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A doubting voice from Vatican II from a priest who was there December 2, 2014

Posted by Tantumblogo in Basics, catachesis, disaster, error, foolishness, General Catholic, history, priests, scandals, secularism, self-serving, Society, Tradition, true leadership, Virtue.

Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton has been described as quite possibly the greatest theologian the United States has ever produced, and was one of the leading voices of Catholic orthodoxy in the mid-20th century Church.  Msgr. Fenton participated at Vatican II as a peritus (expert) on the staff of Cardinal Ottaviani.  Prior to his experience at Vatican II, Msgr. Fenton had engaged in a lengthy theological debate with Fr. John Courtney Murray, SJ, on the matter of religious liberty.  Many non-biased theological experts feel that Msgr. Fenton soundly trounced Fr. Murray in these then well-publicized debates.  However, it was Fr. Murray’s opinions that were incorporated into the Second Vatican Council and formed some of that council’s most controversial aspects.  Many of Msgr. Fenton’s writings are hard to find, but there are some here on the vital and greatly misunderstood Dogma of Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus (I do not recommend wandering around this site, generally).  In addition, an academic library has now put some of his many diaries online for research.  It is those diaries I will be quoting below.

Msgr. Fenton says some quite explosive things below.  I would not take his opinions too far, he was a great theologian in many minds but his are just the JCFentonopinion of one man and great as he was, those opinions are necessarily limited. As a theologian drawing upon and explaining the Truth Christ has revealed through His Church, Msgr. Fenton was certainly a far cut above the dreck we have generally been exposed to going on for many decades now, but his opinions regarding the Council are his own, and don’t carry any great weight.  Having said that, I found the appraisals of Vatican II given by a very solidly orthodox theologian quite a contrast to the frequently excessively exuberant praise directed at the “new pentecost” that occurred in the early 60s, and some of Msgr. Fenton’s concerns over the Council correspond quite closely to my own.  Take it for what you will, but I found some of the statements below quite remarkable:

  • “I had always thought that this council was dangerous. It was started for no sufficient reason. There was too much talk about what it was supposed to accomplish. Now I am afraid that real trouble is on the way.” (Oct. 13, 1962)
  • “I do not think that any little work on our part is going to bring good to the Church. We should, I believe, face the facts. Since the death of [Pope] St. Pius X the Church has been directed by weak and liberal popes, who have flooded the hierarchy with unworthyfenton_med-2 and stupid men. This present conciliar set-up makes this all the more apparent. [Fr.] Ed Hanahoe, the only intelligent and faithful member of [Cardinal] Bea’s secretariat has been left off the list of the periti. Such idiots as [Mgr. John S.] Quinn and the sneak [Fr. Frederick] McManus have been put on. [Fr. George] Tavard is there as an American, God help us. From surface appearance it would seem that the Lord Christ is abandoning His Church. The thoughts of many are being revealed. As one priest used to say, to excuse his own liberalism, which, in the bottom of his heart he knew was wrong, ‘for the last few decades the tendency in Rome has been to favor the liberals.’ That is the policy now. We can only do what we can to overt an ever more complete disloyalty to Christ.” (Oct. 19, 1962) [That Fr. McManus subsequently figured very prominently in what Pope Benedict called “the destruction of the Roman Rite.”  He was exceedingly liberal, God rest his soul, and spawned an entire generation of extremely liberal proteges who continue to inflict his liturgical novelties upon the Church.  I can best describe him in this way……the guy at “Pray Tell” blog just thinks the world of good ol’ Father “Fred.”]
  • “As far as I can see the Church is going to be very badly hurt by this council. The opposition between the liberals and the loyal Catholics has been brought out into the open. Yesterday a Dutch (Holland) bishop gave a nasty talk in which he claimed to be speaking for all of his countrymen…..(Oct. 27) [I’ve read the talk. I can’t recall the name of the bishop, but this was one of the first really blisteringly modernist interventions made at Vatican II, where the whole progressive-modernist agenda was laid out in one fell swoop.  Much of that agenda (most of it?) was implemented to one degree or another]
  • The sense or feeling of this gathering seems to be entirely liberal. I am anxious to get home. I am afraid that there is nothing at all that I can do here. Being in the council is, of course, the great experience of my life. But, at the same time, it has been a frightful disappointment. I never thought fentonthat the episcopate was so liberalThis is going to mark the end of the Catholic religion as we have known it. There will be vernacular Masses, and, worse still, there will be some wretched theology in the constitutions.” (Oct. 31, 1962) [Now, things may have looked a bit more bleak a few weeks into the Council, when the liberal forces were first breaking out into the open and before any real opposition had a chance to form.  It’s not clear if Msgr. Fenton held this view at the end of the Council.  But he sure did not think much of many of the participants. I just read a bit when he lamented that most bishops could not distinguish between theology and sociology.  That comment sums up much of the post-conciliar trend in theology right there.]

