Catholic Apologetics

Entries in Fr. Z (2)



Brief commentary on:


It is interesting how popes before the conciliar age seem to have had no problems whatsoever being "misunderstood" in the way Pope Francis is.  This actually has very little do with the "communications age".  Popes gave newspaper interviews in times past - of course, they gave them *prudently*, referring to both whom they spoke to, how often, and what they said.  They simply never said the kinds of things this pope does.


We didn't have such problems of misunderstanding previously because until recent times a pope would not give a reply like "Who am I to judge?" to general questions about homosexual behavior, with no qualification.  Such a reply begs for clarification!  It most clearly requires clarification: are you talking about homosexual temptation or behavior?  As everyone knows, to the world, these two things are so closely related as to be the same topic.


Popes are bound to speak clearly about the truths of the faith.  Vatican I - in what is an actual, binding teaching made with precise language - defined the papal mandate thus: "For the holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.


Are we witnessing the truths of the faith "religiously guarded" and "faithfully expounded" here?


It is a fact that people - apparently in large numbers - are using the pope's words to justify grave sin (his "slogans" appear on the websites and t-shirts of pro-abortion and pro-homosexual groups - again this is new ground from even previous post-conciliar pontiffs).  Whether or not he's been "misinterpreted, this ought to scare the heck out of the supreme pontiff.  I recall reading one story of a particular judgement rendered by a mystic-saint.  The subject was an artist who had painted one risque portrait; he was held accountable by God for every sin it induced.  How much more accountable is the holy father, the Vicar of Christ on Earth, Pastor of Souls, Head of the Universal Church?


"Mercy is what we give to people who have done something wrong" - indeed.  What is the point of this comment - and many of the others - other than to say what wasn't said, or rather to expound by inference if not by assumption?  Are we hearing Pope Francis's sermon (fervorino) or Fr. Z's?  (Or Jimmy Akin or any number of the other pundits that "explain" the pope's interviews and sermons for us?  The point of a sermon itself is to explain; it should not require an explanation of itself.)


"He says nothing that forms a part of his Ordinary Magisterium."  If that's true (it is, of course), why the Pollyannaic defense?  (Of course, it's debatable whether or not Evangelii Gaudium is part of the magisterium.  Cardinal Burke said 'no', more or less, but then he lost his job shortly afterward.  That encyclical enshrines the teaching that the Old Covenant is still salvific, despite the constant witness of the Church to the opposite position.)


Just as "reading in the small" (proof-texting) is a (Protestant) method of Scriptural exegesis that leads very often to error, one will rarely - or not as readily - spot modernism by examining individual statements.  As Pius IX stated in that great encyclical, "Hence in their books you find some things which might well be expressed by a Catholic, but in the next page you find other things which might have been dictated by a rationalist".


Now, of course, the neo-Catholics immediately bristle at the association of the supreme pontiff with modernism.  But such a reaction is simply nonsensical.  Like other post-conciliar popes, Pope Francis is clearly influenced by the modernist theologians who were suppressed by the Holy Office in the 1940s and 50s (yet in several cases went on to become the council periti).  Beyond that, the man who is widely-regarded as his principle advisor shocked the Catholic world (even the liberals) not long ago when he declared that Vatican II marked the end of the Church's fight against modernism.  (So much for Pascenci, the Syllabus, and in general the popes of the 19th & early 20th centuries.)


It is most curious that the dogma "don't criticize the pope" was born at the very time such criticism is most pressingly necessary.  (Necessary?  The 1983 Code of Canon law tells Catholic laymen that they have the duty to publicly correct wayward prelates.)  It is at this very time when neo-Catholic apologists have cultivated a cult-of-personality around the pope (not without assistance) and implicitly forbid any criticism of any statement or action (except perhaps by "saints in the making").


The whole thing makes even less sense when we see individuals who will criticize bishops in the sharpest manner possible but refuse to call the Bishop of Rome (as he prefers to be known, in the spirit of the novelty of congiality) on exactly the same issues.  As noted, the supreme pontiff has the greatest responsibility of all to maintain the faith & teach it clearly.


