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Have There Been Worse Crises Than This One?

Don’t you hate it when fellow Catholics say to you: “The Church has faced crises worse than this one before”?

You hate it because you know it’s false. Of several popes who flirted with heresy, only two seem to have crossed a line: Honorius and John XXII. Honorius made one error in regard to Christology; he did so in a letter to a bishop. And for this he was posthumously anathematized and excommunicated as a heretic by an ecumenical council and by several of his successors in the papacy. John XXII preached a false position about the beatific vision in a series of sermons—an error that was immediately attacked by theologians of his day. He retracted it on his deathbed. Could anyone in his right mind dream of comparing the versatile disaster of the Francis papacy to either Honorius or John XXII? It’s like comparing Stalin to mischievous Boy Scouts.

If you press your point, they might backtrack a little: “Well, at least there have been other crises comparable to this one.”

Without a doubt, the Arian crisis was exceedingly bad: for a certain period, only a handful out of the hundreds of bishops of Christendom were orthodox, concerning the very point that defines Christianity. Yet today, the vast majority of the world’s thousands of bishops refuse to maintain major elements of Catholic tradition; fail to preach the Ten Commandments, and even contradict them (think of Amoris Laetitia); abandon the defense of consistency between the universal ordinary Magisterium and the papal Magisterium (think of the death penalty issue); renounce the proclamation of Christ as the Son of God and the only Savior of mankind (think of the direction ecumenism and interreligious dialogue have taken). This is a collective madness, a wickedness in high places never before seen on such a scale. It’s not just the Emperor who has no clothes on; it’s the entire court—all his officials, too, in a sort of government of gymnosophists.

The current situation combines every earlier heresy. Arianism of varying shades is back in business; we see paganism, polytheism, and pantheism returning.[1] Paul VI had already allowed Protestantism, with Enlightenment rationalism and Romantic sentimentalism, to invade the sanctuary; since then these trends have seeped into every other area of the Church. Erastianism or the subordination of the Church to the secular State is assumed now as an unavoidable and unchallengeable norm. What we have, in fact, is “the synthesis of all heresies”— Modernism—on full display. We are indeed living in the worst, by far the worst, crisis the Church has ever seen, in twenty centuries of history.

Let me summarize the three principles of modern Catholicism:

#1. Always trust the experts.

#2. Always trust the hierarchy.

#3. Always trust the Zeitgeist.

And here are the three reasons why traditionalists “Just Say No”:

As to #1: The liturgical reform—now with officially instituted lectresses and acolytesses added for horizontal variety.

As to #2: The inadequacy, incoherence, and cowardice of the episcopal teaching of Catholic doctrine, compounded by waves of abuse scandals.

As to #3. The black Modernism of 120 years ago, and the scarlet Modernism of 60 years ago, do not amicably dispose us to the lavender Modernism of today.

The situation is horrible, yes. But we had to reach this nadir if the Church was ever to be rid of the lingering evil of Modernism and a remnant of the faithful was ever to find its way out. We must thank God for exposing the darkness, perversity, chaos, and cruelty of the Modernist agenda, which, like Satan himself, dresses up as an angel of light in order to deceive, if possible, even the elect (cf. 2 Cor 11:14; Mt 24:24). Our situation is apocalyptic because it is revelatory; what was hidden has been, is being, unveiled. The faithful of Christ who have been placed on earth at just this moment in history are most beloved to their Lord, who is calling them to remain faithful precisely when it is most difficult and most countercultural, even counterinstitutional.

The Church was permitted by God to drift into a papocentrism that we can see, with historical hindsight, to have been extremely dangerous and damaging. Catholics came to view the pope as a god on earth, a divine oracle who could never be wrong. Yet the ways in which Pius X, Pius XII, and Paul VI chose to exercise their authority regarding the liturgy—each moreso than the one before—was nothing short of atrocious. We witnessed, first, the breviary wrenched from a 1,500-year tradition, then Holy Week from a 1,000-year tradition, and finally the Mass and all the other sacraments from the entire matrix of tradition. Pope Francis is the reductio ad absurdum of the view that the pope is in complete command of the Church and of its doctrine and life, rather than being a humble servant of the depositum fidei. In him, the ruptures of his predecessors, which in them coexisted uneasily with more traditional Catholic pieties, have found an unresisting and unmixed welcome.

Some have asked why I am not, by now, a sedevacantist. The reason should be evident from the foregoing. Sedevacantists embrace ultramontanism to the maximum. They may say that they make all the necessary distinctions, but it seems to me that they expect popes who are always reliable, good, prudent, and trustworthy, who never seriously fail in the discharge of their exalted office. But now that we’ve had over a century of popes who are problematic from one point of view or another, in a growing crescendo, the sedes look pretty foolish to be clinging to pontiffs prior to John XXIII—warts, wrinkles, and all—while rejecting the past six popes universally recognized as such by all Catholics, clerical and lay, apart from minuscule pockets of denial. Here, too, we have a reductio ad absurdum of excessive veneration of the papacy. The idea that Our Lord would permit His Church to have no pope for sixty years, to be (as St. Thomas Aquinas would put it) visibly headless and therefore no longer sacramentally conformed to the Mystical Body with its heavenly Head, seems far more absurd to me than questioning the earlier ultramontanism summed up in the exaggerated reception of Vatican I,[2] even as the execution and implementation of Vatican II summed up the soft modernism of the mid-20th century.[3]

