Neo-Catholic Blues
Ferrara Responds to Mirus

Christopher A. Ferrara


(Posted 02/25/09 Shortly after I responded to Phillip Lawler’s piece on the website concerning the alleged (but never specified) doctrinal infidelities of Roman Catholic traditionalists, a Remnant reader alerted me to a piece published two days later on the same website by Jeffrey Mirus, who apparently operates the site. (“Benedict’s Hermeneutic Of Continuity,” January 30, 2009).

The Mirus piece represents a genre of lay Catholic commentary that I would call the faux theological condemnation. Mirus condemns traditionalists on grounds which are passed off as theological, but are really nothing more than a kind of haughty disdain for the perceived attitude of traditionalists in exercising the right to question and prescind from post-conciliar novelties in the Church, none of which the faithful have ever been required to embrace.

Oddly enough, this genre appears to be enjoying a revival precisely at the moment when the Pope himself has vindicated the traditionalist position on the Latin Mass (that Paul VI never legally suppressed it and that no “permission” was ever needed to offer it) and lifted the excommunications of the SSPX bishops, thus removing any possible ground for continuing to calumniate SSPX adherents (the most “extreme” of the “extreme traditionalists”) as “schismatics.”

Now, traditionalists have never questioned the ecclesial standing of those who, in an analogy to the neo-conservatives of secular politics, can fairly be called “neo-Catholics.” In The Great Façade (2002) the term “neo-Catholic” was proposed defensively (and with no little exasperation) as a response to decades of relentless criticism of “extreme traditionalists” and “radical traditionalists” by commentators like Mirus, who have constituted themselves the spokesmen for responsible “mainstream Catholicism,” and who have been trying to cast traditionalists into outer darkness since Vatican II.  Far from impugning the Catholicity of “neo-Catholics,” however, The Great Façade goes so far as to argue that many members of the “neo-Catholic” constituency exhibit a personal piety that puts to shame the faith of some who call themselves traditionalists, even if traditionalists are right to oppose the post-conciliar innovation of the Church as a disastrous mistake.

In the same spirit, the Remnant’s Second International Declaration in Support of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI calls upon all Catholics of good will to lay aside their differences and support the Pope against the coalition of the worldwide media, liberal pressure groups, and Modernists that has formed to attack His Holiness as an isolated and reactionary monarch because of his recent historic gestures of conciliation toward the traditionalist “movement.”

But it seems that certain neo-Catholic commentators remain committed to defending their turf.  It seems they have intuited that the Pope’s moves in favor of traditionalists signal the inevitable end of the “springtime of Vatican II” and thus negate their claims of superior Catholic fidelity vis-à-vis traditionalists for having defended the Novus Ordo debacle. It seems they have concluded that their only (and fast-dwindling) hope of maintaining the moral high ground they refuse to vacate is to pretend not only that nothing has changed—when everything has changed—but that traditionalists are more “unfaithful” than ever.

Hence Mirus’ piece gamely recycles dreary clichés of neo-Catholic thought, many of which are addressed in The Great Façade. Among these is the  illogical, unjust and dishonest assertion of a moral equivalence between Protestants or Modernists on the “left” and traditionalists on the “right.” Like neo-Catholic commentators in general, however, Mirus offers only empty accusations unsupported by any evidence that traditionalists join Protestants and Modernists in rejecting teachings of the Magisterium.

Refuting Mirus’ inane commentary is about as difficult as shooting parked cars, but the exercise is nonetheless necessary. As Mike Matt quipped in a conversation about this essay, “the parked cars are in the middle of the freeway.” That is, neo-Catholic commentators are still doing their best to impede advancement of the traditionalist cause, which is simply the cause of restoring the Church to her condition before the post-conciliar “reforms” inflicted their devastation. So, I will quote and reply to Mirus’ piece for the benefit of anyone who might still take his position seriously.

Confusion About the Magisterium

·    “Any understanding which fastens on what Scripture says to the exclusion of the Magisterium (as Protestants typically do) or which fastens on this or that statement of the Magisterium in preference to others (as Traditionalists typically do) is doomed to be incorrect. The proper interpretation will always be the one which allows for the truth of all the relevant Scriptural and Magisterial texts  [emphasis mine here and throughout].”

