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The Curious Case of Maximum Beans

Allow me, if you will, a discursive break in a Friday blog post from my normal policy of not writing about other writers. Sometimes, a person generating enough bizarre commentary warrants a response.

I am referring to Massimo Faggioli.

Faggioli, whose name translates roughly to something like “Maximum Beans,” (a popular observation that apparently really bothers him, which makes it more enjoyable to use) has a degree in “religious history” but has been presented to the world as a theologian. He does this with the assistance of the almost but just not quite Ivy League school Villanova University, which has employed him in its theology department as a full professor.

That said, when was the last time anyone said the words “Villanova” and “Catholic” in the same sentence?

In any case, Beans has risen quickly to prominence as a commentator and columnist for the ultra-heterodox faction of the Catholic Church, all of whom seem to have come out from under their respective rocks to revel in the eclipse of authentic Catholicism that Francis has wrought.

His relative popularity is curious. For my taste, he’s a little too on the nose. One has the unmistakable impression, when reading his tweets, that he is the theology professor edition of the ultra-Boomer church lady parody account “Susan from the Parish Council.”

His most unique characteristic is that where many progressive Catholics attempt to mask their disdain for real Catholicism, Massimo comes right out and says things like this:

There is no possible coexistence between an “ordinary form of theology” (in this case, a Catholic theology of Judaism shaped especially between the conciliar declaration Nostra Aetate and St. John Paul II) and an “extraordinary form”, which allows Catholics to hold views that are no longer taught by their Church.

This is the point of the debate today on liturgy in the Roman Catholic Church.

The kids may be Old Rite, but their desperate quest for liturgical beauty might bring back some really ugly stuff.

Or how about this, from a guy who is unironically in love with the Vatican’s Chinese Ostpolitik:

There should be canonical sanctions against Catholic news outlets that interfere with the freedom of the pope to make bishops’ appointments

On the same theme — censoring people he doesn’t agree with — our diminutive Italian friend tweets:

The sooner academic Catholic theologians take seriously the fact that the future clerical leadership of the Church get what they need to know from approved Catholic websites and gurus, the better[.]

I guess he hasn’t talked to Mark Shea about the number of seminarians reportedly reading sites like this one. According to the High King of Histrionics, 40% of seminarians at one “left-leaning” seminary “are into Fr. Z, Skojec, Taylor Marshall, Cardinal Burke, etc.”

And “at more traditionalist/conservative seminaries,” Shea’s contact “suggests it’s more like 70–80%.”

And this is Shea’s great lament: “These are your future priests, folks. This is where the real danger is.”

Pearls officially clutched!

But I digress.

Old Beans may talk up canonical sanctions for the unwashed adherents of Catholic orthodoxy, but he’s a fan of the law only when he can wield it like a cudgel against his ideological enemies. In other cases, where it should already be enforced (and inexplicably isn’t), he’s a simon-pure antinomian:

I am very well aware of the very important role of Canon Law in the Church (see my lecture at CLSA convent. in Indianapolis). But I believe that for Catholics what the pope teaches is more relevant than what canon 915 says (says for now) about holy Communion #AmorisLaetitia

One of my all-time favorite moments was when he got trolled, hard (so unbelievably hard) by First Things senior editor Matthew Schmitz. Schmitz, deploying a little psychological experiment, tweeted:

Someone’s got to say it: Pope Francis breaks Catholic traditions whenever he wants. Our Church is openly ruled by an individual rather than by the authority of Scripture alone or even the dictates of tradition plus Scripture.

Faggioli bit down on that particular worm with all his might, and the hook was well and truly set:

There was just one teensy little problem: Schmitz was just quoting the (not then but now disgraced) “fellow New catholic Red Guard member” (as Fr. Z aptly called him), Fr. Thomas Rosica.

It’s unclear whether Fr. Rosica, who apparently plagiarized almost everything he ever wrote, actually came up with the quote in question. But he certainly believed it. And though his original blog at Salt and Light Catholic Media now returns a “NOT FOUND” error, Schmitz did everyone the favor of grabbing a screenshot of the original quote:

When that high-potency emetic was first published, I wrote something about Fr. Rosica’s pattern of idolatry of Pope Francis. Strangely, I don’t recall ever seeing people like Beans critique this particularly disgusting habit of this particularly disgusting priest.

It’s interesting, though, that these kinds of statements are pounced upon by people of Massimo’s theological persuasion only when it appears they’re coming from a “conservative” Catholic.

So why am I telling you all of this?

Well, first, because it’s mildly entertaining. But second, because Our Friend Beans is undeservedly grabbing everyone’s attention again today with comments reported at the Catholic News Agency accusing three members of the American episcopacy of being “devout schismatics.” (As another quasi-humorous aside, the always hypersensitive Beans has accused CNA of lying when it said it could not reach him for comment. I can’t force myself to go through all the back and forth, but reading his tone, I imagine him clenching his fists indignantly, his eyes welling up with tears behind those pretentious glasses then running dramatically down his carefully manicured scruff.)

“Devout schismatics” is a weird term, and it requires some effort at explanation — if only so you can proffer an informed scoff.

The comments circulating today originated in a July 16 piece hidden behind the interminable paywall at La Croix International. (Never fear. I pay to read this stuff so you don’t have to!) Faggioli describes this term as derivative of an Italian phrase: “atei devoti” — devout atheists. He says these “devout atheists” are “atheists who display a public deference towards traditional Catholic teaching on moral and social issues while violating those very same teachings in their private lives.”

