An interview with cardinal Mauro Piacenzo – the prefect of the Congregation for Clergy – for the Vatican International Informative Agency Zenit

ZENIT: - Eminence, starting with this interview, Zenit wants to join the celebration of the Year of Faith, concentrating on the Vatican Council II, in relation to the 50th anniversary of its convening. Why are there so many debates about this ecclesiastical event, in the opinion of Cardinal?

CARDINAL MAURO PIACENZA: - A discussion has always been a positive thing, because it is an indicator of current events and a will of broadening mind. It is also important to remember that what is discussed is not only of human nature – because the general Vatican council is an event which is both human and supernatural, as the same Holy Spirit is leading the Church towards progress, towards a full understanding the only revealed Truth. So we should not be surprised by the fact that in order to understand the indications of the Vatican council, being an answer to questions asked throughout decades, it is necessary to listen to what the Holy Spirit wanted to give the Church in this unusual event.

– What should the right attitude towards the Vatican council be like?

– The attitude of listening! In fact the General Vatican Council II was the first ‘media’ Vatican Council. The Vatican Council whose texts were spread in a very dynamic and even urgent way in mass media. Unfortunately, not always considering the realness of their assumptions and often directing their way of understanding in a way in which it would like to see the world. I want to not that it is interesting – and maybe even necessary – to be willing to return or go towards careful listening to what the Holy Spirit wanted to say to the whole Church through the fathers of Vatican Council. This dynamics of broadening mind and the right attitude are realized through a direct reading texts from which one can understand an authentic spirit of the Vatican council, an exact placing texts inside the whole history of the church and the genesis of their edition.

– Sometimes some elections, including the Magisterium, seem to be ‘opponent’ to the Vatican council. Is it possible?

– One can only reflect on post-synodic statements of the Magisterium, in order to notice postulates which ones have not been realized. Whereas a different thing is promoting a right way of understanding decisions of the Vatican council, explaining the meaning of particular assumptions. Sometimes it seem necessary to correct unilateral interpretations or even the wrong ones, artificially created by those who read out ecclesiastical events of spiritual character in the optics which is explicitly human and historical. In the ecclesiastical dimension the pastoral ministry of the Magisterium which finds its roots in expressing God’s will, prepares Vatican councils, becomes updated in them in its highest expression, and then in later events it is subjected to them, promoting the right acceptance of them at the same time.

– What is the ‘hermeneutics of continuity’ about which the Holy Father speaks so often?

– It is – as the Pope points out – the only right way to read out and interpret every general Vatican council; as well as the Second Vatican Council. The continuity of the only ecclesiastical body – before there will be a criteria of hermeneutics, that is a way of texts interpretations- is a theological reality which immerses its own roots in the act of faith, commanding us to express our faith: ‘I believe in one Church’. For this reason no dichotomy is understandable – between ‘before’ and ‘after’ – of the Second Vatican Council. Certainly, the rejection is justified by those who perceive the Vaticanum II as a new beginning of the Church, as well as the attitudes of those who see a ‘real Church’ only before the historical Vatican council. Nobody can decide in an arbitrary way whether and when the ‘real Church’ starts. Flowing from the side of Christ and being confirmed by the Pentecost on the Pentecostal Feast, the Church is one and the only one, till the end of the times and the community which is being realized in it, is for eternity.
Some people claim that the hermeneutics of continuity can be one of many possible ways of interpreting the Vatican council, besides the hermeneutics of discontinuity or the hermeneutics of breakage. The holy Father defined it as an ‘unaccepted’ hermeneutics of discontinuity (audience for the General Assembly of the Italian Episcopal Conference, 24 May 2012). It is even obvious: a different way of interpretation of the Vatican council would contribute to misunderstanding and progressing collapse of the Church, it would also be a big attack on ecumenism.

– Is it possible to understand this reality completely?

– Understanding, also in realistic conditions, can be often dependent on emotional, biographic, cultural and ideological aspects. And it is understandable in a human way that those who lived during the years of the Vatican council in their youth, accepted it enthusiastically and were willing to liberate themselves from the ‘shell’ of influences – and it was necessary and urgent to take it off from the image of the Church. These people can interpret this way of looking at the Vatican Council about which we spoke as a danger of the betrayal of the Vatican Council. Everybody needs a radical quality transformation in the attitude towards the texts of Vatican councils, in order to understand half of the century which has already passed since that unusual event, which in fact the Holy Spirit suggested and is still suggesting to the Church. We should explain the Vatican council and its texts, it is not enough to maintain on the enthusiastic level because it does not serve to the right understanding the Vatican Council.

