Friday, August 9, 2013

On Divisive Terms, Dialogue, and Reading "The Signs of the Times"... Guest Editorial by I. Shawn McElhinney

KMT note: Longtime readers of the Catholic blogosphere may remember Shawn McElhinney. If you remember him, your perception of him depended greatly on whether or not you attended the Extraordinary Form during the early days of Catholics blogging. He ran the "Lidless Eye Inquisition" with several others in attacking what they perceived to be "radical traditionalists" and "radtrads." Here Shawn explains why he no longer uses the terms.
It was brought to my attention recently that Catholic Answers had done a two hour program on traditionalism and terms such as "rad-trad" were utilized as well as a new term "mad-trad." As I helped popularize the terms "radical traditionalist" and "rad-trad" in weblog publications years ago, I was asked by my good friend Kevin Tierney for some thoughts on the use of the term in the modern ecclesial climate. A simple comment would not suffice and after some pondering of the matter, the result is what you have before you. Now I was admittedly privy to some apologists resurrecting the term earlier in the year and proceeding to use it in ways it was never intended to be used. However, that was small potatoes compared to when Catholic Answers (among the largest Catholic apologetics organizations in the world) decides on one of their shows to sanction the use of terms like rad-trad and "mad-trad." With that in mind, a bit of personal disclosure at the outset of this article is necessary.

The terms "radical traditionalist" and "rad-trad" are terms that I viewed as having currency value at one time; however that is no longer the case for many reasons. As I preserve the archives of my currently mothballed weblog Rerum Novarum and a concluded side project known as The Lidless Eye Inquisition, Kevin's writing on this issue prompted me to look back at my own use of said terms to refresh my memory. In doing so, I found a number of usages spanning from February 2003-April 2004 with in all but three cases, my use of the term in a specific context that is often absent from those who seek to utilize the term today.  That is a point I will return to later in this writing but for the moment, we need to move on now.
In surveying the landscape today, we would do well to consider the prudence of using such terms in light of at least three factors (i) the ecclesial environment is not what it was many years ago when the term had far greater potential currency value, (ii) too many of those who have recourse to those expressions misuse and misapply them which causes no small amount of unnecessary angst by those unfairly marked by such expressions, and (iii) differences in the current ecclesial environment with that previous era make the use of such terms far more likely to do damage today than was previously the case. Let us touch on each of these starting with the ecclesial environment of a decade ago.

