Explosive Background on Vatican II
The Personal Diaries of
Mgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton
Then-Fr. Fenton (right) in 1948 with Fr. James E. Rea (left),
Fr. Gerard Yelle (center), and Fr. Francis J. Connell (seated)
Monsignor Joseph Clifford Fenton was a priest of the diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts, ordained in 1930. He taught at the Catholic University of America and served as editor of the American Ecclesiastical Review from 1943-1963. In 1931, he received his doctorate degree in Sacred Theology from the Angelicum in Rome. His dissertation was written under the direction of Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. (d. 1964) and was published in expanded form ten years later as The Concept of Sacred Theology (Bruce Publishing).
Under Pope Pius XII, Fenton was named monsignor and received various papal honors (source). He published numerous books and distinguished himself as a gifted, competent, and orthodox Catholic theologian entirely loyal to the Magisterium of the Church. Over the years, Fenton battled many Modernist errors and engaged in heated polemics with their proponents. In particular, he forcefully refuted the error of religious liberty promoted by Jesuit Fr. John Courtney Murray, which later became Novus Ordo doctrine. At the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), Fenton was a theological expert (peritus) for Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, the then-Secretary of the Holy Office, who was also a personal friend of Fenton’s.
A number of Mgr. Fenton’s personal diaries have been preserved in an archive of the Catholic University of America. Now, for the first time ever, these journals have been scanned and made available online for worldwide public perusal. We are pleased to share the links with you in an effort to further a greater and more accurate understanding of the true history of the Second Vatican Council and the theological struggles that occurred between Catholics and Modernists before, during, and after the council.
What follows is a list of links to the individual diaries available — numerous explosive quotes from the various journals are found further below in this post.
Mgr. Fenton’s Diaries Online
(in chronological order — titles are Fenton’s own)
Please Note: Each link leads to an external page from which you can download the diary as a PDF file; these files are large (anywhere from 20 to 150 MB each), so keep this in mind as you try to download or open them.
- The Journal of a Trip to Rome (1948)
- The Journal of a Pilgrimage [Europe] (1950)
- Ninth Trip to Rome (May 1954-June 1955)
- My Tenth Trip to Rome, also the Eleventh, Twelth, and Thirteenth Trips (August 1955-September 1958)
- My 1958 Trip to Rome and Lourdes (continuation of my previous journal); My 1960 Trip to Rome (1958-1960)
- Notes of my previous fourteenth Trip to Rome continued from the previous volume 11/18/1960 (November 18, 1960-December 12, 1960)
- The Continuation of the Chronicle of my Fourteenth Trip to Rome (December 13, 1960-January 28, 1961)
- The Continuation of the Journal of my Fourteenth Trip to Rome; Beginning of the Journal of my fifteenth trip to Rome (October 1960-September 1961)
- Journal of the Sixteenth, Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Trips to Rome (March 1962-February 1963)
- Journal of a Trip to Rome (1963-1965)
- Journals of the 23rd, 25th, 26th and 27th Trips to Rome (1966)
These diaries, which also provide unique insight into the mind of the competent and zealous anti-Modernist Fenton and make known interesting details about other theologians, are sometimes quoted and cited in various scholarly publications, such as the multi-volume History of Vatican II by Giuseppe Alberigo/Joseph Komonchak (full disclosure: we make a small commission on purchases made through this link).
We have had photocopies of a number of these diaries in our possession for a while, and were eventually going to scan and publish them, but we are delighted to see that this work has now already been done for us by the Washington Research Library Consortium.
Of greatest interest to most, of course, will be what Fenton wrote about his struggles against the Modernists during the pontificate of Pope Pius XII, when a lot of errors were being fought that later resurfaced at Vatican II, and about the council itself and the theological discussions that took place behind the scenes. Fenton had a direct connection with Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani at the Vatican, which gave him much more influence than other theologians had, and also more inside information.
For example, Fenton knew that the Holy Office under Pope Pius XII was preparing to condemn Fr. John Courtney Murray, S.J., and also Jacques Maritain for various doctrinal errors — a condemnation which, however, came to an abrupt halt when Pius XII died on October 9, 1958 (see “The Censuring of John Courtney Murray”, Part II [PDF], by Robert Nugent in The Catholic World [Mar/Apr 2008]) and didn’t materialize after the Modernist Angelo Roncalli (“Pope” and now “Saint” John XXIII) usurped the papal throne later that same month. In fact, Roncalli made Murray a theological expert at the council, and his successor, Giovanni Battista Montini (“Pope” Paul VI), later elevated Murray’s error on religious liberty to official conciliar teaching.
