Smashing Traditions: The Vatican War Machine is Back

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A few days ago, when speaking with a close friend, I said, “Pope Francis has been quiet for a while now, but I can feel it coming. A whole new barrage is just around the corner.”

Somewhere, deep in my soul, I heard the distant whistle of incoming ecclesiastical artillery. The Vatican war machine appears to be spinning back up, just as expected. With that in mind, I decided to go ahead and publish the story on the alleged papal outburst  – a story I had been sitting on for a while as we looked for more corroboration and sources. By this week, I had heard similar reports from enough people (and found it so consistent with what I have observed) that I believed it credible. That many of those questioned deflected rather than denied that the event took place became its own story. This is the same thing I heard when the Five Cardinals Book was stolen from the Vatican mailboxes of the Synod fathers. When I spoke to journalists in Rome about the latter incident, they said, “It’s strange. Everyone here knows that it happened, but nobody will go on the record.”

What are they all afraid of?

Not everyone agrees with my decision to move forward with a story that lacks a smoking gun. Fine. But I don’t run an investigative journalism operation. I run a commentary and analysis operation. It was important to get the story out there. It was important to lay down cover for those those journalists who do have the resources to dig into it, but don’t have the editorial freedom I do. They deserved an opportunity to examine the story. Once it’s already news, after all, they aren’t stirring up trouble by covering it.

As it turns out, the stalwart Ed Pentin did just that, taking our inquiry to the Vatican, where he received a Jesuitical non-denial from Fr. Lombardi on the issue. You know, the kind where he answers questions with questions that make you think he’s responding, but he’s actually performed semantic Aikido and turned your own inquiry against you? If he were playing poker, this would be his tell:

Who can believe it? People who have been watching this papacy closely. Who can waste time with it? We can, because we don’t consider it a waste at all. In fact, it’s really quite informative whenever we get a glimpse at the temperament of the pope who has the “humility and ambition” to change things in the Church so drastically and unapologetically.

The question Fr. Lombardi didn’t answer was: Did this outburst happen, or didn’t it?

Again: not a denial. A deflection.

There’s certainly reason to believe the Holy Father would have been angry at anyone who opposed his agenda. There’s no longer any question (as we’ve documented somewhat exhaustively) that he was the driving force behind the Synod, that he personally chose to stack the deck with unorthodox prelates, that he empowered Cardinal Kasper, that he preached homilies making those who adhered to the Church’s traditional teaching look like villains, that he warned about a “hermeneutic of conspiracy” around the time these Cardinals sent their letter.

And perhaps most telling, there was his speech at the end of the Synod, in which he vented his invective against the forces arrayed against the synodal agenda:

The Synod, he said,

“was also about laying closed hearts, which bare the closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the Church’s teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families”

He went on:

“In the course of this Synod, the different opinions which were freely expressed – and at times, unfortunately, not in entirely well-meaning ways – certainly led to a rich and lively dialogue; they offered a vivid image of a Church which does not simply “rubberstamp”, but draws from the sources of her faith living waters to refresh parched hearts.”

Oh? Who could he have been speaking about with those “closed hearts” who “hide behind the Church’s teachings”? Who might he have been referring to when he said that “different opinions were freely expressed – and at times…not in entirely well-meaning ways”? Were there other notable disagreements he had with Synod fathers? That’s not what we heard from the language attaches whose job it was to report on the Synod proceedings.

This theme — that those who follow Church teaching and tradition are the bad guys — is one he reiterated just this week:

“Christians who obstinately maintain ‘it’s always been done this way,’ this is the path, this is the street—they sin: the sin of divination. It’s as if they went about by guessing: ‘What has been said and what doesn’t change is what’s important; what I hear—from myself and my closed heart—more than the Word of the Lord.’ Obstinacy is also the sin of idolatry: the Christian who is obstinate sins! The sin of idolatry. ‘And what is the way, Father?’ Open the heart to the Holy Spirit, discern what is the will of God.”

Divination? Really? By definition, Holy Father, that means trying to seek knowledge of the future by some preternatural or supernatural means – not understanding the context of the present through the wisdom that has already been established by Christ’s Church. Is it divination to understand that “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.”?

Obstinancy is the sin of idolatry? Really? So if a young girl were obstinately to say, “No, it is a sin! God does not want it! You’ll go to Hell!” to the young man who tried to coerce her into having sex with him, dying rather than giving up her purity, she would be an idolater and not a saint? If a young boy carrying the Eucharist during a time of persecution obstinately refused to give it up to the pagans who wanted to take it from him, and they beat him to death for it, he would be an idolater and not a saint? If a great scholar and legal mind — and in fact the Chancellor of a mighty kingdom — were to obstinately refuse to endorse his king’s desire to ignore Church teaching and nullify his own marriage, and by so doing incur execution, he would be an idolater, and not a saint?

You see, the Lives of the Saints are filled with stories of men and women, boys and girls, who all shared one thing in common: they were obstinate in their adherence to Catholic truth, even to the point of cruel and ignominious death.

Pope Francis either does not understand this or refuses to accept it, either of which make it is impossible for him to be a friend of Catholic tradition. The evidence is overwhelming. And now, with some of the incoming shells reaching their targets, we have more.

Yesterday, we shared with you the revelation of some Lutherans receiving Holy Communion during Mass from Catholic priests in Rome this week after coming to meet with Pope Francis – an action that appears to have been justified (in the minds of those involved) by his comments about Lutherans receiving communion last November.

