Note: This post is lifted largely from an e-mail exchange, albeit with a few edits and redactions. It was prompted, in part, over a “concern” about why I tend to identify myself as a traditional Catholic and, moreover, why I continue to support the Society of St. Pius X despite its canonically irregular status. I apologize in advance if some of the paragraph transitions are a little choppy. Consider this post a placeholder for a more detailed discussion of the topics covered.
I see no reason to apologize for being a traditional Catholic or referring to myself, occasionally with tongue-in-cheek, as a “traddie.” What I wish some would apologize to me for is taking any and all positive references I have ever made to the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) and using it as ammunition against my “loyalty to the Church.” When I left Orthodoxy in 2011, I naively believed that I had left behind the “spiritual disorder” admonition which I would receive from anyone who didn’t want to deal with the hard facts of Orthodoxy’s problems, particularly its American problems and the “Protestant capture” — old-time evangelical or hipster emerging churchers — that continues to plague it. (I really consider the “ethnic question” and “cultural Orthodoxy” to be fairly minor problems comparatively.) In the last three months I have been told I am in some state (or near-state) of “spiritual disorder” for doing the following (the list is not exhaustive): defending the SSPX from charges of schism and heresy; referring to the Novus Ordo Missae as liturgically weak; defending the scholarship of Michael Davies on both the new Mass and the state of the Church after Vatican II; criticizing the politicization of the contemporary canonization process; rejecting certain claims concerning the “new theology”; and — my greatest sin — believing the Second Vatican Council has been “overtaken by events”; its time-bound pastoral language coupled with the socio-cultural enthusiasm which informed certain passages in some of the documents are no longer relevant in a world hellbent on reveling in its own madness.
If you had asked me two years ago if I was a traditional Catholic, I would have denied it in good conscience. I had no interest in putting myself in some “camp” when I returned to the Catholic fold, but my environment has shaped my reaction. There are limits to labels, of course. “Traditional Catholic,” as you very well know, captures a pretty wide spectrum of individuals, ranging from “moderate trads” who simply prefer the Tridentine Mass to the new to those who not only defend the classical Roman Rite, but also support and defend the Church’s traditional doctrine, theology, and spirituality as well. I am far more impressed with the latter subdivision within “traddie land” for the simple fact that it has real gravitas; it’s not consumed by aesthetics and liturgical nostalgia (though there’s nothing wrong with a bit of nostalgia, cf. Pater Edmund’s “The Politics of Nostalgia“). I also don’t see why the “trad” label is so appalling either, and for more on that you should consider Peter Kwasniewski’s recent Rorate Caeli post here. But of course, by calling myself a “traddie,” I am immediately lumped in with the most extreme — even insane — elements of the traditionalist landscape, and here I am thinking of the sedevacantists or wayward souls like Bishop Richard Williamson. Nothing induces hair-ripping hysteria like mentioning that Fr. Anthony Cekada has a “good point” in his book on the liturgy, The Work of Human Hands.
One doesn’t have to even go that far to be labeled a “nutball” or to get avalanched by a series of over-the-top accusations. Karl Keating and Mark Shea, two neo-Catholic darlings, never miss an opportunity to go after The Remnant for any alleged misstep from neo-Catholic “orthodoxy.” (Shea references the latest salvo from Keating here; Christopher Ferrara has since returned fire.) Shea borders on insufferable, as you can see from a recent Facebook exchange he had here. (If you read the exchange, please keep in mind that I do not agree with one of the claims being made, namely that the Eastern Orthodox are “heretics.” That kind of rhetoric is unhelpful to say the least.)
I do not claim to understand the contemporary Catholic psyche, particularly as it is found among the neo-Catholic population. At the same time I am wondering if it’s “too much” to call all non-liberal or non-traditional Catholics “neo-Catholics.” It seems that that camp has its own divisions and subdivisions, some of which are far more aligned with traditionalism (or liberalism) than others. Nothing is clean and neat these days, and rarely are the Eastern Catholic churches brought into the mix. (That’s good news for them, I suppose.) I have several friends who are very steeped in the new theology; buy into the “Lubacian consensus” on the Thomistic/Neo-Scholastic tradition; and yet are anything but blind to the present difficulties (crisis?) in the Catholic Church. They have their eyes wide open, though they often disagree with me concerning the root causes of today’s crisis and what the right remedies might be. They are, I suppose, very “Ratzingerian” about Vatican II and tend to think that “bad implementation” is to blame for the gross nonsense that has pervaded the Barque of Peter for half-a-century now. (Of course, Vatican II was “badly implemented,” and if you “badly implement” texts which were “poorly formulated,” what do you expect to have happen? One might even argue that only “perfect implementation” in “perfect continuity with tradition” could have steered the Church in the right direction since the Council — an impossible standard.) The neo-Catholics that disturb me are those who keep their head in the sand 23/6, only popping it out for Mass on Sunday when they can take comfort in the fact their preferred parish priest hasn’t preached heresy from the pulpit (yet?) and that magazine interviews with the Pope don’t fall within the orbit of Vatican I’s definition of Papal Infallibility.
So it goes. They are Catholics, too, and I don’t doubt that many of them would put me to shame with respect to their piety and moral rectitude. I cringe when I read “traddies” decrying all non-trads as quasi-heretics or, worse, judging their spiritual state. (Ah, now if only the neo-Catholics could stop judging our spiritual state, or at least refrain from judgment until they have given us a sympathetic hearing.) It’d be remarkable, too, if some of these folks would actually go to a Society chapel, talk to a Society priest (or two), and interact with the Society faithful (all of whom are Catholics!) before creating these elaborate and deplorable fictions about them. (“Do you realize that before each Mass, SSPX priests club a baby seal?”) Or if that’s a bridge too far, wouldn’t it be wonderful if those who revel in the “poetry” and “beauty” and “flourishes” found in the new theology could bother to actually read, say, Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange before buying into the risible nonsense that his theology is “arid,” “boring,” and “without life”? Precision and accuracy — great crimes both!
You can continue to disagree with me if you wish, and that’s fine. I think I’d be better off if you just prayed for me. If so, make it a good prayer, not an unctuous prayer. Three Aves for keeping me free of mortal sin or having the strength to overcome one of my many particular faults would be nice; a supplication which includes phrases like “show him the way,” “lead him out of error,” or “make him understand” would be far less appreciated.