Bishop Williamson

The Charity of St. Pius X

The Charity of St. Pius X

Dear Friends and Benefactors,

Concrete examples often convince people better than abstract principles. Last month we argued about the difference between apparent and real charity. Let us this month give a notable example, which teaches many other lessons besides, from the beginning of this century.

A book appeared recently in French (it may or not appear one day in English) entitled, "The conduct of Pius X in the fight against modernism." It contains the French translation of a document from 1950 which served in the Process of the holy Pope's Beatification and Canonization, to examine and clear away "certain objections concerning the conduct of the Servant of God in the victory over modernism".

The objections bore on three main points, but they all come down to the accusation that he lacked charity. The answer, proved by the documents quoted in this book, is that Pius X was full of charity even towards the Liberals that he rebuked and held in check, but to understand this real charity requires, as argued last month, the real Faith (no love without prior knowledge), which is why Liberals, because they do not have the real Faith, neither understood then nor understand now the charity of Pius X.

The first of the three points was Pius X's attitude towards Catholic journalism. Then as now, between the integral Catholics on the one side and worldly Liberals on the other, there were inside the Church all shades of Liberal Catholics, or Catholic Liberals, seeking to soften the antagonism between the Church and the modern world. When it came to the press, the Liberal Catholics encouraged the Catholic press (or part of it) to gain readership and influence amongst Liberals of the world by muffling their Catholic convictions and ideals, and by "tolerating" Liberal errors. No, said Pius X, rejecting this so-called "penetration press": "The truth needs no disguise; our flag must be unfurled; only by being straightforward and open can we do a little good, resisted no doubt by our adversaries, but respected by them, in such a way as to gain their admiration, and little by little to win them over to the good" (Letter of October 20, 1912, to Fr. Ciceri).

This distinction between a truly Catholic press and a semi-liberal press is necessary by way of background to understand the second of the three objections to Pius X's beatification: his conduct in the major controversy that raged in early 1911 in the Church in Northern Italy between Cardinal Ferrari of Milan and Monsignors Gottardo and Andrea Scotton of Breganza, brother priests and editors of a review called "The Rescue".

This review they had founded in 1890 with the encouragement of Pope Leo XIII, who became a regular reader, to alert Catholics to the special dangers then current of scientism (an exaggerated trust in modern science) and hedonism (the unbridled pursuit of pleasure). So when Pius X became Pope and in 1907 issued his great Encyclical letter "Pascendi" against an even greater danger from within the Church, the treacherous heresy of modernism by which churchmen, while preserving all outer appearances of the Faith, sought to transform its inner substance by adapting it to modern godlessness, it was natural for the Scotton brothers to rally to the defense of the Pope's cause. Alas, such clarity and courage were rare in the supposedly Catholic press, which dismayed Pius X by its general lack of understanding and support. So in 1908 the Scotton brothers received from Pius X through his Secretary of State a warm note of encouragement.

Now they may not always have been prudent or measured in the vigor of their attack upon modernism, but they were relying on public facts and inside information when in 1910 they declared that in the Seminary of Milan there was "a seed-bed of modernism". Cardinal Ferrari was indignant: how dare a Catholic journal so impugn the honor and integrity of the Seminary with its Professors and Superiors, and the Diocese with its Cardinal? The "good" Cardinal was convinced that there was no trace of modernism in his seminary or diocese.

However, when he complained about the Scottons to Rome in January of 1911, Cardinal De Lai replied on behalf of Pope Pius X that howsoever it might be in the Milan Seminary, the evidence indicated that there was not a little modernism in the Milan diocese, and even if the Scotton brothers had been excessive in their manner, still the present danger to the Church from modernism and the media was not the moment to come down hard on real defenders of the Faith like the Scotton brothers.

In February the Liberals seized upon this dispute between churchmen to create an uproar in the media, which made Pius X call upon all concerned to stop the polemics. However, towards the end of February, Msgr. Gottarao Scotton gave an interview to the press which made Cardinal Ferrari again complain to Rome, in the hope that Rome would silence the Scottons.

Again Cardinal De Lai replied that the Scottons were no doubt at fault, but could not the good Cardinal of Milan see that what the uproar was really about was not modernism in the Diocese of Milan, but the resistance of the anti-modernists? The Liberal Catholics wanted to smash the Scottons in order to hear no more of world and Church being irreconcilable.

