The Great Fašade
Christopher A. Ferrara and Thomas E. Woods, Jr.
reviewed by Peter W. Miller
"That the period following the Second Vatican Council has been a debacle for the Catholic Church is now beyond serious dispute." 1
This opening sentence from the introduction of The Great Fašade states a simple fact which serves as the basis for any intelligent and honest evaluation of the current state of the Church. For only after it is acknowledged that such a crisis exists can its causes be examined and its remedies identified. This statement marks the first of hundreds of sensible and reasoned observations which, in better times, would be laughably obvious. Unfortunately, one of the tragic results of this crisis has been the emergence of an attitude seemingly dedicated to obscuring common sense with elaborate explanations, selective citations and vicious attacks upon faithful Catholics. It is to this current of thought and its dedication to ecclesial novelties that Christopher Ferrara and Thomas Woods have applied the label "neo-Catholic" a term perhaps more precise than "moderate liberal" and much more accurate than the constantly-fluctuating "conservative."
For several decades now, the depressing state of the Catholic Church has been not only observable anecdotally but also easily demonstrated statistically in virtually every measurable category vocations, conversions, Mass attendance, belief in basic doctrine, etc. Even such, the current crisis has long been denied or minimized by many of the neo-Catholic persuasion. Adopting the undying optimism that the Catholic Church is not in a crisis, but just the opposite experiencing a "renewal" amidst the "Springtime of Vatican II" the decrepit state of the Church would be downplayed as a localized, minor or temporary problem. Some would even echo the respective sentiments of Cardinals Ratzinger and Mahony that the striking decrease in Catholic influence and priestly vocations was either an inevitability or a positive good. Even now that the enormous scale of rot has been exposed in the secular press, neo-Catholic apologists who had never admitted to a crisis in the past are working on the newest manifestation of denial which claims all problems worthy of concern are well behind us. Books like Michael Rose's Goodbye, Good Men are dismissed as interesting but severely outdated stories of problems the Church had once upon a time when those slightly more liberal had their way.
Despite the historical volume and persistence of such denial, most Catholics across the spectrum are now admitting what even the late Fr. John Hardon saw as undeniable that the Catholic Church is currently experiencing its worst crisis in history. Given that such a serious claim is now beyond reasonable debate, what could possibly have happened to bring it all about? Was it a 1960's revolution against authority? An American problem attributable to cultural decline? A "failure to embrace the true spiritual promise of Vatican II"?
For too many years, too many Catholics were willing to buy the excuse that some inevitable and mysterious "cultural shift" had resulted in tens of thousands of souls consecrated to Christ abandoning their vocations. This same unexplainable trend led to seminaries and monasteries closing by the hundreds while the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass became a stage for the "creative expression" of feminists and modern "liturgists." But it was the haunting exposure of hundreds of priests raping and molesting children and the systematic ecclesial attempts to cover it all up which became just too much to excuse or ignore. The general optimism that these are glorious times for the Church the "Springtime of Vatican II" seemed, now more than ever, scandalously na´ve.
The recently-exposed behavior of the Church hierarchy has shocked more than one casual observer into entertaining the perfectly sensible notion that maybe the Church leaders are not doing all they can in the realm of governance. It occurs to them that perhaps the depths this scandal reached had something to do with the individuals who allowed it to continue. While some will always dismiss such notions as "anti-Catholic" (even when coming from the mouth of arguably the most Catholic bishop in the United States), others will realize that it's time to put down the pom-poms and take an honest look at the situation.
For what we are seeing is not at all mysterious for those who have read the dire warnings of pre-Conciliar pontiffs and who hold a truly Catholic sense of the role and responsibilities of the Supreme Pontiff. The novelties which began to be introduced to the Church with such great hope and optimism during the 1960's bore their fruits early on; causing even Pope Paul VI to spend his remaining days lamenting the results. The pontificate of John Paul II, energized by an undying sense of optimism, has resulted in a new line of novelties with their own accompanying consequences. It does not serve the Pope, the Church or the world to, out of a false sense of loyalty, deny that which is plain to the eye or to attack those calling attention to the evidence. Such a case is presented and defended by Ferrara and Woods in the pages of The Great Fašade.
Yesterday's Liberals Defend Their Legacy
Ever since the opening of Second Vatican Council, Catholics who did not share in the optimism and enthusiasm of a Church "renewed" through modern "pastoral" techniques have always been regarded as a little strange. Derided even by Pope John XXIII as "prophets of gloom," such individuals were quickly and vastly outnumbered in the avalanche of novelty to which the Church willingly opened Herself.
