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Is Traditionalism Being Hijacked by Anger?

man screamingDear Kevin,

I was greatly moved by your last piece. It’s uniquely evident in your writing that you have a strong faith and genuine concern for the Church, regardless of any disagreements I may have.

“There will always be a need in the Church for the prophetic voice that traditionalism provides. Like the Old Testament, in times of crisis and renewal, prophets came to remind the people to, in the present, return to the God of their past (their tradition), so that the future may be different. Such a call is always valid and needed.”

I admire and agree with this call, and I’ve personally witnessed its fruit in local parishes, especially among young people (OF Millennials and TLM Millennials alike) . From what I can tell, Eucharistic adoration, confession, the observance of Holy Days of Obligation, and proper fasting are on the rise. Some might scoff at this and ask why Catholics meeting the requirements of their faith is something to celebrate. But that would be to ignore the reality of the last 50 years. At this point in time, we are witnessing a small resurgence of obedience in the Church, and we must welcome the Prodigal Son.

I have no doubt that Summorum Pontificum has played a key role in reviving reverence and tradition in Ordinary Form parishes, and I agree with Notre Dame professor Margot Fassler that “in order to restore balance going forward, future reforms of the Roman rite will need to be able to access the pre-Conciliar tradition, not merely as a text in a book, but as a living form.”

But I think the conservative direction of the Church is experiencing its own “70’s Church” moment; where a certain momentum in the Church, likely spurred on by the Holy Spirit, is hijacked by ideologues. As I’ve mentioned, I have serious qualms and concerns with the traditionalist Catholic ghetto mentality, where “modernist Church” bashing and Vatican II conspiracies run rampant. I think it’s a result of the tragic fact that Michael Voris and Fr. Z are admired by many traditionalists. Guys like Voris and Fr. Zuhlsdorf have massive influence and a huge following, but they accomplish very little. Their biggest contribution is coining phrases like “the Church of nice” or the drawing distinctions between those who are “Catholic” and those who are “catholic” — items useful only for the maintenance of a Catholic bunker mentality.

The Church Militant/Fr. Z crowd worry me much more than say, Fr. Reese and the National Catholic Reporter crowd, because while both are ideologues, the former has tenfold the influence of the latter.

Over the course of this dialogue it’s become clear that you’re no more like Voris or Fr. Z than I am. But it’s also likely that you’re not as worried about those guys, and the movement they embody, as I am. Perhaps that’s not true. But I would like to know your assessment of those two very popular Catholic traditionalists (do you consider them traditionalists?) and the degree to which they harm the Catholic mind.

[editor’s note: this letter is part of a series on the role of traditionalists within the Church today. Read the entire discussion here.]


William Bornhoft is a freelance Catholic writer based in St. Paul, Minnesota. You may contact him wmbornhoft@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @WilliamStPaul
  • Gina101

    I’m tired of those more Catholic than the Pope and more Christian than Christ. Humility does not show itself through pride.

    • steve5656546346

      Actually, there have been a number of Popes who were not all that Catholic: Popes which you should certainly HOPE you were more Catholic than. There have been bad Popes: that is just a fact.

      The notion that each Pope defines each moment what is Catholic: by every word he does and omits. By his every action and inaction. No, the Church is something deeper and more profound that any current occupant of the Chair of Peter.

    • guest

      Me, too!!! I love all the changes of V11, especially the mass in English with deacons and lay ministers assisting the priest. Before V11 I always knew what my obligations were, but I did not know anyone named Jesus who loves me. Over the years I have known many others who enjoyed the same great awakening I did after the council. I thank God for all the blessed changes in the mass that speak so well to me of the gospel of our dear Lord. It is so disheartening to read all the put down @ V11 and the English mass in popular blogs. The TLM is not a panacea for all our ills, nor is it the key to evangelization; how we talk and live our lives inspires others to live for Jesus. However, I know this is not what you want to read.

      • guest

        Gina, I made an error with my last sentence, not at all meant for you. Please forgive me. I meant to write: I know this is not what many people want to read nowadays. I momentarily forgot who I was responding to. So sorry, again.

  • Stu

    Sometimes I think people who are active on the Internet mistakenly believe that the Internet necessarily reflects reality. Most Catholics, whether they identify themselves as traditionalists or not, probably have no idea of what goes on in the online battles between Catholic tribes.

    For every Michael Voris out there, there is an equally negative Mark Shea ready to hyper-fixate on how other Catholics aren’t making the grade. It’s the “World’s Greatest Catholics of All Time” against the “World’s Greatest Catholic Bloggers of All Time.” And they are all famous in their own living rooms.

  • I would take issue with the notion that Father Zuhlsdorf is responsible for stirring up emotion among traditional Catholics. Quite the opposite, he encourages calm, reflection, personal reform, and respect for the papal office (the latter at times in spite of how things may seem). If you don’t believe it, take a look at how he polices his own combox.

