In this article, it is my intention to discuss the recent Father Altman situation, which has now escalated. If you were unaware, Altman produced a video wherein he said Pope Francis had lost the papacy due to heresy. Since then, he has released another video that is a tad bit more controversial, wherein he essentially suggests Francis and his ilk deserve the proverbial “millstone” for scandalizing the little ones.
Before we continue, please do not think for a moment that I am psychologizing Father Altman, or patronizing him. I am attempting no such thing. I have met Father Altman a couple of times, and I did have the pleasure of spending a couple of hours in a social setting with him and some other priests. I believe him to be sincere, and I believe him to be very intelligent. Father Altman — some may be unaware — was an accomplished lawyer before he became a priest. As easy as it is to make jokes about lawyers — Heaven knows the profession as such deserves it — it is also doubtless that one must be highly intelligent, at least in a functional sense, in order to qualify for and complete law school. That being said, I do not believe Altman’s recent positions on the papacy and his more controversial view about millstones and Pope Francis to be merely emotional or reactionary, even if I do believe some of his statements to be odious.
As much as I may disagree with his conclusion, I do believe he has reasoned to a conclusion he finds tenable, even if I do not. Furthermore, I do believe the times in which we live are extremely confusing, to put it mildly, and therefore it is not my intention to throw stones at this or that person who holds a different view. As SSPX District Superior, Father David Sherry told me in an interview regarding the various paths Catholics try to take during the crisis, “I think God is going to be very merciful to people in these times.”
That said, I do believe the Father Altman “phenomenon” represents an opportunity to consider what I believe is a driving issue for the diverse responses we see to Pope Francis’ papacy and the crisis in general. I here speak of something like trauma that has taken place within a family, and the diverse responses from the children, and what that means.
Trauma and Abuse
Without psychologizing myself too much, for the sake of the article, I think it is helpful to admit that I come from a “broken home.” Both my parents, God bless them, have been divorced and remarried multiple times. It is not my intention to disparage them here, but only to set the stage for my perspective.
I can tell you that no matter how wonderful your parents may be as individuals, if there is discord in the home — whether through outright abuse or emotional trauma from divorce — it is unavoidable that the children will suffer. In addition, depending on the nature of the trauma and the timing, they will mature into different sorts of persons, generally speaking. In my case, I was quite young when my parents divorced, whereas others experience divorce later on. Of course, divorce is tragically common for my generation of millennials, so I imagine many can relate, therefore I think many readers will understand where I am coming from.
When you come from a broken home, you essentially “carry” that baggage around with you in one way or another, and most often it will fester into anger or distrust. As a young man, I remember being quite angry in general, and I expressed deep animosity towards my parents at different times. That being said, human beings are not determinist creatures, so it is not as if one must be perpetually damaged by something in a way where “moving on” is not possible. In my own life, once I had my own family and became a practicing Catholic, I can attest that former wounds healed and things changed. There is real grace to be found in the Sacraments and it does, in fact, perfect nature, even wounded fallen nature.
At any rate, children react differently to trauma in a family, specifically abuse and divorce, and I believe we can look to a few categories that correspond to the crisis spiritual children are facing in the Church.
If trauma is bad enough, it is not uncommon for children to essentially run away, even if just emotionally. In homes that are extremely dysfunctional, it is not uncommon for traumatized kids to emotionally distance themselves from their parents and eventually move far, far away for college, never to return. In the Church, these are the droves of people who have left the Church since the Council. Say what you will about various failed hermeneutics or reforms of reforms, it is clear that Vatican II was received like a massive trauma for Catholics. Religion was important, then it wasn’t. The liturgy was sacred, then it wasn’t. Catholics weren’t Protestant, then they were. Ultimately, I believe, the so-called boomer generation left the Church in droves because they believed they had been lied to. All that catechism and old-time religion were swept away in a Pauline instant, and the family was never the same again.
Another response that is not uncommon in such situations is a “liberal” response. What I mean by this is sometimes you will see children of divorce completely change their view of their father and mother and attempt to embrace the changes with a cheery disposition. This response is a coping mechanism ultimately, as the fear of leaving or losing the family altogether is worse in the mind of the liberal than adopting a completely new set of familial principles. In the Church, we see this with the sizeable portion of Catholics who are completely heterodox but adamant about their Catholicism. One wonders why they simply don’t leave the Church, and when pressed they inevitably give a psychological reason. Furthermore, they blame the other children who won’t simply get with the times and embrace the divorce and second wife. After all, “Dad/mom is happy now! Can’t you be happy for him/her?” In the Church, this mentality translates into the sort of thinking that leads churchmen to look for good things in gay unions. “Can you not find something good at all between Timmy and Johnny? Sure, they are sodomites, but they have nice Yorkshire terriers. You are such a bigot!” Liberal Catholics love to blame everything on conservatives and traditionalists who are simply “intolerant” or “stuck in the past.”