Although these "dinosaurs" were easy to laugh at for being "out of touch" back in the 1960's when the potential for damage was still hypothetical and only based on right reason and the dire warnings of previous popes, we now have nearly four decades of history entered into the equation. The result? Unless its intent was to decimate the Church as it has existed for centuries, the experiment known as Aggiornamento has backfired in a most horrible way.
As traditionalists repeat what they said yesterday and the day before, history has a persistent habit of vindicating their "pessimistic" stance. What have been the consequences of ignoring warnings that fabricating a Mass to be more acceptable to protestants would result in the "protestantization" of attending Catholics? Or that acting as though all religions are "more or less good and praiseworthy," or perhaps even good enough for salvation will cause fewer souls to become or remain Catholic?
Never ones to admit they were dead wrong or had been duped into the false promises of a "renewed" Catholicism, yesterday's liberals (ironically enjoying the term "conservative" based solely on the emergence of liberals even more radical) have recently began to lash out at traditional Catholics more so than ever before. No longer are traditionalists simply disregarded or taunted for being pessimistic and failing to "get with the times" but they are now publicly condemned of "schism" (or "quasi-schism" or "having schismatic tendencies" or "on a trajectory towards schism") and vilified in the same breath as actual heretics and dissidents.
It was this very attitude that reached a boiling point when a widely-circulated American Catholic publication took the step of publishing a certain seven-part pamphlet. This piece took on the humble responsibility of judging then condemning virtually every Catholic not unquestioningly convinced of the flawlessness of their leaders. As with other instances when this publication has stepped away from its commendable work of exposing extremely radical liberalism and attempted to define its own position in defense of more moderate liberalism, the logic emanating from the series had its share of problems; problems both too obvious and too important to let stand. Although not singled out by name, Christopher Ferrara and Thomas Woods were both implicated for their crime of holding the Catholic beliefs of the past generations and questioning the prudence of novel and non-binding activities. As such an attack also implicated every traditional Catholic living today and virtually every faithful Catholic in the history of the Church up until the 1960's, it was not to go unchallenged. The response came, both unanswerable and devastating. What began as a series of articles published in The Remnant newspaper evolved into arguably the most comprehensive and exquisite defense of the uncorrupted Catholic Faith printed in decades The Great Fašade.
Loyalty and Catholicism
In the pages of The Great Fašade, Ferrara and Woods present traditional Catholicism for what it is not some new movement or overreaction to modern problems but, quite simply, the entirety of Catholicism minus those recent novelties no Catholic is bound to accept. Traditionalists maintain the Faith every Catholic held a mere generation ago and display a resistance to novelty which has always been an integral part of Catholicism.
While the Magisterium of the Church has itself used far stronger language over the years, this book uncompromisingly challenges the disproportionate neo-Catholic attachment to various novel teachings and practices. Such an attachment leads to a reflexive (and borderline hysterical) defense of all papally-approved post-Conciliar innovations regardless of what their outcome has been. Such an attitude often results in an outward assault upon all traditional Catholics who are usually guilty of nothing more that pointing out what is obvious to all that these novelties have taken their toll. Seeing as how no Catholic is bound to hold the opposite of such a view, one would expect these issues to be at the heart of any useful discussion and debate especially in a time of crisis. Unfortunately, rather than engaging in such debates, neo-Catholics seem to prefer (or depend upon) resorting to ad hominem attacks, attaching the labels "schismatic" and "integrist" to anyone suggesting that the state of the kingdom has anything to do with its king.
