The Wanderer, a periodical that has done some good work over the years chronicling the antics of an American hierarchy almost too contemptible to be worth discussing, is attacking traditionalists again. Many readers will remember the attacks of Stephen Hand two years ago, inanely comparing traditionalists with modernists because both criticize some of the actions of the hierarchy. Chris Ferrara and I responded to each of his articles with essays of our own, and we were gratified to find that quite a few people became traditionalists as a direct result of reading both sides of our exchange with Hand. Such figures include Peter Miller, who now runs www.SeattleCatholic.com, one of the best traditionalist Internet sites, and Gladden Pappin, editor of the Harvard Salient.
Hand, by the way, after coming out in favor of optional celibacy in the priesthood, is now defending the bizarre ceremonies that accompanied the opening of Cardinal Mahony's alleged cathedral in Los Angeles. His only criticism was that "the poor" were not given ample opportunity to attend, though some of us suspect that this was a sign of God's mercy toward the poor.
There have been other attacks, both before and since, too numerous to mention, all of them unprovoked. But The Wanderer professes to be shocked-----shocked!-----that traditionalists are at last beginning to fight back against the slander, the name-calling, and the ridiculous and absurd caricatures of our position.
I was the subject of the most recent attack-----a 2700-word article that appeared in the September 5 Wanderer. [I just learned that The Wanderer refuses even to publish a letter to the editor I wrote in my own defense-----a puerile breach of basic editorial courtesy that no traditionalist publication would engage in. Writer Paul Likoudis, in his "From the Mail" column, was hysterically upset about an article called "PC in the Catholic Church" that I had written for Lew Rockwell.com, one of my favorite web sites. My arguments, he said, amounted to "a pile of dung". How lovely.
Among other things, Likoudis attempts to claim that in fact the "regime of novelty" that I mentioned in my article and that Chris Ferrara and I chronicle in our recent book The Great Facade: Vatican II and the Regime of Novelty in the Roman Catholic Church, actually originated before Vatican II. "Geriatric Marxists like former Victoria [B.C.] Bishop Remi de Roo," Likoudis writes, "have admitted they launched the project for a 'new catechism' before 1959." But good grief-----a bunch of loonies launching "projects" is not a regime of novelty. What Chris Ferrara and I are talking about is indeed a regime, in which novel practices and attitudes are consistently and systematically foisted on the Catholic population by figures at all levels of governance. There was nothing even approaching that before Vatican II, and Likoudis knows it.
This is a fairly typical argument, though, of those who weave apologias for revolutions: the old days weren't really so good after all. Every revolution systematically denigrates what preceded it. In our own society, whenever a conservative laments the dissolution of the traditional family, some leftist comes along and denies that the traditional family was ever really as stable or widespread as we nostalgics like to claim. And here is Likoudis perfectly, if unwittingly, fulfilling that revolutionary role: do not criticize the revolution, comrade, for things were no better in the days of your ancestors.
Likoudis continues in this vein: "To blame the Popes, the Second Vatican Council, and the Mass for the Church's present scandals is to take a very unhistorical view of the past 150 years or so. As far back as 1877, John Henry Cardinal Newman-----who thought he was living in a 'Second Spring' of the Church-----opined: 'As to the prospects of the Church . . . my apprehensions are not new, but above 50 years standing. I have all that time thought that a time of widespread infidelity was coming, and through all those years the waters have in fact been rising as a deluge. I look for the time, after my fife, when only the tops of the mountains will be seen, like islands in the waste of waters'."
So Cardinal Newman saw difficult times ahead. So what? So did Blessed Pius IX, Leo XIII, St. Pius X, Pius XI, and Pius XII. Each of them, however, through good governance, staved off disaster. Interestingly, the only Popes who spoke with optimism about the state of the world were John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II, the three Popes who had the least grounds for optimism.
Yet again, we have, in Likoudis' remark, one of the most disturbing aspects of neo-Catholicism: the almost desperate desire to disparage the state of the Church before Vatican II, in order to shift the blame for the post-conciliar debacle away from the Council. [The completely ahistorical idea that no ecumenical council could ever do damage to the Church is refuted by the disastrous Second Council of Constantinople of 553, which I discussed in these pages earlier this year and which we treat at length in The Great Facade.]
There were problems before Vatican II, of course, as there always will be in this vale of tears, but the state of the Church earlier in the 20th Century was obviously one of great health and vigor, as even Pope John XXIII admitted at the beginning of the Council. Speaking of the situation in America between 1884 and 1921, historian Theodore Maynard writes:
"The Catholic population of America had increased from about seven million to nearly twenty million, the number of priests-----secular and religious-----from 7,000 to 20,000, the bishoprics from fifty-five to over a hundred. And this does not take any account of auxiliaries or coadjutors or vicars-apostolic. Meanwhile the religious orders had grown so rapidly, both with regard to the number of orders working in this country and to the houses they had, that it would be impossible to tabulate concisely what had happened. But taking one fact that will perhaps reveal the extent of the work of organization, the Age of Gibbons closed with about seventy orders of men in the United States, including
teaching and nursing Brothers, and about two hundred orders of women."
