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Crucifying the Pope

In 2002, when the scandal found its epicenter in the Archdiocese of Boston, Americans became fully aware of the extent to which a small minority of Catholic priests had been sexually abusing minors and, for far too long, getting away with it. The American bishops and, as we have learned, the bishops of Ireland and many other countries, usually shielded their clerical buddies from criminal prosecution and even, in many cases, minimal ecclesiastical discipline. Such failure to protect innocents has led to massive payouts for civil damages. Naturally, the bishops and the Vatican itself have been doing much since then to address the problem--even though many American bishops, such as Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles, have failed to take as much personal responsibility as they should, and few have acknowledged the rather clear implications of the fact that most victims are, or were, pubescent boys. But now we face a new wave of reports about Joseph Ratzinger's role in old cases. With whatever degree of justice, the scandal has now reached Pope Benedict XVI himself.

The complaint is not that he abused anyone himself during his long career, but that he was criminally negligent in failing to take due action, as an archbishop and then as the Curia's most powerful official, against many of the priestly perps who came to his attention. Some of the better-known enemies of the Church, such as Richard Dawkins, now propose to arrest the Pope for that and put him in the dock, presumably at the International Court of Justice. The interest of such a ludicrous proposal does not lie in its legal plausibility, which I am unqualified to judge and is probably academic in any case. Its interest lies in the challenge it poses to explaining its irrationality.

I believe myself qualified to discuss that, not only as a lifelong Catholic who has spent much of his professional life serving the Church, but also as a victim of molestation myself, in my early teens, at the hands of a priest-teacher of mine. My abuser died years ago; I have not seen fit to sue the Church; indeed my experience was one of the factors that led me to reject progressive Catholicism and ascribe to what is generally understood as orthodox Catholicism. I understand, of course, why many victims have rejected the Church, even religious belief generally, and have lived very troubled lives. How could anybody not understand that? But the generalized furor, among people who are neither victims nor loved ones of victims, strikes me as positively irrational. My way of explaining that can only issue in a statement of faith. But I believe that's just what's called for, if only at the end.

What's irrational about the furor? Well, for one thing, the sexual abuse of minors, both "pedophilia" and what is gently called "ephebophilia," is much more common in, say, public schools than in Catholic institutions or, indeed, in most churches. That of course does not excuse even a single rape of a child by anyone in the Church; such acts are serious crimes deserving proportionate punishment, which the bishops have only too slowly recognized. But notice that nobody is calling for the prosecution of public-school officials who, in many cases, have done too little to address just the same problem among adults under their authority. One might reply, of course, that representatives of the Church should be held to a higher standard. And in one sense, that is true: given what they profess, we do have a right to expect better behavior from them than from most other people. But it doesn't follow that civil authority should punish them more severely on that account. People who believe it should all the same are engaged in a form of religious discrimination. For such people, "religion" in general, or perhaps this particular form of religion, merits special opprobrium simply because some of its representatives are greater-than-average hypocrites. That may well be true, but such a notion has hitherto had no place in civil or canon law. It is the product of a rage that cannot be explained simply by the nature of the crimes in question, which do not provoke the same degree of outrage when others commit them, and which are matched in hypocrisy by many other sorts of sin committed every day by others.

The rage stems, in my long experience, from a free-floating bitterness about prior issues people have with the Church. Those issues are themselves mostly about sex and power among adults, such as celibacy, women's ordination, and the authority the Church claims for her teaching generally. Maureen Dowd is one prominent purveyor of that attitude, but her distinctive style of thought—if it can be called thought—is not worth a digression here.

One might get the impression, just from the sheer force of its repetition, that the Roman Catholic norm that priests be celibate is a central problem. Yet objectively speaking, it is not; the problem is just that many people think it's a problem. There is no scientific evidence that celibacy is an explanatory factor in sexual abuse at all. Has anybody produced a replicable study showing that the incidence of sexual abuse of minors among never-married people is greater, in a statistically significant way, than among those who have been married? If there were such a study, the Church's enemies would be shouting it from the housetops. But the notion persists anyhow that people, especially men, are more likely to seek sexual contact with minors if they aren't "getting enough" from adults. It persists, I think, because many people—including not a few nominal Catholics—simply hate the idea, proclaimed by the very existence of people faithful to vows of celibacy for the Kingdom's sake, that sex is not a "need" but a choice—and a choice to be made only under certain well-known conditions. If sex is a choice not a need, then the liberal nostrum that we can solve problems such as teenage pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease by passing out condoms would be exposed for the folly it is, and we might have to reconsider the belief, entrenched since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, that fornication is often a positive good. I know by personal experience, as well as by following the media, that many people hate the Church for steadfastly standing almost alone against such notions. And that hatred carries over into the condemnations of the Church's handling of the sex-abuse problem.

Women's ordination, or rather the absence thereof in the Catholic Church, is not an issue either. If it were, we would expect to find clear evidence that churches and other organizations where women exert the same or similar kind of authority over young people that Catholic priests do harbor measurably less sexual abuse than the Catholic Church. In fact, there is no such evidence. The evidence there is rather suggests that women are just as capable of this sort of thing as men. More specifically, there is no evidence that churches containing married and female clergy are much safer places for young people than the Catholic Church. What is clear is that the amount of media and popular attention given to such abuse in the Catholic Church is far greater than that given elsewhere. I think we all knew that already, but nothing much follows, other than that not a few people hate the Catholic Church and want to see her taken down. That is why the Pope is now being crucified.

Before I get to the central theological issue in all this, I should point out one of the many ironies of the present situation. Dawkins himself has written the following:

Happily I was spared the misfortune of a Roman Catholic upbringing (Anglicanism is a significantly less noxious strain of the virus). Being fondled by the Latin master in the Squash Court was a disagreeable sensation for a nine-year-old, a mixture of embarrassment and skin-crawling revulsion, but it was certainly not in the same league as being led to believe that I, or someone I knew, might go to everlasting fire. As soon as I could wriggle off his knee, I ran to tell my friends and we had a good laugh, our fellowship enhanced by the shared experience of the same sad pedophile. I do not believe that I, or they, suffered lasting, or even temporary damage from this disagreeable physical abuse of power. Given the Latin Master's eventual suicide, maybe the damage was all on his side.

Of course I accept that his misdemeanors, although by today's standards enough to earn imprisonment followed by a life sentence of persecution by vigilantes, were mild compared to those committed by some priests now in the news. I am in no position to make light of the horrific experiences of their altar-boy victims. But reports of child abuse cover a multitude of sins, from mild fondling to violent buggery, and I am sure many of those cases now embarrassing the church fall at the mild end of the spectrum.

My experience, and reaction, was similar to Dawkins'—the differences being that I was 14 when I was "fondled," and it happened more than once. And I suspect that his generalization about the spectrum of abuse is also correct. So why does he, unlike me, now want to see the Pope tried, convicted, and imprisoned?

Because the Pope, before he was pope, failed to see it to it that certain men were turned over to the civil authorities to be tried, convicted, and imprisoned? Granted that more solicitude for the victims should have been shown—even at a time when the psychic and spiritual damage done to minors by sexual abuse were not fully understood—why should no mercy whatsoever be shown to the Pope and others whose only "actionable" error was that they weren't aggressive enough in exposing and pursuing wrongdoers? What's clear to me is that we have a witchhunt here, and that the real motive for the witchhunt is a hatred which, precisely because it is hatred, does not grasp what the Church is really for and about.

In his 1968 Introduction to Christianity, reprinted in translation in 2000, Ratzinger wrote (pp 342-43):

Is the Church not simply the continuation of God's deliberate plunge into human wretchedness? Is she not simply the continuation of Jesus' habit of sitting at table with sinners, of his mingling with the misery of sin to the point where he actually seems to sink under its weight?

I agree that the Church is that. But she is not only that:

Is there not revealed in the unholy holiness of the Church, as opposed to man's expectations of purity, God's true holiness, which is love—love which does not keep its distance in a sort of aristocratic, untouchable purity but mixes with the filth of the world, in order thus to overcome it? Can, therefore, the holiness of the Church be anything else but the bearing with one another that comes, of course, from the fact that all of us are borne up by Christ?

The whole passage, indeed the whole book, are well worth reading and pondering.

Personal and collective growth in holiness are impossible without "bearing with one another," forgiving because we, each of us, have been forgiven and will continue to need forgiveness. I forgave my abuser. I did not know whether he was repentant at the end or not, but that does not matter. What matters is what we need to heal, to achieve salvatio: such wholeness as divine grace offers us, which is incomparably greater than what we can achieve ourselves.

I understand why some people who underwent far worse than I did cannot forgive. Their wounds will never fully heal. That sort of reality is part of what's represented by the fact that the risen Christ still bears his five wounds from his crucifixion. Indeed, the wounds of those who have forgiven their abusers will never fully heal. But that is precisely why earthly justice, even if it were fully visited upon the perps in every case, would never be enough for anybody. It could only be retribution, not healing. But salvation entails forgiveness: the Lord made clear that we will be forgiven, for whatever it is we need forgiving for, only to the extent we forgive others. The Word proclaimed in the Church, and the sacraments celebrated by the Church, which are of her very essence, will do us no good without forgiveness. For without forgiveness, there is no healing. There is only festering and vindictiveness.

That is what the Dawkinses of the world—and the many even among theists who have never bothered to understand the Church as anything more than a human institution—do not understand. To them, the Church is no more than another "human, all too human" form of will-to-power. And in some cases, that's exactly how her leaders have behaved. But to the Catholic mind, those leaders exist only as a means to an end: the end of humanity's eventual union in love with God, of which the Church is merely the proleptic sign and instrument. Real love is eternal, yet in this vale of tears it can only be sustained by forgiveness. If one does not believe that the God who is love will let himself be encompassed by our worst, in order to elevate us by forgiveness to the incomparable destiny of eternal Love, than one can only see the Church herself as a scandal, a stumbling block to belief. That is ultimately what explains the irrationality of the Dawkinses and the many other Catholic-haters of the world.

Yet I believe the Church will come out of this stronger and purer than before. Painful as it is, coming clean about the sexual abuse of minors, and getting abusers out of the priesthood and religious life, can only enhance her witness to Christ. But it must be accompanied by love for the Christ who has been crucified in the victims and will be crucified in those who repent of their actions. That includes even the Pope.

Comments (79)

I sometimes wonder how much of the response the popular culture has is based off of bad reporting, how much out of opportunity and how much is true outrage....

I'm...rather barbaric in my response to child abuse, which means that folks trying to make hay of this; your response is probably the most balanced I've seen, which says a lot about your personal quality.

Bah, the semicolon was supposed to be an ellipse.

Great article, Michael. If I hadn't got to the third paragraph, I'd have missed the reason I read to the end, and hence missed the article.

@Foxifier: You wanted to write an ellipse? :-o As in 0 or O (pun not intended)? ;o)

Michael, I believe that Richard Sipe is a sadly and gravely mistaken man, and his so-called "work" on the subject suffers from severe defects. Just as a short, quick example: he suggests that

Church leaders are so closed to structural reform that they are allowing parishes and schools to close throughout the country rather than allow married priests and women priests.

The Anglican churches have allowed married priests, women priests, and now (in some places) gay priests. Yet the numbers in those churches continue to dwindle, at an alarming rate. Becoming more like the Anglicans is not going to solve the problem of "allowing parishes and schools to close."