Right out of the gate Mirus reveals serious confusion about the nature of Catholic dogma and doctrine and the traditionalist position with respect to the Magisterium.  First of all, Catholics are not obliged to seek a “proper interpretation” of Magisterial pronouncements by looking to “all the relevant Scriptural and Magisterial texts” as if the Faith were an endless exercise in continuous cross-referencing. For one thing, the Church’s dogmatic definitions are infallible ex sese—of themselves—as the First Vatican Council teaches in its Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus (1870). The definitions thus “interpret” themselves, and a literate Catholic need do nothing but read the definition in order to understand what the Church teaches and what he must believe. Take, for example, the infallible definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception by Blessed Pius IX in 1854:

We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.

Hence, if anyone shall dare—which God forbid!—to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should dare to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he think in his heart.

Any questions? There shouldn’t be.  The definition speaks for itself, and there is no reason to “consult all the relevant Scriptural and Magisterial texts,” as Mirus supposes, in order to know with absolute certainty the meaning of this, or any other, article of the Faith.  Catholics are not only entitled to “prefer” this statement of dogma to any later statement,  they are obliged to cling to it, rejecting any attempt to alter its meaning. For as Vatican I further declares: “that meaning of the sacred dogmas is ever to be maintained which has once been declared by holy mother church, and there must never be any abandonment of this sense under the pretext or in the name of a more profound understanding.”[1]

As to Catholic doctrine below the level of defined dogma, traditionalists do not “prefer” some Magisterial statements over others.  That accusation is just plain silly.  In fact, traditionalists assert precisely the opposite: that one must not prefer some Magisterial statements over others. In particular, one must not do what neo-Catholics do, along with Modernists: give overriding importance to the teachings of Vatican II merely because of their recency.  Traditionalists rightly insist that there is no need to “cross-reference” any authentic teaching of the Magisterium, before, during or after the Council, since all Magisterial teachings are true in themselves and not subject to revision by later teachings.  For example, consider this passage from Libertas, Pope Leo XIII’s landmark encyclical “On the Nature of Human Liberty”:

Since, then, the profession of one religion is necessary in the State, that religion must be professed which alone is true, and which can be recognized without difficulty, especially in Catholic States, because the marks of truth are, as it were, engraved upon it. This religion, therefore, the rulers of the State must preserve and protect, if they would provide—as they should do—with prudence and usefulness for the good of the community.

That statement is as true today as it was in 1888, and no Catholic need “interpret” it by  “cross-reference” to Vatican II in order to know what the Church teaches: namely, that nations as well as individuals have a duty to profess, protect and defend the one true religion and the one true Church.  For that very reason Article I of Dignitatis Humanae expressly declares that it “leaves untouched the traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.”

Granted, one may need to consult multiple Magisterial statements on a doctrine not infallibly defined in order to obtain the complete doctrine.  But one does not do this to arrive at a “correct interpretation” of doctrine, as Mirus suggests, since the Church’s doctrines and dogmas are not a matter of “interpretation” in the first place. When the Magisterium intends to bind us, its speech is yea, yea, no, no.

There is one exception, however.  In certain areas of doctrine, where Revelation has not provided a definitive truth, the Church does allow for a certain liberty of interpretation and accordingly teaches with a certain ambiguity. For example, outside of the Council of Trent’s infallible definition that free will plays a part in our salvation by grace, the Church’s entire doctrine on the relation between grace and free will remains an area open to debate, with several schools of thought being in substantial opposition to each other.  Likewise, the defined dogma “no salvation outside the Church,” which is perfectly clear on its face, admits of interpretation concerning the question how non-formal members of the Church could be incorporated into her before death so as to achieve salvation.  But this freedom of interpretation presupposes precisely the lack of any unambiguous teaching commanding our assent to a particular proposition; it does not mean that Catholic doctrine in general requires a “correct interpretation.”