For some reason, this kind of growth leaves Mr. Likoudis unimpressed, determined as he apparently is to prove that things just couldn't have been so good back then. I read the private papers and published writings of many hundreds of pre-conciliar priests for the doctoral dissertation I completed at Columbia University in the year 2000 [and which, by next year, will likely be published as my next book]. What I found was that even more significant than this astonishing growth was the fact that. these priests and religious looked, dressed, spoke, and wrote like Catholics, and Catholics determined to convert America to Catholicism. Converting America to Catholicism-----the very suggestion would elicit either smiles or scorn from the products of the typical seminary or religious order of today, as Likoudis well knows.
As for the hierarchy, all one has to do is read some of the correspondence among the bishops in the decades prior to Vatican II. They all sound, well, rather like Bishop Fellay. They speak about the salvation of souls, about protecting the innocence of children, about combating liberalism-----and all this at a time when society was in much better shape than it is today!
Likoudis knows as well as I do the condition of the Church now-----widespread unbelief, heterodoxy, heresy, indifferentism, and much worse. It is a miracle to find an RCIA program that actually teaches the Catholic faith, or a parish that features anything approaching liturgical dignity, or a priest who wouldn't be embarrassed by the Syllabus, if he even knows what it is. Modernism, novelty, systematic desacralization, and all of this as a coherent and internally consistent program-----nothing like this existed before Vatican II, and Likoudis should be honest and sensible enough to admit it.
Desperate to show that the post-conciliar debacle really isn't so unusual, Likoudis asks: "If the Mass of Pius V could work such miracles, why did Sweden, Denmark, England, northern Germany, and half of France reject it? Why did so many Catholics formed by the Mass of Pius V become leading Marxist revolutionaries, such as the architect of Quebec's 'Quiet Revolution,' Fr. George Henri Levesque, O.P., and his disciple, Pierre Trudeau?" It's almost embarrassing to have to point this out, but if Likoudis' argument were valid, then we may as well ask, "If the Catholic Church could work such miracles, why was there a French Revolution? Why were there World Wars I and II? Why has there been such systematic secularization of society for the past several hundred years?"
"We're living in a strange epoch," Likoudis writes, "when thousands of years of civilized behavior -----pleasant things such as respect for parents and elders, piety, simplicity, honesty-----are vanishing. The duty of every Catholic in such times is to pray for the Holy Father, not to dump barrels of corrosive criticism over his every word and gesture." Needless to say, I agree wholeheartedly with Likoudis' assessment of the present age, but this is precisely why the present pontificate has been so disappointing. Especially at a time like this, when civilization itself appears to hang in the balance, nothing less than the full Catholic faith will do. Catholics and non-Catholics alike need to hear Catholicism from the Pope, not ceaseless UN-speak, ecumenism, and the civilization of love.
Under normal conditions, of course, criticism of the Pope would scarcely enter an orthodox Catholic's mind. But Likoudis believes it is, essentially, never justified. "It may well be that many of us may secretly desire that he defrock bishops, send Cardinals into prison ministry, issue anathemas, and so on, but it is not for any of us to judge the Holy Father, not just because we do not know all the things he knows, but because it is simply not the right thing to do-----unless we happen to be St. Bernard of Clairvaux or St. Catherine of Siena."
This argument, which has been repeated endlessly for the past forty years, is apparently about the best the neo-Catholics can come up with. First of all, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux didn't know he was Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, and like all Saints would have indignantly rejected the suggestion. By that standard, then, no one would ever be allowed to criticize the Pope.
More importantly, though, St. Thomas Aquinas nowhere claims perfect sanctity as a prerequisite for speaking out against injustice and abuse at the highest level. To the contrary, St. Thomas says that one who criticizes his superior is not claiming superiority in all things:
"To presume oneself to be simply better than one's prelate, would seem to savor of presumptuous pride; but there is no presumption in thinking oneself better in some respect, because, in this life, no man is without some fault. We must also remember that when a man reproves his prelate charitably, it does not. follow that he thinks himself any better, but merely that he offers his help to one who, 'being in the higher position among you, is therefore in greater danger,' as Augustine observes in his Rule quoted above."
St. Thomas also defends public rebuke of prelates:
"It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter's subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith, and, as the gloss of Augustine says in Gal. 2: 11, 'Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects'."
Not a single American bishop has spoken up against the notorious document released recently against the idea of an evangelical mission to the Jews. This is about as close to apostasy as one can get, and yet the man who is the chief teacher of the Catholic Church has said nothing against it. Souls hang in the balance, and all we get is silence. Is this not a situation in which St. Thomas would obviously defend and even encourage public rebuke of a prelate-----in this case, the Pope? I very much hope Mr. Likoudis does not embarrass himself by attempting to devise some excuse for his papal inaction, for there can be none.