Worse yet, he piles the Church's doctrine about the gay disorder into this issue - claiming the Church has it all wrong - as if the manifest evil of priests sodomizing youths somehow illustrates the manifest normalcy of men sodomizing other men. Huh?

Finally, I would comment that the mere fact that some claimed number of nearly 50% (a number without any backing) of priests violating their vows of celibacy DOES NOT prove that celibacy is bad for the Church. In reality, since 50% of marriages end in divorce (and most of those re-marry), and other marriages go through rocky times with one or the other party being unfaithful: it is true in the population at large that 50% of people violate their vows of chastity , yet this does not show that taking marriage vows is bad for the Church. In our culture, sexual sins are one of the predominant forms of sin by which Satan snares us. Why should we expect priests to be insulated from the predominant moral problems of the culture that produces them? Other cultures have other predominant sins. Timeless truths are true even when the culture doesn't like them. (On the other hand, if being celibate is so darned-near impossible, then the fact that 50% of the priests remain celibate suggests that we have tens of thousands of virtual saints in our midst. Wow!)

I am heartily glad that Richard Sipe is out of the practicing priesthood. Anyone who thinks, contrary to the Catholic Church, that woman can be ordained and that homosexuality is not disordered, SHOULDN'T be acting as a Catholic priest, simply out of personal integrity. His bishop should not accept him back until he has rejected his heresies.

Before all of the filth gets going, let me make a simple comment: the simplest remedy for all of this is for priests to be priests. This is the Year of the Priest in the Catholic Church. The patron of parish priests, St. John Vianney, had this to say:

The words and advice of the Curé were like darts; they penetrated deeply. He said little, but his little was enough. To a priest who complained about the indifference of people in his parish, St. John Vianney answered: "You have preached, you have prayed, but have you fasted? Have you taken the discipline (a self imposed scourge)? Have you slept on the floor? So long as you have done none of these things, you have no right to complain." To a mother of a large family, who was expecting another child, he said with fatherly kindness and consideration: "Be comforted, my child. If you only knew the women who will go to Hell because they did not bring into the world the children they should have given to it."

What can one say? He also commented, in his, Catechism on the Priesthood:

The priest is not a priest for himself; he does not give himself absolution; he does not administer the Sacraments to himself. He is not for himself, he is for you. After God, the priest is everything. Leave a parish twenty years without priests; they will worship beasts. If the missionary Father and I were to go away, you would say, "What can we do in this church? there is no Mass; Our Lord is no longer there: we may as well pray at home. " When people wish to destroy religion, they begin by attacking the priest, because where there is no longer any priest there is no sacrifice, and where there is no longer any sacrifice there is no religion.


Go to confession to the Blessed Virgin, or to an angel; will they absolve you? No. Will they give you the Body and Blood of Our Lord? No. The Holy Virgin cannot make her Divine Son descend into the Host. You might have two hundred angels there, but they could not absolve you. A priest, however simple he may be, can do it; he can say to you, "Go in peace; I pardon you. " Oh, how great is a priest! The priest will not understand the greatness of his office till he is in Heaven. If he understood it on earth, he would die, not of fear, but of love. The other benefits of God would be of no avail to us without the priest. What would be the use of a house full of gold, if you had nobody to open you the door! The priest has the key of the heavenly treasures; it is he who opens the door; he is the steward of the good God, the distributor of His wealth. Without the priest, the Death and Passion of Our Lord would be of no avail. Look at the heathens: what has it availed them that Our Lord has died? Alas! they can have no share in the blessings of Redemption, while they have no priests to apply His Blood to their souls!

I submit that the reason there is so much sin among the priesthood is because many priests do not understand what it means to be a priest. If only they did.

The Chicken

I agree that the media is out to get the Catholic Church and, in particular, Benedict.

But wasn't it implicit in the pope's criticism of the Irish bishops that he, as bishop of Munich, didn't allow pedophile priests back into the normal ministry.

I can understand the Church, an organization which believes in forgiveness and repentance, not turning pedophiles over to the secular authorities. But we are talking about letting pedophiles back into contact with children.

That being said, I don't think we know for certain how Ratzinger handled this as bishop.

-Neil Parille

Miss Malaprop strikes again. -.- ellipsis . *headdesk* And this is why I'm not blogging so much these days....

Neil- did you read the first link, and the Jimmy Akin links it has? Many many much clearing there.

Hey, Foxfier, how's the little one doing?

The Chicken

According to Peggy Noonan none of this would have happened if women were allowed to rise to positions of authority within the church.

Quote from her article:

They need to let younger generations of priests and nuns rise to positions of authority within a new church. Most especially and most immediately, they need to elevate women. As a nun said to me this week, if a woman had been sitting beside a bishop transferring a priest with a history of abuse, she would have said: "Hey, wait a minute!"

Here's a link to an discussion of her article (which disagree's with her view), that has a link to the article itself within it.


One hears a lot these days about how, if women were in charge, the world would be safer for everybody. There is no scientific evidence for that either. It stems from the widespread idea that women are somehow morally superior to men. That idea comes to us from the traditions of medieval chivalry and Victorian mores. Paradoxically, it is very prominent in contemporary feminism. It's nonsense.

A line form the discussion I linked to, (its in reference to the view that if there was more women in charge everything would be ok:

This struck me as rather sexist…as if there hasn’t been a well-documented history of mothers covering-up the abuse (sexual, physical, etc.) of their children by husbands, boyfriends, or male relatives.

Michael L.,

I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your own painful experiences and this wonderful post. I'm going to get the Ratzinger book and pray that the Church will indeed come out of this scandal "stronger and purer than before".


I submit that the reason there is so much sin among the priesthood is because many priests do not understand what it means to be a priest. If only they did.

I agree that "many priests do not understand what it means to be a priest." But I think that's a symptom, not the cause, of all the "sin." The reason so many priests don't appreciate what they are is not that they lack adequate catechesis about the priesthood, but because their spiritual lives are too shallow to permit them to appreciate what they are. That's because there just ain't enough prayer and fasting. That, in turn, is both a symptom and a cause of their lack of love for Christ, the Church, and themselves.


The reason so many priests don't appreciate what they are is not that they lack adequate catechesis about the priesthood, but because their spiritual lives are too shallow to permit them to appreciate what they are.

Agreed. That was the point of my first St. John Vianney post. Priests don't fast enough. They don't separate themselves from the world enough. It has become fashionable for priests to be social animals, these days - making nice with the parishioners (I fear as a result of a misinterpretation of Vatican II document on the Church and the world). Priests are not there to be liked. They are there to get their parishioners to heaven. I strongly suspect that, ironically, if St. John were in a seminary, today, he would be thrown out for not being sociable enough. There is too much concern about money, it seems to me, in modern parishes and not enough concern about spiritual welfare (how many parishes have confession for only fifteen minutes on a Saturday afternoon?). If priests would take care of the later, God would take care of the former, but, are there many priests who are willing to trust God, these days?

The Chicken

No time for more, but what a singularly stupid comment by Peggy Noonan. What childish balderdash and silliness. Like a caricatured feminist in a novel. And though I'm not a Catholic, I get the distinct impression from anecdotal evidence that one problem with the hyper-modern Catholic church is that they are already elevating women way too much.

Noonan used to have some interesting things to say, but she's lost credit with me big-time, and not only in this comment. But this one is a real howler.

Peggy Noonan calls John Paul II "the Great."

Can Miss Noonan tell us what made John Paul so great? What did he do to make the Catholic Church less liberal? The Assisi event? Kissing the Koran? Appointing a steady stream of liberals like Walter Kasper?

A silly person indeed.

-Neil Parille

Peggy "A thousand points of light" Noonan often confuses a turn of a phrase with an insight in thought. The lady who is "all words and no action" wrote the speeches for the first President Bush who was "all action and no words."

I used to like Noonan, but now I find her to be pretentious and annoying. Ever since she went after Sarah Palin, I began to see Peggy as a smoldering cauldron of rage carefully hidden under an overly polite literary smugness.


The mere fact that you ask, non-rhetorically, what made JP2 "so great" indicates that you would not see his enormous accomplishments as evidence of greatness. Hence I shall not recite them in detail. I agree he was far from perfect; I know of no humans, other than Jesus and Mary, to whom we can ascribe perfection. Yet given all the challenges he faced, and the enormous energy with which he proclaimed the truth of Christ in face of those challenges, I think we can call him a great pope.

He certainly made the Church "less liberal" than she had been under Paul VI. I can say that because I am old enough to remember clearly what the Church was like in the years between Vatican II and Karol Wojtyla's election as pope. I went through it all myself "on the ground," so to speak. I am familiar with the worlds of progressive and traditionalist Catholicism, which each represent the hermeneutic of discontinuity that the present pope is so earnestly combating. At this point, though things are not nearly as good as they should be, they are markedly better then than they were in the late 60s and through the 70s. May B16 live long and prosper, building on his great predecessor's work and correcting his mistakes.

Mike, a beautiful essay.

You think women would do a better job? Take a look at what has happened with the Episcopal Church since women's ordination. On another note, ephebophilia also known as hebephilia, is the condition of being sexually attracted primarily or exclusively to adolescents. These terms are used in contrast with pedophilia. So a same-sex attraction - a homosexual - can also be an "ephebophiliac" if he/she is attracted exclusively to adolescents? A difference with no distinction - we are going to "term" ourselves to death over this - any male who is attracted to another male albeit an adolescent male, is homosexual in nature. Why split hairs. It is what it is.

As a cradle Catholic who went to parochial school in the seventies, I can say without any reservation that my personal experience of the Church at the end of JPII's pontificate was far, far more orthodox and less liberal than my personal experience of the Church at the beginning of his pontificate. FWIW.

Michael L:
He certainly made the Church "less liberal" than she had been under Paul VI.

I can say without any reservation that my personal experience of the Church at the end of JPII's pontificate was far, far more orthodox and less liberal than my personal experience of the Church at the beginning of his pontificate.

I think these are both true, but within certain spheres. The seed planted with the ghastly picks by Paul VI for bishops continued bearing worse and worse fruit for years after JPII took office, including the most severe of all: the liberal seminaries continuing to churn out un-orthodox priests by the hundred, and the apparatus to choose new bishops continuing to offer wretched choices to JPII. These were only slightly dealt with by JPII, and by no means are these problems rooted out at this point. There are certainly lots of parishes where the Mass is said in a less orthodox manner now than in 1980. There are certainly seminaries who who continue to teach heresy and balderdash unabashedly. The last 2 picks for bishops in my former and current home towns were LESS orthodox then their predecessors. Cardinal Mahoney was appointed by JPII in 1985, and made cardinal in 1991. That's 13 YEARS after JPII took office, and there's no excuse for it.

In a different manner, the worse of the nun disaster finished playing out during the 80's and 90's: the worst nuns left, and the worst orders withered to near total decay. There was only one direction to go from there, and that has been happening with some new orders and some reformed orders. How much of this is due to JPII and how much to other causes is debatable indeed. On the one hand, he certainly promoted Mother Theresa and her order. On the other hand, if he could have this kind of impact on sisterhood in general, why not on the priesthood, which is much more central to the Pope's role? Why not on the Jesuits, who were descending into many realms of heresy before JPII, and continued on with only a slightly deflected course through the 80's and 90's? I tend to think that JPII was not so much the cause of the improvement in the area of women religious as second fiddle and cooperator to other agents.

