Thursday, August 3, 2023

Humanae Vitae and the End of the Devotional Papacy

 As mentioned in the previous installment, the papacy during the time from 1860 to 1960 was a carefully managed play where Popes had theoretically great power, but that power was very limited in the wider world.  Within the Church, this power was viewed to be supreme, and the papacy came to be viewed as less in terms of governance and more in terms of devotional spirituality.  Yet behind this wall of devotion, Popes attempt to manipulate the levers of power as best they could.

With a diminution in temporal power, the Popes attempted to increase their centralized power within the Church.  It was within this timeframe that the Pope began to claim (if you believe Eamon Duffy, then out of nowhere) the right to centralize episcopal appointments entirely within Rome within the Latin Church.  Every step of the way was now guided by Rome.  There was a genuine fear (sometimes with ample reason) that, without meaningful temporal power, there was little to stop a rogue Bishop from doing what he wanted.  So an arrangement that was once understood (No Bishop can reign in his sea with the opposition of the Roman Pontiff) was transformed into a far more interventionist practice where the Holy See chose the Bishops as an extra step to help ensure their loyalty.

If you're expecting me to say this system was bad and an utter failure, I think that's a bit harsh.  For better or worse, the Church navigated some very trying times (including two world wars), and she managed to survive.  Her missionary impulse was rekindled in the early to mid 20th century, especially in Africa.  The Church's general separation from the European powers probably helped her to continue to grow and thrive, even after the decolonization movements in the mid 20th century.  What I want to do instead is look at this not in terms of success and failure, but in strengths and weakness.

One area of particular weakness is the papacy had developed a serious Oz complex.  Once you got past the majesty and mystique of the thundering voice and peaked behind the curtain, the pope was a lot weaker than advertised.  While everyone expected bishops to just do whatever the pope said, what would happen if they didn't?  It was something that was impossible to the modern mind, since over a century of devotional teaching had ruled out such a possibility, despite the very obvious fact this happened again and again throughout Church history.  If modern man had outgrown the superstitions of ancient religion, the modern Churchman, through the current understanding of hierarchical power, had overcome the divisions of the past.

Or did it?

At this point we are going to address the 800 lb gorilla in every traditionalist polemic, the Second Vatican Council.  I do so only because I am forced to. For our purposes, the Second Vatican Council (whatever your thoughts on it) was a time of immense change in the Church, and with that immense change came an expansion of possibilities within the minds of its thinkers and rulers.  It is in this context I want you to understand the significance of July 25th, 1968, the authoring of the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae.

As everyone knows (for reasons that will be spelled out later), Humanae Vitae was an encyclical that reiterated previous denunciations of artificial contraception.  There was a widespread belief (in tune with the expanded possibilities of the times) the Catholic Church would follow the lead of the Anglicans and other Protestants in softening their opposition to birth control. In some more radical circles, it was believed the Church could approve birth control.  Paul VI emphatically rejected this, and made a bold case for the blessing of children, even seeming to grant the idea that the Earth had a population problem.

To say the encyclical was controversial is an understatement.  Yet, to any student of history, this was not the first time that the laity or even Bishops had not received Church teaching.  (If anything, encyclicals of Popes to Bishops throughout history can be summarized as "Would you please remember to implement X or Y, which we have magnanimously committed to your pastoral care on numerous occasions?")  What made this dissent different was it occurred after a century of the Devotional Papacy, where the spiritual importance of the papacy had never been higher, and their practical authority never lower.  To draw from that great thinker Gorilla Monsoon, we were about to see what happens when the unstoppable force met the immoveable object.

Dissent from Humanae Vitae was immediate and widespread.  While much attention is paid to the Winnepeg Statement, bishops conferences all across Europe ignored or outright resisted Paul VI's encyclical.  Within 2 years, it was clear not only that Paul VI had many detractors... he had few allies among the episcopate who was going to enforce his will.  Sixty years of carefully appointing loyalists to episcopal sees meant nothing.  Not only were they opposing the pope, it became pretty clear there was very little Paul VI could do about it.  Was he going to excommunicate entire episcopal bodies?  Contraception was popular among the laity in the West.  Faced with this immense weakness, the Pope sank into a general melancholy for the remainder of his pontificate.  Once everyone realized it was possible to dissent from the Pope, that dissent went into overdrive.  The Pope lamented his weak governance, but I think we should be realistic in that there was very little he could have done.  The options on the table were catastrophic, so he did what could be reasonably expected:  he did nothing.  That doing nothing includes not admitting defeat.  The gates of hell didn't prevail, the Church remained true to her doctrinal fidelity, but at what cost?  Her very understanding of how authority works was shattered?  What replaced it?

What replaced it could be generally described as anarchy.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Eras of the Modern Church: The Devotional Papacy

 A staple of discourse in modern Catholicism surrounds the Second Vatican Council, and its rammifications for the Church as a whole.  While this is an interesting debate, there are other ways to understand the Church.  The Council can intersect with these, but I think its possible to talk about the crisis in the Church as an overall crisis of the Church encountering the age of Liberalism, of which Vatican II is one part of that discussion.

When I say the Age of Liberalism, I'm taking a wider view of history here.  I think the age of Liberalism describes an era in which, in the secular world, nations replaced dynasties (or dynasties were reduced and subjected to nations.)  This process began in the 1600s, and by the end of the 19th century one could credibly say that most of Europe were ruled by liberal (even if of a conservative bent) regimes, a big exception being Russia.   These nation states were governed by constitutions, some giving the King/executive a lot of power, others resting it primarily in parliament/legislatures.  They all seemed to agree that one place political power should not reside was within the Catholic Church.

This transformation would have posed a real problem to the power of the Church even under ideal circumstances.  Yet after 1789 and the French Revolution, it was most certainly not ideal circumstances.  The Jacobin terror gave way to a very centralized powerful French Empire that spawned across Europe, and even if he had no desire to destroy the Church, Napoleon had no interest in the Church retaining her preeminent role in politics she once had in European Society.

If this sounds like a time of a disaster for the Church, that's only partially true.  Contrary to popular belief, religious practice flourished within Europe during this time.  Yet as Christopher Clark pointed out in his new book Revolutionary Spring (a look at Europe during this age through the prism of 1848 revolutions), it was a revival of religious sentiment that hierarchies (in both Catholicism and Protestantism) had very little control over.  Having lost the ability to define the boundaries of religious expression with her diminution of political power, Christian expression began to express itself in new ways, and a lot of them pretty contrary to not just Catholic practice, but the very notion of a Christianity rooted in divine revelation.

It is within this context we introduce everyone's favorite boogeyman:  the Ultramontanists.  (Literally "over the mountain" As an example of a religious expression that had very little control by Church authorities, ultramontanism looked at the sad and pathetic state of episcopal power in the local Church, and sought refuge in a highly idyllic Roman papacy as the remedy.  These were orthodox Catholics, in a time of revival, trying to find some suitable vehicle to oppose the growing marginalization of the Church.  The Papacy was a convenient plot device for this end:  an ancient venerable institution with a ton of spiritual power and prestige, but very little practical ability to do anything.

