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Did These Two Events Change the Course of Recent History in the Church?

I recently sent an email to our mailing list, and in it, I asked for some feedback from our readers on the current state, direction, and value of 1P5.

There were many responses, a lot of them helpful. But one in particular stood out.

It was from a guy I’ll call Chris – not his real name. And his feedback was very interesting. He’s given me permission to share it anonymously:

During the first Synod on the Family, it felt like 1P5 was breaking inside stories from “on the ground” in Rome, so to speak.  At that time, it was the only publication willing to do so.  It felt like inside access to like-minded thinkers who are closer to the action than we are here in the U.S.

In a sense, I can definitely see how some might consider this to be an unhealthy immersion in negativity.

I always saw it differently – although the backdrop was something negative (the Synod on the Family), 1P5 actually did provide a glimmer of hope that there are real insiders who are taking real actions to mitigate the problems.  Or, at the very least, there was a sense of camaraderie with those in Rome who are stifled in taking action, but who were willing to open up.

I understand the aversion to sensationalism.  In the early days, however, 1P5 filled the void… non-sensational, evidence-based reporting that is generally lacking in the traditional world.  Sure, some sensational themes may be touched on (i.e., Fatima, etc.), but more often than not, we were dealing with a real person who was actually going on the record.  This was not your garden-variety, traditionalist Internet pontificating.

A prime example was the 5/16/2016 article “Cardinal Ratzinger: We Have Not Published the Whole Third Secret of Fatima,” which literally provoked the Vatican to respond.

As a result, readers who tracked the site daily felt like a part a movement of sorts.  There was a sense of community that today’s trad Twitter wars are not providing.  Now that Twitter has taken over the day-to-day conversation among the traditional community, I think we are all the worse for it.

This was pretty much his entire email, but I quoted all of it because I didn’t want to leave anything out.

I told Chris that my sense of things was very much the same as his. That we’ve always been a small team here at 1P5, that the niche we occupied, which was once fairly unique, is getting crowded now, and that even our best sources in Rome seem to have dried up as this interminable papacy marches on. But also, that there is a real drift in trad media towards sensationalism.

“Without much new going on,” I said, “we just seem to wallow in what already is.” And further:

We’ve become so accustomed to being mad at the latest thing, we keep trying to recapture that feeling.

I really wonder what everyone is going to do when the next pope turns out to be just as bad, but much younger. How long can we feast off the rotting carcass of a papal office abused by evil men?

We need to figure out what being a real Catholic looks like from here on out, but I don’t think anyone knows. And it’s a lot less glamorous to try to hammer that out than drug-fueled gay Vatican orgies are.

“I apologize if my cynicism is a bit thick right now,” I concluded. “We’re in a weird place, and I miss the old days when it felt like we were doing something exciting that really matters.”

Chris came back with some analysis that I think is dead on:

In my view, absent divine intervention, there were two practical, human-level catalysts for change that never came to fruition:

1. Fraternal correction by the Dubia cardinals.

2. A meaningful, non-political Vigano intervention whereby he reveals documented information.  At one time, it seemed like he was sitting on something that would have drastically impacted the Francis pontificate.

As those two points faded away without completion, so went the hope for any meaningful resistance.  Covid and Trump later distracted the trad world, and like you, I wish we could all return our attention to Rome and quit our newfound fixation on secular politics.  Now, as you mentioned, we are languishing in a strange state where nothing is really happening while the world descends into even greater confusion.

The only things that could fix it, unfortunately, is fulfillment of one of the two above items, or a conclave.

Chris’s two points in that final exchange are what I want to zero in on here.

Here we are, a couple of very frustrated Catholics, trying to figure out where things really went off the tracks.

I think he nailed it.

So let’s review his two points, and why they matter:

In November, 2016, the story broke that four Catholic cardinals — Burke, Brandmüller, Caffarra, and Meisner — issued a set of five theological dubia to address specific concerns about troubling assertions in the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia.

The pope refused to answer them, and they began speaking about issuing a “formal correction” of the pope if he did not do his duty.

Asked in March, 2017 what the four cardinals would do if the pope continued to ignore them, Cardinal Burke replied:

Then we simply will have to correct the situation, again, in a respectful way, that simply can say that, to draw the response to the questions from the constant teachings of the Church and to make that known for the good of souls.

But then Cardinal Meisner, one of the four dubia cardinals, died in July of 2017.

In August, 2017, Cardinal Burke was asked again about the correction. And again he indicated that it was forthcoming:

The cardinal told The Wanderer newspaper Aug. 14 that such a formal act of correction has not been invoked “for several centuries” and until now it has never been used “in a doctrinal way.”

