Post-Institutional Catholics

Update: this article of mine inspired another blog article Is the Pope Catholic? Who cares!?

I have already criticised Pius IX’s infallibilist ideology as something that is intellectually absurd, and which is in fact the basis of sedevacantism. I find this interesting:

Three dominant narratives have framed Vatican II : forced continuity (Conservatives); formally authorized secularization to religious institutions and theological propositions (Liberals); and demonstrable discontinuity, with a helping of latent apocalypticism (Traditionalists). There is an emerging movement. The Traditionalist narrative has a certain amount of momentum – there are, as De Mattei notes, more voices questioning the events of the 50s through the end result of the 70s.

Catholicism in the 1950’s, often seen as halcyon days, contained the seeds of its own destruction. Alan Watts was writing in 1947, in the heady days of Pius XII! Perhaps there may be a new tendency that combines liturgical traditionalism with a critical attitude in regard to the Papacy.  I encountered this when I was at Fribourg University, especially with a few German priests I knew.

* * *

I am thankful for the work Dr William Tighe does most days to provide a few interesting links to current events surrounding the Church. This link made my blood boil.

I don’t know which planet those people, including the Pope, live on – but most of us are worn down and alienated, or never had anything to do with this clerical organisation.

I was talking with a friend of mine a couple of days ago. We both know a brave parish priest in the area of Sens who came up with the most damning reality check. When I was a seminarian in the early 1990’s, we had a visit from a French archbishop looking for traditionalist priests. During a talk he gave us, he forecast that most French dioceses had about ten years’ life left in them. The statistics of French people going regularly to Sunday Mass in their parish churches was averaged out to about 5%. That was early 1992. This priest in France (for whom I have installed an organ in his church) talks of 0.06% in a particularly degraded diocese with two cathedrals and a large area. What do we conclude? It’s finished.

The Pope seems to be pandering to Mr. Biden and an American world, but American Christianity too is dying. As often, I return to the quotation from a man who was far from being a saint in his 1947 book, Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion.

The present low ebb of Church religion consists in the fact that rarely, even for Church people, does it give the soul any knowledge of union with the reality that underlies the universe. To put it in another way, modern Church religion is little concerned with giving any consciousness of union with God. It is not mystical religion, and for that reason it is not fully and essentially religion.

If we are going to talk of institution, authority and magisterium, we have to remember the foundation of all that – Christ and an idea of life that contradicted that of the world of which the institutional church (and Old Testament Judaism) is a part. Pope Francis cites the example of the Old Catholics rejecting the definition of Papal infallibility at Vatican I, and uses the example to condemn dissident and even critical minds of our own time about Vatican II. The old cracked record goes on and on in a kind of infernal circle. Perhaps Francis the Jesuit sees himself as the new Pius IX who feels infallible *. Quite honestly, it is revolting and supremely cynical.

* I have mentioned this notion is several postings in this blog, and I really think I should give my source: August Bernhard Hasler, How the Pope Became Infallible, New York 1981, p. 113 “Many people claimed that Pius IX actually spoke of feeling infallible”. I must admit that Hasler was of a similar mind to Hans Küng, namely theological liberalism. At the same time, his historical work seems to be honest. Pius IX was on record as having shown signs of what might now be interpreted as mental illness and an inflated ego. Naturally, the notion of infallibility will be an insult to an evolved notion of truth and foundationalism.

In his criticism of post-institutionalism (if anyone would use such a label to identify themselves), Mattei makes a distinction between those who are keeping their heads below the parapet and those in “open revolt”. So post-institutionalism is a dead end… Fine by me, since I am neither pre, post or institutionalist. My own world is so far away from that polarised world in America that is now influencing the media and popular culture over here in Europe.