    The experience of “Father Z” with working in the Vatican comes into play as he tells his readers the right way and the wrong way to seek redress for grievances, and how to put certain ecclesiastical machinations in the proper perspective.

    But more than that, he is a voice, not only heard by the faithful, but elsewhere. If a scandal of local import is reported on his page, if there is a problem, someone in Rome is reading about it. If it is worthy of his attention, it is worthy of theirs. The formalities of resolution may still have to run their course, but it is safe to presuppose that certain informal conversations may already be taking place.

    Thus the internet becomes a powerful tool, for all the right reasons, and there is good reason why the Catholic Herald referred to the humble and unassuming ex-Lutheran as “the world’s most powerful Catholic blogger.”

  • steve5656546346

    I’ve been doing a lot of research about the English literary revival (that is called “the 3rd Spring” by some): it was tremendously successful in attracting converts including many intellectuals and writers! Now, they would be considered to be writing from a “Catholic ghetto”, but that would be absurd: as the conversions showed!

    But then, the notion became popular that being Catholic was not a ADVANTAGE in writing–the fullness of faith was no longer seen as providing special insights. Rather, Catholics should seek to be good writers–in secular terms–who just happened to be Catholic. And conversions dropped like a stone in the run up to Vatican II.

    Here was the buzz word that was the “justification” for the decline: “Catholic Ghetto.” That was the term used to justify the muting of the Catholic voice, and the compromise with secular culture.

    The “ghetto” claim was bogus from the very begging! There was Catholic Action, and all manner of out reach. It was modernist hubris.

  • steve5656546346

    This poses a profound issue: does human nature change? That is, we know that the DOCTRINE of Christ is eternal: valid for every person in every country during every period of time. But how about the APPROACH of the Prophets, Christ, the Apostles, and the Saints? Was that just culturally conditioned?

    If not–if Christ is for all ages in this respect too–then it simply is not possible that some new approach could be found some 2,000 years after the Church was founded. Granted, the approaches might need to transmitted using new technology, but the approach should remain the same. For example, if Christ talked about hell as being a very real possibility–if not the norm–then the modern Church should as well. If the Church in the past did not see its mission as endlessly praising other religions, then perhaps we should not either.

  • Discerning

    I favor liturgical reform and more traditional mass. That said, the more I watch Pope Francis, the more I cannot deny that it’s really a First World problem. It’s not that liturgy is unimportant, but I do think there are higher priorities. “When I was hungry, you made sure the mass was offered in Latin.”

    • Except it isn’t really that.

      I’ll gladly debate anybody that the Latin Mass, when you actually looks at it, emphasizes evangelization about a thousand times more than the Ordinary Form. Everything from the Ordo to the symbolism to the propers, all of it is very evangelical in its outlook. The thing is, it gives evangelism substance.

      Now are there barriers with the language? Yes. Have trads forgotten a lot of this because of a generation of marginalization and isolation, being viewed as second class Catholics, including by this pope? you bet. Has this papacy given us an opportunity to show how traditionalism can actually accomplish the goals he desires, but do it better? Absolutely. And that needs to be developed more.

      But if you read any of this lengthy discussion, the works of Joseph Shaw and other young promising trads, the last thing you would say is we look at it as “I was hungry, you made sure the Mass was offered in Latin.”

      • Shawn McElhinney

        [I’ll gladly debate anybody that the Latin Mass, when you actually looks at it, emphasizes evangelization about a thousand times more than the Ordinary Form.]

        Based on what? So many missions which originally had some success failed throughout the world (particulately in Asia and Africa) when prelates tried to force missionaries to use Latin and sought to suppress the use of vernacular tongues and this happened well before Vatican II. It makes sense that a liturgy understood will evangelize more effectively than one not so understood but even so, art and architecture evangelizes with greater effect as do people who live their faith.

        • That wasn’t what I was saying. My point is more the structure of the Extraordinary Form is meant to promote evangelism, from the canon being modeled after Isaiah’s vision of heaven, to the Last Gospel’s meditation where Christ becomes incarnate in our hearts and we are sent out in the world to announce him.

          That structure exists in a lesser form in the Ordinary Form, and is mostly contingent upon the priest using the correct options.

      • Discerning

        Point taken. I was referring more to the culture of the trad community where I live. They are constantly up in arms about something that needs to be “reformed.” Currently they’ve decided they need to purge the Freemasons from the diocese and to castigate any priest who gives them sacraments. It’s no wonder they can’t grow their numbers enough to get their own priest. Right now they have only a diocesan priest who kindly learned the TLM to minister to them and the trads give him nothing but grief. I don’t want to participate in their community because I have more important things to do than to mind everybody else’s business. There is no emphasis on works of charity (or any other work of mercy), only fixing the latest non-trad target.

        Thanks for the discussion, by the way.

  • judethom

    I love the TLM and all things traditional. I think the Novus Ordo Mass is a joke and mostly Protestant but I am distressed because so many traditionalist Catholics are so mean and angry and just plain awful people.