A Remark on Traditionalists and Collegiality

Rorate Caeli ran an odd post (for a traditionalist website) on Saturday decrying “false collegiality.” Why? Because the Holy See is now demanding that it must be consulted in advance of bishops establishing new institutes of consecrated life with their respective dioceses. While this move—which could have negative consequences for conservative and traditional institutes—does indeed appear to be a slap in the face to the idea of collegiality in the Church, since when have traditional Latin Catholics cared about such a thing? For nearly fifty years traditionalists have been attacking the very idea of collegiality since the promulgation of Lumen Gentium at the Second Vatican Council. Generally stated, traditionalists worry that collegiality undermines the authority of the pope by disrupting its inherent monarchical structure (assuming the Church has ever truly had such a structure as many traditionalists conceive of it today). Even during the days of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, when my traditionalists felt alienated from the Church and unhappy with various decrees emanating from the Vatican, they continued to call for an end to collegiality, or at least a reformulation of the concept along papal-monarchical lines. So what has changed? Has Francis’s pontificate become so nauseating to their ecclesiastical tastes that they are now willing to flip on collegiality, desiring for its full return rather than suffer from the apparent horrors of centralization?

Granted, there is plenty of room offered up by this recent move concerning institutes of consecrated life to wonder about the intentions and motives of Pope Francis. Francis, who has never been shy about speaking on the need for great collegiality and doctrinal decentralization in the Church, doesn’t seem to be following his own mind, at least not on this matter. Moreover, there have been plenty of points during Francis’s pontificate where it appears that he wants his own personal form of piety and idiosyncratic understandings of Catholic teaching to become normative for the universal Church without regard to the Church’s rich history of diversity. And he has certainly had no problem preempting the heads of particular churches in dealing with non-Catholic Christians, such as failing to invite Patriarch Sviatoslav of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (or any official UGCC representatives) to his historic meeting with Moscow Patriarch Kirill.

As I have written about elsewhere, there is a concerning inconsistently among some traditional Catholics when it comes to how the Church should be organized and governed. During this period of crisis when it seems that many popes and bishops have failed in their duty toward Christ and the Church, traditionalists long for decentralization, autonomy, and the right to follow their own consciences. But assuming things take a turn for the traditional, then many of these Catholics will no doubt agitate for a return to a strict monarchical model where the pope behaves more like the President of the United States and less like the Supreme Court. If anything now is the time for traditionalists, in concert with other serious Catholic thinkers, to reflect long and hard about the nature of the papacy, particularly as that nature is distorted or enhanced by the era of the “celebrity pope” and the ubiquity of modern media. If traditionalists desire neither collegiality nor centralization

Cons and Trads

Fr. Chad Ripperger (formerly) of the Fraternity of St. Peter has an excellent article up over at Faithful Answers discussing the differences between traditional and conservative (or what he calls “neoconservative”) Catholics. Here’s an excerpt:

Furthermore, neoconservatives’ very love for the Church and strong emotional attachment to the Magisterium cause them to find it unimaginable that the Church could ever falter, even with regard to matters of discipline. Like the father who loves his daughter and therefore has a hard time imagining her doing anything wrong, neoconservatives have a hard time conceiving that the Holy Ghost does not guarantee infallibility in matters of discipline or non-infallible ordinary magisterial teaching. Traditionalists, confronted by a Church in crisis, know that something has gone wrong somewhere. As a result, they are, I believe, more sober in assessing whether or not the Church exercises infallibility in a given case. That, allied to their looking at the present through the eyes of the past, helps traditionalists to see that the onus is on the present, not the past, to justify itself.

The only quibble I have with Fr. Ripperger’s piece — and it is a minor one — is that it doesn’t account for the experiences of Eastern Catholics, most of whom do not fit neatly into either the traditionalist or conservative category. While there is what I would call a “natural conservatism” among the Eastern churches, centuries of living in a de facto ecclesiastical ghetto coupled with various influxes of “Latinization” have compelled contemporary Easterners to recover their respective traditions. This is all fine and good, but as most Latins know by now, the process of “recovery” is often fraught with difficulties and subject to being hijacked by renovationists.

