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Clearing the Record on Vatican II

Interview With Archbishop Agostino Marchetto

VATICAN CITY, JULY 14, 2005 (Zenit) - One of the prevailing historical interpretations of the Second Vatican Council betrays the event, says the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers in a new book.

Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, in "Vatican Council II: Counterpoint for Its History" (Vatican Publishing House), describes as "unbalanced" and "ideological" the analysis of the event made by some schools of historians, in particular the so-called Bologna Group.

Q: Some historians, such as professor Giuseppe Alberigo and his collaborators [in the Bologna Group], have presented the Second Vatican Council as a discontinuity in the history of the Church, a conservative Curia against progressive theologians, tradition against renewal, a Paul VI who betrays John XXIII. What is your opinion?

Archbishop Marchetto: Whoever reads my book will realize that, while trying to situate myself in the historical interpretation of the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, taking into account the framework of the general historiographic "tendencies," I retain my specific vision of what the Catholic Church is, also historically.

Therefore, I see Vatican II in continuity with all the ecumenical councils, not as a shooting star, but as part of a constellation, though having some of its own characteristics. Hence, it does not constitute a break, a sort of birth of a new Church.

This is, after all, the thought of John XXIII, of Paul VI, of John Paul II and also of Benedict XVI, to only mention the Popes.

The opposition between "conservative Curia" and "progressive theologians" is also a simplification, as within the Curia there were different sensibilities and tendencies.

An example of this was Cardinal Cicognani who unblocked the stagnant situation of the first schema on the Church, giving a green light to Cardinal Leo Jozef Suenens for a new writing, although in fact it was not totally new, as according to him, 60% of the earlier schema remained in the second.

The opposition between John XXIII and Paul VI, which would separate "John's Council" from Paul VI's, in December 1963, is groundless, and this is not just my opinion, but also that of professor Roger Aubert. According to him, there is only one conciliar line between the two Popes of the Council. There are other examples, but my answer is already quite lengthy.

Q: According to the "History of Vatican Council II," written by Giuseppe Alberigo and his collaborators, Pope Paul VI betrayed the progressive thrust that stemmed from the Council, on two essential topics: collegiality in regard to the primacy of Peter, and the moral judgment on the use of contraceptives. What happened and what did Paul VI do?

Archbishop Marchetto: As I have already explained, the profound sense of the debate was the image of Catholicism, an ecumenical Council, with its search for consensus, which would unite -- the word "aggiornamento" is used, updating -- the two spirits of Catholicism, fidelity to Tradition and the incarnation of what I call "the today of God."

This was the idea that united John XXIII and Paul VI, despite the diversity of their personalities. In the volume I present the ideas of one and the other, in communion. ... For me, in the end, Tradition and renewal embraced in the Council.

In regard to the two topics you mentioned, the first, collegiality, was rather an ecclesial characteristic of the first millennium, which was rediscovered, so to speak, by Vatican II. It was placed, without contradiction, next to papal primacy, exercised personally, which developed especially in the second millennium.

In this case also the conjunction "and" reveals itself Catholic: collegiality and primacy, as one cannot speak of collegiality if, in the college, its head -- the Bishop of Rome -- is not there.

In regard to the use of contraceptives, without going into the ethical judgment of the magisterium, it must be admitted that Alberigo's accusation of a "conciliar silence" is not justified, as it is not right to speak, as he does, of a "trauma caused throughout the Christian world by the encyclical 'Humanae Vitae.'"

Q: You have described the analysis of Vatican II made by the Bologna Group as "unbalanced" and "ideological." What do you think are its most serious errors?

Archbishop Marchetto: From the beginning I have defined as "ideological" the interpretation made by the "Bologna Group." And where ideology exists there is a lack of balance, extremism, blurred vision.

I will limit myself to take up all that I wrote about Alberigo's conclusions in Volume V of his history of the Council, namely, the already mentioned opposition between John XXIII and Paul VI; the question of "modernity" -- what does it mean?; the tendency to consider "new" schemas which were not new; the judgment of "lack of a head" in the conciliar assembly; the partisan view on religious liberty.

Q: You say there are more exact and balanced studies and analyses that explain the meaning and history of Vatican II. Which are they?

Archbishop Marchetto: I might mention, for example, the works of Cardinal [Leo] Scheffczyk, which in Italian is entitled "The Church: Aspects of the Post-Conciliar Crisis and Correct Interpretation of Vatican II," with a presentation by Joseph Ratzinger, as well as that of Monsignor Vincenzo Carbone, entitled in Italian "Vatican Council II, Preparation of the Church for the Third Millennium."

In 1994, professor A. Zambarbieri published a small volume on "The Councils of the Vatican," which for me constitutes the best brief study published up to now on the great Vatican synod.

I would add the work of Antonio Acerbi, which is very critical of Alberigo, in his "Minutes of the Meetings Held in the Episcopal Seminary of Bergamo 1998-2001."

Lastly, I think I cannot forget the new Pope, in particular some of his reminiscences, in "La mia vita. Ricordi (1927-1977)" [in English: "Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977] which led me to ask him to write others. But now this is no longer possible.

Q: What do you hope to achieve with your book? Has the time arrived to discuss Vatican II in truth and charity?

Archbishop Marchetto: In the preface of my book I wrote: "My desire is to contribute to write, finally, a history of Vatican II, which will overcome the grave conditionings -- that is why the title mentioned 'counterpoint' -- created up to now by a vision that I describe as ideological from the start and that imposes itself as a monopoly in the publishing market."

If my hard effort and my going against the current for years has served to break a monopoly and to create freedom of research among historians, to study Vatican Council II in a wider dimension than that realized to date, I would feel profoundly happy.

In any case, dialogue is important also among historians, and my history of the historiography on Vatican II over the past 15 years is an attempt to make a contribution. Moreover, "counterpoint" also refers to music, to harmony, to overcoming one-sidedness.

In this connection, at the end of his presentation of my book in the Capitolio of Rome, Cardinal Camillo Ruini said: "The interpretation of the Council as a rupture and a new beginning is coming to an end. Today it is an extremely weak and groundless interpretation in the body of the Church. The time has come for historiography to produce a new reconstruction of Vatican II that is finally a true history."


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