"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Wednesday, 5 November 2014


Ecumenism Rewritten by Enzo Bianchi and Alberto Melloni
The leaders of the “school of Bologna” have a very ambitious new project in the works: a history of the movement for Christian unity aimed at a thorough reform of the Catholic Church, starting with the dismantling of the papacy in its current form. They believe they have an ally in Pope Francis 

ROME, November 3, 2014 – At the end of October, Pope Francis received a delegation of Old Catholic bishops of the Union of Utrecht.

Numerically this is a very small group, but it is the bearer of a model of Church that pleases not a few progressive Catholics. It recognizes a primacy of honor for the pope, but it does not accept that he is infallible or has jurisdiction over the bishops. It has its bishops elected by a synod composed of clergy and laity. At Mass it gives Eucharistic communion to all, as long as they are baptized in one of the various Christian confessions. It administers collective absolution of sins. It allows second marriages for the divorced.

It also advocates a return to the early faith and recognizes as fully ecumenical only the first seven councils, those of the first millennium, when the Churches of West and East were still undivided.

And on this last point it converges with what is maintained by the Catholic “school of Bologna,” founded by Giuseppe Dossetti and Giuseppe Alberigo and directed today by Alberto Melloni, famous all over the world for having written and spread in five volumes translated into multiple languages the history of Vatican Council II that has undisputedly been the most successful, although it has been repeatedly excoriated by the Vatican.

For the “Bolognese” as well, in fact, only the councils that preceded the schism between West and East are fully ecumenical, as can be seen in their multi-volume edition of the “Conciliorum oecumenicorum generaliumque decreta,” criticized precisely for this reason by “L’Osservatore Romano” of June 3, 2007 with an unsigned official note attributed to Walter Brandmüller, today a cardinal.

That year and in subsequent years, Professor Melloni made no small effort to repair this breach and the other one provoked by the history of Vatican II.

In 2011, he came up with everything he could to ingratiate himself with Benedict XVI. He proposed that the pope pray in front of three Russian icons brought from Moscow to celebrate the critical edition of the Second Council of Nicaea edited by Melloni himself. He asked for a public audience to have him bless a facsimile edition of the Bible of Marco Polo to be sent to China, “where we have significant contacts.”

But without success. “There appears to be no possibility of an involvement of His Holiness in the initiatives mentioned,” was the frosty message to Melloni written by the substitute of the secretariat of state, Angelo Becciu. In part because “there remain reservations of a doctrinal character.”

But this happened under the reign of Benedict XVI. Because with the current pope, the “school of Bologna” is convinced that it has a clear road ahead.


An appointment, an international conference, a grandiose editorial project. These are the three acts that have inaugurated the new “Bolognese” course. All three under the banner of ecumenism.

The appointment, decided by Pope Francis last July 22, is that of friar Enzo Bianchi, founder and prior of the interconfessional monastery of Bose, as adviser of the pontifical council for Christian unity.

Bianchi, 71, was born in Piedmont and lives there, but for years he has been the true and undisputed leader of the “school of Bologna.” He is the only lifetime member of the administrative board of the “John XXIII Foundation for Religious Studies” that he oversees. And he is also the only one whom Melloni - very authoritarian with his subordinates - obeys with reverential fear.

Immediately after the appointment, in an interview, Bianchi revealed his expectations in the matter of ecumenism:

“I believe that Pope Francis wants to reach the unity of Christians in part by reforming the papacy. A papacy that is no longer feared, in the words of ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew, with whom the pope shares a bond of friendship. The reform of the papacy means a new balance between synodality and primacy. This would help to create a new style of papal primacy and of the governance of the bishops.”

The international conference that the Bolognese institute captained by Bianchi and Melloni have convened in Bose from November 26 to 28 will have precisely the task of preparing the terrain for this reform of the papacy, which in its current form is maintained to be the main obstacle to Christian unity.

“Historicizing Ecumenism”: this is the title given to the conference, which will also be attended by many high-level scholars, like the Germans Jürgen Miethke and Franz-Xaver Bischof.

