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This is Chapter One of my book, Mass Movements: The Extreme Wing of “Traditionalism,” the New Mass, and Ecumenism.
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1) I have always regarded "traditionalists" as Catholics (and refer to them as such on my web page devoted to them). I admire several things about them: their zeal and concern for orthodoxy, their desire to see liturgical and architectural excellence, their observance of traditional Catholic piety, traditional Catholic morality, willingness to take on liberals and modernists, desire to see people come into the fullness of the Catholic Church, etc.
I oppose (as a Catholic apologist) what I feel to be errors and excess in their ranks. There is nothing “personal” (let alone “hateful”) about it.
2) I know that most "traditionalists" are not formally affiliated with schismatic breakaway groups, and that sedevantism (the position that there is no sitting pope) is a tiny, extreme, radical wing of the movement.
3) Similarly, I don't classify "traditionalists" (excepting the most extreme ones) as "schismatic." I have used the term "quasi-schismatic" in the past, but have tried to use it more recently only in extreme cases. Most of what I write about Catholic "traditionalism" is not intended at all to characterize the entire group. In past efforts on the Internet (starting in 1997), I was usually responding to arguments I encountered directly, or assertions of more radical ("radtrad") elements of the movement.
That will be the case presently, as well. I have learned a lot over fifteen years, especially in recent dialogues. I understand also that there is a large diversity of opinion in “traditionalist” ranks.
4) Most "traditionalists" accept the notion of the indefectibility of the Church. I have used the term "quasi-defectibility" to describe a position holding that the Church is still the Church, but in very dire condition and barely surviving. I've always agreed (closely following my mentor, Fr. John A. Hardon, S. J.) that modernism is the greatest crisis in the history of the Church. Disagreement with “traditionalists” occurs regarding its exact cause and location, and the solutions to the problem.
5) Most "traditionalists" accept the validity of the Novus Ordo or “New” or Pauline Mass (now also referred to as the “ordinary form”), but consider it objectively inferior to the Tridentine Mass, (extraordinary form) and (as I wholeheartedly agree) often subjected to the grossest abuses in practice. I agree that all abuses ought to be eliminated, but the Church allows and encourages liturgical diversity within a proper observance, so that people can worship as they please, within a context correct, orthodox liturgical practice. There are 22 rites in the Catholic Church.
6) I don't have the slightest objection to anyone preferring to attend the Tridentine Mass. I was completely in favor of the 2007 decree from the Holy Father to make that Mass more widely available (that had been my own position since becoming a Catholic in 1990).
I've been attending the only parish in metro Detroit that offered it prior to that time, and have attended the very reverent, traditionally practiced Novus Ordo Latin Mass there since 1991 to the time of writing. This book will consider as “radtrads” those who insist on continually bashing the Pauline “New” Mass (whether they regard it as valid or not) as somehow less than fully Catholic, or doctrinally watered-down: along with insults towards those who prefer it, as second-class Catholics.
7) Most "traditionalists" accept Vatican II as a legitimate ecumenical council, but (to various degrees) they usually contend that it was "ambiguous" and was subject to an attempted takeover by modernists in the Church, or of a fundamentally different nature from past councils, since it was “pastoral”. I reply that controversy and subterfuge existed on a human level in all councils. This is precisely why we need the protection of the Holy Spirit, lest human beings make a complete mess of everything in the Church.
8) Most "traditionalists" believe that the popes since Pius XII (the usual dividing line in radtrad and sedevacantist analyses) are legitimate popes, though they make many strong criticisms, including even accusations of modernism to some extent.
9) Most "traditionalists" (and in this respect, not just the radtrads by a long shot) take a very low view of ecumenism, yet I have often observed that they classify "Catholic ecumenism" as heretical indifferentism: something that Vatican II and encyclicals have consistently condemned. They tend to think that it is somehow contradictory to the notion of "no salvation outside the Church" or efforts to do apologetics and to bring people into the fullness of the One True Church (which it is not at all). It’s a confusion of category and intent.