In early March, the two Msgrs. Scotton wrote separately to Rome that they would do anything they were asked to do to repair their fault, while Cardinal Ferrari wrote to Rome amongst other things in defense of the Liberal Catholic paper of Milan, "The Union", which he sensed was being called in question. At the end of March, Pius X himself took up the pen to write to Cardinal Ferrari.

Like Cardinal De Lai, the Pope admitted that the Msgrs Scotton had been excessive in their manner, but he said that they had been provoked, not perhaps by any doctrinal modernism in the diocese of Milan, but certainly by a widespread practical modernism. In other words, good doctrine might be taught, but it was loosely applied. And Pius X gave the example of the Milan clergy fully supporting "The Union", a newspaper which he said left many things to be desired from a truly Catholic point of view, while the same clergy wished to exterminate "The Rescue".

On April 3 Cardinal Ferrari replied to the Pope, more or less justifying the attitude of his diocese towards the Catholic Liberal paper, "The Union", but on April 14 the Cardinal took a further astonishing step: less than three weeks after the Pope had written to him personally with a list of founded complaints against "The Union", the Cardinal gave an address to the theology students in the Milan Seminary in which he vigorously defended "The Union", and said that this was in accordance with the will of the Pope!

When this address came into the hands of Pius X, he was scandalized and so deeply hurt that he said none of the many other hurts of his pontificate could be compared with it: "Imagine a Cardinal who – on Good Friday, with a quiet conscience, deceives so many poor clerics, who tomorrow will go throughout the Diocese spreading their Archbishop's ideas as though they were the will of the Pope; tell me if my grief does not call for compassion, because "I know not which way to turn"', he wrote to his faithful Cardinal De Lai, who passed on the letter to the Cardinal of Milan.

The latter replied with a flood of tears. He is heart-broken to have offended the Pope. He is humiliated. He will be saddened to the end of his days. He begs forgiveness. He never meant to hurt the Pope. He never said a word disrespectful to the Pope, etc., etc.... As for the address to the seminarians, he never meant it to be copied down or published. All he meant to say was that "The Union" should go on improving. There had been no significant scandal in the Diocese. He was ready to take back anything he said, and would come to Rome if necessary.

When Pius X read this letter, he replied that there had in fact been great scandal in the Milan diocese because the Cardinal's defense of "The Union" had been clear and clearly understood. Let the Cardinal correct the scandal by conveying the Pope's real thinking to all concerned, but let him not come to Rome.

This last instruction was intended to calm the agitation, so that the controversy might die a quiet death, but the Liberals turned it into a refusal of the Pope to listen to his Cardinals! Thus when on the death of Pius X Cardinal Ferrari went down to Rome for the Conclave to elect his successor, to an Italian senator remarking on the people's emotion and veneration for the deceased Pope, the Cardinal sternly replied: "Yes, but he will have to give an account to God for the way in which he would abandon his bishops in the face of accusations being made against them"!

Truly, as Msgr. Benigni remarked, Cardinal Ferrari had understood nothing.

Dear readers, I cannot tell if from such a brief summary of the controversy laid out in 60 pages of the book, you have been given enough to understand this verdict of Msgr. Benigni (center of the third objection to Pius X's conduct which it will take another letter to relate). I can only assure you that from the documents themselves Cardinal Ferrari looks like a classic case of the Liberal sickness of our times: a man who is as convinced that he is Catholic and charitable, as he is blind to what the Faith and charity really mean (II Tim. III, 5).

And the disease had reached up to the level of the Cardinals at that time, but Catholic health still came from the Pope. What do you imagine happens when the disease reaches the Pope?

We had the answer a few years ago when the Pope beatified Cardinal Ferrari. Fact.

Dear readers, how can the Lord God get through to our wicked and perverse generation? Surely only by an overwhelming chastisement.

Pray steadily. Pray quietly. Pray the Rosary. Pray unceasingly, says St. Paul. There is only prayer left, said Padre Pio, who died in 1968. And take heart from the enclosed "VERBUM". These nine new priests are an answer to prayer. God will not abandon us if we do not abandon Him.

Most sincerely yours in Christ,

Bishop Richard Williamson


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