Is Vatican II binding on the catholic conscience?
Prior to the stamp of papal approval, a council has no authority whatsoever. Once this has occurred however, Conciliar statements become part of the teaching Magisterium. It matters little as to whether their contents are classified as 'extraordinary' or 'ordinary', for in either case, they must be believed with 'divine and Catholic faith'.
Considerable confusion has arisen with regard to Vatican II because of its 'pastoral' nature. Ursula Oxford opinions that in so far as John XXIII was deluded as to the 'spirit' which induced him to convene the Council, the resulting documents are without authority (6). Others like Father J. Saenz y Arriaga hold the election of Paul VI was totally invalid, and hence the promulgation of the Conciliar documents is in no way part of the Church's Magisterium (7). Cardinal Felici, former secretary for the Curia and Secretary-General of the council stated that the documents of the Council are de jure, and not de fide (8). Presumably this means that we have to obey and act in accord with the Council's teaching, but have no obligation to believe them true. Michael Davies, in the face of what he knows to be clear-cut changes in the teaching of the Church, states that 'the Council comes within the category of the Church's Ordinary Magisterium which can contain error in the case of a novelty which conflicts with previous teaching,' a statement which is both innovative and self contradictory (9). These represent but 'theological opinions', and we must turn to the post-Conciliar 'popes' for definitive answers.
All the post-Conciliar 'popes' have stated that the Council was guided by the Holy Spirit. Paul VI, in closing the Council stated that 'the teaching authority of the Church, even though not wishing to issue extraordinary dogmatic pronouncements, has made thoroughly known its authoritative teaching.' Still later he stated that the Council 'avoided proclaiming in an extraordinary manner dogmas endowed with the note of infallibility' but that it conferred on its teachings 'the value of the supreme ordinary magisterium' (Speech of Jan 12, 1966), and that 'it has as much authority and far greater importance than the Council of Nicea'. Elsewhere he has called it 'the greatest of Councils', and 'even greater than the Council of Trent'(10). Perhaps the most clear cut statement is to be found in a letter to Archbishop Lefebvre demanding his submission to the post-Conciliar Church:
'You have no right any more to bring up the distinction between the doctrinal and the pastoral that you use to support your acceptance of certain texts of Vatican Council II and your rejection of others. It is true that the matters decided in any Council do not all call for an assent of the same quality; only what the Council affirms in its 'definitions' as a truth of faith or as bound up with faith requires the assent of faith. Nevertheless, the rest also form a part of the SOLEMN MAGISTERIUM of the Church, to be trustingly accepted and sincerely put into practice by every Catholic.' (11)
It is clear then that Paul VI considers the Council as binding on the Catholic conscience, and as having no less authority than any of the previous 20 Councils called Ecumenical. To state that is part of the Solemn Magisterium is to give it the highest possible authority. However, if it is only the 'supreme form of the ordinary magisterium', it is equally binding upon the post-Conciliar Catholic conscience.
John Paul II has expressed his full agreement with Paul VI whom he considers as his 'spiritual father', and has further stated that the Council was 'inspired by the Holy Spirit', and that 'obedience to the Council is obedience to the Holy Spirit.' Still elsewhere he has stated that the Council is 'the authentic teaching of the Church.' Clearly in his eyes to refuse to give our assent to the Council is equivalent to 'sinning against the Holy Ghost.'
Others have stated that the Council is heretical and therefore not to be accepted.
Archbishop Lefebvre believes the Council was convened according to 'accepted norms' of the Church (The Remnant, 2.17.77), and is willing to accept the documents of Vatican II providing they are interpreted 'in the light of tradition'. Interestingly enough, John Paul II is also willing to accept this 'limitation'. To quote him directly: 'what the Holy Spirit says to the Church by the Council..., He says at the same time in full harmony with Tradition and according to what is required by the 'sign of the times'... The Church of Vatican II, of Vatican I, of the Council of Trent, and of the earlier councils is one and the same Church.' The problem is that everyone seems to disagree as to just what 'the light of tradition' is . The phrase is found in the Vatican II document on the Liturgy where it states that 'the Council also desires... the rites to be carefully and thoroughly revised IN THE LIGHT OF SOUND TRADITION, and that they be given new vigor to meet the circumstances and needs off modern times!'. And as we all know, the end result of the application of this principle was the Novus Ordo Missae or new mass.
'In the light of tradition'. Strictly speaking, only a pope can do this, and Paul VI told those who resisted the changes introduced by the Council that it was necessary 'to break with the habitual attachment of what we used to designate as the unchangeable tradition of the Church.' If Vatican II represents a break with tradition, a departure from tradition, then it is difficult to see how in can be interpreted in the light of tradition. If Vatican II contains errors - let the reader decide for himself after finishing this chapter - the only response of a Church which is concerned with preserving the truth, is to condemn and reject it. The whole idea of accepting Vatican II in the light of tradition begs the issue. It allows the Lefebvreites to 'pick and choose' while salving their guilty consciences, and leaves the post-Conciliar 'pastors' free to promulgate their revolution.
How then are we to find our way in this confusing welter of freely given advise. For those who believe the post-Conciliar 'popes' are orthodox and who accept their authority, the answer is clear. These 'popes' clearly believe that the Documents of Vatican II are both inspired by the Holy Ghost, and are part of the Solemn Magisterium; hence, despite their 'pastoral' character, they are binding on the post-Conciliar Catholic conscience. For those who refuse to accept the legitimacy of these 'popes', there is also no problem. The Council and all the changes that followed in its train are simply to be rejected. Between these two extremes however, and leaving apart those who follow the 'new orientations' without any serious thought, there is a whole spectrum of opinion best characterized by the acceptance of the authority of these 'popes' and a refusal to follow them when they act or teach against tradition. Unfortunately these individuals (characterized as 'conservative Novus Ordo Catholics') are placed in the position of deciding for themselves just what is traditional and what is not. Since such decisions normally reside only in a Pope, it can be said off them that 'every man is his own Pope' . The inevitable result is still more confusion. Be this as it may, almost everyone agrees that the fruits of the Council have been rotten.