Stop Shooting the Messenger, Please


There is so much going on this week I don’t know where to start.

Regarding the situation with the Franciscans of the Immaculate, I wanted to respond a fallacy I am seeing repeated on many Catholic blogs, so much now that I daresay it has become the party line on the situation. The fallacy goes something like, “Calm down! The Pope is not rolling back Summorum Pontificum. This action applies to a specific group and concerns internal issues particular to the Franciscans of the Immaculate. There is no general assault on Summorum Pontificum or the ancient rite.”

Why do I call it a fallacy? Because it is a fallacious straw man argument. When I first reported on this story, I did not suggest there was any general attack or roll back of Summorum Pontificum, nor did Rorate or any of the other major blogs I know of. And why is it suddenly news that this concerns a particular group with its own specific, internal issues? We all already knew that. Sandro Magister reported that in his initial article.

But how is the fact that this has to do with the issues of one specific group supposed to be a consolation?

Look, I know Pope Francis has the authority, yes, yes. Plentitudo Potestatis. Yes, yes, I know. Please, popular Catholic commentators, let’s get this right – The question is not whether the Pope has the power to do what he did. We all agree he does. The question is not whether this is a general attack or assault on the ancient rite. It’s not; it is an action pertaining to a very specific situation in a particular order. We all understand that. The original Chiesa article by Sandro Magister said this clearly. These are not the issues, so let’s stop restating the facts and pretending like this somehow solves or addresses the problem.

The issue is not even whether Pope Francis contradicted one of the provisions of Summorum Pontificum. Clearly he did. And he’s within his right to do so. That’s not in question.

As I see it, the real issue is that this establishes a legal corollary to the principle of free celebration of the EF laid down by Benedict XVI. While Benedict XVI stated, “Anyone can celebrate the Extraordinary Form without permission of the ordinary (or with the permission of their superior)”, Pope Francis has added the proviso, “Unless there is a good reason to require permission.” There may not have been a legal “contradiction” of Summorum, but there has been a drastic interpretive shift in how it is applied. In his decree regarding the Franciscans, Pope Francis has established that the provisions of Summorum can be set aside in particular cases if Rome judges there is good reason. We can debate the merits of this approach, but what is not debatable is that this is a new approach, one that Benedict did not seem to envision when he issued Summorum Pontificum.

If this is not a general attack on Summorum, then why is it troubling? Simply because it puts the existence of the EF Mass back under the aegis of authorities who can now suspend it if they feel there is just cause, and what sorts of “just causes” may potentially be brought forward in the future, no one can tell. In the case of the Franciscans, the mere allegations of disunity by one faction was enough. Now that the principle is established that the freedom granted in Summorum can be set aside for pastoral reasons, the question becomes how broad or narrow will these reasons be interpreted in future cases. It creates a precedent that strengthens the hands of every bishop who would like to extinguish celebration of the EF.

Regarding the divisions within the Franciscans of the Immaculate. Father Angelo Mary Geiger of the FIs in the United States, one of the leading voices of the anti-EF wing of the order, has further enunciated what the nature of these divisions are. As reported on Taylor Marshall’s blog, he states that too many of the friars are gravitating towards “radical traditionalism.” He defines radical traditionalism as:

a) the denial of the Jewish holocaust

b) the outright denial of Vatican 2 as a valid council

c) rhetorical style of the Rorate Caeli blog

d) the embrace of isolationist sub-culture of Catholicism or “Amish Catholicism”

e) the denial the charismatic gifts and the charistmatic movement

f) sympathy for the Bp Williamson’s style of traditionalism

g) disdain for Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis

h) the belief that Latin Mass Catholics are “A Team” and Novus Ordo Catholics are “B Team”

i) Gnostic ecclesiology – that “traditionalists” form the one true invisible Catholic Church

Okay. Let’s look at these one at a time, because I think a lot of this is too vague or unfair:

a) the denial of the Jewish holocaust: While I agree that it is absurdly stupid to deny the reality and fact of the Holocaust, why does this keep coming up as if it is a liturgical issue? This is a historical question, not a doctrinal one. It just seems out of place, and I don’t see the intrinsic connection between the Extraordinary Form and Holocaust denial.