It is Traditionalists Who Practice a “Hermeneutic of Continuity”

Thus, ironically enough, it is really the traditionalists who adhere to a hermeneutic of continuity, refusing to concede that any constant teaching or defined dogma of the Church could have been “repealed,” “overruled,” “revised” or “deepened” by Vatican II or the conciliar Popes in a  way that would alter its previous understanding, for if that could happen then the Magisterium would be an uncertain trumpet and Christ would be a liar.

Mirus, however, tries to redefine “hermeneutic of continuity” to suit his faux theological arguments:

·   “This principle [allegedly “preferring” one Magisterial statement to another] is unalterably opposed to any interpretive technique which severs one or more Magisterial texts… from other texts. Such a technique is, in fact, a “hermeneutic of rupture.”

Nonsense. Again, no “interpretative technique” involving cross-referencing of Magisterial texts is required for Catholics to understand the doctrines of the Faith. Innumerable statements of the Magisterium, such as the one by Pope Leo quoted above, may quite readily be “severed” from others and read standing alone without losing their force or meaning. To take another example, from Humanae Vitae:

Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.

There is no need to worry about “all the relevant Scriptural and Magisterial texts” in “preferring” this statement of the Magisterium.  It is true and complete on its own, as are all other binding pronouncements of the Magisterium on matters of faith and morals. The “hermeneutic of rupture,” therefore, has nothing to do with “severing” pronouncements of the Magisterium, but rather the very idea traditionalists reject: that Vatican II and the conciliar Popes have taught doctrines or imposed practices which in some way require a break with the Church’s past.

In fact, it should be apparent to any astute observer of Church affairs that Pope Benedict  not only rejects this idea himself, but is calling upon all Catholics to be “traditionalists.” By reinstating the Latin Mass throughout the universal Church, returning to the traditional papal vestments, abandoning the “trendy” staff carried by John Paul II and taking up the ferule of none other than Blessed Pius IX, lifting the SSPX excommunications, and making numerous other decisions which even the mass media recognize (with loud alarums) as a dreaded return to Tradition, the Pope is showing by his deeds what the “hermeneutic of continuity” means.  And what it means is that absolutely nothing of what the Church preserved and handed down for twenty centuries before the Council can be despised, forbidden or derided as “extreme traditionalism” today.

A Basket of Neo-Catholic Chestnuts

Mirus continues his commentary with a basketful of neo-Catholic chestnuts.  Let us roast a few on the open fire, just for old time’s sake.

·   “Pope John XXIII had recognized that the influence of Christianity on culture and, therefore, the strength of the Church had been declining in the West for half a millennium—and, frankly, that the ‘prisoner of the Vatican’ or ‘siege’ mentality had done nothing to reverse this trend.”

Here Mirus promotes the great neo-Catholic myth of the moribund pre-conciliar Church desperately in need of conciliar “renewal”—a myth demolished in Chapter 11 of The Great Façade.

Suffice it to note here that Mirus has it exactly backwards.  John XXIII was full of praise for the strength of the Church just before the Council and was anything but worried about ecclesial decline. In December 1961 he hailed “the rise and growth of the immense energies and of the apostolate of prayer, of action in all fields. It has seen the emergence of a clergy constantly better equipped in learning and virtue for its mission; and of laity which has become ever more conscious of its responsibilities within the bosom of the Church, and, in a special way, of its duty to collaborate with the Church hierarchy.”[2]

Likewise, during the debate on the conciliar schema concerning the bishops, a prominent Council Father declared that “the Church, notwithstanding the calamities that plague the world, is experiencing a glorious era, if you consider the Christian life of the clergy and of the faithful, the propagation of the faith, and the salutary universal influence possessed by the Church in the world today.”[3]

In short, the Church was in no need of an emergency ecumenical council to “renew” her, and surely any reasonable Catholic can admit today that the Holy Ghost delivered no such thing at Vatican II.   But not Mirus:

·   “One can argue that both John XXIII and the Council Fathers misjudged the potential receptivity of the surrounding culture, but this hardly invalidates their efforts at renewal.”

