The latest developments in the “Viganò case.” What to make of them?

Gli ultimi sviluppi del “caso Viganò”. Cosa pensarne?
FONTE IMMAGINE: Ecclesia Dei (https://www.ecclesiadei.it/)
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By Roberto de Mattei

In recent weeks some facts and “non-facts” have been at the centre of attention on Catholic social media. The facts are those that have really happened; the “non-facts” are the hypothetical ones, present in the imagination of bloggers more than in reality.

A first non-fact is the existence of a document that would prohibit or limit the traditional Mass. This document, first spoken of by Rorate Coeli and carefully investigated by Messainlatino, seems to have been in a drawer of the Dicastery for Worship, perhaps for over a year, without Pope Francis ever having shown the intention of signing it. At this point it might be better to discuss it when the document comes out of the drawer.

Another non-fact is the possibility of episcopal consecrations without pontifical mandate on the part of the Society of Saint Pius X. The hypothesis has been advanced by the superior of the French district of the Fraternity, but the superior of the institute, Fr Davide Pagliarani, in the course of the sessions of the Mouvement de la Jeunesse Catholique de France, which took place in Chateauroux on 29-30 June, stated that the initiative, although it cannot be ruled out a priori, is not on the agenda. Also in this case, therefore, it is better to discuss it when the time comes.

The real fact that instead deserves the greatest attention is the initiation of an extra-judicial trial against Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. The main accusation is that of having broken off communion with the Church of Rome and of having fallen into the offence of schism. The news came from the archbishop himself on 20 June, on his X account, and the following day in a statement in which the former nuncio to the United States declared that he would not take part in the judicial proceedings against him. On 28 June, in a strongly worded document against Pope Francis, entitled “J’sccuse,” Archbishop Viganò declared among other things: “Before my Brothers in the Episcopate and the entire ecclesial body, I accuse Jorge Mario Bergoglio of heresy and schism, and I ask that he be judged as a heretic and schismatic and removed from the Throne which he has unworthily occupied for over eleven years. This in no way contradicts the adage Prima Sedes a nemine judicatur, because it is evident that, since a heretic is unable to assume the Papacy, he is not above the Prelates who judge him.”

Since last year Archbishio Viganò had publicly stated that the See of Peter was occupied, in his opinion, by a usurper, but with his J’accuse his position becomes clear and official. For this reason he states: “I do not recognize the authority of the tribunal that claims to judge me, nor of its Prefect, nor of the one who appointed him.” His decision not to appear confirms the accusations made against him and of which he has boasted, declaring: “I regard the accusations against me as an honor” (post of 20 June).

There are those who emphasise that the severe measures announced against Archbishop Viganò are not matched with like severity towards notorious propagators of heresies, such as some German bishops. But the German bishops, applying the strategy of modernism, according to which one must fight against Rome while remaining within the walls of Rome, are careful not to publicly deny the authority of the pope. They undoubtedly deserve to be condemned, but how could one demand their condemnation if Rome were to abstain from condemning one who who rejects its authority not in fact, but in principle?

There are also those who compare the case of Archbishop Viganò with that of the French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. But the difference between the two cases is evident. Archbishop Lefebvre never disavowed the authority of Rome. After the first condemnation, in May 1975, of the endeavour established in Ecône by the bishop of Fribourg, it was Archbishop Lefebvre himself who ask that, faced with such an abuse of power, his case be judged by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. On 28 January 1978, Cardinal Seper, prefect of the former Holy Office, sent substantial documentation to Ecône, to which Archbishop Lefebvre was asked to respond. The French archbishop maintained extensive correspondence with the Holy See, and the proceedings of the investigation were published by the magazine Itinéraires in May 1979, appearing thereafter in Italian translation with the title Mons. Lefebvre e il Sant’Uffizio (Giovanni Volpe Editore, 1980). Reading these documents is highly instructive, also for understanding the position of the French archbishop who, in his last letter to Card. Seper of 29 January 1979, entrusted “everything to the judgment of the Holy Father,” who was now John Paul II. Archbishop Lefebvre then accepted the visitation of Card. Gagnon, whom the pope sent to the seminary of Ecône in 1987. A friend and confidant of Card. Gagnon, Fr Charles Theodore Murr, testified that the Canadian cardinal’s report was laudatory of the FSSPX, and in particular of the study programmes in Ecône (preface to Kennedy Hall, The Defence, Augustinus Press 2023). An intense negotiation between Archbishop Lefebvre and the then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Josef Ratzinger, took place, moreover, until the eve of the episcopal consecrations in Ecône on 30 June 1988.

 Many admirers of Archbishop Viganò therefore do not get the point, reacting to the news of the trial by agreeing with the archbishop, because “he speaks clearly, like Archbishop Lefebvre,” unlike other pastors who today are silent in the face of the profound crisis of the Church. The issue is not that of Archbishop Viganò’s criticisms of Pope Francis, correct on some points, but of his declared intention to break off any form of communion with him and with the Roman See.

Moreover, one cannot limit oneself to carrying out such a grave and radical action by simply announcing it in a statement, without giving it a valid doctrinal foundation. The reference to the bull Cum ex apostolatus officio of 15 February 1559, in which Paul IV states that a heretic is not eligible to receive authority even if elected, is extremely weak. This bull teaches only that a pope can be corrected, unless it can be shown that he was already a heretic at the time of his election. Was Cardinal Bergoglio such? It must be demonstrated. Does the “defect of consent” of which Archbishop Viganò speaks correspond to the “Cassiciacum Thesis” of Bishop Guérard de Lauriers, to which the Mater Boni Consilii institute now refers (see https://www.corrispondenzaromana.it/larcivescovo-vigano-verso-lanarco-vacantismo-2-parte/)? Whether Archbishop Viganò’s position is this one or another, it should be supported by in-depth studies of theology, of canon law, of Church history, which as of today have not been produced.

But there is another even more decisive aspect. In the current confusion of the religious crisis it is not possible to survive spiritually without the special help of grace, which comes through the sacraments, especially those most frequent in everyday life, such as communion and confession. Who are the priests to whom, according to Archbishop Viganò, one should turn to obtain the necessary spiritual nourishment? It seems that not only are the institutes that hark back to the ex-Ecclesia Dei excluded from his horizon, but so is the Society of Saint Pius X, which routinely prays Pro Pontifice nostro Francisco.  

And this brings up the final question: where is, for Archbishop Viganò, the Catholic Church? Not the virtual church to which many assiduous visitors of the traditionalist blogs adhere, but the real Church, which is visible in its immutable doctrine, in its uninterrupted apostolic succession and in the life infused by its sacraments. Without this visible church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ, the soul dies of asphyxiation.

Shakespeare said that “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” (As You Like It, Act II, 7). There is a profound truth in these words, but the stage of the world is not a blog, because the fate of the men who perform on this stage is a dramatic reality. What is at stake is their eternal life. (Roberto de Mattei)

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