This is one of those oft-repeated traditionalist quotes, yet perhaps it is not repeated enough:


"Peter has no need for our lies or flattery.  Those who blindly and indiscriminately defend every decision of the supreme pontiff are the very ones who do the most to undermine the authority of the Holy See - they destroy instead of strengthening its foundations." - Theologian of the Council of Trent Bishop Melchior Cano


We have now seen the Franciscans of the Immaculate brutally suppressed - that is really an appropriate word.  Due to a vague accusation of, more or less, not toeing the Vatican II line on the new orientation and the new Mass on the part of six priests, out of more than four hundred, all four hundred are now forbidden to offer the Mass of All Time, in a very direct violation of Summorum Pontificum, whilst, as usual, tens or hundreds of thousands of heterodox priests are left undisturbed.


Who's next?  In previous pontificates it was a sure bet that that ICK or FSSP would not be gutted because they were created to counter the Society of St. Pius X, and to suppress them would be to simply drive the faithful there, but in this new, perhaps final stage of said Revolution the powers that be may no longer care enough about the wants of "restorationists" or even the growing of the ranks of the Society to maintain the previous status quo.  This remains to be seen.


These traditional-minded folks (Latin Mass-goers, for this purpose) who remain blithely unaware of the dangers of this pontificate, and of the root causes of post-conciliar orientation in general, are like the proverbial frog in the pot.  The water is hot already.  You may be used to it, but it is hot.  


A Brief Response to Fr. Z

The well-known [neo] Catholic blogger Fr. Z has provided a brief opinion regarding Bishop Fellay's recent comments prompted by Pope Francis' recent eyebrow-raising interviews.  (One's eyebrows will, of course, remain firmly fixated if one has swallowed the Red Pill and learned to perpetually "read Francis through Benedict", of course.)


Fr. Z claims that the blunt response of the bishop to what are, at the very least, to anyone who is able to see and hear and understands Catholic theology, confusing, obtuse, and seemingly scandalous statements indicates that the Society of St. Pius Xth is now, indeed, on the road to "schism".  Whenever we see this word used in relation to the Society we can be fairly certain that the individual throwing it about is either unclear regarding its definition, has no understanding of the purpose and history of the Society, is using it as a sort of slur, or two or more of the above.  This case is no exception.


Of course, nothing fundamental has changed with the Society, which does not and has never had a schismatic spirit.  What has changed is that, tragically, the Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church has chosen, not once, but now on several occasions, to make the sort of statements that, unfortunately, do call for such a strong response for the sake of the faithful.


Before I continue, here are two good recent commentaries on this scandal (that's what it is):


In addition, here is an extended radio interview with John Vennari, who makes some excellent points as well:


In order to ascertain whether Fr. Z's musings here are near the mark, let's explore a bit the facts of the general case: the history of the Society, its attitude, and the basis for the charge of "schism" that has rung out again and again from neo-Catholic quarters.


Canon Law Says There Is No Schism


In the 1983 Code, illicit consecration of a bishop is not a schismatic act.  That is because a schismatic act is one which denies the divine right of the superior to command.  Such was never the attitude of the Society or Archbishop Lefebvre: if he did not recognize the office of the papacy he would not have gone to the great efforts he did to obtain official permission for the consecrations he saw as direly necessary.  


In other words, disobedience does not imply schism: a schismatic act includes the intetion of denying the superior's very right to act.  Such is the attitude toward the papacy of, for example, the schismatic Orthodox.


The Code, in other parts, makes it clear that it is possible for a state of necessity to exist that creates the inability to obey an ecclesiastic command.  The Church knows that the true obedience must always be in service of the Faith: obedience has as its true end the service of God.  And, so, the theologians (including the two greatest Doctors of the Church) have been careful to point out that the possibility of the necessity to disobey a valid ecclesiastical superior exists:


Bellarmine: "Just as it is lawful to resist the pope that attacks the body, it is also lawful to resist the one who attacks souls or who disturbs civil order, or, above all, who attempts to destroy the Church. I say that it is lawful to resist him by not doing what he orders and preventing his will from being executed."