Here even Mirus appears to concede that maybe, just maybe, Pope John and the Council Fathers were mistaken in their optimism about the Council. But if instead of the anticipated post-conciliar “springtime” for the Church and the world there has been an ecclesial winter marked by a totally unprecedented “collapse of the liturgy,” as Cardinal Ratzinger has called it, a collapse as well of faith and discipline, and ever-increasing worldwide hostility to the truths of the Faith, how can Mirus seriously contend that this outcome “hardly invalidates” the “efforts at renewal”?

As Pope John famously declared at the opening of the Council: “We feel we must disagree with those prophets of gloom, who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world was at hand.”[4] History has indisputably vindicated the “prophets of gloom”—including a long line of pre-conciliar Popes!—while exposing John’s optimism as the height of folly. But then the Holy Ghost was not given to the Church to confirm the foolish optimism of a Pope who chose to ignore the urgent warnings of all his predecessors.

·   “In religious life… in theology… in liturgy… and in every other area from seminary training to diocesan administration—the Modernists and secularists rode the euphoric worldly wave of the surrounding culture to ever-increasing influence and ultimate dominance in Church affairs throughout the West, at least in most places short of the Vatican itself.”

Come now!  What does Mirus suppose John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, the Roman Curia and all the world’s bishops were doing while his anonymous “Modernists and the secularists” were achieving their “ever increasing influence and ultimate dominance in Church affairs”? He knows very well what they were doing: approving or tolerating every single innovation that made it possible—including the altar girls approved by John Paul II, and his “inculturated” papal liturgies.

It may well be that the Popes who presided over these innovations were illicitly pressured or maneuvered into approving or permitting them, and it is not for us to judge the motives or personal culpability of any of the Church leaders whose acts or omissions contributed to the post-conciliar crisis.  Nevertheless, Catholics had a duty to offer loyal opposition to such unjust measures as the pseudo-prohibition of the Latin Mass because of the objective harm the Church was suffering and continues to suffer from the “rupture” the current Pope rightly laments.

Consider how much sooner that rupture would have been addressed by Rome had neo-Catholic spokesmen joined with traditionalists instead of trying to write them out the Church. As it is, we now see that the neo-Catholic establishment provided literally decades of “covering fire” for the very neo-Modernists they now blame for everything that went wrong in the Church. And, amazingly enough, they are still doing it by continuing their effort to ostracize traditionalists.

·   “For Pope John Paul II and for Benedict XVI the solution to all this has been precisely to recapture the renewal called for at the Second Vatican Council…”

Recapture the renewal?  When did we ever have the renewal?

·   “… to take the implementation of Vatican II out of the hands of those who have consistently advocated distortions in the name of the Council’s ‘spirit’…”

But how in the first place did the “implementation of Vatican II” fall into the hands of “those who have consistently advocated distortions in the name of the Council’s ‘spirit’”?  Who are the mysterious “those” of whom Mirus speaks, and how did these shady characters succeed in their nefarious endeavor without the approval or knowing toleration of the Pope and the bishops who oversee the Church?

Mirus knows the answer, of course, but it seems he lacks the intellectual honesty to admit it: In a misguided effort to “update” the entire Church to make her more appealing to “the modern world," her leaders made grave errors of prudential judgment whose consequences were catastrophic. Speaking of the failed attempt to “ban” the traditional Latin Mass, Cardinal Ratzinger has written: “The prohibition of the missal that was now decreed, a missal that had known continuous growth over the centuries, starting with the sacramentaries of the ancient Church, introduced a breach into the history of the liturgy whose consequences could only be tragic.”  And that is only one of the prudential judgments whose consequences have been tragic for the Church.

·   “and to encourage true renewal according to the Council’s actual documents and their subsequent development in the teachings and directives of the Magisterium of the Church.”

Some forty-years after the Council ended, Mirus has us still searching for the “true renewal” to be found somewhere—who knows where—in the Council documents and in “teachings and directives of the Magisterium” he does not trouble himself to identify or explain.  Yup,  thar’s renewal in them thar’ hills, and we got’s to go get’s it!

·   “For Benedict, one of the keys to doing this successfully is to emphasize that authentic renewal cannot be the product of a ‘hermeneutic of rupture.’”

