Among astute observers of the Vatican scene – okay, forget that; among warm bodies with evidence of consciousness – it has been known for several years now that we cannot expect Pope Francis, who is a major cause of the problems the Church is suffering under, to be a major part of those problems’ solution. This includes anything to do with clerical sex abuse and the death grip of progressive prelates. Each passing month, we see that it’s business as usual for the Peronist pontiff.
But, as many writers have pointed out, this pontificate has been, in spite of all the evils, a tremendous gift of Divine Providence to us. Yes, we can truly say this. For Francis has brought to a clarity past any reasonable (or unreasonable) doubt, one might even say has amplified to fever pitch, the utter bankruptcy of “Vatican II Catholicism,” with its lightweight liturgy; its unserious opposition to the world, the flesh, and the devil; and its continual compromise with the reigning forces of liberalism.
Everyone knows what I am talking about. I was once one of those Talmudic scholars who attempted to square every circle in the sixteen documents of the Council. I praised their textual orthodoxy and lamented their neglect or distortion at the hands of hijackers. I knew that the loyal Catholic mentality always began its sentences “if only…”: “If only the new liturgy were properly celebrated…”; “If only the new catechism were widely taught…”; “If only people everywhere could just follow the lead of the great Polish pope” (and later, “the great German pope”).
That’s where I used to live. I have since moved on to a bigger and more beautiful dwelling called traditional Catholicism. I was tired of living in the newly built, supposedly more energy-efficient and environmentally sound but in reality flimsy, drafty, fluorescent, insect-infested, falling-apart building produced by the only ecumenical council that made no solemn definitions and issued no solemn condemnations. I came to see, thanks to detailed studies by such authors as Wiltgen, Davies, Amerio, Ferrara, de Mattei, and Sire, that the hijackers were not the ones after the Council, but the ones inside the Council who cleverly steered it toward the progressivism and modernism they secretly longed for, deliberately planting “time bombs” throughout the documents – ambiguous phrases that could be turned this way or that, and which were turned this way and that in the neverending turf war between liberals and “conservatives” of every stripe, at every level.
I came to see that the problem was the new liturgy – not just in the obviously bad manner in which it was being “celebrated” throughout the world, but in and of itself, in its official books, their texts, their rubrics. The new Catechism, too, in its diffuse verbosity and its glossing over difficult points like the headship of the husband in marriage, was not the magic solution; indeed, it was recently demoted to the status of reflecting pool for the reigning Narcissus, which gives it about as much value as an airplane interview. Above all, I came to see that “just following the pope” wheresoever he may go, on land or sea or sky, is not only not the solution, but a large part of the problem.
And what is that problem? The eclipse, in our times, of any coherent idea of what Catholicism is, has been, and will always be – the willed eclipse, since “men loved darkness rather than the light, for their works were evil” (Jn. 3:19).
The liturgy we were given by Paul VI, courtesy of Archbishop Bugnini and his all-star Consilium, is indeed a lightweight liturgy that cannot sustain the weight of God’s glory or meet the weighty needs of the human soul. Many know nothing else, and their plight reminds me of the black and white photos of long lines of people in Soviet Russia waiting for their crust of bread. This is not what the liturgy of the Church has offered to her people in ages past: it offered them a royal banquet, a king’s delight, a glimpse of heaven, fellowship with the saints and angels. I’m not saying preconciliar liturgy was always perfect, for we know it wasn’t, but the rites of the Church possessed in themselves the density and beauty that made a rich liturgical life always possible and frequently attainable. Catholics today who have gone back to the traditional liturgy often come away with amazement: “They took that away from us?!” Yes, they did: this incomparable school of prayer, this inflexible staff to support our weakness, this comforting beauty to lure our earthbound souls into heaven – this was taken away, and those who did it knew exactly what they were doing, and why.
Earlier I spoke of “unserious opposition to the world, the flesh, and the devil.” This is the mark of postconciliar Catholicism. Oppose the world? No, we have to dialogue with it, understand it, sympathize with it, come to terms with it, make common cause with it, recycle its garbage and adopt its slogans. Out went all the ancient prayers of the Mass that spoke of spiritual warfare, the deceits of the evil one, the need for ascetical violence against our fallen nature. Everything was smoothed over in recognition of the goodness of everything and everyone (if only they knew it).
Heavy-duty exorcisms were stripped out of the baptismal rite, where they had been since apostolic times, because of the revealed truth that mankind after the Fall is under Satan’s princedom and the citizens of heaven have to be torn away from his influence. Days of fasting and abstinence were canceled out left and right; instead of renewing ancient tradition (as the talking heads claimed), it was ignored or shrugged off as superstitious. The only direction was downhill: dispensing, simplifying, abbreviating, abolishing.