At this point the papacy became a devotional tool:  holiness became identified by ones expression of the Pope.  The debate about Gallicianism and concilliarism (whether or not state sponsored councils were superior to the authority of the Pope) was mostly a devotional show:  liberals were interested in marginalizing/persecuting religion, but not controlling it.  (This would change in the 20th century with the rise of Bolshevism)

None of this is to say that the Pope's authority is false, papal infallibility is wrong, etc.  It is to say that, ultramontanism, whatever else it believed, was mostly a play:  it was easy to talk up the authority of the pope in an era where the pope could not realistically be expected to do anything in your backyard.  This ultramontane spirit permeated a lot of the discussion at the First Vatican Council (and afterwards, especially in the anti-clerical France of the Third Republic)

Over the years after the Council, this devotional papacy skyrocketed in appeal, as papal authority continued to be limited in the secular world, anti-clericalism became a thing in liberal regimes, and the Church had (to her credit) 2 popes who reigned a combined 60+ years in Pius IX and Leo XIII, genuinely impressive popes who did a pretty good job navigating the Church through a relatively impossible situation.  Yet for all the talk of ultramontanism and papal supremacy during this era, the Popes were very careful about the battles they chose.  Most of the authority of the papacy rested in its existence over nearly two millennia.  Yet there was always a worry that if push came to shove, the papacy, full of power, might be limited in how it responds.

One might think that, with this description, I have a very hostile view of ultramontanism and of the Popes who benefitted greatly from it.  That isn't the case at all.  As mentioned before, ultramontanists were, by and large, orthodox Catholics trying to navigate an incredibly tough era.  They fought against the complete subjection of the Church to the State, and were a useful reminder to Catholics to not become too caught up in the spirit or ideologies of the age.  We can say all these things while still understanding their position was fundamentally one of weakness, and its defensive nature meant it was never going to really be able to effectively define how it was supposed to operate in the real world, as operating in the real world was never a serious possibility. 

Yet what is undeniable is that the devotional understanding of the papacy owes a lot to ultramontanism.  What happens when there is a decisive battle, where the pope's ultimate authority is tested?  What happens if he loses that battle?  The Devotional Papacy came crashing down in the 1960's, capped by the crisis which took a sledgehammer to it:  Humanae Vitae.  That's what we'll cover next.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Chartres and the Failure of Liberal Catholicism

This past weekend in France, there was an annual pilgrimage from Paris to Chartres, something that has always been a key unifying moment in the life of traditionalists.  Whatever our differences, we tend to put our differences aside and show a united front to the world once a year with that pilgrimage.  This year we saw a particularly strong showing, with more than 20,000 pilgrims registered.  Fearing a logistical breakdown, registrations were actually halted once 20,000 was reached.  Here we are, two years in Tradiotnis Custodes.  We are a decade into Francis telling anyone with ears to hear those who love the Latin Mass are a cancer infecting the Church.  We are two years removed from the Pope telling individual priests they needed his permission on what they could put in parish bulletins, and when they were allowed to invite parishioners into the hall for coffee.  (That everyone has outright ignored the Pope on this insane and ridiculous micromanaging is something even his ardent defenders are normally quiet on.)  In spite of all this clear opposition and dedicated attempts at marginalization, why has the pilgrimage grown larger than ever?

A recent study conducted by La Croix magazine might shed some light.  (For those who do not wish to pay for access to a magazine often hostile to their interests, The Pillar's Luke Coppen offers a pretty good summary.)  The results are pretty unmistakable:  among French Catholics, there is a growing cadre of Catholics (a growing minority) for whom the TLM is either their preference, or they have strong sympathies towards it.  What they also find is that Catholics increasingly come from the political right, even if they are not entirely at home with it.  I think this quote from a sociologist captures the essence of what I want to talk about:

"It’s not Catholicism that’s tilting to the right,” argued sociologist Raison du Cleuziou, “but Catholicism on the right that’s perpetuating itself better than Catholicism on the left.”

If you spend enough time steeped in online trad discourse (please, don't), you will inevitably hear of something called "The Traddening."  The Traddening is this belief that generational forces are behind traditionalists, and that over time, traditionalism will be all that's left.  This argument began in mostly French traditionalism, and, in fairness, it is easy to see it:  within 50 years traditionalist ordinations will dwarf those ordained in the more contemporary Church if present trends continue.  Yet The Traddening is mostly nonsense.  It ties Catholicism strictly to the amount of ordinations, it overlooks the large morass of Catholics for who this stuff doesn't matter (but are perfectly orthodox), and it makes the dangerous assumption that the ideas that have raged in the Church for the last 50 years will be the center of discourse for the next 50, which is quite the assumption!  

Yet, like all falsehoods, there's some truth here. I think the quote above captures that truth.  For traditionalists, they are finding people receptive to their message, and it is a message that is mostly positive.  See the TLM, encounter Christ, find peace in our beautiful liturgy.  You might think there's a bunch of other nonsense we attach to that stuff, but its clear that message resonates.  What is the message of liberal Catholicism, as personified by the likes of Pope Francis, Arthur Roche, the idiots at Where Peter Is, etc?

At this point, you'll hear the inevitable complaining about the use of the term "liberal", so before we dive into this too much, let's work with our terms.  From 1970 to the present, our Church has aligned itself mostly around one big question:  What are we to think of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council?  The reforms have happened, and, traditionalist complaining notwithstanding, you aren't going to get a wholesale reversion to before the Council.  This debate was had with the liberals in the 1960s, and its a debate we lost.  Decisively. Even if such a return were possible, nobody currently with any semblance of governance in the Church knows what that era was.  To the extent we argue about the Council, we do so entirely from a post-concilliar mindset.

Within that mindset, there are two camps.  The first could be called the "conservative" position.  Vatican II reformed the liturgy, it reformed ecclesiology, it reformed ecumenism, and it reformed how the Church approached the modern world.  Some of this worked, some of it didn't, but what's done is done.  The Church consolidated her positions during the reigns of John Paul and Benedict, and now we need to move on from the Council, towards handling the big questions tackling the Church from modernity.  The Council was the realignment, now comes the engagement.

The second could be called the "liberal" position.  They looked at Vatican II as a down payment on a new Church.  Even if it kept her ancient doctrines, the point of Vatican II was to launch a perpetual revolution within the Church.  Her doctrines might remain, but the myriad of ever changing circumstances requires a constant updating of how we express those truths, and, more importantly, when we allow the hard experience of reality to dictate how strictly we implement what we learn from doctrine.  These individuals were dominant during the 1970s, but then had to strike a careful balance with conservative popes.

These are not the only positions within the Church, and within this there is an obvious spectrum.  Sometimes people are fluid with their alignment.  For example, I think you could argue Francis, for the first half of his pontificate, governed within that conservative consensus.  (Even if he might not have personally believed it.)  The last five years he has thrown in his lot with the liberal consensus.

