Field guide to the Roman Catholic civil war


Could you be more detailed in who is fighting the civil war?


The civil war is between traditionalists (they use the Tridentine Mass primarily or exclusively) and conservatives (they accept and primarily use the Novus Ordo/“new” Mass but with cautious criticism) on one side versus the secularized (“we want to fit in like mainline Protestants do”), Modernist (“Jesus wasn’t God, He didn’t found a church”), mimicking the secular left in politics, post-’60s establishment in the Roman Catholic Church in the US and Canada (sometimes called “AmChurch”). With the last are dissenters from Humanæ Vitæ (they are pro-artificial contraception), the small but vocal “ordain women!” group and an even smaller but media-favored proabortion faction (including “Catholics for a Free Choice,” a rump sect subsidized in part by that great promoter of chastity, healthy sexuality and respect for women, Hugh Hefner’s Playboy magazine). Most gay activists are honestly secular but they have a few fellow travelers (like the group Dignity) among church types.

Both traditionalist and conservative Roman Riters sometimes take refuge at Byzantine Catholic churches, which are supposed to follow this tradition, preserving both the essential traditional teachings of the faith and sound liturgical practice.

The demographics of the two sides are roughly as follows:

Right side (traditionalists and conservatives): the elderly who remember the pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic Church, a few middle-aged converts to the cause and a surprising number of young adults, including converts, who want nothing to do with the post-’60s mess being passed off as Catholicism.

Wrong side: Middle-aged people now entering their retirement years who led the revolt against tradition in the late 1960s and basically have hijacked institutional Catholicism in the US. They are starting to die off but won’t leave without doing a lot of physical (trashed churches) and spiritual damage.

One promising thing in a way is the lack of young people in the dissenter camp. Most American young adults tend to be honest secular people or pagans, who have my respect even though they are objectively wrong (they are not quislings like the old liberals); the rest want to be traditional.

Another thing that has been pointed out: demographics may be destiny as dissenters tend not to sexually reproduce. Conservatives and traditionalists have children. (What few grandchildren the other side has are probably off at the mall or listening to Eminem, not into the boring PC do-gooderism of their elders.)

A sample list of institutions associated with each side:

Right: The Remnant (traditionalist), The Wanderer, National Catholic Register (not NCR), New Oxford Review (NOR), EWTN, Opus Dei, the Fraternity of St. Peter (traditionalist), the Society of St. Pius X (traditionalist but technically in schism from the official Church) and Christendom College (conservative).

Also right but officially nonsectarian (rather like this blog) with a very “mere Catholicism” feel is Touchstone.

Wrong: National Catholic Reporter (NCR — useful if you have an unhousebroken puppy or a birdcage), Call to Action, We Are Church, Renew, Maryknoll and most mainstream religious orders, mainstream RC colleges/universities and college campus ministries/Newman Centers.

Traditionalists basically hold that the aftermath of Vatican II and possibly the council itself were mistakes in prudential judgement by the Pope and bishops. Conservatives pay attention to what Vatican II actually says, within the context of the entire corpus of Catholic tradition, and tend to follow orders on liturgy even when they disagree. Another distinction between traditionalists and conservatives besides the Mass is that although traditionalists accept Roman Catholic teaching about papal authority, they remember that their faith is not a personal cult of the Pope and so can and do admit he makes mistakes. Conservatives shy away from criticizing the Pope as they see him as one of their few rallying points in the war. (The others include Marian piety and the prolife movement.) The Modernist follows through on the secularist, man-centred wrong thinking of some church officials of 35 years ago (the alleged “spirit of Vatican II”) and takes it to its dead-end conclusion. Here is more on the differences between traditionalists and conservatives, both in the church and in US politics.

A Roman Catholic has described the divisions among those who use the Novus Ordo: “From my own experience I find three types of parishes within the Pauline Use (Novus Ordo). (The first and second types are where you find conservatives.) The first (a minority) are parishes that are liturgically and doctrinally sound. The Masses are very much like those televised on EWTN. (Or, better still, like the Brompton Oratory in London.) The second are doctrinally sound with correct but ho-hum liturgy with minor liturgical transgressions that occur mostly out of ignorance of liturgical law. Overuse of extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, the same cleansing the vessels, bad music, poor liturgical art and furnishings, etc. are a few examples. Most parishes fall into this category. The third are unsound doctrinally and sometimes outright heretical with grevious liturgical abuse. Use of invalid matter for the offerings, laypeople performing functions of the clergy, and feminist and New Age heresy infecting the theology of the prayers are among the abuses found in these parishes and groups like Call to Action. The number of these parishes is small, but there are enough to cause concern.”

The first group are mostly conservatives (but not always — there are cultured dissenters, including male practicing homosexuals, who like the aesthetics); the second are a mix of conservatives, Modernists and the nonaligned “everyman” Catholic majority. Group three are Modernists.

The charismatic movement’s role in the war is murky. Once they were allied with the dissenters because of their “ecumenical” roots, being basically a 1960s import from Protestantism. Today, however, it seems much of the movement is allied instead with conservatives, merging with the latter’s Marian and prolife activist movements and adopting Eucharistic Exposition and Benediction with gusto, while remaining very low-church liturgically otherwise (guitars and all that... but even that is slowly changing thanks to a maturing appreciation for Catholic tradition). I think some of them always were socially/politically conservative (no unchastity, vote prolife, etc.) because of their tie to evangelical Protestantism, which made their alliance with RC dissenters even more puzzling. I maintain that charismatism can’t be trusted and is to be avoided (as ‘enthusiasm’ in the Ronald Knox sense) but I don’t doubt the sincerity of its adherents among the conservatives. Read this remark from St. John Neumann on similar hysteria in his day.

Update: Since Benedict XVI reformed the new Mass in English, bringing the text closer to the Latin and thus to the old Mass, things are better all over.

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