As for self-control, the sexual morality of the Christian people worldwide, above all in the West, from which the conciliar documents and reforms emanated, is at an all-time nadir – not only because of the unforeseen intensity of the anti-authoritarian revolution of 1968, but even more because of a fundamental loss of faith in the salvific truth and liberating power of God’s commandments.
Today, in 2018, we are reaping the putrid fruits of this loss of faith, this lack of self-control, this stripping away of all asceticism and warfare from the Christian vision of life, this foolish optimism that rippled through the Church of the 1960s and begot the demon offspring of “Nietzschean Catholicism.” It has been a continual compromise with the reigning forces of liberalism, a chipping away at the demands of the Gospel, a suppression of hard truths and the love of God for His own sake and above all things. The end is nothing-worship—the nihilism concentrated in the unforgettable image of a priest, later a cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, abusing a boy who happened to be the first person he baptized two weeks after his ordination.
For a long time, I thought John Paul II and Benedict XVI were fighting the good fight against this revolutionary reinterpretation of Christianity, but after a few high-profile interreligious meetings, osculations of the Koran, book-length interviews with dialectical answers to every question, and other such indicators, I lost my enthusiasm for them as pastors, whatever I might have admired in their philosophical or theological writings (which, however you slice it, are not the primary job of a pope). It was a shock to the system to realize that these popes, though undoubtedly well intentioned, were swimming in a lake of Kool-Aid rather than the ocean of Tradition – the only difference being that they were strong enough to keep swimming and occasionally cry out to heaven for help, instead of drowning and sinking to the bottom like a millstone with a cardinal tied around its neck.
The last five years are not a sudden catastrophe that came from nowhere; they are the orange juice concentrate of the past fifty years, the last act in a tragedy that has been escalating to this point. Bergoglio is the distillation of all the worst tendencies in Roncalli, Montini, Wojtyła, and Ratzinger, without any of their redeeming qualities. Francis’s predecessors were conflicted and inconsistent progressives; he is a convicted modernist. Just as political conservatism is liberalism in slow motion, so postconciliar Catholicism is modernism in slow motion. The sooner people see this, the sooner they will reject the whole failed and torturous experiment of aggiornamento in favor of an unequivocal embrace of the Catholic Faith in its age-old and perennially youthful liturgy, its magnificently harmonious and comprehensive doctrine, its all-demanding, life-saving morals.
Let us not forget that John Paul II and Benedict XVI were both involved in the Assisi meetings; that they never questioned the rightness of the “razing of the bastions,” the “turn toward the world” and the embrace of modernity that was the hallmark of Vatican II; that they encouraged feminism with one hand  while trying to restrain it with the other; and that, above all, they appointed and promoted so many of the terrible bishops and cardinals under whom we are suffering today, as this chart shows:
|Prelate||Created Bishop By||Created Cardinal By|
|Theodore McCarrick||Paul VI||John Paul II|
|Angelo Sodano||Paul VI||John Paul II|
|Tarcisio Bertone||John Paul II||John Paul II|
|Pietro Parolin||Benedict XVI||Francis|
|William Levada||John Paul II||Benedict XVI|
|Marc Ouellet||John Paul II||John Paul II|
|Lorenzo Baldisseri||John Paul II||Francis|
|Ilson de Jesus Montanari||Francis||–|
|Leonardo Sandri||John Paul II||Benedict XVI|
|Fernando Filoni||John Paul II||Benedict XVI|
|Dominique Mamberti||John Paul II||Francis|
|Francesco Coccopalmerio||John Paul II||Benedict XVI|
|Giovanni Lajolo||John Paul II||Benedict XVI|
|Vincenzo Paglia||John Paul II||–|
|Edwin O’Brien||John Paul II||Benedict XVI|
|Renato Raffaele Martino||John Paul II||John Paul II|
|Donald Wuerl||John Paul II||Benedict XVI|
|Paul Bootkoski||John Paul II||–|
|John Myers||John Paul II||–|
|Kevin Farrell||John Paul II||Francis|
|Seán O’Malley||John Paul II||Benedict XVI|
|Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga||John Paul II||John Paul II|
|Blase Cupich||John Paul II||Francis|
|Joseph Tobin||Benedict XVI||Francis|
|Robert McElroy||Benedict XVI||–|
|Edgar Peña Parra||Benedict XVI||–|
|John Nienstedt||John Paul II||–|
|Jorge Bergoglio||John Paul II||John Paul II|
(Source: Unam Sanctam)
It is not all Francis’s fault; indeed, he is grimly reaping what they have sown, even while he is tearing down much of what they built. In the end, there are only two reasons we had a conclave of cardinals who voted for Bergoglio: Wojtyła and Ratzinger. More generally, they are the reason we have a worldwide episcopacy made up of a tiny minority of traditional bishops (by which I mean bishops who believe, preach, teach, and enforce the Catholic Faith as taught, inter alia, by the Council of Trent) and a huge majority of ferocious liberals, toothless conservatives, and pencil-pushing bureaucrats. If John Paul II had spent less time globetrotting and writing massive, dense, and now mostly forgotten encyclicals (with Veritatis Splendor as the glowing exception) and more time on his single most important duty, that of vetting and choosing bishops of proven doctrinal orthodoxy, moral probity, and commitment to the sacred liturgy, men without the slightest hint of liberalism or laxity, the Church might be in a dramatically different place today. The same could be said of the beloved but largely ineffectual professor-turned-pontiff Benedict XVI. That he had a retiring personality turned from a forgivable quirk into a nightmare on February 11, 2013.