One More Update: Francis and the St. George Ribbon

After posting last Friday that the news concerning Pope Francis receiving–and wearing–the controversial St. George Ribbon from a Russian government official may have been fabricated, it appears that is not the case. A piece by Oles Horodetskyy for Radio Svoboda confirms that the story, and accompanying photographs, are legitimate and raise many sorrowful questions for Ukrainian Greek Catholics who have long hoped that the Pope would do more to quell ongoing hostilities in Ukraine.

Does Moscow Want to Play Nice?

Here’s a bit of news from the recent Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate. (H/T Byzantine Texas)

Assessing the results of His Holiness’s meeting with Pope Francis of Rome, which took part during his visit and which resulted in signing a Joint Statement, the Holy Synod made special reference to the leaders’ statement that “the past method of ‘uniatism’ understood as the union of one community to the other, separating it from its Church, is not the way to re–establish unity”.

At the same time, the Holy Synod expressed regret at the reaction of the leaders of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church to these words and the statement as a whole.

The Holy Synod stressed that unia remains a running sore in the Orthodox-Catholic relations and supported the call to reconciliation between the Orthodox and the Greek Catholics in Ukraine and to a search for mutually acceptable forms of co-existence voiced in the statement of the Patriarch of Moscow and the Pope of Rome.

Well, it could have been worse. The second paragraph quoted above is confusing since the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) made no concrete statement supporting the past method of “uniatism,” nor did it condemn the so-called “Havana Declaration” between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in toto. What the UGCC — and specifically His Beatitude Patriarch Sviatoslav — did do was point out certain problems with the “Havana Declaration” while also expressing regret that the Ukrainian Church itself was not consulted on the contents of the declaration.

The Last Thing I’m Going to Say About Amoris Laetitia

By now everyone and their sister, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, has had a chance to weigh-in on Amoris Laetitia (AL), Pope Francis the Merciful’s ponderous exhortation which may, or may not, have altered Church teaching on marriage forever; reaffirmed traditional Catholic doctrine with beauty and profundity; or accomplished nothing at all. Where one comes down on those options (or a plethora of others which lie somewhere between them) probably says a lot more about their religious orientation than anything else. For what it’s worth, I’m leaning toward “accomplished nothing at all,” not because I believe everything is hunky-dory in the Church (no, no, no, not that) but because Catholic doctrine on marriage, the family, and sexuality has been a mess for more than half-a-century already; AL doesn’t add to it in any significant way. What it does do, however, is bring out into the open what all of those with eyes to see already knew, namely that “individual conscience” rather than the Gospel shapes the decisions of millions of Catholics regarding remarriage, contraception, and the moral status of any number of sexual practices and proclivities. Those who already cut conservative-to-traditional, for the most part, still affirm traditional doctrine in these areas; nothing in AL will now prompt them to start divorcing en masse or approaching the sacraments unworthily. Catholics on the other end of the ideological spectrum will keep doing what they’ve always been doing, though perhaps they’ll be a tad bit bolder about it. No one, however, should even attempt to claim that AL did a single thing to relieve the great moral and doctrinal crisis afflicting the Corpus Mysticum. That’s just a bridge too far.

I see no reason to comment in-depth on AL or, for that matter, much of anything else the Holy Father in Rome has to say. When it comes specifically to the issue of marriage, his credibility was shot the second he imprudently reformed the annulment process last year. At that moment “Catholic divorce” became a sure-fire reality and all claims that the Catholic Church’s approach to broken marriages differed substantially from the Orthodox approach were rendered implausible. In fact, given the nature of Francis’s annulment reforms and the easy-going manner in which many annulments can now be attained, there is a powerful argument to be made that the Orthodox (at least in the Russian tradition) have a much more demanding process in place for marriage dissolutions. Does that make the Orthodox approach “right”? Probably not, though they deserve credit for being honest about what they are doing even if it emerged as something of a late-Byzantine historical accident. And while nobody wants to mutter this too loudly, let’s not forget that until the late 19th/early 20th Century, a number of Greek Catholic churches followed Ortho-praxis regarding second and third marriages. If Rome is serious about the Eastern Catholics reclaiming their authentic traditions, shouldn’t that be back on the table, too?