Lastly: JPII had over 25 years to undo some of the horrid and unnecessary juridical mess Paul VI made with the Tridentine mass and its status. He apparently knew for at least 10 years before he died that Paul VI had made a terrible procedural blunder, and that the Church had been, in effect, persecuting priests who were doing what they had a right to do in saying the old Mass. The fact that he could not find a way to swallow false pride in Paul VI's defective accomplishment in reforming the Mass to accept the legal status of the old Mass - while at the same time leaving in place his personally appointed Papal master of ceremonies who approved such things as the Assisi events - says more than a little about how patchy JPII was on fixing liberal nonsense.

Like Zippy, I can say without reservation that my current experience is of a less liberal church. But that is because I moved to a better diocese. When I go back "home", I find the Mass worse than ever.

Chicken- she's a delight. A delight that is chopping my sleep schedule into motionless bits, but a delight. ^.^

On the world being alright if only women ran it... when I was 16, I had another girl try to tell me that if only the only leaders were women, there'd be no war and so on. I was even less adept at social graces then, and frankly asked her if she had ever BEEN around something run by women....

Some of the better-known enemies of the Church, such as Richard Dawkins...

are upset that then-Archbishop Ratzinger did not run inquisitional courts that sent people to dungeons and wracked them, or cast them into pits with pendulumns.

This snit of Dawkins and Hitchens thoroughly beclowns them.

I am familiar with the worlds of progressive and traditionalist Catholicism, which each represent the hermeneutic of discontinuity that the present pope is so earnestly combating.

I do not think the Holy Father himself would lump “traditionalist Catholics” as a group together with progressives as you have here, Michael. Not the Joseph Ratzinger who has endorsed many of the traditionalist criticisms of the new order of the Mass – who, indeed, has famously referred to the latter as “a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product.” Not the Ratzinger who called Michael Davies “a man of the Church” who “suffered from the Church in many ways.” Not the Ratzinger who, even while very firmly criticizing Lefebvre and his following, allowed that that following would be “inconceivable unless there were good elements at work here, which in general do not find sufficient opportunity to live within the Church of today” and that Lefebvre’s excommunication was “the occasion for an examination of conscience.” Not the Ratzinger who freed up the Tridentine Mass and confirmed the long-scorned traditionalist position that that Mass had never been abrogated. Not the Ratzinger who has staked his papacy on bringing the SSPX back into full and regular communion and agreed to doctrinal talks with them over religious liberty, ecumenism, and other matters on which many believe (falsely, but understandably) that the Church has changed her traditional teaching. Not the man whom most traditionalist Catholics have embraced with real affection, while progressives have despised him even more than they did his predecessor.

That latter fact alone should suffice to give the lie to the casual assertion of a moral equivalence between progressives and traditionalists. Yes, there are nuts and goofballs among traditionalists, as there are within all groups. There are also among them too many men of good will who have let perfectly just grievances lead them into extreme positions and disobedience. But there are also those like Davies, Romano Amerio, Klaus Gamber, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, the Institute of Christ the King, and many others, whose obedience and loyalty to the Holy Father cannot be questioned. It is absurd, and gravely unjust, to lump these people in with the Richard McBriens, Hans Küngs, and Frances Kisslings of the world. (Maybe you did not intend to do so, but that is the impression that is given by referring sweepingly to "traditionalist Catholics," without any qualification.)

Benedict XVI has shown courage, charity, and justice in embracing these modern lepers – in embracing those whom even all too many “conservative” Catholics are happy ritually to dump on. That, I submit, is no small part of why he is so hated.

that women are just as capable of this sort of thing as men

If you go to this site you will read "had sex with" "had a sexual relationship with" "had consentual sex with" but you will never read "sexually abused" which it appears, only Catholic priests are guilty of. These women have sexually abused the children in their care. How much money are the victims suing for? Will schools be shut down and sold to pay the millions of dollars in compensation? Is it correct that the education department can't be sued?

Read Charol Shakehaft"s study - Educationsl Sexual Misconduct - commissioned by the US Dept of Education - "sexual abuse in public schools 100 times more than in the Catholic Church http://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/research/pubs/misconductreview/report.doc

Peggy Noonan will be writing regularly for the National Catholic Reporter.

If one does not believe that the God who is love will let himself be encompassed by our worst, in order to elevate us by forgiveness to the incomparable destiny of eternal Love, than one can only see the Church herself as a scandal, a stumbling block to belief.

Beautifully put Michael. I thought I would drop in from my RSS perch to let you know.

Thank you for your thoughts.

While I'm here I will also second Professor Feser's last comment. In fact, Summorum Pontificum seems to imply explicitly that the "traditionalist," whatever that broad and poor appropriation of language means, sentiment does not imply a hermeneutic of discontinuity. If there is any unification in the camp called "traditionalist,"--which again I say that concrete positions and actions are much better points of departure than labels--it would be in an attachment to the Tridentine Mass, and in this they clearly do not represent a hermeneutic of discontinuity.

Michael and Zippy,

Apparently I'm younger than you and don't have the experience you had, so I can't say that there was nothing JP2 did to turn the tide. On the other hand, I still haven't heard about the liberal bishops who were removed, the universities and seminaries that become less liberal, etc. thanks to JP2's direct action.

And as the public face of Catholicism he helped advanced liberalism: he advocated evolution and higher critical views of the Bible, he pushed religious pluralism via Assisi, his general message to non-Christians was not that they convert but they become more religious, he opposed the death penalty and supported the EU the UN and open borders, he appeared to embrace von Balthasar's views on universal salvation, etc. His early writing Redemptor Hominis was, to put it mildly, rather odd.

This isn't to say there weren't admirable things about the man or that he didn't accomplish some good. I get the suspicion, however, that many Catholics see his traditional views on sexual morality and marriage and think his consistency on these matters somehow define what a pope is supposed to do.

The older I get, the less supremely confident I become about my own assessments of "what a Pope should do", at least beyond obvious things like "don't teach heresy in an encyclical" and "don't commit a heinous crime". I've also become more inclined to call a genuinely great man great, without letting the irrelevant fact that he (like all human beings) also had flaws stop my tongue, as if a great man having flaws made him not-great.

I realize that in the age of universal freedom and equality everyone feels entitled to sit on the throne of the monarch and criticize. The very idea is laughable, of course: as if anyone in this conversation, myself included, has any idea what sitting in the Chair of Peter entails.

Playing armchair CEO, or armchair President, as popular as those passtimes may be, is a laughable enough exercise most of the time. (In fact cultivating the sentiment that everyman is qualified to play armchair President is one of the negative externalities of modern mass-market democracy). Playing armchair Pope takes it to a whole 'nother level, is no more reality-centered than speculation about what Gandalf ought to have done differently.

Zippy, there is certainly a way to push that armchair CEO/Pres/ whatever top guy you want to carp about, a way of taking it beyond acceptable levels. Yet there are ways of criticizing elders, leaders, superiors, etc that are proper and acceptable, for which I will give a couple examples below. And if these sorts of criticisms are laudable, then there must be, at root, a way in which we ordinary folk are allowed to think critically about our leaders and their leadership. I posit that this is what we are doing when we exclaim JPII for his great work upholding the Gospel of Life, while at the same time we critique his lack of success in doing anything useful about the sorry state of Catholic universities.

Examples: St. Paul rebuked St. Peter for his errors about requiring Jewish dietary laws. St. Catherine told the pope to return to Rome. Canon Law provides that the bishop can seek the resignation of a pastor who has lost the due respect of parishioners "of good will", on account of some (real or only apparent) scandal. This latter implies - since we are speaking of people of good will who are not given to gossip and detraction - that these people are right to withhold their respect in some situations.

At root, our leaders are supposed to serve our needs, to feed us. We must be capable of asking and answering: are we being fed real food? This can be done disrespectfully, yes. But it cannot also be done correctly and with holiness.

As a cradle Catholic who went to parochial school in the seventies, I can say without any reservation that my personal experience of the Church at the end of JPII's pontificate was far, far more orthodox and less liberal than my personal experience of the Church at the beginning of his pontificate. FWIW.

Zippy, I bet we can swap altar boy stories about when the gold chalices went away... and the whole 'earthenware pottery' thing took over. It was around the same time the gold vestments went into the closet and the priest got the kindergarten cutout fish on the face of his green pullover poncho vestments--

(somebody stop me, stop me, stop me, stop me...)


Examples: St. Paul rebuked St. Peter for his errors about requiring Jewish dietary laws. St. Catherine told the pope to return to Rome.
That misses the point. I have no problem with criticizing this or that specific act, as long as we consider the ignorance of the source. Commenters in this thread, however, are going further, leveling criticisms at JPII specifically under the thesis that they can thereby judge him undeserving of the title "Great".

That isn't just baloney: it is a hubris and baloney sandwich.


My favorite anecdote from that period was the big controversy over whether we would sing "Stairway to Heaven" or "Bridge Over Troubled Water" at my Confirmation Mass.


beyond the thousands wonderful things made and said by JP2 and not quoted by you, I submit the following (forgive my English, I'm Italian):

1) I've not heard about liberal Bishops removed by BXVI,
nor about universities and seminaries now becoming less liberal.
The fact that whole Catholic spheres are not faithful to Church's teaching is, sadly, not new: this has not changed under BXVI, but it was with JP2, with his teachings and documents (which I urge you to read, at least those regarding Catholic education) that their unfaithfulness became evident - that is, not a legitimate post-VII expression. Since I guess you're too young to appreciate JP2's achievements, I assure you he was hated (and derided, and misrepresented) as much as his successor is.
Furthermore, too many are oblivious to the harsh and public reprimands inflicted by JP2 to the Liberation Theology priests and bishops during his visits to South America (there are videos about that): of course, this was not received well by the press.

2) The Pope is not required to share your political opinion about death penalty: he expressed the view that today it's generally not a justified repressive measure.

3) Assisi has been probably a mistake, at least in its factual implementation; I am sure JP2 didn't share any universalist view, if you know "Dominus Jesus".

4) The EU could have been very different from what it's now: the idea was conceived by two great Catholic politicians, Adenauer and De Gasperi. You evidently don't remember neither the battle engaged by JP2 about the Christian roots recognition in the EU constitution, nor his frequent speech about this issue.

5) He was actually almost constantly in contrast to the UN politics: at every international UN conference the Holy See has been a nail in the liberal agenda. If you don't remember or know these events, it's not JP2 fault - but you can check the old newspapers.

6) Von Balthasar (VB) was an outstanding theologian and a holy priest: the Pope endorsed his work in general, I'm not aware he specifically supported the one about universal salvation (in the book preface VB explicitly submit to the Church's judgment). By the way, VB's funeral mass and homily was held by then Cardinal Ratzinger, VB lifelong friend.

7) He didn't "advocated" evolution and higher critical views of the Bible: he simply said that some form of evolution is not incompatible a-priori with sound doctrine, and that rigorous critical examination of the biblical texts is - when not distorted by hidden cultural agendas - not against the orthodox interpretation.