While the idea that the Pope cannot be criticized was certainly alien to our pre-Reformation ancestors, such a position has steadily gained popularity over the last couple centuries, particularly in English-speaking countries. Primarily in reaction to a Protestant culture which entirely rejects the hierarchical Church, many Catholics (cradle and convert alike) have confused loyalty to the Church with loyalty to the Pope. This phenomenon was observed decades ago by Professor Dietrich von Hildebrand in his book Satan at Work. He lamented the strange
"loyalty towards the Holy Father which is nobly intended, but in which practical decisions of the Pope are accepted in the same way as ex cathedra definitions, or encyclicals dealing with questions of faith or morals which are always in full harmony with the tradition of the Holy Church and her Magisterium. This loyalty is really false and unfounded. It places insoluble problems before the faithful in regard to the history of the Church. In the end this false loyalty can only endanger the true Catholic faith. ... Obviously a political decision or a disciplinary matter is not a dogma. It may be wise or unwise and result in great hardships for the Church and great sufferings for mankind." 2 (emphasis mine)
Expanding upon those "insoluble problems" such a view presents, Michael Davies points out that:
"Those who base their defense of the faith on the axiom that whatever the Pope decides must be right find themselves in a hopelessly indefensible position once they begin to study the history of the papacy. They would have to maintain that St. Athanasius was orthodox until Pope Liberius confirmed his excommunication; that this excommunication made his views unorthodox; but that they became orthodox again when Liberius recanted. In other words, there are no standards of objective truth at all; an article of faith becomes true or untrue simply because of the current attitude of the reigning pontiff." 3
For various reasons, Pope John Paul II has gained a near-fanatical loyalty among a number of Catholics who tend to see every criticism or suggestion that another action would have been more prudent in a given instance to be an "attack" or sign of "hatred" for the Holy Father. The "integrist" label has been giving way to the ridiculous "pope hater" for those who are guilty of pointing out the obvious. As if employees "hate" their boss when they ask why he continues to champion the implementation of reforms which have, by all appearances, hurt the company in every conceivable way. Or children "hate" their father when they question his unwavering optimism and continuous time spent at the neighbors' while his own house is in serious disarray. It's baffling that such a basic truth must be defended and clarified on so many occasions. As is the case with the necessitated reiterations that the clerical sexual assault of teenage boys represents homosexual rather than pedophilic behavior, one is forced to consider whether those who claim otherwise exhibit less of a failure to comprehend than a willful refusal to except plain facts. Even so, since a claim as basic as "criticism does not equate to hatred" still requires justification, Ferrara and Woods do an excellent job of finally putting the issue to rest for all but the hopelessly stubborn or willfully blind.
Ironically, as the attacks against the "integrist pope-haters" get louder and more frequent, some of the observations traditionalists have been making for years are gradually becoming more and more accepted in certain neo-Catholic circles. For instance, it is no longer seen as a sign of subversion (for whatever reason) to believe that the Mass of Paul VI does not represent the height of liturgical perfection or does not accurately correspond to the "true spirit" of Vatican II. This despite the fact that both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II have claimed the New Mass to be an absolutely wonderful development perfectly in line with Sacrosanctum Concilium. Another example pertains to the previously mentioned lack of appropriate governance, particularly with regards to the American bishops' complicity in the escapades of homosexual child-rapists. This disturbing development has left many Catholics (who never before considered themselves to be "pope haters") shocked that such a basic responsibility of leadership has not been fulfilled. But true to form, even after a well respected American bishop points out the obvious fact that it's the Pope's responsibility to appropriately discipline bishops, many neo-Catholics immediately turned on him for "attacking" the Pope. One presumes that if the Holy Father himself were to follow the example of several bishops and admit his personal shortcomings in the area with a public apology (an event entirely possible), the neo-Catholics would be forced to criticize him for "hating" and "attacking" himself if their heads don't first explode from the cognitive dissonance.
But of course we can be sure that the rule of novelty (that which is most recent takes precedence over all else) would cause widespread praise and support for such a hypothetical apology, regardless of the extreme contradictions left on the record. Just as those now agreeing with our Holy Father that altar girls are good for the Church see no problem with the existence of their strong opposition to that same claim made not so many years ago. As another hypothetical example, consider the Assisi "interreligious prayer meetings" (to which none of us "owe assent") and the strong defenses offered by many papal apologists which range from "this has always happened to some degree" to "older disciplines on the matter no longer apply to these times" to "you're a schismatic if you dare question it." It is entirely possible (and even quite likely) that a future Pope will declare that the Supreme Pontiff actively encouraging idolatry, whether it be for bountiful crops or "world peace," is not a good thing. If such a pontiff regains the historical language of the Church, he would go on to say that such statements don't merely apply to his current time but have always been true and those who believed or acted otherwise were in error. In such an instance, the unquestioning defense of the recent would reach a strange dilemma one in which neo-Catholics would face a long exercise in backpedaling.
The compendium of novelties, contradictions and just plain strange behavior detailed in The Great Fašade leads one to understandable concern over the current direction and orientation of the Church's upper hierarchy. Although many a neo-Catholic has taken it upon himself to defend some of the more striking novelties, an attachment to the assumption that the Pope can do no wrong leaves one to defend the indefensible. While elaborate and convoluted explanations have been offered to justify how the Assisi gatherings could be reconciled with Mortalium Animos or why the Pope kissed the Koran, I have yet to hear a neo-Catholic defense of the Pope asking St. John the Baptist to "protect Islam" or the Vatican's apologetic and flattering address to the Red Chinese regime. Instead, there is deafening silence and perhaps a hope that such things didn't really happen or will be "put into context" at a later time.
