Thursday, May 16, 2013

Drifting leftwards since Vatican II

Thomas Albert Howard, history professor at Gordon College, recently wrote a review of Massimo Faggioli's excellent Vatican II: The Battle for Meaning in the evangelical journal, Books and Culture. The review, entitled "A Very Young Council," isn't half bad. What is interesting, however, as one of our correspondents pointed out recently, is the exchange that followed between a reader of the review (Steinfels, from Fordham) and Howard. Our correspondent writes:
"What stuck me was the distressing fact that whenever liberal assertions are granted ground, the argument field is repositioned dramatically. Thus notice how Steinfels can claim Kung as a priest in good standing, and both he and Rahner as stalwart, if "strident," Catholic voices, and dismiss the SSPX, of whom such a description is actually far more accurate.

"This is the enduring problem with the post-Vatican II Church. The borderline heretical doctrines it allows to exists without any explicit condemnation become the de facto positions of a large group of the faithful. Suddenly voices like Garrigou-Lagrange become more marginalized than the equivocations of a Karl Rahner, and suddenly Ralph Martin's book on Hell is viewed warily by Ignatius Press while Fr. Barron can dismiss the idea of Hell in his popular Catholicism series without anyone even caring.

"Note also in Howard's reply the sublimal slam on the SSPX ... which he calls a "Secret Society." No such games are played with the more liberal players. Seems like something worthy of the Obama storm troopers, really!

"Steinfels and Fagglio both would do well to read David Well's takes on Vatican II written in the immediate aftermath of the council, Revolution in Rome. It had and is still have these consequences.
A Very Young Council
It was good to read Thomas Albert Howard's very positive review of Massimo Faggioli's Vatican II: The Battle for Meaning in the March/April issue ["A Very Young Council"]. Unfortunately the review contains an extraordinary claim that should not go unchallenged.

As Howard accurately reports, Faggioli divides interpretations of Vatican II into two main camps, Thomist and Augustinian, the former generally grouped around the journal Concilium and the latter around Communio.

But Howard then adds: "Beyond the Thomists and the Augustinians are those we might label the hyper-progressives and the hyper-traditionalists. The former would include Hans Küng ... and Karl Rahner .... By contrast, the hyper-traditionalists would include the so-called 'sedavacantists' [sic] (who claim the Holy See has not had a legitimate Pope since Pius XII) and the French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and the members of the secretive Saint Pius X Society."

Let's be clear that the "we" in this passage is reviewer Howard and not author Faggioli. Faggioli uses no such labels as "hyper-progressives" and "hyper-traditionalists." He does not treat Küng and Rahner as "hyper" anything but explicitly names them in the ranks of the Concilium writers.

The idea of creating a parallel between these two major theologians, on the one hand, and the sedevacantists and Lefebvrists, on the other, is absurd. The sedevacantists are full-bore conspiracy theorists and the Lefebvrists and Saint Pius X Society are in formal schism. Father Küng has voiced many criticisms of the last two papacies that needed voicing, even if he sometimes serves himself poorly by an unnecessarily strident tone. He is, moreover, a Catholic priest in good standing and a prolific and respected scholar and popularizer. As for Rahner, rather than some "hyper-progressive" equivalent of the sedevacantists and Lefebvrists, he is widely recognized as one of the great theological and spiritual minds of the 20th century.

What was Howard up to in creating such a false equivalency, one without basis in the book he was praising? Is this another gambit in Catholic culture-wars polemics? I hope not.

Peter Steinfels University Professor Emeritus Fordham University New York City, N.Y.
Tal Howard replies:
I'll accept this as a fair criticism of my review. The "Secret Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) is "hyper-traditionalist" in a manner that does not tidily present a parallel with the progressive and much-discussed theological views of Küng and Rahner. And the prefix is my own, not Faggioli's; it admittedly can be used to serve polemical purposes. Nonetheless, it was quite extraordinary for Küng to have hismissio canonica (right to teach recognized Catholic theology) taken from him in 1979. If he was not "hyper-progressive," perhaps we can both admit that he was (and has been) pushing the envelope. And we agree that Faggioli has written an engaging book.
[Hat tip to J.M.]




OF course Kung is a priest in good standing -- that is just the phrase used of all priests by their bishops, unless they have been suspended or excommunicated.

Anonymous Bosch


This is technically true. That is to say, canonically accurate (I think). Yet it's also the case that Kung has been censured, stipped of his official authorization to teach Catholic theology, at least as far as the Church is concerned.

Another question that might be raised is whether Kung SHOULD be considered a priest in good standing. If it's technically and canonically accurate to refer to him as a "priest in good standing," it should not be. Anyone who teaches overtly heretical nonsense and pantheistic notions of God should not be describable as a "priest in good standing" in the Church.