But he said it would be “quite simple” and involve presenting on the one hand the “clear teaching of the Church” and on the other “what is actually being taught by the Roman Pontiff.” The teaching in question in particular relates to doctrinal matters published in the Pope’s 2016 apostolic exhortation, Amoris laetitia. 

“If there is a contradiction, the Roman Pontiff is called to conform his own teaching in obedience to Christ and the Magisterium of the Church,” the cardinal explained, adding that a “formal declaration” would be submitted to the Holy Father to which he would be “obliged to respond.”

In September of 2017, Cardinal Caffarra, another of the four dubia cardinals — who personally delivered the dubia to the papal residence in 2016, despite papal denials — also died.

An online petition pleading with Cardinals Burke and Brandmüller to deliver the formal correction was started in 2018. It achieved no success, and now sits locked and unanswered with 591 signatures.

The entire effort went out with a whimper.

This, perhaps more than any other event, drove home the realization: “Nobody is coming to save us.”

It was hard enough to find a small handful of solid cardinals willing to make a stand. That no others signed on is scandalous. That the ones who did found themselves unable to proceed after making what appear to have been idle threats that they would do so is demoralizing.

In the Catholic Church, we seem to only talk at problems. We do not take action to solve them.

Chris’s second item above, another that never came to fruition, is equally valid; in a sense, it falls along the same lines: “A meaningful, non-political Viganò intervention whereby he reveals documented information.  At one time, it seemed like he was sitting on something that would have drastically impacted the Francis pontificate.”

For those who don’t remember — and no one could blame you if you’ve lost track of it amidst the dozens of Viganò statements since — the former nuncio claimed in 2018 that his testimony about corruption in the highest reaches of the Church were not just “gossip from the sacristy.” In fact, he claimed, “official correspondence exists” that would “specify the identity of the perpetrators and their protectors, and the chronological sequence of facts.”

“They are kept in the appropriate archives,” wrote Viganò. “No extraordinary investigation is needed to recover them.

Although it sounds as if he was referencing archival information outside of his control, there are indications that he may be in possession of evidence of his own. In September, 2018, Henry Sire, author of The Dictator Pope, tweeted:

Christine Niles of Church Militant replied:

A dead man’s switch only works if you’ve got something that gives you leverage. And yet here we are, nearly 3 years later, and Archbishop Viganò seems to have moved on from exposing the corruption in the Church — tied largely to sexual abuse networks — and on to political punditry with an apocalyptic gloss.

Does this mean his alleged “dead man’s switch” is vaporware? Is this like the claim from Francesca Fagnano of the Italian Daily Il Fatto Quotidiano in the same month (Sept. 2018) that her publication was in possession of the “300-page investigatory report commissioned by Pope Benedict XVI” that many believe contained “key information on the so-called Lavender Mafia in and around the Vatican” — a claim that never materialized?

Looking back at my own writing in 2018, it’s easy to see the transfer of hope from the non-existent formal correction to the clear, incisive outspokenness of Viganò:

While promises of a formal correction from Cardinals Burke and Brandmüller have fizzled and faded, and talk of a self-deposing pope have disappeared from their public commentary, Viganò’s clear, firm voice has become like a clarion call: the pope must “admit his errors, repent, show his willingness to follow the mandate given to Peter and, once converted let him confirm his brothers (Lk 22:32).”

And yet, Viganò has moved on to electoral politics, discussions of the deep state and the New World Order, and COVID-related conspiracies.

Where is the information that was supposed to help clean out the Church’s own stables?

At this point, how many of us feel just like Charlie Brown?

Even when we’re deeply skeptical, we manage to get talked back into believing that someonesomewhere, is going to do something. 

Chris is right that these two issues were pivotal for Catholics over the past few years – and that both did significant damage by not turning out the way we hoped they would. He thinks it would be good for 1P5 to re-frame the conversation so that we can pick up where we left off before 2020 took the wind out of every other sail. In fact, I think he’s suggesting we turn back the clock to 2017, before all of this got out of hand.

But looking back on this, I’m not sure how to do that. We’ve burned through too much road, and we’re just driving now, with no destination in sight.

The way I see it, either God steps in to set things right, or the deterioration continues apace with nothing to slow it down. The former would be both spectacular and terrifying; the latter seems more likely, but also morally and spiritually exhausting. At best, it would wind up becoming the Catacomb Catholicism I’ve been predicting will be our future.

What do you think?

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