National Catholic Register


Archbishop DiNoia Named to Ecclesia Dei

Native New Yorker Will Oversee Talks With the SSPX

BY Edward Pentin

Rome Correspondent

July 15-28, 2012 Issue | Posted 7/6/12 at 4:18 PM


In a bid to keep talks on course to a possible reconciliation, Pope Benedict XVI has appointed American Archbishop J. Augustine DiNoia as vice president of the commission charged with helping to bring the Society of St. Pius X back into full communion with Rome.
The 68-year-old Dominican and Bronx, N.Y., native, until now secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, becomes vice president of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. He spoke June 27 about his new position, some of the obstacles involved in bringing the society back into full communion, and his hopes for a successful resolution.
As Archbishop DiNoia had not yet begun work at the commission, he preferred not to comment on reports of a leaked letter from the SSPX that said the society found the doctrinal preamble “clearly unacceptable.” The document is supposed to form the basis for reconciliation with Rome.

What stage has the Vatican reached in its talks with the SSPX?
To be honest, I don’t know. I have a steep learning curve in terms of the issues as they have developed in the dialogue. When I came here, I studied the history of the reform and took a close look at the [Second Vatican] Council, so I’ve learned a lot about the objections that come from that world. I’ve read books by Romano Amerio and Roberto de Mattei on the Council, and, of course, I’ve been studying the Council for years; so, in that sense, I have a framework out of which I can talk with them about their problems.
Another factor of great importance, autobiographically for me, is that I had lived my entire religious life, until I came here to Rome, in a Dominican priory, mostly in Washington or in New Haven, Conn. In those places, the hermeneutic of continuity and reform, if I may put it that way, was lived. I never experienced the Council as a rupture. It’s interesting — only as I’ve begun to read this traditionalist literature and interpretation have I begun to understand that, in a certain sense, there are problems that are real. But if you cease to believe that the Holy Spirit is preserving the Church from error, you cut your moorings.
The councils cannot — whatever their interpretations may be by the left or right, or whatever the intentions of the authors were of the council documents — be led into error. All of the documents stand. Schism is not the answer. So I’m sympathetic, but the solution is not breaking off from the Church.

That being the case, why do you think some Catholics have decided to stick to “frozen” tradition, as it were, rather than coming into communion?
I don’t honestly know; I can only speculate. To say why people are traditionalist I’d have to say it depends on their experiences. The [reform of the] liturgy has been a factor; it was a terrible revolution and shock for people. Many of these people feel abandoned, like the Church left them at the dock with the ship. So the reasons are very complicated and vary from one type of traditionalism to another and from countries, cultures and contexts in which they have arisen.
Another issue is there’s a failure to recognize a simple fact of the history of the Church: that all theological disagreements need not be Church-dividing. So, for example, the Jesuits and Dominicans had a tremendous disagreement in the 16th century about the theology of grace. In the end, the Pope forbade them to call each other heretics, which they had been doing. The Pope said, “You may continue to hold your theological opinion,” but he refused to give a doctrinal determination, saying the Jesuits or Dominicans were right. Now, this is a very interesting example, because it shows that Catholicism is broad enough to include a tremendous amount of theological diversity and debate. Sometimes the Church will act, but only when it sees people slipping into heresy and therefore breaking off from communion.

You’ve worked closely with Pope Benedict XVI in the past. How important is this reconciliation for him?
The Pope is bending over backwards to accommodate them, but he’s not going to give in on the issue of the authenticity of the teaching of Vatican II as a series of acts of the magisterium.

The Society of St. Pius X stresses the Second Vatican Council promulgated no infallible and irreformable teaching. It was pastoral and not dogmatic. If that is so, why is it important that they agree with it?
There’s enough that’s dogmatic in it. The sacramentality of episcopal ordination, to take one example, is a development of the teaching of the episcopacy, so it is doctrinal.
Traditionally, the doctrines were stated as canons with anathemas. There aren’t any of those, but it’s certainly full of the ordinary magisterium and a restatement of it. It’s doctrinally rich. But did it seek to clarify what Trent left open or that Vatican I left open with regards to Scripture and Tradition?
There are doctrinal developments here and there. And the society thinks, of course, that the whole teaching on religious liberty is a departure from the Tradition. But some very smart people have tried to point out it’s a development that is consistent.
What I’ve tried to argue is that all they have to do is to say there’s nothing in the Council that is contrary to Tradition and that every text, or every part of it that is controversial, should be read in context of the Council — and read it in light of the Tradition. It seems, to me, despite their difficulties, they should be able to do that.