This consensus has dominated Catholicism over the last 5 decades, even if most people carried on their faith ignorant of it.  Debates happened largely within those terms.  Yet this consensus began to change.  Its first casualty were conservatives.  The abuse crisis combined with the death of John Paul II mostly shattered this consensus.  (For Bishops, this consensus was identified by someone like Fabian Bruskewitz, who was a rock star of 90s and early 2000s Catholicism but mostly forgotten today in his old age.)  Political events like the Global Financial Crisis also played its role in making sure that coalition (influenced by politics as much as religion) wasn't coming back.  While that consensus is dead, the legacy of John Paul II (and Benedict) carries immense weight among many of the old devotees.

I am of the belief the liberal consensus was shattered in 2018... also largely the result of an abuse crisis.  Liberalism survived the years of John Paul II and Benedict, only to be tried and found wanting during the years of Francis, who they always viewed as one of their own, being the principal organizers of his rise to the throne.  Since 2018 the Church has been rocked by repeated abuse scandals across the world:  her ethics and governance has broken down in a series of financial scandals requiring the pope to almost wholesale rewrite Church law on these matters. (With decidedly mixed results.)  The debates over the German Synodal Way have shattered the old ideological cohesion, and she is left arguing over who is the author and manager of the perpetual revolution:  Rome, the local Bishops, or "the people"?

For those who viewed Vatican II as the down payment on the asset they currently possess, what is the message they offer to the Church?  What is the message of hope the Pontiff provides?  What are the talking points they present to the world?  The blunt answer is:  they don't have any.  In the last five years, the Church of Pope Francis has grown extremely insular.  They only speak to themselves.  Whether it is Traditionis Custodes, internal financial reform, DDF dubias about the Synodal Way, the defining battles are internal struggles.  Listen to the Pope's weekly homilies, and they are seldom about a message to the world, but more a message at how disappointed he is in the various factions and members of the Church.  His homilies are far less about proclaiming the Gospel and liberty to captives as it is about his airing of grievances.  (This past weekend, while 20,000 Catholics were packed on a pilgrimage about encountering Christ, Francis used his homily to complain about people who helped others convert to the faith but didn't live up to his standards of perfection.  This column writes itself.)

The Church in 50 years will not be a trad fantasy.  Yet the liberal project of the last 60 years is on life support, its defenders having so thoroughly lost the plot they are quickly becoming best friends with Irrelevance.  The Traddening implied a stable Church we would eventually take over.  What happens when an unstable Church collapses into anarchy?  We might find out soon enough.

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Rolling Back the Stone: An Easter Reflection

 While most of you will be spending the Triduum in Church proclaiming the Resurrections, I will likely only be with you in Spirit.  A nasty case of Norovirus has swept through our family, leaving us either out of commission or still recovering.  It is still very much an open question if I will fee recovered enough to show up to Mass on the day seemingly all Catholics do.

Like Christmas (and sometimes Mothers Day), Easter is one of the days where people come to Church who otherwise seldom go.  Our homilies focus on the importance (rightly so) of welcoming those Catholics, and hopefully our welcome will plant a seed for something more later.  While a nice gesture, it also makes us feel good.  We are doing something positive, our actions might bring Christ to the lost.  Aren't we awesome?  Sometimes our vanity needs to be flattered, I get it.  

Yes, you can play a critical part in proclaiming the empty tomb to the Masses.  The Empty Tomb is the greatest "sign and wonder" one can see.  The reality of the empty tomb is that the most ironclad of laws in the universe (the permanence of death) is subject to an outside force. If Death itself must acknowledge a superior, in what way is that superior force limited?  All are subject to Death, and yet Death is subject to the Father.  In the Resurrection,  death becomes subject to the Son, and like all things, becomes the footstool of the King of the Universe.  For those who are stuck in sin or who feel the crushing weight of the laws of the universe, there is comfort in knowing there is something better.

When the pious women first encounter the empty tomb, they encounter an angel.  That angel has one mission:  to tell anyone who appears of what has happened.  

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel;  and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles; but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

What I'd like you to think about is:  what if those women did something different?  What if, instead of proclaiming Christ risen, they kept it their little secret?  What if they rolled the stone back?  What if we do the same?  I think the Church today spends a lot of energy rolling the stone back in place, her actions doing their best to hide the power of the Resurrection from the world.  It is for this reason she has been shrinking in so many places, and why her leaders are increasingly consumed by chaos and impotence.  This also explains why our walk with Christ is so full of complications, because we are exerting great influence to push that heavy boulder back into place, rather than  allowing it to remain rolled away, showing the fullness of emptiness.

Why would we do this?  A big reason is because the rolling away of the Stone is the ultimate gut check for our faith.  If the Empty Tomb is real, then Jesus Christ is real.  If Jesus Christ is real, then everything he said is true.  If everything he said is true, I have to amend my life.  I have to turn away from sin.  I have to take a lot of uncomfortable stands.  I have to use every ounce of my being and my power to wage war against sin and evil.  That sounds like a lot of work!  

If I'm a bishop or pope and I encounter sexual abuse, I must set aside my original priorities and do everything in my power to expel it.  I have to risk feeling the backlash of that corruption.    The light of Christ can expose some pretty nasty stuff.  Or.... I could just roll back the stone.  Out of sight, out of mind.  I can give speeches telling everyone how we are in a New Springtime, how the real enemy is this or that group, and how spotless the Church is even if she has sinners.  I can talk about those aspects of the faith which are more agreeable to me instead.  Even better, I can complain about the faults of others.

We might also read those words at the end of the Gospel passage above:  "but these words seemed to them an idle tale" and draw our own conclusions from that.  Why waste time proclaiming this?  Certainly everyone will think its nonsense.  If we spend a little too much time thinking about them, we might even conclude of course they will dismiss it as a pious fable:   have you seen THEM?  Look at what they believe!  Look at how they are trapped in sin, whether moral failures, heresy, or rigidity! Look at the way they worship!  C'mon man, are these people really worthy of this message?  So let's roll the stone back.  Don't worry, when the right people come along we will tell them the truth.   You know, those who act like me.  THEY WILL BELIEVE.  

In a vacuum, and in a worldly manner, you can rationalize all of this behavior as not only understandable, but good.  Why cast pearls before swine?  Why let the light that left the empty tomb uncover a lot of rotten things, in myself and the Church at large?  What good will that do? The Resurrection is the greatest gift God gave to the Church, let's protect its sanctity!   All of these things might be true, but they represent something fundamentally opposed to the Resurrection: an attempt to control God's power.  The gift of the Resurrection was meant to be shared with the world.  It is not the possession of the Church, but something she is given in a sacred trust, to deliver to its intended audience:  all of mankind.  To keep that gift to ourselves is to strip it of any meaning.

So think about that this Easter.  Think of how everyone in the Church, from the Pope in Rome, your patriarch, to you, have exerted great energy to rob God's greatest gift of meaning 364 days a year.  Or.... hey, just think of how awesome you are welcoming people  on that one day a year.

Monday, March 27, 2023

What is Vatican II's Relevance Today?