But I digress. It’s well above my paygrade to pontificate on how the Greek Catholic churches ought to handle marriages and divorces. Besides, Rome has been telling them what to do (in contradictory fashion) for decades now. Imagine, though, if the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) were to adopt contemporary Russian Orthodox practice regarding marriage dissolutions. What that would mean is that the UGCC would be more thorough about the dissolution issue than the Latins are about annulments. Would that be such a bad thing? Yes, I know many conservative and traditional Latins would scoff at that possibility just as they scoff about the idea of married Eastern clergy, but so what? If the Latin Catholic Church wishes to play coy about how they handle marriage and divorce with nary a mention of the myriad of contradictions which attend to that handling, why not let the Greek Catholics join their separated Orthodox brethren in being perfectly frank about what is going on? Just think of the ecumenical implications! (Ok, maybe there aren’t any; Greek Catholics are still “accursed Uniates” and “bandits” according to some luminaries in the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches.)

With all that said, let me close by promising that I will never speak of AL on Opus Publicum ever again. I do reserve the right to make mention of it in other forums, however, should the need arise. I will leave it to those far more invested in apologizing for/damning Francis, the post-Vatican II magisterium, and the deplorable leadership in the Latin Church to unpack this-or-that murky passage in AL or project what some footnote could mean for the future of Holy Mother Church. I have popcorn to make.

Can We Be Ourselves? – Preliminary

When it comes to the Eastern Catholic churches there are two extreme “schools of thought” on how they are “to be.” The first, which I will call the “Latin school,” holds that the Eastern churches ought to conform themselves fully to Western Catholic forms with some minimal space given to their unique, “exotic” elements. In other words, the Eastern churches should resemble the Latin Church in theology, spirituality, and ecclesiastical structure with “allowances” or “tolerance” given for certain liturgical elements and pious practices. On the level of doctrine, the Eastern churches ought to express themselves in a Latin idiom, removing all articulations which do not conform to Scholastic or semi-Scholastic formularies. Although the Latin Catholic Church has steadily drifted away from this “school of thought” over the past 50 years, many traditional Latin Catholics still hold fast to this belief out of chauvinism, ignorance, or both.

The other extreme, what I will call the “anti-Latin school,” holds that everything which appears to be rooted in Latin theology, spirituality, or ecclesiastical structure is not just alien to the East, but presumably defective as well. The East, according to this line of “thinking,” is essentially defined by being “not Western” (whatever that means) and has nothing to learn from Latin Christianity (though Latin Christianity has much to learn from it). On the level of doctrine, the “anti-Latin school” maintains a general agreement with the Latin Catholic Church on most first-millennium “essentials” while feeling entitled to ignore or discard any and all second-millennium doctrinal developments, particularly those associated with the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council.

Situated somewhere between these two poles is everyone else, though only Eastern Catholics are likely to give this reality any careful thought. Eastern Catholics, particularly those living in the geographic West, are compelled to live out the tension of existing in a “Latin normative” ecclesiastical space while also trying to retain their heritage — which is part of the heritage of the Universal Church — in full. Some claim there is a “golden mean” to be found, but it often seems to exist as a theoretical rather than a practical point. This raises the unsettling question of whether or not, at this moment in history, it is possible for Eastern Catholics to “be themselves” without compromises or contradictions. It is that question which I plan to probe in due course.