Though Fenton assisted Ottaviani with drafting various preliminary documents (schemata) for the council to be debated on the floor, at the order of John XXIII all of them were discarded after the council began, and entirely new texts were drawn up in which the Modernist “New Theologians” had the greatest influence (names like Rahner, Ratzinger, von Balthasar, Congar, Chenu, Murray, and de Lubac come to mind). Good Mgr. Fenton was hospitalized several times during the council for heart problems, so he was not able to participate in the pre-conciliar and conciliar discussions and sessions at all times.
The Fenton diaries are of great import also because they give a glimpse into how this anti-modernist theologian tried to cope afterwards with the doctrinal, pastoral, and liturgical disorder the council had produced. Although, from all we have been able to ascertain, there is no evidence that Fenton was ever a sedevacantist, he also knew that the novel “recognize-and-resist” position, so popular among traditionalists (especially the Society of St. Pius X) today, was not an option. The idea of each individual believer sifting church teaching and then “resisting” conciliar errors, while still recognizing the council and the hierarchy as legitimate, was certainly foreign to him.
From what can be gleaned from his diaries, Fenton attempted — as did most priests at the time, of course — to reconcile the teachings of Vatican II with the prior, Catholic magisterium. We must keep in mind, however, that documents and other information back then were not as readily available as they are to us now, and certainly Fenton did not have the benefit of 50 years’ hindsight as we do today with regard to the Novus Ordo Church’s magisterial explanations, clarifications, and developments after the council, which have clearly resolved any ambiguity contained in the conciliar documents themselves in favor of error, not orthodoxy (religious liberty being a case in point).
In any case, Fenton’s journals are an incredibly valuable resource for the historical study of Vatican II, the Modernist errors, and the usurpation of the papal throne in 1958. We share the links to these diaries in order to allow the objective historical record to speak for itself, not to spin the post-Vatican II Fenton in any particular direction.
Mgr. Joseph Fenton died of a heart attack in his sleep on July 7, 1969, less than 5 months before Paul VI’s imposition of the Novus Ordo Missae as the liturgical norm in the Latin rite. The last diary entry is dated March 27, 1969. May he rest in peace.
We now proceed to present to you a select few striking and revealing quotes found in the Fenton diaries.
“If I did not believe God, I would be convinced that the Catholic Church was about to end.” —Mgr. Joseph C. Fenton on Vatican II, Nov. 23, 1962
Highlights from the Fenton Diaries
Before, During, and After Vatican II:
- “Our Maltese friend (who was born in Alexandria) told us that he saw Spelly [Cardinal Francis Spellman] coming out of the  conclave looking white and shaken.” (Nov. 2, 1960)
- “To me the condition here in Rome is an evidence of the existence of the Church as a miracle of the social order. In general it is being run by men who have no concern whatsoever for the purity or the integrity of the Catholic doctrine. And yet, when the chips are down, the doctrine of Christ always comes through.” (Nov. 5, 1960)
- “The council will not be allowed to fail. This trip has taught me one thing: I definitely am a believer. It has also shown me that some of the leaders in the Church appear not to believe.” (Nov. 5, 1960)
- “These are four propositions handed to me under the SHO by the then Laodicea in Phrygia 11/28/54. They were also delivered to [Fr.] Frank Connell… There has never been anything less effective in the Church than a secret condemnation of an error.” (Mar. 16, 1962)
- “He [Cardinal Ottaviani] remarked that we were on the eve of the Council, and that no one knew who the Council’s theologians were to be.” (Sept. 28, 1962)
- “It is a crime that we did not take the Anti-Modernist Oath. Poor O[ttaviani] must have failed to have our own profession passed by the central commission. It contained his condemnation of [Fr. John Courtney] Murray.” (Oct. 9, 1962)
- “I had always thought that this council was dangerous. It was started for no sufficient reason. There was too much talk about what it was supposed to accomplish. Now I am afraid that real trouble is on the way.” (Oct. 13, 1962)