Likoudis has no answer at all when non-Catholics want to know what possible reason there could be for the Pope's refusal to take dramatic action-----by personally rebuking and then removing at least the worst of the present crop of bishops-----in response to the present scandals. Am I really expected to tell people that the Pope is immune. from normal standards of behavior because, after all, criticizing him "is simply not the right thing to do"? That reply would need serious improvement even to qualify as lame.
The implication that runs throughout all this analysis is that John Paul really is one of us, that he would like to carry out the wholesale house cleaning that we would all like to see but that circumstances render him helpless to carry it out. In other words, in his beliefs and outlook John Paul is essentially Paul Likoudis, and therefore if he had his way would certainly carry out all the disciplinary actions that Likoudis says we might "secretly" want to see. The flaw in this reasoning, a flaw that renders the whole thesis utterly implausible, is that John Paul is neither Paul Likoudis nor The Wanderer, and really does not feel the way they do about a whole variety of important matters.
As we show in The Great Facade, this Pope has done things that neo-Catholics themselves would never dream of doing, and that they would likely condemn in anyone but the Pope, for whom such actions suddenly become strokes of genius by virtue of his having performed them. He is more enthusiastic about Focolare and the charismatic movement and its attendant hysteria than he is about the movement that seeks to restore the traditional Mass of his own Church. He has quoted favorably from Teilhard de Chardin, whose baneful influence on the Church hardly needs elaboration; he has made scores upon scores of "apologies" for the alleged sins of dead Catholics, a politically correct charade for which The Wanderer condemns other bishops even though they are only following the Pope's example; he has kissed the Koran, the Muslim holy book [thereby permanently scandalizing countless Protestants who, barring a miracle of grace, are now permanently closed to Catholic apologetics]; and he has publicly prayed, "May St. John the Baptist protect Islam."
And this is only the tip of the iceberg. What is it going to take before people like Mr. Likoudis begin to realize that one of the reasons the Pope hasn't moved against certain problems in the Church is that he in fact supports and is the chief example of much of what is wrong? That is a bitter pill to swallow, to be sure, but there is nothing to be gained by pretending otherwise, despite the fact that certain figures within the neo-Catholic establishment have made entire careers out of doing just that. John Paul has an occasional criticism of modern liturgy, for instance, but by and large he celebrates the post-conciliar "renewal," despite seeing, in all his travels, all the indignities and sacrilege that we see. Like any liberal, he is profoundly uncomfortable with the exercise of authority. At least as important, though, is that in his heart of hearts, John Paul is well to the left of Mr. Likoudis-----to say nothing of all his pre-conciliar predecessors. That is simply a fact.
But since Likoudis assumes that the Pope thinks as he does, he and The Wanderer are always at the ready with a ceaseless series of excuses for the Pope's lax governance, or manufactured explanations for the Pope's occasionally scandalous behavior. The problem is, none of these excuses appears to have occurred to the Pope himself, who never accompanies his actions with the disclaimers the neo-Catholics are so ready to provide for him in their exegesis of the latest John Paul novelty.
A priest respected by a great many traditionalists recently revealed to me what he thinks is behind the increasing hysteria and irrationality of recent neo-Catholic commentary. It's pride, he says. It is increasingly obvious that we have been right all along, and they wrong-----dramatically and catastrophically so. But it is difficult for them to admit this to themselves. Instead, they carry on, going through the motions, making up excuses for the present regime that, being intelligent men, they cannot in their heart of hearts honestly believe. As Chris Ferrara and I note in The Great Facade, the typical person we describe as a neo-Catholic accepted the post-conciliar changes in good faith. Our critique of neo-Catholics is not that they are wicked men; on a personal level they can be quite exemplary men. Our point is that they have adopted a position so full of inconsistencies as to be intellectually untenable, and that has made the crisis worse by giving undeserved intellectual cover [by means of the endless supply of excuses for Rome's behavior] to those who are doing the Church such manifest harm. The more of them who begin to see that-----and their number has increased considerably over the past year alone-----the more hopeful we can be about the future of the Church.
The principal enemy standing in the way of this happy outcome is pride. Many neo-Catholics have much personal prestige invested in that system. Let us hope that they make the right choice when the realization dawns on them that, ultimately, they must choose between saving face and saving the Church.
EDITOR'S NOTES: We have received the gracious permission of John Vennari, editor of Catholic Family News to reprint various articles that have appeared in his publication that would be of interest to our readers. We urge you to subscribe to John's excellent monthly publication for only $20 a year by calling 1-905-871-6292 or e-mail them at CFN.
For past TRADITIONAL THOUGHTS articles, see www.DailyCatholic.org/2002tra.htm Archives