Roman Catholic Woes

I am one of relatively few who has swum the Tiber both ways, return journey. I left the Church of England and returned to Anglicanism via the Continuum. I experienced the traditionalist world at first hand. I knew the most toxic and fanatical elements, and I have also known gentle and beautiful souls who sought sanctity and the beauty of holiness.

I was also able to discover my own difficulties in relating, because my experience was analogous in the community as in marriage. I have (Aspergers) autism which essentially means that I cannot deal with the cut and thrust of hypocritical and insincere people negotiating for power, money and sexual domination. I live on “another planet”, and found refuge in a Church where I was not expected to take extreme political positions or adopt the “one true church” ideology.

Pope Francis has decided (the writing was on the wall for a good while) to line up his sights on the traditionalists, defining them by their liturgical use. It is ironic, since many traditionalists used their liturgical rite and other symbols (like the cassock) to promote extreme political views like the intégrisme favoured by Pope Pius X at the beginning of the twentieth century. I lived in the traditionalist world from 1981 when I was received by a priest of the Society of St Pius X. The following year, I went to France hoping to escape the crankiness of many I found at St Joseph and St Padarn in Holloway Road. Many would call this kind of rigorism and fanaticism a form of Jansenism (Jansenism and Jansenism Revisited). I would call it the madness of mass humanity as happened in Nazi Germany when ordinary people hung on every word of Hitler and Göbbels. Over the years, I separated from this kind of sectarian religion and learned about alternative theories and views about truth and consciousness. Eventually, I would discover Romanticism and noble souls like Thomas Mann. Many others too have taken the road of silence and attend Mass and prayers, but avoid the indoctrinating socialisation on the steps outside the church door. This silent minority is also being punished because all they want is a Christian life with the old rite but without having to adopt a clear identity other than being simply Catholic.

The motu proprio Traditiones Custodes is a clear expression of the Pope’s policy of reversing that of Benedict XVI which was to “mainstream” traditionalists and grant them a particular liturgy in the legitimate diversity of rites that those of religious orders and some dioceses like Lyons and Milan. The official text and its English translation is found here. I won’t go through it all here. Quite simply, those who want the old rite have not only to accept the mainstream status quo but also to identify with a self-defined traditionalist community. This is the crunch point of belonging to an ecclesial institution and not being able to accept things like the new rite, the ordination of women (in the Church of England). It is an agonising choice. We choose marginalisation or leaving institutional Christianity altogether.

Personally, I returned to Anglicanism to find an ecclesial spirit that was generally much less fanatical, though upholding traditional rites in archaic English. Being mostly alone as a priest, I was allowed at an unofficial level to adopt the Use of Sarum, which I continue to use. I probably belong to that category of people called geeks or enthusiasts for anything that is out of the ordinary. I have many friends who as laymen collect church plate and vestments, making them available for the priests they support. Some of my friends became Orthodox, even if it meant embracing the Byzantine Liturgy and a whole different Christian culture. It was the only way they could remain coherent.

Pope Francis is a Jesuit, the very force that promoted ultra-papalism in the nineteenth century around Vatican I and the pontificate of Pius IX. It is all about obedience, blind obedience, Der Führerprinzip which Hitler “borrowed” from the Church. It is all about authority. Benedict XVI has a different attitude as a German, placing Tradition and custom above authority. Authority has to be accountable, something we are reading about all the time in the political world of prime ministers and presidents of republics. The ultra-papalist Pope is accountable to no one, and that is the very weakness of a system that has destroyed its own credibility.

In a piece of his writing, a friend of mine has pointed out that, like in current British politics, the blame has to be put on an enemy, the “rigid” traditionalists. They are the ones to blame, not the pedophile clergy or the money embezzlers. This is not entirely just, because, at least in theory, sex-abusers and crooks are severely sanctioned in Rome. Unfortunately, the bias seems to be in favour of liberals who are far from liberal or concerned with other people’s freedom. Like in society in general, Catholics are becoming polarised in the extreme positions and “cancel” each other. This new motu proprio comes over more as a punishment than a real pastoral attempt to win the unity of the faithful in Christ.

