"All of the documents stand": Abp. DiNoia and the SSPX

Last week Archbishop J. Augustine DiNoia, OP, was appointed to head Ecclesia Dei, which is the Pontifical Commission that seeks "reconciliation of those traditional communities not in union with the See of Peter." I don't personally know Abp. DiNoia, as do some of the other commentators on his appointment, but his overall profile evokes a sense that the right person was chosen for this task.[caption id="attachment_19735" align="alignright" width="214" caption="Tough assignment (AP/Domenico Stinellis)"]Tough assignment (AP/Domenico Stinellis)[/caption]In an interview with La Stampa, he discusses having grown up in the Bronx with Jewish friends, and such deep, embodied memories of Catholic-Jewish dialogue often bear fruit later in life (as they did for John Paul II). Such dialogue continued in a scholarly way through his Yale dissertation on "Catholic Theology of Other Religions and Interreligious Dialogue," advised in part by George Lindbeck (a Lutheran "delegated observer" at Vatican II and a stalwart of Jewish-Christian relations). While in New Haven, he lived at the Dominican community of St. Mary's Priory (the church that founded the Knights of Columbus), which would also have kept him in touch with some traditionalist impulses in the Church. In short, he seems to have a perfect blend of biographical and scholarly credentials to lead Ecclesia Dei with rigor, friendliness, firmness, and mutual understanding.The recent interview with Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register grants us several glimpses into DiNoia's approach with the Society of St. Pius X. On the hermeneutic of continuity:

[A] 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. Its interesting only as Ive 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 Im sympathetic to the society, but the solution is not breaking off from the Church.

On the Church's history of theological diversity:

Another issue is theres 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.

On the documents of Vatican II:

All of the documents stand. ... To say they are not binding is sophistry.

Recall that DiNoia was homilist at the "Red Mass" to mark the beginning of the Supreme Court year in 2010. Here he tries out an analogy from American constitutional jurisprudence to discuss liturgical differences:

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 cant 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 thats a very important factor.Ive tried to find an analogy for this. Lets 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 its read as an institutional living document upon which institutions of a country are based, its a different reading. So what the framers thought, including not only experts upon whom theyre 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 doesnt matter because its how you apply it today that matters. Its a living document.

On Vatican II and extra Ecclesiam nulla salus:

The Council did say there are elements of grace in other religions, and I dont think that should be retracted. Ive seen them, I know them Ive met Lutherans and Anglicans who are saints.

And finally, a candid admission that he enters this process without a foregone conclusion in mind. When asked if optimistic or pessimistic about reconciliation:

Im neither; I just dont know. I think it will be an act of grace.

Michael Peppard is associate professor of theology at Fordham University and on the staff of its Curran Center for American Catholic Studies. He is the author of The World's Oldest Church and The Son of God in the Roman World, and on Twitter @MichaelPeppard. He is a contributing editor to Commonweal.

Please email comments to [email protected] and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Must Reads