Also cause for rejoicing was Benedict’s return to dignity and decorum in the papacy as befits the august Vicar of Christ, versus the “rock star Pope” phenomenon that had debased the Petrine office over the previous quarter-century, producing mass adulation but precious little acceptance of inconvenient Church teachings, including those defended by John Paul II himself.
The Benedictine Respite was also marked by papal candor about the state of our civilization; there was no more fatuous optimism concerning “the modern world.” On the contrary, Pope Benedict returned to the line of his preconciliar predecessors, issuing prophetic warnings about the consequences of social apostasy:
The darkness enshrouding God and obscuring values is the real threat to our existence and to the world in general.
In our days, when in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel, the overriding priority is to make God present in this world and to show men and women the way to God….
The real problem at this moment of our history is that God is disappearing from the human horizon, and, with the dimming of the light which comes from God, humanity is losing its bearings, with increasingly evident destructive effects.
How many winds of doctrine we have known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking… The small boat of thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves—thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and so forth....
We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.
In the Old and New Testaments, the Lord proclaims judgment on the unfaithful vineyard…. Yet the threat of judgment also concerns us, the Church in Europe, Europe and the West in general. With this Gospel, the Lord is also crying out to our ears the words that in the Book of Revelation He addresses to the Church of Ephesus: “If you do not repent I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (2: 5).
[M]oral consensus is collapsing, consensus without which juridical and political structures cannot function. Consequently, the forces mobilized for the defense of such structures seem doomed to failure…. The very future of the world is at stake.
But there was papal candor as well about the decline in the Church since Vatican II. There was no more talk of the non-existent conciliar springtime. Writing as Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict had already famously observed (in 1997) that “I am convinced that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy…” (Milestones, p. 147). In his Address to the Parish Priests and Clergy of Rome on February 14, 2013, given on the heels of his staggering announcement that he was abdicating the papacy, Benedict went beyond this already explosive admission. He conceded what traditionalists have been contending since the post-conciliar crisis began: that the entire program of “updating” the Church in the name of the Council had been a disaster.
Referring to a “virtual Council” and a “Council of the media,” but nonetheless tying his remarks precisely to the event of the Council, Benedict gave this assessment of our situation:
Sacrality must therefore be abolished, and profanity now spreads to worship: worship is no longer worship, but a community act, with communal participation: participation understood as activity….
We know that this Council of the media was accessible to everyone. Therefore, this was the dominant one, the more effective one, and it created so many disasters, so many problems, so much suffering: seminaries closed, convents closed, banal liturgy …
Of course this “Council of the media” was in fact the Council the hierarchy had implemented with direction or approval from Rome at every step along the road to disaster. That the Pope was at least willing to admit a crisis emanating in some way from the Council itself, however, was a breakthrough of reality into the fog of delusion. Pope Benedict did go on to say that “It seems to me that, 50 years after the Council, we see that this virtual Council is broken, is lost, and there now appears the true Council with all its spiritual force.” But if there was any basis for that expression of optimism, it lay in what Benedict himself had tried to do by way of ecclesial restoration.
As I note above, during the Benedictine Respite the revolution did seem to lose momentum, while a Latin Mass revival was gaining momentum all over the world, especially among young people. As The London Economist observed just over a year before Benedict shocked the world with his resignation: “traditional Catholicism [!] is attracting people who were not even born when the Second Vatican Council tried to rejuvenate the church.” Tried is the operative word, and failed is the outcome.
Back With a Vengeance
With Pope Benedict’s abdication, however, the promising signs of renewal during the Respite were soon overshadowed by the threat of a return to an even deeper ecclesial winter. We have seen this in such signs as the ruthless dismantling of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate (FFI) on account of nothing more than what the Vatican’s enforcer called “a crypto-Lefebvrian, definitely traditionalist drift”—a charge that invites mockery in the midst of the mass apostasy the Vatican has ignored, if not encouraged, over the past fifty years.
