From The European Conservative
By Sebastian Morello, PhD
Should the faithful just shut up and watch the Church they love, and the Faith that is Her gift to the world, be attacked by those who hold Her highest offices?
Traditional Catholics Condemned
Recently, fellow writer for The European Conservative, Felix Miller, wrote a piece strongly criticising traditional Catholics who, in his view, have routinely been overly critical of Pope Francis. In the opening two paragraphs, three times Miller invokes the name of Satan to point his readers to the spirit he thinks is leading trad Catholics in their general attitude to current Church affairs. Then Miller tells us that “contemporary conservative and traditional speech to and about the Church hierarchy crosses the line from proper Christian fraternal correction to scandalous disobedience or even schism.” Given, then, that Miller pulls no punches, no doubt he expects the same in any response to his piece. I shall try not to disappoint him.
Miller singles out for denunciation those groups that promote and provide the ancient apostolic form of the Roman Rite, naming Sedevacantists, Lefebvrists (SSPX), and mainstream traditional Catholics like fellow European Conservative writer Peter Kwasniewski, whom he names by name. Miller groups these three together as if there were no substantial differences between them, only some fine discrepancies that amount to mere differences of degree rather than of kind. Sedevacantists, however, deny that the Chair of St. Peter has any incumbent at all, and thus the man in white for whom the other two groups pray every day is just an imposter. This is not a mere difference of degree. This is a radically different position to those of Lefebvrists and mainstream trad Catholics.
Many mainstream trad Catholics have made enormous sacrifices and received astonishing mistreatment from their own bishops merely for worshiping as did their forebears in the Faith, and for protecting their children from the heresy preached or irreverence practiced at the local parish (sometimes necessitating travel over vast distances every Sunday). They’ve often undergone terrible bullying by the Church’s ministers precisely because, rather than deny that there’s a pope in Rome like the Sedevacantists or opt to be in a canonically irregular situation like the Lefebvrists, they chose to tough it out in submission to the Church’s law and Her hierarchy—undergoing frequent persecution as a consequence. Miller contributes to the bullying of these faithful Catholics and calls his hounding of them “a spiritual work of mercy.”
Miller leaves his readers guessing as to what, exactly, he is referring: what criticisms in particular does he think “cross the line”? Certainly, trad Catholics have routinely criticised Pope Francis’s ‘family synods,’ which promoted homosexuality and divorce, and which saw ideological ‘LGBT’ terminology make its way into official Church documents. They’ve criticised his public support for Eucharistic sacrilege (in his 2016 letter to the Argentinian bishops). They’ve criticised his ‘synodal path,’ which has officialised dissent and helped to foment a real schism with the Church in Germany. They’ve criticised his tampering of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, so that it now teaches notions condemned as heresy by Pope Innocent III. They have also criticised his arranging of pagan fertility-idol worship in the Vatican gardens, his declaration that God wills a plurality of religions as He wills the distinction of the sexes, his public affirmations of homosexuality, his support for communist regimes, his throw-them-under-the-bus treatment of Chinese Catholics, his critical remarks on the “breeding” habits of large families, his corruption of curial offices, his mishandling of abuse cases (especially when his friends are involved), his invitations to outspoken pro-abortion and population-control fanatics to be curial advisors, and his attempt to wipe the ancient apostolic Roman Rite off the face of the planet—to name but a few on a much longer list of disapprovals about which trad Catholics invariably criticise Pope Francis.
Does Miller think that the faithful ought to just shut up and watch the Church they love, and the Faith that is Her gift to the world, be attacked by those who hold Her highest offices? Does Miller believe that Catholics shouldn’t criticise such abuses of ecclesiastical power, even though it’s their canonical right to voice their concerns (can. 212, sec. 3)?
Trad Catholics are denounced by Miller for their disobedience—making no distinction between disobedience and resistance—but he does not seem to believe that the Church’s pastors are bound by obedience too. The Church’s pastors are bound by the requirements of their offices, by the tradition of the Church, by divine law, by positive ecclesiastical law, by the just civil laws of the states in which they reside, and above all by the teaching of Jesus Christ. If pastors disobey, does Miller believe that the faithful may not complain, despite the fact that, as noted, it is their canonical right to do so?