- “I started to read the material on the Liturgy, and I was shocked at the bad theology. They actually have been stupid enough [to say] that the Church is ‘simul humanam et divininam, visibilem et invisibilem’ [at the same time human and divine, visible and invisible]. And they speak of the Church working ‘quousque unum ovile fiat et unus pastor’ [until there be one fold and one shepherd], as if that condition were not already achieved.” (Oct. 19, 1962)
- “I do not think that any little work on our part is going to bring good to the Church. We should, I believe, face the facts. Since the death of [Pope] St. Pius X the Church has been directed by weak and liberal popes, who have flooded the hierarchy with unworthy and stupid men. This present conciliar set-up makes this all the more apparent. [Fr.] Ed Hanahoe, the only intelligent and faithful member of [Cardinal] Bea’s secretariat has been left off the list of the periti. Such idiots as [Mgr. John S.] Quinn and the sneak [Fr. Frederick] McManus have been put on. [Fr. George] Tavard is there as an American, God help us. From surface appearance it would seem that the Lord Christ is abandoning His Church. The thoughts of many are being revealed. As one priest used to say, to excuse his own liberalism, which, in the bottom of his heart he knew was wrong, ‘for the last few decades the tendency in Rome has been to favor the liberals.’ That is the policy now. We can only do what we can to overt an ever more complete disloyalty to Christ.” (Oct. 19, 1962)
- “As far as I can see the Church is going to be very badly hurt by this council. The opposition between the liberals and the loyal Catholics has been brought out into the open. Yesterday a Dutch (Holland) bishop gave a nasty talk in which he claimed to be speaking for all of his countrymen. He charged that the claims (really statements of fact) about theological imperfection in the schema were ‘exaggerated.’ The poor fellow seemed to imagine that a little lack of precision is all right in a conciliar document. I am disgusted with talk of this kind.” (Oct. 27, 1962)
- “The sense or feeling of this gathering seems to be entirely liberal. I am anxious to get home. I am afraid that there is nothing at all that I can do here. Being in the council is, of course, the great experience of my life. But, at the same time, it has been a frightful disappointment. I never thought that the episcopate was so liberal. This is going to mark the end of the Catholic religion as we have known it. There will be vernacular Masses, and, worse still, there will be some wretched theology in the constitutions.” (Oct. 31, 1962)
- “[Fr. Sebastiaan] Tromp has just pointed out that a pastoral council should not be non-doctrinal. Tromp is being very good. He is defending the schemata. He definitely is not giving a break to the opposition. We are hearing history. What is the theological note of what is contained in the theological or doctrinal constitution? Absolutely certain — at least.” (Nov. 13, 1962)
- “At the Pope’s own order the rules were changed and the schema was thrown out. A new commission was set up including Cardinal Meyer, Alfrink, and Lienart.” (Nov. 23, 1962)
- “They plan to leave off this television nonsense in a day or two, and then take up the Church Unity then. That will be a disaster. If I did not believe God, I would be convinced that the Catholic Church was about to end.” (Nov. 23, 1962)
- “…some other people believe what I have thought for several months, namely, that John XXIII is definitely a lefty. This nonsense to the effect that he is ‘deceived’ or ‘mal servite’ is disgraceful. He is the boss.” (Nov. 25, 1962)
- “The articles in the Milan Corriere della Sera tell of the Pope’s connection with [the excommunicated Modernist priest Fr. Ernesto] Buonaiuti, and they make him look like a real Modernist, at heart. He probably is.” (Nov. 26, 1962)
- “I am afraid that they are going to foist a lot of nonsense on the poor Catholic people.” (Mar. 6, 1963)
- “Liberal Catholicism as understood by these men was and is the system of thought by which the teaching of the Catholic Church were represented as compatible with the maxim that guided the French Revolution.” (May 11, 1963)
- “The statement of the Council is not a theological text book. At the same time, however, a declaration by a council can cause confusion or finally can actually be harmful when even though there is no error about faith or morals in it, the statement passes over Truths which are, and which have long been generally been recognized as, assertions of Catholic doctrine.” (May 11, 1963)