These two popes also knew – as we now see in ever greater detail – about wicked behavior in high places and seldom took decisive and severe measures to uproot it. Bergoglio celebrates unnatural vice, and his predecessors tolerated it. Bergoglio shamelessly promotes those enemies of Catholicism whom his predecessors were too afraid to fight.
* * *
Can we say, at last, that practicing and believing Catholics generally have been awakened from their dogmatic slumber?
Would that it were so. Alas, the capacity of the human mind to ignore reality even when it is crashing around one’s head is all too real, and the capacity for ideology to blind the eye and deafen the ear is no less notorious. But for those with eyes open to seeing and ears open to hearing, the truth has emerged into broad daylight: the Catholic Faith as our forefathers believed and lived it, the Catholic Faith as a vast cloud of witnesses knew it and loved it, this Catholic Faith is something utterly different from what is being peddled by the Vatican today. What the new regime offers is ephemeral, fragile, and self-contradictory, held together only by force.
The alternative is equally clear: the complex but internally consistent religion taught by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church; savored by monks and mystics; authoritatively proclaimed by the great councils; unanimously codified in hundreds of catechisms; and, above all, luminously, exultantly embodied in the great liturgical rites of East and West, the common heritage of all orthodox Christians who worship the thrice-holy Trinity in an unbroken tradition.
This, this is Catholicism. Nothing else. Do not look for it where it cannot be found. Do not strain or break your neck trying to find a way to look at the novelties as if they were tradition, for it cannot be done. Do not strain the gnats while swallowing the camels. Hearken again to the one true Faith that missionized the globe in the Old Evangelization.
What will it take to free every last Catholic from the last illusions about the supposed “new springtime” of Vatican II? I do not know. It may be that only death will rescue some from the jealous clutches of the new paradigm, but there are certainly many signs that the charm – or perhaps more accurately, the mirage – is vanishing as many find their way back to the divine religion of Christ.
The Vatican II period that officially began in 1962 officially ended with l’affaire McCarrick and Viganògate in 2018. Fifty-six years of alternately riotous and lazy living gave heart disease to this human similitude of the Church, and it died from sudden cardiac arrest. Let us bury it in unconsecrated ground, with the fond wish that it may rest in the silence of the tomb and never rise.
 For example, by ensuring that the Catechism contained no reference to the headship of the husband, in spite of the fact that this is taught more frequently in the New Testament than many other doctrines of our faith, and by approving the use of female altar servers, and or by continuing the custom of female lectors at Mass, contrary to 2,000 years of universal tradition in churches of apostolic descent.
Note added on November 21: Those who think or are tempted to think that I am exaggerating the extent of the contradiction between the Catholic Magisterium and “official theology” as poured forth in the past five decades from the Vatican (including John Paul II and Benedict XVI) should read the recently-published essay by Thomas Pink, “Vatican II and Crisis in the Theology of Baptism” at The Josias. To say that this article is eye-opening is a major understatement; in any case, it confirms in depth and detail what I argue here in broad lines.
Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, Thomistic theologian, liturgical scholar, and choral composer, is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and The Catholic University of America. He has taught at the International Theological Institute in Austria, the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria Program, and Wyoming Catholic College, which he helped establish in 2006. He writes regularly for Catholic blogs and has published seven books, the most recent being Tradition and Sanity (Angelico, 2018). For more information, visit www.peterkwasniewski.com.