Today, we receive news that Pope Francis has decided to change the rule for the Universal Church forbidding women to have their feet washed on Holy Thursday – a rule he himself breaks with regularity:

The Holy Father has written a letter, dated 20 December and published today, to Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, in which he decrees that from now on, the people chosen for the washing of the feet in the liturgy of Holy Thursday may be selected from all the People of God, and not only men and boys.

The Pope writes to the cardinal that he has for some time reflected on the “rite of the washing of the feet contained in the Liturgy of the Mass in Coena Domini, with the intention of improving the way in which it is performed so that it might express more fully the meaning of Jesus’ gesture in the Cenacle, His giving of Himself unto the end for the salvation of the world, His limitless charity”.

“After careful consideration”, he continues, “I have decided to make a change to the Roman Missal. I therefore decree that the section according to which those persons chosen for the Washing of the feet must be men or boys, so that from now on the Pastors of the Church may choose the participants in the rite from among all the members of the People of God. I also recommend that an adequate explanation of the rite itself be provided to those who are chosen”.

This is a debate which has long raged in the Church. Aside from the fact that this ritual is a distraction from the Mass and thus completely superfluous, it was formerly guided by rubrics (which were frequently ignored) and a tradition which, according to a 1988 letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, “should be maintained.”

That tradition was nothing less than recognizing that Christ washed the feet of the apostles only, and so any imitation of His action should be a direct imitation. In a March, 1997 edition of the Adoremus Bulletin, Fr. Jerry Pokorsky analyzed the debate over the topic, discussed the authoritative nature of Rome’s maintenance of tradition, and explained the significance of the ritual itself:

The “proper significance” of the ritual surely depends upon fidelity to what has been received. Like scriptural texts, liturgical actions (as well as liturgical texts) are multivalent: such is their richness and depth that they convey different levels of meaning simultaneously.

The symbolism of the ritual representation of the Lord’s washing the feet of His Apostles is an example of this. Even Peter did not at first understand Christ’s explanation, “What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand”:

Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over; and you are clean, but not every one of you.” For He knew who was to betray Him; that was why He said, “You are not all clean.” (John 13:7-11)

Particularly in the context of the Holy Thursday liturgy, the ritual of washing the feet of men suggests the strong connection between Christ’s washing His Apostles feet and the institution of the Eucharist and Holy Orders. That the Vatican did not the accept the American interpretation of this ritual suggests that there are important theological reasons for the customary practice.

If the washing of feet were only symbolic of charity and service, why did Jesus not wash the feet of the sick, or the hungry, or the lepers, or His friends in the house of Lazarus, or at the feeding of the five thousand? The Lord might have have found other occasions to give a lesson in charity and service in the presence of all His disciples, both men and women. But He did not.

Christ chose an occasion which was not open to all His followers, but only to those twelve men He had chosen and called as Apostles. We must conclude, then, that the ritual is intimately connected to the priesthood and the institution of the Eucharist. Its symbolism cannot be reduced to a general theme of service to the whole Church.

The Lord’s example is given to those who would serve the people of God in His name, calling them to humility and self-abnegation in their priestly ministry. Hence, the ceremonial recalling of this act is liturgically related to the whole mystery of Holy Thursday — to the priesthood and the Eucharist. To include women confuses this focus and obscures the theological meaning of these solemn acts.

But it was Fr. Pokorsky’s conclusion that provided the most relevant takeaway from his article – a conclusion that predates this papal decision by almost 20 years, but is no less applicable in January, 2016:

The liturgical innovation of ritually washing women’s feet on Holy Thursday demonstrates the persistence of those promoting the feminist ideology at the highest levels of the Church’s liturgical establishment…

This is the crux of the matter. It is a “liturgical innovation” driven by feminist ideology. Or simply by ideology that despises the Church’s traditions and sees them as encumbrances rather than treasures. The Congregation for Divine Worship, in its decree on the matter this month, uses the same term: “this innovation in the liturgical books of the Roman Rite…”

Innovation – always innovation. This is the hallmark of the post-conciliar Church, but especially this papacy. There is absolutely no concern for the preservation of what the Church, in her wisdom, has built up organically over the ages. Quite to the contrary. Instead, in less than three years’ time, we have seen the empowerment of heterodox prelates, the tearing up the institution of marriage, the flattening of the understanding of the Eucharist and who should receive it, the waving off of concerns about contraceptive use, the accusation that Catholics obsess about abortion and moral issues, the dismissal (and crushing, in the case of the FFI) of those who are attracted to traditional liturgy, a complete antipathy towards evangelization, and a steady stream of insults from the Vicar of Christ towards those Catholics — priests and laity alike — who devoutly adhere to the Church’s doctrines.

This doesn’t even touch on the long list of theological distortions, humanist concerns, and elevation of worldly matters — like climate change — to a level of ordinary magisterial teaching, despite the fact that specific prescriptions on these topics are clearly outside the Church’s areas of competence.

The disaster of this papacy is interminable. I know that the comment box will soon be filled with people clamoring over how Francis is a heretic, how he isn’t the pope, and so on, and so forth. These comments are needless, arrogant, and serve no purpose – so please refrain. Such juridical matters will not be settled by us, and as such, they are not our concern. We wait for God in His own time to provide a competent judge of these things.

What is our concern is the damage wrought, and what we may do to repair it.

This is not a fight I want to keep fighting. It’s exhausting. But nonetheless, I will continue to do so, because I am an obstinate Christian, and I obstinately love the Church, and the God who founded and guides her.

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