b) the outright denial of Vatican 2 as a valid council: Not even the SSPX denies Vatican II is a valid council, let alone non-SSPX traditionalists. I fully affirm the validity of Vatican II. At worst, Traditionalists say that Vatican II can only be reconciled to Tradition with great difficulty; at best, they suggest that some of the documents are ambiguous or need clarification, as Cardinal Kasper and Archbishop Schneider recently did, and nobody accused the of being rad trads. This is a straw man attack.

c) rhetorical style of the Rorate Caeli blog: I don’t know how a “rhetorical style” can be sufficient to lump one in as a radical traditionalist. There are many sorts of people in this world with many sorts of styles of writing. This is a vague non sequitur.

d) the embrace of isolationist sub-culture of Catholicism or “Amish Catholicism”:
Traditionalists can be isolationist. I have to admit I have noticed this. But then again, perhaps if the EF was more widely available, this would not be the case. If the EF was offered in more than one parish within a seventy mile radius, maybe the conditions would not be so conducive to isolationism? We must also remember that it was not some traditionalist who said to not even eat with a brother who is a sinner, but St. Paul (1 Cor. 5:11); it was not the SSPX who said we should not let those who do not preach the same doctrine into our home “lest you share in his evil deeds”, but St. John the Beloved Apostle (2 John 1:11); it was not Bishop Fellay or Rorate Caeli who admonished Catholics to “come out of” our sinful culture lest we share in its punishments, but the Lord Jesus Christ (Rev. 18:4). While we can never go out of the world, and while we must be lights to the world, all things must be done in moderation – we must not cast our pearls before swine. There has always been an isolationist element to Christianity. What is the life of the desert hermits or the early monks other than an isolationist sub-culture?

e) the denial the charismatic gifts and the charistmatic movement:
This is interesting; is Father Geiger suggesting that denial of the charismatic movement is tantamount to denying the faith? There are many, many Catholics who do not subscribe to the charismatic movement, and by far not all of them are traditionalists. I find it supremely ironic that Father Geiger wants to deny the traditionalist movement because the traditionalists deny the charismatic movement. Both are legitimate expressions of Faith, although one is manifestly inferior to the other. Why should the charismatic movement be given pride of place and elevated to such a degree that to question or deny its legitimacy is put forward as a tenet of “radical” traditionalism? Furthermore, who is denying the charismatic gifts? Traditionalists acknowledge healings, miracles, visions, locutions, even the gift of tongues; SSPXers even acknowledge these – what they deny is that the things being reported in the Catholic charismatic renewal are the same gifts St. Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 12. No traditionalists deny that these gifts exist.

f) sympathy for the Bp Williamson’s style of traditionalism
: “Sympathy” and “style” are too vague to make any response to. What does it mean to “sympathize” with a “style”?

g) disdain for Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis: I do not disdain Pope Francis, nor do I disdain John Paul II. I loved John Paul II and cried when he passed. I think many of his writings are very profound. But I question some of the things that he did. I think he made some serious mistakes. Does that equate to disdain? Do any of you have a brother or sibling who made some very bad choices? Do you “disdain” him or her because of them? Of course not. It is one thing to question the prudence of a person’s actions, another to disdain the person. Let us hopefully be able to move past this very elementary distinction between a man and his deeds. Let us also note that, if disagreement with certain prudential actions of the popes constitutes “disdain”, then St. Cyprian is guilty of disdaining Pope St. Stephen, St. Athanasius disdained Pope Liberius, and St. Paul disdained St. Peter. All foolish, of course. This sort of ridiculous reasoning only becomes possible when we have adopted the untenable position that every prudential action of a pope must not only be lauded as good, but as the best possible course of action.

h) the belief that Latin Mass Catholics are “A Team” and Novus Ordo Catholics are “B Team”: Again, too vague to be of help. If he means that “Latin Mass Catholics” believe they are superior to Novus Ordo Catholics, then this would certainly be problematic. We are to regard ourselves as the least of all, not a superior sort of Catholic. If we are blessed with greater knowledge or graces, it is only because we are so stupid and impoverished that we need more help; if we have greater graces, it is because we are so dense that we need them. But, on the other hand, there is a valid argument to be made that the Extraordinary Form may be more meritorious than the Novus Ordo, in the subjective sense. While both rites are equally valid, there are other things to consider besides validity, especially in the realm of graces received ex operate operantis; Fr. Ripperger, who I do not agree with all the time, has written extensively on this, and I think he has some valid points. But if we are going to discuss this, let’s be precise with our terminology. Phrases like “A Team” and “B Team” do not help.