Faggioli claims that a “love story” had developed “between Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI and the atei devoti, opening a new phase in the Church’s long history of exercising political expediency in the Western hemisphere.”

These devout atheists, he claims, tended “to see the Catholic tradition as an essential pillar for the preservation of Western civilization. And because of this, certain church hierarchs have given them preferential treatment, even above and beyond that accorded to ‘normal’ Catholics. They have considered them allies in the fight against secularism and Islam.”

For Faggioli, this means that they are supporters of war in the Middle East “as a new crusade against Islam” and they join in criticism of the E.U. for “failing to acknowledge ‘the Christian roots of Europe’ in its foundational texts.”

(Perish the thought!)

For Faggioli, it was only a “short step” to transition from the ascendancy of these devout atheists to his so-called “devout schismatics,” who are characterized, in his view, as coming into existence in reaction and response to the election of Pope Francis, “who immediately began challenging any identification of the Church with conservative political-theological assumptions — precisely because they do not express true Catholicism, especially for believers from the global south.”

Beans goes on:

They are devout in the sense that they publicly display their preference for a traditionalist Church and its devotions, such as the rosary. They are schismatics because they openly promote the undermining of the bishop of Rome among the Catholic faithful.

These “devout schismatics” are not only politicians. They also include some theologians, priests, bishops and even cardinals. Their schismatic instincts have been on display since the beginning of Francis’ pontificate. But they were particularly visible in August 2018, when some of them — such as Archbishops Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and Salvatore Cordileone of San Francis, as well as Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler (Texas) — sided with Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former papal nuncio to Washington who called on Francis to resign.

Ironically, Chaput is cited as having told Hugh Hewitt in 2013 that the election of Francis made him “extraordinarily happy, because quite honestly, he is the man I was hoping would be Pope eight years ago.”

As in, instead of Ratzinger.

But we can have a chat about “conservative” bishops another time.

Faggioli then offers this pearl of insight:

The conduct of Catholics who are opposing the current pope is very different from the loyal dissent of believers in the 20th century — from the age of Yves Congar and Marie-Dominique Chenu before the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) to liberation theologians between the 1980s [and] today.

He isn’t joking, which makes it kind of funny.

For Max Beans, you see, the important distinction is that “None of these earlier ‘dissenters’ left the Church or accused the pope of heresy, even though they held theological opinions that differed from official teaching in Rome.”

Maybe it’s just me, but perhaps that’s because the popes they dissented from were arguably quite a bit farther from the “heretical” category than the current occupant of the See of Peter, and that they themselves were the ones having a tryst with heresy. But one would have to believe in objective theological and moral truth to recognize that, I suppose.

Beans clearly doesn’t.

He also sees a dissimilarity between “today’s devout schismatics” and the “adherents of Archbishop Lefebvre’s schism” (sic). Though he characterizes the Lefebvrists as “often outright fascist,” he claims that they “could not identify with a nationalist leader who appealed to open disloyalty the same way Salvini, Trump and their ecclesiastical attachés are doing today.”

(It’s always impressive how much more Trump lives rent-free in the heads of leftist Catholics than even the “right-wingers” who voted for him.)

“The identification between Catholicism and Western conservatism,” Faggioli adds, “has worked because of the limited spectrum of issues so close to the heart of these devoted atheists.”

I wonder if you can hear my eyes rolling from space.

Massimo Faggioli has risen to a certain sort of prominence in certain sorts of circles, and for the moment, his opinion is being thereby amplified. He’s that particular breed of academic, leftist snob who thinks his opinions about the Faith are a gift to those fortunate enough to receive them.

And though his thought is dangerous, the danger it poses is mostly to his own soul and anyone unfortunate enough to be under his direct influence. He strikes me as utterly incapable of persuading anyone not already on his side; he preaches instead to a particular ivory tower choir, and they are busy pretending that they’re singing a new church into creation while everyone else is just pointing and laughing at them.

On the other hand, we seem to have reached a point of polarized stasis. Most of us have found our entrenched positions. We’re not retreating, we’re dug in, we’re shelling each other from our respective foxholes, and it’s hard not to wonder when this futile aspect of our war for the soul of the Church will ever end. If Faggioli isn’t winning converts, I’m honestly not sure anyone is.

It is worth noting, in terms of influence, that those who share Faggioli’s ideas are currently in control of the Church’s institutions, which explains in large part how he’s found his fifteen minutes of fame. (Perhaps this is why, in part, he argues in favor of retaining those institutions, so that those who “remain bitterly opposed to Vatican II and eager to undo its work” won’t take them over.) They are Modernists, however, and inasmuch as they are convinced that dogma evolves and the Church must change according to the times, they will ultimately all be gravely disappointed.

Men of Faggioli’s transitive significance, I suspect, will, in those halcyon days yet to come, be forgotten almost as quickly as they rose to grab attention. What they are working for has a foundation of sand; by definition, it cannot last.

Ironically, the most significant contribution Faggioli has made to the Catholic conversation has taken the shape of his insistence in pointing out, with some regularity, just how irreconcilable post-conciliar theology is with the perennial thought of the Church. He sees this as a necessary evolution; a triumph of good over evil — or at least over “ugly.”

But for those with eyes to see, these distinctions must be made before a true restoration can begin, and Faggioli has done us all a service by emphasizing that contrast.

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