Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton: A Prophet
Vatican II May Fail
by John Vennari
Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton was one of the most eminent
theologians of 20th Century America. He was trained at the Angelicum in
Rome and did his doctoral dissertation under the revered theologian,
Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. From 1944 to 1963, he was editor
of the theological journal, the American Ecclesiastical Review. He also
defended the doctrine "outside the Church there is no salvation," and
upheld the traditional Papal Teaching on the Confessional State.
In the October 1962 American Ecclesiastic Review, Msgr. Fenton
published an article entitled, "The Virtue of Prudence and the Success
of the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council." It seems to be the only
article from the period which leveled the sober warning: Do not think
that just because this Council has been called, it will automatically be
Fenton noted that the announcements regarding the upcoming
council always called upon the Faithful to offer prayers for its
success. He was worried, however, that the call for prayer lacked any
note of urgency. It seemed as if it were nothing more than a pious
No, Fenton remonstrated, the Faithful must pray diligently for
the success of the Council, because there is the real possibility that
the Council may be a failure.
He said that many "imagine that the Council will automatically be a
success, and that, as a result, there is no particular need of any
prayers for the attainment of the ends for which it was conceived and
summoned. Many seem to have imagined that the calling of an ecumenical
council was like pushing a magic button, which would automatically and
painlessly do away with all of the difficulties being faced by the true
Church of Jesus Christ during the second half of the 20th Century. And,
as is obvious from a study of the history of previous general councils,
and from the consideration of the very nature of the Catholic Church, it
is plain that there could be no more serious misconception. The fact of
the matter is that the success of the ecumenical council really depends
on the effectiveness and the ardor of the prayers of the Faithful."
He then lays out what the Council will have to achieve in order
to be considered a success:
"In order to be successful, in order to accomplish the purpose
for which it has been called into being, the ecumenical council must
speak out effectively and adequately against the doctrinal aberrations
which are endangering the Faith, and hence the entire spiritual life, of
the Faithful at the time the council is working.
"Furthermore, in the disciplinary field, it is impossible for
an ecumenical council to attain its purpose unless it sets forth
regulations and directives which tend to achieve the following
"First, these disciplinary decrees must be such as to make it
easier for the Faithful in the state of friendship for God to advance in
"Second, they must be so calculated as to make it easier for
those who are members of the Church and who are not living the life of
grace to return to the friendship of God.
"And finally, they must be such as to aid in the conversion of
non-Catholics to the one and only true Church of Jesus Christ."
Along the same line, he elaborated, "those who are not favored
with membership in the Church [should] be able to see even more clearly
that the presently existing visible Catholic Church is really the one
and only supernatural kingdom of God on earth."
Again, he warns, "It is by no means automatically certain the
council will be successful, speaking from the point of view of this
As if predicting the future, Fenton closes: "It is possible
that the council might act other than with the fullness of supernatural
prudence. It is possible that, seen it this perspective, it may not be
Tragically, the Council has been a failure on the very points
spotlighted by Msgr. Fenton.
The Council did not speak out effectively against the doctrinal
aberrations of the time. In fact, it made everything far worse, due to
its liberalization and Protestantization of doctrine. As a result, it
has shattered the interior unity of Catholics who have never been more
divided amongst themselves.
As far as disciplinary measures:
1) The Council has not made it easier for the Faithful in their
friendship of God to advance in His love. If anything, tens of
thousands of Catholics have ceased practicing their religion since the
Council became the progressivist revolution that the Council generated:
especially regarding liturgy.
2) The Council has not made it easier for fallen away Catholics
to return to the Church. In fact, the liberal reforms from the Council
have generated a massive falling away of Catholics from the practice of
the Faith, not to mention the mass defections of thousands of priests
and religious from their sacred vocation.
3) The Council has not been an aid in the conversion of the
non-Catholics to the one and only true Church of Jesus Christ. Cardinals
Ratzinger, Cassidy and Kasper have openly stated, in defiance of the
thrice defined infallible dogma that there is no salvation outside the
Cathol Church, that it is no longer necessary for the non-Catholic to
convert to the one true Church of Christ for unity and salvation. The
Council's new orientation stands in rebellion to traditional Church
Thus, the Council has been a failure. Its ecumenism, a