 In our journey of faith, we all have these moments which to the outside observer seem weird and inconsequential, but for us are eye opening.  It is one of the ways in which God speaks to us as one who is known by name.  Different things are tailored to different people. I'd like to share a brief story which I hope will become more  apparent by the end.

The year is 2012.   The parish is Assumption Grotto in Detroit, Michigan.  Due to some unfortunate local Church politics (known by residents of the Detroit scene and interesting to them only), your not so humble correspondent had relocated parishes, and was attending the TLM at Assumption Grotto.  The Grotto had the reputation of being the "diehard" trad parish in the Archdiocese.  If you weren't SSPX, you were Grotto.  That's where the realest of the real trads hung out, because they were viewed as a TLM parish that offered the Novus Ordo on the side.  (Wasn't true but anyways!)  

Cognizant of this reputation, the pastoral team at the Grotto decided to spend the year educating the congregation about the documents of Vatican II, and why they were capable of being read in harmony with tradition.  For about 5-10 minutes each homily, they'd take a section from a document and talk about it, and then go into the regular homily.  Within 5 months the program was dead, yet not for the reasons you'd think. Most would think that the congregation rebelled against the idea Vatican II could be harmonized.  Instead, the opposite happened.  Most of the congregation was willing to concede the documents could be read in line with tradition.  They just..... did not care.  A majority of the several hundred parishioners were below the age of 40, and grew up during the pontificate of John Paul II.  Vatican II had zero salience for their daily Christian lives.  The pastors might as well have given their homilies in Greek, and they might have made more of an impact just for the curiosity of it all.

These results did not surprise me, but they did make me start paying a lot more attention to it.   A year or so later, I wrote "Closing the Door on Vatican II", in which I said the following:

A lot of this is new territory that appeals to Vatican II cannot directly answer.  While we might not need a Third Vatican Council, we can no longer treat the Council as some “Super-Council” from which a new Church is built.  Rather, Vatican II must join the 20 other Ecumenical Councils which had orthodox teaching when it specifically dealt with doctrine (read in line with tradition), some good ideas for reform, and others that were best left either untried or jettisoned.

This landscape isn’t perfect, but it is a landscape far more favorable to traditionalists (especially here in America) then what existed before.  Within this framework we can put forth our principles as the ones which will best bring about the reform of the Church we all desperately seek.  It is also a harder terrain for those who are active foes of traditionalists.  Their goal has been to marginalize the movement by impugning heretical thoughts and “quasi-schismatic” motives and intentions to traditionalist concerns.  This is not the landscape of the generations immediately before us, and for that we should be eternally grateful.  This is not only a terrain we can fight on, this is a terrain we can win real victories on.

Years later, I wrote "Vatican II and the Case for Not Caring" in which I said the following:

Finally, Barron and Vigano are debating attitudes about Vatican II. They are not debating teachings. Barron doesn’t mention a specific teaching that is rejected that Vigano is required to accept. Vigano is not calling on Catholics to reject an explicit thing Vatican II taught. Instead, we are debating what Vatican II should look like in an idealized universe.

Yet we can’t say what Vatican II would look like properly implemented, because, spoiler alert, there is no authoritative guide to what Vatican II’s implementation was supposed to look like. The documents were often compromises that would be worked out later, and that “working out later” is very fluid and always in motion. You may think tone policing is a productive part of debate, and there’s no doubt temperatures should be lowered. Yet this is very much a debate tailor made to our social media age: a lot of bromides and rhetoric without really doing anything 

If one is looking for a clearer case of bromides and rhetoric without really doing anything, look no further than the debate  about Vatican II between Crisis Magazine and Professor Larry Chapp.  I know people want to read the debate for themselves, but please, save yourself the time and do something productive instead.  What's that?  We want to hear about it?  Okay, but I warned you!

Why should we care about Vatican II?  Professor Chapp says BUT MUH CHRISTOCENTRIC ECCLESIOLIOGY!  If you're wondering what "Christocentric Ecclesiology" is, what are some examples of it, what it shows that the Church before 1962 allegedly did not, and why that matters today, look, just take his word for it.  He has a Ph.D he got writing about one of the big theological influences at the Council, okay?  In the article, the Professor is clearly delivering a lecture to students who have long stopped caring what the teacher is saying, and he views it really important they care about the material, not in a "this will be on the test" way, but in a "this will change your life" way. Yet the students aren't listening.  Or worse, they are listening, and they're cracking jokes about their boomer professor.  The professor knows, and is getting very mad about it.  Which just makes the students laugh and snicker harder.  

Go ahead and read the piece at Crisis.  It isn't some grand challenge to the Council.  Contra what Chapp says (entirely for the purpose of his own narrative construction, not as honest academic analysis), it isn't a polemic for the time before 1962.  It is instead a recognition that most debates about Vatican II aren't debates about Vatican II, but about something else.  Often, its something Vatican II is silent on, or the insight it offers is very little and not terribly enlightening.

What are the things that matter most in the Church today?  What does an ecumenical Council written 60 years ago in a different time say about them?  This idea that ecumenical councils are these grand documents that speak to all ages is absurd.  Nicaea doesn't speak to the 21st century Christian, even if its doctrinal definitions and pronouncements about the person of Christ are super important.  But every debate at the council or word put to pen?  That's for academics.  For everyone else, in time Nicaea faded from relevance, and became just another ecumenical council that solved some really important things, but you don't actually have to think about.  This is one of the important councils.  There are other ecumenical councils that probably didn't accomplish anything in their age, and were immediately forgotten about, and aren't even an academic curiosity for the bourgeois like Professor Chapp.  (That's okay!)

To some (such as Mark Brumley at Ignatius Press), what they want is "moving on with Vatican II, not moving on from Vatican II."  But what does this mean?  I can tell you what moving on with Trent and Nicaea does.  Can I with Vatican II?  Maybe!  I could talk about the inclusion of things like a clear renunciation of Anti-Semitism, or the beginning of the process (very much unfinished) of how to deal with a dramatically more educated laity who now have the resources (and free time) to take part in the governance of the Church on a scale simply not possible before the Industrial and Communications Revolutions.  What are those like Professor Chapp going to go to the mattresses for on Vatican II, and say this is why it mattered, and more importantly, this is why it still matters today?  "Christocentric Ecclesiology" or the Council Fathers "had in view the ongoing relevance of the God of Jesus Christ in a world gone mad" isn't going to cut it.  

The beautiful part about this debate is time is on the side of those who say its time to move on.  All we have to do is ask why it still matters.  In time, we're going to be proven right.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Incompetence or Corruption?

 When I think about the case involving Fr. Marko Rupnik, a lot comes to mind.  But one thing that comes to mind more than any was an old speech by the Russian Revolutionary Pavel Milyukov.  In a speech criticizing the Tsar and his ministers, Milyukov asked something along the lines of "are they corrupt or incompetent?"  In other words, are they stupid, or is their malicious intent behind their actions?  Let's consider the facts of the Rupnik case, and go from there.  (The Pillar has published a lengthy explainer and a lengthy interview with one of his victims.  (I believe we can remove alleged as the Jesuits seems to) confirm this, and the Vatican asked this individual to testify during proceedings against Fr. Rupnik.