  • “…some other people believe what I have thought for several months, namely, that John XXIII is definitely a lefty. This nonsense to the effect that he is ‘deceived’ or ‘mal servite’ is disgraceful. He is the boss.” (Nov. 25, 1962) [I love this Msgr. Fenton, he talks like I do!  I agree that…..groan……Saint John XXIII was not deceived, and he was not going to cancel the Council he called between first and second session (his death, it is claimed by some, prevented him from doing so).  Cardinal Heenan tried to make that claim after the fact but I am highly dubious.]

  • “I am afraid that they are going to foist a lot of nonsense on the poor Catholic people.” (Mar. 6, 1963)
  • “The statement of the Council is not a theological text book. At the same time, however, a declaration by a council can cause confusion or finally can actually be harmful when even though there is no error about faith or morals in it, the statement passes over Truths which are, and which have long been generally been recognized as, assertions of Catholic doctrine.” (May 11, 1963)
  • “There is nothing erroneous in the material [in the schema for Dei Verbum, the dogmatic constitution on divine revelation] we have passed. But there is a great deal that is incomplete and misleading.” (June 4, 1964)
  • “M [Fr. John Courtney Murray] has just come in to see the triumph of his false doctrine [of religious liberty].” (Sept. 21, 1964)
  • “The part on ecumenism [in the text of the commission] is a joke. It reads like a 19th century text, or a second-rate article in a leftist magazine.” (Oct. 28, 1965)

There are some who say that after Pope Paul VI decided on the “ecumenical,” religious liberty issue in Murray’s favor in 1963, Msgr. Fenton resigned his position as peritus and requested assignment at an obscure parish in New England, and died a few years later of a broken heart.  Certainly the order of events is about right, even if Msgr. Fenton did travel to Rome several more times during the Council, but as to the cause of his death, that is known only to God.

I would not go bonkers off the rails due to Msgr. Fenton’s comments above, great man though he may have been.  For some, the above may be shocking and hurtful.  For others, it may confirm what they already believed.  It may be old news to still others.  Nevertheless, for a theologian of such stature to give such a contrary assessment of the Council progressives have tried to turn into an all-powerful “super-dogma” is, I think, important to know.

I should also point out that there are sites that contain even more excerpts from Msgr. Fenton’s diaries, and that most of these sites are sede vacantist in orientation.  So, if you go to find more, you might want to be careful in how you browse around.


1. Baseballmom - December 3, 2014

Probably most of your readers already knew this…. Just more confirmation.

2. Willard Money - December 3, 2014

This guy said every pope since Pius X was “liberal”. Ever even considered for a moment that if God gives us the same kind of pope one after another that maybe God is a liberal?

c matt - December 3, 2014

Or really po’ed?

Shafterian - December 4, 2014

Wow. Deep.

3. Richard M - December 3, 2014

“However, it was Fr. Murray’s opinions that were incorporated into the Second Vatican Council and formed some of that council’s most controversial aspects.”

I would urge a little caution here – there’s less of Murray in the declaratio Dignitatis Humanae than most people assume, and Murray himself was quite aware of it – and rather bitter about it. Generally his most ambitious efforts were left on the cutting room floor. After the Council he was left to offer up a combination of spin and disappointment (in 1966 he called it “a document of very modest scope”). Above all, I am tempted to argue that Dignitatis Humanae was really a document aimed squarely at Franco’s Spain.

Which is not to say there aren’t some signs of rupture with the previous teaching on these questions, or that, for all practical purposes, Murray’s understanding has largely triumphed in the years since the Council. And clearly Msgr. Fenton saw it coming.

P.S. The Fenton quotes are real eye-openers. Even Pius XI gets thrown under the bus!

