News Archive

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle...

Seattle Catholic is not affiliated with the Archdiocese of Seattle
Seattle Catholic
A Journal of Catholic News and Views
3 Nov 2003

No Wonder Our Ranks Keep Growing

by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.


Ever since writing The Great Fašade with Chris Ferrara, I've cut back on writing about fresh outrages and innovations in the life of the Church. Not that that isn't important. But I enjoy writing about a fairly broad array of topics, and I'm not sure how useful it is — at least for me — to keep publishing articles about essentially the same thing, or to compose yet another reply to a critic. Necessary as such topics are, even good traditionalists eventually weary of them. Chris and I believe we have provided a useful framework by means of which people can make sense for themselves out of the ongoing post-conciliar revolution. Having done that, I now feel freer to start (for example) a series for The Latin Mass magazine on how the monks built Western civilization, and other historical topics that have engaged my interest.

Once in a while, though, the polemicist in me still rises to the surface. When I read that Pope John Paul II had actually kissed the ring of the Anglican "Archbishop" of Canterbury in their recent meeting together, I wondered how the reliable apologists of the present regime in the Vatican would explain that one away. Not surprisingly, they've simply ignored it. But it cannot be ignored.

A little history is in order here. In 1896, Pope Leo XIII declared in his bull Apostolicae Curae that Anglican orders were invalid. That is to say, priestly powers are not conferred upon a man who undergoes the Anglican rite of ordination. This conclusion followed logically from the standard Catholic practice with regard to Anglican converts: those who had received Anglican orders and desired to become Catholic priests had traditionally been unconditionally ordained in the Catholic rite. Some Anglicans suggested in the late nineteenth century that this practice had been carried out in the absence of a systematic study of the Anglican ordination rite, and that perhaps such a study may conclude that Anglican orders were valid after all. Pope Leo authorized a commission to carry out such a study, and ultimately published his bull that authoritatively settled the matter. He began by noting that the question of Anglican orders could hardly be conceived of as still open, but that as a matter of charity he wished to consider the question openly and systematically. He concluded that matters both extrinsic and intrinsic to the Anglican rite of ordination rendered it invalid, and that therefore neither the priesthood nor the episcopate could be validly conferred thereby.

Shortly after issuing his bull, Pope Leo wrote that his "intention had been to pass a final judgment and settle [the question] forever." The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia describes Apostolicae Curae as infallible by virtue "of the constant practice of the Holy See, the consentient teaching of the theologians, as well as of the clearest deductions from the principles of faith." Even a commentary by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Pope John Paul II's 1998 Apostolic Letter Ad Tuendam Fidem described Pope Leo's teaching on this matter as one "to be held definitively."

Yet if it is true that actions speak louder than words, we are faced here with the zillionth time in post-conciliar history in which official teaching and official action are demonstrably at odds. Pope Paul VI gave the Anglican "Archbishop" of Canterbury an episcopal ring, and John Paul II gave Rowan Williams, the present occupant of that office, a pectoral cross. These are symbols of ecclesiastical authority — and, as John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter correctly notes, they are not given to laymen dressed in bishops' costumes. What could these gestures mean, and do they not materially contradict Apostolicae Curae?

On October 4 of this year, Allen questioned Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Catholic Primate of England and Wales, about what he thought the theological significance of all this might be.

"It's more than nothing," replied a smiling Murphy-O'Connor.

"Even if it's hard to say exactly what that 'more than nothing' is?" asked Allen.

"Exactly," the cardinal replied.

Now bear in mind that conservative Anglicans have gone out of their way to make known their displeasure at the socially liberal and pro-homosexual Williams. This is the man whom the Holy See is so eager to dignify as being in possession of some kind of episcopal authority, however attenuated.

Allen went on to write in his report: "Murphy-O'Connor said that however one interprets the meaning of these gestures, they clearly imply that in some sense the Catholic Church is already beyond the position expressed in Apostolicae Curae."

There's that post-conciliar mentality again: "We're beyond that." The contempt for the pre-conciliar Church — you remember, the one people flocked to rather than fled from — is seldom absent. We're so beyond that Church!

You'd think 40 years of disaster and decline would have humbled them, and that now they might be less likely to disparage their predecessors. Yet it's not so. It's like a humanist of the twentieth century speaking blithely of the progress of humanity, and of how much better everything is since we've become so secular, even though he's just lived through the most appalling and destructive century in the history of the world. It never occurs to him that he should be humbled by what he's just lived through, and should no longer be so quick to dismiss the wisdom of earlier times. Likewise with the Church: if they genuinely desired the Church's good, the architects of innovation, who are so quick to condemn the pre-conciliar Church as too harsh, too exclusivist, too Scholastic, too "triumphalist," ought to have been humbled by the catastrophic declines she has suffered in every measurable aspect of her life since Vatican II. Isn't one interpretation of the catastrophe that has resulted from revolutionizing the Church that the pre-conciliar Church may have been on to something after all?

As traditionalists well know, episodes like this are only the tip of the post-conciliar iceberg. Interaction with the Anglican Church that seems to run counter to all of Catholic practice since the Anglican schism began in the sixteenth century is nothing compared to the almost complete evacuation of the missionary spirit from the Catholic Church's interactions with members of other religions. Consider just one recent example: the interreligious meeting that took place a month ago in Aachen, under Catholic auspices. As you can see in these photographs, an invitation to "discover Islam!" can be seen standing in the beautiful Church of St. Nicholas. So can a statue of Buddha. Obscuring a statue of St. Joseph is a display by representatives of the Baha'i religion, which boasts of being the world's third-largest second-tier religion.