Suarez: “If the pope gives an order contrary to right customs, he should not be obeyed; if he attempts to do something manifestly opposed to justice and the common good, it will be lawful to resist him; if he attacks by force, by force he can be repelled, with a moderation appropriate to a just defense.”

Note that these statements imply that it is possible for an individual Catholic to know, in general, what is of the faith and what is opposed to it (especially for an Archbishop who earned his doctrorate in theology at one of the most prestigious Roman universities).  This alone puts to bed the neo-Catholic obfuscation that anyone who claims that any action, statement, or teaching from any ecclesiastic source is actually false or against the faith, he is "behaving like a Protestant" and foolishly believes himself to be "more Catholic than the Pope".


St. Thomas says similar things; though he does not seem to address the question of refusing a command, such is implied by the notion of "resistance": "To resist openly and in public goes beyond the measure of fraternal correction. St. Paul would not have done it towards St. Peter if he had not in some way been his equal... We must realize, however, that if there was question of a danger for the faith, the superiors would have to be rebuked by their inferiors, even in public."


The 1983 Code (1323, 1324) speaks of a "state of necessity" that abrogates the enforcement of ecclesiastical law.  It does not, however, define the attributes of such a state; what is implied is that the Church's "chain of command" is effectively broken.  Given the apparent diabolical disorientation under which the Pope was furthering the "self-demolition" (Paul VI's words) of the Church, it was.


No one who reads the Archbishop's sermons and speeches from the time before the episcopal consecrations could fail to see that he acted out of love for the Church and grave concern for its future if, by his death, his Society, which really, actually was the only ecclesiastic body in the Church faithfully preserving Tradition (that this statement is factual becomes clear with a clear understanding of Tradition) failed.  His enemies were indeed attempting to snuff out the last & only refuge of pre-conciliar thinking: the Rite of Mass as handed down from the Apostles, never changed in substance before the Council, the actual Church teachings on religious liberty and ecumenism, and scores of other subjects, doctrinal and practical, tainted then by the modernism that had taken root.  A study of the time & circumstances makes this clear.


A great, great deal of ink has been spilled regarding these points and I don't pretend to be adding anything original to the discussion here.  It remains completely clear that one who violates a law out of what he believes is necessity, even if he is incorrect, incurs no canonical penalty whatsoever, much less could be said to be acting in a schismatic spirit.  Archbishop Lefebvre certainly believed his actions were necessary for the very furtherance of the Church, for the Church's primary mission on Earth, the salvation of souls, and that is actually all that is necessary under canon law to avoid any penalty for performing an act that is not intrinsically evil (consecrating a bishop is intrinsically good).  I also believe that a proper reading of the times and situation shows the Archbishop's belief to have been firmly grounded in reality.  One must understand this crisis in the Church to understand why what the Archbishop did was necessary. 


As respected German canonist Dr. Georg May has stated, "The SSPX is not schismatic because she neither rejects the subordination to the Roman Pontiff nor rejects the communion with the bishops." He goes on to note that "Rather, the latter reject communion with the Society."  Exactly!


The Vatican Says There Is No Schism


The Vatican has made it clear on many occasions and in many ways that no state of schism has ever existed:


- Ecclesia Dei has responded to inquiries about the Sunday Mass obligation being satisfied by Mass at Society chapels in the positive.  This would not be possible if Society priests were outside the Church.


- The former head of Ecclesia Dei, Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, has publicly stated many times - at least five - that the Society's priests (much less the faithful) are not in schism.  Here is one source:


- Vatican officials have also referred to the canonical status of the Society's priests as an "internal matter" of the Church: this implies, again, there is no schism, as schismatics are outside the Church by definition.