I belong to an institutional church as a priest, but one that is anchored in Anglicanism. Most of us ordinary folk are far from the authoritarian culture of Rome since the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and the days of the three popes strutting around Europe like some caricature from Palmar de Troya! It is legitimate to aspire to a different form of Catholicism, something like the vision of Western Orthodoxy, a more spiritual than political Old Catholicism and Anglican Catholicism. We can unite body and soul without getting into the kind of cognitive dissonance associated with the modern Papacy, the Vatican Bank, paedophile clergy, big money and favours gained from American presidents. If that is the institution and spiritual life is not possible without it, it is time to read Nietzsche!

In my conversation with my friend, we talked about the traditionalist societies, fraternities and institutes we knew, and how everything has remained so static and sterile in the name of stability. Doubtless, those men have lived through their inner conflicts and Angst. Like a man stuck in a toxic and childless marriage, they are unable to see a different horizon. Am I able either? It is the question I keep asking.

Such a level of thought is probably going to bedevil every man who is considering the priesthood, whether in a diocese, a religious order or some traditionalist institute trapped in its pseudo-baroque rigidity. Many have fallen by the wayside as priests or seminarians. They would be dismissed as the chaff who were not part of the elected and chosen elite. These are human souls, and most of us have turned over the page and moved on. A part of the purpose of this blog, especially when I once called it New Goliards, is a testimony from the casualties of the anti-Christian ideology represented by Papal institutionalism.

In my thoughts, I keep returning to Oscar Wilde. He was not the wisest of men and got himself put in prison through his own appalling choices, but he took the consequences with courage.

You may realise it when I say that had I been released last May, as I tried to be, I would have left this place loathing it and every official in it with a bitterness of hatred that would have poisoned my life. I have had a year longer of imprisonment, but humanity has been in the prison along with us all, and now when I go out I shall always remember great kindnesses that I have received here from almost everybody, and on the day of my release I shall give many thanks to many people, and ask to be remembered by them in turn.

The prison style is absolutely and entirely wrong. I would give anything to be able to alter it when I go out. I intend to try. But there is nothing in the world so wrong but that the spirit of humanity, which is the spirit of love, the spirit of the Christ who is not in churches, may make it, if not right, at least possible to be borne without too much bitterness of heart.

I know also that much is waiting for me outside that is very delightful, from what St. Francis of Assisi calls ‘my brother the wind, and my sister the rain,’ lovely things both of them, down to the shop-windows and sunsets of great cities. If I made a list of all that still remains to me, I don’t know where I should stop: for, indeed, God made the world just as much for me as for any one else. Perhaps I may go out with something that I had not got before. I need not tell you that to me reformations in morals are as meaningless and vulgar as Reformations in theology. But while to propose to be a better man is a piece of unscientific cant, to have become a deeper man is the privilege of those who have suffered. And such I think I have become.

What has become of Roman Catholicism represents for some of us a spiritual prison, condemning us to circular ways of thinking and endless paradoxes. Wilde did not know the infallibility of Pope Francis, but of Pius IX, the bourgeoisie and the clerocracy. Christ was absent from all that. The body of the Church had to be elsewhere if the spirit could be recognised. The Victorian prison killed Oscar Wilde, not immediately but through the illness that would take him after his move to Paris and his inability to rebuild his broken life.

Some of us have been broken to a lesser extent by what proves simply to be unredeemed human nature, sadism, pride, cruelty, dominance, hypocrisy and every other sin of the spirit. If institutionalism is merely a cover for these sins in a corrupt state like many governments of countries have become, then the institution no longer means anything.

That, my friends, is the cause of empty parish churches and empty seminaries.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Post-Institutional Catholics

  1. “It is legitimate to aspire to a different form of Catholicism, something like the vision of Western Orthodoxy, a more spiritual than political Old Catholicism and Anglican Catholicism.”

    Agreed…but the particulars of what that would look like remain, to me, unclear. Western Orthodoxy? As someone who left Catholicism for the Orthodox Church, I can tell you I wish the Orthodox had an idea of what to do with it!