The impression I have is the story of Charlie Chaplin’s Dictator, in which the Jewish community in Tomania is tolerated for as long as Hynkel is negotiating for a loan with the Jewish banker to finance the invasion of Osterlich. The loan is refused and Hynkel declares his persecution of the Jews with the repeated word “Straff, straff!” (German word for punishment).

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not accusing the Pope of being like the Nazis, but there are profound human characteristics in common which make comparisons possible.

For many years, I have thought that the Roman Catholic institution (like the Church of England) need to go to the end of their self-destructive logic and face the consequences. I share many ideas with Rod Dreher in terms of seeking to live a Christian and priestly life differently. Personally, I am not persecuted, but I am already in the catacombs. I have come to terms with certain realities. I am canonically irregular for Rome and I would not be acceptable to the traditionalists because I am not of the right Apostolic succession or I am unorthodox. I am elsewhere, and I legitimately function as a priest because I am under episcopal jurisdiction.

I won’t go calling Pope Francis names or saying that he is some kind of anti-Christ. That kind of talk is sterile and hateful, and not based on real evidence. We can be prophetic and apocalyptic, as nihilistic as we want. But that will bring no good. I sense and observe many of the things Dostoyevsky found in late nineteenth-century Russia: madness, nihilism, negativity. This is what brought me to Russian philosophers and the inspiration they found in German Romanticism. There is another side to humanity from this ugliness.

I am realistic to come to terms with the fact that this century may well resemble the past one, not with the same symbols and caricatures, but with the same ideologies deep down. Those who will not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. The victory has already been won by Christ. Our tiny little communities, identifying with Roman Catholicism or Anglo-Catholicism (or Old Roman Catholicism for that matter) may go the way of all mortal flesh, but we will have tried. I and many others are not concerned for ecclesial respectability or status. We have been down the road of contradiction for so long already.

Our duty now (at least mine) is to know what liturgy really means to us. We need to go to the heart of everything and not remain at the superficial level of appearance or worldly politics. It is not unlike my own campaign to revive the Use of Sarum, a new Romantic medievalism and a way out of the present dualism of extremes. In worldly terms, it is hopeless, and we will have died before anything moves. Our vocation is to sow seeds without any hope of reaping a harvest. That harvest will be for others.

I leave this subject with the words of the repentant Cardinal Altamirano in the film The Mission:

Your Holiness, the little matter that brought me here to the furthest edge of your light on Earth is now settled. The Indians are once more free to be enslaved by the Spanish and Portuguese settlers. I don’t think that’s hitting the right note. Begin again… Your Holiness, I write to you in this year of Our Lord 1758 from the southern continent of the Americas, from the town of Asunción, in the Province of La Plata, two weeks march from the great mission of San Miguel. These missions have provided a refuge for the Indians against the worst depredations of the settlers and have earned much resentment because of it. The noble souls of these Indians incline towards music. Indeed, many a violin played in the academies of Rome itself has been made by their nimble and gifted hands. It was from these missions the Jesuit fathers carried the word of God to the high and undiscovered plateau to those Indians still existing in their natural state and received in return, martyrdom.

These final words resound in my mind, remembering that the Church was in the pockets of those anti-religious rulers like the King of Portugal. I have in my own time known priests who died from broken hearts. Cardinal Altamirano utters the words of his own salvation or damnation:

So, your Holiness, now your priests are dead, and I am left alive. But in truth it is I who am dead, and they who live. For as always, your Holiness, the spirit of the dead will survive in the memory of the living.

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15 Responses to Roman Catholic Woes

  1. Bernard Brandt says:

    Dear Fr. Chadwick,
    I appreciate your irenic, prophetic, and personal witness in this matter. It would seem that the tendency to try to tell others just what liturgical rite or spiritual practice they are or are not permitted to use is both widespread and perennial. I am happy to see both that you are free of it, and by your own example, show the fruits of the devotion to a particular set of liturgical and spiritual practices.

    For my part, I am contemplating the writing of an open letter to His Holiness. I really should have done so, years ago, regarding the Sarum Rite in the RC Church, But in the belief that His Holiness was unlikely either to receive it, or to listen to it, I did not do so. I fear that my failure to do so has led, either indirectly or directly, to the present pass.