10) I and most credentialed Catholic apologists I know of, treat "traditionalists" as fellow Catholics. Yet they (especially the radtrads) often refer to us with the highly insulting description, "neo-Catholic." "Neo-conservative [Catholic]" is almost equally objectionable as well (especially once one studies about what it means in various "traditionalist" circles). Sometimes “Novus Ordo Catholic” or “Vatican II Catholic” are used. We call ourselves "Catholics" or (if an additional descriptor must be added) "orthodox / obedient / faithful / magisterial Catholics."
11) I continue to consistently put "traditionalist" in quotes because I deny that the self-identified group has a unique or exclusive monopoly on Catholic tradition, or even that they have defined it properly. It’s an improper use, in much the same way as I think “Protestant Reformation” is improper: what happened in the 16th century was no “reformation” from a Catholic perspective, but rather, a revolt. The very word is loaded with prior Protestant bias.
I would call myself a "traditionalist" insofar as I accept in faith (and wholeheartedly) all that the Church teaches. I am willing to at least call “traditionalists” what they call themselves, even if I put it in quotes, to register a "protest" of sorts, whereas we are given arbitrary titles that are downright insulting: that question our very orthodoxy or commitment to the fullness of Catholic tradition. I think this is an elementary ethical consideration: not referring to people in ways that are known to be quite insulting to them.
12) As alluded to above, I define “radtrads” (i.e., “radical traditionalist Catholics”) as the rather extreme, fringe wing of the larger “traditionalist” movement. These are people perhaps on the way out of the Church, who may very well eventually adopt schismatic positions or even sedevacantism. Those of us who have followed and critiqued the goings-on of the larger movement have personally observed many people head down this road, right out of the Church. Some of them I personally and repeatedly warned, to no avail.
Radtrads can’t stop bashing and trashing popes, Vatican II, the New Mass, and ecumenism: going as far as they can go without technically crossing over the canonical line if 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.
It might be argued that the fundamental problem here is one of self-important attitude: a Pharisaical, relentlessly legalistic, know-it-all, holier-than-thou mentality, and lack of faith in the authority of Holy Mother Church; also an unwillingness or inability to think along with the Mind of the Chruch. That lies at the root. It’s “spiritual kindergarten.”
Often (quite humorously but tragic-comically) it will occur in young people, all of 18 or 20 years-old. Thus, the spiritual immaturity often exhibited may simply be part of the usual, utterly predictable adolescent angst and testosterone-driven deluded cocksure “confidence” in one’s own pseudo-infallibility, and superiority to those unfortunate souls who happened to be born at an earlier date. The hippies in 1967 in San Francisco were gonna change the world with flower power. Likewise, these young elites are gonna transform the Church with their manifest wisdom (so they actually believe). In one of my more colorful descriptions in my first book on this topic (Pensées on Catholic Traditionalism, Lulu: 2007), I defined the common radtrad mindset as a:
. . . scenario of every Tom, Dick, and Harry with a picture of Pope St. Pius X in one hand, and a dog-eared copy of Denzinger in the other, going around judging (nay, trashing) the pope or an ecumenical council, as if they were some sort of expert . . . This is self-importance elevated to the level of the profoundly ridiculous; almost grotesque or surreal. And they are blind to this obvious reality, which makes it all the more frightening. One can do that in Protestantism, as everyone is their own pope, when it comes down to it. But to attempt it in Catholicism is patently and manifestly absurd. (#129)
The term “radtrad” is relatively recent, and is claimed to have been coined by Catholic writer Sandra Miesel (on Catholic writer Amy Welborn’s website, Open Book, on 16 March 2004). I have seen it in use online as early as 2002. I myself have only mostly used it since 2010. Miesel defines it even more narrowly than I do: as referring mostly to conspiratorial wackos and extremist reactionaries.
Whereas attempted discussions with radtrads always seem to center upon legalistic lines and criteria (valid vs. invalid, schismatic or not, extreme historical cases made normative, etc.), in my opinion one must go far underneath those ploys, to identify the faulty arrogant attitude that is the premise upon which the legalistic games and tactics are built. Historically, schism was regarded not so much as a heresy, as, rather, a lack of love towards fellow Catholics. Quasi-schism partakes of that same quality, since it is far down the spectrum towards canonical, or legalistic schism.