    I dream of a cadre of Benedictines approaching the Orthodox to legitimately get something seriously up and running…I realize that isn’t going to happen. You wouldn’t be a Benedictine in the Roman Church if you didn’t hold the doctrines surrounding the modern papacy to convey some sort of truth.

    • Which brings me in a full circle to post-institution, unless we kick everything out and become atheists. I am an idealist and have little time for cold reality, but that is the way of the world. I haven’t personally found a version of Western Orthodoxy that would attract me (and I thought about it when I was a student). If I had a vocation for monastic life, I would be a monk (without my flowing locks!).

      We seem to be surrounded by chocolate teapots and illusions that have passed their sell-by date. Perhaps the falangist traditionalists with their dreams of El Caudillo and the garrotte are right – but without me.

      All this is why we humans only live for so long. When idealism is worn out and there is only reality, it is time to move on.

  2. Wayne Pelling says:

    Another thoughtful article Fr Chadwick I liked your comment about the casualties of the anti Christian ideology represented by the papal institution . I suppose I am a liturgical traditionalist with a critical attitude to the Pope especially this one . But in the process I have rediscovered the Radical Pietism of my childhood and youth . Stay safe

  3. Stephen K says:

    Father Anthony, I don’t know what exactly it was in the linked article that made your own blood boil, but I would like to comment briefly on the final words: The reason we must respect the institutional dimension of the Church is not political, but supernatural. It is legitimate, on certain occasions, to correct filially the men of the Church, including the Pope, but in the Mystical Body of Christ, the soul cannot be separated from the body; the spiritual element cannot be separated from the juridical aspect, the invisible from the visible. This is the profound but life-giving mystery of the Catholic Church.

    I find a certain opaqueness or obscurity in these words. Is he only saying that whatever criticisms one might make of the Pope (and 2nd Vatican Council) still we must keep in mind that ultimately we must remember that they are part of the supernatural Church and temper our rage with our humility and submission to the “Mystical Body of Christ”?

    Who knows? At any rate De Mattei reports that Faggioli seems to think that the idea of “post-institutionalism” is wrong….for Catholics, and this seems to me to be at the heart of the problem with (capital ‘C’) “Churches” – of any kind.

    If we cast our eye over religious history we see many examples where official institutions ruthlessly suppress dissidents. Perhaps some dissidents ultimately threaten the lives of the innocent, but certainly some only threaten the institutional claims to absolute power.

    If we cast our eye over religious history we also see true mystics, contemplatives, spiritual pilgrims and, over the different religious traditions they seem to be very similar. I take from this a truth, namely, the truth that God does not belong to, or can be known fully by, any religion, and certainly not certainly by any of them.

    Which brings me to the words I have cited above. This is what I call an “insider” opinion. If I read De Mattei’s report correctly, Faggioli is essentially expressing the fundamental doctrine of many (but in this case the Roman Catholic) a church: that its human elements are divine, so you cannot criticise them.

    This was the great assertion which the old Catholics could not stomach, and which lies at the root of why hierarchies of the Catholic church (like the hierarchies of other institutions and governments) did everything they could to conceal the rotten sin and crime of religious sexual abuse. The dishonesty, the hypocrisy, and the fear of the hollowness of their claims to authority being exposed rested on this great assertion.

    There are, nonetheless many individuals in this institution who are nourished and sustained for the better by the sense of belonging to it and I do not wish to be interpreted as saying that it serves no good at all; indeed history must surely show that it has. But many increasingly see that spiritual solutions are to be found “in spite of” the institution, not dependent on it; many increasingly see that institutionalism kills the contemplative spirit. It is very much an existential question that will authentically differ for each individual. This I believe.

    I cannot and do not wish to speak for any particular political figure, whether American or ecclesiastical, but if anyone asks me do I think that Joe Biden, supported by those Faggioli decries as “post-institutional Catholics” will be a greater figure for human good than the modern Caligula who was supported by traditionalist Catholics and other conservatives, and whom he replaced, my answer will be obvious.