i) Gnostic ecclesiology – that “traditionalists” form the one true invisible Catholic Church
: Aside from Sedevacantists, I don’t know any traditionalists who actually believe this. It is objectively true, however, that the Extraordinary Form preserves much more of the Catholic Tradition than the Novus Ordo. To say this is not to make a statement of ideology, but a statement of fact. To deny it is to deny a point of history. Instead of denying simple facts, let’s just acknowledge them and get them out in the open, because only then can we deal with them. To pretend that the Novus Ordo and the developments since Vatican II are these extraordinarily rich embodiments of Catholic Tradition is simply false. They contain some embodiment of Catholic Tradition, but not the most authentic embodiment possible. The sooner we acknowledge that there is a profound discontinuity, the sooner we can get on to fixing it.

Moving on but related to this last point, I think it is time that we vehemently protest against the “shoot the messenger” mentality that so often surrounds these issues. When I offered my opinion a few weeks ago that John Paul II’s canonization at this time was imprudent because there were very real objections to his actions that had never been adequately answered for, many people got upset with me. One gentleman on another blog said, “Keep your doubts to yourself, Boniface!” and others suggested such commentary was not helpful to the salvation of souls, etc. Nevermind that Fr. Zuhlsdorf also suggested that the modern canonization process has resulted in a “shift in the criteria” of what constitutes sanctity. But in his case it is a thoughtful reflection; in mine, it is expressing a “doubt.”

Let’s clear the air: I have no doubts about the legitimacy of John Paul’s canonization and I have no problem calling him saint, so I don’t know what “doubts” I am expressing. Here’s the thing, though – it is not bloggers pointing out scandalous activity that is the problem; the problem is the scandalous activity. Michael Voris reports that Cardinal Timothy Dolan called God “him or her”; Rorate Caeli reports that the same Cardinal Dolan told Muslims to “keep their faith” – and it is Voris and Rorate who are the problem for being mean spirited and negative? In both cases, it was the reporters who were accused of scandalizing the faithful! Is this right? No. Voris and Rorate are not the problem – the problem is a Catholic cardinal, the head of the USCCB at that, calling God “him or her” and telling Muslims to keep their faith. That is the scandal. That is the problem. The problem is not that I report on Cardinal Schönborn participating in a irreverent balloon Mass; the problem is that Cardinal Schönborn participated in a scandalous balloon Mass. If others are too blind or mentally lethargic to make this connection, then it is hardly the fault of those who are awake and alert for perceiving it.

It might be objected that it is not the reporting that is the problem, but the glee with which Traditionalists report these things, because to report such scandals proves their point. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I do not report with glee that our Cardinals are embarrassments to the Church, that our pontiffs have actually invoked St. John the Baptist to protect Islam, that there is a gay lobby in the Roman Curia. What real Catholic could report these things with glee? I report them with tears, with consternation, with indignation, with righteous zeal, with fervent prayers to heaven that our exile will be mercifully ended, but not with glee. Never with glee.

So no more of this “shoot the messenger” nonsense. It’s not Jeremiah’s fault that he predicts bad news, and throwing him in the well because you don’t like his prophesying isn’t going to solve anything. The fact is that this farce that we are in the middle of a great restoration (the “New Springtime”) is coming apart and everybody knows it. The Emperor has no clothes and everyone is scrambling to make sense of it.

Let us close with the famous quote of St. John Eudes,

The most evident mark of God’s anger, and the most terrible castigation He can inflict upon the world, is manifest when He permits His people to fall into the hands of a clergy who are more in name than in deed, priests who practice the cruelty of ravening wolves rather than the charity and affection of devoted shepherds. They abandon the things of God to devote themselves to the things of the world and, in their saintly calling of holiness, they spend their time in profane and worldly pursuits. When God permits such things, it is a very positive proof that He is thoroughly angry with His people and is visiting His most dreadful wrath upon them.”

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4 Responses to Stop Shooting the Messenger, Please

  1. I believe Taylor Marhsall summed up the best course of action in his blog referred to above:

    “2) Before you vent, go pray the Rosary and drink a cold beer in your backyard. This is not the end of Summorum Pontificum. Relax.

