David Timbs (Melbourne)            Index of David's articles  

January 15, 2012              Year  of  Faith                   


On October 17, 2011 Pope Benedict published an apostolic letter, Porta Fidei, in which he announced a the Year of Faith. It will begin on October 11, 2012 and it will mark two important milestones in recent Church history: the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vat II and the 20th anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Earlier this month, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a Note with pastoral recommendations for the Year of Faith. This document was the work of a committee made up of male senior clerics, mainly Cardinals, and chaired by CDF Prefect, William Levada. There were no laity, religious or non-episcopal priests in the group. This delivers a powerful message in its own right but what these men have produced signals even more emphatically the prescribed direction in which the Church will be take in coming years.

The CDF plan invites as a matter of urgency close scrutiny and comment. It is critical that Catholics understand clearly what is going on at the highest levels of Church leadership and to evaluate the quality and wisdom of its proposed vision for the future. We must be prepared for some rather robust conversation about these things in the months ahead but this is evidence of a living Community of mature faithful not a school of the easily led and compliant children.

The Plan for the Year of Faith exhibits all the hall marks of the grand Reform of the Reform which has been so vigorously promoted since the current papacy began. It documents its justification as far back as John XXII and in its preamble there are the expected statements of both authentication and intention.

These are spelt out understandably in affirmations that Vat II stands in continuity with the past Councils. What it also asserts is that the ‘correct interpretation’ of its documents and vision subsist particularly in the teaching of JP II and Benedict XVI. Major preoccupations and concerns of both these Popes ensured that the Council and its documents would be properly mediated to the Church. Not surprisingly, the principal architect of this mediation was, all along, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and is now Benedict XVI.

The long pontificate of JP II, most of it spent on the world stage, with the Pope constantly teaching, preaching and animating meant that the Church had to function on a daily basis. It was Card. Ratzinger who, as the Cardinal in charge of the CDF, actually had this oversight of the Church’ many arms of governance. He was Pope-by-proxy and the Curial officials were his more than willing assistants. Many of these harboured long and fond memories of the noted Vat II resister Card. Ottaviani and were eager to seize the opportunity to represent his post-mortem voice.

Both Ratzinger and JP II, while enthusiastic about Vat II in its early days, soon grew nervous and suspicious of the forward looking and less highly structured Church envisioned by Gaudium et Spes. When the opportunity presented itself both men set in motion ‘corrective’ procedures and a methodology of authentic interpretation of Vat II.

The CDF Year of Faith plan provides valuable insights into both Vatican thinking and intentions for the Catholic Church. It is unmistakeably clear that Benedict had a strong influence on its composition,

From the very beginning of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI has worked decisively for a correct understanding of the Council, rejecting as erroneous the so-called “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” and promoting what he himself has termed the “hermeneutic of reform”, of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.

While it is made clear from the outset that the Year of Faith will be one dedicated to special study of Vat II and its Documents, curiously both are mentioned only around four or five times. The Plan’s real focus of attention is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It and its Compendium are given prominent mentions around fifteen times.

The CCC, the Plan says, is both an authentic fruit of Vatican Council II and a tool for aiding in its reception. A close reading of the role description for the CCC will reveal that it is more than a mere tool; it is the actual instrument of ‘authentic interpretation’ of Vat II’s Documents and gatekeeper of its vision and legacy. The CCC provides both the conceptual framework and the methodology of Benedict’s Hermeneutics of Reform and Continuity. The weight of authority given the CCC might well be disturbing for many Catholics and lead them to question the Church’s professed commitment to being, in truth and by calling, the People of God forever restless, unsatisfied and searching.

The Vatican administration has now effectively closed the book on the investigation of an essentially pastoral Ecumenical Council fifty years after it was convened. Vatican II will henceforth be officially interpreted not in and through the dynamics of an ongoing conversation and discernment of this annoying, questioning People of God with its inspired and challenging Sensus Fidelium. This will now be governed by a ‘safe’, institutionally controlled and regressive understanding of the Sensus Fidei. This is ideologically packaged and programmed into a Catechism written for the many by a doctrinally obsessed, self-interested few with their fixed, static definitions and answers.

The CDF Plan for the Year of Faith is a very directive and prescriptive document. It is all about Catholics being told in definitive terms just exactly what Vat II signified and said and exactly how they should express their faith as a consequence! It relies heavily on obligation, obedience and docility and appears to be developed for those who are happy to remain adolescents. It certainly does not appeal to that culture of trust and confidence which would otherwise be the native virtues of a community of intelligent, responsible and mature adults.

A further and more thorough reflection on and analysis of the Year of Faith Plan will appear next weekend. This website has an abundance of material on Vatican II, its Documents, their interpretation and related opinion pieces. It is imperative that Catholics continue to educate themselves on this critical event in Church History and to appreciate more than ever what an enormous gift the People of God received from the Holy Spirit.

David Timbs blogs from Melbourne, Australia.

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