4. Richard M - December 3, 2014

Hello Willard,

“Ever even considered for a moment that if God gives us the same kind of pope one after another that maybe God is a liberal?”

Perhaps. But by the same logic, a Catholic observer alive ca. 1414 AD might conclude that God was a Gallican.

Msgr. Fenton might be excessively harsh on the post-1914 popes, but there’s a case to be made that he goes too easy on Pius X, who was the aggressive modernizer who trashed the ancient Pslater in the Roman Breviary, initiated a revolutionary and very modern code of canon law, and reversed the traditional order of First Communion and Confession.

5. Manny - December 3, 2014

Why did everyone (esp the laity) just go along with everything?

Mass in the vernacular?
Mass versus populum?
Destroying beautiful churches?
etc etc

Why wasn’t there an uprising against this? At least there was a push back against the English Reformation. Here everyone seems to have followed the modernists over the cliff.

A Mom - December 3, 2014

I asked my grandmother about this. She said people weren’t happy about the changes, but she doesn’t know of anyone who said anything to the priest. They were obedient.

Tim Thunell - December 3, 2014

Mindless obedience-olotry was even around back then.

TG - December 3, 2014

Some never went to Mass again. That’s what my parents did.

TLM - December 3, 2014

Yep, A Mom, you hit the nail on the head. I remember my mom having a fit when they yanked all the Altar Rails out, but in that day, you ‘obeyed’ the Priests, Bishops, Cardinals and of course the Pope, NO QUESTIONS ASKED! It was considered a mortal sin to even question anything that went on. You ‘obeyed’ and ‘kept quiet’.

Tim Thunell - December 4, 2014

How is that any different than today’s obediene-olotry?

6. Richard M - December 3, 2014

Manny: The habits of obedience were very powerful back then.

Plenty of doubting Council Fathers voted for some documents once it was made clear to them that “the Pope wants this.”

And Popes had not really let them down for a long time.

7. Willard Money - December 3, 2014

I asked my mom the same question and she liked the changes. She said most of the kids were bored at mass and therefore the newness of the Novus Ordo was a nice change for them. Ironically, by the time she was dragging us kids to the novus ordo we found it just as boring.

Tantumblogo - December 3, 2014

Hey WM, that was an awesome touche’. I burst out laughing, that was great.

Having said that, Fenton would not be the first strongly conservative/orthodox observer to note that some of the immediate pre-conciliar popes were not all that and a bag of chips.

I saw another commenter mention Saint Pius X’s highly novel changes. I assume he was referring to Fr. Blake’s recent post? I almost thought Fr. Blake was speaking tongue in cheek. Nonetheless, I think Pius X’s intentions for liberalizing reception of Communion, changing the Breviary, etc., were all to the good, but perhaps it takes 50-100 years to see the unintended consequences of even great goods. There is nothing free in the free world.

As for whether God is a liberal, I think that can be and has been sufficiently disproven by the Scholastics!

Richard M - December 5, 2014

That was me commenting about St. Pius x.

I don’t mean to say, by the way, that Pius X was a liberal (heaven forbid), or a bad pope. There was obviously much that was salutary about him.

But he was more of a modernizing pope than traditionalists credit; he was also seriously contemplating a major reform of the missal itself. And I am not the only one who thinks that his overhaul – gutting, really – of the ancient Roman Psalter was a serious mistake – not just on its own merits, but because it set the precedent that a Pope could do pretty much anything he wanted with the liturgy. His successors were not long in picking up that precedent, including at least one also named “Pius,” the man who gave Bugnini his first real taste of power over the liturgy.

Tim Thunell - December 4, 2014

Mass is not to be a form of entertainment. If one is “bored” they need to study the Faith and if one does that they won’t be “bored” at the Novus Ordo, they will be disgusted and deeply saddened.

8. Branch - December 3, 2014

“I just read a bit when he lamented that most bishops could not distinguish between theology and sociology.”

In a graduate course on the Doctrine of God, the professor, a priest, began and continued to frame the entire course in a sociological context. Peter Berger’s “The Sacred Canopy” was the first text we read.

9. steve - December 3, 2014

As for Pope Saint John XXIII’s supposed “lefty” leanings, please consider the following from his Encyclical AD PETRI CATHEDRAM…do “lefty” Churchmen write and speak as clearly as this?…

“When the Divine Redeemer founded His Church, there is no doubt that He made firm unity its cornerstone and one of its essential attributes.

