The Reality of the Traditionalist Ghetto

detroit_motor_city_500_280[1]Hello William,

In your previous letter you mentioned your concerns with the “indult ghetto” mentality that is evident in some (but not all!) traditionalist communities. Another way of saying this is that they tend to separate themselves from the Church at large, focus on only their liturgy and parish, and really not interact with the rest of the Church. While some will attempt to downplay and deny this problem, I don’t really think that’s a smart play.

Instead, I’ll freely grant your problem. The Indult ghetto is real, and it can have a really corrosive effect on traditionalism both in their communities and with their standing among the Church as a whole. While most discussions on this topic will discuss ad nauseam on how much of a problem this really is, I’d like to try something different. I’d like to explain part of the reason why the Indult ghetto came to be, and, more controversially, why it still exists.   To do this I would like to tell you two stories.

The first is of a small community of Latin Mass Catholics. They were given the Latin Mass shortly after the Ecclesia Dei Indult, and over the years built it into a pretty thriving community where in a diocese of closing churches, they were still regularly pulling in 150-200 people every Sunday. Suddenly their mass is moved to 4pm in a Church located in a ghetto right across the street from a strip club. Most people aren’t going to go to that Church at night, and during the winter season it’s dark at 5pm.

They then have their right to advertise the Latin Mass curtailed. Whereas once it was in church bulletins and even announced in local catholic periodicals, now it is no longer allowed.  Part of the condition of having the Latin Mass is you aren’t allowed to broadcast it.

Finally, the pastor of that parish decides to cancel the Latin Mass that day (after the celebrant drove 40 minutes to get there), celebrate an Ordinary Form Mass (when people showed up for a Latin Mass), and during that Mass gives a homily where he tells them to not think about registering at his parish, do not tell anyone you go to that parish, and to not get comfortable because you never know when the Bishop will decide this is no longer needed and shut the whole thing down.

All of this happens to something which Pope John Paul II noted was a “lawful aspiration.”  Some will deny that story, and I can tell them that they are wrong. I know they are wrong because I lived this story, and it happened at the parish where I attended the Latin Mass for 3 years.

While many non-traditionalists will read this story and be outraged, they will say “well that was before Summorum Pontificum and things are better.” They are indeed better in some places. I live in a metro area, which has a thriving traditionalist scene, and Bishops who have welcomed the Latin Mass in their dioceses. Yet I also know this is the exception.

Even with the explosive growth we have seen since the motu proprio, some of the largest dioceses in America put restrictions on the Extraordinary Form that would make the old priest I knew blush. They have to fill out endless paperwork so the Bishop can be satisfied they are “qualified” to offer the Extraordinary Form. They are forbidden from advertising it, so tourists entering an area can drive right by a Latin Mass and be clueless about its existence. Those who try to be advocates for traditionalists to lawfully worship are punished and reassigned. This injustice still exists in 2015, in a relatively trad-friendly landscape such as the United States.  Just imagine how it is in countries less friendly towards the Latin Mass?

The second story involves the Church promoting a series of changes that some people were not fans of. They just wanted to worship the same way they did yesterday without being a heretic or a schismatic. Rather than having their desires rewarded, the Church calls them a “problem” to be solved. That is what they did in Quattuor Abhnic Annos, the 1984 Indult established by the Congregation for Divine Worship regarding the Latin Mass. Imagine that. The way you worship, a worship they recognize is fully Catholic, is a “problem.”

This is not a case of the majority preferring something else. It is you, the minority, holding something they think is wrong, misguided and a source of real conflict in the Church, but politics requires them to address the matter delicately. When you look at them in that fashion, you don’t even bother trying to understand them as Catholics in equal dignity to yourself, but as people you just throw a bone to in the hopes they die off, which was the original plan the Church adopted towards traditionalists. It was only after a genuine schism aided by that animus did the Church realize they had to at least present a surface attempt at change, even if that was mostly a dead letter until Benedict XVI made changes in Church law.

As great as those changes were, even the current prefect of the CDW realizes they are more a pious sentiment than a reality within the dioceses of the world. In many places and even in the highest positions within Rome, traditionalists are looked at as a problem to be managed, still hoping we will die off. No attempts is made to dialogue with us or understand us, we are just given the cold shoulder. In the meantime, every step is made to ensure we don’t grow, and we stay within our communities.

Given this sentiment, is it really shocking that a lot of trads are bitter, and at times fall prey to thinking the worst about those who perpetuate this injustice?  When they protest this, they are told “you can go to the Ordinary Form; it provides just as much grace.” Would anyone who doesn’t attend the Latin Mass accept this as just if the shoe were on the other foot? What if I were to say you should be forced to attend the Latin Mass, because after all, you still get grace? It is a true statement, but would you find it just?

I can condemn this bitter attitude as wrong and counterproductive, but the one thing I will not say is that it is irrational. The attitude makes perfect sense, and often those receiving the bile of traditionalists deserve bile. The only reason we shouldn’t is that it is a cruel world where everyone gets what they deserve, and if we were held to that, hell would certainly be the only possible destination.

You are admirable in that you want traditionalists to leave those enclaves, and you seem to want to welcome them as brothers and equals. I think over the course of this dialogue, you have become more aware to these injustices. You are still a minority, a very small minority in the larger scheme of things. When it comes to the traditionalist (or indult) ghetto, even the loftiest of behavior by traditionalists would not change its reality. The Indult ghetto exists because it takes a Church of millions to create it, and it takes a Church of millions to hold traditionalists back in their ghettos.

By all means exhort traditionalists to live the Beatitudes and carry this injustice with a serene countenance. But this injustice will not end until Catholics of goodwill who aren’t traditionalists stand up and oppose that injustice. So if you want it to end, I will only ask you:  what can you do to end it?

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