A final remark: do not look at the past presuming your current perceptions and emergencies were also valid or actual at those times; specifically, we're all ashamed by the abuse scandals and humanly disposed to put the blame on some scapegoat. In this, are we more disposed to be honest or to find a way out for ourselves? Cardinal Ratzinger has been at JP2's right almost all the time along, so you cannot easily blame the latter and extoll the former; even for Ratzinger, the situation became clearer as time went by, not to say that the most important move - the centralization in the CdF of the abuse cases management - happened during JP2 pontificate in 2001.
Even if the media are pressing, our first duty is not to free ourselves of the shame: instead is to help the victims, pray for the culprits' salvation, make penance and clean Christ's house, starting from ourselves.

Commenters in this thread, however, are going further, leveling criticisms at JPII specifically under the thesis that they can thereby judge him undeserving of the title "Great".

A few critical comments were of that nature. Other critical comments have been more nuanced, with distinctions and qualifications.

judge him undeserving of the title "Great".

Since it is the people themselves, finally, who generate and embrace such appellations, the people themselves must be the seat for judging who does and who does not get the title "Great." And they ALWAYS do this based on their limited knowledge. That limited knowledge always has huge gaps in it. If, with such gaps, it is inappropriate for regular people to refuse to acclaim someone "Great", then such gaps are also inappropriate basis for acclaiming someone "Great", and we shouldn't accept any of these titles. Likewise, we should look with disfavor on the way people acclaimed Thomas a Becket and prayed to him before he was formally declared worthy of veneration.

Some ordinary people, having held onto the Church during local degeneration for 15 years of Paul VI and 20 years of JPII, finally became apostate after a few too many of his Assisi moments (some of my family, for example). Even if they eventually revert to their former faith, are we to censure them for failing to feel kindly towards JPII, and refusing to refer to him as "Great"? It's not like refusing to call him Great means we think he is, or belongs, in hell or something.

My favorite anecdote from that period was the big controversy over whether we would sing "Stairway to Heaven" or "Bridge Over Troubled Water" at my Confirmation Mass.

Oh, man...and then songs from Godspel we had to hear over and over again....


I admit you got a lot of mileage out of comparing the best of the trads with the worst of the progs. I admit that some trads are good people who are loyal to the Church and have some valid points to make. And I happen to agree with the thinking behind the Pope's Summorum Pontificum. Though I'm no fan of the Tridentine Mass--which frustrates me because it makes me feel more like a spectator than a participant, even though I know Latin--I agree that the post-V2 liturgical reform went too far and needs to be more organically connected with the riches of the past. I think we should, e.g., bring back ad orientem in the Ordinary Form where the priest is addressing God on the people's behalf. Liberating the old Mass has been a good way of getting people re-acquainted with such and several other old traditions, such as Gregorian chant, that should never have been discarded in the first place. But without plunging into a morass of detail that would detract from the main subject of this thread, I shall just say that I've met some progs who, like some trads, are good people: loyal to the Church and with valid points to make. I could get a lot of mileage out of comparing them with the worst of the trads--the schismatics, the latter-day pharisees, the nostalgia freaks, the anti-Semites, etc., etc.--but that would only draw us further off the point I wanted to make in the comment to which you responded.

My point about "the hermeneutic of discontinuity" (HD) was this: trads and progs, precisely and respectively as such, agree that Vatican II represented a decisive break in the history of the Catholic Church, so that it now makes sense to speak of two churches: the pre-Vatican-II Church and the post-Vatican-II Church. Whatever variations of opinion and virtue one may find among individuals at either end of the spectrum, it is that hermeneutic, that "story" as it were, which is distinctive of both progressive and traditional Catholicism. The difference, of course, is that the trads disapprove the break and want to see it reversed, as though Vatican II never happened; whereas the progs approve it and want to see it accelerated, as though Vatican II just wasn't enough even at the time. But both agree that there was such a break. On this whole business, I highly recommend the late Fr. Neuhaus' 2003 article "The Catholic Center."

Secondarily, the mentality of discontinuity manifests itself in cultural preferences. I often get the sense that American trads want to return to 1955 Cleveland and the American progs want to return to 1969 Berkeley. Such differences signify radically incompatible forms of spirituality. Both are outdated, of course. But the primary discontinuity, the hermeneutic thereof, is theological. That is much more serious, and that is what the Pope, who is always talking about the hermeneutic of continuity, won't cave to.

We probably agree that the prog version of the HD is unjustified. But it was understandable. They saw that Vatican II dropped the notion that Catholics ought to favor a confessional state, the old union of throne-and-altar, in favor of a broader conception of religious liberty. They saw that Vatican II largely abandoned neo-scholastic language in favor of a more biblical and patristic manner of theologizing. They saw that the Council refrained from using dogmatic canons with anathemas and sought to bring people to faith with a lot more honey than vinegar. They saw that the Council stopped speaking of non-Catholic Christians as rebels and heretics, calling them "separated brethren" in various degrees of "imperfect communion" with the Church. Having seen all these things, they figured that much else could and should change as the windows of the Church were opened to the modern world. (Modernity was of course even then giving way to post-modernity; but as they say, theology departments are where bad sociology goes to die.) They concluded in short order that a number of important doctrines, taught with diachronic consensus by the episcopate since the earliest times, could and should be jettisoned. The best-known have to do with sex and power, such as the teachings on contraception and women's ordination. But as we know well, the rot really set in across the board because, in the wake of the Council, everything seemed up for grabs.

My point about the trads, though, is that in their understandable anxiety to reject the rot of progressive Catholicism, they have by and large embraced an equally radical HD. Archbishop Lefebvre and his followers in the SSPX, for example, believed that Vatican II was actually heretical on such questions as religious liberty and the identity of the Catholic Church with the Church. Just last year, e.g., Bishop Fellay, the least insane of the SSPX bishops, said that Vatican II and the present pope try to "square the circle" by claiming that the doctrine "The Catholic Church is the Church of Christ" has not been abandoned by Lumen Gentium's statement that "The Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church." As to liturgy, some trads think the Mass of Paul VI invalid; most merely find it disgusting. Many of them still think limbo is de fide, not a dispensable theological opinion; many think that NFP is just as bad as contraception, and believe the post-V2 popes too liberal for permitting it. Almost all of them, I find, want a return to Baroque neo-scholasticism as a theological method. All this constitutes an HD, which is why they want the Church to turn Vatican II, and many of the magisterial developments since then, into a dead letter. The Pope has made clear that it ain't gonna happen. So I'm not optimistic about the outcome of the current talks at the CDF with the SSPX.

Am I thus asserting a "moral equivalence" between trads and progs? No, because I don't presume to judge people's motives, and I believe that the trads want to preserve certain goods that the progs, alas, don't even recognize as goods. Although Vatican II led to positive changes that the better progs want to maintain, I think that overall, the non-schismatic trads are more solid Catholics than the progs. But the respective prog and trad theological versions of the HD are each based on a story that is, itself, an HD. And the Pope is right: there is only one Church, not two, and there is only one deposit of faith, not one whit of which was abandoned by the Council or the popes seeking to implement it.


Godspell, ooh boy John we heard those day by day by day by day by day ... =8-0

Richard Sipe is not the villain. No one has brought charges of sexual abuse against him. He's the truth-telling Catholic that the Catholic victims of clerical abuse call on in court to help explain what's really going on, both around the corner and around the world. He knows what he's doing, and he's among the best in the world at it. That you disagree with him theologically is of little moment on this issue. The bottom line here is the truth: Who did what to whom? Who knew about it? When did they know it? What did they do once they knew? Sipe helps people get to the truth. That courageous action makes him a target for some folks.

Prof Bauman:

I agree that when the questions are of the sort you list, i.e. questions that have to do with assessing legal culpability, Sipe is honest and thorough. That said, I give little more credence to his views in psychology and spirituality than to his theology. What he's good at is getting to the bottom of whodunits, and that's what he uses as a club with which to pound the Church he loathes.



I suppose it depends on how one defines "progressive," but I was assuming that "progressives" in a Catholic context are people who dissent from some binding Church teaching or other (whether this has to do with contraception, homosexual acts, "ordaining" women, the bodily resurrection of Christ, the divine inspiration of scripture, or whatever). That is surely how the word is usually used, anyway. "Traditionalist," by contrast, does not have that connotation. As I've said, not every traditionalist takes the extreme positions you describe -- not by a longshot. If you want to criticize "extreme traditionalism" or "radical traditionalism," fine, but simply to use the label "traditionalism" without any qualification and then cite the most extreme examples to illustrate what "traditionalists" think is just a smear.

Moroever, there is a middle ground between taking the extreme positions you describe and thinking that what Vatican II said about religious liberty (say) raises no serious theological questions at all; a middle ground between thinking limbo is de fide and regarding it as merely "a dispensible theological opinion"; and so on. There are serious questions about how exactly V2 teaching on religious liberty is to be understood in continuity with the pre-V2 popes; serious questions about how a rejection of limbo could be fitted in with the Catholic understanding of the necessity of baptism for salvation; etc. I don't for a moment believe that there really has been a break with the past here -- the rad-trads are reading the relevant documents carelessly and uncharitably. But too many conservatives are careless here too, and on these questions seem quite happy to break with the past because they are embarrassed by the traditional teaching and would like to be rid of it. They are not aware that there has not in fact been so stark a change as they (and the progressives) think or would like. That is certainly the view of people I've cited here in the past vis-a-vis religious liberty (Thomas Storck and Brian Harrison) and whether you agree with their position or not, it is a reasonable and perfectly orthodox position that has to be taken seriously rather than dismissed as "nostalgic" or whatever.

Nor is it correct (or just) to insinuate, as you do, that a preference for Neo-Scholasticism over the Nouvelle Theologie makes one a proponent of the "hermeneutic of discontinuity." (Love that "Baroque" part too. Use question-begging epithets much?) It really amazes me how people who criticize the Neo-Scholastics for taking too authoritarian a view of doctrine and accuse them of squelching dissent prior to Vatican II now want to insinuate that contemporary Neo-Scholastics are dissenters. The Nouvelle Theologie folks themselves were, prior to Vatican II, considered suspect by the Vatican (De Lubac was even criticized by Pius XII in Humani Generis), spread their ideas by circulating samizdat versions of their forbidden works, disobeyed orders from Rome not to teach certain ideas in seminaries, etc. All that was A-OK, apparently, but when a traditionalist thinks that the old Mass is superior to the new, or proposes that there are serious theological questions to be answered vis-a-vis reading current teaching about religious liberty in line with past teaching, etc., that's at least borderline "dissent." Now that the Nouvelle Theologie has become the mainstream, some of its proponents often seem to want to do to their more theologically traditional opponents what they criticized those opponents for doing.

If you haven't read it, I urge you to read R.R. Reno's review of Fergus Kerr's Twentieth Century Catholic Theologians from First Things some time back, McInerny's book on the dispute between Gilson/De Lubac on the Neo-Scholastics, and the work being done by Aidan Nichols and others on Garrigou-Lagrange. It shows that one does not need to be a "rad-trad" to see that Catholic theology has suffered grave damage from the glib dismissal of the Neo-Scholastics post-Vatican II. Though the Holy Father himself came out of the Nouvelle Theologie movement, I thank God that he is a just man, and has never indulged in these kinds of smears of the Neo-Scholastics.


