Q — “‘All the doctrinal decisions of the church are binding on a Catholic, including the Second Vatican Council and all its texts,’ Cardinal Koch said when asked if the Society of St. Pius X would be expected to accept all the teachings of Vatican II.” [Catholic News Service] But since Vatican II reversed a number of former Church teachings, are faithful Catholics now expected to also reject these earlier teachings although the SSPX refuses to do so?

A — I am simply unaware of any church teachings, in the very precise sense of doctrinal decisions, that Vatican II reversed. The tradition of the Church has grown in the past, grows now, and will continue to grow in the future. Admittedly, the Council did establish certain positions that may have seemed new but were in fact a recovery of older points of view well established in the Church’s tradition. One thinks for example, of the various modes of Christ’s presence spoken of in the Constitution on the Liturgy, par. 7. But a careful reading of the Council of Trent’s 1551 Decree on the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist would show an awareness of this eucharistic teaching, where we read: “(Christ) is nevertheless sacramentally present to us by his substance in many other places in a mode of existing which, though we can hardly express it in words, we can grasp with minds enlightened by faith as possible to God and must most firmly believe.” The same perspective is reiterated in Pope Pius XII’s encyclical on the liturgy, Mediator Dei, par. 20.

It is true that, for example, the notion of episcopal collegiality found in Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church seemed new, but that also was a retrieval of tradition. The bishops of the Church are not simply sub Petro, “under Peter,” but also cum Petro, “with Peter.” Nonetheless, I would say that the more positive and open attitudes found to other Christians in the Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio), and to other religions found in the Declaration on the Church’s Relation to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate) were significantly new developments of our Catholic tradition.