    • Dear Mr. Brandt,

      I wish you would not blame yourself. Like many of us, we can do nothing except write books and articles. Sow those seeds that will give their fruits wherever they fall. I see many parallels between Pope Francis and Cardinal Altamirano before he saw the consequences of his moral weakness. The character of Altamirano was in the pocket of the King of Portugal. Bergoglio is in the pocket of the likes of your President and a new hysteria and tyranny.

      As a priest, my vocation is not directly pastoral. I am not a leader. I write and throw out ideas. We need to be free of those who would enslave the new “Guarani” and destroy the work of kind and human Christianity that fulfilled their identity as indigenous people. We too are indigenous in our histories and what makes us love God and the beauty we are given.

      You too have been giving your ideas via the internet. What can you do better? Letters to the Pope won’t be read, or would be replied by something trite, smug and impersonal. Last Wednesday night, I camped on board my little boat moored at Dinan and I dreamt that the Pope had died. What made me dream that? The morning after, he published his motu proprio. My priests are dead, and I am left alive. But in truth it is I who am dead, and they who live.

    • It occurs to me that the Papacy since Paul VI, with the exception of Benedict XVI and John Paul II, represents a kind of Jacobinism in the Church. This tendency is still present in the French political scene with the emphasis placed on Paris and people who live in Paris, whilst dismissing those of us living in other areas. I see a reflection of a clash between the Jacobins and the Chouans at the time of the Revolution. I live in a Chouan area like when I lived in the Vendée. I argue for more diversity determined by where people live and their own cultural values. Bergoglio seems to be becoming a Robespierre of the Church – he may die on his own “guillotine”!

  2. Stephen K says:

    This is how I see it: for as long as there have been people organizing into hierarchical structures to promote a policy/doctrine/state of affairs (etc), there have been factions, and individuals, at war with each other for control. Democracy is a fine idea but in practice no historical model appears to have been immune from manipulation or white-anting. Some will never accept this or that decision.

    Besides, the principal Christian Churches are not democratic , and certainly not the Roman Church, which is and has been simply the main and major part of the Continuing Western Roman empire.
    Therefore , viewed in this light, Francis’s decision should hardly be shocking: he is, like the emperors of old, merely cutting off the head of a treacherous serpent, or quashing rebels threatening the state of affairs. If Vigano, Burke, or any of the other “usual suspects” (with acknowledgment to Claude Rains in Casablanca) were in his position, we must not be fooled into thinking that they would not use their sharp decapitating axes or hoes in the opposite direction.

    [Sigh!] Power appears to be the strongest addictive, everywhere.

    I once watched Rowan Williams give a sermon in a church in Rome, and he spoke of the priests in the Temple going about their “religion-making”. He was contrasting it to the spiritual dimension of the Christian calling, you could say. I have a lot of time for Rowan Williams. I think he saw the corrupting influence of ecclesiastical politics on the religious and spiritual life.

    Perhaps Francis does too but he’s enmeshed, and participant, in a very long tradition of it. Sadly, both the progressives and traditionalists with the loudest voices are scrapping like dogs over the prize of an idol called, variously, “the Church”, “the Catholic Church”, “the true Faith” etc. etc. They may deny this, but if they stopped to reflect seriously on the mystery of God and Life, they would cease their obsession with control and power.

    I’m a bad and poor Christian myself. I want to know and feel and do more than I’ve done through my past life. But I’m not edified (lit. nourished) by the history of my native Church and its factions through the ages. I’m challenged by the distillations of key moral questions , such as the story portrayed by many films and novels and plays [e.g. The Mission, A Man For All Seasons, The Razor’s Edge</em. The Power And the Glory – the list is too long!] and encounters with ordinary and wise people. But the official churches – qua institutions and official self-proclaiming authorities – have lost my trust and adherence. I have formed the view that a belief in a “Church” does not equate to a belief in “God”.

    There are many people who have a simple implicit trust in the religious habits and customs of their childhood and formative years and just go about them without the kind of critical analysis and polemic intellectualizing of abstruse concepts, and these can be found in all traditions and they have my deep respect. There is no idolatry in them. They are the holy ones.

    I hope I make sense to my co-readers.

    • What you say, especially in the last paragraph, makes a lot of sense. Here in France, there is elite Catholicism in the towns, where people are in the kind of church they want out of choice, consciously. In the country, there were “habitual” worshippers in the parishes, but these parishes are nearly dead. The village church where I live is now only used for funerals. I think the closest regular Sunday Mass would be about half an hour away in the town where I do most of my shopping. I think the days of “indigenous tradition” are over. Already in the 19th century, after the Revolution, the corpse was awakened by Romanticism and an idealisation of the past (because the real past was human nature just like now).

      I don’t believe that parish Catholicism could ever be regenerated. Much of the “intentional” Catholicism you see in the towns (traditionalism, conservatism, charismatic renewal, political agendas of both left and right, etc.) tends to survive by its sectarianism and emphasis on identity.

      The little old ladies (when they are still alive) are perhaps still in their innocence and the earthly paradise. We who have thought about things are exiled, just like Adam and Eve from Eden. What we desire is unattainable. All these things seem to be the ingredients of nihilism and a death wish. We have to change our philosophy of life, and no one else can or will do it for us. Certainly, faith in Jesus Christ like the Evangelicals, but at a deeper level lest it evaporate at the first sign of adversity.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        But, when we who have thought about things, think about them with wonder, with joy, with what has been called ‘the pertinence of curiosity’ (though a not undangerous quality socially)…

      • Stephen K says:

        Dear David,
        You have responded to Father Anthony’s reply to my own response to his original post but I didn’t initially understand what you wanted to say. I think you may have been intending to express some solidarity with his comment We who have thought about things are exiled. If I’m correct – (please clarify if I’m incorrect) – permit me to clarify what I wanted to say, and please feel welcome to respond to me directly.

        We all think about things but we don’t all think about things the same way. It appears to me that it is when we are thinking about things without any reference to ourselves –such as would be the case when we are trying to score points or re-assure ourselves – that we most tend to act peacefully. Have you ever observed someone working away at a task, oblivious to anything or anyone else? It is at that moment that they are also oblivious to themselves. A more perfect suppression of self-centred ego can hardly be imagined, I think. St Benedict had this insight in the motto ora et labora.

        I meet people who do not engage in ecclesiology, in sacramentology, in theology, in philosophy, in polemics, in doctrinal or semantic hair-splitting. But they go to mass daily; they pray to Mary or the saints. And every time I encounter them I see no rancour in them, no back-biting, no nastiness.

        They make me feel ashamed. It is not that they do not think about things, but simply that they do not think about God, or religion the way people like me who make posts on blogs like this, do. In other words, I am not sure that thinking about such things the way I do is so very good or useful in any sense. To be sure, there are potential benefits to an individual for thinking about these things in a critical way, but nothing is certain about this, nothing absolute.

        We are truly exiled by our “sophistication”. We are what we find ourselves becoming by a whole range of existential accidents (birth, geography, education, economics etc). I conclude there is no moral virtue in thinking we think best. The moment ego or vanity takes a foot-hold, we must go to the back of the queue (I think).

        I welcome your own perspective on the matter.

      • One reflection I heard in the 1980’s in Paris was that of the silent ordinary people being the saints of our time. We will never hear about them but God will. For us who have been to seminary and / or studied theology, that seems to have expelled us from the Eden of non-thinking innocent people. We “sophisticated” people seem then to be condemned without appeal. We cannot stop thinking, return to that state of doing what our grandmothers did, without thinking. Could I return to the Church (Church of England) of my childhood? I could but I would, as an exile, be unable to relate to it.

        Perhaps the RC Church could cater only to the innocent non-thinkers and tell the rest of us that we are not welcome. Can we return to childhood and that naivety that goes with the wide eyes every time we get an Indulgence or a holy card from the parish priest? Are there still innocent souls in Eden without the big sinners Adam and Eve who were chased away as soon as they became aware of good and evil?

        When I first came to France, I dreamt of a diocese that had escaped the changed and gone on as before, somewhere up in the Massif Central or the Alps. Unfortunately, no such place exists. The reforms have touched every single parish in the whole country, except a handful whose priests who fought on for years are now dead.