- “[Fr.] Ed Hanahoe gave me two books on Modernism. In one of them I found evidence that the teaching in the first chapter of the new schema on the Church [the one that became the Vatican II dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium] and the language are those of [the excommunicated Modernist Fr. George] Tyrrell. May God preserve His Church from that chapter. If it passes, it will be a great evil. I must pray and act.” (Sept. 24, 1963)
- “There is nothing erroneous in the material [in the schema on divine revelation] we have passed. But there is a great deal that is incomplete and misleading.” (June 4, 1964)
- “M [Fr. John Courtney Murray] has just come in to see the triumph of his false doctrine [of religious liberty].” (Sept. 21, 1964)
- “[Cardinal] Lienart is speaking. He is insisting that all Christians have the Jews as a common source. He ignores the fact that the religion of Israel and Juda before the public life [of Christ] was one thing, and past. Christian Judaism is quite another. The center of Jewish religion after Christ is and has been the denial of Christ.” (Sept. 28, 1964)
- “The more I hear of the speeches and of the progressiveness, the more I am aware of the fact that this council is one of the most important events in all the history of the Church.” (Oct. 9, 1964)
- “[Fr.] Charles Davis has inherited [Fr. Hans] Kung’s position as king of the nuts.” (Nov. 16, 1964)
- “Of course I realize that I did a stupid thing in asking for the parish and that Chris [Bp. Christopher Weldon] did a stupid and mean thing in giving me [St. Patrick’s church in] Chicopee Falls.” (Nov. 16, 1964)
- “[Mgr.] Joseph Quinn just told me that the H.O. [Holy Office] is being abolished and that Card. Ottaviani will not be the head of the new, non-supreme, congregation which will take its place. The old man is being humiliated. He is a saint.” (Nov. 21, 1964)
- “Since coming here I have been obsessed with the idea of writing a book ‘To Be a Priest.’ Then, the night before last (during which I did not sleep at all) I had the inspiration to write what would really be ‘To be a Priest in the Church after Vat. II.’ I think I have something. It will give me the chance to comment on some of the schemata.” (Oct. 26, 1965)
- “The part on ecumenism [in the text of the commission] is a joke. It reads like a 19th century text, or a second-rate article in a leftist magazine.” (Oct. 28, 1965)
- “The day before yesterday I had dinner with O [Cardinal Ottaviani]. On the way back I found that the Pope had written to O about [schema no.] 13. I saw the letter. It was a great mistake to let that one, the one on religious liberty [which became Dignitatis Humanae], and the one on non-Christian religions [which became Nostra Aetate] get by the council.” (Nov. 26, 1965)
- “This afternoon John McCarthy called. He is a believer, and he has some confidence in Montini [Paul VI]. He told me that O[ttaviani] has written some articles entirely revising his old position. It must have been under pressure from Montini.” (Sept. 24, 1966)
- “The Pope [Paul VI] was extremely kind to me. He said over and over again ‘This man is my friend.’ He told those around him to give me anything I wanted. He spoke of our friendship as going back 30 years. Actually it dates back to 1948.” (Nov. 22, 1968, referring to an occurrence on Oct. 16, 1968)
- “I have just about made up my mind to start a new book. I shall write on the notion of the Church. Nothing like this has appeared since the Council. Within the book I hope to have quite a bit to say about the Council. I must be very careful. If a sincere Catholic writes a book it’s either ignored or brutally attacked. I must make no mistakes. My main thesis will have to be that the Catholic theology on the Church has been improved but in no way changed by the Council. I must start with the basic notion of the Church, which is that of a people ‘transferred’ from the kingdom of darkness into the realm of light. The Council left out the background of the Church. It minimized or glossed over the fact that the Church faces opposition, not just from hostile individuals, but from the ‘world.’” (Nov. 23, 1968)
- “Thoughts for writing: 1) The ‘for all men’ [as an English translation of pro multis in the canon of the Mass]; 2) Perjury & the Anti-Modernist Oath; 3) Only the historian can judge heresy – a statement by a pretender in the field of theology.” (Mar. 27, 1969)
Please share this information with anyone you know who loves the holy Catholic Church and is concerned about what has happened since the death of Pope Pius XII and the Second Vatican Council.
Image sources: Wikimedia Commons / Fenton Diaries via Catholic University of America / Fenton Diaries
Licenses: CC BY 3.0 / fair use / fair use