Now that I'm clearer about your position, I don't find our disagreement as great as I had first thought. I have read all the authors and works you cite, and I take them very seriously. Showing how the teaching of Vatican II and subsequent popes is in continuity with what has been taught in the past with the Church's full authority does indeed require some heavy theological lifting. In fact, much of my blogging career has been spent doing just that; see, e.g., here. To that end, I much prefer Nichols to Kerr; but that is a personal sidebar. Where we still disagree, I think, is on how to understand the phrases: 'progressive Catholicism' and 'traditional Catholicism'.

As you're using the phrase, the set of "progressive" Catholics seems to be co-extensive with the set of people who dissent from a broad range of doctrines long taught and still taught by the Magisterium of the Church. I think that's unfair to the progs in the sort of way you think I'm being unfair to the trads. Although the majority of progressive Catholics, by any definition, dissent from at least one such doctrine, I don't think it's quite right to say that a progressive Catholic is eo ipso a Catholic who dissents from some objectively binding doctrine of the Church. In my experience, the smarter and better progs have a point worth taking with the utmost seriousness: the distinction between doctrines that are infallibly taught by the ordinary and universal magisterium (IOUM) and doctrines that, while long taught by the IOUM, do not rise to the level of irreformability, is in many cases unclear to Catholics because it has never been made clear by the Magisterium itself. Therefore, progressive Catholics cannot be branded as "dissenters" in a negative sense just because they dissent from doctrines whose level of authority has never been made clear enough to bind in conscience. In this respect, they are just like many trads, who saw Vatican II reverse certain long-standing positions held by the Church, and do not see how that can be squared with the kind of authority the Church has long claimed for herself.

A good example of the confusion here is the issue of contraception. A hermeneut of continuity like me, and of course Benedict XVI, would say that Paul VI's Humanae Vitae was not only correct in substance but also a valid development of prior, irreformable teaching. But Paul never made clear to the faithful that the doctrine he upheld rose to the level of irreformability. The progs feel justified in rejecting the doctrine because, in their view, it never did rise to that level; it is based, again in their view, on an outmoded understanding of natural law and the nature of marriage. Many trads reject HV for a different reason. They think it actually diluted the traditional doctrine by recommending for some couples what we now call NFP--i.e., consciously limiting sexual intercourse to the infertile period of a woman's cycle--whose essential difference from contraception is no clearer to many trads than it is to most progs. On the question of contraception, and a host of other questions where the pertinent doctrine's level of authority is unclear to people, the progs are those who favor change. But it does not follow that all progs are thereby dissenters in a negative sense of the term, any more than it follows that all trads are dissenters in a negative sense of the term because they think Vatican II erred in some respects. Both sides are just hermeneuts of discontinuity; but I don't think all progs are heretics, any more than I think all trads are heretics.

What about the phrase 'traditional Catholicism'? In a broad sense, any Catholic can be called a traditionalist if they are concerned to affirm the doctrinal and practical continuity of the Great Tradition and see it clearly manifested in the Church's life. By that definition, I am a traditionalist, you're a traditionalist, the Pope is a traditionalist, and any Catholic hermeneut of continuity is a traditionalist. But I don't know anybody calling themselves a 'traditional Catholic' who agrees that I'm a traditional Catholic; and while the Pope's sympathy for some trad concerns is well-known, I know few trads who count him as one of their own. What is distinctive about Catholic traditionalism, it seems to me, is what I said in my previous comment. And that makes trads and progs more like each other than either side is willing to admit.

My remark about 'Baroque neo-scholasticism' seems to have particularly irked you. I should have made clear that I find tremendous value in medieval scholastic thought generally--though if I had to choose between Aquinas, Bonaventura, and Scotus, I would go with Leo XIII and choose Aquinas, a choice I believe you'd like. And I also think that such neo-scholastic figures as John of St. Thomas and Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange have contributed as much to Catholic thought as de Lubac, von Balthasar, and the nouvelle theologie generally. My problem is not with scholasticism and neo-scholasticism per se, but with the tendency of most trads to think such methodologies so evidently superior to the nouvelle theologie as to warrant a wholesale return to them. I dislike trad triumphalism as much as prog triumphalism.



Thanks for your response. I agree that our disagreement is not as great as it seemed at first. Re: progressives, I think it should also be emphasized that the Church has never claimed that it is merely irreformable doctrines that the faithful have to assent to. There are various grades of theological certainty and various corresponding degrees of theological censure ("heretical," "proximate to heresy," "suspect of heresy," "rash," "offensive to pious ears," etc.) and the Church requires in each case the appropriate level of assent, which in most cases is indeed assent rather than mere respectful silence about one's dissent. Even the least radical progressives seem to think that as long as they avoid outright heresy, their position is justifiable, and that just isn't so. And even the most radical traditionalists haven't taken that sort of view. Their errors are of a very different sort. They aren't looking for wiggle room to free themselves from the traditional teaching of the Church; on the contrary, they are pained by the perception -- false, but in some cases understandable -- that the Church herself has not been upholding tradition. There's a difference between a child who haughtily rebels against a parent's rules and one who, out of real pain, criticizes a parent for seeming not to uphold the rules (even if this is due to his having too crude an understanding of the rules, or a failure to have mercy on a parent who is having a weak moment). Both children are in error, but it seems to me the latter's error is clearly more understandable and needs to be dealt with more gently. Add to this the fact that the haughtily rebellious children have gotten mere slaps on the wrist at most -- outright heretics like Hans Kung, Richard McBrien, et al. are still priests in good standing, awful bishops almost never get removed, Catholic universities are rife with dissent and no consequences are suffered, etc. etc. -- while the latter sort of child gets treated harshly -- Lefebvre is excommunicated -- and it is understandable why some trads go off the deep end instead of sucking it up, and offering it up, as they should.


I now see the disanalogy you wish to draw between progs and trads: to you, the former are like children who "haughtily rebel against a parent's rules," and the latter are like children who are pained by "a parent" who seems "not to uphold the rules." I agree that, if such a metaphor were wholly apt, then the trads should be treated more "gently" than the progs. But I don't think it is wholly apt. I shall note two similarities between progs and trads: one attitudinal, one theological.

Attitudinally, each side thinks they know better than the highest authorities of the Church what the Church ought to be teaching and doing. True, the progs think the Church ought to change this-and-that teaching or rule from what it has long been, and the trads think she ought to restore this-and-that teaching or rule to what it once was. Both sides are motivated in part by pain at what they see as things amiss. But each side is often mistaken, and I suspect that they usually make their mistakes as much out of pride as of pain. Of course the mask over the trads' pride is a bit bigger and thicker because they claim, often rightly, only to be upholding what the Church has upheld before. But they stoutly maintain that the hierarchy's current judgment about what is worth upholding, and about what is not worth suppressing, is inferior to their own. This is especially evident in the area of ecumenism. In some instances, of course, their judgment might well be true; if and when it is, the Spirit will eventually vindicate them through the authority of the Church herself. But human nature being what it is, their view cannot always be true, and in my view it often isn't true. And when it isn't, how are they to know save through that interior submission which they decline? It's not easy to be a loyal child of the Church when ones thinks of oneself as having the knowledge and judgment which Mother Church seems to have lost. To some extent, of course, the progs also mask their pride with false humility. But since you probably believe that already, I won't bother explaining how.

This is not to say that, as a non-prog and non-trad, I don't have issues with the Church. There are things about the Church that would drive me bonkers if I let them, and I'm not just talking about sex abuse. The things that make me grind my teeth on occasion arise mostly from the fact that the Church is no more a meritocracy than she is a democracy. But one thing I don't do is assume that I know better than the college of bishops, with the pope as their head, how to steer the barque of Peter. I try to take things as they come, relying on the discernment of the whole Church over time to sift the wheat from the chaff.

Theologically, the similarity between progs and trads lies in the fact that each side tends to find the teaching of Vatican II sharply discontinuous with the definitive teaching of the past. As I've said before, the main difference is that the progs think this is a good thing and the trads think it's a bad thing. But both seem to believe that their hermeneutic of discontinuity is intellectually superior to Rome's hermeneutic of continuity. I don't want to say that the HD begins with pride, for the experience of the faithful on the ground since the Council is in some ways markedly different from their experience before the Council. But nobody disputes that empirical fact, and nobody is altogether satisfied with what it is in itself. The real question is what should be taught and done, and what measures should be used to decide that question. If, like many trads, you think some of the theology of Vatican II really is incompatible with something Catholics are bound as such to believe, you have a problem that cannot be solved without somehow undermining, in your own mind, the authority of the Church. And the same goes for those progs who think that certain doctrines taught with diachronic consensus by the bishops from the get-go are not only optional to believe but actually harmful to believe.

I am well aware of the "levels of authority" doctrinal chart that Ludwig Ott was the first and, to my knowledge, the only theologian to systematize. Now for one thing, I don't believe that all of Ott's classifications are correct. But even when they are, as they often are, I don't think it can be said that most Catholics know how to understand and apply them. They are really for theologians and clergy. But even they often disagree about the accuracy or value of such a chart, short of the highest couple of levels. That's why I believe most people should just be content with what Vatican II said on the topic in Lumen Gentium §25.

Which brings me to my final point. If Catholics are to give the kinds of assent called for in LG 25, when it's appropriate to give them, then many trads are in no better a position than many progs. Lefebvre was excommunicated not for what he believed, but for what he did: consecrating bishops against the will of the Pope. But his doctrinal dissent was just as temerarious as that of many progs. That's why I can't be either trad or prog.


Michael L:
I have known Richard Sipe for nearly 20 years. He does NOT loathe the church.

Do stick to the truth, please.

If, like many trads, you think some of the theology of Vatican II really is incompatible with something Catholics are bound as such to believe...

Like I've said, I do not believe that. And this stuff about "thinking one knows better" is a red herring. That is not what is at issue. What is at issue is how to understand all of the Church's various statements on certain issues (e.g. religious liberty) in a way that takes account of their varying levels of authortiy, circumstances under which they were issued, continuity with past teaching, etc. And in some cases, asking the Church to clarify certain disputed points (which is what Davies did vis-a-vis religious liberty, though he never got a response). In other words, it is a matter of just doing what theologians have always done. And what makes the moderate traditionalist position distinctive is that it holds that on certain issues where people claim the Church has abandoned past teaching, it can be shown that she hasn't really done so -- that the traditional teaching really is still the teaching of the Church and/or that what many assume are just historically contingent non-binding elements are not really that at all. The Storck or Harrison view on Dignitatis Humanae, for example, is that it is binding teaching but not nearly as novel in substance (as opposed to tone) as progressives, many conservatives, and rad-trads all think it is. There is nothing in this sort of view that involves "thinking one knows better" than the Church. Rather, the argument is "We think such-and-such is the right way to understand what the Church says, all things considered. Naturally, we put it to the Church herself to make the final call, and we believe that when she does so the traditionalist reading will be vindicated. But if not, so much the worse for us." Are there some traditionalists who don't take this attitude? Sure, but, again, I'm not speaking for them. And they don't speak for all traditionalists.

Lefebvre was excommunicated not for what he believed, but for what he did: consecrating bishops against the will of the Pope. But his doctrinal dissent was just as temerarious as that of many progs. That's why I can't be either trad or prog.

