What Keating and Armstrong think about Lawler’s exposition of what has long been obvious to traditionalists is uninteresting in itself. Worth noting, however—if only as a kind of sociological observation of our troubled ecclesial commonwealth—is that here we have two “conservative” Catholics bickering over how to approach a book that essentially echoes the traditionalist view of what Lawler himself calls “this disastrous papacy.”
For Armstrong, it is a matter of maintaining the neo-Catholic polemic of “radical traditionalists” as objects of fear and loathing, even though Lawler, a decidedly non-traditionalist commentator, agrees with them regarding Francis. For Keating, it is question of how Lawler can be defended without also conceding that the traditionalists who preceded him by years in reaching the same conclusion were right from the beginning. Both agree, therefore, on the same implicit premise: under no circumstances can the traditionalist assessment of Francis be credited at all, much less acknowledged as prescient, for this would mean that the neo-Catholic commentariat has been wrong and wholly lacking in prescience. Wrong not only about Francis, but the entire course of the post-conciliar crisis in the Church whose roots in unprecedented and manifestly destructive ecclesial novelties they, being neo-Catholics, refuse to acknowledge. While Francis has made that refusal untenable as to his own novelties, the neo-Catholic polemic nonetheless precludes any admission that traditionalists had a point concerning him.
As one of our correspondents astutely observes: the argument between Keating and Armstrong, who are friends, is thus really over how to continue discrediting the traditionalist position now that Lawler, a non-traditionalist, has been driven to accept its accurate diagnosis of this pontificate. The interplay between the two disputants, ultimately joined by Lawler himself in the compendium of comments linked to above, is really rather amusing.
In his approach to Lawler’s book, Armstrong recalls that precisely on August 3, 2013 he coined the term “radical Catholic reactionary” to replace his earlier epithet “radical traditionalist” (“radtrad”) and then revised his many writings accordingly—as if anyone should care—to reflect the new epithet, which he defines as follows:
I define “radical Catholic reactionaries” as a rigorist, divisive group completely separate from mainstream “traditionalism” that continually, vociferously, and vitriolically [sic] (as a marked characteristic or defining trait) bashes and trashes popes, Vatican II, the New Mass, and ecumenism (the “big four”): going as far as they can go without technically crossing over the canonical line of schism. In effect, they become their own popes: exercising private judgment in an unsavory fashion, much as (quite ironically) Catholic liberals do, and as Luther and Calvin did when they rebelled against the Church. They can’t live and let live. They must assume a condescending “superior-subordinate” orientation.
The reader will note that Armstrong’s “definition” is merely a string of insults and further undefined terms amounting to nothing more than a caricature of the traditionalist view of our unparalleled ecclesial situation. The resulting cloud of pejoratives allows Armstrong to smuggle back into his polemic precisely the condemnation of “mainstream traditionalism” he professes to eschew, as seen by his inclusion in the category of “radical Catholic reactionary” pretty much the entire universe of traditionalist and even quasi-traditionalist commentary, including “The Remnant, 1 Peter 5, Lifesite News, Rorate Caeli, [and] the ,” the last being that group of Catholics who, like Lawler, have publicly protested the chaos Francis has provoked with Amoris Laetitia, the very document Lawler calls “subversive.”
Armed with his new definition of the same old target, Armstrong has hit upon the saving tactic of denouncing Lawler’s book as a “radical Catholic reactionary” tract while absolving Lawler of the personal delict of radical Catholic reaction. He thus informs Keating: “I didn’t classify Phil as a reactionary, though I can see why someone would think so. I merely noted that in what I have been able to see so far in his book, he is thinking like one in some key/characteristic respects.” According to Armstrong, while Lawler quacks like a radical Catholic reactionary he is “not a reactionary now, but he may yet be. And if he ends up there, I called it, and warned people that it was coming…”
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For his part, Keating protests that “Lawler isn’t a reactionary at all (even though, granted, he is ‘reacting’ to certain papal actions), and I can’t think of any Traditionalist Catholics who would label him even a Traditionalist.” So, Lawler is neither a reactionary nor a Traditionalist. This must be made clear, lest Lawler’s respectable credentials be tarnished. Rather, Keating continues: “he is a man of conservative temperament, slow to draw conclusions, anxious to give Churchmen the benefit of the doubt. He is more a Russell Kirk than a Michael Voris.”
Here Keating reveals more than he realizes, for a “Russell Kirk Catholic” would be precisely the kind of modern conservative—which is to say, a moderate post-Enlightenment liberal—suggested by the ecclesial equivalent “neo-Catholic.” Just as Kirk accepted the fatal principles of political modernity while arguing for their compatibility with traditional values via a “conservative” application, so does the neo-Catholic accept the officially approved novelties of the past fifty years, despite their manifest incompatibility with the traditional teachings he would defend. (See definition below.) Francis, however, has made that exercise impossible. Hence Lawler’s book and the ensuing sociological disturbance it has caused in a neo-Catholic cohort that did not even exist before Vatican II.