The simple fact of the matter is that one need not defend every action of the Supreme Pontiff in order to be a loyal Catholic. As Ferrara and Woods so aptly point out, such reflexive defense and flattery actually undermine claims that Pope John Paul II is a "living saint" or worthy of the title "the Great." If everything the Pope does is, by definition, traditional and wonderful and ingenious, he can neither be "John Paul the Great" nor "John Paul the Awful." And if such is the case that arbitrary papal actions dictate what is right and beneficial at any one time, there could never have been a bad Pope or policy in the 2,000-year history of the Church a prospect that those with even a rudimentary knowledge of Catholic history know not to be true. If a Pope or an ecumenical council can succeed in bringing about a "renewal," it is incontrovertible that either is just as capable of bringing about the exact opposite. The guarantee of guidance by the Holy Ghost and protection against the gates of hell did not mean we would be spared times of crisis or be immunized from mistakes in ecclesial policy.
"A Nest of Contradictions"
While there are many aspects of this book that make it an invaluable addition to any faithful Catholic's library, one chapter stands above the rest and is as impressive as any single chapter or article written in years. Entitled "A Nest of Contradictions," Chapter 11 exposes the complete lack of consistency and credibility of the typical neo-Catholic claims.
While some of the more honest defenders of novelty will readily admit that the practices and teachings of the past have been altered or abandoned (or in liberalese, "enriched" or "developed"), such individuals present less of a problem. For there is at least agreement on what has taken place, so the discussion can move on to whether or not it should have, what the results have been and whether it should be allowed to continue. No, the larger dispute is with neo-Catholics who on some level realize the importance of protecting and maintaining Catholic Tradition but claim that everything seen today is perfectly in line with the teachings and practices of the past.
Those with such an attitude will argue that the liturgical reforms of Paul VI, described by Gamber as a destruction of the Roman Rite and by Ratzinger as a banal fabrication, are no different than the minor musical revisions of Pope St. Pius X; or that the modern ecumenical movement is a reasonable continuation of prior exceptions made for invincible ignorance and the tolerance shown towards the private practice of false religions. It is these individuals who, more than any others, need to read this chapter.
The most prevalent contradiction seems to be the neo-Catholic practice of criticizing priests, bishops and cardinals while refusing to do the same, or to tolerate others doing the same, to the Pope. For unless such individuals are willing to admit themselves to be "bishop haters" whose criticisms are born of malice, they have no grounds to attack those critical of papal actions. Often times, bishops will receive criticism for the very same actions for which the Pope is defended, resulting in the Holy Father being held to a lower standard than his bishops. A recent example was seen during the last papal trip to Canada and Central America. Cardinal Francis George of Chicago was rightfully criticized for his participation in a pagan "purification ritual" during World Youth Day in Toronto.4 It was accurately pointed out that the glorification of the area's native pagans was a scandalous insult to the holy Jesuit missionaries tortured and killed by native hands, particularly St. Isaac Jocques and Fr. John de Brebeuf. These observations are sensible and quite true. However, less than one week later, the Pope was in Mexico where he participated in similar "inculturated" ceremonies which featured Aztec dancers and native "purification rituals." Such actions seemed strikingly contrary to the very reason for his visit. At a ceremony to canonize Juan Diego, such a spectacle gave special prominence to the same Satanic religion which the Mother of God appeared to the newly-canonized saint to specifically eliminate. One day later, the Pope participated in a similar ceremony, even though he was there to beautify two martyrs who were tortured and murdered for alerting authorities to the same idolatrous and pagan practices which were now welcomed as a part of a Catholic liturgy. Why is that which is reprehensible for a Cardinal from Chicago perfectly acceptable and praiseworthy for his superior?