"That's why..." Again you insinuate that to be a traditionalist per se entails accepting what the most extreme traditionalists have said or done -- in this case that it entails endorsing Lefebvre's actions. But of course, that's exactly what I'm denying. And the bottom line is: Yes, a Catholic cannot be a prog; but a Catholic can be a (certain kind of) trad. Therefore it is wrong to speak as if "progressivism" and "traditionalism," without qualification, represented two equal and opposite errors.

Ed, what you're describing as 'moderate traditionalism', and as the theological tasks that moderate traditionalists are wont to perform, are exactly what I see myself as believing and doing as a hermeneut of continuity. I'm pleased that you think the tasks in question doable and worth doing. But even though this has become a largely terminological dispute, it's not trivial on that account.

The reason I refuse to call myself a traditionalist is that most of the people I've read and encountered who call themselves traditionalists would not regard me as one of them, and I'm delighted not to be so regarded. That's because what you're calling "extreme" traditionalism is actually pretty common among Catholics who call themselves traditionalists. It is of great importance for the unity of the Church not to use the same term for two sets of people who sharply disagree with each other across a whole range of issues.


Prof Bauman:

Given what Sipe has written about the teaching and discipline of the Church--especially about the priesthood and homosexuality--I can draw no other inference than that he hates the Church. But given what you say about knowing him, I might have to concede that he has a love-hate relationship with the Church. He would be far from alone.


Fair enough, Mike. But again, there are lots of folks who are widely understood to be traditionalists and/or who regard themselves as such -- again, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, Institute of Christ the King, individuals like Harrison, Davies, Amerio, and many others who could be named -- who cannot justly be tarred with the same brush as the rad-trads. So, given that fact, I maintain that it is wrong to use the term "traditionalist," especially sans qualification, as a pejorative. I understand you wouldn't self-apply it -- again, fair enough -- but many of those who would are done a disservice by being lumped in with the extremists and the progs.

Lefebvre was excommunicated not for what he believed, but for what he did: consecrating bishops against the will of the Pope.

And yet it seems, in your attempt to appear even-handed, that when speaking of trads you have the Lefebvrites fully in mind. But I know plenty of trads who have never broken with the church in either doctrinal or disciplinary matters, and did not approve of Lefebvre's action. Oh, Jeff Culbreath, for example. I also know a lot of progressives, and not a one who doesn't deny one or more irreformable teachings. (In fact, I can't think of any who deny only one; there's a reason they found the seamless garment so appealing.) And when you portray this dissent as helpless confusion - But Paul never made clear to the faithful that the doctrine he upheld rose to the level of irreformability - it is simply not believable. Where in this line from Humanae Vitae is irreformability absent?

Consequently, now that We have sifted carefully the evidence sent to Us and intently studied the whole matter, as well as prayed constantly to God, We, by virtue of the mandate entrusted to Us by Christ, intend to give Our reply to this series of grave questions.

Maybe those poor progressives can't read. But that's not believable either, since the corruption of the faithful to the progressive cause was perpetrated by a sizeable phalanx of radical priests and theologians whom the Pope specifically addressed:

We are speaking especially to you who teach moral theology—to spell out clearly and completely the Church's teaching on marriage. In the performance of your ministry you must be the first to give an example of that sincere obedience, inward as well as outward, which is due to the magisterium of the Church. For, as you know, the pastors of the Church enjoy a special light of the Holy Spirit in teaching the truth.

I think those guys could read; they simply didn't care what he had to say, and set about sowing discord among the laity in their charge, and disregard for the Pope's authority, with complete abandon and an utterly heretical determination. The fact is that your portrayal of the 'dicontinuity' evidenced by non-schismatic traditionalists and progressives doesn't fit with my experience of 30 years in the Catholic Church. The further fact is that the traditionalists have turned out to be wrong about almost nothing, and the progressives right to the same degree.

That said, I thought your observations re the post's main subject, the 'Crucifixion of the Pope', were largely praiseworthy.


Seriously??? On what Fuc**ing planet are you living on that you think there is a comparable similarity between an organistaion of 1 billion that has from the top down covered up abuse to the school system which has at best headmasters covering up abuse. Are you saying that fairness would be that Dawkins and co would ask for the heads of the Ministry for Education in their countries???!! The debate against the morons who think that celibacy or not allowing women to be ordained or infallibilty is the reason for all this mess is old news and having you still fighting it at this late stage is a sad sad day. I have read much of what you have written and have always appreciated your exegesis of what it means to be a catholic but COME ON MIKE!! Benedict just wrote us a letter here in Ireland and blamed the changes in the world for the abuse.. Unbelievable (factoid- abuse was happening in the 30's 40's 50's long before secularism started its inroads in Ireland). I saw you write once that you would stand beind the doctrines of the church should it come out that the Pope had a few boyfriends on the side, that is the statement of a man who knows his church and loves it. Something is rotten in the state of Rome and its name is power. When are you going to do something about it?? Until people with a respected voice in catholicism like yourself start talking about what is wrong (if you can even see that anything even is wrong) with the current administration then you will be fighting the morons and their arguments for many a moon, meanwhile the exodus to protestantism and unbelief will continue unabated.

Mr Luse:

1. It's no good bringing up Jeff Culbreath with me. Together, he and I are a classic illustration of Chesterton's dictum: "Catholics agree about everything. They just disagree about everything else." The same could be said, albeit with a bit less precision, about my most of my encounters with trads. How is it that they so often disagree with me about quite important theological issues, when I too have not "broken with the Church," and, unlike them, can be counted on to accept the distinctive doctrinal developments of Vatican II and subsequent popes? Subsistit in comes first to mind, but there are other issues too, such as limbo, which every single trad I know believes the present pope has erred by repudiating. Sure, most trads stick around—but not without a steady rumble of grumbling against "neo-cons" and "papalotrists" like me, and only because they know damn well that there's nowhere else to go.

2. Not only do you take for granted the irreformability of the doctrine on contraception; to you, its irreformability is so clear that only stupidity or ill will could account for a theologian or cleric's failing to find it so. That's the good old-fashioned way to diss heretics, to be sure; but one thing experience today should teach us, if Vatican II didn't already, is that such an approach is usually unwise. I've been discussing theology with quite a variety of priests for over 40 years, and I can count on my fingers the number of them who think the Magisterium has made clear that the doctrine is irreformable. Mind you, I agree that it's irreformable. But that's partly because I've studied the history and logic of the doctrine in much greater depth than most priests and even some theologians. The problem is that Paul VI and his minions muddied these waters from the start. At the press conference announcing Humanae Vitae's publication, the Vatican spokesman, Msgr. Lambruschini, expressly denied that the encyclical was infallible; and when Washington's Cardinal O'Boyle tried to discipline the legion of clerics who, led by theologians teaching in his diocese, rejected HV, Rome forbade him to do so. Admittedly, the Pontifical Council on the Family discreetly issued a Vademecum for Confessors in 1997 (!) which said, inter alia, that the teaching that contraception is "intrinsically evil" is to be considered "definitive and irreformable." But since neither the Pope nor the CDF used those words themselves, the statement was taken simply as an opinion by the minority of clerics who paid it any notice at all. What needs to be done about contraception is what the previous pope and CDF head did about women's ordination: come out with an apodictic declaration that the doctrine is definitive tenenda. Even then, many will reject it, as they rejected Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. But that's because they've never been catechized to understand the conditions for the infallible exercise of the ordinary and universal magisterium. On that score, we have a long way to go. And until we get there, it just won't do to explain all theological dissent on the topic as the product of stupidity or ill will.

3. I believe the trads have been wrong about quite a number of things. They're wrong that Vatican II's ecclesiology is good only where it repeats what had been said before. They're wrong that the doctrine of limbo must be believed, because they're wrong that nature, grace, and the sacraments must be so conceived that limbo appears necessary for justice to infants who have died without baptism. They're wrong that the program of ecumenism espoused by Paul VI and John Paul II renders efforts to convert people to Catholicism all but pointless. They're wrong that supersessionism about Judaism is de fide. In general, they're wrong to assert the relative disutility of Vatican II, because they don't understand the problems that made Vatican II seem necessary to John XXIII. Instead, they go in for post hoc ergo propter hoc, imagining that all the ecclesial craziness unleashed after the Council was unleashed because of the Council. No, the craziness was unleashed for two reasons: the progs hijacked the narrative of the Council, a narrative the trads bought; and the world was going crazy anyway, which the Church could neither stop nor shut out of herself.

Listening to progs often makes me alternate between sadness and amusement. Listening to trads, for the most part, just pisses me off.

... but there are other issues too, such as limbo, which every single trad I know believes the present pope has erred by repudiating.

For now, just a quick question: where has the present pope repudiated limbo? I mean, for the Church, as opposed to personal speculation?

They're wrong that the doctrine of limbo must be believed,

Furthermore, I've never met a trad (in communion with the Church) who believed that limbo rose to the level of dogma, so if you can point to one of those for me, I'd be most grateful.


Hello. We have debated before (Pontifications).

I admit that I have not had time (nor will I) to read all of the comments above.

I am surprised that you don’t seem to be able to get what bothers many of us.

First off, I am not inclined to disagree with much of what you say in your article…but good grief:

“But notice that nobody is calling for the prosecution of public-school officials who, in many cases, have done too little to address just the same problem among adults under their authority.”

Here’s where your argument falls down completely. If someone produced documentation showing that my local school official even suggested that the good of the local school district – or public schooling as a whole – should be considered regarding whether or not to not only suspend a teacher, but to take away their teaching license, I would be utterly irate.

Yes, they should be suspended and have their license removed. They should not be allowed to work in that line of work again.

There is nothing irrational about that. It is not only great moral evil but great lack of judgment that causes us anger – and makes us demand that things be put right.

What is the true difference than? Only this: people / reporters are likely more concerned to expend their resources to try and reveal the Church’s sins than they are anyone elses’. Is that OK? Well, it depends on their purposes (see my post here: http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2010/04/15/dawkins-1-pope-0/ - please see also the brief comments, which are key). On the other hand, God uses even evil intentions for good.

I am afraid that the leadership of the RCC – and even some of its most faithful and competent apologists – continue digging their hole. And the worldwide Church as a whole can’t not be affected negatively as a result.

We can forgive someone and also insist that others be protected from them. All of this is not to say that Benedict is guilty – but that it does him no good to not speak directly to the matters at hand.


The problem is that Paul VI and his minions muddied these waters from the start.

What's that? You know better than the pope?

and the world was going crazy anyway, which the Church could neither stop nor shut out of herself.

So, the "prophets of doom" were right, then? In which case, John XXIII was perhaps a bit naive in dismissing them? In which case maybe the trads have a point? Nah, couldn't be.

Listening to trads, for the most part, just pisses me off.

No kidding.

What's that? You know better than the pope?

Nope. I was explaining to William Luse why, although there is a problem, the problem is not the stupidity and ill will of most of the clergy. For all I know, Paul VI was right, then, to permit dissent about contraception; after all, unlike some trads, I do not believe I bask from a distance in the charism of infallibility. But now that a secondary Vatican department has quietly written that the doctrine is irreformable, a bit more clarity and forthrightness from the Pope and the CDF might make clear to such clergy what now seems clear only to a small minority. If that happens, of course, they'd get no credit from the trads, who will just say: "Told ya so." That's the sort of attitude that pisses me off.

So, the "prophets of doom" were right, then? In which case, John XXIII was perhaps a bit naive in dismissing them? In which case maybe the trads have a point? Nah, couldn't be.

My own opinion, which helps two bucks get me a cup of coffee, is that John was both wrong to dismiss the doomsayers and right to think a council was necessary anyhow. That's because I believe things would now be even worse than they are if Vatican II hadn't happened. I concede there's no way to know that for sure. But neither did the doomsayers, then and now, have any way of knowing that it isn't so. This is all speculation. What I'm saying is that trads shouldn't allow speculation, and outright fallacies such as post hoc ergo propter hoc, to rationalize trying to turn an ecumenical council into a dead letter.

Mr Cronin:

I mostly agree with you that the problem among the bishops, including the papacy, is "power"—more precisely, the exercise of authority without a commensurate taking of responsibility. That is a problem in all sectors of society today, especially business and government. The Catholic hierarchy deserves specially pointed criticism for failing to recognize the problem in its own ranks. If you had read my post more carefully, you would have been able to see that such is my view. But perhaps I just didn't make it clear enough.

That said, I think you missed the larger point of my post, which is about the necessity of forgiveness for anything good to come out of this disaster. Forgiveness is necessary all round for healing, but it should go without saying that there can be no healing if the sins in question are not recognized and repented of. The first step has been taken: the bishops have come to recognize the full scope and nature of the original sex-abuse problem, albeit too slowly and only with the help of the Church's enemies. The next step will be to confront and admit what it is about clerical culture, including the Vatican's, that facilitated both the original problem and the systemic coverup thereof.

That's going to be a lot harder. The bishops won't be able to shift the blame onto a few sickos and pretend they've solved the problem by adopting bureaucratic procedures to keep other sickos out. They're going to have to see and admit to themselves how they are the problem. But if you know anything about human nature, you know how hard it is for people in general to do that—especially people who have real authority and power. I suggest we be patient as well as persistent in getting them to see how they are the problem.



I do recall debating you about justification and ecclesiology at the long-defunct blog Pontifications, a site known to some other readers here. I also recall that our debates were largely fruitless. I won't bore people by explaining why that was the case. But I will say that I have no reason to believe that things would be any different now, about the present issue. Given as much, I shall simply state my response: not as an invitation to further debate, but simply to let you and others know what I think is worth taking seriously in your point.

I have no reason to doubt that, if you personally knew of negligence on the part of public-school officials in the matter of statutory rape, you would be outraged and inclined to take appropriate action. The same could probably be said of a lot of other people, including myself. But that is irrelevant to my post. I argued that there's a particular reason why there's no generalized furor about sexual abuse in public schools even though there is such a furor about sexual abuse in Catholic settings. That reason is hatred of the Catholic Church.

As a faithful Catholic, I want to hold the bishops' feet to the fire about their role in facilitating and covering up the sex-abuse problem. As I said to Mr Cronin above, the bishops and the Pope need to see how they have failed to take responsibility commensurate with their authority. But the suggestion that the media are right to be specially outraged by their failures in that regard, without also being outraged by similar problems in other spheres, is itself outrageous. That is only further evidence for me that debating you is a waste of time. So please don't waste my time.



I do feel that at the moment (am i wrong to say this?) any talk other than getting to the root of the failure of the bishops is only opening yourself to charges of trying to defend the situation etc. Whilst i dont agree with arresting the pope its a sad day for the church that the main people forcing the bishops to look at their sin is non-christians...but Praise God at least somebody is.


So as not to derail this thread even further than I've invited, I shall just give you two links about the Pope on limbo. Please read the corresponding pages, and if you're still interested in the topic, post something new of your own and I'll respond.

1. News item: http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0506867.htm

2. From a trad site, which accurately represents the Pope's view: http://www.traditioninaction.org/ProgressivistDoc/A_067_RatzLimbo.htm



I am confused about where you think I suggesed "that the media are right to be specially outraged by their failures in that regard, without also being outraged by similar problems in other spheres".

I understand if you are not interested in debating me. That is fine. But I would appreciate some clarification from you about why you think I am saying something that I didn't mean to say.

I don't mean to say that hatred of the Catholic church has nothing to do with what is going on. Sure it does. But if a reporter has good reason to believe that there might be abuse going on in this or that place, in this or that place or situtaion - and he fails to try to get the facts - and perhaps fails to figure out how it could have happened - than the reporter is being negligient.

And in the case of the reporter, it should not matter who is the one doing the abusing - whether they are affiliated with a larger global organization called the Catholic Church, or a larger national system called the public school system.

If there is a head of the public school system (I have no idea whether there is - would that be Arnie Duncan?) who has written a letter suggesting to a district that they consider the larger good of the district or the national public school system, I would say that is significant.

And if a reporter has found himself caught up in circumstances that lead him to that point, so be it. Hopefully, he will do a good job in bringing sunlight to the issue.


Attitudinally, each side thinks they know better than the highest authorities of the Church what the Church ought to be teaching and doing.

Michael L, there is a distinct difference in the traditional view of what the Church appears to be saying today that appears different from 100 years ago, and what the progressive view is of that apparent difference. The traditional view holds that the traditional teaching, taught for 100's of years at least, with clear roots going back 2000 years, is to be maintained as true. (This is the essence of traditional attitude.) What they are distressed by is that a current teaching was proposed and set forward for the Church without clearly setting forth, at the same time, the explicit hermenuetic of continuity, the visible expression of how the new and the old are compatible. There have been several times with new teaching where the teaching authorities themselves said, roughly, "how this is to be squared with prior teaching is something that we'll have to study and see about later." This was stated by the cardinals in charge of Dignitatis Humanae. This failure to explicitly account for the apparent difference, failure to lay to rest an apparent contradiction, failure to respect the sensibilities and intellects of those who have been taught the traditional teaching all their lives, seems a fundamentally inappropriate way to go about expressing development of doctrine. However true the new teaching is, its truth is not MORE true than the truth of its compatibility with the old truth. And teaching the new without teaching that compatibility directly and visibly would seem to constitute an injustice. That failure is, itself, the root of the hermenuetic of discontinuity. (I am not, by the way, a traditionalist in any sense the usual traditionalists would accept: I don't attend the old mass more than very infrequently, and I don't think that DH was heretical, and I do think that Lefevre was schismatic for ordaining those bishops.)

Not similarly, the progressives want the Church to say things that are new and have NEVER been taught for 2000 years. Some of those new things they want taught may be true; but wanting them taught without first ensuring their compatibility with the old teachings - indeed, thinking them to be true while not much caring whether they are compatible with the old - is right smack in the heart of the hermenuetic of discontinuity.

Also: I take issue with your comment that both sides feel that they know better than the highest authorities what the Church ought to do (and they both, therefore, are in the wrong). I don't believe you quite hit the nail on the head. Catholics are obliged to assent to doctrines and teachings put forward by the Church: with assent of faith, or with theological assent, etc. We are NOT obliged to assent to the wisdom of juridical acts made by any of the Church authorities. When my bishop says that I have to do X, then I have to assent to the action. But there is no sin in thinking he is out to lunch in his decision. (For example, I think he was out to lunch in his decision in 2005 to allow altar girls in the diocese. He presumably had the authority to do so, but that doesn't make it a wise decision.) When we say that the Holy Spirit writes straight with crooked lines, we do NOT mean that the crooked lines were really the wise and prudent course of action that only _looked_ crooked. We mean that even though they were evil, or imprudent, or unwise, the Holy Spirit will end up bringing good out of them anyway. That does not justify those who made such bad choices.

The fact that the Church (meaning: the laity) go around acclaiming people as holy and worthy of reverence, before the Church officials decide the matter, is not a situation of hubris, it is part of what the laity DO. Like going to Fatima in the tens of thousands before Church approval. It is precisely on account of such widespread lay response that the Church undertakes the investigations that can result in a declaration of sanctity for a holy person, or a declaration of validity for apparitions. The fact that the laity go around giving JPII the appellation "the Great" suggests that the laity have a right to judge whether he affected their Church greatly or not. If they don't have that right, then we should not permit lay people to refer to JPII as "the Great" until the Church approves this title. (Of course, she never will if the people don't ask for it.)

Obedience as a virtue lies in that habit of soul where one gives the ready assent of doing what one is commanded to do by legitimate authority. It has nothing to do with the intellectual assent that such command is wise or worthwhile. There is, in fact, great merit in a subordinate carrying out readily and cheerfully what he knows, without a shadow of doubt, is actually a stupid order. But there is no virtue at all in thinking a stupid order is prudent.


Two main points.

First, I'm rather puzzled that you seem to think I don't want the laity to address informed opinions to the hierarchy, to make proposals, to protest clear injustices, or even, apparently, to acclaim people as holy without clerical permission. I've done such things myself, in public. I've done a few of them in this very thread, starting with the post itself. I am sometimes pretty hard on the hierarchy, when that seems called for, which it is in the case of the sex-abuse scandal. What I object to is the assumption, common to many progs and trads, that they know better than Rome how to steer the barque of Peter quite generally.

It may well be that, in certain instances, some laity have a better idea about how to handle a particular issue than their own bishops or even the Vatican itself. When that is the case, let them make their case respectfully and firmly. That's not what I'm concerned about. What I'm deeply concerned about is things like pooh-poohing an ecumenical council as, at best, unnecessary and, at worst, downright misleading. That's what many trads do. Obversely, I object to invoking a conveniently protean idea called "the spirit of Vatican II" to castigate Rome for refusing to jettison important but unpopular doctrines that have been taught with diachronic consensus by the episcopate for as long as we have records. That's what many progs do. I object to these things because they are objectively unjustified, both in themselves and in the context of the hierarchical constitution of the Church. I do not object to people acting according to their consciences, which they are morally obliged to do even when they are objectively mistaken; when they are, the question whether they are culpable for the state of their conscience is one for God alone to answer. But I am quite disturbed by the bitter polarization in the Church across the board. I attribute that proximately to an unjustified hermeneutic of discontinuity plaguing both poles, and ultimately to a pride that will not let itself be reduced by either fact or argument.

Which brings me to my second point. Many loyal theologians have pointed out, as you have, that the Fathers of Vatican II could have done more to show how the doctrinal and pastoral developments they introduced were compatible with what the Church has taught in the past with her full authority. For example, it would have been desirable and may well have been possible for them to be clearer, in the document itself, how Dignitatis Humanae was compatible with what Catholics were always bound in conscience to believe—or at least to show that the incompatibilities were not to be found among teachings that command the assent of faith. To that extent, I think you're right. But remember that the documents of Vatican II were already and by far more prolix than those of all previous general councils combined. If they had consistently done what you want, the major documents would each have been full-blown theological dissertations. Sorry, wrong genre. Such things are the job of theologians, not the Magisterium. And in point of fact, there is no shortage of academic theologians who have done, and do, just what you call for. But they're not the ones who get the most people's attention. Why?

