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A Strange Obsession


Why is the neo-Catholic establishment

so concerned about traditionalists?


Christopher A. Ferrara




This newspaper has provided a forum for the exploration of that great epiphenomenon of the post-conciliar epoch: the emergence of what is rightly described as neo-Catholicism (otherwise known as “conservative” Catholicism). A number of articles in The Remnant have been devoted to fleshing out this term with examples. For present purposes it suffices to say that a neo-Catholic is one who seriously defends and embraces—as "developments" of apostolic and ecclesiastical tradition—the entire panoply of unprecedented post-conciliar novelties, even though the mere sight of them would have reduced any of the pre-conciliar popes¾not excluding John XXIII himself¾to a state of apoplexy.

For example, it requires very little imagination to envision the horror with which Pope Saint Pius X or Pope Pius XII would have viewed a "reverent Novus Ordo Mass," said strictly in accordance with all the currently approved rubrics. Nor does one need a very bright bulb upstairs to picture how these great popes, and all their predecessors back to Saint Peter himself, would react to such spectacles as the current Pope conducting joint ecumenical liturgies in Saint Peter's Basilica with pro-abortion Lutherans dressed up as "bishops," or pan-denominational prayer meetings featuring muftis and yogis holding potted plants alongside the Vicar of Christ, and so on and so forth. 

Now, it is perfectly apparent that the post-conciliar innovations have produced nothing but bitter fruit by any empirically verifiable standard, be it the number of baptisms or conversions, the number of vocations, or the number of nominal Catholics who still believe (or even know) the dogmas of the faith, let alone adhere to the "difficult" teaching on marriage and procreation. But the neo-Catholic simply refuses to acknowledge that the conciliar popes could have blundered and caused serious harm to the Church by approving these unheard-of novelties. A prime example of this kind of studied denial of the obvious is a statement by neo-Catholic historian Warren Carroll in his capacity as one of EWTN's online "experts" on matters of the Faith.  Carroll was presented with the following query concerning Pope John Paul II's interreligious prayer meetings:


Recently there was a post with regards to questionable actions by the pope, in particular his habit of praying with persons of other religions. The post writer mentioned that previous popes had condemned this action. I have also read condemnations by past popes…. Given your vast knowledge of Catholic history, is praying with other religions something new or has it been allowed in the past? Do you know why the Holy Father does this now?


Here is the pertinent part of Carroll's "expert" reply:


Because in the past, Catholics feared that this would imply that all religions were equally valuable.  But the Pope believes that we can and should risk people drawing this false conclusion in order to emphasize what we have in common with all believers in God, in the face of a very secularized world today, where many people believe that 'God is dead.'


So Carroll admits that the novelty of interreligious prayer meetings carries a risk of luring the faithful into the theological error of indifferentism. Yet he defends this risk-taking with souls based on nothing more substantial than a presumed papal desire to "emphasize what we have in common with all believers in God."

But it is precisely this emphasis on "what we have in common with all believers" which gives rise to the error of indifferentism in the first place, because it obscures the radical differences between the one true religion revealed by God through His Church and the innumerable false religions invented by men.  That is why the pre-conciliar Holy Office, in its 1949 instruction on the "ecumenical movement," warned bishops to "be on guard, lest, on the false pretext that more attention should be paid to the points on which we agree than to those on which we differ, a dangerous indifferentism be encouraged . . ." (AAS 42-152) If the false pretext that "what unites us is more important than what divides us" poses a danger of indifferentism in our dealings with Protestants, all the more so in our dealings with those who deny the divinity of Christ. Yet today's neo-Catholic defends that same false pretext as if it were some marvelous new insight. Carroll even lauds the Pope's public kissing of the vile Koran on the same grounds: "In kissing the Koran… the Pope was not blessing their errors; he was recognizing common ground among those who in our secular, 'God is dead' age still share our belief in one God."   If you believe that the Pope did not imply a blessing  (or at least a veneration) of that which he kissed in public, then you'll believe anything. This is not to say that the Pope actually intended to bless the errors of Islam.  The problem is not the Pope's actual intention (whatever that might be), but rather the profound implications of such impetuous gestures and their effect upon the faithful.