Trad Catholics in general and Kwasniewski in particular are criticised by Miller for a theory circulating among them. This theory holds that, due to repeated heretical and heterodox teaching—which Pope Francis has been recurrently asked to withdraw by members of the faithful in public letters and statements (some of which I’ve signed)—Francis’s teaching authority may have been “suspended.” This is a theory, as Miller notes, that was put forward by St. John Henry Newman in his analysis of the Arian heresy. Miller suggests that this theory ought to be rejected on the grounds that Newman argued for it over a decade before he became a Catholic. Newman, however, never retracted the work as a whole or that argument in particular, and he continued to have The Arians of the Fourth Century published after his reception into the Catholic Church, as he did much of his work (like every one of his Anglican sermons), all of which he considered orthodox from a Catholic perspective.
It is especially odd that Miller takes aim at trad Catholics for entertaining this Newmanian theory in relation to the current papal situation. Trad Catholics like Kwasniewski have had recourse to this theory precisely to sustain their continuing recognition of Francis as pope whilst trying to show that the ongoing abuses of papal power during his pontificate may not possess the full authoritative force of his office. To accuse trad Catholics like Kwasniewski of disobedience—satanic disobedience, even—whilst attacking their very attempts to maintain fidelity to Pope Francis (despite the chaos he’s heaped upon the Church) seems bizarre, to say the least. Miller entitles his essay “Francis is the Pope,” and then he denounces trad Catholics for utilizing resources of Church history, theology, and law to support the truth of this claim whilst minimizing its damage at the present time.
The Power-Authority Distinction
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Miller’s piece is his conception of how ecclesiastical authority works. He doesn’t seem to see that the Catholic Church is in a post-authority epoch in any case, at least regarding the healthy function of the ordinary magisterium. He doesn’t appear to realise this because he makes no distinction at all between power and authority—a very common error among nominalists, voluntarists, and legal positivists, but not one I expected from Miller. He seems to think that any resistance to the use of brute power by a pope is a denial of the pope’s authority. But the power and legal force of the Holy See rests on its authority, and that authority is derived from the Lord, the only head of the Church—of whom the pope is a mere servant. If the servant acts in disobedience to his Lord, he ought to be resisted, lest the wrath of the Lord be provoked.
For those members of the faithful who have either apostatised or adopted a strongly progressivist conception of the Church and Her Faith, the Church’s authority has no meaning. They will deny dogmas of the Faith and violate the moral law, irrespective of what the Church teaches. Trad Catholics, on the other hand, actually take the law very seriously—for them, it has authority over them, regardless of whether it is enforced—which is why Pope Francis uses the law to attack them. He knows that they think the law is important.
Unlike the trad faithful whom he mistreats, however, for Pope Francis the law seems to mean very little. There are ample examples of this, helpfully presented in Volume II of Kwasniewski’s The Road from Hyperpapalism to Catholicism. But even a book of that size does not contain all the many examples this infelicitous papacy has provided. One interesting case that won’t be found in that volume is that of Vatican City, over which Pope Francis is temporal lord as well as bishop, mandating that all Vatican employees be vaccinated with a COVID-19 vaccine. The Church’s most authoritative statement concerning the morality of receiving vaccinations derived from (or tested on) aborted human babies’ cells, however, clearly states that whilst it may be permissible in some instances to receive such vaccines, reception of them should never be obligatory. Pope Francis, then, showed flagrant disregard for the Church’s moral teaching, for the Church’s law, and for the just exercise of temporal coercion—to the point of threatening people with loss of employment if they didn’t take experimental medicines of malign origin. Perhaps Miller, though, thinks that Vatican employees should have just shut up and done what they were told, or they would have been “denying the Pope’s authority.”
Pope Francis’s behaviour has led trad Catholics, rightly in my view, to wonder how papal authority can persist during such scandalous abuses of power and ongoing dissemination of error. As noted, one theory they’ve suggested is that during such abuses the pope’s authority is “suspended.” This theory may be incorrect, but it seems preferable to denying that Francis is the pope (like the Sedevacantists) or declaring canonical disunity with him (like the Lefebvrists), but to Miller it’s all the same. Thus, he condemns all traditional Catholics in one sweep. And this remarkable lack of charity towards his fellow coreligionists is called by him “a spiritual work of mercy.”