Fr. Rupnik is a Jesuit and a very famous (albeit terrible) liturgical artist, whose mosaics are prominently featured at some of the most well known churches and Catholic events.  Fr. Rupnik was ordained in 1985, and it appears that he was already engaged in grooming and abusing women.  (Also consuming copious amounts of pornography if Italian blogs are to be believed.)

In 2015, he absolved in the confessional one of his victims for engaging in sexual activity with him: a crime for which someone, if found guilty, is automatically excommunicated.  The Jesuits failed to disclose this when giving public statements about the Rupnik affair, instead only pointing out a 2021 investigation by the DDF where it was concluded that the statute of limitations had expired on one specific case brought before them.  Once this information leaked, the Jesuits admitted that this had indeed happened, but that Fr. Rupnik had repented, and as a result the excommunication was remitted.

This made the Vatican's decision to not pursue a canonical investigation against Fr. Rupnik curious.  If one is facing a canonical process for sexual abuse of some sort, that you were previously excommunicated for actions related to sexual abuse would be highly relevant information, and suggest a certain pathology by the priest as a predator.  In previous cases like this, the Vatican (through first the Congregation but now the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith) has waived the statute of limitations, under the very sensible principle that the protection of victims trumps an imaginary line that is suited more in this instance for civil penal law.

Even after that excommunication was lifted in 2019, Fr. Rupnik was still placed under restrictions by the Jesuits, albeit secret restrictions.  The exact extent of these restrictions has not been revealed, and did not stop Rupnik from engaging in a very public ministry, including being a guest of Pope Francis in public and presiding over preaching at his request.

The Jesuits

It is clear that the Jesuits were aware for a long time that Fr. Rupnik was a problem.  Victims had attempted to convince them to act against Rupnik for decades, all to no avail.  The mere profession that restrictions exist (even if they really don't) underscores that the Jesuits understand, at least in theory, that Rupnik is a danger to himself and others.  Yet as he continued to live a high profile, they said nothing?  Were they worried that his prestige taking a hit would mean they took a hit?  Were they worried about all the evidence coming out in their complicity in covering things up?  That implies the kind of corruption that requires a full scale cleaning of house.

Are we also to assume that as requests came in for Fr. Rupnik to speak at the Vatican and to continue his public ministry, there were no private protests, no CYA bureaucratic emails or discourse?  No further private interventions with Fr. Rupnik?  Why did they not enforce these supposed restrictions?


There will be an attempt to divorce Pope Francis from the DDF here, and I don't think that really holds.  This was a collective effort.  When an investigation was finally launched, one of the lead investigations had a clear conflict of interest, being a part of a foundation Rupnik was also a member of.  Given the high profile nature of Fr. Rupnik as a Jesuit, there could be legitimate questions about having a Jesuit head of the DDF responsible for that investigation also as a conflict.  Are there grounds for recusal within these processes?  How are they exercised?    Rome may find these questions uncomfortable, but they must be asked.

One must also ask if they were a bit selective in their prosecution of Rupnik.  Victims from other instances of abuse testified during the proceedings of Rupnik, but so far as we know, the only cases involved are the 2015 instance (which resulted in his excommunication and then repentance) and a case brought forth in 2021 where they had determined the crime was no longer justicable because the statute of limitations had expired.  Even if you are not willing to waive that, surely one could disclose what the crime was that was believed to have occurred?  The worry is that they were bringing cases they knew they could easily dismiss, and ignoring ones that would require a very embarrassing about face on Rupnik.  It would come out in future abuses cases that the DDF had confirmed an excommunication for previous abuse, and that would look like they let him off the hook to abuse again.  What starts as a conspiracy becomes a lot more plausible when one considers they have complete discretion over what cases they try, and that they made no mention of his previous excommunication during the most recent process.

As for Pope Francis, which is worse?  That he knew, but took an attitude of "he repented, lets move on" or that he was completely in the dark, and that he presided over a bureaucracy that knew to keep their mouths shut, lest they jeopardize their careers?  Bureaucrats aren't normally evil amoral people.  They are civil servants, for whom the boring task of governance tends to be supremely important.  It is often the non-bureaucratic people put in positions of governance that ignore this stuff.  I'm willing to bet in the future that the bureaucracy in both the Jesuits and the DDF protested, and it was the higher ups who managed the bureaucracy who chose to look the other way.

Is it really a surprise then that after Rupnik's excommunication was remitted, and he appeared at the Vatican as Pope Francis' behest, that the DDF decided in 2021 that it shouldn't do any new proceedings against Fr. Rupnik, and to just wave it away under "it isn't justiciable?"    The only other explanation is a Pope so clueless and aloof that the incompetence has become systemic.

Incompetence or evil might matter to God, who alone can judge souls.  For us, it makes no difference:  The Pope and his courtiers have visited shame and scandal upon the Catholic Church, and the day is likely coming soon where they will have to account for it.  All we can do is raise our voices about this scandal and shame, and make clear an expectation from our leaders that this is unacceptable.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

The Real Story Behind the USCCB Elections

The USCCB gathered this week to decide who would lead the conference for the next few years.  As always, The Pillar has a decent rundown.  One thing that is clear this week:  the media courtiers who style themselves as the Magisterium of Pope Francis are very mad online this week.  For them, the USSCB elections represent a slap in the face of the Pope, as the current crop of picks are not bishops in his image.

This is, of course, a bunch of nonsense.  Yet I submit it is nonsense in ways that normally aren't pondered, and I'd like to do so here.

What is the Point of a Bishops Conference?

This sounds like a simple question, but it really isn't.  Episcopal Conferences are not something inherent to the authority of the Church.  Nor do they have any inherent authority in them by their existence.  It is sometimes envisioned that in the Church, there is a hierarchy:

- Laity

- Priest

- Bishop

- Bishops Conference

- Pope

If one looks at the various magisterial texts, of course this view is absent. Vatican II established some norms for these conferences, but if one were looking for the point of an episcopal conference, Christus Dominus in paragraph 37 works as well as anything else:

In these days especially bishops frequently are unable to fulfill their office effectively and fruitfully unless they develop a common effort involving constant growth in harmony and closeness of ties with other bishops. Episcopal conferences already established in many nations-have furnished outstanding proofs of a more fruitful apostolate. Therefore, this sacred synod considers it to be supremely fitting that everywhere bishops belonging to the same nation or region form an association which would meet at fixed times. Thus, when the insights of prudence and experience have been shared and views exchanged, there will emerge a holy union of energies in the service of the common good of the churches.

Episcopal conferences are formed as a way to remind individual Bishops that while they have real sovereignty within their diocese, they are still part of a wider body, and they should work with their neighbor bishops as much as possible.  When someone says "the USCCB should just be disbanded", that's silly talk.  Given the means of modern communication and transportation, a bishop who makes decisions with no understanding of the wider Church surrounding him is bound to do something stupid.