In Carroll's defense of the indefensible we see the very essence of neo-Catholicism: praising today what was condemned yesterday, no matter how much evidence is presented to demonstrate a harmful discontinuity with the Church's past. In this connection I urge Remnant readers to obtain and study Father Chad Ripperger's seminal essay "Operative Points of View," first published in The Latin Mass magazine and now available on line at the website of Christian Order magazine.


Why They Loathe Us


          There is no question that the luminaries of neo-Catholicism have a special loathing for us traditionalists.  Nothing¾not heresy, not priestly or episcopal scandal, not profanation of the sacred liturgy throughout the world¾excites their outrage as much as our presentation of the case for Roman Catholic traditionalism, by which we mean nothing more than a return to the constant practice and understanding of the Faith before 1965.

The leaders of the neo-Catholicism despise us, I am convinced, simply because we are what they themselves were a scant 35 years ago.  If we remain Catholics in good standing¾and no competent Church authority has said otherwise!¾what does that say about them? I believe the neo-Catholics understand precisely what it says: it says that they have performed the role of useful idiots in the post-conciliar revolution, who failed in their moral duty to object to innovations which have caused grave damage to the Church. [1] In other words, if we are Catholics, then they are quislings. It seems to me that only this motive could account for the neo-Catholics' otherwise inexplicable obsession with denouncing traditionalist writings and doings in the midst of an unparalleled neo-modernist crisis whose perpetrators they criticize only mildly, if at all.

Accordingly, the neo-Catholics see it as their mission to persuade everyone that traditionalists are "schismatics," or at least that our adherence to the Church is so tenuous as to be suspect.  Since competent Church authorities have made no such declaration, however, our neo-Catholic inquisitors have simply arrogated that function to themselves, thereby becoming guilty of the very conduct they falsely ascribe to traditionalists: acting as if they were the Pope or the local ordinary. A remarkably obnoxious practitioner of this technique hounds traditionalists on a website emanating from his kitchen table in Massachusetts. Here is the man's explanation (complete with the royal "we") of why he simply must alert the world to the presence of "schismatic" traditionalists:


While, clearly, only the Church can officially "declare" someone or some group in schism or in heresy, such a declaration is ordinarily preceded by accusations of schism or heresy wherein schismatic or heretical teachings and/or acts are brought to the attention of the Church and the Faithful by ordinary Catholics…. If we say we consider a group to be holding 'schismatic' views we know full well that we are only making the assertion, albeit based on grave evidence, in order that the Church may investigate, decide and perhaps officially declare, and that ordinary Catholics, meanwhile, will be alerted to the need for caution.


That is, this fellow sees himself as a kind of ecclesial vigilante who first conducts a public lynching of traditionalist "schismatics" and then "brings them to the attention of the Church."  This reminds me of a movie in which a detective shoots a suspect with his .44 Magnum and then says "You have the right to remain silent." (The website in question is little more than a popgun so far as persuasiveness is concerned, but public calumny on the internet is no small matter.) Needless to say, there is no evidence that our cyber-vigilante actually has brought any traditionalist "schismatic" to "the attention of the Church" in the manner provided by Church law: namely, a canonical complaint lodged with the competent local ordinary, with an opportunity for the accused to defend his views against specific allegations supported by hard evidence.  No, it is much easier to write up a little jeremiad concerning the traditionalist target of the day and then post it to the world on one's home-based website.


The Long Knife of Monsignor Calkins


          I have yet to encounter a more virulent calumniator of traditionalists than Msgr. Arthur Burton Calkins, a secretary of the Ecclesia Dei Commission who seems to think that the Commission's primary purpose is to find a way to detach traditionalist bumpkins from the 1962 Missal. That the Commission was founded with a papal command to preserve that Missal as the most recent codification of the Church's ancient and essentially unchanging Latin liturgical tradition does not seem to trouble the Monsignor very much. 

In a conversation I had with Calkins in November 2000 he expressed his utter contempt for American traditionalists, whom he generally described as ignoramuses who are "lacking in formation."  Calkins, who himself hails from Erie, PA, spoke of his vision of a "merging" of "the two streams of the liturgy," the old and the new, into that ever-elusive "true reform" intended by the Second Vatican Council.  This would involve, he said, use of the new lectionary and other post-conciliar innovations.  And, of course, there is no problem with communion in the hand or even altar girls, which he said could be imposed upon Indult Mass communities if the local bishop insisted, as the new rubrics "apply to the whole Roman Rite."

