Another Italian Catholic scholar, Massimo Introvigne, who is well known to Roberto de Mattei, presented a paper at a meeting in April 2009 in Washington, D.C. On that occasion Dr. Introvigne systematically analyzed the different reactions among Catholics to the present crisis in the Church, focusing especially on that of conservative Catholics. He divided these latter into different groups depending on their degree of opposition to the so-called new theology, which was later behind the fundamental changes introduced into the Church as a result of the Council. In the category of those most opposed to the new orientation, Massimo Introvigne placed both the Society of St. Pius X (FSSPX) and the Societies for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP). However, his analysis showed that the FSSPX and the TFP later did not represent a united front because of disagreements between them. Rather than with the SSPX, the TFP began to associate instead with other priestly societies devoted to the traditional liturgy - in particular the Institute of Christ the King and the Fraternity of St. Peter – but which were not as confrontational toward the majority of the hierarchy that had accepted the general trends of the post-conciliar orientation, and therefore did not represent the degree of opposition manifested not only by the SSPX but also by the TFP itself. It is with those groups of less confrontational traditionalists that Roberto de Mattei developed his own defense of Catholic Tradition, in part because of his collaborative friendship with the TFP, and also because of the European circles of traditionalists with whom he associated and collaborated. Although he ultimately wrote a book on the history of the Council, describing important details regarding the reaction of the traditionally minded bishops – and taking what Massimo Introvigne called the “ultra-strict” position – his work and reputation first developed in an environment representing different degrees of reaction. However, after the publication of his book on the Council, it was with the sector favoring the more critical reaction that his reputation suddenly began to grow.1 It is within this context that one must view the recent rift between Roberto de Mattei and Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. In one of his recent articles, Prof. de Mattei has challenged the comparison that many have made between Archbishop Lefebvre and Archbishop Viganò. However, from a doctrinal and juridical perspective there are nevertheless important similarities. Just as the episcopal consecrations of 1988 resulted in many accusing the SSPX – and the priests of the Campos, Brazil diocese under Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer – of being separated from the Church, Prof. de Mattei recently posted an article by blogger Andrea Sandri describing Archbishop Viganò and his supporters in a similar manner, as if they, too, were to be treated as separating themselves from the Church, because of their method of criticizing the orientation of the majority within the hierarchy. There are clearly such influences as these on the thought of Prof. de Mattei that have led him to take his current position. He has now adopted a traditionalist stance resembling what Massimo Introvigne had named merely “strict,” as opposed to the “ultra-strict” traditionalist position. And if we want to understand its significance, one must view those influences in their recent historical context, and in particular the earlier disagreements between the SSPX and the TFP – analyzed in part by Massimo Introvigne, but without entering into the total picture of the interaction between them. TFP founder Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, according to Prof. de Mattei’s own analysis, became an international leader from as early as 1943 with the publication of his first book exposing the resurgence of modernism within the Church. But as a leader engaged in a specifically lay apostolate, Prof. Corrêa de Oliveira respected the boundaries between ecclesiastical and lay authority. When his own former ecclesiastical supporter, Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer, along with Archbishop Lefebvre, with whom the Brazilian bishop was collaborating, were declared “excommunicated” in 1988, Prof. Plinio took a neutral position, acknowledging his own inability as a layman to pronounce on the validity or invalidity of such an excommunication. The reaction of Prof. de Mattei to the actions of Archbishop Viganò is similar in some ways to that of his mentor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. Prof. Plinio gave support to Archbishop Lefebvre and other traditionalist bishops at the Council, and Roberto de Mattei initially wrote favorably of Archbishop Viganò. But whereas Prof. Plinio later did not support Archbishop Lefebvre and Bishop de Castro Mayer when strictly ecclesiastical disputes arose, and remained in the sphere of a clearly defined lay apostolate, Prof. de Mattei has now engaged in a dispute of an ecclesiastical nature with Archbishop Viganò. However, like the action of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, the current controversy was rooted in political concerns as well. For Prof. de Mattei opposed the political ideology of Russian Alexander Dugin and questioned Archbishop Viganò’s recent association with him. But Prof. de Mattei’s reaction differs from that of his mentor Prof. Plinio, in that he has entered more specifically into the domain of theology in his criticism of Archbishop Viganò, something which Prof. Plinio would have avoided. It is not merely a question of the vaccine, which falls within the realm of the natural law and therefore the competence of a layman, but also of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, which has now entered into Roberto de Mattei’s dispute with Archbishop Viganò. In taking such action he made himself easily vulnerable to opposition from many traditional Catholics, with whom he has until now closely collaborated and associated. To avoid the escalation of this controversy, the simple solution must be found in the lessons of centuries of Catholic Tradition regarding the respective roles of clergy and laity. Prof. de Mattei’s contribution to the doctrinal and historical discussions of our time cannot be forgotten and erased, but at the same time the leadership of Archbishop Viganò in the present crisis is equally undeniable. Our purpose in these reflections about the controversy is not to take sides and thereby contribute to the escalation of the conflict, but to reconcile the two positions by pointing to legitimate concerns on both sides, and the need for each side to consider the valid concerns of the other. This requires an examination of the influences that have played a part in the formulation of their two positions, which we have begun analyzing in this article by describing those who have influenced the thought of Prof. de Mattei. In the next article we will consider the influences that have played a part in the development of the thought of Archbishop Viganò.
1 Massimo Introvigne, “TFP and the Heralds of The Gospel: The Religious Economy of Brazilian Conservative Catholicism,” a paper presented at the 2009 Meeting of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics, and Culture (ASREC), Washington D.C., April 2-5, 2009.
2 In his 1996 biography of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, The Crusader of the 20th Century (Leominster: Gracewing, Fowler Wright Books, 1998), pp. 203-204, Roberto de Mattei suggests that Prof. Plinio was perplexed when the three bishops whom he assisted at the Council, namely, Archbishop Lefebvre, Bishop de Castro Mayer and Archbishop Sigaud, had signed conciliar documents after they had opposed them during the Council debates. After the Council, Archbishop Lefebvre himself stated that if he had known the direction events were taking, he would have refused to sign more of those documents. This indicates the strong positions taken over time by both Archbishop Lefebvre and Prof. Plinio, and therefore, with them, the separate movements they founded, the SSPX and the TFP respectively. With his 2010 history of the Council, Prof. de Mattei himself provides support for this position. After developments in 2020, however, when Archbishop Viganò began to adopt that same position, Prof. de Mattei has now speculated that someone else has influenced Archbishop Viganò, and has even been ghostwriting for him. One might be tempted to think that Prof. de Mattei himself has now changed his own position. But it is more reasonable to assume that there are other factors that have influenced his commentaries on Archbishop Viganò, one of them being the political implications of Archbishop Viganò’s current stand. This question requires a separate analysis, which will be the third part of this series.