What Happened to the Catholic Church?
A Letter from a Convert to his Pastor

Peter Swicker

What follows is a letter I recently wrote to our new pastor.  It expresses my beliefs as a Traditional Roman Catholic, stuck in a Novus Ordo parish. However, I have taken the liberty of redacting his name, the name of our parish, and the name of another priest. 

Dear Father,

I have wanted to write you for some time, not only to congratulate you on becoming our new pastor, but to offer my family's support. This is an incredible and awesome responsibility that you have been called to undertake by our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Not only do you have the care of souls in your charge, but you stand in persona Christi when you stand at the altar and celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  You have an additional burden now as you must stand firm in the Faith during a time of terrible crisis for our Church.

To be fair, I should start by giving you a brief background in order for you to better understand my concerns: As you know, I am the father of a seven year old boy.  I am also a convert to the Faith.  As you may have run into several converts over the years, you know we converts share some common traits.  We left our former denominations, many of us with great hesitation and trepidation.  We tend to know our faith on a level rarely matched by today's post-Vatican II cradle Catholics.  I also fall into the "Traditionalist" camp.  However, contrary to what you may have been taught in seminary, I, like most Traditionalists, am not sedevacantist.  We are loyal to the Magisterium and to the Holy Father; we believe that the Second Vatican Council was a true Church council and that the Novus Ordo Missae (Mass of Pope Paul VI) is, in fact, a valid Mass.  We do have those in the Traditionalist family who hold to quite opposite beliefs, but contrary to popular opinion, they are in the minority.  The reason I tell you this is so you can understand some of my views and what I consider to be of paramount importance to the Faith and to Holy Mother Church.

The interesting thing about my path to Rome was how my conversion was typical of so many Catholic converts who now identify themselves as "Traditionalists."  I entered the Church in March 1997, as a fully committed conservative Scott Hahn-style Catholic.  By that time, I had read all sixteen documents of Vatican II, delved deep into the post-conciliar documents, tuned into EWTN, read Adoremus ("Reform of the Reform"), and believed that all would work out if only Vatican II was properly interpreted by conservative bishops and clergy.  My hope lay in Vatican II and Pope John Paul II.

My move towards the Traditionalist movement within the Church began slowly at first, but gained momentum as I engrossed myself in deeper study of the early Church, the early Fathers such as St. Ignatius, St. Athanasius, St. Jerome and St. Augustine and the Doctors of the Church, such St. Thomas Aquinas, the "Angelic Doctor." My learning took a huge turn as I read Cardinal John Henry Newman's "The Development of Christian Doctrine."  I then began a long look at the writings of John Paul II and the writings of earlier, pre-Vatican II Popes such as St. Pius V, Pius IX, Leo XIII, St. Pius X and Pius XII.

All that we Traditional Catholics ask of our bishops and of the Holy See is to practice the Faith of our ancestors, to worship as Catholics before us worshipped for over 1,900 years, to teach the One, True Faith to our children as it was taught before 1965, and to have the Mass of the Ages—the Traditional Latin Mass that converted whole nations and inspired men like Bach, Mozart and Schubert in great works of sacred art—available to us and our children.

As a convert, I am appalled at the current state of the Church. Although I, as do you, hold that Vatican II was a legitimate council, it was not (as Pope Paul VI clearly stated) a doctrinal council, but rather a pastoral one.  Its aftermath, starting in 1965 (the year Vatican II ended), has had a devastating effect on the Church and on the faith of millions.  How can one begin to defend the novelties that have entered the Church since Vatican II?

How does one explain American seminaries that in 1965 boasted 47,000 men and now have less then 5,000? How does one explain 180,000 nuns in this country in 1965 decreasing down to about 80,000 today, and with a mean age of 69?  How does one explain Catholic Mass attendance of almost 80% in living memory that is down now to somewhere in the 20% range, less than 5% in “Catholic” countries such as France?  Belief in the "...height and summit of our faith," the Eucharist, is down to less then 30%.  How does one explain the deviant sexual and criminal behavior of many priests whose crimes where covered up for decades by our own bishops.  How does one explain bishops and priests who routinely refuse communion to those who "kneel to receive," but allow liturgical dancers, nuns giving homilies and silence in regards to abortion, euthanasia and homosexual behavior?

