This absurd idea, which deprives the Church’s traditions of a fixed and objective character at the same time it implicitly posits an absolutely inerrant papacy, is central to that classic, whopper-filled neo-Catholic manifesto The Pope, the Council and the Mass by Likoudis and Whitehead, which The Great Façade was written largely to answer. Quoth the authors: “If the Church officially approved of a practice… it follows that what the Church approves is, by definition, compatible with Catholic Tradition; for the Church, especially the Holy See, is, again, the arbiter and judge of tradition.” (PCM, pp. 71-82, rev. ed., 1981). Wrong, wrong, wrong. The Holy See is not the “arbiter” of Catholic Tradition but its custodian and guardian, and the Pope above all. Tradition is not something “arbitrated,” as if it were a matter of continual dispute; it is something the Church has handed down from the very beginning of her existence, and its organic development has never (until the post-Vatican II “reforms”) involved an outright abandonment of what has been received and approved down through the centuries in both doctrine and universal practice.
Given the developments of the past fifty years, however, the neo-Catholic polemic, which arose essentially as a defense of novelties in the post-conciliar Church, does not defend Apostolic or ecclesiastical tradition as such, but only the most recent papal pronouncement or decision (which may or may not coincide with objective tradition). Standing with Saint Epiphanius and the entire history of the Church the traditionalist says: “It is a tradition. Ask no more.” The neo-Catholic, however, unable to reconcile the post-conciliar novelties with the bimillenial teaching and practice of the Church before Vatican II, retreats into sheer papal positivism: “The Pope said it. Ask no more.” The result is a Catholic variant of Protestant nominalism, equating the exercise of authority with truth. And it is no coincidence that so many of the prominent figures in the neo-Catholic current are former Protestants.
Accordingly, neo-Catholic doyens such as Mark Shea denounce as “hysterical reactionaries” Catholics who raise serious objections to the scandalous statements and actions of Pope Francis, including his approval of, and directive to publish to the world’s bishops, the vile midterm report of the “Synod on the Family” despite its utter rejection by the Synod itself, which refused to subscribe to this disgraceful document’s call for a “pastoral” accommodation of “gays,” “homosexual unions,” divorce and “remarriage,” cohabitation and artificial birth control. While even the head of the Polish bishop’s conference denounced the report, declaring that it “should be an incentive to fidelity, family values, but instead seems to accept everything as it is,” Shea laughably queried “What’s all the hysteria about?” and assured his followers that it was merely “a draft that makes some decent points in surprisingly accessible language.”
And so it has gone with every single novelty that has disrupted and debilitated the Church since 1962: the neo-Catholic establishment rushes to its defense, forgetting everything that came before. They continue their defense of the indefensible as Pope Francis and his inner circle of aged progressive courtiers make haste to do for the universal Church what Archbishop Bergoglio did for the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires: leave it in ruins. Antonio Socci , once a fervent supporter of Pope Francis, put it this way only days ago: “for decades the South American Church has been falling into ruin, its crisis the greatest on the planet: the latest data, just published by the Pew Center, confirming the precipitous drop of membership in the Catholic Church in Latin America. Now that same recipe for failure is being applied to the whole Church. And so we soon we will see the same ruins. The Bergoglio Effect.”
Well, we traditionalists are at it again: pitting one Pope against another. But this time we are pitting Pope John Paul II against Pope Francis on the subjects of admitting the divorced and “remarried” to Holy Communion—which Francis permitted when he was Archbishop Bergoglio —and misapplication of the “law of gradualism” to moral precepts of the divine law as opposed to progress in understanding the doctrines of the Faith. The Synod’s midterm report advocated both of these horrendous errors against the Faith, while John Paul II resoundingly rejected them in Famliaris consortio.