The progs were able to hijack the narrative of the Council because a story of conflict and discontinuity, with the fusty conservatives bested by the cool liberals, makes for way better copy than a theological dissertation showing that an apparent conflict or discontinuity is either illusory, overblown, or real but not worth worrying about. The trads basically bought that narrative of the Council. It's begun to wear thin, but the theological malcontents on both ends of the spectrum still get more press than what Fr. Neuhaus called "the vital center" of thought in the Church. And so it looks to many people as though, on theological matters, Rome alternates between insular arrogance and downright befuddlement, either too proud to bother tidying things up or too clueless to know how to do so. In general it's not like that, save in certain cases such as the sex-abuse scandal. But that problem is not about doctrine. It's about clerical culture, which definitely needs reform, as I have more than once pointed out. But I hope you now see why, ultimately, my intellectual difficulty with both trads and progs is the same, despite their diametrically opposite goals.


Mike, thanks for the clarification. I thought you were objecting broadcast to lay critique of hierarchy's chosen directions and methods. My mistake.

While it is probably a matter of nuance rather than substantive difference in our views, I (with Dr. Feser) think that there is an important distinction between progs who are in the forefront of a push for the hermenuetic of discontinuity, and the trads who react to that push ( The trads basically bought that [prog] narrative of the Council. ) by tending to pull back from all change. The tendency of each stands differently with respect to the Church's doctrine.

If they had consistently done what you want, the major documents would each have been full-blown theological dissertations. Sorry, wrong genre. Such things are the job of theologians, not the Magisterium.

There is nothing wrong with waiting for the theologians to hash out the issue in debate for a few decades, let the contentions resolve, and then state authoritatively what has been developed non-authoritatively. And when the Church approves the correct teaching, she can then do so within the context of a clear and fullsome discussion that has already aired the issue and the reasons why it is compatible with prior doctrine. That method both develops the doctrine and keeps the hermenuetic of continuity visible.

Jumping the gun by short-circuiting the theological debate would appear to be a sort of impatience with an ordinary development. How many centuries had Catholics taught that Mary was assumed into heaven before it was defined? How long was it taught regularly that the Pope is infallible before that was defined? Is there a problem with waiting for the development to develop before putting the authoritative stamp on it?


Having re-read my comments more carefully, I see that it appears that I did exactly what you said that I did, namely suggest that the media are right to "be specially outraged by the [RCC's] failures".

I then went on to talk about how reporters should pursue the facts and claims to facts about abuse cases wherever they find themselves confronted with such things.

So, it looks like I need to make up my mind.

I heartily apologize for “feeling misrepresented” by you. I hope that you accept my apologies.

I guess what I really want to say is this:

Reporters should never shy away from revealing great moral evil and great lack of judgment, wherever it occurs. As there is a lot of evil and lack of judgment in the world to reveal, it is true that they will find themselves pursuing some things and not others, for various reasons. However, they should be quick to recognize their inconsistencies (feeling outrage in one circumstance but not another similar circumstance), and realize that pursuing truth with the intent to ultimately destroy something is itself a great moral evil.

Again, I apologize for my carelessness and insensitivity.


Thank you, Nathan.


Jumping the gun by short-circuiting the theological debate would appear to be a sort of impatience with an ordinary development.

If that's meant as a criticism of Vatican II, I don't believe it's justified. Nobody "jumped the gun." In fact, I'm more inclined to think that most of the developments reflected in the V2 documents were long overdue. So I can only see your criticism as an example of what I object to.

Historically, the fact is that the developments in question--theological, liturgical, and political--had been percolating for quite some time among the best Catholic theologians. Not all the opinions of those theologians were sound, of course; but neither did the Council Fathers adopt unsound theological opinions. Perhaps, like Cardinal Ottaviani at the Council, you think it was all rot. And that would be true if what had been in question were actual novelties. But the sounder aspects of what went under the name nouvelle theologie were not novelties, if by that term one means recently invented ideas. The distinctive ideas common to those theologians were "new" only in the sense that Catholic theologians had not been talking about such ideas for at least a millennium prior to the 19th century. What the nouvelle theologie really sought to do was recover a more patristic and biblical way of conceiving the nature/grace relation in general, and of various related questions, such as the nature of the Church, in particular. In short, the "new" theology was the recovery, after centuries of scholasticism and neo-scholasticism, of old theology. The name for that project was ressourcement.

Hence the paradox: the approach that the so-called "conservatives" thought of as dangerously new was really older, in its common substance, than the established approach they favored. As a young peritus at the Council, Joseph Ratzinger not only got that but advocated for the new that was old. Aside from Hans Küng, who was also a council peritus and friends with Ratzinger at the time, but who soon went off the rails, Ratzinger is the only active theologian who can say that for himself. Perhaps that's mainly why so few people today do get it, and why neither the trads nor the progs truly appreciate him for what he is. Once one gets it, as I did several years ago, one realizes that Vatican II was not jumping the gun at all. It was recovering riches that had long been lost sight of. And by doing so, it made the Church better able to address the contemporary world. Again, a paradox worth savoring.

Allow me to give an example. Ever since the 16th-century discovery of the so-called "New World," Catholic theologians had been debating the question whether, and if so how, it was possible for people who had never had the Gospel preached to them to be saved. Eventually, in 1869, Pope Pius IX asserted that people who are "invincibly ignorant" can be saved even if they die without ever having heard the Gospel. ('Invincibly' here really means 'inculpably'.) In 1949, Pope Pius XII, endorsing the Holy Office's condemnation of Fr. Feeney, maintained that such people could attain "baptism by implicit desire" if, by the power of a grace they didn't recognize as such, they lived by such truth as they did know. In Lumen Gentium , Vatican II incorporated that insight, even footnoting the passage in question, but without using the confusing, technical language of 'implicit desire' in its text. That in turn explains why, instead of repeating the old formula extra ecclesiam nulla salus, LG merely said that the Church is "necessary" for salvation. But how could the Church be necessary for the salvation of people who had never even heard of her? Because she is merely the sign and instrument, the "sacrament" as it were, of the universal grace, won by the merits of Christ, that is sufficient for the salvation of each and every human person--even those who had never heard the Gospel. Such a conception of the Church, and of her role in the lives of people who are not formally members of her, had great consequences for ecumenism and mission. But it could never have gained traction without the recovery, by nouvelle theologians, of what was essentially an older conception of the Church than that which had dominated Catholic thought since the schism with the Orthodox. So the old and useful appeared, to many "conservatives," to be new and destructive.

Of course a lot more explanation is necessary, and has been given in the writings of Ratzinger and other theologians of the past 50 or 60 years. But I think I've focused on the main thing. Aside from Gaudium et spes, which adopts some ideas about modern man that strike me as empirically dubious, the major documents of Vatican II did not introduce any basic theological ideas that hadn't been around for a long time. It's just that most Catholics had never heard of them. I say "Hurrah" for Vatican II.


Historically, the fact is that the developments in question--theological, liturgical, and political--had been percolating for quite some time among the best Catholic theologians.

Once one gets it, as I did several years ago, one realizes that Vatican II was not jumping the gun at all.

I thought of that possibility. It is a historical issue that should be solvable by direct historical documentation. But it doesn't seem to be.

Let me qualify that: I DO think that your comment is valid for the bulk of the documents, Lumen Gentium, and so on. There really is a great deal of turning back to the primitive to try to re-direct the more recent forms of teaching. And I am OK with that. I am not a Council objector.

But, in isolated cases, specific instances that have the MOST impact with trads, it does NOT appear to be the case, like one particular teaching from Dignitatis Humanae. When you have a Council father who is responsible for the text saying he doesn't know how to reconcile the text with tradition, then you have a situation where the development in question has not been percolating for some time, at least not percolating to the extent of discovering the continuity with the past teaching.

So, although I reject the usual trad stance on VII, I sympathize on the isolated cases - even though I agree that since VII, DH has been shown to be compatible with tradition.


The focus of your concern seems to be Dignitatis Humanae, even though I know quite a number of trads who find many more discontinuities in the Council documents than in just that one. I'm quite willing to concede that the Council Fathers really weren't sure how to reconcile DH with something called "tradition" on its topic. But I am quite sure, because I've read their stuff myself, that some thinkers since then have reconciled them. You might want to email Prof. Tom Pink at the University of London about that. If you do, please email me at mliccione@gmail.com, and I'll give you his email address.


that some thinkers since then have reconciled them.

Yes, and I have read them, and I agreed with them that their work reconciles DH with tradition. No problem there. I satisfied on the topic.

Although other documents gave Lefevre heartburn, it was DH that made him adamant in his resistance doctrinally. And while other trads argue about this or that VII issue a lot (like ecumenism), when the chips are down and they feel pressured to show a good argument, it is DH that they fall back on, as the clearest of the problems. Perhaps what most shows that many trads really do have ill will is that they WON'T listen to people like Tom Pink who take their problem seriously, and then accept a real solution. They don't really want there to be a solution, do they?

But it could never have gained traction without the recovery, by nouvelle theologians, of what was essentially an older conception of the Church than that which had dominated Catholic thought since the schism with the Orthodox.

By the way, I have never, never understood this particular trad complaint at all. The Church's teaching (the "new" one, the one that says "outside the Church..." is an incomplete formulation, the one that explains that even those who have never heard of Christ have a chance at salvation) is RIGHT out of St. Thomas Aquinas. His teaching shows it clearly. The Church didn't need to go back to ancient sources to re-discover this little nugget.

That particular complaint comes from the Feeneyites, who are only a minority of trads, though they have a thriving religious community near Boston. The more educated ones know what Aquinas said--which comes, BTW, from Basil the Great and Augustine--but they don't care. They're going by documents with dogmatic force: Innocent III's Unam Sanctam (1302) and Eugene IV's Cantate Domino (1439). On occasion I find myself having to work hard to get certain people to see that those documents don't consign all non-Catholics to the everlasting flames. Some of them never see it.

The more common trad complaint is that Vatican II departed from the traditional doctrine that the Catholic Church "is" the Church of Christ by saying merely that the Church of Christ "subsists in" the Catholic Church. You don't have to read the valuable work of some theologians to see why that just ain't so; this recent CDF instruction should suffice. But on the eve of the SSPX talks in Rome last fall, Bishop Fellay had the nerve to insist that Rome was still trying to "square the circle" on this issue. Not a few trads outside the SSPX agree with him.

Our work is never done.


Perhaps what most shows that many trads really do have ill will is that they WON'T listen to people like Tom Pink who take their problem seriously, and then accept a real solution. They don't really want there to be a solution, do they?

That's probably true of a certain minority of trads, but I would counsel against ascribing ill will to anybody in particular. I think the more obvious problem is that a solution like Tom Pink's takes them out of their intellectual and emotional comfort zones. If they don't "want" there to be a solution, that's probably why.

Michael, for what its worth, I want to applaud your defence of Vatican two. You clearly "get" what it was all about.

The business is of the Church is to teach the truth, tradition takes second place.

Just wanted to inform you that the Vatican in fact DOES do everything they can to protect the priest rather than the victim.
There's actual PHYSICAL proof of this, smuggled out of the Vatican.

The name of the report is:
Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons.

It clearly states that the Vatican is more interested in protecting the offender over the victim.

I have a question:

Is it not so that catholic priests have to more or less swear to protect it from scandal?

Don't mistake this for your typical Catholic bashing comment, view it more as a counter-argument meant to challenge, and not to insult.

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