There's little point in trying to argue that the attitude of indifference inherent in such a gathering — see the photographs for yourself — is at variance with the very idea of the need for conversion to Catholicism; there is likewise little to be gained by pointing out what the entire assembly of saints would have thought of this spectacle, or wondering how it can be reconciled with the work of so many holy missionaries, who perished that others may have eternal life. After all, we're so beyond all that now!

In attendance at and encouraging this display was Cardinal Walter Kasper, whom Pope John Paul II himself both named a cardinal and appointed to head the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity. Cardinal Kasper concelebrated the opening Mass, along with quite a few other high-ranking churchmen, including Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, also of the Holy See, and Heinrich Mussinghoff, the Bishop of Aachen. These photographs cannot possibly reflect an honest mistake. If this is not a manifestation of the Sillonistic agenda that St. Pius X condemned, what is?

A rather testy piece of e-mail correspondence made the rounds among traditionalists a few weeks ago, having been composed by a well-known apologist for papal and post-conciliar innovation. In one of its kindest lines it urged us, "Get things off your chest by writing private letters to the Pope (and bishops), thereby registering your concerns and pleas with the only rulers and judges in the Church established by Christ." Public opposition to the kinds of policies I have just described "causes scandal among the 'weaker brethren' and foments disobedience and dissent among members of the flock towards legitimate Church authority."

Such is the level of corruption today that this is what even a self-described "conservative" is telling us to do. Perhaps a letter to Cardinal Kasper is what is needed; perhaps he was simply absent the day they taught Apostolicae Curae. And perhaps a few letters from laymen might dissuade Cardinal Kasper and his brethren from a program of novelty whose supernatural consequences can scarcely be calculated.

Not for a moment does this critic concede that the very fact that we should have to correct our prelates on such obvious matters of faith in the first place is a damning indictment of the present regime, or that this itself is the real source of scandal among the "weaker brethren." For him, it's traditionalist objections themselves that give scandal. That's little better than the logic of leftists who condemn critics of affirmative action as "divisive"; aren't affirmative action's critics simply pointing out what the architects of this policy have done, and isn't it those policies themselves — which amount, plain and simple, to racially based privileges — that are divisive? Likewise, how can it be scandalous for the laity simply to point out what's going on in Rome? If nothing abnormal is taking place, how could pointing things out give scandal to anyone? As Chris Ferrara and I note in The Great Fašade, "Those who condemn traditionalists so rashly have blinded themselves to the ultimate cause of the great crisis of which traditionalist resistance is but a symptom."

In fact, Chris and I have received countless letters from people who have said that our book has helped them keep both their sanity and their Catholic faith. Even a popular columnist for The Wanderer wrote to say that the book had deepened his faith.

People like this critic are free to go on suggesting that things aren't really so bad, or that abominations such as that at Aachen constitute legitimate "developments" of Catholic teaching, or that it's just wonderful that the Holy See rolls out the red carpet for a figure for whom even conservative Anglicans have nothing but contempt. They may say that all we need to do is write these men letters — perhaps we're dealing here with inadvertent denials of central aspects of the Catholic faith. Perhaps men with years of theological training have committed a few understandable intellectual errors, all of which can be cleared up by a polite note from a layman in Hoboken.

They may say and think these things all they like. But no one with a functioning brain can take any of it seriously. No wonder traditionalist ranks continue to grow: it is traditionalism, and traditionalism alone, that can make sense of the present crisis in a way that neither compromises on matters of faith nor insults the faithful's intelligence.

This particular critic, in his correspondence with traditionalists, is notoriously irritable and humorless. I can hardly blame him: I'd be that way too if I had the distinctly unenviable (and self-imposed) task of squelching all objections to a regime that I must know in my heart fully merits them.

Although we, like anyone else, want to win the arguments in which we engage, traditionalists are not involved in anything so sterile as intellectual combat for its own sake, or for the purpose of showing up an opponent. When a long-time intellectual antagonist (but good friend) recently conceded that I had been right all along about the state of the Church, I told him that while I was pleased that he had come around to our position, I took no pleasure in winning the argument. All that traditionalists want is for our critics at last to face the reality that is all around us, for only if we are undeceived can we make any serious progress towards rebuilding the Church.

The reality of the situation is all around them, staring them directly in the face, yet all they can bring themselves to do is to criticize those of us who merely point out what everyone can see. All we are doing, Chris Ferrara sometimes says, is stating the obvious. And this is just what some people need. As George Orwell once said, "We have sunk to such a depth that the restatement of the obvious has become the first duty of intelligent men."


Thomas E. Woods, Jr., holds a bachelor's degree from Harvard and his Ph.D. in history from Columbia University. He is associate editor of The Latin Mass magazine and co-author of The Great Fašade: Vatican II and the Regime of Novelty in the Roman Catholic Church. His next book, The Church Confronts Modernity: Catholic Intellectuals and the Progressive Era, will be published by Columbia University Press in May 2004.

© Copyright 2003 Thomas E. Woods, Jr.

© Copyright 2001-2006 Seattle Catholic. All rights reserved.