I would ask you to look hard at what our late Holy Father, John Paul II, allowed on his watch.  I am fully aware of what the First Vatican Council (1869-1870) taught in regards to Papal Infallibility.  I know what it is and what it is not. Thankfully, John Paul never officially promulgated error because the Holy Spirit kept him from doing such.

However, what is one to make of his inability to rein in American bishops who bordered on teaching heresy (i.e. Cardinal Mahony on the Eucharist)?  The Vatican's own Cardinal Kasper recently taught that the Old Testament is still applicable for the Jews and that there is no need for Catholics to seek their conversion.  What?  Did I miss something? Were the Apostles wrong to convert? Is Christ's "Great Commission" now defunct?  What is one to make of John Paul's own personal statements that Catholics and Muslims worship the One, True God?  Again, did I miss something?  Islam, like all others, is a false religion. Allah is not, never has been, and never will be the God we worship!  This was not helped when, during the late 1990s, John Paul was photographed kissing the Koran. The perception, around the world, was terrible confusion!

As to Vatican II's and John Paul's plea for ecumenical work, I would ask anyone to show me where that has gotten us since 1965?  What ever happened to the previous teachings of our great Popes regarding the "theology of return" (the belief that all Christian denominations must return to Holy Mother Church)?  Are we no longer the One, True Church?  Is the Catholic Church no longer the ark of salvation? Take, for example, my former denomination, the Episcopal church.  We have been in dialogue with them for almost 40 years.  My question is:  What has been accomplished?

Pope Leo XIII decreed in 1896 that Anglicans lacked apostolic succession since the days of Edward VI. They had ceased to be a sacrificial priesthood. John Paul himself reaffirmed this in 1994. Added to this, the Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal church is a member, has ordained women to their priesthood since the 1980's.  Just a few years ago, they also voted in a practicing homosexual priest to the office of bishop! My former denomination has slipped into the abyss of moral relativism since our much vaunted ecumenical movement got fired up.  Ecumenism has not helped the situation. Are we to water down our doctrines (as we have the Novus Ordo) in order to appease Protestants? Last time I looked, all Protestant churches taught one form of heresy or another.  Is that okay by us now?

There are a host of other disturbing developments I could point to, such as the use of altar girls, communion standing and in the hand, atrocious liturgical music, tabernacles hidden, liturgical "experts" who have made our once beautiful churches into high school gymnasiums, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (EMHC), horrendous catecheses of our children, and priests who have no knowledge of Latin, still the official language of the Church.  What I am trying to convey to you, my priest and my pastor, is that the Church and the Faith—the one that converted entire continents, saved Western Europe from the Muslim invasions, brought Christ and His Gospel to the farthest corners of the earth, and civilized the known world—is currently under attack and that attack is most often from within.  Having said this, I know Matthew 16:18.  I am fully aware that the "gates of Hell" will never destroy the Church.  But I am also aware of what Paul VI (the very Pope who allowed many of these novelties) said during the early 1970s that "the smoke of Satan has entered the sanctuary."

Vocations to the priesthood will only continue to decline in American dioceses so long as Novus Ordo parishes insist on using female altar servers and EMHC. In so many Novus Ordo parishes, little boys and young men no longer see the priesthood as something masculine, special…a state in life to aspire to. Little boys and young men do NOT want a feminized faith. To believe otherwise is to forget how young males see the world around them.

Vocations will also continue to suffer as long as the so-called "Lavender Mafia" rules with an iron fist. There is solid documented evidence that the number of homosexuals in the Catholic clergy grew at an alarming rate following Vatican II.  This influx has potentially kept thousands of orthodox, heterosexual men from entering the seminaries, and, worst of all, has been at the very heart of the recent clergy sex scandals.