The SSPX, Mainstream Traditional Catholics, and the Saints
Miller explicitly moves on to the Lefebvrists. According to Miller, the SSPX are “interested in their own man-made structures of authority” rather than “following Christ’s.” What man-made structures? The SSPX recognise the apostolic succession, they have bishops, priests, deacons, and laity. They recognise Francis as the pope, and they pray for him every day in the Church’s most solemn prayer, the Roman Canon. The full ecclesiastical structure bestowed by Christ is the one they follow. They are, however, in a canonically irregular situation, the meaning of which no one knows, and about which the Vatican has never said more since the lifting of all excommunications by Pope Benedict XVI.
Francis recognises SSPX bishops and priests, and by his universal authority he has granted them faculties—wherever they are in the world—to hear confessions and (with the local ordinary’s consent) witness marriages. Indeed, SSPX clergy seemingly possess more canonical rights than any clergy in the entire Church, straight from the Holy Father. And yet, Miller denounces them in a way that Pope Francis has not, and he declines to show the charity that Pope Francis has expressed towards them. Perhaps it’s Miller, in fact, who has a problem with papal authority.
Eventually, Miller confesses that he is without the knowledge or qualifications to really enter this debate, and so he declares that whilst he may not have all the correct arguments, he has the Saints on his side. Or at least he thinks he does. In his piece, Miller refers only to one Saint in support of his case. He presents to us the example of Saint Pius of Pietrelcina (“Padre Pio”) who, Miller tells us, despite the fact that he was “deeply skeptical of the Second Vatican Council and the liturgical reform that occurred in its wake,” offered the new form of the Mass promulgated after the so-called liturgical reforms. This, however, is impossible given that the new order of the liturgy didn’t come out until 1969 and Padre Pio died in 1968.
The comparison with Padre Pio is misplaced in any case. The persecutions that he suffered during his lifetime at the hands of both his religious order and the Church’s senior clerics were aimed at him personally. Trad Catholics don’t think that they’re being personally attacked by the Church (except when they’re diagnosed with cod-psychology by the Pope as “rigid” or must endure his criticisms of large families). Rather, they think the tradition and liturgical heritage of the Church has been—and continues to be—repudiated by the post-conciliar regime, in an unprecedented spirit of rupture that has only intensified during the most recent papacy. They think that this tradition and liturgical inheritance belongs to all the Church’s faithful by right. They think that the wielding of ecclesiastical power to destroy the Church’s tradition and liturgical inheritance is an abuse and undermines the authority on which that power rests. In turn, they criticise such abuse of power, which Miller mistakes for a denial of papal authority due to his failure to make some very simple distinctions. Moreover, Padre Pio, as a Franciscan, was under a vow of obedience which he was rightly keen not to break. The lay faithful and secular clergy of the Church are under no such vow, and are free to voice their concerns, which—I repeat—is their canonical right.
Miller then turns to the person of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, founder of the SSPX, contrasting him with Padre Pio. Miller claims that whilst the latter was obedient in the face of persecution, Lefebvre simply opted for disobedience. Miller concludes that that’s why one is now a canonised Saint and the other is not. In fact, Lefebvre obediently cooperated with the Vatican for as long as he could. It’s well documented that it was only when the Vatican sent emissaries to investigate the teaching in Lefebvre’s seminary in Écône, Switzerland, and criticised the seminary for teaching the historicity of the Lord’s resurrection, that he decided to secure his work’s future by continuing with the formation and ordination of priests. Much later, when it was clear that the Vatican wouldn’t support the continuation of this work after his death, Lefebvre took the step of consecrating bishops. Canon Law, in fact, permits the consecration of bishops without papal approval during times of crisis in the Church. The question is, then, was the latter half of the 20th century a time of crisis? I’m confident that future Church historians, looking at the period of greatest apostacy and dissemination of heresy in the whole history of the Church, will agree that it was indeed a time of crisis. It should be noted too that those familiar with the life of Archbishop Lefebvre, even those who strongly disagree with his decisions, don’t doubt the outstanding depth of his personal holiness.