Well, I must apologize.  Mirus has, after all, made himself perfectly clear: there must be an authentic renewal that cannot be a product of a hermeneutic of rupture.  Why didn’t he just say so?

·   “All legitimate developments corroborate, confirm and enhance the authentic explications of the Faith that have come before. This does not mean that … every theological manual in previous ages always expressed the Faith perfectly, so that anything which contradicts or replaces an earlier staple of theological thought must be judged to be false.”

This is an aspect of the Magisterium with which I confess I was unfamiliar.  I never knew that one of the functions of the Church’s teaching office is to “contradict or replace earlier staples of theological thought” found in those musty old “theological manuals” on which Catholics might have relied for centuries. Perhaps we could evaluate Mirus’ claim if he would favor us with a list of the “theological staples” the Magisterium has commanded us to rip from our manuals.

·   “authentic Catholic doctrine can never develop in a way that contradicts itself, and… what the Church has officially regarded as good and true in the past cannot suddenly become bad or false.”

But that is precisely what traditionalists say.  So what, really, is Mirus’ problem with traditionalists?  It should be clear at this point that he really has no doctrinal problem with us. Rather, he just doesn’t like us.

·   “Often Traditionalists will argue that this or that action of the modern Magisterium can be rejected because it does not conform with ‘tradition’…”

Here Mirus’ faux theological diction, confusion and imprecision are most apparent.  What could he possibly mean by “an action of the modern Magisterium”? Does he mean a teaching of Vatican II or the post-conciliar Popes?  If so, why does he say “action” rather than “teaching”? It is quite telling that Mirus takes care to place the word “modern” before “Magisterium.” Does not this sneaky introduction of the idea of a “modern Magisterium” undermine his own argument that the Magisterium is all of a piece, is timeless, and cannot contradict itself over time?

Perhaps by “action of the modern Magisterium” Mirus means some recent disciplinary decision approved by the Pope.  But where does the Church teach that every papal disciplinary decision is infallibly in line with tradition and must be accepted as such?  Take John Paul II’s undeniable blunder in approving the use of “altar girls.”  Does Mirus seriously propose that not even altar girls can be opposed on the ground that their presence on the altar “does not conform with tradition”?  Does he mean to say that even altar girls must be viewed as traditional just because the Pope allowed them?  Really, Mr. Mirus?  Really?

·   “or that this or that disciplinary measure is null and void because it is unjust…”

But precisely which “disciplinary measure” is Mirus talking about?  “This or that” will hardly do. There is, in fact, only one purportedly mandatory papal disciplinary measure for the universal Church (the use of altar girls being a mere permission) whose validity traditionalists have contested: the supposed de jure “suppression” of the Latin Mass and the supposed need for special “permission” to offer it. Traditionalists maintained for decades that there was never any such suppression or need for permission, whereas neo-Catholic commentators like Mirus confidently declared that traditionalists were being “disobedient” to the will of the Pope.  But on July 7, 2007 Pope Benedict XVI, to the great embarrassment of Mirus and the entire neo-Catholic establishment, sided with the traditionalists:

As for the use of the 1962 Missal as a Forma extraordinaria of the liturgy of the Mass, I would like to draw attention to the fact that this Missal was never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, was always permitted.[5]

What other disciplinary measure does Mirus claim traditionalists have declared “null and void”?  Answer: none. His accusation is as empty and as careless as the rest of his thought on this subject.  (I do not address here the annulled excommunication of the SSPX bishops, which involved only four people and defenses that operate in the internal forum, and which is now moot.)

·“[traditionalists claim] that the teachings of the Second Vatican Council are not binding because Vatican II was a ‘pastoral’ council…”

So, Mirus contends that Vatican II was not a pastoral council.  But here our faux theologian places himself at odds with both the Council’s Theological Commission, charged with advising the Council Fathers (many of whom were worried about the Council’s novel formulations) on the level of authority of the Council documents, and the current Pope, writing when he was Cardinal Ratzinger.