What we do not see is any discussion about if the point of an episcopal conference is to shape a bureaucratic body to the mind and priorities of the Pope.  The only way you arrive at that conclusion is if you believe it is the job of the Bishop to be the visible representative and vicar of the Pope within his diocese.  Christus dominus makes clear they have all the "immediate, proper and ordinary" authority to carry out shepherding the Church of God, in the area entrusted to them.  Bishops are not there as vassals of the pope, but as their own men, entrusted by the Roman Pontiff to govern their flocks.  

Are the US Bishops "Anti-Francis?"

If the US Bishops were really hardcore opponents of Francis, it would probably warm the heart of trads like myself and others.  (Whether my heart being warmed is good policy for the Church is something we are bypassing.)  Yet are they?  Where are the statements of collective resistance to his will?  What is undeniable is that the US Bishops do not wish their leadership to be perceived as flacks of the Pope, men who ask permission from Rome to take a leak.  This was the position of previous USCCB leadership during the McCarrick scandal, where the Bishops pathetically spiked any discussion regarding action taken in the wake of the abuse scandal until Rome gave them instructions on what to do.  The only thing that came was the motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi, which established a process for investigating bishops accused of abuse.  Everything else was promptly ignored.  (Vos estis has had questionable, at best, efficacy.)  It was at this moment the episcopal body lost a lot of legitimacy in the eyes of the faithful.

The USSCB wants to achieve a careful balance where they are seen as in communion with the Pope, but not utterly dependent upon him for the basics of Christian governance.  As a result, certain Bishops perceived as "Pope Francis Bishops" probably aren't going to find  everyone running up to them.  This includes men like Joseph Tobin (generally seen as a pragmatist who tries to be the Pope's representative in America but also seen as a friend of all bishops) and Blase Cupich (the insufferable teachers pet who owes his very existence to being liked by the Pope, something he annoys the hell out of everyone by reminding you of every five seconds).  This doesn't mean men like Joseph Strickland (Bishop of Tyler, Texas and one you could genuinely identify as Anti-Francis) are suddenly the face of the Church in America.

How Much Does this Matter?

The answer to this question probably isn't going to be very satisfying to anyone who frequents this type of online discourse.  Yet we should consider it a bit more carefully nonetheless.  Let us assume that one of two things happened.  Either:

- The United States Episcopate became reflexively "Anti-Francis"

- The United States Episcopate became reflexively "Pro-Francis"

How much does the Church change?  I don't think its a given we see dramatic change.  I'd even propose that for the average Catholic in the US, not much would change.  Most of the problems facing the Catholic Church in America would remain.  Every Bishop could follow the dreams of liberal Catholics everywhere and say nobody can be refused communion under any circumstance.  You could bet that many priests would simply say that isn't the Bishops call to make, and correctly point out canon law has far more to say about individual priests governing their parishes that isn't being discussed in such a scenario.  Every TLM could be banned, and not a single problem would be solved.  (While a thousand new problems would then be created.)

For better or worse, individual everyday Catholics do not care what their bishop thinks about the Pope.  They have spiritual needs Bishops need to attend to.  If they are attended to, they will follow their Bishop.  If they are neglected, that Bishop is ignored.  If ecclesial politics and a race to be (or not be) teachers pet in Rome take precedence over those spiritual needs, you get a culture of indifference towards the Bishops.  To the extent we focus on this element of the USSCB elections (and Church relations in general) the Bishops demean not only their authority, but the dignity and legitimacy of the Church as a relevant institution to respond to people's needs and desires.

Clericalist Nonsense

Finally, it looks at the Church in an overly clerical manner.  It assumes that all reform starts, carried out by, and ends with clerics.  Specifically Bishops.  Finally, it says that the most important element of reform is the Roman Pontiff.  Reform is carried out by a variety of individuals within the Church, each within their own sphere, and supporting the spheres of others.  That we continue to talk about which "direction" the Church takes under this or that bishop being a stand in for this or that pope does not serve the Church.

I think these are far more interesting questions:

- Why is the USSCB here?

- Why is the Pope finding it so hard to find bishops who want to be seen as his men?  (This is part of a far larger trend of people passing the receiving of episcopal consecration in record numbers during the era of Francis)

- Why does the constitution of the USSCB leadership have such little relevance on the wider Church in the United States?

- In what way is debating over the election of clerics interacting with the role that everyone else plays in reforming the Church?

That the past week considered none of these questions honestly or openly is a far bigger indictment of the USCCB than if its president/vice president are partisans enough of this or that particular man.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Church Life Journal: Getting The Band Back Together

Since the promulgation of Traditionis Custodes (and its subsequent ignoring), trads have had a lot of field to play on. The likes of WPI and the various liberal organizations have more or less ceded the entire playing field to traditionalists, instead just trying to frame their position as one of raw papal power politics: the pope commands it, therefore it must be right, proper, and obeyed. To which trads have been able (quite adpetly I might add) to point out that in the eyes of Church law (and Traditionis Custodes itself) it is actually up to the local bishop to determine what is right, proper, and to be obeyed when it comes to most liturgical law. To which liberals have responded: t he pope commands it, therefore it must be right, proper, and obeyed. Having decisively won the argument (for now), most bishops ignored it, the Pope has backtracked (at least in public) his rationale for TC, and even the Synod on Synodality has been forced to admit its a very unpopular decision with the people of God.

Faced with this problem, Notre Dame's Church Life Journal is attempting to meet critics of Traditionis Custodes head on. In doing so, they are attempting to revive the old conservative consensus of the days of John Paul II. I think their attempt to do so is a bit instructive, and suggests a growing problem a lot of the anti-traditionalist polemics have: it demands conformity to a world which no longer exists.

To set the table, let us briefly recap the "conservative consensus". I covered this a lot more in my narrative history surrounding Traditionis Custodes, which I encourage you to read. If the conservative consensus could be defined as anything, it is the following marks:

- Doctrinal Orthodoxy

- A fierce devotion to the pontificate of John Paul II

- A fierce defense of the necessity and robust success of the Second Vatican Council

- A tension (and often outright hostility) towards traditionalists, whom you would think they have much in common with.

The consensus established during the JPII era (sometimes not necessarily what JPII had in mind) was not people attempting to change church teaching. They were people trying to uphold Church teaching, but also uphold the pastoral approach of Vatican II, which included the hostility the Church had towards traditionalists. They were sons of the Church: they just changed their disposition with whatever they perceived to be the popular disposition of the parental figures at the time.

One sees this outlook permeated through the words of the essay in Church Life Journal. Whatever you may say about this or that author, Thomas Weinandy is not a liberal. In just about every other context, a lot of the defenders of Pope Francis would be (and have) branded him as a dissident reactionary for his pointed criticisms of the Pope's (failed) attempt to change John Paul II's teaching regarding divorce and communion. While their argument is more or less the argument of the left on the Latin Mass, it doesn't root the argument in the mind of Pope Francis, but in the mind of the Council Fathers and the teaching authority of John Paul II and the numerous dicasteries that treated this question.