When the scandals broke in 2002, the bishops, knowing that they had a massive crisis on their hands, requested that an outside agency look into the causes.  Two years later, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice published their findings. Looking back almost forty-five years, they found that 81% of all clergy abuse cases were between male clergy and teenage boys. It was homosexual activity, not pedophilia!  The study also revealed that the vast majority of accused clergy attended seminary from the late 1960s through the mid 1980s—absolutely no surprise when one looks at the massive post-conciliar changes in seminary training and traditional Catholic moral theology.

We have a problem…even our modern church architecture bears this out. Unfortunately, our church was built in the early 1980's, and, as such, is typical of our post-Vatican II era.  Ugly as sin and built in the famous "space ship" motif, it may not be as ugly as Cardinal Mahony's monstrosity in Los Angeles but it's close.  However, our former pastor did his very best to make the most of a bad situation. His greatest achievement was to take a liturgically progressive (liberal) parish and demonstrate that when a priest is faithful to the rubrics of the Mass (regardless of how substandard the Novus Ordo may be), it can be celebrated with a degree of dignity and mystery. He returned the tabernacle to its rightful place on a new high altar in the center of the sanctuary, replaced the Protestant-esque "Risen Christ" with a real crucifix, put altar servers back in cassocks, took our priests and deacons out of the polyester ponchos and back into priestly vestments, ended the use of drums and other pop instruments in church, and ended the ridiculous hand-clapping sessions during Mass, such as during the Gloria.  He also refused to use the vile "Mass of Creation" and almost always used the "Roman Canon," still the canon of the Latin Rite.  In other words, he did his best to return the pseudo-Protestant Novus Ordo (as much as possible) to Catholic Tradition.

Along with the proper celebration of Mass (a true rarity these days), your predecessor taught forcibly in his homilies that recalled the glory days of powerful sermons. He was unafraid to preach on the evils of abortion, embryonic stem cell research, universal salvation, and sexual immorality.

Again, Father, I do not question the validity of the Mass of Paul VI. My family and I attend it in Yuma, because no Traditional Latin Mass is available (as was available to us while we lived in San Diego). I don’t care for the Novus Ordo and I may find it lacking in beauty, majesty, and the magnificence of the Traditional Latin Mass; I may also find it unbelievably weak in transmitting the Faith to adults and children alike because it deemphasizes the sacrificial nature of the Mass and instead turns the Mass into a Protestant-style community meal.  But I do view it as technically valid…therein, perhaps, lies the greatest crisis of all.

My assertion is based on years of studying the "liturgical movement" (Latin Rite) in the Church that has its roots in the mid-nineteenth century.  Its biggest push came from the 20th century's two greatest Popes, St. Pius X at the turn of the century and certainly by the great Pius XII in his 1947 Encyclical, "Mediator Dei." However, if you believe that the Fathers of Vatican II had in mind the current manifestation of the Mass as celebrated around the world today, may I suggest reading the "Ottaviani Intervention." Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani (then the Prefect for the Doctrine of the Faith), and Antonio Cardinal Bacci, were appalled at what was finally presented to Paul VI in 1969 by a committee, unfortunately headed by Monsignor (later Bishop) Annibale Bugnini. Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci wrote an extremely detailed analysis of the new Mass, and addressed it to Pope Paul VI (September 1969).  It makes for fascinating reading.

One of the finest critiques of what the Fathers did and did not envision back in 1963 when they signed Sacrosanctum Councilium can be found in a terrific article by Father Joseph Fessio, one of the few loyal Jesuits left. As one of the leaders of the "Reform of the Reform," and as a personal friend of Pope Benedict XVI, he lays out in great detail many of the misconceptions held by our clergy today, to include bishops and cardinals. It should be mandatory reading in all seminaries.

