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Rhine group vs. the Curia
“There is nothing new under the sun,” states the book of Ecclesiastes.
The saying is applicable to Germany’s ongoing Synodal Way, which did not appear from nowhere.
William Mahoney joins us this evening to talk about dissent in Germany culminating at the Second Vatican Council.
In tonight’s In-Depth report, we’ll look into Fr. Ralph Wiltgen’s book originally titled The Rhine Flows into the Tiber, which meticulously details what might be considered a prelude to what’s happening now with the Church in Germany.
During the First Vatican Council in 1869 and 1870, the administrative body of the Holy See known as the Curia held the majority, while the German-speaking and French bishops held the minority.
But in the first month of the Second Vatican Council in 1962, the German-speaking and French bishops managed to seize control of the council’s operations by means of a well-organized minority of liberal-minded bishops and theologians.
The activities of this so-called progressive group ― commonly called the “European alliance” or “Rhine group” ― are detailed in Fr. Wiltgen’s book.
The Rhine, a major European river, begins in the Swiss Alps and flows through the borders of Liechtenstein, Austria, France and Germany before emptying into the North Sea through the Netherlands.
Wiltgen shows how these countries unified to put their own men in control. The group consisted of liberal-bent prelates and periti, or theological advisors, such as Austrian Cdl. Franz König, Swiss Jesuit Hans Küng, French Dominican Yves Congar, German Jesuit Karl Rahner, German Cdl. Julius Döpfner, German Cdl. Augustin Bea and Dutch Cdl. Bernardus Alfrink with his private Dominican adviser, Edward Schillebeeckx.
The end of Vatican II’s first session in 1962 was marked by a rejection of orthodox schemas to which Hans Küng remarked: “No one who was here for the Council will go back home as he came. I myself never expected so many bold and explicit statements from the bishops on the Council floor.”
Küng, who died last year, was a household name in unorthodox theology for nearly six decades.
In his book, The Beginning of All Things: Science and Religion, Küng denied Original Sin, the Immaculate Conception, the Virgin Birth and Christ’s two natures as theological constructs of popular piety unacceptable to scientists.
Schillebeeckx was investigated three times during his academic career by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for straying from Catholic teaching.
And though the Church never condemned Schillebeeckx’s writings officially, the Magisterium has rejected some of his heretical theories, including one on the Holy Eucharist that contradicts the Church’s official teaching on transubstantiation.
And the list of the Rhine group’s experts in dissidence continues, along with the German-speaking, Dutch and French cardinals and bishops who agreed with them.
While Church historians use liberal–conservative language to explain the Rhine group versus the mostly Italian Curia, it’s not ultimately about left or right, but about how many souls go up or down.
The Rhine Flows Into The Tiber was hailed as highly accurate, even by Yves Congar, who said “Father Wiltgen … was remarkably well-informed and his report, which shows the unfolding of the entire council, is full of precise details.”
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