For the Western Triduum

Like many I have been eyeing the rumors that Pope Francis’s completed (but yet released) post-synodal exhortation will open the doors for “integrating” those in “irregular situations” back into the Catholic Church. No one expects the doors to be flung open, just cracked a bit. Even if that proves true, however, the chances are high that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Catholics living openly in various states of mortal sin will feel emboldened, and perhaps even encouraged, to participate in the sacramental life of the Church without repenting, amending their ill ways of life, and trying—like all of us—to sin no more.

Two years ago I found myself in a mild panic over what the first “Extraordinary Synod on the Family” might lead to. Following that sorrowful event, I felt convinced that the time had come for all Catholics of good will (traditional, conservative, whatever) to set aside their sometimes acrimonious differences in order to struggle for the good of Holy Mother Church and the upholding of her indefectible teachings on marriage, the family, and human sexuality. In an October 2014 post, “A Step Toward Disarmament,” I swore off using the polemical neologism “neo-Catholic” on Opus Publicum and hoped traditional Catholics might fully suit. Not surprisingly, that didn’t happen. A brief perusal of almost all high-profile traditional Catholic websites and blogs indicates that things are as bad ever as far as Catholic internecine strife is concerned. According to traditionalists, “neo-Catholics” are naïve, ill-informed, blind, dangerous, etc. because they continue to deny that the Church is in a state of crisis—a crisis exacerbated by the words and actions of Pope Francis. “Neo-Catholics” or, rather, contemporary conservative Catholics by and large believe that while the Church is facing serious troubles, traditionalist rhetoric, with its lack of charity and open hostility toward the Holy Father, is neither helpful nor accurate. Traditional Catholics are the “Chicken Littles” of the Church and their hyperbolic declarations need not concern a single serious soul.

While I too often find myself cringing at the vitriol pouring out of publications like The Remnant and One Peter Five, I can’t help but disagree with their overarching point—one often made by the leadership of the Society of St. Pius X—that the Mystical Body of Christ is undergoing its Passion and that like the Apostles themselves, we do not know what to make of it. How can it be that the Church should suffer so? Did not our Lord Jesus Christ promise that the gates of hell would not prevail? And yet if you look sobermindedly at the Church today, it is impossible to deny that the devil has crept aboard the Barque of St. Peter and is misleading it through a storm right into the rocks.

Some will say that the Church has always had trials, and this is true. The Arian Crisis, Iconoclasm, the Great Schism, the Reformation, and so on and so forth have presented great challenges to the life and integrity of the Church and yet in the end the Church prevailed. By faith all Catholics believe that the Church will prevail this time as well, but it is so incredibly difficult to see how. Traditional Catholics are right to remind all that demons are only driven out through prayer, repentance, and fasting, but they could stand to be reminded now and again that faith, hope, and charity rather than scorn, mockery, and derision are essential as well. With respect to conservative Catholics as a whole, I sympathize deeply with their desire to remain truly hopeful for the future and to work for the preservation of the Faith in the face of innumerable intellectual, historical, and political challenges, but there comes a point when it is necessary to call a spade a spade or, in this instance, a crisis a crisis and to fight—truly fight—against Christ’s enemies, no matter what guise they may appear in.

I occasionally wonder if Eastern Catholics feel the crisis in the Church as acutely as Latins do. Given that so many have fought, suffered, and died for the Faith for centuries, it is entirely possible that the present Eastern ecclesiastical consciousness is now hardened against the understandable fears and worries which plague many in the Church today. The Catholics of the Middle East haven’t the time to squabble over budgets, carnivals, and The Vatican II Hymnal. Their churches are not oriented around bourgeois values and petty pious posturing; they are literally built on the blood of martyrs. The Greek Catholic churches, many of which were nearly wiped out during the last century, produced some of the most outspoken voices for the Truth of Christ at last year’s painful installment of the “Extaordinary Synod.” Latin Catholics sometimes lament that they have been left without shepherds, but there are icons of the Faith in the East to be found to this day, lay and clerical alike. By their example—and by the prayers of their martyrs—the Church Universal can and will be saved.