Over the past thirty-eight years since the Novus Ordo was first celebrated in Roman Catholic churches around the world, there is still tremendous confusion as to what "Vatican II" really said about the Mass. If one actually reads Sacrosanctum Concilium, he will discover that this is what it says about the use of Latin in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: "The use of the Latin language, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin rites."  Additionally, "A suitable place may be allotted to the vernacular in Masses which are celebrated with the people, especially in the readings and ‘the common prayer,’ and also, as local conditions may warrant, in those parts which pertain to the people....."

It goes on to say, "nevertheless care must be taken to ensure that the faithful may also be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them." 

The Council did not abolish Latin in the liturgy!

The great sacred music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, et al, so much a part of the Traditional Latin Mass, has been nearly lost to our generation. Why, when this is what Sacrosanctum Concilium actually said about it:  "The treasury of sacred music is to be preserved and cultivated with great care.....The Church recognizes Gregorian chant as being specially suited to the Roman liturgy. Therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services." 

Folk music, Broadway show tunes, and other banal music was never called for as part of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass!

Once again, if one reads the Vatican II document on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, nowhere will he see talk of abolishing the Church's sacred language or sacred musical heritage; nowhere will he read a mandate that the priest should "face" the people, or that there should be an additional eight Eucharistic prayers (instead of the sole use of the Roman Canon, dating back to the 5th century); nowhere will he find a directive to remove the tabernacle from the center of the sanctuary, or rip up of the altar rail, or use of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, or administer communion standing and in the hand, female altar servers or the  host of other novelties under which we suffer today.

Additionally, I have been watching the recent talks between the Holy See and the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX).  I have been fortunate enough to meet and speak to several SSPX priests over the years. They are phenomenal men.  The positive things these priests will bring to our damaged Church are immeasurable!  May Rome and the SSPX come to an agreement soon.

In October of last year, my wife and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. Our former pastor, and a close friend of mine from my Marine Corps days, Father X, agreed to celebrate a private Mass for us and a host of friends from Yuma. They celebrated the "Mass of Vatican II."  In other words, the Mass was celebrated in Latin, with the readings and homily in English.  All readings were done by the priests. We had four altar boys, both priests wore gothic vestments, the Roman Canon was said (in Latin), and the celebrant faced Our Lord in the tabernacle, just as Sacrosanctum Councilium had envisioned.  The music was traditional, with a beautiful rendition of Bach's "Ave Maria," "Panis Angelica" and "Faith of Our Fathers."  The Kyrie and Gloria were sung by Father X.  Communion was given under one kind only.  No EMHC were used.  And those who chose to kneel to receive Our Lord, did so with a prie-dieu.  (The vast majority did kneel.)

That Mass is still talked about today by those who had been present.  After Mass several of our friends approached us with tears in their eyes, saying how beautiful it was.  Many thought that it was the "Old Mass”, having been under the impression that such beauty and mystery had died in 1969.  Few could believe that it was the Novus Ordo, celebrated in accord with what Vatican II had actually called for.  Suffice it to say, our parish had never seen such a Mass since 1969, and, unfortunately, may never see it again.  This is a loss of unimaginable proportions!

I hope and I pray that you will remain a true and faithful priest, that you will preach sermons on the Gospel and true Catholic apologetics, even on the sometimes difficult teachings of Christ and not the current milquetoast homilies that we are often assaulted with by priests worldwide.  I hope you will compare the current Catechism to the Catechism of Trent, side by side.  I hope you learn the Gregorian chant and the Latin of our forefathers in the Faith.  I hope you wear the Roman collar proudly, if not the black cassock, as well.  I hope you can live up to your vow of chastity and your vow of obedience to the authentic magisterium of the Church.  I hope you might decide to learn the Old Mass and to offer it often in accord with our Holy Father’s recent Motu Proprio on the restoration of that Mass. I hope and pray all of us can become Catholic again in every way, so as to be true lights to a world desperately lost in darkness. I pray all this may come to pass under your watch and that we can walk the way of the Cross together.

Yours is not an easy life.  Yours is not an easy calling.  I pray you will be given the grace needed to accept this magnificent Catholic challenge.

May God bless you always,

Pete Swicker