Continuing to group together Sedevacantists, Lefebvrists, and mainstream trad Catholics—a grouping that is convenient for Miller’s purposes despite its dishonesty—Miller writes that “there is not a single hagiography of which I am aware that details a saint denying that there is a pope.” But of course, Lefebvrists and mainstream traditional Catholics think there is a pope, and Miller knows that; he just apparently wants his reader to assume that all trad Catholics are basically schismatics. Seemingly, when it comes to dealing with his fellow Catholics, Miller is not going to let truth get in the way of making his argument.
As for the approach taken by mainstream trad Catholics, the Saints may very well be more on their side than Miller thinks. Prof. Roberto de Mattei’s book Love for the Papacy & Filial Resistance to the Pope details a great many examples of Saints who disputed papal acts and decrees, which Miller may like to read at his leisure. Missing from Miller’s piece is any consideration of the life of St. Athanasius, Father and Doctor of the Church, who repeatedly resisted the bishops and the pope—a pope who was content to compromise with the Arian heresy—until Athanasius was eventually excommunicated by Pope Liberius. How might Miller make sense of such abuse of papal power and such saintly resistance to St. Peter’s successor, given that Miller has already rejected Newman’s explanation? I’m most keen to know.
Loving an Abusive Father
The ancient liturgy of the Church, that great gift of the centuries that traditional Catholics love above anything else in this world, is currently being targeted by those who are meant to be its greatest defenders. The incumbents of the Church’s highest offices are working boundless mischief and wickedness in their ideological and pathological desire to repudiate the Church’s tradition. They have brought into the Church that very impulse which persecuted Her from without in the form of successive revolutions, and that heaped terrible chaos on Her mission throughout modernity. Such revolutionary mayhem now governs the Church. Despite all this, traditional Catholics seek to make sense of this situation, that they may remain in a canonically regular situation, recognising Francis as their pope and praying for him as such. For this, Miller implies that they’re led by Satan. I can only assume that Miller somehow really does believe that his remarkable lack of charity towards his brethren in Christ is a “work of mercy,” for otherwise it would be truly inexcusable.
Finally, Miller accuses trad Catholics of “falling into doubt about the Holy Spirit’s protection of His Church.” Miller clearly hasn’t considered the obvious counterargument to his entire approach: namely, that the Holy Spirit may be protecting the Church precisely by raising up worldwide outcry among the remaining faithful against the current attacks on the Faith and the bimillennial inheritance that this same Holy Spirit inspired.
Traditional Catholics don’t deny the pope’s authority, as Miller claims, but they do deny that the power attached to that authority is arbitrary. They hold that the capricious, scandalous, sacrilegious use of such power undermines the authority to which it appeals. Thus, these faithful sons and daughters of the Church have tried to make sense of how such abuse has occurred and how the faithful are to respond to it. The pope’s authority exists to protect and conserve the Church’s revealed teaching, Her moral doctrine, and the liturgical and devotional tradition handed down to us. When this authority is exercised in contradiction to revelation, morals, or tradition, not only do the faithful have a right to criticise such abuse, but they may also—as Canon Law rightly states—have a duty to do so. If a family resists an abusive father, that doesn’t mean that its members say they have no father, or refuse to call him father, or cease to strive for his good. It means that the father is failing to do that to which fatherhood has bound him, or he is doing that which fatherhood forbids. A family that resists an abusive father is not inspired by Satan, but by love of the family itself.
On February 21st, the Vatican issued a rescript following an audience with Cardinal Arthur Roche on February 20th. The rescript, signed by Cardinal Roche, relates to the motu proprio “Traditionis custodes,” and clarifies that bishops must obtain authorization from the Holy See before granting permission for parish churches to be used to offer Holy Mass in the ancient Roman Rite, and before allowing priests ordained after 16 July 2021 to use the 1962 Roman Missal. This rescript further demonstrates the pope’s persecution of traditional Catholics, and should indicate that—far from being a time for more criticism—this is the time when their Brethren in Christ should be showing traditional Catholics some support.
This Lent would be good time to read traditional Catholic theology and canon law manuals. There are plenty on archive.org. Please don’t delete this message and consider it. The last three years have taught us that the masons control the masses by controlling the narrative, and they control the narrative because the masses just trust their experts to inform them.ReplyDelete