– Priest Cardinal has always spoken about the Second Vatican Council enthusiastically. What was it for Priest Cardinal?

– How not to be an enthusiast of such an extraordinary event, which was the General Vatican Council! The Church shines out from it in its whole beauty: Peter and all bishops in communion with it are somehow congealed in listening to the Holy Spirit, to what God is to say to His Bride, looking for references to –as blessed John XXIII had wished - today’s history and unchangeable revealed truths and reading out Divine signs in the signs of times and signs of times in the light of God. During a solemn opening of the Vatican Council on 11 October 1962 this Pope said: ‘Pass pure and undisturbed doctrine to others, without changes or distortions (…), this doctrine, which is clear and unchangeable, which must be faithfully kept, studied and presented in a way adjusted to the needs of our times’.
In the years of the Vatican Council I was a young student, later a cleric and my pastoral ministry had been fulfilled in the light of the Vatican Council and its reforms since the very beginning. I was ordained a priest in 1969. I cannot forget that I am the son of the Vatican Council who, thanks to his teachers, looked for solutions how to understand the indications of the Vatican Council from the beginning. Certainly, according to the natural hermeneutics of unity and continuity. This reform in the continuity has always been felt personally by me, was experienced by me and later, when I had a role of a teacher – it was taught.

– As a prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, do Eminence think that priests have understood the Vatican Council well?

– Certainly, as the elected part of God’s people, priests are those who in the Church know more and have studied the teaching of the Vatican Council in a special way. It seems to me that they are facing the same problems about which we spoke earlier: both in the order of the right hermeneutics of reform continuity and in the order of a necessary attitude, not only the emotional one, towards the events of Vatican councils.
If in the Year of Faith we all are so humble and willing, in order to take into our hands the texts of the Vatican Council, and what was really said in them – but not only in a kind of a ‘brief’, what was widespread – we will discover how prophetic the Second Vatican Council was and how many its assumptions we are still going to face. It appears like a horizon at which one looks at and notices that there is still a long way to overcome with the help of Divine Mercy. In order to do this task, we need much humility and a kind of ability to give up judgments before doing work, in order to achieve the truth which, in respect to the flow of time, seems to be distorted in some moments.

– What points should one concentrate on, while studying the documents of Vatican councils?

– I will mention the point which is extremely gentle and raises tension – the liturgical reform. It is an important element because it is the most visible phenomenon of the Church. The God’s servant Paul VI, blessed John Paul II and the present Holy Father Benedict XVI emphasized the significance of the liturgy as a place in which the very existence of the Church is realized in the fullest way. And, unfortunately, in everybody’s eyes, as it used to take place in many cases, we are still far away from the balanced participation in what is being mentioned here. Certainly, the liturgy usually is decentralized or reduced to the presentation of the human dimension in which it is disappearing – till its complete lack – Christological and theological dimension. It is neither a letter or a spirit of what is presented by the Constitution about the holy liturgy ‘Sacrosanctum Concilium’. It does not justify anybody in anything who accepted the hermeneutics of discontinuity by their will, that is, they rejected the reform of the Vatican Council, recognizing it as a ‘betrayal’ of the ‘real Church’.

– Are there any novelties more important than the liturgical one?

– Considering the central placement of the liturgy, ‘sources and peaks’ of the life of the Church (see SC 10), I would not speak about a greater value. It is obvious that the Vatican council wanted to appreciate evangelical truths which are a heritage today which is common for the whole Catholicism; one can only mention the exceptional emphasis of the universal vocation of all baptized to holiness. It enabled births and discovery of many new experiences. I mean here opening oneself up to the Christians belonging to other religions, which emerge out in their whole beauty; about the value of unity which is a necessary attribute of the Church and as a gift given by Christ for free is always a commandment to be realized through continuous purifying of those who belong to Him. Another important thing is the collegiality of bishops which, among various expressive forms of the ecclesiastical community, is the best to show the world a way in which the Church is supposed to become a united body. It is the same as far as a complete understanding of priestly service is concerned, being in the service of the common priesthood among the baptized. And, finally, one should see priests and deacons united closely with their own bishop as a picture of a sacramental communion in the service to the Church and people. It objectively enables to understand the image of the Church in an explorative way, as it was indicated by the very Lord.

The interview was conducted on 8 September 2012.


"Niedziela" 49/2012

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: