The Bergoglian Blitzkrieg

The more I read about the present rififi between the Pope and the traditionalists, the more I am taken back to that story from 1973 about a monastery in a remote place on Ireland’s Atlantic coast on which I wrote in Catholics, the Paradox. The film is remarkably faithful to the book by Brian Moore, which I bought and read. I was particularly concerned about the account of the Abbot’s loss of faith and his fairly easy capitulation to the priest sent from Rome to ensure the community’s compliance to the “new ways”. The book brings the story to a tidy end, but the film leaves a little more suspense and non-resolution. I noticed in the early 1980’s that there was no resolution and that it was fruitless for me to keep searching for something that probably never existed.

I am troubled by the renewal of Paul VI’s hostility to Archbishop Lefebvre in 1976 in the present decision of Pope Francis to curtail the ministry and work of the traditionalists (not the SSPX and sedevacantists which are at least in material schism) but the Fraternity of St Peter, Gricigliano and various other clerical societies and religious communities. At the same time, I am worried about many of the things I read and especially at the level of Facebook comments.

I am Catholic and Roman, I attend only the real Holy Mass, I reject Vatican II (you accept it) and I am very happy. Soft traditonalists in communion with modernist Rome would think about taking a more clear position towards modernism.

On one side, I would sympathise with the coherence of leaving the Roman Catholic Church and joining something closer to one’s convictions. Soft traditionalists and hard ones? I looked at the old video footage from 1987 of traditionalist militants breaking into a church from which they had been evicted by the police with a battering ram, and bawling Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat! Perhaps those men did the only thing possible, otherwise the church would now be a carpet warehouse or – something else. However, the scene of such mob rage does not bear witness of the love of Christ, unless we think of Jesus chasing the money-changers out of the Temple. Even then, the reaction was measured and proportionate.

Likewise, the Irish monks had a peculiar way of talking about the liturgy, showing a very rudimentary knowledge of the catechism and popular religion. I notice this kind of anti-rational obscurantism in talking about the dirty word modernism. I baited my correspondent on Facebook. What was his understanding of modernism (with or without the capital M)?

He wrote this:

Modernism is the suppression of transcendence in favour of immanence, what means that holy doctrine or holy rites are variable or depend on the trends of every time. According to modernists sacrality is everywhere, not upon you and conferred to you but intrinsically within you whence the offices turned towards the “assembly” etc.

Of course, the words transcendence and immanence. For me, they describe the relationship man has with God, who is both absolutely beyond our grasp, but at the same time is the consciousness within us. My correspondent uses the words to describe how the institutional Church would attempt to make doctrines and rites more relevant by things like Mass facing the people. Perhaps a certain analogy is possible, but not in this kind of mind. I suspect the problem of modernity having different layers of meaning between its dialectic opposition to tradition and its being used to describe the humanism of the Renaissance after the fall of the medieval Christian imperium.

Modernism is an an extremely elastic word which can be made to mean just about anything.

The architects of Vatican II were modernist but their work opened the way to the postmodernism. If truth is variable, so one day we shall attack also the natural order and will consider it as something plastic or unjust or imperfect. Deconstructionism is an offshoot of modernism.

We are unclear whether this is about general human culture or metaphysics and epistemology. Surely, believing that the Truth is our property is a denial of the very transcendence the traditionalists claim. Another aspect offered here is immobility contrasted with variability or evolution. He has seized on the hermeneutic of development as in Newman’s mind and the scholastic immobilism of Bossuet. See Owen Chadwick, From Bossuet to Newman, Cambridge 1987.

Our friend then blamed Modernism on German idealism. He directs his attack against critical-historical methods in biblical studies and anti-foundationalism in epistemology. There are hazards in both. The first can lead to the secularisation of the biblical message, the denial of transcendence and miracles, finally to materialism. The second can lead to the denial of all language and knowledge, the cancelling of culture. It can also remove the basis of political tyranny and totalitarianism, enable us to think for ourselves, enquire and progress in our knowledge, in short have a purpose to life as we all seek. He advocates Christian integralism, perhaps something on the lines of Salazar’s Estado nuovo. Perhaps this kind of right-wing regime was more benevolent than Fascism or Nazism, and it does require study. I have already written on theocracy in Christian Integralism and Humanism and Flogging made a bad man worse, and broke a good man’s heart. If this person pulled off a coup d’état, we can only imagine what his political regime would look like.