I remember the ecclesial environment ten years ago very well and it was different than today in many ways. For example, the Fraternal Society of St. Peter (FSSP) was still an experimental entity, the Tridentine liturgy was licit only when the local ordinary gave direct faculties for its celebration, and the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) was still under the excommunications they incurred as a result of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre's unfortunate consecrations of four bishops without a papal mandate. I could list more examples but those three alone should suffice to make it clear that the environment back then was markedly different in key respects. At the time, projects like Lidless Eye were conceived to serve as a sifter of sorts of false traditionalism from Ecclesia Dei type entities and also to give me a ready excuse to not have to write on that stuff much on my primary weblog. And that brings me to what terms like rad-trad were intended for when used by myself and others such as Pete Vere: a reference to those who were attached to some older liturgical forms but in doing so were not in communion with the Catholic Church.
It was a far more combative era for those reasons among others and we were not at the time above using terms of derision to seek to make the demarcations we felt were necessary. Our concern in large part was to ensure that the growing Ecclesia Dei movement was not tarnished by those who were doing the Indult movement a grave injustice. In essence, my public uses of the word were directed at manifest schismatics, heretics, and/or the smug self-righteous sorts who attacked the Indult movement to promote schismatics and heretics. However, in the interest of disclosure, there were a few exceptions to that rule in the form of three specific posts from February, August, and September of 2003. I will not go into the details of that here except to state that I owe one of those persons an apology which I will be doing not long after this article is made public and I hope they will accept it.
Having touched on things as they were then, let us now consider things as they are now. To revisit the three examples I gave above, in February of 2004, the FSSP was confirmed as a permanent apostolate meaning they were no longer an experimental entity with a tenuous existence in the Church. In July of 2007, Pope Benedict XVI issued the Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum where he decided to implement something he said his predecessor had long pondered over; namely, expanding the Ecclesia Dei Indult and removing the local ordinary requirement for faculties to celebrate the Missal of 1962. Finally, in January of 2009 after a long period of negotiations with the Holy See, Pope Benedict XVI followed up Summorum Pontificum with lifting the excommunications of the Bishops of the SSPX. The SSPX themselves took a further step in October of 2012 by expelling Bishop Richard Williamson who was for years in his writings and statements one of the biggest obstacles to reunion with Rome.  The process here has been one in recent years where a possible agreement is notably more conceivable now than was the case a decade ago. We therefore need to ask if such delicate processes are helped or hindered by the rash use of terms which by their very nature are intended to cause a certain kind of abrasive division.
I have mentioned a few of the differences that have taken place the past ten years. One that is probably not often realized is the greater integration of Indult communities into the Church. This has resulted in more folks than was previously the case actually meeting traditionalist-minded folks in the flesh as opposed to merely an apologetics-like online intellectual abstraction. As a result of these circumstances, folks really need to ask themselves: are they ultimately going to help or hinder associations with traditionalist-minded Indult folks by tarring them with the lazy and inexact association of words that were originally intended as pejoratives against mainly schismatics and heretics!
Again, I considered in a different time and under different circumstances terms such as "radical traditionalist" and "rad-trad" as having some currency value. However, as my archives at both weblogs well demonstrate, I used the rad-trad term a fair amount in 2003 but have not used the word as an adjective publicly since April of 2004. What was the most likely impetus for the decline of my own use of the term? I would in retrospect say it was this event which was a key reason. There is something to writing on the subject of dialogue and how it is most fruitfully engaged whereby one inexorably involves themselves in a bit of self-examination.  Such an endeavour includes reflecting upon not only the substance of authentic dialogue but also what helps as well as what hinders it. I came to see that certain forms of expression even if valid in a certain sense were nonetheless prone to misuse. And the more prone to misuse a term is, the more it would do more to hinder dialogue with those of manifested good-will than to help it.
Authentic dialogue fundamentally involves what Jean Guitton noted in his own dialogues with Pope Paul VI; namely that "the true dialogue demands an effort which is continual and almost heroic, which consists first in trying to see from the other's viewpoint." Pope Paul VI himself explained dialogue in his Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam as "[that] internal drive of charity which seeks expression in the external gift of charity" and Pope John Paul II affirmed this in his Encyclical Letter Ut Unum Sint writing that "[t]here must be charity towards one's partner in dialogue, and humility with regard to the truth which comes to light and which might require a review of assertions and attitudes."   And while it is a subject for another time, it is their frequent failure in these key areas that happens to be one of my core longstanding problems with most apologists today. Indeed, readers need look no further for an example than in the latest from Catholic Answers as well as their upcoming attempt on August 12th to double down on and justify their previous behaviour that many folks of a traditionalist persuasion found so predictably offensive before. (I have no doubt whatsoever if they continue with this idea, the same response will occur!)
In considering the subject treated on in this article, I outlined a few of the key differences in the modern landscape that should give those interested in fruitful and productive dialogue with those of the traditionalist persuasion some points to ponder.  I would in closing ask readers of this article to endeavour to learn more about what is involved in authentic dialogue and in the process, shun expressions that are unnecessarily divisive. (The commentary I did on the intricacies of dialogue in late 2003 can be very helpful here.) Ultimately, unless you are dealing with someone who is obtuse to the rudimentary elements of dialogue, you will not get very far in your communications with them by using obsolete terms of intended derision that (whatever value they possessed at one point) in the current ecclesial climate are better relegated to the dustbin of history.
Shawn McElhinney note:  This post is dedicated to the memory of Bob Klaus:  a solid apologist, a great dialoguist, and an even better friend.  (May he rest in peace!")
KMT Note: For now, comments are in a moderated status, to keep any anticipated dialogue going, and to avoid any flame wars. I will be very strict in that moderation on both sides. One is free to contact me (kmtierney at gmaildotcom) if you have a question about the policy. Yet if all we are going to do is rehash old arguments (on both sides) then it really isn't worth saying.


  1. Thank you, Shawn and Kevin, for making explicit the concerns about the use of pejorative terms which I have expressed, albeit inarticulately. After I heard about the use of "rad-trad" on the Catholic Answers radio program, I was glad to hear from my old boss, Karl Keating, that he would never use such a term himself. I later read that even my principal discutant, Dave Armstrong, had decided to remove the term from his own writings.

    Let's retire such terms in favor of accurate ones. Most important, let's treat all fellow Catholics, of whatever rite, as equal participants in the Body of Christ.