In the Preliminary Note that Paul VI ordered to be inserted into the controversial text of Lumen Gentium, the conciliar Theological Commission declared: “In view of the conciliar practice and pastoral purpose of the present Council, the sacred Synod defines matters of faith and morals as binding on the Church only when the Synod itself openly declares so.”[6] By the way, in disobedience to Pope Paul’s command, the Preliminary Note was demoted to the status of an “addendum” to Lumen Gentium in published editions of the Council documents.

In 1988 Cardinal Ratzinger, addressing precisely the objections raised by traditionalists, told the Bishops of Chile that “The truth is that this particular Council defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council…”[7]

Thus, the Council itself disclaimed any generalized note of infallibility in its pastoral teaching.   But the point is completely lost on Mirus, who declares:

·   “the Second Vatican Council is infallible just like any other ecumenical council.”

Mirus does not even attempt to be precise in his contentions. No Council, much less the self-declared pastoral council Vatican II, is infallible in toto, but rather only in its extraordinary doctrinal definitions or reaffirmation of the teaching of the universal ordinary Magisterium (the latter to be seen in some parts of Vatican II’s texts). These elements are to be distinguished from prefatory remarks, commentary, exhortatory verbiage, statements of fact, and other such obiter dicta.  Mirus’ claim is simply a joke, as anyone who has read the Council documents would know. Just how much of a joke becomes apparent with one example from the Council’s “landmark” document, Gaudium et spes:

It is our clear duty, therefore, to strain every muscle in working for the time when all war can be completely outlawed by international consent. This goal undoubtedly requires the establishment of some universal public authority acknowledged as such by all and endowed with the power to safeguard on the behalf of all, security, regard for justice, and respect for rights.

Let Mirus demonstrate the “infallibility” of the Council’s call for the establishment of a   world government, or for that matter any of the other curious remarks about sociology, anthropology, geopolitics, art, culture, mass communications, and other non-Magisterial topics in Gaudium et Spes. As for traditionalists, we join Cardinal Ratzinger in recognizing the difference between a unique pastoral council whose pastorally oriented language is open to question (except where it repeats traditional Church teaching) and what the Council’s own Theological Commission called “matters of faith and morals… binding on the Church.”

·   “but it also goes without saying that our understanding of past statements [of the Magisterium] must be adjusted, improved or made more precise by what comes later.”

Adjusted?  Whatever does that mean?  Just how many “adjusted” understandings of past statements of the Magisterium would Mirus say have arisen in the Church’s 2000-year history?   How many understandings were “adjusted” at Vatican II, which “defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council”? How many doctrinal understandings have been “adjusted” since Vatican II?  As we can see, Mirus’s notion of an Adjustable Magisterium opens the entire Faith to revision over time.

And which statements of the Magisterium would Mirus say are still in need of  “adjustment,” “improvement” or “precision”? Apparently, according to Mirus, we have no way of knowing until the adjustments, improvements or precisions arrive. For Mirus, it seems, the Magisterium is like the statute books in law libraries: only a periodic “pocket part,” slipped into the backs of the volumes of Church teaching, will give us the most complete and up-to-date knowledge of what Catholics must believe.

·   “Unfortunately, Traditionalists have trouble with the idea that Vatican II’s teaching on religious liberty is infallible…”

What is Vatican II’s teaching on religious liberty? After decades of debate on the subject, the answer remains unclear.  At any rate, the suggestion that every statement on religious liberty within the four corners of Dignitatis humanae is “infallible” is preposterous.  Consider the very first sentence of the document:

A sense of the dignity of the human person has been impressing itself more and more deeply on the consciousness of contemporary man, and the demand is increasingly made that men should act on their own judgment, enjoying and making use of a responsible freedom, not driven by coercion but motivated by a sense of duty.

Surely not even Mirus could say with a straight face that the Holy Ghost vouchsafes the “infallibility” of the Council’s manifestly dubious—and, frankly, absurd—contention that in the middle of the 20th century, the bloodiest in human history, “the dignity of the human person has been impressing itself more and more deeply on the consciousness of contemporary man…”  How about the Council’s assertion that “contemporary man,” the author of universal contraception, legalized mass abortion, the H-bomb and a host of other unprecedented evils, is “interested in enjoying and making use of a responsible freedom…” Infallible, Mr. Mirus?  Really?  Really?