The immediate task of the conference will be that of reconstructing the history of the movement for Christian unity from the 19th century until today, gathering and analyzing sources, documents, events, personages, projects.

But in reality, the conference will act as a prologue to a much more ambitious project: a monumental history of ecumenism, in three large volumes written by dozens of specialists all over the world, to be published in 2017.

With this large and expensive editorial enterprise Bianchi - who is its real architect - Melloni, and the “Bolognese” count on repeating the success of their previous history of Vatican Council II, with which the new work is placed in direct continuity.

A continuity above all of method. Because in this second case as well, like in the previous one, the history will be constructed “by design,” meaning aimed not only at describing but also at advocating and implementing a precise form of ecumenism, the one already anticipated “in nuce” by the monastery of Bose.

It is in fact Bianchi’s conviction - as can be read in his preface to the recent volume by Brunetto Salvarani entitled “We cannot help but call ourselves ecumenical,” published by Gabrielli - that after the “ardent” years of Vatican Council II ecumenism “has been repeatedly contradicted, and now must start again from the beginning.” Because for the prior of Bose, true ecumenism is not only neighborliness between one Church or denomination and the other, but “should be simply the modality, the form of being Christians.” Of all Christians in the one Church of Christ.

A highly ambitious project that implies a thorough reform of the Catholic Church, starting with the deconstruction of the papacy in its current form.

There is an illuminating document with more information on this project. It is the dossier delivered to the cardinals by the “John XXIII Foundation for Religious Studies” of Bologna, on the eve of the last conclave in March of 2013.

Also before the conclaves of 1978 and 2005, the “Bolognese” delivered memorandums to the cardinals, setting down point by point what they believed the new pope should do during his first hundred days and after.

The difference is that the dossier of 2013 is not entirely unified and organic, nor signed as a group like the previous ones, but is a collection of disparate contributions, each one signed by its respective author. With Melloni, who - in the sibylline introductory chapter - takes umbrage with the “dissolution of the bonds of responsibility” perpetrated by some of his subordinates who refused to sign off on the enterprise.

In any case, the “Bolognese” dossier given to the cardinals in March of last year is offered for all to read, in its entirety, on this page of www.chiesa:

> Agenda per il papa da eleggere

The conclave, of course, saw the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Who revealed in the plainest way possible his idea of ecumenism in the address he delivered in Caserta on July 27, 2014, in the course of his visit to his Neo-Pentecostalist friend Giovanni Traettino:

"We are in the epoch of globalization, and we think about what globalization is and what unity would be in the Church: perhaps a sphere, where all points are equidistant from the centre, all equal? No! This is uniformity. And the Holy Spirit doesn’t create uniformity! What shape can we find? Let us consider a prism: the prism is unity, but all its parts are different; each has its own peculiarity, its charisma. This is unity in diversity. It is on this path that we Christians do what we call by the theological name of ecumenism."

Pope Francis had already used three other times - particularly in “Evangelii Gaudium” - the metaphor of the prism, but only to apply it to the Catholic Church and its unity in diversity.

This time, instead, the metaphor makes one think of a more vast and ecumenical Church of Christ, of which the Catholic Church is a part, on a par with the other Churches and denominations.

It is not easy to harmonize this vision with what is stated in the 2000 declaration “Dominus Iesus,” a cornerstone of the magisterium of the two previous popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI:

“The Christian faithful are not permitted to imagine that the Church of Christ is nothing more than a collection – divided, yet in some way one – of Churches and ecclesial communities; nor are they free to hold that today the Church of Christ nowhere really exists, and must be considered only as a goal which all Churches and ecclesial communities must strive to reach. In fact, the elements of this already-given Church exist, joined together in their fullness in the Catholic Church and, without this fullness, in the other communities.”

But the prismatic ecumenism hinted at by Pope Francis certainly has much in common with that which is advocated by Bianchi and Melloni.


The last time Francis used the metaphor of the prism was last October 31, in the talk he gave to the Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowships, in the presence of Pastor Giovanni Traettino:

> "Dear brothers and sisters…"

But this time, citing “Evangelii Gaudium,” the pope again applied the metaphor to the Catholic Church alone.