Another response is analogous to the conservative or Neo-conservative Catholic mentality. In this case, the child “takes sides” and decides that one parent can do no wrong. It is again another coping mechanism, as it is much easier to believe Dad did nothing wrong than to admit that the situation is more complex. This sort of child is quite loyal and in many ways is virtuous, but with massive blind spots. Furthermore, the psychology of such a child is that he essentially internalizes the abuse or trauma and is unwilling to blame the parent, no matter what he does. He cannot always blame himself — although he does on occasion — so he must blame someone. As a result, he blames the other children. “If you just obeyed Dad more, none of this would happen!” “How can you say Dad did something wrong, who are you to be his judge!” “If Dad says something that seems wrong, then clearly we just aren’t understanding what he means to say, stop calumniating his good name!”
You can easily see this behaviour in the actions of many Conservative Catholics. There really is no such thing as a “Conservative” Catholic, and these sorts of Catholics will, over time, either become spiteful of traditionalists or adopt liberal positions of their own, or both. How many times have we seen this? Apologist so and so says “XYZ will never happen, the Pope will never do that!” But when his worst nightmare comes true, he tells us that we are schismatic and heretical for not understanding Amoris Laetitia, and the Death Penalty was never consistent with Catholic teaching anyway. If I am being honest, I have little to no respect on an intellectual level for men like this, as at least the Liberal does not pretend to not be a Liberal, whereas the Conservative simply moves the goalposts whenever is convenient and plays with the definitions of words like a Neo-Modernist.
The final archetype we will consider is the Traditionalist. In family terms, this is the principled child who has no problem calling a spade a spade and will not go along with the changes in any way that forces him to bend the knee to what is wrong. If he is an adult child, he will not attend his father’s second “marriage” which is really a form of concubinage with a dinner party. He will not support his siblings who stray down the liberal path in their liberalism, even if he still cares for them. He will not go on family vacations with the new “family” just to play nice. Of course, he is labelled as hateful, hard-headed, and unkind, even though he really is the only one who cares enough about his parents not to take part in the revolution.
In the Church, this sort of person is obviously the TLM hold-out, the sort of person who reads this publication and others like it. He isn’t perfect, and sometimes, he might let his temper and zeal for the tradition get the better of him, but, he is simply correct, even if he can’t always express it properly. He knows how the Church ought to be, and he knows how it ought not to be, even if the Conservatives and the Liberals want to do some Hegelian and Chardinian jiujitsu in order to prove him wrong. He is often the victim of gaslighting and detraction from all sides.
In fact, one of the best ways to know if you are really a traditionalist is if you get it from both the Conservatives and the Liberals. When those groups won’t play in the sandbox with you or throw stones at you from behind webcams, you know you have made it.
At any rate, there is a danger in the traditionalist position; if you aren’t careful, your righteous anger will turn into unrighteous anger and you might become legitimately hateful or spiteful. Now, the Liberals and Conservatives love to pounce on these weaker moments that traditionalists sometimes go through as a way of denigrating the whole enterprise, which is why I am careful not to denigrate Father Altman or anyone who holds his position. As I said, this time is extremely difficult and the wounds from the spiritual fathers of the Church have been severe, therefore no one should be blaming another traditionalist, at least publicly, for reacting in a way that they wouldn’t.
The enemies of Tradition would love nothing more than for all traditional Catholics to adopt an Altman position on the papacy or go after Altman as hard as they are. They can either cry “sede” at everyone to discredit the whole traditional movement, or, if we all pile on, they can say “Look how toxic you all are.”
To conclude, if you are a traditionalist of some stripe and you have adopted some sort of sedevacantist opinion (one of the many variations), I do not blame you or judge you for it, even if I strongly disagree. That being said, we must all recognize in ourselves the zeal that can consume us, and how that zeal — even if coming from a good place — can lead to counterproductive statements or actions. At the same time, if you have adopted such a position, you are in no position to declare it as fact and to act as if others are heretics or Modernists for not acting out your hypothesis. Anathemas are reserved for Ecumenical Councils and Popes, not keyboard warriors or talking heads on YouTube.
Our enemies — which we must admit do include many so-called Conservatives — have no scruples when attacking us. They will, like Marxists, use an opportunity to sling mud while calling you a schismatic.
Kennedy Hall is a contributing editor for OnePeterFive. He is the author Terror of Demons: Reclaiming Traditional Catholic Masculinity and Lockdown with the Devil, a novel published by Our Lady of Victory Press. He is a writer at Catholic Family News, LifeSiteNews and is the host of the Conservative talk-radio show, The Kennedy Report. He is married with four children and lives in Ontario, Canada.