“The Luminous Mysteries are my favorite.”
“I cannot hear the priest at the Latin Mass.”
“I might attend the Latin Mass, but I do not want to go against Vatican II.”
I was with a group of people recently who had gathered to discuss the book Christus Vincit by Bishop Athanasius Schneider. These were some of the things I heard. For me, they were windows into the minds of sincere, faithful Catholics. I left that gathering thinking, “They don’t know, but then how could they know?”
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The Second Vatican Council began in 1962 and ended in 1965. The Novus Ordo Mass was made the liturgical norm in 1970. So it seems safe to say that these two events form the frame of reference for worship and belief for most Catholics born after 1965 — that is, Catholics who today are 55 or younger. My guess is that the earliest pope that most of them can remember is John Paul II, who became pope in 1978 and died in 2005. Catholics loved the handsome, athletic “St. John Paul the Great” while he was alive, and most still do today.
Rust and moths were already well along in weakening the Church by the 1960s. The Council did not begin that process, although the passage of time has revealed its corrosive effects. Catholics were told that the Second Vatican Council proclaimed a refreshed Catholicism. Few noticed that a Council document, Lumen Gentium, declared that the Church that had been founded by Jesus Christ merely “subsisted” in the Catholic Church and further allowed that “many elements of sanctification and truth can be found outside her structure.”
Those who did notice were constantly reassured. The argument goes that the one, true Church is “fully realized” in the Catholic Church, but everyone who is baptized and believes in Christ is actually Catholic, although in imperfect communion with the Catholic Church. See this 2009 article in First Things by (Father) Richard John Neuhaus for a fuller explication of the hermeneutic that was urged upon us. Note well that the entire article deals with Catholics and non-Catholics who profess to believe in Christ. There is no argument that Jews or Muslims are somehow part of the one, true Church.
Fifty-four years later, the current successor of St. John Paul the Great, whom he had made a cardinal in 2001, drove a Mack truck through the opening that had been created by the Second Vatican Council. It turns out that Neuhaus had it completely wrong. Pope Francis proclaimed, in a formal Vatican document, co-signed by a Muslim grand imam, that God wills the pluralism and diversity of religions. According to Pope Francis, “the document does not pull away one millimeter from Vatican II, which is even cited a few times.”
Nothing in the document hinges on baptism and belief in Jesus Christ. The document does not mention Jesus Christ. In His place is belief in God generally, without belief in Jesus Christ and without baptism. In other words, there is no unique need for the Church that Christ founded, so there is no point in discussing whether it is the one, true Church. There are other sources of sanctification and truth.
We now have a new doctrine: Credendi in Deum. What could possibly be wrong with a doctrine based on belief in God? Like so much else in the post-conciliar church, it seems so right. However, when this pope says it, it is a rejection of the entire New Testament.
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Something had drawn those Catholics I met to read Christus Vincit. I even see some of them at our regular Sunday Latin Mass. Perhaps without realizing it, they instinctively know that there is more to the Faith than they have been shown, and they are seeking it. They know for certain that things are not right with this papacy.
On February 28, 2020, Bishop Schneider released his thoughts on “the question of the true pope.” I think Bishop Schneider has identified the process that is at work in those Catholics — namely, the sensus fidelium, a supernatural instinct, given by the Holy Spirit, which allows the faithful to discern what is in conformity with the Catholic and apostolic faith and what is not.
The Church is strong enough and possesses sufficient means to protect the faithful from the spiritual damage of a heretical pope. In the first place, there is the sensus fidelium, the supernatural sense of the faith (sensus fidei). It is the gift of the Holy Spirit, by which the members of the Church possess the true sense of the faith. This is a kind of spiritual and supernatural instinct that makes the faithful sentire cum Ecclesia (think with the mind of the Church) and discern what is in conformity with the Catholic and Apostolic faith handed on by all bishops and popes, through the Universal Ordinary Magisterium.
I would say to those Catholics I met that night, trust your instincts. Seek, and you shall find.
Raymond Kowalski is from Rochester, New York. He is a product of parochial elementary schools and The Aquinas Institute. He holds a bachelor’s degree from St. Bonaventure University and a law degree from The George Washington University. After a forty-year career in communications law, he is retired and living with his wife in Gainesville, Virginia. They are the parents of three and grandparents of five.