Patriarch Sviatoslav’s Paschal Message

Although most Ukrainian Greek Catholics won’t be celebrating Pascha for more than another month, His Beatitude Sviatoslav, Patriarch of Kyiv-Halych and All Rus, has already issued his annual Paschal message so that the faithful — Eastern and Western — following the Gregorian Calendar can benefit from its words as they prepare to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. The full text of the letter is available here. What follows are three paragraphs which stood out to me in particular.

Not all are able to receive this message of salvation. To speak of the Christ-Lamb, crucified on the cross, in today’s world seems as problematic as it was in the times of the earliest Christians. This was St. Paul’s understanding when he wrote: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart’” (1 Corinthians 1:18-19). Even though Christ’s Gospel is being preached now for almost two thousand years, often it seems that the world, even one that calls itself “Christian,” still understands only the language of riches, affluence, power, weaponry, and might. Manifestations of the folly of the mighty of this world never disappear from the arena of history. They take on different forms: empires, reichs, unions, federations, led by individuals, who propose themselves instead of God, and impose on others their own depravation as a measure of truth.

. . . .

Most often, it is in weakness and infirmity that God’s power and God’s wisdom is revealed. What is important is not to allow oneself to be tempted, or deceived, or discouraged in our fight, for that, against which we struggle, is merely a manifestation of the unclean spirit, who shakes, falls to the ground, foams at the mouth and convulses, for it knows that by the blood of the unblemished Paschal Lamb its end is near (see Mark 9:17-27). The Risen Christ, who through suffering and death carries us over to resurrection and eternal life, comes to us today showing us the wounds on His glorified body. As then he spoke to his frightened apostles, so today he says to us, his disciples: “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” (Luke 24:38).

How much have we already experienced the “impossible” made possible for those, who firmly kept their faith in the Risen Lord! Seventy years ago the evil one decided once again to crucify our people and drag our Church into the grave. However, to the surprise of the entire world, she rose and became stronger than at any time in her history. At the Lviv pseudo-sobor of 1946 the enemy attempted to forcibly separate us from unity with the successor to the apostle Peter. Today we are living witness to how the blood of the martyrs and confessors of our Church has forever sealed this Catholic unity and become a force of resilience and resurrection for Ukraine, a force for the unity of its people, and a catalyst for social renewal. Indeed, through such a witnessing of faith in the resurrection an authentic unification of the Churches of Ukraine is possible, a restoration of the unity of the Churches of Kyivan Christianity, which we have received as an inheritance from Prince Volodymyr, equal-to-the-apostles.

A Sorrowful Anniversary


Tomorrow, March 10, is the anniversary of the pseudo-Synod of Lviv, which was orchestrated by the Soviet government and the Russian Orthodox Church for the purpose of abolishing the Union of Brest and liquidating the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC). For the next 53 years, the UGCC would remain the largest outlawed religious group in the world. Following the intervention of Pope John Paul II, the UGCC was allowed out of the catacombs and today serves as a spiritual bridge between East and West throughout the world. Under the pastoral care of His Beatitude Sviatoslav, Patriarch of Kyiv-Halych and All Rus, the Ukrainian Church continues to spread the Gospel in the lands St. Andrew the First Called first blessed with an eye toward the bright and glorious day when Catholics and Orthodox will share one cup in full ecclesiastical communion.

UGCC and Rome Reaffirm Full Communion

Despite the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s (UGCC) widespread dissatisfaction with the so-called “Havana Declaration” between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the heads of the UGCC were in Rome last Friday to both commemorate the sorrowful 70th anniversary of the “Pseudo-Synod of Lviv” which liquidated the Ukrainian Church and reaffirm the UGCC’s ties to Rome and the Holy Father. Here is an excerpt from the official address of the UGCC’s Holy Synod:

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