The problem about most of the journalist coverage of of the present Vatican shinanagans is that God seems to have very little to do with what is going on: the whole journalistic vision is too secular.   I believe that when you take God out of the picture it becomes falsified.    The truth is that for both for those defending the status quo and for those who want change, God is essential for their vision of the Church. That the pope has the right to expect obedience from all Christians can only be true if Christ instituted the papacy. Even more so, how could the Pope be infallible if the Holy Spirit was not around to protect his dogmas from error?   The "conservative" understanding of the Church only makes sense if God is actively present in the Church.   The same is true for the so-called "liberals".   The synod on the family does not have a cat's chance in hell of being successful if the Holy Spirit is not around to inform the whole process.   If the Holy Spirit is not actively present, then the pope is wrong and Cardinal Burke is right that the Church under Francis is like a ship without a rudder.   The truth is that for Pope Francis, as well as for Cardinal Burke, the Holy Spirit is the Church's rudder, working through Providence.   The difference between them lies in the conditions under which the Holy Spirit is allowed to function in the Church.   The press which assumes a secular agenda misunderstands the whole thing because God is absolutely central to both positions.   The tragedy is that the Burke's of this world accept the secular description of the so-called "liberal" case and thus misunderstand their opponents. In this commentary, I am going to try to give a theological explanation of the case for radical change.   As we were all brought up in the status quo, I shall not try to explain it, but shall concentrate on the less understood case of their opponents which I am not sure that even Sandro Magister understands.   It is founded on a sound theology that you can find in the Vatican II documents, a theology that was endorsed enthusiastically by Fr Joseph Ratzinger, but which the later Pope Benedict XVI shied away from, at least in its more radical conclusions (click).

In the 19th century, the Vatican believed that the Pope could not do his job without the Papal States, and it was an excommunicatable offence for Catholics to support the abolition of the papal dominion over those states.  The Vatican was wrong: it was the best thing that could have happened to the papacy.  Pope Francis and friends may well be planning a change as great as what happened in the 19th century, but I am confident that this does not entail dismantling the papacy but putting it into a totally new context; and I am sure that this will in no way damage the papacy, but, on the contrary, will allow it to grow in stature; but this will only happen if there is a Holy Spirit that can make the new context function.

Vatican II re-discovered the importance of the local church as it re-discovered the centrality of the liturgy.   As we have quoted before, the liturgy is the goal of all the Church's activity and the source of all its powers; but the liturgy is always celebrated locally, which makes the local church that celebrates the liturgy both the focal point of the Church's activity and the source from which all its powers emerge.   Several conclusions can be drawn from this:

  1. The liturgical life of the local church, with its history going back to the Apostles, is the fundamental source of Tradition.   There is a book by Father Jeremy Driscoll osb which compares the 2nd century Eucharistic Prayer of St Hypollitus with the vocabulary of St Irenaeus about the Church's teaching authority which concludes that the charisma veritatis of the Church is intimately bound up with the epiclesis in the prayer which asks the Father to send the Holy Spirit on the bread and wine and on the Church.   Of course, he is not talking about the proclamation of dogmas because, as yet, no dogmas had been proclaimed, but what we call the guidance of the Holy Spirit on the ordinary magisterium of the Church: the Church understands the Scripture because it has the key to its interpretation, and this capability is bound up with the celebration of the Eucharist.
  2. This Tradition, being the product of the liturgy in many regions and cultures, takes a number of forms; but, like the one Gospel written in several gospels, so it is one Tradition expressed in several "rites" or traditions.
  3. Schism has caused an artificial separation of the various traditions, Catholic, Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox, from one another, but all are grounded in the celebration of the one Eucharist in which the same Holy Spirit works in synergy with the Church to form the one body of Christ: they, therefore, belong to one another, which means that we can learn from one another without stepping outside the same Tradition. It is only a small step for the Synod on the family to explore what the Holy Spirit has taught the Orthodox on treating people who have divorced and re-married if our own Latin tradition doesn't help.
  4. Vatican I taught us the importance of the papacy for the unity of the universal Church.   Now we are learning how to make room in the Church for what we have learnt in Vatican II about the importance of the local church.   This is not dismantling the papacy but striking a balance: Catholicism is about balance in a way that is true to the Truth.  Just as the Vatican I teaching would be quite unreasonable if God were not an active participant in the system, the tension between unity and diversity revealed by the Synod would be quite unworkable if the Holy Spirit were not actively involved.  It is the Holy Spirit that makes all the difference between Catholic fullness and liberalism.
  5. Liberalism is about allowing each individual to believe, say and do what he wants.   Liberalism in religion is described by Pope Benedict XVI in a passage quoted in the above article and has nothing to do with what is being proposed, nor in what was taking place at the Synod.  It has nothing to do with Tradition and Communion as the ultimate criteria of Truth.
  6. The presupposition of the Synod is that there are two poles to be taken into account when we wish to know the teaching of the ordinary magisterium, the diverse approaches to the problem advocated by the different bishops and the call to unity represented by the Pope.   Both sides are what they are by apostolic mandate, and both are called to do their particular jobs as well as possible.   The first time this was tried, it was a disaster because there was no adequate infrastructure and people were not aware what was happening.   Debate was allowed, even encouraged, but there was no contact between those debating and the pope, and Humanae Vitae came as a bolt from the blue.   This time, the debate is in the presence of the Pope, will be discussed throughout the Church and then culminating in the Synod next year.  The pope has sought the real opinions of the bishops involved but remains optimistic because the debate took place "cum Petro et sub Petro", and he expects the Holy Spirit to bring about a common mind within the context of ecclesial charity which is the sign of His presence.   The Pope will then be able to register this common mind in his own way.
  7. The Pope has already spoken of a de-centralisation, with power going to regional and national episcopal bodies.   This is not dismantling the papacy.   Indeed, since Vatican II there has been a growing appreciation of the pope's universal ministry, not only among Catholics; but there will be much more emphasis on service and the theological requirement, implicit in Vatican II, that primacy and synodality, unity and diversity, belong together, but in a context of communion in ecclesial charity that is embedded in Tradition by the Eucharist.
This is what Pope Francis has to say about the relationship between pope and bishops:

The other important feature is the unity bishops display with one another and the pope, who is "custodian and guarantor of this deep communion," he said. "When Jesus chose and called the apostles, he imagined them -- not separate from each other, everyone for himself, but together, that they be with him, united as one family."
"How beautiful when the bishops with the pope express this collegiality and try to be more and more and more like servants for the faithful, more like servants for the church," he said. The Synod of Bishops on the family was one experience of collegiality.
No sign of dismantling the papacy here!  In fact, the more the Church is decentralised, the more the accent on diversity, the more important is the role of the pope.

During the Council we students debated the question of the relationship between the seven ecumenical councils recognised by Orthodoxy and Rome in relation to the subsequent councils recognised by the Catholic Church alone.   I think we can distinguish between the legal position within Catholicism and the differences of ecumenical quality.   A council will increase in ecumenical depth to the extent that it represents Tradition.   Clearly, the first seven councils were more ecumenical than the subsequent councils because they are part of both Orthodox and Catholic history and are a unifying factor between us.   The other councils are only part of Catholic history, and, although they remain relevant to our version of Tradition, they cannot be imposed on the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox from outside.   Dogmas are not truths abstracted from all context: they are moments of truth  whose proclamation was made necessary within their ecclesial tradition.   It has been stated that the Papal dogmas of Vatican I will not be binding on the Orthodox, only what they accepted about the pope in the first thousand years: the dogmas are not part of their history.   Thus subsequent councils are not ecumenical in the same way as the first seven.

Hence, I believe that Pope Francis' agenda is, quite simply, to allow the teaching of Vatican II on the local church to complement the teaching of Vatican I on papal primacy in reality as well as in idea.  I do not believe he is in any way contradicting Vatican I which was left uncompleted; but, in doing this, he will be changing the shape of the Catholic Church, and this will have wide ecumenical implications.   I see no prospect of making the Catholic Church just one church among others.  I hope the work of the Holy Spirit will be much more visible afterwards than before.


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