    3) From what I know, the Latin Mass is a symbolic chess piece in the FI civil war – for both sides. The pope has taken this piece off the game board. This may be temporary until things are settled. Which leads me to…

    4) The FIs could go back to the Latin Mass. In the new rule, they can still ask for permission from competent authorities for pastoral reasons. I have no doubt that they will do this. Let’s see what happens. My bet is that the Holy See is afraid that love for the Latin Mass is being positioned as fidelity to the Founder of the the FIs. Once this association is dissolved, I can see the FIs being free to employ the Latin Mass as before.

    5) If you love the Latin Mass, remember that Latin Mass PEOPLE are the greatest enemies of the Latin Mass movement. I love the Latin Mass. However, if I were Pope Francis and read the comments at Rorate Caeli, I’d be tempted to shut it all down. It looks sinful and disgusting from the outside. Keep a lock on your lips. Stay out of traddy online forums/blogs. Pray more. Complain less.”

    W. Ockham


  2. Toad says:

    “Stay out of traddy online forums/blogs.”
    What an excellent response, William.
    Toad, for one, is glad you don’t take your own (or is it Mr. Taylor Marshall’s?) advice.

    “Shooting the messenger,” (AKA The Loony Media) is practically mandatory on CP&S.
    Or so it often seems to Toad.

    “The problem is not that I report on Cardinal Schönborn participating in a irreverent balloon Mass; the problem is that Cardinal Schönborn participated in a scandalous balloon Mass.”
    A point worth considering at some length before putting your hands over your ears and screaming, “Media persecution! Media persecution! The sky is fs falling!”
    (Pompous Old Toad.)


  3. Frere Rabit says:

    Yes, these are all lovely sentiments but the simple fact is that there is either a definite and unsettling change of direction or a complete failure to communicate clearly with the traditional faithful in order to spell out the situation and reassure people. That is not the fault of Twitterers or bloggers. That is a problem for leadership at the top. All is about image at present. When we return to substance there may be less panic.


  4. JabbaPapa says:

    The issue is not even whether Pope Francis contradicted one of the provisions of Summorum Pontificum. Clearly he did. And he’s within his right to do so. That’s not in question.

    As I see it, the real issue is that this establishes a legal corollary to the principle of free celebration of the EF laid down by Benedict XVI.

    Sorry to be playing “devil’s Advocate” again, but :

    Summorum Pontificum : Art. 3. If communities of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, whether of pontifical or diocesan right, wish to celebrate the conventual or community Mass in their own oratories according to the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal, they are permitted to do so. If an individual community or an entire Institute or Society wishes to have such celebrations frequently, habitually or permanently, the matter is to be decided by the Major Superiors according to the norm of law and their particular laws and statutes.

    The “corollary” is found in the text of the Motu Proprio itself, in other words.

    Looking a the nota explicativa, I can see though that the Ecclesia Dei Commission has the Authority to adjudicate over any requests that the FFI friars might decide to make against the instructions of their Ordinary.

    And looking at the Motu Proprio, the FFI friars continue to have EVERY right to say TLM Masses in private, that no Bishop nor Ordinary may prevent.

    The FFI friars could also, of course, request to found an entirely new Order.

    Bottom line ?

    hmmmm — IMO this mess will eventually sort itself out in one reasonable manner or another ; and Pope Francis has NOT in fact contradicted anything in Summorum Pontificum, but rather the Ordinary of the Franciscans has decided to contradict something of the “spirit” of the text.

    I am in no position to judge nor even opinionate on the accusations of “schismatic tendency” that have been (clearly at least somewhat uncharitably) levelled against the FFI friars.

    Can any good come of this ? Of course !! Trust in God !!

    If these FFI brothers end up being a group of faithful Catholic friars offering both beautiful TLM Masses AND beautifully reverential Novus Ordo Masses in a highly traditional manner, in Latin, ad orientem, with beautiful Gregorian Chant and so on — then they have the potential of becoming an amazing force for the continuation of the so-called “reform of the reform”, particularly now that they have this spotlight shining on their Community.

    Let us pray that their Ordinary and the Ecclesia Deiu Commission will not be as obstinate as some people are worried about.


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