          Last summer, Calkins gave an address to the Latin Liturgy Association in Chicago.  Although entitled "The Latin Liturgical Tradition: Extending and Solidifying the Continuity," the address had little to do with preserving liturgical continuity, but much to do with attacking traditionalists in the same obsessive manner I have just described.

          The address begins with the exhortation that in addressing the liturgy and the general state of the Church today "we should focus on the mystery of our redemption through the prism of Mary's Immaculate Heart."  (The lecture was given on the date of the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart in what the Monsignor pointedly called "the present Roman calendar.") But the Monsignor was evidently not focusing on his own obligations in charity and justice through the prism of the Immaculate Heart. Within the space of a few paragraphs, Marian piety had given way to invective, as the Monsignor withdrew his long knife and began stabbing away at traditionalists in general and Michael Davies in particular¾rather obviously the whole purpose of his address in Chicago.

Concerning traditionalists in general, the Monsignor indulged in perhaps the worst example of rash judgment I have ever seen from a cleric: "Please note that when I use the word 'traditionalist' in this presentation I am not referring to serious Catholics who love the Church, are docile to her teaching and 'are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition'  [6]; I am speaking, rather, of ideologists who have no concern for the care of souls (cf. Jn. 10:12-13) and who are totally committed to a crusade for the restoration of the 1962 Roman Missal at any cost."  The only example of such a terrible person which came to Monsignor Calkins' mind in the course of his address on "liturgical continuity" was the evil Michael Davies. (By the way, I was recently informed that the Massachusetts website operator mentioned above recently ran an article entitled "The Fall of Michael Davies." When I alerted Michael that he had fallen, he replied by email that he would attend to his fall after he had finished enjoying a game of rugby on television.) 

Calkins cited Davies as an example of what he calls "attack mode" traditionalists. He quoted Davies' recent article in The Latin Mass concerning the Ecclesia Dei commission, wherein Davies observes that the Commission's "permanent bureaucrats do not have the least idea of what motivates the traditional Catholics in their insistence upon Mass according to the 1962 Missal. They consider traditionalists to be ignorant, narrow-minded, and rigid. They do not believe that it is in any way their task to persuade bishops to guarantee respect for what the Holy Father terms the rightful aspirations of traditionalists." That is precisely the truth, as my own encounter with Calkins demonstrated.

In fairness to Michael Davies I ought to mention that Calkins also identified me by name (in a footnote) as "a prominent American 'traditionalist' who admitted that he had 'no formal theological training' [and] presented a list of 64 questions to Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, requesting further clarifications on the Congregation's declaration Dominus Iesus seemingly because of  perceived lack of clarity in that document's presentation of Catholic doctrine."  What my questions to Cardinal Ratzinger concerning Dominus Iesus had to do with Msgr. Calkins' focus on liturgical continuity through the prism of the Immaculate Heart is far from apparent; but there I am, right in the middle of the Monsignor's address to a prestigious liturgical association. Also mentioned is We Resist You to the Face by Michael Matt, John Vennari, Atila Guimaraes, and Dr. Marian Horvat.  More than a year after the pamphlet's publication, its neo-Catholic critics have yet to get beyond the title, but they are still buzzing about it like a swarm of angry hornets, accusing the authors of being schismatics. Meanwhile, as always, they have little or nothing to say about the authors of abounding heresies in the Church. For example, there is Hans Kung's latest book, which suggests that Blessed Pius IX was a psychopath and denies the Scriptural foundations of the papacy.  Nary a peep from our neo-Catholic inquisitors, who have yet to apply the appellation "schismatic" to any of the neo-modernists (such as Kung) who really deserve it.

Following the usual neo-Catholic mode of argument, Msgr. Calkins' failed to address the empirical evidence for the traditionalist position presented so exhaustively by Michael Davies and many others.  The closest Calkins' speech came to an argument on the merits is his statement  that "the Mass promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970 is criticized by 'traditionalists' as a departure from the tradition." Well, of course it is.  In his audience address of November 26, 1969 Paul VI said so himself:


First, we must prepare ourselves. This novelty is no small thing. We should not let ourselves be surprised by the nature, even the nuisance, of its exterior forms…. We are parting with the speech of the Christian centuries; we are becoming like profane intruders in the literary preserve of sacred utterance. We will lose a great part of that stupendous and incomparable artistic and spiritual thing, the Gregorian chant. We have reason for regret, reason almost for bewilderment. What can we put in the place of that language of the angels? We are giving up something of priceless worth. Why? What is more precious than these loftiest of our Church's values?… We must prepare for this many-sided inconvenience. It is the kind of upset that is caused by every novelty that breaks in on our habits.