  2. [Thank you, Shawn and Kevin, for making explicit the concerns about the use of pejorative terms which I have expressed, albeit inarticulately.]

    You are welcome Terrye!

  3. "too many of those who have recourse to those expressions misuse and misapply them which causes no small amount of unnecessary angst by those unfairly marked by such expressions"

    ". . . shun expressions that are unnecessarily divisive."

    These two things I wholeheartedly agree with, and it is 95% of the reason why I decided to ditch "radtrad." People use it wrongly (just as they habitually misuse "anti-Catholic") and then it comes back to haunt me, even if I am NOT using it improperly or directing it to the wrong people.

    So the reasoning in my mind was:

    1) "I'm sick and tired of being falsely accused myself of doin' somethin' I ain't doin'".


    2) "why create more division than there already is, since in FACT [for whatever reasons, good or bad], "trads" are "offended by 'radtrad'"?

    Lessening the instances of #1 lowers my blood pressure and the application of #2 (by ditching "radtrad") lowers "traditionalist" blood pressure.

    Win-win. Thus, we do the prudent and wise thing to foster good reactions and future prospects for legitimate dialogue and unity.

    I agree this far. I don't agree with other items in the criticisms that contend that "radtrad" was always pejorative only or an insult by its very nature.

    The ones to whom it was directed could very well interpret "radical traditionalist" / "radtrad" as almost praise, in the same sense that I have often called myself a "radical Christian" or "radical Catholic." John Wesley has been called a "radical Christian" with a wholly complimentary intention. So if you call yourself a "traditionalist" there is a sense in which "radical" applied as a prefix is a compliment of sorts.

    That's not to deny that "radtrad" has a provocative, semi-sarcastic tone, too, but not nearly as much as the biblical "vipers" or "whose god is their belly" or numerous things that St. Paul said to the Galatians and Corinthians.

  4. Dave,

    I applaud your decision to stop using the term.

  5. . [maybe this one will be allowed]

  6. No, it wasn't. I wasn't lying when I said I'd be strict about moderating. I've allowed one (i'm not counting the "thanks" as a post) and I've rejected the rest.

    So ponder why I let one go through (even when it wasn't in full agreement), and I rejected the rest (even when one was complimentary.) Or.... just ask. :)

  7. [I agree this far. I don't agree with other items in the criticisms that contend that "radtrad" was always pejorative only or an insult by its very nature.]

    The term was not intended as an endearment and was in fact intended as an insult. (Particularly by Pete Vere who made no bones about this in his own usages of it. My use was more of an offhand differentiating tool of sorts but even there, the underlying insult of the term was still evident.) The nature of the ecclesial environment of the time with Ecclesia Dei being a fairly fragile entity and constituted experimentally meant that we did not know for a long time if Ecclesia Dei was going to become a permanent expression in the Church or if it was just a temporary accommodation. This made a certain vigilance for greater purity necessary. Remember, initially most of Ecclesia Dei were former SSPXers who had just changed post office box addresses. It took time for many of those to conform their thinking more with the Church and even into the late 1990's, there was concern that if Ecclesia Dei was ever to become associated or lumped in with schismatics or sedevacantist heretics, it would endanger the entire enterprise. (This factor was also involved in many bishops being reluctant to cooperate in facilitating groups like FSSP as generously as Pope John Paul II asked them to in 1988.)

    As I said earlier, all of these factors contributed to making a certain vigilance for greater purity necessary at the time for the sake of the movement's very survival. The situation is thankfully a lot different today and Ecclesia Dei is far more stable and flourishing in the Church while the schismatic and heretical elements are nowhere near the danger to Ecclesia Dei's survival that they were a decade ago. The ecclesial climate has changed and it does no one any good to act as if it has not.

    [The ones to whom it was directed could very well interpret "radical traditionalist" / "radtrad" as almost praise, in the same sense that I have often called myself a "radical Christian" or "radical Catholic." John Wesley has been called a "radical Christian" with a wholly complimentary intention.]

    There are also some groups of folks who wear racial and sexual epithets as badges of honour. That does not however make them any less offensive a terminology. The same principle applies with uses of terms ecclesially which were originally formulated to a certain extent as denigrating social insult and/or societal shaming are likewise not magically converted them into something praiseworthy.


At this current time due to time constraints comments are moderated. Avoid flaming, chest-thumping and stick on topic and your comments will be quickly approved. Do the opposite and they stay in never never land.