    Humans always organise, and so organisation is not itself intrinsically good or bad. But I always call to mind the words of Krishnamurti:

    I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path. If you first understand that, then you will see how impossible it is to organize a belief. A belief is purely an individual matter, and you cannot and must not organize it. If you do, it becomes dead, crystallized; it becomes a creed, a sect, a religion, to be imposed on others. This is what everyone throughout the world is attempting to do. Truth is narrowed down and made a plaything for those who are weak, for those who are only momentarily discontented. Truth cannot be brought down, rather the individual must make the effort to ascend to it. You cannot bring the mountain-top to the valley. If you would attain to the mountain-top you must pass through the valley, climb the steeps, unafraid of the dangerous precipices.

    • Stephen, thanks for your thoughtful comment. What made my blood “boil” was not the theological and incarnational dimension of the Church, but rather the hidden and euphemistic meanings that may or may not be there. There has to be a juridical aspect in the same way as you have to have law, police and courts in a country to deal with penal and civil problems. On the other hand, there can be an implication that the spiritual itself, God himself, can be subject to human ambition and law, that the only true Church has to be legalistic and repressive. That is something of an extension from the logical deduction from the incarnation of the Logos in Christ and his words alluding to the foundation of a church. Personal experience has given me this idea that words change their meaning depending on who utters them.

      “Opaqueness or obscurity” are very appropriate words. In an ideal world, the Pope and the bishops, dioceses, parishes, etc. would be icons of the incarnate Christ, as we read in books by Bouyer, Journet, Tillard, De Lubac and others. I “converted” to Roman Catholicism in 1981 (via the SSPX) and discovered that it had no place for me, as a layman even less than as a cleric. If the Church is reduced to its human and juridical aspect, all we can do is to turn away and embrace materialism or seek some alternative spiritual world view.

      Human elements can only be divine when they seek to be, but when they become a part of the world (in the Joannine meaning), they cease to be divine. Otherwise God embraces sin and cruelty, the image of the Demiurge of the Old Testament and (in our understanding) becomes his own antithesis. Gnosticism in itself is dualistic and can lead to some serious problems. Read in a symbolic understanding, not literal, we discover many truths as were expressed by the Gnostic revival in the 16th and 17th centuries. It is interesting that this movement paralleled the neo-Judaism of the Protestant Reformation. Sometimes the two movements converged as in German pietism. If the Roman Catholic institution, at that time or now, really represented the incarnation of Christ on earth, then why so many dissident movements? Was it all pride and sin? Or was it some human yearning for freedom and man’s very humanity?

      In many ways, the situation of Catholicism and other western Christian communities resembles the corruption of the pre-Reformation time with the rigidity of neo-scholasticsm – yet with a certain integration of religion in the local life of parishes and cities. Nowadays, the reaction is no longer a Bible-based neo-judaism but atheism or individual spirituality which can go well or badly. “It is very much an existential question that will authentically differ for each individual”. I agree with you as much as your observation that many people find their solace in parish life and belonging to a wider community.

      I find American politics so toxic and anxiety-engendering that I keep away as much as possible. We live in a time when opposites are presented as fact and we have no access to evidence. It is the same with the way many state authorities deal with matters like Brexit and the Covid pandemic. It only gives me a burning desire to hole up at the farthermost tip of Brittany. However, I was dismayed to find Trump supported by traditionalist Catholics and fundamentalist Evangelicals. I hope Biden will produce what he promises.

      Thank you for the words of Krishnamurti you quoted. I would very much like to spend time learning about oriental mysticism, especially that of India. It is an element that has been missing in my life of a “late Boomer”.

  4. Caedmon says:

    I think we should keep in mind that before maybe the 18th century religious dissent was at the very least likely to cause civil unrest, with treason and foreign invasion quite possibly thrown in as well. If a shared religion is an important part of the cement that holds society together then any sort of religious dissent is threatening.