- The latae sententiae excommunications (if they ever existed, which is doubtful) were lifted by Pope Benedict XVI with no recantation of any statement or position required of any of the subjects.  Schismatics cannot be rejoined to the Church until they recant the doctrinal errors that caused their separation.  (Not only have the Society's bishops or priests never held any doctrinal error, there is no body of clergy more faithful to all Catholic teaching than the SSPX.)  The very fact that the supreme pontiff declared the excommunications lifted in the manner he did suggests that they were indeed never valid.


They Don't Act Like Schismatics


If the Society were, or ever had been, of a schismatic mentality, they would have done what all schismatic groups do: set up an ecclesiastic structure (bishops with territorial jurisdiction) in competition with that of the True Church, the Roman Catholic Church.  


To quote Michael J. Matt of The Remnant: "The SSPX has never set up the much-feared petite eglise ["little church']; the Society has never attempted to elect its own pope or even confer territorial jurisdiction on its own bishops. Approve or disapprove of the SSPX’s irregular canonical standing, it is hardly difficult to recognize that for more than forty years the SSPX has been guided by men driven by three primary concerns:  the defense of doctrine, the preservation of Catholic Tradition, and the good of souls."


If the Society were a schismatic group, the Archbishop would never have gone to the lengths he did for an accord with the Vatican to allow him to continue to simply operate (in the face of a canonically-invalid persecution).  Nor would Bishop Fellay have engaged in the recent meetings that, sadly, did not come to fruition, due to the Society's refusal - inability - to compromise the Faith.


Schismatic groups, by definition, believe they are the Church, and do not negotiate with the See of Peter which they do not even recognize for proper canonical status in a Church they claim is false.




Fr. Z does show some prudence and intelligence: at least he is not dogmatically declaring the Society to already be in schism, as so many neo-Catholic writers have, despite all the evidence above and in contradiction of the Vatican.


I generally avoid descending into the subjective, but perhaps this ubiquitous habit of calling "schism!" (or even "maybe schism - watch out!) calls for a bit of armchair psychoanalysis.  Is this habit perhaps a kind of defense mechanism?  Dismissing them out-of-hand means one needn't take a close look at the Society, its history, and the true state of the Church then and now.  


Yet, as the years slip by, we see cracks in the Great Facade appear.  We now have Cardinal Kasper's (yes, the same Cardinal Kasper who publicly thumbs his nose at extra ecclesium nulla salus, encouraging interested parties not to join the Catholic Church, with never any reprimand or correction) stunning admission that the documents of the council "themselves have a huge potential for conflict, [and] open the door to a selective reception in either direction."  We have Rome insider Monsignor Gherardini's equally startling suggestion that "the authentic ‘spirit’ of the Council is... allied with the ‘counter-spirit’" - that is to say, that the Council itself is to blame for this present horrid crisis of the faith rather than some "false" spirit of it.  And we have our recently retired holy father Benedict XVI completely re-opening the Third Secret "controversy" by declaring that those who would claim the Secret's fulfillment lies in the past are "deluding themselves" (this is highly relevant to the crisis).


My personal experience is that the SSPX clergy are among the most thoroughly Catholic I have encountered.  By that I mean that, not only do they know, accept, and love all Catholic doctrine and dogma, but they are Catholic in their spirit as well - a spirit devoid of any hint of bitterness in this time of insanity.  This lack of bitterness is, of course, crucial, for bitterness is not only a poison that taints the soul, but one that clouds the mind as well.  The Society priest at the chapel we attends exhorts us frequently to pray for the Pope, and we certainly do, more fervently than ever.


Understanding the Society ultimately comes down to understanding this crisis for what it is: those who cannot see these things clearly will not be able to understand that the Society's position is the correct one.


While countless abject heretics enjoy "full communion" (an ultimately meaningless phrase - one is in the Church or out of it), the Society's priests and bishops, who are completely dedicated to the Four Last Things, to serving the Church's primary mission, will continue to wait patiently for Rome to return to Eternal Rome.