          If that is not the description of a departure from tradition, then words have lost their meaning. 


How strange it is that a Vatican functionary would travel all the way to Chicago in the midst of the worst crisis in Church history to give an address in which he goes out of his way to condemn, not any of the true enemies of the Church who have brought her to the brink of ruin throughout much of the world, but Michael Davies, yours truly and four lay authors of a pamphlet whose actual contents are not even addressed.  What is going on here?

I think the answer is clear enough. Msgr. Calkins and the rest of the neo-Catholic establishment are obsessed with traditionalists precisely and only because they fear the merits of the traditionalist position, and they see that a growing number of Catholics are becoming traditionalists in a natural reaction against the post-conciliar debacle. Hence, for example, the Vatican Press Office's insanely inappropriate announcement to the world, only one day after the terrorist attacks of September 11, that Father Nicholas Gruner is "suspended" on unspecified grounds (unspecified because they do not exist). It was as if Father Gruner's longstanding opponents in the Vatican Secretariat of State sensed that they must immediately destroy the man's good name, lest anyone should conclude from recent world events that he (along with millions of like-minded traditionalists) was right all along about Russia having yet to be consecrated to the Immaculate Heart.  Indeed, the Message of Fatima itself is nothing if not a divine warning about the consequences of failing to bring about a restoration of Catholic Tradition in our time through the conversion of Russia, which appears to be the source of the weapons-grade anthrax now spreading, like Russia's errors, throughout the world. (The U.N. has just issued an alert about the threat of Soviet-manufactured smallpox which may have been diverted from its bioweapons program into the hands of Muslim terrorist groups.) This announcement of Father Gruner's "suspension" was promptly followed by Warren Carroll's monstrous lie on the EWTN website that Father Gruner is "now schismatic" and a "schismatic priest"¾a sentence not even Father Gruner's worst enemies in the Vatican apparatus would dare to pronounce. So, the likes of Hans Kung bask in celebrity and their good standing as clerics, while Father Gruner, a faithful and orthodox priest, is drummed out of the church by Warren Carroll. But such is the role of neo-Catholics as the useful idiots of the post-conciliar revolution.

  In the end these attacks on traditionalists are bound to backfire. For if we traditionalists were really the bitter, ill-informed, delusional cranks Calkins so viciously depicts in his so-called address on "liturgical continuity," we ourselves would be the best refutation of our own position, and would long ago have consigned ourselves to the oblivion of being ignored by the sane and the sensible. That this has not happened, that our ranks are swelling with young people who are producing large Catholic families, that people like Calkins sense that they must attack us again and again, can only suggest to an objective observer that our position must have merit. The merit is not our own, of course, for we are next to nothing. It is, rather, the infinite merit and attraction of the Church's divinely bestowed patrimony, whose argument in favor of itself is finally unanswerable.

The day is coming when that patrimony will be restored in all its perennial integrity. The Novus Ordo liturgy will die of its own sterility, for it cannot attract priestly vocations in sufficient numbers to perpetuate itself. The ecumenical and interreligious "dialogues" which go nowhere and produce nothing will eventually cease, and the Church will return to teaching and making disciples of all nations. The entire failed experiment in making the Church conform to the empty neologisms of "the New Theology" will be abandoned.  Then the judgment of history will be rendered against those who suppressed the Church's patrimony, and those who defended the suppression. Because the neo-Catholics know this in their heart-of-hearts, we can expect their denunciations of us to grow louder and more outrageous as the evidence against their position piles up and history's verdict approaches.

No, history will not be kind to neo-Catholicism.  Meanwhile, the neo-Catholics will not be kind to us. But we shall bear that little burden gladly.




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[1]  As Tom Woods has noted, the use of Lenin's term "useful idiots" in this context does not connote actual stupidity.  Quite the contrary, from the Soviet perspective the  most useful useful idiots were men of extreme intelligence.  The same is true in the current ecclesial context.