Perhaps the most disturbing contradiction of all is the neo-Catholic demand of an unwavering allegiance to the present pontiff's every decision and an array of post-Conciliar novelties, while they disregard a staggering number of the established teachings and traditions which came before. This is most often seen in defenses of the Novus Ordo in which the Mass that was supposedly improved upon is lambasted for its "deficiencies" like the priest "mumbling to himself at the altar" or "excluding the 'people of God'." It is just plain unbelievable that loyal Catholics are demonized for questioning or resisting the non-doctrinal and non-binding novelty known as the "ecumenical movement" by people who will willingly deride a Mass that for centuries sustained Christendom and who will casually disregard (or even mock) urgent and recent papal warnings regarding the dangers of liberalism, modernism and interreligious gatherings. How could pointing out the obvious fact that the Catholic Church shows no signs of the alleged "renewal" and that recent policies do not seem to be helping, possibly compare with the willing abandonment of so many pre-Conciliar teachings and traditions?
Both Relevant and Necessary
In a year where already several important Catholic books have been published, The Great Fašade easily stands out as a monumental work. The exemplary prose makes reading the various chapters swift and enjoyable. At the same time, the attention to detail and extensive footnotes make this not only a great read but a valuable reference tool, ranking it among Michael Davies' Pope John's Council and Romano Amerio's Iota Unum as books belonging in every Catholic's library.
In addition to offering an excellent presentation and defense of Catholic traditionalism and a devastating annihilation of neo-Catholic objections and attacks, The Great Fašade offers two additional sections treating topics relevant for our time. The first is an analysis of the Vatican II document on the liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) which demonstrates the unfortunate accuracy of our Holy Father's claims that the Novus Ordo Missae is consistent with the letter and intent of the Council from which it sprang. The study provides an important warning to those liturgical "restorationists" seeking a "return to the true intentions of the Fathers of the Council." The second section is an analysis of the recent CDF document Dominus Iesus, the circumstances surrounding its release and the strange reactions and backtracking which followed. Hailed in the neo-Catholic press as a return to the same direct language for which the "integrists" are derided for expecting, this study addresses the question of whether Dominus Iesus represents a return to the clear doctrinal presentations of years past, or a continued compromise to modern "ecumenism" a policy whose consistency with the beliefs and sacrifices of thousands of missionaries and martyrs is far from apparent.
As more and more Catholics awaken to the fact that the Church is undergoing a crisis rather than "Springtime" and as new liberal "reform" groups are taking the opportunity to facilitate further abuses, all denial as to the results of the last round of reforms needs to stop. Perpetuating the myth that Vatican II resulted in a "renewal" of the Church substantiates the claims of those pushing for further reforms or, worse yet, planning for a "Vatican III" (See the National Catholic Reporter web site for a "blueprint"). At a time such as this, the Pope and the Church do not need uncritical "yes men" but an informed, intelligent Catholic laity. As Dominican theologian Melchior Cano observed at the Council of Trent when an overreaction to Protestantism was forming the basis for neo-Catholicism:
"Peter has no need of our lies or flattery. Those who blindly and indiscriminately defend every decision of the supreme Pontiff are the very ones who do most to undermine the authority of the Holy Seethey destroy instead of strengthening its foundations."
When future generations of Catholics look back on this post-Conciliar era, what aspects will most stand out? Will Pope John Paul II be praised for his personal piety, hope and optimism, or will he, like so many of his predecessors, be remembered for the state of the Church during his reign and the actions he did or did not take to affect it? Will that which falls under the broad category of "ecumenism" be seen as the start of a movement that resulted in the massive return of non-Catholics to the Church, or a missed opportunity which only served to embolden dissidents in their errors? Will the current liturgical circus evolve into the hallmark of a glorious age for the Church, or continue undermining basic Catholic doctrine such as the sacrificial nature of the Mass and the Real Presence? Will the Catholics remembered for uncommon perseverance amidst the storms of such a troublesome age be those who spent their time and energy defending ecclesial novelties and deriding those refusing to "let go of the past," or those who so loved Holy Mother Church that they refused to make a virtue out of doing nothing, and chose instead to defend and fight for the Faith? As the answers to these and many other questions approach us, The Great Fašade stands as a historical testimony for those Catholics who would not surrender even the smallest aspect of the Holy Catholic Faith to the revolutionaries.
Peter W. Miller
1 C. Ferrara & T. Woods, "The Great Fašade" p.1 (2002)
2 D. von Hildebrand, "Satan at Work" p. 45 - At the end of the passage, he was specifically referring to the "present-day illusion that Communism has become 'humanitarian-socialism'," an error which he considered to have worse consequences that "all the combined political errors in the almost 2,000 year history of the Church."
3 M. Davies, "Pope John's Council" p.174-175 (1977)
4 K. Maurer, "Cardinal George Joins 'Purification Ceremony' in Toronto" The Wanderer (8/8/2002)