ROOM FOR RESPECTFUL DISAGREEMENT AND DEBATE
A most regrettable turn of events causes me to write this commentary. Although it had become clear to me over the course of the last few years that my own work was no longer held in high esteem by the publisher-editor of The Wanderer, A.J. Matt, Jr., I continued to be grateful to him for the many years in which he did see fit to run my commentaries—and continued to explain to those who attended my lecture programs the importance of The Wanderer as the best weekly source of hard news of what is happening in the Church. My disagreement with The Wanderer's editorial positions on matters of prudential judgment, such as national politics, and on its belief that the new Mass can be fixed with proper translations and the enforcement of liturgical norms in no way detracted from the value I believe it had as a means to inform Catholics about important events.
However, it became clear to me several months ago that even some of the hard news being reported in The Wanderer was being slanted to put traditionally-minded Catholics in a bad light.
For example, Paul Likoudis's news story about the Society of Saint John omitted the fact that the very men who were deemed to be naïve in their original support of the Society—John Blewett, Howard Walsh, and Ronald McArthur—came to recognize the problems in the Society as early as the summer of 2000 was quite telling. Nowhere in Mr. Likoudis's story was there a mention of the fact that the three aforementioned individuals resigned from the Society's Board of Advisers that summer, and there was no mention that John Blewett urged remaining board members, including A.J. Matt, Jr., to resign from the board. Indeed, Mr. Matt himself was aware of the fact that serious questions were being raised about the Society of Saint John (concerning the raising and spending of funds under false pretenses) as early as the Fall of 2000. The Wanderer continued to take advertisements from the Society of Saint John after these concerns had been presented to its publisher-editor. The omission of these—and other—facts from Mr. Likoudis's story, when coupled with the gratuitous assertion that traditional Catholics believe that the restoration of the Traditional Latin Mass is a panacea for the problems facing the Church and the world, certainly made it appear as though The Wanderer was attempting to spin the Society of Saint John story as an attack piece against traditional Catholics. This concerned me greatly. However, Messrs. Blewett and Walsh persuaded me to refrain from responding to the factual omissions.
Mr. Matt's editorial attack upon The Latin Mass: A Chronicle of Catholic Culture and its editor, Father James McLucas, contained in the May 23, 2002, edition of The Wanderer makes it necessary to question the objectivity and balance that used to be the hallmark of this country's oldest weekly national Catholic newspaper. Matt's attack upon Latin Mass and Father McLucas cast more than a little suspicion about the reasons explaining the omissions found in the earlier story about the Society of Saint John. They represent a continuing crusade against any traditional Catholic who attempts to use the light of reason informed by the Church's living tradition to question the prudence of the direction of the postconciliar Church and the novel language of ambiguity and vagueness which characterizes many of the documents of the past forty years.
The impetus for Matt's editorial which withdrew The Wanderer's support for The Latin Mass was two-fold: (a) a commentary written by Father McLucas in a promotional letter for The Latin Mass; and (b) a piece written by Mr. John Galvin about Humanae Vitae which was run in the Winter 2002 issue of The Latin Mass. I will treat these two matters in reverse order.
John Galvin's piece, which raised questions about the consequentialist and personalist approaches used by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae while accepting, obviously, the doctrine reiterated therein, was prefaced by a foreword written by Father McLucas. The Latin Mass's editor-in-chief noted that The Latin Mass did not question the orthodoxy of Humanae Vitae. Rather, it was offering Galvin's piece as a matter for reflection. This is what Catholic scholarship is all about: the dispassionate review of how the teaching of Christ is presented in magisterial documents without at all questioning what is contained in the Deposit of Faith. Indeed, Frank Morriss's response to Mr. Galvin's article in The Latin Mass, which is contained in the May 23 issue of The Wanderer is a very well reasoned rejoinder. I find myself agreeing more with Mr. Galvin than with Mr. Morriss. However, there is room in orthodox Catholic circles for such respectful disagreement and debate. Mr. Morriss's rejoinder was written without invective and without the use of pejoratives. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the piece written by Dr. Charles Rice, who demeaned himself more than Mr. Galvin when he referred to him sarcastically as "Pope Galvin I." Such a cheap shot is beneath Dr. Rice and sullies The Wanderer. One can disagree with Mr. Galvin without the use of the pejorative. Mr. Galvin is not Charles Curran. He is a faithful Catholic who is using his reason to raise some serious issues for discussion and debate.
Alas, Mr. Morriss's dispassionate tone stands in stark contrast to the one used by Mr. Matt in his editorial prefacing the three articles. One would come to the conclusion from a reading of Matt's editorial that The Latin Mass was engaging in an exercise foreign to orthodox Catholic scholarship by printing Galvin's piece. It is easy to see how a reader could come to that conclusion given Mr. Matt's incendiary rhetoric and his omission of Father McLucas's foreword to Galvin's commentary (as well as by his failure to check personally with Father McLucas or his publisher or his managing editor as to whether The Latin Mass had run letters critical of Mr. Galvin, which it had).
Most importantly, though, a person reading Mr. Matt's editorial would come to the conclusion that Father McLucas is a reckless schismatic who stands with what Matt refers to quite irresponsibly as the "Taliban Traditionalists" on such matters as the deficiencies of the Novus Ordo or the language used by postconciliar documents to present the Faith.
The truth of the matter is, however, that Father McLucas is far from alone in orthodox Catholic circles when he questions the deficiencies found in the Novus Ordo Mass. The late Monsignor Klaus Gamber, who was not a traditionalist, did so with great scholarship in The Reform of the Roman Liturgy. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger has done so on occasions, albeit intermittently and inconsistently. The Holy Father himself issued a letter in September of 2001 praising the richness of the prayers contained in the Missale Romanum of Pope St. Pius V in 1570. Surely, there is room among faithful Catholics to discuss the differences found in the Mass of tradition in the Latin rite and the synthetic Mass created by a commission in the 1960s. Is a simple comparison of the prayers found in the two Masses a sign of unorthodoxy and schismatic tendencies?
Additionally, Mr. Matt takes Father McLucas to the woodshed for stating that partial truths about God have helped to undermine the Faith in the postconciliar era. Father McLucas is merely pointing out the obvious. A simple comparison of the clarity and certainty found in the encyclical letters of Blessed Pope Pius IX, Pope Leo XIII, Pope St. Pius X, and Pope Pius XI with the ambiguity and nuance found in postconciliar documents is certainly a subject for legitimate Catholic scholarship and comment. As some even within the curia admit privately, there is going to have come a day in the future when there is a dispassionate review as to the fruits of the postconciliar era, especially as it relates to an ecumenism which is very much opposed to the traditional teaching of the Popes, exemplified so well in Pope Pius XI's Mortalium Animos (but also seen in the Syllabus of Errors and in Pascendi Domenci Gregis). To condemn Father McLucas so dismissively is to condemn anyone who undertakes a scholarly review and comparison of the tradition of the Church with the novelties of the past forty years.
There is room in orthodox Catholic circles for respectful debate and disagreement. Although Mr. Matt is free to withdraw The Wanderer's support of The Latin Mass, it is unjust and presumptive to declare it to be no longer a legitimate source of Catholic thought. The very fact that The Latin Mass is provoking thought is itself a proof of its value, a value that even some in the Vatican recognize and respect.
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