Being traditionalists, we naturally defend John Paul II’s teaching on these points, not merely because “the Pope said it” but because it is in line with the teaching of all John Paul’s predecessors for 2,000 years. Being neo-Catholics, on the other hand, polemicists like Shea now face a dilemma: Francis and his Synod controllers, led by the Synod’s General Secretary and Manipulator-in-Chief, Cardinal Baldisseri, are clearly intent on abandoning the teaching of Familiaris consortio by “updating” it—i.e., ignoring it (even if they do not ultimately succeed in the attempt to overthrow a bimillenial discipline rooted in divine law). How, then, can the teaching of John Paul II be defended against the Synod of Francis, which appears to have been convened precisely to dispense with that teaching? It is impossible.
The neo-Catholic’s papal positivism thus dictates that the Synod of Francis, being the latest papal novelty, must prevail over the prior traditional teaching. Accordingly, even at the mere suggestion that the Synod would depart from John Paul’s teaching, reliable neo-Catholic defenders of the indefensible such as Jeff Mirus and Jimmy Akin, conveniently forgetting Familiaris consortio, were already advancing the argument that public adulterers can be admitted to Holy Communion, after all, as this is “only a matter of discipline.” And Shea rushed to the fore with a claim that “gradualism” could be applied to the moral law because “conversion usually takes a long time and sinners typically require baby steps to change.” But that is precisely the claim John Paul II rejected in Familiaris consortio: “what is known as ‘the law of gradualness’ or step-by-step advance cannot be identified with ‘gradualness of the law,’ as if there were different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations.”
That is, in order to partake of the Blessed Sacrament an adulterer must cease his adultery immediately, not in “baby steps.” That Shea and his collaborators are now seriously suggesting otherwise, for the first time in Church history, is yet another demonstration of why neo-Catholicism is such an impediment to restoring the good order of the Church. There is no corruption of doctrine or discipline the neo-Catholic will not contort himself into accepting so long as it appears to enjoy official approval or toleration. Not even the contrary teaching of John Paul “the Great” only a few years ago will give them pause.
So, for the sake of maintaining the neo-Catholic position in defense of the ever-expanding post-conciliar regime of novelty, John Paul must decrease so that Francis may increase. This will require that John Paul’s inconvenient encyclical be consigned to the neo-Catholic memory hole, along with the memory of John Paul himself and everything else the neo-Catholics have willingly tossed into it. Hence although they spent more than 25 years lionizing John Paul, proclaiming him “the Great” and clamoring for his immediate canonization, we have heard little or nothing from neo-Catholic quarters about their hero since Francis appeared on the balcony of Saint Peter’s to issue his first momentous declaration as Pope: buona sera. The king is dead. Long live the king!
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This may seem overly harsh to some, but I believe it to be true: the members of the neo-Catholic establishment are not truly committed to the foundation of our religion, that is, traditional Catholic doctrines and practices as objective realities to be preserved and handed down intact from generation to generation. (I do not speak here of ordinary Catholics in the pew, but of opinion-makers and leaders among this previously unheard of constituency in the Church.) They may truly believe they are so committed, and they will certainly defend our traditions to a point. But that point is reached whenever they encounter what has become a commonplace in the Church since Vatican II: a conflict between what the Church always believed and practiced before the Council and whatever novelty a Pope of the post-conciliar epoch might approve or permit outside the narrow limits of his infallibility. Faced with this conflict, they will defend the novelty—even altar girls and Holy Communion for public adulterers—while heaping contempt on any Catholic who does not see how one Pope can blatantly contradict another in important matters without undermining confidence in the Church and ultimately the Faith itself.
As John Paul “the Great” disappears into the neo-Catholic memory hole so that the neo-Catholic defense of Francis may proceed unimpeded by the teaching of his own predecessor, it is fair to ask whether this thing so rightly called neo-Catholicism can, strictly speaking, be called Catholicism at all. In practice the neo-Catholic is a Catholic: he is baptized; he can recite the Creed with conviction; he recognizes the authority of the hierarchy and follows the Church’s commands. He may in fact live a morally exemplary life and his personal piety may exceed that of a given traditionalist. This is for God alone to judge. But there is a disjunction between the Catholic religion he professes and the novelties he is willing to defend despite all the evidence that their introduction has drastically weakened adherence to the truths of that same religion, stifled vocations, and reduced the generality of Catholics to the equivalent of liberal mainline Protestants, if indeed they have not left the Church altogether.