I have already quoted Bernard R.G. Reardon on Modernism:

The use of the word Modernism in restricted reference (hence the capitalization of its initial letter) to a movement of a theologically “modernizing” or liberalizing character in the Roman Catholic Church at the turn of the twentieth century has already been alluded to. But it should at once be said that to describe Roman Catholic Modernism as a movement at all is somewhat misleading, as it had little cohesion, and those to whom the designation “Modernist” has usually been applied do not in any sense constitute a school. As the most famous of them, Alfred Loisy (1857–1940), expressly stated, they were only “a quite limited number of persons” who individually shared “the desire to adapt the Catholic religion to the intellectual, moral and social needs of the present time.” But the exact determination of their overall aim differed from one writer to another, according to his particular interest. Thus the only satisfactory way of studying Modernism is not to attempt to impose upon it a schematization like that of Pius X, by whose encyclical Pascendi dominici gregis it was condemned in 1907, but to examine and assess each author’s contribution to the cause as a whole. The countries where Modernist tendencies were most in evidence were France, Italy, and England. Germany, rather surprisingly, was less affected, and in the United States it had no real following at all”.

There was no conspiracy. On the other hand, a lot of ink has flowed about L’Intégisme and the policies and actions of Pius X to combat Modernism. They turned the Church into a “spiritual police state” until the world had more serious concerns in 1914. Here are some articles of mine to avoid repeating myself here.

From the integralist point of view, postulating a Modernist conspiracy (Freemasonry, Bill Gates and the Moofia?) – no, seriously, here are books from a couple of French authors:

François Ducaud-Bourget, La Maçonnerie Noire ou La Vérité sur l’Intégrisme, Niort 1974.

Jean Madiran, L’Intégrisme, Histoire d’une Histoire, Paris (NEL) 1964.

Tit-for-Tat

The traditionalist world as I knew it was very mixed. Most clergy and laity would deny being in the stereotyped category of being rigid or politically fanatical. There is as much diversity of human personalities as in any other religious context. There are theories about why Pope Francis decided to “cancel” the traditionalist world, at least the part of it that was partially reintegrated into the official Church under the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. What seems to be the most probable is that Roman Catholicism was going the same way as the Anglican Communion under Paul VI. Whoever was responsible for getting Bergoglio elected in 2013 wanted a return to the 1970’s and Paul VI. The period between 1978 and 2013 has to be airbrushed out of existence. That represents thirty-five years of a conciliatory approach to the more moderate and “soft” elements of the traditionalist reaction.

What does the neo-Montinian papacy want? It seems to essentially political, in the same way as the traditionalists would revive El Caudillo and His Most Catholic Majesty. The antithesis is essentially Chinese Communism, since Russian Communism collapsed under Gorbachev in 1989. To the extreme extent, the Pope would be something like Xi Jinping’s “chaplain” like the Deutsche Christen in 1920’s Germany. For the time being, the money and the power are in Beijing. It is yet another Peace of Constantine. In the end, there is little difference between one kind of political Catholicism and another. The pendulum swings one way and the other.

* * *

My own experience of life shapes what we perceive in the Church. I write as an anti-foundationalist and a sceptic. Truth is transcendent and above human understanding or desire for possession. From one person to another, there is no real communication, and language is disguised by so many layers of meaning that there is more confusion than understanding. You, reading this, will be unable to imagine remotely what might be in my mind. Perhaps I should stop writing and close down this blog. I don’t because some people show signs of appreciating it and finding something positive in it. One thing that is important is that I was a Roman Catholic only from 1981 (received by the SSPX) to 1997 after a failed reconciliation with my former superior after a miserable year with the Anglican Catholic Church under Bishop Leslie Hamlett. That was a total of about fifteen years. In all honesty, I spent the entire time in a state of nostalgia for Anglicanism and the pre-Reformation Church. I detested the We possess the truth attitude. I discovered Idealism, Romanticism and Ressourcement when I was up at Fribourg from 1986 to 1990. Even though I was accepted by Msgr Wach in 1990 to be a seminarian at Gricigliano, the “softest” traditionalists around, there was always an inner tension between my outward orthodoxy and my secret search and yearning.

In a way, the traditionalists “met their Waterloo”, their Karma, as the very principle of their authority decided to shut them down. The choice is between denying one’s very principles and reason for being – and becoming schismatic. That dirty word defines a fate worse than anything. It is the keystone that keeps the building standing. This is the Achilles Heel of Roman Catholicism. Modernism was actually an attempt to propose a new apologia for a Christianity that had become absurd. Mysteries are above human reason, not against it. The Päpstprinzip (a neologism based on Führerprinzip, absolute and unquestioning obedience to Hitler) gives a version of Christianity that has been morally rotten and intellectually absurd for the better part of a millennium.

