresy, but these reasons must be “incontrovertible,” he said. 

Heresy or the invalidity of a papal election must be “manifest” and “widely known to the whole Church,” he explained, because the Church is a visible society and not an invisible sect. It is therefore not enough that the Pope “professes or publicly favors heresy; it must be perceived as such by Catholic public opinion,” he added. 

De Mattei noted that bishops, but especially cardinals (as electors and counsellors to the Pope) must see the heresy or invalidity of an election, and see its consequences. “Until then,” he said, “a Pope must be considered legitimate.” 

To date, none of the cardinal electors who participated in the 2013 conclave have publicly questioned the validity of Pope Francis’ papacy.

The bigger question

But Prof. de Mattei said the “bigger question” we need to look at is how we got here. “How did we arrive at having to imagine our own spiritual and moral separation “even from the Supreme Pastor, who at the moment is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” 

Looking back at recent history, he said the “leitmotif” of Benedict XVI’s pontificate was the “hermeutic of continuity,” i.e. the correct interpretation of the texts of Vatican II that is in accord with the Church’s constant tradition. 

The Italian historian noted that, in two key addresses, delivered at the beginning and end of his pontificate, Pope Benedict “admits there is a link between the current crisis of faith and the Second Vatican Council, but he maintains that this crisis is due not to the Council itself, but to a bad hermeneutic, to an incorrect interpretation of its texts.” 

Why, despite the efforts of John Paul II, Benedict XVI and like-minded bishops, did the hermeneutic of continuity not stop the process of the Church’s self-demolition?

“It didn’t succeed in stopping it, because one doesn’t stop a historical process with a debate over hermeneutics,” Prof. de Mattei insisted. The proponents of the hermeneutic of continuity “deluded themselves,” he said, into thinking they could “limit the discussion” to the interpretation of documents, while the proponents of a “hermeneutic of discontinuity” — or rupture with Tradition — “advanced on the field of praxis,” in keeping with “the spirit of Vatican II.”

This spirit, he said, affirmed the primacy of pastoral care, i.e. praxis, over doctrine.

“The essence of the Second Vatican Council was the triumph of pastoral care over doctrine, the transformation of pastoral care into a theology of practice, and the application of the philosophy of Marxist praxis to the life of the Church,” de Mattei argued.

“Pope Francis embodies the thesis opposing Ratzinger’s. He is not interested in theological debate, nor in the hermeneutical one. Pope Francis represents the playing out of Vatican II, and the triumph, in his person, of pastoral care over theology.” 

The historian therefore concluded that “there is no rupture between the Second Vatican Council and Pope Francis but rather historical continuity. Pope Francis represents the ripe fruit of Vatican II.”

The turning point

Prof. de Mattei said he believes that, while Pope Francis’ pontificate has represented a “paradigm shift,” the “true great turning point”of the last five years has been “the reaction this pontificate has provoked among Catholics around the world.”

“Pope Francis’ pontificate, precisely because it is disastrous, has highlighted the existence of a crisis in the Church that would otherwise have been ignored,” he said.

He said this reaction has been manifested through several important initiatives: the 2015 Supplica Filiale which collected 900,000 signatures of the faithful; the 2016 dubia on Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia, sent to Pope Francis by four cardinals; the 2017 filial correction, whose initial 40 signatures of clergy and scholars quickly grew to 250; and most recently, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s testimonies implicating several high-ranking prelates, and Pope Francis himself, in the Theodore McCarrick abuse cover-up.

“All of these initiatives have had immense repercussions, but the answer has only been silence. A silence that constitutes a dramatic confirmation of the truth of the accusations,” Prof. de Mattei said. 

He added: “The ‘listening Church’ of Pope Francis listens to everyone except those who are entirely faithful to the Gospel and to the perennial magisterium of the Church,” he said. “Pope Francis uses the same fierce language towards his critics that Lenin used against his opponents.”

Wild and dumb dogs

The Italian historian said that one example of such Leninist language came in the Pope’s daily homily on September 3, 2018 when he called those who criticize him “a pack of wild dogs.” 