On the other hand, the Council can certainly be said to be referring to infallible teaching when it declares that it “leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.” There is no question that traditional Catholic doctrine is infallible.  And there is also no question that DH could not command assent if it did not leave that traditional doctrine “untouched,” just as it proclaims it does.

What, then, does Mirus say DH teaches infallibly besides “the traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ”?  Since Mirus has not quoted the “infallible” propositions in DH, we must assume that he contends DH is entirely infallible—every jot and tittle.  On the other hand, if he would admit that that is ridiculous, he would also have to admit that all the documents of Vatican II are likewise subject to distinctions between doctrinal propositions binding on the Church and pastoral and other content not involving faith and morals, precisely as the Theological Commission advises authoritatively in the Preliminary Note.

·   “…. Traditionalists have trouble with the idea… that Vatican II’s insistence that the Church of Christ ‘subsists’ in the Catholic Church is infallible.”

Wrong again.  What traditionalists have trouble with—what they indeed reject—is the idea that “subsists” implies something other than that the Church of Christ is the Catholic Church and no other.  But if the expression “subsists” in Lumen Gentium means that the Church of Christ is the Catholic Church, then the Council’s teaching certainly is infallible because that is what the Church has always and everywhere taught.

Sure enough, as I have already noted, in 2007 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith finally ended the 40-year controversy over “subsists” by declaring that “The use of this expression, which indicates the full identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church, does not change the doctrine on the Church.”[8]  Moreover, the CDF’s 2007 intervention expressly acknowledges the difficulties caused by this and other ambiguities in the Council documents:

The vastness of the subject matter and the novelty of many of the themes involved continue to provoke theological reflection…. Given the universality of Catholic doctrine on the Church, the Congregation wishes to respond to these questions by clarifying the authentic meaning of some ecclesiological expressions used by the magisterium which are open to misunderstanding in the theological debate.

Note well: the CDF under Pope Benedict has recognized that expressions used by the magisterium at Vatican II are open to misunderstanding. The very fact that the CDF had to issue this unprecedented clarification of an ecumenical council’s choice of words only demonstrates that traditionalists were quite right to “have trouble” with it. Mirus cannot, of course, be expected to concede the point as it would spoil his argument.

A Perpetuation of Injustice

I have reached the end of Mirus’ cavalcade of clichés.  Like so many neo-Catholic commentators before him, he expends thousands of words to make an accusation he cannot prove: that traditionalists dissent from doctrines of the Magisterium. Such is the faux theological condemnation neo-Catholic spokesmen continue to employ in their campaign to continue the marginalization of traditionalists so as to preserve their own claim to legitimacy as the exclusive party of “loyalty” to the Church.

But what Mirus and those who think like him really condemn in traditionalists is not any dissent from doctrine, but rather their refusal to adopt his own progressive attitude of accepting and defending patently ruinous ecclesial innovations to which no Catholic was ever obliged to adhere in the first place. Indeed, by “liberating” the Latin Mass from a “prohibition” that never existed, and by lifting the excommunications of the SSPX bishops, the Pope has sent the message that Vatican II does not require Catholics to believe or to do a single thing they had not believed or done before the Council.

And if, according to the very decisions of the Pope, even the most “extreme” of the “extreme traditionalists” must be viewed as members of the Church, what does that say about Mirus and his collaborators? It says that they have wrongly dedicated themselves to the defense of an illusion—“the authentic renewal” of Vatican II—an illusion that is dissipating before their very eyes as the forces of world opinion, knowing what is happening, howl with outrage against an “isolated” and “monarchical” Pope. It says that they have calumniated good Catholics for decades and that they lack the decency to admit they were wrong and to apologize to those whose good names they have impugned.  Instead, they redouble their efforts to perpetuate injustice in the Church, ignoring even the Pope’s plea, clearly uttered in defense of his recent gestures of benevolence toward traditionalists, that the Chair of Peter “protects legitimate differences, while at the same time assuring that such differences do not hinder unity but rather contribute toward it.”  This refusal to recognize legitimate differences in the Church is at the heart of what can rightly be called neo-Catholic intolerance toward those who simply wish to practice the Faith as all their ancestors did.