In my Romantic view of life, I could not reject it all for the grimness of materialism and nihilism. Fortunately, I have a reasonable knowledge of Church history. There were elements to sought to separate Christianity as a way of life and a sacramental Mystery from man’s lust for power, money and sexual domination. The transcendentals of beauty, truth and goodness were always upmost in my thought and experience, even if only implicit. The World of Ideas sometimes expresses itself in the Cave in which we live with our shadows. As a student in Switzerland, I sought my own soul through the writings of Jung and those who were inspired by his work. I had to reconcile opposites and become the unique person I am, on pain of going the way of death of most of our contemporaries. Such a view of life is not compatible with either kind of Roman Catholicism, Marxist or theocratic along the lines of Tradição, Família, Propriedade. We are not human beings, but collective units to be bought and sold by the wealthy and powerful.

For as long as it was about beauty and oneness with God, I believed I would find my way in Roman Catholicism. I was warned by my own family and friends that it was little better than a cult. It is better to be an Anglican and not take it seriously! A prelate in Rome (Msgr Camille Perl) even advanced the idea that I was “unstable” because I made the change from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism, “swam the Tiber” as many Anglo-Catholics call it. Yes, it completes the absurdity and nihilism of the entire paradigm. However, the message of Christ and his continued existence are too good to be thrown away with the trash.

* * *

Why now? The usual reason offered is that it was an error of Benedict XVI to remove the restrictions on the old liturgy. Summorum Pontificium would have backfired because of the radicals. Mainstream conservative intellectuals were expressing themselves like Archbishop Lefebvre. His biggest problem was religious freedom. We have only to read the Parable of the Great Inquisitor from Dostoyevsky. So, shut it all down. Either way, the traditionalists lose their keystone of legitimacy. They either have to admit they were wrong or go into formal schism. How many laity would follow in either case? My own feelings are mixed, because I abhor the political right (just like the left) in its collectivism and corporatism. It all comes to politics. Another problem is that men like Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano and Bishop Schneider are onboard, and their discourse is very radical and conspiracy theorist. The problem for our Peronist Pope is that trying to rein in the traditionalists will cause increased radicalisation and a larger schismatic movement in parallel with the SSPX. We see the example of the Old Believers in Russian Orthodoxy or the Recusants in sixteenth-century England. Come rack and rope… Perhaps some traditionalists could distinguish themselves by a different style of writing and expressing themselves.

Is Church unity that important. Should we all go along with the Pope whatever? The history of the Church is such that there were splits because of human corruption, and then the dissidents also succumbed to corruption, sectarianism and radicalisation. Unfortunately, Christianity hasn’t much of a leg to stand on if it depends on these considerations. Ecumenism has softened many of the old polemics, but has also highlighted the impossibility of “diversity in unity”. The weak have to conform to the powerful. How should the Church be? There seems to be no answer.

Who is going to win or lose? Bergoglio and “Padlock” Roche? The traditionalists? Either way, the old Constantianian arrangement is closing in on itself. Which is it to be? Peppone or Salazar? Is the state going to accept theocracy or is the Church going to knuckle under in a new form of Erastianism like the good old Church of England? Beijing and Rome are very close together by plane and electronic communications! Has China asked for the elimination of the traditionalists? I doubt they would be interested as long as they are not in China.

One big problem is the role of the liturgy in all this,something which means a lot more than many people think. How does the Church in its dimension of a Christian “world of ideas (εἶδος) relate to human beings in this world? It is through the liturgy. The idea of liturgy is extended beyond the prayer of the Church to any kind of ritual unifying people and an idea. The Nazis had their pagan rites at Nuremberg, Berlin and elsewhere. We have all seen the films of processions of nuclear missiles in Red Square in Moscow with all the red flags. Capitalism has advertising and marketing. The keystone of Vatican II was not about the Church or the Word of God, but the liturgy. Without the liturgy, the Church is meaningless, even if some elevated souls in the Quaker Society of Friends achieve this meaning by silent prayer.

What will Bergoglio achieve by having only the many variations of the Paul VI rites whilst recalcitrant traditionalists are pushed into schism? For one, religious freedom is gone, one of the tenets of Vatican II that was most contested by Archbishop Lefebvre. It is ironic, almost as if two opposing versions of intégrisme were trying to cancel each other out. Surely, the Pope would have been advised that the traditionalists would form a number of entities like the Society of St Pius X and that more people calling themselves Catholics would be outside than under his jurisdiction. Would there be a small and faithful Novus Ordo remnant, the “one true church”? Would Xi Jinping be interested in something so winnowed down? What about the Pauline rite itself? It is 73 years old. Perhaps he should just shut everything down in one big lockdown until Padlock Roche comes up with a new and pristine liturgy.