The traditional Mass was forbidden to all the clerics of the FFI absent special permission—a direct violation of the Church’s universal law as laid down in Summorum; the Friars were forbidden to publish books or tracts; their leader was placed under virtual house arrest and his subordinates dispatched all over the world as “missionaries;” two of FFI’s thriving monasteries were shut down; and even the associated lay apostolate was forbidden from meeting.
In short, we are witnessing the return with a vengeance of what I described fourteen years ago in The Great Façade: the “regime of novelty in the Roman Catholic Church.” In that regard, one of the many distressing developments during the first year of Pope Francis’s pontificate has been a revival of influence on the part of what could be called the neo-Catholic nomenklatura. This is a kind of lay ruling class of the regime of novelty, arbiters of public opinion in the Church allied with a clerical establishment that gives the nomenklatura legitimacy and endorses its work in exchange for conformity to the party line, which can be summarized thus: Vatican II, more Vatican II, still more Vatican II.
The function of the nomenklatura has always been to assist clerical progressives in defending the crumbling regime of novelty by marginalizing and demonizing those among the faithful who have mounted any kind of serious opposition to it, meaning the traditionalist movement or those with “a definite traditionalist drift,” such as the Franciscan Friars, who are (or were) a bi-ritual order.
The current members of the neo-Catholic nomenklatura range from buffoonish and emotionally unstable demagogues of the blogosphere, who dispense crude, hastily written calumnies of traditionalists, to more sophisticated defenders of the post-conciliar status quo, who deliver the same calumnies but in a more patrician style—both usually with the always effective suggestion of “anti-Semitism.”
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Differences in style and prestige aside, the nomenklatura work as one in denouncing traditionalists as enemies of the regime. In what is perhaps an implicit recognition of the advances the traditionalist movement made during the Benedictine Respite, however, nomenklatura spokesmen will hasten to add that they do not condemn all traditionalists—which they certainly did before the Respite—but only “radical traditionalists.” But by “radical traditionalists” they mean Catholics who are critical of the regime and prescind from its patently destructive, utterly non-binding novelties as a matter of principle. In other words, all traditionalists—or, again, those with “a definite traditionalist drift.” These enemies of the regime must be crushed, as in the case of the Franciscan Friars, the only order besides the SSPX subjected to such brutal repression at any time in the living memory of the Church.
I should note that the nomenklatura were comparatively subdued during the seven years of the Respite, when traditionalists were finally receiving a measure of justice from the Holy See and it had become rather awkward to continue attempting to cast them out of the Church while the Pope was clearly intent on defending their right to exist and even to flourish.
Indeed, Pope Benedict himself came under attack for favoring the traditionalist movement. To recall the historic words in his letter to the bishops defending his decision to lift the “excommunications” of the SSPX bishops:
At times one gets the impression that our society needs to have at least one group to which no tolerance may be shown; which one can easily attack and hate. And should someone dare to approach them—in this case the Pope—he too loses any right to tolerance; he too can be treated hatefully, without misgiving or restraint.
How ironic that the only “Pope bashers” Benedict ever complained about were anti-traditionalists.
Sad to say, the anti-traditionalists are back in the saddle again, and the neo-Catholic nomenklatura have resumed with renewed vigor their role as compliant Mensheviks alongside the still passionate, however elderly, Bolsheviks of the conciliar revolution. Worse, the nomenklatura see themselves as empowered by a Pope who seems obsessed with singling out traditional Catholics for endless denunciation as hypocrites, self-absorbed Promethean neo-Pelagians, Pharisees, narcissists, restorationists, and so forth.
The “who am I to judge?” pontificate has been marked by so many harsh judgments against the Pope’s own subjects—and not just traditionalists—that it is possible to compile a “Little Book” of insults containing an ever-expanding list of the condemned. But for homosexuals in the hierarchy, atheists or the divorced and remarried who demand Holy Communion while continuing their unholy communion, there is only talk of “mercy,” while Modernists such as Cardinal Kasper or the late Cardinal Martini receive glowing papal raise for their work in subverting the Faith.