13) As for “neo-Catholic” (it is claimed that this term was first used in a radtrad book in 2002): if someone foolishly insists on using the title, then it must be (logically speaking) because it is being used to distinguish oneself from the likes of “[orthodox] Catholics” like me, who have supposedly transmogrified into somehow becoming simultaneously "liberal" and "orthodox" (by the application of this truly silly and nonsensical term). One is either a Catholic or not. A truly “new” (“neo”) Catholic (as if the term and concept can be redefined, willy-nilly) is a dissident or liberal “Catholic”: a new kind of Catholic. But this is an oxymoron, according to the nature of Catholicism. There can be no "new Catholic." One is simply an orthodox Catholic, according to the tradition of the ages, or not.
Catholic (in its deepest sense) means "orthodox", so to say that one is a "new Catholic" is to say that one espouses a "new kind of orthodoxy," which, of course, is a self-contradiction. There is no such thing as a "new orthodoxy." That would be, rather, a novelty or heterodoxy or heresy. Thus the label basically reduces (but this is actually consistently applying logic, mind you) to calling someone heterodox or a heretic.
It’s difficult to find any non-derogatory criterion by which “neo-Catholic” can be correctly, non-slanderously applied. It’s a cynical, uncharitable attempt to create division in the Church and separate Catholic believers into a superior-subordinate relationship, with the "traditionalists" being the ones who "get it" and the "neo-Catholics" being dupes and fellow travellers of their liberal overlords in the lower hierarchies of the Church. Either way, it stinks to high heaven.
For the mostly radtrad folks who sling around this term, "neo-Catholics" don't simply sincerely misunderstand the nature and causes of the current crisis in the Church, but are, in fact, the very crisis itself. We exemplify it, and are the forerunners and sustainers of it.
The Wikipedia article, “Neo-Catholicism,” in one of its former versions (now modified), took a swipe at me, citing my words from my book that I cited above in #12, and opining:
. . . they hold that it is against Catholic teaching, or, more moderately, "UnCatholic" to criticize the Pope even with regard to his personal opinions or public actions. . . . . . . This belief that the Pope in his behaviors and personal opinions is beyond criticism has caused some Catholics to accuse Neo-Catholics of "Papolatry" or "Pope-worship".
The problem is that I have never held such a position. I was contending (then and now) that the criticisms radtrads make about popes are improper because they are extreme, careless, made without sufficiently compelling reason, and far too frequent; not that no one can ever make one in any circumstance. I’ve had papers on my website for over fifteen years arguing that popes can and should be rebuked in certain dire circumstances (one from 1997 presented as examples of this, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and St. Francis of Assisi). Ironically, the current version of the same Wikipedia article actually cites this paper.
My citation was wrongly applied in the older version, since I made it clear that the mentality I referred to was one of “judging (nay, trashing) the pope or an ecumenical council, as if they were some sort of expert”. It obviously was specifically referencing extreme radtrad tendencies. But radtrads are all about taking things to an extreme and digressing into an absurd, almost self-caricatured legalism (including grotesquely exaggerated distortions of the opinions of those who oppose them).
“Neo-conservative [Catholic]” is usually used as simply an alternative version of “neo-Catholic”: with pretty much the same inaccurate, logically absurd, and derisive intent. Because “neo-conservatives” are those (in political categories) who used to be liberal, “traditionalists” (especially radtrads) simply assume that the “neo-Catholic” is a theological liberal under the guise of being a conservative, and the same cynical appraisal applies: they think the "neo-Catholic" is at heart a liberal: at best a relative ignoramus as to traditional doctrine and practice and at worst a useful idiot or fellow traveler or a sort of infiltrating spy, in an ecclesiological sense.
Needless to say by now, this terminological usage is as intellectually ludicrous and indefensible as it is personally insulting. Those who accept all the dogmas and doctrines that the Catholic Church teaches are Catholics: period!
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