Like in other times in history, Catholicism is becoming quite hateful like the secular world and its politics. The Oozelum Bird flies in ever-decreasing circles until it disappears up its own arsehole. In this somewhat safe but insanitary situation, it showers shit and sarcasm over its pursuer. Another version, less vulgar, suggests that it flies around in ever-decreasing circles until it manages to fly up itself, disappearing completely, which adds to its rarity. Whichever you prefer…

Many of my readers express their confusion and heartbreak. Perhaps this is an opportunity for traditionalism to reform itself, become more contemplative and mystical, closer to Orthodoxy and Anglicanism, less concerned about being the “true church” or controlling other people. Also I remember a time in the late 1980’s and 90’s when the traditionalist question was hardly discussed. It was just normality, and I was being informed as a seminarian by men like Msgr John F. McCarthy and Msgr Wach about what was happening in Rome. It is almost as if we were waiting for some controversy to give us all a new shot of energy. Traditionalists now have an extraordinary new burst of energy in the face of a situation like the stand-off between Archbishop Lefebvre and Paul VI in 1976. The next thing to expect would be Archbishop Vigano and Bishop Schneider getting conditional consecration (see the traditionalists’ very own “Apostolicae Curae”) from the SSPX bishops and consecrating a whole load more! I gratefully display a photo of Pierre Martin Ngô Đình Thục on my wall, since my priesthood came from his episcopal succession.

* * *

An expression often used in our days is the rad-trad, the radical traditionalist. It is something I left behind when I returned to Anglicanism by way of the Continuum and the Traditional Anglican Communion and then the Anglican Catholic Church. Everything had changed since the conflict in the ACC episcopate in late 1997 and the departure of Bishop Hamlett to the foundation of a new ecclesial body. The ACC recovered and some more serious men were raised to the Episcopate. I am grateful for the stability I now find and the serious level of theological knowledge in the clergy.

We have a certain amount of liturgical diversity in the ACC including the 1570 Roman rite which with the 1928 American Book of Common Prayer forms the basis of the Anglican Missal and the English Missal. My Archbishop allows me to use the Sarum liturgy which is not currently on the official list of approved liturgical rites. We tend to be conservative in terms of politics and moral influence, and this is more pronounced in America than the UK. One thing that is thankfully absent is the problem of the “all-or-nothing” communion with the Pope. It is a little like the Liberals in 1830’s France (Lamennais in particular) campaigning for the separation of Church and State. How can the clergy live and minister under hostile civil authorities. I see separation from Rome in the same light, not as act of damaging the Church’s unity, but simple survival.

Ironically, Pope Francis has laid emphasis on synodality. Probably what he means by this word is anonymous bureaucracy led by men like Roche (“Terrible news that the horrible Arthur Roche will be prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. One of the most ambitious, pompous and ruthless operators in the Catholic Church. Yuk.” – Damien Thompson) and Cupich (Archbishop of Chicago). In many of the Orthodox Churches and in the ACC, we have provincial and diocesan synods. Typically, they begin with Mass and a time of socialising. The meeting proceeds according to an agenda including reports and motions which are proposed, seconded and voted upon. It is partly about accounts and other practical matters, but more spiritual matters are brought up as needed. The Bishop gives his own report and anything else of note. We usually go home with a feeling that it has been an expression of our unity but also the dignity and existence of each of us as persons. I cannot imagine that traditionalist organisation don’t also have meetings and discuss important matters to be decided collegially or by consultation. Perhaps Pope Francis would like it all done by artificial intelligence while he goes off to play golf with Roche and Cupich!

The traditionalists need to earn our respect by taking responsibility for their own mistakes. I think they can learn from the example of Archbishop Lefebvre and continue to run seminaries and ordain priests, take steps to ensure the ministry of bishops. They need to be more collegial and synodal, ideas coming from persons and offered as inspiration for corporate decisions. They should accept the principle of separation of Church and State and live in secular society with the Faith as a sign of contradiction and witness.

I have no simple answers for such a complex world as the traditionalists and the radicalism that can enter and possess any religious or political idea. At the same time, we have as Christians to take responsibility for our world. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said “If you are neutral in situation of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor“.

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

This was written by Martin Niemöller, a German Lutheran pastor and theologian who initially supported Hitler’s Nazi ideology. He became disillusioned and joined a group of clergy opposed to Hitler. He nearly ended up like Bonhöffer but was liberated by the Allies. I hope and pray that the traditionalists will come to such nobility of spirit. And this is why I speak out for the traditionalists even though I know they would despise me for my instability and Modernism!

* * *

Just after publishing this post, I read the article of my brother priest Fr Jonathan Munn Blogday 2021: Seen and not heard in which he describes the situation he lived through (more recently than myself) in the Church of England. This situation is just where the Roman Catholic Church is going. Such is the need for Continuing Churches. It is a beautiful testimony.

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