So, it seems the clock has been reset back to at least the year 2000, when I began my tenure as a columnist for this newspaper, if not all the way back to the horrific 1970s. It seems it will be necessary to join issue once again with a revived neo-Catholic nomenklatura. And thus it will be necessary to restate the traditionalist case for those who are new to the controversy between “radical traditionalists”—the nomenklatura’s name for us—and neo-Catholics—our name for a constituency that never existed in the Church before the Second Vatican Council, when all Catholics were traditionalists who believed the same things and worshipped in the same way.
Let me, therefore, conclude these remarks with a summary of the problem that now confronts us anew, adapted from the pages of The Great Façade, published twelve years ago: the problem of novelty in the Church.
The Problem of Novelty
Adapted from The Great Façade (Remnant Press, 2002)
Our debate with the neo-Catholics shows that the post-conciliar crisis can be summed up in one word: novelty. We have seen how the neo-Catholic tends to condemn the traditionalist Catholic for the latter’s instinctive opposition to novelty, failing to recognize that this instinct is as important to the health of the Church as the instinct of self-preservation is to the health of living creatures. The Church’s perennial counsel against the embrace of novelties was recapitulated by Pope Saint Pius X in his monumental encyclical Pascendi:
But for Catholics nothing will remove the authority of the second Council of Nicea, where it condemns those ‘who dare, after the impious fashion of heretics, to deride the ecclesiastical traditions, to invent novelties of some kind...or endeavor by malice or craft to overthrow any one of the legitimate traditions of the Catholic Church’ . . . . Wherefore the Roman Pontiffs, Pius IV and Pius IX, ordered the insertion in the profession of faith of the following declaration: ‘I most firmly admit and embrace the apostolic and ecclesiastical traditions and other observances and constitutions of the Church.’
The neo-Catholics have no answer to the claim that Saint Pius X would be more horrified than any traditionalist by the state of the Church after fifty years of experience with the liturgical, pastoral, and even doctrinal novelties spawned in the aftermath of the Council. They have no answer because they know it is true.
The sensus catholicus abhors rash ecclesial innovation; and not just innovation in what neo-Catholics misleadingly call the “substance” of the Faith—as if everything else could be discarded with safety. The teaching of Pius X, echoed by all his predecessors, is that not only apostolic Tradition, but also the ecclesiastical traditions and observances woven into the life of the Church over the centuries must be defended against unnecessary and dramatic change, lest the Church’s commonwealth be so disrupted that the faithful are thrown into a state of confusion and alienation that endangers the Faith itself. Which, of course, is exactly what has happened during the post-conciliar epoch.
It is indisputable that since around 1965 the Church has been overtaken by a swarm of utterly unprecedented novelties: a new rite of Mass, a new liturgical calendar, new sacramental rituals, a new ecumenism, a new rapprochement with non-Christian religions, a new “dialogue with the world,” a new rule of life in seminaries, priestly orders and convents, a “new evangelization,” and even an entirely new vocabulary to replace what neo-Catholics generally belittle as outdated doctrinal “formulas.”
As Cardinal Newman showed in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, the sudden emergence of some novelty in the Church which is not the natural and almost imperceptible outgrowth of everything that came before it would be a sign, not of life and growth, but of corruption—just as the sudden emergence of a tumor is a sign of corruption in the human body. It is manifest that every one of the suddenly emergent post-conciliar novelties has produced a corresponding corruption in the Church:
- The new liturgy has produced a loss of Eucharistic faith and respect for the Blessed Sacrament.
The new liturgical calendar and cycle of readings have produced (as Msgr. Klaus Gamber noted) a loss of the sense of place and a diminished inculcation of Scriptural lessons, especially the “hard sayings” of Scripture, which were largely eliminated or neutralized by tendentious translations that are really dishonest paraphrases.
The new sacramental rituals have produced a loss of the understanding of what the sacraments mean, baptism in particular having become a mere initiation rite, with the subject of original sin never mentioned.