To this the traditionalist has one retort: you have listed a lot of facts which are true. Yes, the Council Fathers didn't envision a world in which the liturgy before 1965 survived. John Paul II didn't envision a world in which people would still cling to the Latin Mass. One could even add to this by noting that Pope Benedict didn't envision a world in which the Latin Mass became the domain of the young. His own accompanying letter to Summorum Pontificum said people shouldn't worry about this, because it would be mostly old people who would make use of it, something to which Benedict was 100% wrong about.

There is a lot of talk in the article about "spirit anointed liturgical reform" (whatever that means), and how sensible and uniform the approach to the Latin Mass was. So what? The reality is that even as far back as the 1970's, it was understood that the Catholic Churches attempt to suppress the Latin Mass was not just a crime, it was a mistake. It was realized (rather quickly) that the original intent of Paul VI (an immediate suppression of every Latin Mass) was not going to work, so a carve out was made for "aged and infirmed priests" to say the Mass in private. This was then expanded on in 1971 with the "Agatha Christie Indult" which allowed the Latin Mass to be celebrated in Britain/Wales with the permission of the local bishop for any priest, not just aged and infirm. By 1980, there was a growing realization: the Latin Mass wasn't going to die. Therefore, the matter was sent to the Congregation of Divine Worship to study. This was ultimately decided by John Paul II in 1984 with Quattuor Abhinc Annos, which erected a formal legal regime by which the Latin Mass could be celebrated anywhere within the Latin Church, subject to certain conditions.  It was also during this time that John Paul II wanted to get a better understanding of his options here:  what was the status of the Old Missal?  Was it abrogated?  Suppressed? Could it be?  He asked a commission of cardinals to study the matter.  They reported their findings to the Pope:  The Old Rite was never abrogated, and a priest did not need permission to celebrate the Old Rite, at least privately.  Given the role of the local Bishop in liturgical affairs, the existing legal situation had a clear tension between a bishops rights and the rights of the priest, to say nothing of the desires/obligations/rights of individual lay Catholics.  This was sent to the Holy Father who.... did nothing, for various reasons, understandable and inexplicable.

In the meantime, the Latin Mass continued to grow, and the position of the Church became more incoherent.  A can of gasoline was thrown on this fire with the illicit episcopal consecrations by Archbishop Marcel Lefebrve of four priests, meant as a way to perpetuate the survival of the Latin Mass.  In announcing that the bishop had incurred canonical penalties, John Paul II nonetheless admitted that the Church's approach to the Latin Mass played a part in creating the schism.  He commanded the worlds bishops to be more generous in allowing the Latin Mass, and over time even erected infrastructure in the Church (such as the Pontifical Commission of Ecclesia Dei and the creation of new religious orders for the Old Rite) to facilitate the growth of the Old Rite under the auspices of the Church.

All of this happened before Pope Benedict ascended the throne.  As he ascended the throne, the question was not if the Latin Mass would be further liberalized, but rather the terms under which it would take place.  Would it be a "universal indult", where the Pope simply granted the authority for every priest?  Or would the entire Indult die and be replaced by something new, trying to learn the lessons of the last 35 years?  This is what our friends in Church Life Journal completely ignore.  The path to Summorum Pontificum was slow, but it was organic, and rooted first and foremost in pastoral reality:  even if it was a reality the Church had to be dragged to, sometimes kicking and screaming.  Summorum Pontificum didn't change the Church.  It was simply an acknowledgement of how much things had changed.

The authors don't grapple with this problem.  It isn't fair to say they ignore it.  It is probably better to say they aren't even aware of its existence.  Why?  Because they are still operating as if its the 1980's, when most of the conservative polemics against the TLM came into fruition.  Its apologetics are rooted in the 1990s, when there was a considerable following within orthodox circles that attacked the Latin Mass, and viewed itself (under the guise of John Paul II) as true custodians of the revolution of Vatican II, protecting the revolution from both the Jacobins and the monarchists.  If this world doesn't make sense to the reader of today, tell that to the authors.  

All these things happened.   You cannot wish them away.  It makes no sense responding to the past 40 years by talking about legislation promulgated in 1974 that tells a bishops conference how to act in 1974.  Subsequent legislation revoked that old legislation.  That legislation in itself rested not on raw force of will by the legislator, but a reality on the ground that legislation was trying to properly channel, not impose.  The rest of the article is full of the same anachronisms regarding liturigcal debates:  they make sense in the era of the liturgy wars from 1980-2007.  They have zero relevance in todays world.

That is what I think is ultimately behind the failed attempt to impose Traditionis Custodes, and more generally why the conservative consensus collapsed during the years of Francis.  Whatever one thinks of that world:  it no longer exists.  The infrastructure for it is crumbled.  The will to implement it isn't there.  Far more pressing problems have taken its place.  The arguments of Professors Wienandy, Healy and Cavadini aren't just wrong:  they are alien to people who live outside of academic towers and practice their faith in the real world.  It is a crusty self-referential consensus that shouldn't just be returned to its cage, it should (and will) be put out of its misery.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

The Spirit of Vatican II: Prolonging the Inevitable

In commemorating the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, the Vatican's office for the Synod said it was the job of the Synod on Synodality to "to prolong, in the life and mission of the Church, the spirit of the Second Vatican Council." Today, Christopher Lamb proclaimed that the "Vatican II team" was a "once brilliant team low on confidence" (a polite euphemism for the team is old and sucks) that was revitalized by Francis, who pulled the Church back from the nadir of its fortunes.  That nadir wasn't the abuse crisis or the collapse in Church membership, but Summorum Pontificum.

What are we to make of all of this?  

First is to remind everyone that, naturally, we trads had it right all along.

During the 1960's-1980's, when the left was ascendant in the Church (especially the 1970's Jacobinism as Paul VI retreated into solitude), we were told that the revolution launched at Vatican II would renew the Church.  From the 1980's-2000's, we were told to forget all that talk about the renewal of that era:  we were entering a "New Springtime" because now, under John Paul II, Vatican II would finally be properly implemented.  During the 2000's-2010, we were told now that John Paul II properly implemented Vatican II, true renewal would come under Benedict's guidance as he closed the books on Vatican II.  Now, from 2018 onwards (after 4 rather lackluster years of Francis) we are told that, for real this time guys, true renewal is on the way after implementing Vatican II.

The response of traditionalists has been pretty consistent:  there was no renewal of Vatican II.  Its a meme, not a reality.  Now its something we say more as an addict with a fix:  I just need one more bump, and I'll be good.  Once more, with feeling:  Vatican II was great, and the great renewal will finally happen now that my ideas are guiding it.

For far too long, we trads were told that we were refusing to notice this or that positive indicator, and were excessively pollyanish, a prophet of doom, whatever.  Now, since 2018, Francis has taken the position that not only were we traditionalists prophets of doom correct (there was no Vatican II renewal), but the few hundred thousand trads worldwide are why a communion of a billion believers never got the renewal!