But just a moment: Voris absolutely refuses to criticize Francis, no matter how much evidence accumulates against him. So, what does that make Lawler in comparison with Voris, given that Lawler has concluded that Francis is a radical “leading the Church away from the ancient sources of faith” in “deliberate effort to change what the Church teaches”? It seems that Voris would join Armstrong in denouncing Lawler as someone who at least quacks like a radical Catholic reactionary. I will leave Keating to sort out his own confusion in this regard.
Armstrong in reply frets that Lawler is “possibly heading down the road to reactionary Catholicism” and is “starting to argue and think more and more like them.” But Keating assures Armstrong that no such awful prospect is in view: “No, Dave, what Steve Skojec may opine tells us nothing. If you were to say something he agrees with on some other issue, he might praise you and claim that soon you’d join his little army. But you wouldn’t be doing any such thing. That Skojec or someone else praises Lawler tells us nothing about Lawler, other than that he has written on a subject that Skojec is interested in. You’re trying to draw far too much out of the situation…. As for Lawler sliding down what you consider to be a slippery slope (and without brakes), someone could take your logic and say about some well-known theological liberal who recently has embraced a few orthodox positions: ‘there’s no stopping his slide, from one extreme to the other–he’ll end up a Traditionalist!’”
Translation: Don’t worry. There is no chance that our man Phil will become one of them. He is the Russell Kirk of papal criticism, who takes his time before declaring that Francis is a dangerous radical who is trying to change Church teaching, that Amoris Laetitia is a subversive document and that his papacy is disastrous. Not like those radical Catholic reactionaries—which Lawler is most assuredly not—who said the same things much too soon. Big difference, you see.
Finally, Lawler has entered the fray personally to assure Armstrong that he has not become a radical Catholic reactionary: “If you give me your email address, I can send you a copy of the proofs, and you can make your judgment on the full book. I don’t doubt that you’ll still have problems with it, but I hope you won’t conclude that I have become a reactionary.” Perish the thought that any Catholic would react radically against a radical Pope bent on changing Church teaching! Catholics must always remain inert in the face of radical attacks on the Faith, especially when the radical is a Pope. Lawler thus hastens to give assurances of his continued inertness, despite his book.
So, Armstrong, Keating and Lawler himself are all essentially agreed: one must never allow oneself to become a radical reactionary Catholic, even if what those unclean ones at The Remnant and elsewhere are saying happens to be perfectly true. The neo-Catholic narrative of passive acceptance of the post-conciliar regime of novelty qua superior fidelity to the Church remains intact, even if Lawler has unsettled the quiescent status quo by observing that Francis has gone too far down the road to officially approved disaster they have all been following for decades without protest. Despite this lapse of protocol, Lawler is still not one of them. He has not sullied himself by joining the untouchable caste. And isn’t that what matters before all else?
Such is the profound sociological disease of the human element of the Church in the midst of the worst crisis in her long history.
Here's a clip of our three neo-Catholic friends calmly discussing the importance of not being us...
* neo-Catholic: a Catholic who accepts and defends the officially-approved ecclesial novelties of the past half-century, despite their destructive results and even though no Catholic is obliged to embrace a single one of them in order to be a member of the Church in good standing. These novelties, none of them binding on the Catholic conscience, have arisen primarily under the headings of “liturgical reform,” “ecumenism,” “dialogue,” “interreligious dialogue,” and the “updating” of priestly and religious formation, which has emptied the “reformed” seminaries and convents. Neo-Catholicism, whose ensemble of characteristics would horrify a Pope such as Saint Pius X, the arch-foe of Modernism and what he called “the Modernist as Reformer,” is the ecclesial equivalent of “neo-conservatism” in the political realm: i.e., a liberalized, “moderate” form of conservatism that attempts to reconcile true doctrine with novel practices, attitudes and fashions of the day that tend to undermine true doctrine. The current prevalence of the neo-Catholic “style” of Catholicism constitutes the essence of the post-Vatican II crisis in the Church.
**traditionalist: a Catholic who, being perfectly free to do so, prescinds from the recently introduced ecclesial novelties and continues to practice the unreconstructed Faith of his ancestors, including the traditional liturgy and the traditional formation of priests and religious in seminaries and convents that are full. The descriptor “traditionalist” was unnecessary before the Second Vatican Council, because every practicing and believing Catholic was, by today’s prevailing neo-Catholic standard, a traditionalist.