The new ecumenism has produced a relative Protestantization of the Catholic liturgy and faithful, accompanied by the confirmation of Protestants in their errors and the accelerated moral and doctrinal decomposition of Protestant sects over the course of the “ecumenical dialogues.” (Ironically enough, the evangelical sects that have shunned the ecumenical venture are those that remain closest to Catholic moral teaching.)
The new rapprochement with non-Christian religions has produced the near-extinction of the traditional missionary activity of the Church which aimed at saving souls whose false religions imprisoned them in darkness (as Pius XI described Islam, for example, in a prayer prescribed for the whole Church); and this development has been accompanied by the perception that good hope is to be entertained for the salvation of all non-Christians—precisely the proposition condemned in Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors.
As Paul VI admitted, “the opening to the world has produced a veritable invasion of the Church by worldly thinking;” the world, on the other hand, has only hastened to descend toward utter barbarity, while Church authorities continue to insist upon “dialogue” rather than teaching with the authority of God, condemning error and warning the world that its sins merit eternal damnation.
The reform of the seminaries, the priestly orders and the convents has produced an emptying of all three, and a deeply neo-modernist formation in the few men and women who still enter. (Only a return to the traditional rule and formation in some places has produced new vocations in any great numbers.)
The “new evangelization” (in conjunction with the new ecumenism and the new liturgy) has produced a profound loss of conversions and vocations compared with the immediate pre-conciliar period, but also a great number of semi-autonomous “ecclesial movements” of bizarre character, which have sprouted like weeds in the devastated vineyard. These include a frenzied, pan-denominational, charismatic gnosticism, horrifying to behold, which replaces the sound piety and inward composure exemplified by the saints of the Church.
On the matter of the Church’s new vocabulary, the search for new way of “speaking to the world” has produced a mind-boggling collection of buzzwords lacking any of the classical precision of Catholic doctrine: “ecumenism,” “ecumenical venture,” “dialogue,” “ecumenical dialogue,” “interreligious dialogue,” “responsible parenthood,” “solidarity,” “collegiality,” “partial communion,” “imperfect communion,” “sister churches,” “reconciled diversity,” “what unites us is greater than what divides us” (divided unity in the Faith being impossible), “inculturation,” “Church of the new Advent,” “the new Springtime,” “the civilization of love,” and so on and so forth. Never in Church history has the thinking of Churchmen been so dominated by neologisms that have no precise meaning. And never has the Church’s message been so uncertain.
In sum, the historical record of the post-conciliar novelties is indisputably a record of corruption, failure and confusion in every area those novelties have touched. As Cardinal Ratzinger candidly admitted in 1984:
The results of the Council seem cruelly to have contradicted the expectations everybody had, beginning with John XXIII and Paul VI …. [W]e have been confronted instead with a continuing process of decay that has gone on largely on the basis of appeals to the council, and thus has discredited the council in the eyes of many people.
Cardinal Ratzinger went on to say: “It is my opinion that the misfortunes the Church has met with in the last twenty years are not due to the true council itself, but to an unleashing within the council of latent, aggressive, polemical and centrifugal forces.” Thirty years later, however, the evidence of an even deeper “process of decay” permits us to advance beyond the Cardinal’s opinion to say that the “true council” is indeed part of the problem. And the problem is novelty. Not novelty in the sense of gradual development or enrichment of what has been handed down over the centuries, legitimately renewing while preserving it, but rather abrupt, unprecedented breaks with the past the likes of which the Church has never seen in any previous epoch; reckless innovations masquerading as obligations of the Faith which, in fact, have never been imposed as binding on the Catholic conscience.
Homily for the Easter Vigil, April 7, 2012.
“Letter of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to All the Bishops of the World”, March 10, 2009.
“Homily for the Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice Mass, 18 April 2005” (as Cardinal Ratzinger).
Pope Benedict XVI, “Homily for the opening of the 11th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops”, Rome, October 2, 2005.
“Address to the Roman Curia,”December 20, 2010.
L’Osservatore Romano, November 9, 1984, later to be known as The Ratzinger Report.