This time, we will get the great renewal by the classic meme of Catholicism:  "The Spirit of Vatican II."  You see, when the Council was originally promulgated, it was believed the documents themselves were a blueprint for renewal.  "Liberals" believed this, as did "conservatives" like Ratzinger.  It was only upon the anarchy of the 1960's that everyone needed a more satisfying answer for why this self-evident blueprint for renewal didn't work.  Enter the "Spirit" of the text.

When you are trying to understand a council document, it is not enough to read the text and understand the basic context that went into its framing.  You need to understand that everything in the document has to be read through a certain ideological prism.  Sometimes the spirit is referenced as being betrayed by Paul VI when he reiterated traditional Catholic doctrine on contraception.  (For individuals like ex Where Peter Is writer Brian Lafferty, this is when the great revolution of 1793 was replaced by the bad revolution of Thermidor.)  Another instance of the Spirit is when Pope Francis insists that the Spirit of Vatican II is what drove him to initiate a ban of the Latin Mass, despite the fact that the Concilliar Bishops (and especially the liturgical committee which led the liturgical reform) voiced overwhelming opposition to ending Latin in the liturgy.  To something American readers will understand, there are emanations and penumbras in the Concilliar text.

Our response should remain the same:  laughter, now mixed with a bit of pity.  The Spirit of Vatican II is a lot like cryptocurrency:  once someone pulls the curtain, one sees how there's really nothing behind it.  This is then followed by collapse.  If, after 60 years, it becomes necessary to "prolong" the "Spirit of Vatican II", one thing should be evident:  its not in very good shape, and is likely to die off sooner rather than later.  Like the old man afraid of death (many of those in our highest leadership of the Church), so the spirit of the council fears its coming end, and begins to reflect on what was, and most importantly, what wasn't.  It sees that, contrary to their wishes, life goes on once they are gone, and the Church is already preparing themselves for that eventuality.   Everyone has all but given up on this pontificate, while preparing for the next conclave.  The synod that was meant to prolong the spirit of Vatican II faces not opposition and hostility but indifference and apathy.... from those who are sympathetic.  I'm here to say to that spirit:  just take a deep breath and let go.  The current generation will take it from here.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Professional Catholicism and the Sons of Noah

 "You should write more on this."

"Are you ever going to start writing again?  Here's our submissions address."

"You have a unique voice in today's landscape.  You should use it more."

As we enter this time of extended darkness in the Church, I am told these things.  I always think its a great idea, and yet when I try to write.... I got nothing.  That's not entirely true.  I have a lot of words I put down, and some of those words even leave me nodding, and I know they would resonate with an audience.  Yet I never save and publish.

Do this long enough and you will inevitably get something along the lines of the following:

"Are you okay?"

"Is there a crisis of faith?"  (Few ask this directly, but its clear what they are getting at.)

I've found myself more and more thinking about this question.  Not "why am I not writing more" but what that lack of writing says.  Have the issues of salience dropped? Certainly not.  If anything, they've intensified.   We're reaching a point of darkness that is rivaled only by how pathetic the entire spectacle of Church leadership is becoming.  In many ways, the Church is beginning to resemble her ailing and sickly pontiff:  immobile, bitter, complaining about how nothing has worked, and looking for somebody to blame.  One could see that with the release of the Pope's latest instruction on the liturgy, which seems to place the entire failure of the Post Vatican II liturgical reform (of which modern man is now incapable of perceiving) on the fact the TLM distracted Catholics from directing their energies towards living out the true reality the Council calls us to.  In 2013 this would cause outrage.  In 2022, I sincerely believe this should cause pity on a dying man who ended up being not up to the task placed before him, by God, and by those who installed him on the throne.

So why not write more about it?  Why not amplify ones voice, especially as we get deeper into this darkness, and the response of the Church becomes even more feeble and pathetic?  I think here we run into a tension (not a problem per se) with calls for reform in the Church:  at what point does one became Ham, the son of Noah, pointing out the nakedness of our father for spectacle to other Catholics?

When I took classes on public speaking and debate as a student, the one lesson always hammered home was to make the point and move on.  If you stick with a point too long, you begin to look like a fanatic, and, more importantly, you are signaling to your audience your previous attempts to make the point weren't terribly compelling.  This rule should be elevated even more when talking about the defects and faults of others.  Once you've made the point you want to make about someone's failing, move on.  If you stay there too long, in addition to the things I mentioned above, you might end up being seen as cruel and vindictive.  You yourself may begin to become cruel and vindictive.

Seeing the humanity in someone can be a tough business, especially when, in the case of Francis, he has spent the last 18 months making sure that when people see me, they don't see my humanity, only my perceived threat to power, and as a scapegoat for a variety of sins in the Church.  Yet Noah had dignity, even in his drunken state of excess and frailty. 

I also don't want to be one of the various Catholic personalities.  I do not want to be Mark Shea, a man who has so consumed himself with rage, he is unable to see the Cross as anything other than an instrument of said rage.  I do not want to be Dawn Eden, someone who hasn't written anything influential or important in a decade, but now, stuck in a feedback loop that her livelihood depends on, tailors whatever things she does write to pop the influential.  (A fate that befalls a lot of academics of any persuasion, Catholicism being no exception.)  I don't want to be Steve Skojec or one of the countless trads who didn't move on from the established point, and got consumed in a deadly cocktail of rage and monetization.  I also don't want to be the EWTN/Crisis crowd, who have mostly abandoned the cross in favor of a political crusade.  And let's be real, do I really need to belabor why I don't want to be the guys at Where Peter Is?

So what will I be?  The guy who mostly pokes fun at those trying, and failing, at finding a balance between being a good writer and a good Catholic?  (Well besides that.  Sorry, most of you earned it the jeers.)  I don't have an easy answer to that.  The obvious is that I'll continue being a husband and a father.  I'll continue being someone who reads good Catholic commentary.  Just because I can't figure out how to maintain that balance doesn't mean you can't. Yet I would only ask of you who do write:  have compassion on the passing of an age.  There are many people who meant well in trying to carry out something that was doomed to failure.  There are also those whose heart is black as coal now who were not always that way.  As they meet the end of their cause, have mercy on them.  For that mercy might enkindle within their heart the fire of the Spirit that has long been dormant.

Finally, when you do write, try to write beyond the controversy.  A million writers can write about why this or that thing is an outrage.  They are easily replaceable, and after a few years of burning themselves out, they are replaceable.  It takes someone special to see the struggles in light of a larger picture.  I firmly believe that larger picture is one of a dying age, and we must make sense of what comes after that age's death.  The moment we trads have hoped for (the death of the post-concilliar revolution and its "spirit") is upon us.  It dominates the horizon, and anyone who looks up (something actively discouraged) see it.  We have been told for 50 years that there is no storm, or that if there is one, it is a lot further away.  Now, we are blamed for the storm!  Focusing on discourse about the coming storm makes little sense when it is now here, and how beyond it, we can see the end of that storm as well.  Don't ignore the suffering of those in the Church at the hands of bishops and Rome, yet read the signs of their impending doom.  If we want something better to replace them, we must think about that more.

This isn't me shutting down.  I'll still write from time to time.  It's just a realization that as the old ways fade, so does the way we talk about those old ways.