Though there is no such unity in other Christian communities, all who look carefully can see that it is present in the Catholic Church.

This unity is so conspicuous that by it all men can find and recognize the Catholic Church.

It is the will of God, the Church’s founder, that all the sheep should eventually gather into this one fold, under the guidance of one shepherd. All God’s children are summoned to their father’s only home, and its cornerstone is Peter.

The Catholic Church teaches the necessity of believing firmly and faithfully all that God has revealed.

This revelation is contained in sacred scripture and in the oral and written tradition that has come down through the centuries from the apostolic age and finds expression in the ordinances and definitions of the popes and legitimate Ecumenical Councils.

Whenever a man has wandered from this path, the Church has never failed to use her maternal authority to call him again and again to the right road.

She knows well that there is no other truth than the one truth she treasures; that there can be no “truths” in contradiction of it. Thus she repeats and bears witness to the words of the Apostle: “For we can do nothing against the truth, but only for the truth.”

We address Ourselves now to all of you who are separated from this Apostolic See.

May this wonderful Spectacle of unity, by which the Catholic Church is set apart and distinguished, as well as the prayers and entreaties with which she begs God for unity, stir your hearts and awaken you to what is really in your best interest.

May We, in fond anticipation, address you as sons and brethren? May We hope with a father’s love for your return?

Let us love God our Lord; let us love His Church.”

Tantumblogo - December 3, 2014

I saw on another site a pretty good argument that John XXIII was in many respects more traditional than Pius XII. Take it for what you will, depending on what you emphasize, you can make the argument either way.

So maybe we don’t need to scrutinize things with such a fine toothed comb? I don’t know what the answer is.

TG - December 3, 2014

In Father Malachi Martin’s books, it seems both popes John XIII and Paul VI repented when they were dying – after seeing the damage they had done.

Richard M - December 5, 2014

“I saw on another site a pretty good argument that John XXIII was in many respects more traditional than Pius XII.”

Certainly he was in terms of the liturgy.

That said, it’s probably a close shave. Pius XII made major changes in the missal, but at least he didn’t tamper with the Canon, or remove the second Confiteor.

10. steve - December 3, 2014

Please note the manner in which Pope Saint John XXIII practiced “ecumenism”.

Churchmen today speak of the “search” for unity…Catholics and non-Catholics journey to “find” unity…we search for a convergence…a point of unity.

As Catholics and non-Catholics journey along the ecumenical path, we will someday arrive supposedly at something that appears to be unity…ahh…there is unity…as though each group sighted an object that neither possessed…we’ve spotted Mount Unity.

Conversely, the “lefty” Pope Saint John XXIII made clear that the Catholic Church is True Church. She alone possesses Truth and Unity.

Non-Catholics are called by God to join the Catholic Church.

There is not one bit of ambiguity in Pope Saint John XXIII’s Encyclical in question.

Sorry, but a so-called “lefty” does not speak such clear and Catholic fashion.

11. steve - December 3, 2014

By the way, it is interesting that supposed “lefty” Pope Saint John XXIII’s Roman Missal is by far and away the Traditional Catholic Movement’s touchstone Missal.

In effect, Pope Saint John XXIII is the Roman Pontiff to whom countless Traditional Catholics have attached their liturgical identities.

Tantumblogo - December 3, 2014

See my other comment, Steve. It was over at Shameless Popery in a recent post on sede vacantism, I think it was commenter “Lord of Bollocks” put forth a pretty interesting argument that John XXIII was more traditional, at least regarding Liturgy, than Pius XII.

Veterum Sapientia is a beautiful work. It is a shame it was never enforced.

12. steve - December 3, 2014

It is interesting that in regard to Tradition, you noted the argument which holds that Pope Venerable Pius XXII was not as traditional as Pope Saint John XXIII.

I became convinced years ago that if the Internet and blogs had existed during Pope Venerable Pius XII’s reign, more than a few Traditional Catholics would have bashed him daily.

I believe that attacks from various Traditionalists against Pope Venerable Pius XXII would have been on par with their daily attacks against Pope Francis.

Pope Venerable Pius XII’s “liberal” policies included:

— Monsignor Bugnini tapped to reform the Roman Liturgy.