It is more realistic, more in accord with the truth, to accept that popes can be wrong, can be imprudent and bad, as Church history has shown,[4] and that there are times when, as Roberto de Mattei demonstrates in his book Love of the Papacy and Filial Resistance to the Pope in the History of the Church, the proper Catholic response is to resist the evil that a valid pope is attempting to do, enforce, or permit. Anna Silvas incisively observes:

Eventually the Church, in a searching examination of conscience, must look again at the papacy itself, and what has been made of it, affectively. To return to the antinomies of the early 15th century is not possible—spare us from “synodality”—but some sober advance, surely, is needed. Related to this may be an examination of the influence of Jesuit/Ignatian ideas of obedience in the Tridentine era. By what strange symmetry, and why, did the proponents of a hyper-papal obedience (or any sort of religious hyper-obedience) end by becoming cheerleaders of dissent and disobedience? The one stance is not unrelated to the other. It turns our minds to the phenomena of “short-cuts” both in the Tridentine and post-Vatican II era Church. “Short-cuts”? Yes, efficiency, perhaps even im-patience, a particular note of modernity.

St Basil the Great came to close quarters (beginning with the 360 Council of Constantinople) with the terrible sickness of the Church, and in particular bishop’s synods, in his day. It unnerved him terribly, and he personally had a crisis. Eventually he articulated a nuanced and yet clear teaching of when it becomes necessary to disobey the disobedient. And part of that process is mustering enough spiritual fortitude to face malfeasant superiors and communities, hoping in the first place for their conversion. What helps preserve us in the obedience of the faith is the internalisation of the paradosis in its fullest sense, safe-guarded above all in prayer and charity; I would put the sensibility of the Holy Liturgy, in essence the Mystery of Christ, at the heart of this comprehensive “net” of tradition.[5]

When Jesus says to the first pope: “Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18), he is not saying: “Don’t worry, the devil will bounce off whenever he tries to strike, and all will be well.” Rather, we should take Him at His word: on the one hand, the Church will prove stronger than hell in the end, no matter how fearsomely the devil rages and ravages; on the other hand, anything and everything short of total defeat and dissolution is fair game. It is when all appears to be lost that the Church will be resurrected. The clarity of this “logic,” which mirrors that of the life of Christ, becomes sharper and brighter as history proceeds irresistibly to the advent of “the lawless one,” Antichrist, and of the Lord who will slay him with the breath of his mouth (cf. 2 Thess 2:8).

The disciples on the road to Emmaus thought they were looking at total defeat: “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Lk 24:21). All appeared to be lost. So must it have seemed for a time at Lepanto. And when Our Lady says: “In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph,” how much force do we place on the phrase “in the end”? The bitter end—when it seems to be the end of our hopes, the end of the divine promises, the end of the fidelity of Rome: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk 18:8). “For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders, insomuch as to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Mt 24:24). “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet 4:12).

In short, a full meltdown of the Church on earth—which has always been a possibility given the logic of the Faith and the witness of the Scriptures—is taking place in front of our eyes, an apparent defeat and dissolution under the global assault of the Evil One, exactly as we should expect to occur at some point in the history of the Church. Whether we are already in the early phases of the end beyond which there is no more time is impossible to say. If we are not in the end times but rather passing through an advance echo of them, we may nevertheless say with confidence that it will take a “purgatory” of hitherto inconceivable catastrophes to restore the Catholic Church on earth to some semblance of sanity, in which the excesses inaugurated by the last two councils will be purged from the bloodstream of the body, and a healthier, humbler, more orthodox Ecclesia will emerge—like gold and silver seven times refined.



[1] A sign of how bad things are was how little reaction/discussion the “Protest Against Pope Francis’s Sacrilegious Acts“ received. The “nothing to see here folks, move along” approach has become rather strained, not to say surreal. Regarding the October 4, 2019 ceremony in the Vatican Gardens, those involved either knew what was going to be done, or they did not know; either way they were at fault. Standing in a circle and then bowing in a circle does not look like Christian worship; add a bunch of pagan-looking objects on a blanket in the middle of the circle and a shamaness doing her stuff and the picture is complete. This is non-Christian, immanentist, naturalist, “closed circle” worship. There’s this thing called “due diligence.” If the organizers didn’t know what was going to happen in front of hundreds of cameras, to be broadcast to the ends of the earth, they were guilty of seriously sinful negligence; and if they (or some of them at least) did know and didn’t care about the impressions that would be given, they are guilty of paganism and syncretism.

[2] This is what I meant, obviously, when I used the expression “spirit of Vatican I” in another article at 1P5.

[3] The fear of doctrinal definition and of anathemas that started with John XXIII’s convocation of Vatican II—the first council in the history of the Church that would not define anything or condemn anything in a definitive way—has remained with us as a kind of paralysis. It is profoundly unpastoral not to teach clearly and not to condemn clearly what is false or sinful. Again, the Church has never had this problem in 2,000 years, so something very basic has “snapped.” It’s not the indefectibility of the Church that has snapped, but the fidelity of her ministers to their roles. It is like being on a sturdy ship that is either unpiloted or being taken to the wrong port.

[4] Admittedly, never to the extent we are witnessing, and yet the principle stands.

[5] From personal correspondence.

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