Why We Should Stop Saying “Radical Traditionalist” and “Rad Trad”

Pope Benedict XVI with Coat of ArmsA few weeks ago, Catholic Answers live did a show on “radical traditionalism” that drew the ire of traditionalists across the board, “radical” and otherwise.  The two senior apologists hosting the show took to the Catholic Answers blog to defend their show from the “Radical Traditionalists” and “mad-trad” point of view.  They have also promised that on August 12, they would devote another show to the issue, in the hopes of clarifying any misunderstandings.  If they really want to help with these misunderstandings, the first thing they must do is the thing they will be least inclined to do:  drop the moniker “radical traditionalist” and “radtrad” entirely.  At best the phrase is a relic of a time that is no longer relevant.  At worst, the term is creating animosity and perpetuating a growing sense of tribalism within Catholicism, especially in America.

When these individuals used the phrase “radical traditionalist”, they offered what they felt was a useful distinction.  They had no problem with the “good” traditionalist who loves the Latin Mass, has a large Catholic family, and frequently do heroic work for the pro-life cause.  Their problem is with the “radical” traditionalists, those who believe the Second Vatican Council formally teaches error, that the Ordinary Form of the Mass is invalid/evil, and who separate themselves from communion with the Roman Pontiff.  That they find this distinction useful only proves one thing; they don’t actually know any traditionalists.

If we take this distinction seriously, then how can one not say that implicit in all traditionalists is a rebellious spirit that will embrace erroneous views or enter into schism?  Let us set the record straight:  Stating an ecumenical council actually teaches heretical doctrine is wrong no matter who makes that claim.  Deliberately separating yourself from communion with the Roman Pontiff is wrong no matter what language we like our liturgy in.  If you believe there are good traditionalists, then it must follow that these so called radical traditionalists aren’t actually traditionalists at all.

This leads us to the second reason the Catholic commentariat should drop the moniker:  it is counter-productive.  When is the last time Catholic Answers has done a radio show warning us of Radical Lutherans?    We don’t use such terms because it poisons the well.  If people are in error, Catholics should want them to abandon those errors, and remove anything that is an undue barrier to that goal.  Why do we show such compassion to our friends across the Tiber, but not to the SSPX?

The most important reason to abandon this talk is for our own sanctification.  If we abandon using phrases like “radical traditionalist”, we reject the darker side of our human nature; you add a moniker to a name to delegitimize it.  In politics, a conservative never talks about “radical conservatives”, or a liberal about “radical liberals.”  We reserve those epithets for those we don’t like, and those we don’t want.

Now you may be wondering:  yet why would we want those who proclaim heresy in our ranks?  To those who are truly obstinate and reject every attempt at mercy, they indeed will never be in our ranks.  This misses the point though:  you aren’t delegitimizing the radicals when you use that term, you are telling people that traditionalists (radical and otherwise) are the dreaded other.  That is how it works in reality.  It is akin to hanging a huge “Not Welcome” sign on not just your parish doors, but your own home.  Even if traditionalists rose above the imperfections of humanity to always be angels, we can never be equal Catholics in such an environment.  No matter how good and holy we are, we are under suspicion of being the radical.  Any traditionalist can tell you the stories of how they have always been under suspicion for absolutely nothing, and when confronted about it, the whole “radtrad” nonsense comes up.

As a way for both sides to protect themselves from this situation, we end up only surrounding ourselves with those who think exactly like we do and do things exactly the same way we do.  There is no legitimate diversity in expressing the Catholic faith, only one way:  yours.  Pope Francis condemned this mentality as a product of a “self-referential Church” and viewed it impossible to spread the Gospel to the nations with this mindset.  How can we welcome the outsider into the Catholic Church when we won’t even welcome our brother to the table?  Traditionalists self-segregate, and the growing isolation self-perpetuates.  At that point, we aren’t a Church.  We are bands of barbarians led by different warlords and personality cults.  We aren’t asking for much.  We are simply asking to be treated as equals.

In the past eleven years as a traditionalist, this is a reality I have slowly come to terms with in regards to my own conduct.    During the years I started writing as a traditionalist (2002-2005), we had a moniker for those who, in their attempt to oppose traditionalists, substituted their own pet ideas for the dogmatic teaching of the Church.  We called them “Neo-Catholics.”  Around 2005 I started dropping the term from my lexicon.  To this day, I can’t give one precise event that caused this to happen.  Maybe it was because there was nothing “Neo” that these individuals were doing.  The idea of substituting our own personal preferences for God’s law goes back not to the Second Vatican Council, but the Garden of Eden.   I also had to force myself into consistency.  I never used the phrase “rad-trad” when dealing with the SSPX and other groups for all the reasons I outlined.  I couldn’t in conscience abandon these principles when dealing with those who weren’t into the Latin Mass.

Perhaps the most important reason was that I had to start dealing with those who weren’t traditionalists.  After Summorum Pontificum (which relaxed almost all of the restrictions surrounding when the Latin Mass could be celebrated), people were coming to our Latin Mass centers who weren’t traditionalists.  We wanted them to keep coming.  Yet they aren’t going to stay when you are constantly suspicious of them being the dreaded “Neo-Catholic”, or being blunt, a second-class citizen.  In many ways they were just like me:  they were trying to give God the most glory they could through their worship, and they were doing the best they could to follow the traditions of our fathers.  I would wager my experience is not atypical.  The more a traditionalist works to spread the Latin Mass outside his own circles, the less he uses the term Neo-Catholic.

A final reason to drop the moniker is that we tell Pope Benedict XVI his efforts weren’t wasted.  He worked harder than anyone else in his life to reconcile the SSPX and other groups to full communion with the Church, removing every possible barrier, as long as doing so didn’t contradict defined Church teaching.  In Ut Unum Sint, Blessed John Paul II invited everyone to figure out a way that papal authority could be maintained, but presented in a way that didn’t hinder Christian unity.  We should be doing the same in our own personal lives to make that full communion a reality.  Or we could just continue perpetuating this pointless tribalism and make the situation worse.  The choice is yours.