Over at the recently re-activated (and re-named) blog, What’s Up With Francis-Church, my pal Hilary White returns to her years’ long theme, “Novusordoism Isn’t Catholicism,” with a post on where Mother Angelica went wrong when she declared war against the American Catholic establishment in 1993. She begins with a video clip of a famous episode of Mother Angelica Live! — the one in which Mother rails against the corrupt, anti-Christic liberalism of the contemporary Church.
The precipitating factor was, as you may recall, the choice to have a woman play Christ during the living stations of the cross at World Youth Day in Denver in 1993.
Oddly enough, this was also a pivotal moment in my own life.
I was present at the event, and remember being dumbstruck when I realized what was happening. That trip to Denver was, on the whole, a huge eye-opener for my 15-year-old self. I was confronted with the depth of the corruption of faith in laity and clergy alike. It was a constant barrage of jarring circumstances. The first night I was there, a producer from the Howard Stern Show who couldn’t find a place to stay stowed away in my room after becoming chummy with my assigned roommates, who were apparently big fans. The next morning, at breakfast, I wound up in an argument with a chaperon who thought that if we had to genuflect before the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, we should also genuflect to each other, because “Jesus is in all of us.” When I looked to a priest for backup, he balked. After visiting the hotel pool a few nights during my stay, I later found out that the men from our group I’d seen hanging out in the hot tub with women in bikinis were actually priests from our diocese — a realization that came when they finally put their clerics on for the first time during the papal Mass. Of course, the biggest indicator was probably the pre-trip retreat at the local seminary, where the priest offering Mass for our group ordered us to stand during the consecration (I refused) and said something about “Jesus, he or she as the case may be…”
But I had traveled thousands of miles to see the pope. In my world, he was still seen as the center of Catholic life, the shining bastion of orthodoxy. And on the night that was supposed to mark his first appearance, there she was, some chick playing Jesus, and I was mad as hell.
I knew nothing at the time about Mother Angelica’s own response. Nor did I know that I was, at the time, laboring under the same faulty assumptions she expressed during her diatribe that day. Hilary explains:
This is Mother Angelica’s big moment, her declaration of war against the evil men we had been stuck with for bishops. And they took her up on the offer of hostilities. And she lost, but only after putting up years of the most ferocious fight, and only after they had to pile on with the full force of their powers against her.
This is the speech that really alerted the bishops to the fact that there were still Catholics out there, that their Revolution hadn’t worked. She gave it after what she saw as the last straw: World Youth Day in Denver they gave us a woman acting the part of Christ in the Stations of the Cross. After that she went to war.
But she lost. And do we know why? Because she started with an error. At the beginning of this speech she recites the creed of the American Novusordoist conservatives: Vatican II was wonderful, but those wicked “liberals” highjacked it for their own evil purposes. It is a position that tried to create the compromise space that many American Catholics have tried to live in ever since.
It was this reasonable, nice, friendly, ecumenical position that made it possible for the Catholic leaders of the original pro-life movement of the 70s and 80s to draw in the conservative Protestants; all on the mutual unspoken agreement that we would set aside and never mention the irreconcilable breach between us. It is this false position, this “conservative” middle ground, founded on the new pseudo-doctrine of papal positivism that is now being closed with a resounding clang by the current regime. The old nostrum, the central conservative Novusordoist error of papal positivism: “I’m with the pope and whatever the pope says goes,” is being shown to be a false turn now.
As Ross Douthat said recently, there are roughly three positions in the American Catholic Church (and this spreads up into Canada – though much less in Britain, Australia, South America, Europe, Africa and Asia than most Americans understand). There are “liberals” of the Mahoney/Danneels/Bernardin ilk; the whole spectrum of Traditionalists from the SSPX to the Remnant followers (sedes are in a class of their own); and the conservatives, represented by the George Weigel/First Things/EWTN variety. Among these last have fallen the little group of what we have come to call Papal Apologists – the self-appointed priesthood who have tasked themselves with interpreting and explaining away Pope Francis’ every incomprehensible Pythian utterance.
But this third group, the ones who offered such a pleasing compromise, are the ones who are currently suffering the most. They are the ones who, having adopted the Conservative Novusordoist Creed recited by Mother Angelica at the start of that speech, are now thrown into confusion, frantically denying what is unfolding before their eyes because it fails to fit into their parameters.
The problems with Vatican II aren’t just issues of interpretation. They’re baked right in. Countless other books and articles have tackled these topics, so I’m not going to rehash them here. Perhaps the least polemical and most substantive look at these issues is Bishop Athanasius Schneider’s call for a new syllabus of errors on the council. One could certainly take the criticism further, and some have. Michael Davies researched and exposed a great deal of the manipulation and corruption that went on in the early days of the council.
What matters is this: when you believe something is good, but it keeps producing bad fruit, it creates an irreconcilable problem. You’re always looking to square that circle, always trying to find a way to spin straw into gold.
A year before I went to World Youth Day, I fell to my knees in my little rural parish and asked God to help me to keep my faith in a Catholicism that “doesn’t act like it believes what it says it believes.” He answered that prayer, leading me not just to Denver to see how bad things were up close and personal, but through a labyrinthine maze of experiences that ultimately led me out from the tiny stream of Catholicism I had known, and into the ocean of Catholic Tradition.
It is vital for all Catholics to see the Second Vatican Council for what it was: the most significant thrust in a centuries-long attempt to destroy Catholicism from within. (You can read some of the history on that here.) What the revolutionaries at the council failed to recognize — and still do, as their time bombs continue to explode half a century later — is that the Church truly is divinely-instituted, and thus, indestructible. But to be unable to destroy a thing with finality is not the same as to be unable to damage it severely.
And damage the Church they have.
It is long past time that we abandon the idea of a need to “correctly implement” the council. Its documents, at times orthodox, at other times vague or even apparently contradictory to previous teachings, were designed with flaws capable of being exploited. Its genius is that it cannot be summarily condemned as a compendium of heretical ideas; it would be more true to say that it is a collection of half-formed or ill-stated ones — mixed with enough assertions of authentic Catholic teaching to give the whole enterprise credibility. Remember: a thing needn’t be completely corrupt to present a problem. A house built on sand is still a house – at least until it weakens enough to collapse.
The post-conciliar experiment is now rapidly approaching that point.
Those who are fans of the present pontificate will often say, “Francis isn’t doing anything different than his last three predecessors.” While this isn’t entirely true, there is a thread of similarity, a trend line that can be traced through all the post-conciliar popes. A Franciscan pontificate is not possible in a Church without a Vatican II.
The sooner we stop trying to contort ourselves into seeing the council as a boon for the Church, the better.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have eight children. You can find more of his writing at his Substack, The Skojec File.