        I don’t think anyone’s thought is “better” than another’s. Our thought needs to contribute to an ever-growing human wisdom. Unfortunately, we love to “cancel” each other. I would be tempted to go along with the nihilist apocalyptic narrative, but that is a cop-out from our own responsibility. I believe that my vocation is to contribute thought, and it may do good or not do good in a world that doesn’t care. That is God’s business with us all who think in different ways. If we are rational, we cannot become irrational without renouncing our humanity.

      • I am going to try a provocative idea, which is not my conviction. We seek something that is beyond our bestial materialism, but when we do we become unhappy. It seems to reflect the Fall that symbolises mankind going from the life of irrational animals to seeking knowledge and consciousness. And immortality. That is the point where we are punished and banished.

        Traditional Church teaching gives the idea of Christ’s mission as being the “antidote” to the Fall. Wisdom is being like little children. The fool for Christ is the symbol of holiness in Russian thought. People with autism and other neurological or mental conditions seem to keep a kind of innocence that others envy. The word is humility.

        I add to this comment that I have just watched the film version of the Journal d’un Curé de Campagne by Georges Bernanos. This author was almost a “French Dostoyevsky”. I rarely find films “tear-jerking”, but this one is. After his incredible spiritual combat, he dies with the words on his lips Tout est grâce.

      • Stephen K says:

        Father, you understand what I have tried to say but you have added value to it. Of course I do not mean to reject rational thinking. We use the tools we have at any time, and just as our bodily cells replace themselves over the course of life so does our person grow and modify. We cannot un-grow. We simply have to avoid rationality and intellectuality tainted by pride etc. As you say wisdom is being like little children. Besides, I reflect that in the Father’s house there are many mansions.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Belatedly… My thought was that ‘sophistication’ need not exclude still being able to wonder, and respond with joy, and with ‘curiosity’ that is to the point (even if its questions might annoy someone not immediately open to, or appreciative of, it). I agree that we “have to avoid rationality and intellectuality tainted by pride etc.” , but also without pride our trained thought can ‘automatically’ get in the way, I think – if reading or hearing Shakespeare or Racine you find yourself engaged in analyzing the rhetoric, or if in listening to Bach you find yourself too consciously conducting harmonic analysis or looking for possible thematic or numerical symbolism, for example. Yet, somehow, with what effort – or ‘effort to avoid effort’ – or however it happens, you can – and often do – find yourself directly delighting (even, perhaps, the more so, informed but not distracted by your mental training).

        I still have not read (or seen dramatizations of) any Bernanos… and now I do not find my translation of the Journal d’un Curé de Campagne, checking the shelf where I expected it…

        But reading your latest comment, Father Anthony, some lines from T.S. Eliot’s ‘East Coker’, II, come to mind:

        The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
        Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.

      • You mention Bach. I had an organ teacher who found that I was playing a lot of bum notes because I was not really aware of the harmony and I was not anticipating where the music was going. As with writing in a language, where we need to be able to make a grammatical analysis, it is important to understand what key we are playing in, where it is going through modulation, tricks like Neopolitan thirds, chromaticism for the sake of colour. The musician also develops a rational understanding of what he is listening to as a passive listener. The degree of this rational work is moderated to allow the imagination and the sensual character of man to take in the music. I have a slight degree of synaesthesia and associate music at the imaginative level with events in my childhood and their smells.

        Christ preached the Parable of the Talents. I’m sure simple country people can find a high degree of holiness through simple observances of prayer and going to church. Those of us to whom much is given, much will be expected from us at our Judgement. That is where humility comes in without crushing what we have and what we have to offer.

        I quote the dying young priest of Bernanos: “Tout est grâce”.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        “The musician also develops a rational understanding of what he is listening to as a passive listener. The degree of this rational work is moderated to allow the imagination and the sensual character of man to take in the music.” Yes! Might we say, in the case of music – at least, musical performance (and, in what other cases?) – one must have that rational work, and also ‘transcend’ it – and, again, have sufficient technical mastery or ‘technique’, yet ‘transcend’ that, too (e.g., the experience as a listener of the aridity or superficiality of ‘mere technical brilliance’)?

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