— Radical Holy Week reforms.

— Set the stage for future liturgical reforms.

— Opened the door to Catholic participation in the Ecumenical Movement.

— Threw the Holy See’s support to the United Nations.

— Reduced the length of the Communion fast.

— “Modernized” Biblical studies.

— “Modernized” the Church in various ways.

— Opened the door to the vernacularization of Latin Church rites.

— Failed to place even a dent in the very public plans of Modernists who were determined to revolutionize the Church.

During the reign of Pope Venerable Pius XII, such leading Traditional Catholics as Father Leonard warned publicly and daily that the Church was crumbling…that an horrific modernistic revolution designed to wreck the Mass and Faith was just around the corner for the Church.

Traditional Catholic Internet folks would have portrayed Pope Venerable Pius XII as having contributed greatly to the liberalization of the Church…or at the very least, as having failed to rout the modernists.

I don’t believe that there is any question that many Traditional Catholics active on the Internet would have given Pope Venerable Pius XII the Pope Francis treament.

TG - December 3, 2014

In his defense, he had a lot to deal with World War II and Nazis.

Tantumblogo - December 3, 2014

And communism. And that’s pretty much just the case: Pius XII, may he be blessed, had such huge fronts to fight in the fields of theology, keeping Europe from going first Nazi and then commie, that he really didn’t think futzing around with the Liturgy could have any big impact. He was an ideas guy, not an art guy. He perhaps did not appreciate the glory of the Mass and its utterly central role in transmitting the Faith…..or at least not enough. So he let the liturgical reform get started, and allowed some pretty atrocious experimentation and abuses even in the Diocese of Rome.

That’s not to say he was a bad man, or a bad pope. He had a great deal on his plate and managed to keep the wheels from flying off for another 20 years. Not a small achievement.

steve - December 3, 2014

Pope Venerable Pius XII doesn’t require any defense. He was what every Pope is/was.

That is, he was a bishop who made successful and unsuccessful pastoral decisions.

World War II or otherwise, he was a holy man who made decisions that proved good and bad for the Catholic Religion.

He was human. That’s all.

Richard M - December 5, 2014

And he dealt well with them, I think.

But World War II and the Nazis can’t excuse the wrecking of Holy Week, which was a positive initiative of his, not something that slipped through the cracks while he was looking elsewhere.

13. steve - December 3, 2014

Manny, not by a longshot did “everyone” go along with the revolution that was launched within the Church.

By the late 1960s, millions of disgusted Catholics dropped from the Church.

As the years passed, the Weaklands, Bernadins, Deardens, and their ilk were promoted to control dioceses.

Anti-Traditionalists were in control. They destroyed the Mass, seminaries and parishes (via wreckovations).

Resistance was futile among the laity.

Catholics could only assist at Masses offered to them…could only attended parishes that were there and controlled (usually) by folks who despised Holy Tradition.

The laity couldn’t offer Masses. Laymen couldn’t establish dioceses and parishes.

Modernists in power blocked countless orthodox men and women from vocations.

Modernists unleashed throughout the Church countless priests who had been trained to “desacralize” (then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s word) the Mass, Faith and parishes.

TG - December 3, 2014

Isn’t it still the same?

14. steve - December 3, 2014

I wish to note that I love Pope Venerable Pius XII.

I recognize that in regard to holiness and human excellence/greatness, he was/is ahead of me infinitely so.

It is simple that each Pope has been “liberal” at times…”traditional” at times. Each Pope has advanced successful policies. Each Pope has advanced unsuccessful policies.

Pope Venerable Pius XII’s policies included successes and failures.

As Pope (that would be a joke), I would set the all-time Papal record for policy failures.

Again, as far as his holiness and spirituality are concerned (things that matter most in life), Pope Venerable Pius XII is far beyond me and serves as an inspiration to me.

15. steve - December 3, 2014


For those few Catholics, speaking relatively, who have access to the Traditional Roman Mass, they live in a liturgical/spiritual Garden of Eden.

For the remainder of Catholics (Latin Church), things are, as you noted, pretty much the same in regard to the situation described in my previous post.

At any rate, Pope Benedict XVI’s assessment of the Church sums up the situation:

In vast areas of the world, the Catholic Church is in danger of virtual death.

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