  5. Chris says:

    “Perhaps there may be a new tendency that combines liturgical traditionalism with a critical attitude in regard to the Papacy.”

    I often think the best way to describe myself is “theologically modernist, liturgically traditionalist.” Given what you suggest, I wonder if I’m not as alone in that as I believed.

  6. Wayne Pelling says:

    The Pope has a title Servant of Servants. What a load of crap .he is carried about by other people and has Servants plus plus . I agree with you Father to be theologically modern but liturgically traditional .which is why I like the Anglican Catholic position or better how about Northern Catholic .now where have I seen that

    • One thing about Pope Benedict XIV in the 18th century is that he was a man of the Enlightenment and honoured science and the use of human reason. I read somewhere that when he died, it was “back to business” with the election of Clement XIII. Where have I heard that story before in our own times? The former Archbishop of Munich who also took the name Benedict?

      • Stephen K says:

        Father, I was intrigued by your links to the Youtube and the Wikipedia article about Benedict XIV, so I clicked eagerly. I now know something about someone I didn’t know before! Both links presented him somewhat positively and I wouldn’t disagree.

        But only relatively speaking, I think. His bull Pastoralis Romani Pontificis, combined with his two bulls on the missions, appears to have led, eventually, in the reign of his successors, to arguably retrograde and unenlightened effects on the Jesuits and their apostolate and consequently their charges, as the film “The Mission” so vividly portrays. His banning of females serving priests in the Coptic church would not, to my view, make him appear particularly enlightened, by more recent standards. His canonization of Pius V, a man whose excommunication of Elizabeth I caused, or significantly made more extreme, particular suffering of English Catholics, is probably very contestable.

        Nevertheless, he doesn’t appear to suffer from comparison with some others, and I grant that his purported quip to the conclave – to wit, that he was at least an honest man – accurately reflects his moral personality.

        Mmmm. Yes, very interesting, and very ‘enlightening’(!) Thank you!

      • There is a recent book on this Pope “Benedict XIV and the Enlightenment: Art, Science, and Spirituality” ( which is quite expensive and I haven’t read it.

        The résumé of the book reads:

        Pope Benedict XIV Lambertini (r. 1740–58) was one of the driving forces behind the Italian Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. His campaign to reconcile faith and empirical science, re-launch a dialogue between the Church and the European intellectual community, and expand papal patronage of the arts and sciences helped restore Italy’s position as a center of intellectual and artistic innovation.

        Benedict XIV and the Enlightenment offers a broad and nuanced assessment of Benedict’s engagement with Enlightenment art, science, spirituality, and culture. The collection’s essays, written by international experts in the field, cover topics ranging from Benedict’s revisions to the Church’s procedures for beatification and sanctification to his patronage of women scientists and mathematicians at the university in Bologna, his birthplace.

        The 18th century can’t have been a nice time to live in unless you were Aristocracy. The Enlightenment itself was not all good and hyper-rationalism led to the reaction of Romanticism. Benedict XIV allowed women scientists to have dead bodies fresh from the gallows for their research, so that was a step ahead. There were few “greater” inquisitors than Pius V!

        I wonder why Ratzinger chose Benedict as his papal name.

      • Stephen K says:

        Yes indeed. I wonder, now, too. And in any case, I am always conscious that none of us are perfect, and judging people of other times and places can be fraught with difficulty, tainted by moral anachronism and limited by the futility of hindsight. After all, people in 400 years’ time will do the same to us. Whilst it doesn’t mean we must not apply our reason and judgment on the morality of actions according to the norms we have, I think it’s salutary to remember that, before we throw a stone, we live in glass houses(!)

      • 18th century people had baroque music and art. We have computers, internet and artificial intelligence. Human nature has remained the same with the ups and downs, from the ugliest to the most sublime. It is the Ideal that gives us hope and draws us back from wishing for death and annihilation.

Leave a Reply to solis et ignis Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s