The Last Schismatics

As this essay goes online, the Austrian hierarchy, enraged by Pope’s Benedict’s moves in favor of Tradition, is on the verge of an open revolt against the Pope, led by its pseudo-conservative head, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who recently delighted in celebrating a  grotesque Novus Ordo “balloon Mass” featuring a doughy Host with the size and texture of a personal pan pizza. Cardinals Kasper and Lehmann of Germany are openly questioning  the Pope’s decisions and casting doubt on his leadership of the Church.  A European society of Modernist Catholic “theologians,” citing (what else?) Gaudium et spes, publicly declares that the Pope’s lifting of the excommunications of the SSPX bishops “threatens the internal unity of the Church and the credibility of its witness in the world” and that “a great majority of Christians have lost confidence that Rome is committed to taking seriously the newness of Vatican II. This crisis of confidence is grave.” Consider carefully what these European “theologians” are implying: that the Pope is causing disunity by not adhering to “the newness of Vatican II.”

Today the vast majority of Catholics in the pews of the Novus Ordo, steeped in “the newness of Vatican II,” simply disregard any teaching on faith and morals they find unacceptable, and the doctrine of the Real Presence has been lost among them. The majority of Catholics in America have just voted to elect a defender of infanticide as their President. The Novus Ordo seminaries are closed or almost empty, and the remaining Novus Ordo priesthood, aging and dwindling rapidly, is plagued by sexual scandal and doctrinal deviance, with the good priests among them living as internal exiles in many dioceses.

Forty years after Vatican II, the entire Western Church exhibits signs of what John Paul II lamented (too late) as “silent apostasy.” After four decades of ecclesial auto-demolition and failure to exercise papal authority, vast segments of nominally Catholic populations, including their hierarchs, are in a state of de facto schism from Rome—a situation that clearly terrifies the current Pope, who declared only days ago: “Let us ask Saint Peter for his intercession so that the bewilderment and the storms do not shake the Church, that we remain faithful to a genuine Faith, keep unity, and live together in charity.”

Yet, in the midst of this chaos, neo-Catholic spokesmen like Mirus, the Modernists, and the world press share a common preoccupation with the canonical situation of an apostolic society that adheres entirely to the teaching of the Church on faith and morals, and whose “rehabilitation” by the Pope perturbs them all as one.  In the nearly lawless landscape of the post-Conciliar  “renewal,” the technicalities of canon law are still insisted upon as to this society. And at a time when the very term “schismatic” is considered offensive and outmoded, it remains in vigorous use only as to the Society of Saint Pius X and traditionalists in general, simply because these Catholics decline to conform their practice of the perennial Faith to the illusory “newness of Vatican II.” In the view of those who form “respectable” opinion within and without the Church, Roman Catholic traditionalists are literally the last “schismatics” on the face of the earth. If that bizarre state of affairs does not impress upon our critics the apocalyptic dimensions of the ecclesial crisis Pope Benedict is trying to remedy, then nothing will.


[1]Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius, Ch. 4.

[2]Apostolic Constitution Humanae Salutis, December 25, 1961.

[3]Wiltgen, The Rhine Flows into the Tiber, p. 113, quoting the Armenian Patriarch of Cilicia, who spoke against the forces determined to diminish the authority of the Roman Curia, then led by Cardinal Ottaviani.

[4]Council Daybook, National Catholic Welfare Conference, Washington, D.C., vol. 1, pp. 25, 27.

[5]Explanatory Letter to the Bishops concerning Summorum Pontificum.

[6]Addenda to Lumen Gentium, Explanatory Note of the Theological Commission, in Walter M. Abbott, S.J., ed., The Documents of Vatican II (New York: America Press, 1966), pp. 97-98.

[7]Address to the Bishops of Chile, 13 July 1988,, accessed February 20, 2009. 

[8]Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of The Doctrine on the Church (2007), Response to Third Question.