De Mattei noted that two days later, on Sept. 5, 2018, the Italian author Marcello Veneziani responded in Il Tempo, saying: 

No, Your Holiness, a Pope cannot call his neighbors ‘wild dogs,’ and especially when it comes to Catholics, Christians, believers. Dogs is the derogatory term that Muslims use for infidels and Christians. The popes who preceded Francis called even the most ruthless terrorists ‘men of the Red Brigades,’ or men of ISIS. Never dogs. Descending to such spiteful levels is unworthy of a Holy Father.

But “being named ‘dogs’ does not bother us,” de Mattei said. “In Holy Scripture, unfaithful shepherds are called “dumb dogs” who have stopped barking and fall asleep (Isaiah 56:10-11). We glory in being domini canes, dogs of the Lord, who bark in the night to break through the silence.”

“Today’s dumb shepherds threaten the dogs who bark,” he said. The Italian Vaticanist, Andrea Tornielli, tries to suggest that if Pope Francis is responsible for McCarrick, more responsible are his predecessors, Benedict XVI and John Paul II. But if this were to be proven, “we would not be afraid to admit it,” de Mattei said, “because first and foremost we are seeking the truth.”

Time for truth

The Catholic historian and president of the Lepanto Foundation continued: 

The Church does not fear the Truth, because the Church is the Truth. The Church is the Truth because she is divine and because she proclaims to the world the Truth of her Head and founder, Jesus Christ, who said of himself, “Ego sum via, veritas et vita” (Jn. 14:6). Therefore, we are not afraid to tell the truth about the deep doctrinal and moral crisis that the Church is experiencing today.

“Love for truth” moves us to say it’s hypocrisy to categorize the sexual abuse crisis only as pedophilia, while ignoring the “scourge of homosexuality” — which is both a “vice against nature” and a “power-structure within the Church,” de Mattei said. It is also hypocrisy to limit oneself to “denouncing moral scandals,” without dealing with their “doctrinal roots,” he added. 

“The time for truth has come,” and the truth is that the pastoral project of Pope Francis and Vatican II has failed, he said.

“That Council heralded a great pastoral reform to purify the Church, and instead resulted in an historically unprecedented corruption of faith and morals, for it has reached the point of not only enthroning homosexuality among the highest ecclesiastical hierarchies, but also of allowing it to be publicly defended and theorized,” de Mattei argued.

“The final tally of the last five years of Pope Francis’s pontificate reveals the failure of a paradigm shift, which is the failure of a pastoral project.” 

Now, he said, the watchwords have become “synodality” and “the peripheries.” In reality, he said, synodality is “the transfer of power from top to bottom: a Revolution that de-verticalizes the Church,” while the peripheries “represent a horizontal Revolution that decentralizes and de-territorializes the Church.” 

Ironically, he added, the Vatican has denied the primacy of both, in preventing the American bishops from voting on measures to prevent abuse and coverup, at their November assembly in Baltimore.

Voice of fidelity

Prof. de Mattei had special praise for Catholics in America, saying it is there that the “voice of fidelity to the law of the Gospel” is loudest.

He also encouraged the laity not to become disheartened amid the current crisis, noting that although Catholics seeking to be faithful may often be accused of pharisaism, of fixism, of legalism, the proponents of discontinuity “have not extinguished the flame of the Church’s Tradition.”

In fact, he said, “never before as in these last five years — at the center and in the peripheries, in seminaries and on blogs — does Tradition seem to be reviving in young and old, laymen and clergy, who every day rediscover the perennial truth of the faith and traditional rites of the Church and, with the help of God, are determined to defend them.” 

Prof. de Mattei reminded the faithful that on approaching the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Catholics proclaim: Tota pulchra es Maria et macula originalis non est in te. Similarly, he said, the children of the Church, who is “wounded in her human element and disfigured by the errors and sins of the men who govern her,” are called to believe and proclaim: Tota pulchra es Ecclesia et nulla macula est in te. 

The Catholic historian concluded: “The Church is all beautiful and there is in her no sin, no error. The Holy Roman Church — one, holy, catholic and apostolic — is our Mother who continues to nourish us with her Sacraments and protect us with the shield of her doctrine, as we, with God’s help, strive to defend her against all external and internal enemies that threaten her. The Immaculate Heart of Mary will triumph.”

Read the full official English text of Professor de Mattei’s talk here.