How is this disjunction possible? I think the answer is that neo-Catholicism is not so much a religious error as an ideology that has insinuated itself into the Faith, inhabiting it much as a parasite inhabits a host organism, sapping its vitality while allowing it to live. In fact, like a parasite, this ideology needs healthy hosts to infect in order for it to survive under the appearance of normality, so that the victim remains unaware of the seriousness of his condition and may even insist that he is perfectly fine and that his malaise is a mere passing thing. Hence the neo-Catholic scoffs at the claim that anything is seriously amiss in the Mystical Body. “I trust in the Church,” he declares with smug certitude, as if “the Church” and “whatever the Pope wishes” were equivalent concepts. He thus deprives himself, and labors polemically to deprive the Mystical Body at large, of the urgent treatment needed to cure the disorder, that being the same treatment which allows the few remaining traditionalist orders to thrive in the midst of a parasitic infection that has left the rest of the Church on a sick bed.
The emergence of this ideology has no analogue in the entire pre-conciliar history of the Church. Not even Arianism exhibits its depth and breadth of operation. Unlike the discrete Arian heresy, neo-Catholicism as ideology leaves doctrine intact as a set of propositions while undermining its integrity through sweeping changes in practices, attitudes and dispositions, all of which the neo-Catholic ideologue embraces and defends. At the same time he denounces as “reactionaries”—the very language of an ideologue—Catholics who decline to join him in his conformity to the continuing revolution in the Church.
This parasitic ideology is now at work in the explicitly anti-traditionalist program of Francis with his Synod, his “God of surprises” and his constant belittlement of traditional Catholics for their supposedly excessive attachment to “rules,” “certainty,” “doctrinal security,” “a past that no longer exists,” and the traditional Roman Rite, which he dismisses as “a kind of fashion” to which “people are…addicted.”
No Pope has ever exhibited such open contempt for the Church’s traditions and the Catholics who adhere to them. With Francis, however, the ideology has reached such a level of intensity that the Church’s immune system is finally being activated in places where it had lain dormant for decades. We now see the aroused sensus catholicus of laity, priests, bishops and even cardinals who were once silent but can remain silent no longer. Sandro Magister, who is no traditionalist, remarks this development:
The tempestuous October synod on the family, the appointment of the new archbishop of Chicago, and the demotion of Cardinal Raymond L. Burke have marked a turning point in the pontificate of Pope Francis.
The disquiet, the doubts, the critical judgments are coming out more and more into the light of day and are becoming ever more explicit and substantiated. On all levels of the “people of God.” Among cardinals, among sociologists of religion, among journalists specializing in Vatican affairs.
Even Magister has had enough of the “Bergoglio Effect.” He offers this chilling diagnosis of its results thus far: “
I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation….
More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe…
The ultra-liberal “Catholic” newspaper The Tablet is so alarmed by rising resistance to Francis that it has begun to sound like a papist publication: “In the last 50 years a pope has not been criticised so brazenly,” huffs one of its recent headlines . Of course, it is not the papacy the Tablet defends but the progressive utterances and program of the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires. The Tablet doesn’t care one whit for the papacy—or the Catholic Church, for that matter. What The Tablet cares about is described in the title of a new book on the rise of Mario Bergoglio at the conclave of 2013: “The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope.”
This feigned concern for papal authority is only what one would expect from a newspaper like The Tablet, which has been militating openly against Catholic doctrine and discipline for decades. But now the question presents itself: Do the neo-Catholic ideologues care—really care—about the papacy and the Church as opposed to the preservation of their crumbling position? If they continue to defend “the Francis revolution,” joining the world in applauding it, if they continue to pretend that the entire Magisterium and the very teaching of the Pope they themselves dubbed “the Great” does not stand immovably in the path of what Francis and his cadre of progressives would like to do (should God permit it), then we will have our answer. Or perhaps we have seen enough to know the answer already.