What do you say to the argument that if the Council documents are neither infallible nor unchangeable then they are therefore not binding?
To say they are not binding is sophistry. The Council contains swathes of the ordinary magisterium, which is de fide divina [of divine faith].
Now, the pastoral constitution “On the Church in the Modern World” [Gaudium et Spes] makes comments about the nature of culture which, generally speaking, everyone now believes was overly optimistic. Well, that’s not de fide divina. It’s not precise; it’s very imprecise. But the Council’s full of the ordinary magisterium. When I worked at the [U.S.] bishops’ conference and I was discussing, say, Veritatis Splendor, people would ask me: “Is it infallible?” I would say, “The more important question is: Is it true?”
What I meant was: The overemphasis is on infallibility. This is why John Paul II and Benedict XVI decided not to define anything infallibly anymore, because you see what happens is: People say: “I only have to believe what’s been infallibly defined.” Now, that is very little. So that’s why there’s a distinction between the ordinary and extraordinary magisterium. The extraordinary magisterium is what the Church defines, and it almost always involves settling disagreements that probably have been defined. The Church would perhaps have never said Mary was the Mother of God if Nestorius hadn’t denied it. But with the ordinary magisterium there’s huge amounts of what we believe that’s de fide divina that’s never been defined. That’s why people have talked about the ordinary magisterium, trying to get out of this reductionist reading that says you only have to believe what’s infallible. So, no, the Council does have binding teaching. The Fathers are writing as bishops of the Church in union with the Pope; that’s why the Council is so important.

Yet Cardinal Ratzinger stressed the Council should not be seen as a kind of “superdogma.”
It did not seek to define infallibly any doctrines; that’s what he’s saying, but he’s not saying it doesn’t contain great amounts of the ordinary magisterium. If you take the dogmatic constitutions, they are called dogmatic constitutions — “Divine Revelation” [Dei Verbum], Lumen Gentium, those two surely, but other ones, too.

What would the Society of St. Pius X bring that would positively impact the Church if they reconcile?
The traditionalists that are now in the Church, such as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, have brought what the Pope has insisted upon: that in the solemnity of the way in which they celebrate the liturgy, especially in the area of the liturgy, they are a testimony to the continuing liveliness of liturgical tradition previous to the Council, which is the message of Summorum Pontificum. The thing is: They [SSPX] can’t say that the Novus Ordo is invalid, but their celebration of the 1962 Missal is something that remains attractive and nourishes faith, even of those who have no experience of it. So that’s a very important factor.
I’ve tried to find an analogy for this. Let’s say the American Constitution can be read in at least two ways: Historians read it, and they are interested in historical context: in the framers, intentions of the framers, the backgrounds of framers and all of that historical work about the Constitution. So, you have a Constitution you can study historically and shed a great deal of light on the meaning of it.
However, when the Supreme Court uses the Constitution, when it’s read as an institutional living document upon which institutions of a country are based, it’s a different reading. So what the framers thought, including not only experts upon whom they’re dependent — they are parallel to the bishops, and the experts are parallel to the periti [theologians who serve participants at an ecumenical council].
Those documents have an independence from all of them. I often say that what Council Fathers intended doesn’t matter because it’s how you apply it today that matters. It’s a living document.

Some have argued that you have been brought in to help prepare a canonical structure for the SSPX should they reconcile. Is this based on the extensive work you did in helping to create the Anglican ordinariate?
The Anglicans who came to Rome seeking full communion would often come and see me. So I guess I must have some kind of gift that attracts them to me [laughs].

Some traditionalists say secular humanism frequently wins over dogmatic assertions in the modern Church. To give an example: The Holy Father has said he wouldn’t have lifted the excommunication on Bishop [Richard] Williamson had he known about his anti-Semitism. But while anti-Semitism is heinous, traditionalists say that such views aren’t a dogmatic position. And yet Catholic politicians can freely speak against the Church’s dogmatic teaching on abortion and remain in full communion with the Church. What do you say to such an argument?
That’s a trap. Edward Norman, in his very good book Secularization, says there’s no question that what he calls internal secularization, secular humanism, has definitely invaded parts of the Church. They [SSPX] are probably right about that, and I could give them a longer list of examples than they could probably make themselves.
However, to try and defend Williamson on this basis is disgusting and odious. Is a politician the same thing as a bishop? Give me a break. It’s garbage; it’s sophistry.
Do they want a blanket excommunication of everyone who’s pro-choice? And yet here is a person, a bishop, who openly proclaims a position which the Church is desperately trying to suppress in the Church itself, which is anti-Semitism.

Do you think SSPX fears their concerns won’t be safeguarded if they reconcile?
How will they not be safeguarded? Who’s telling them what to do? The only thing I’m telling them is: Vatican II is not a departure from Tradition.

Edward Pentin writes from Rome.  Read the full interview at