On Radical Traditionalism

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THERE is no question that a post-Vatican II revolution of “progressives” has wreaked havoc in the Church, ultimately levelling entire religious orders, church architecture, music and Catholic culture – manifestly witnessed in all things surrounding the Liturgy. I have written much about the damage to the Mass as it emerged after the Second Vatican Council (see Weaponizing the Mass). I have heard first-hand accounts of how “reformers” entered into parishes late at night, white-washing iconography, smashing statues, and taking a chainsaw to ornate high altars. In their place, a simple altar covered in a white cloth was left standing in the middle of the sanctuary — to the horror of many churchgoers at the next Mass. “What the Communists did in our churches by force,” immigrants from Russia and Poland have said to me, “is what you’re doing yourselves!” 

In the outstanding account of what took place in the first years after Vatican II, the sleeve to John Eppstein’s 1971-73 book gives an apt summary of what was unfolding:
Never before in its long history has the Roman Catholic Church been in such disarray as now. Its rituals and disciplines, its splendour, its unchanging confidence, the very features which in the past attracted so many converts, seem to have been wantonly abandoned. The authority of the Pope is questioned. A stream of highly-publicized priests and nuns have rejected their vows. The Mass and the catechism have been given strange new forms. Clergy in at least one entire country seem on the verge of schism. There is deep distress and perplexity amon the faithful. To some these changes are a sign of renewal: but to many others, no less loyal, the Church seems suddenly to have gone mad and to be squandering its 2000-year inheritance. —from Has the Catholic Church Gone Mad? (cover sleeve), The Catholic Book Club, 1973
That was five decades ago but could have been written yesterday. During this period, however, many positive signs also emerged revealing God’s grace at work as a counter to the growing apostasy. But it’s these very Divine Interventions that are now being assailed by what Cardinal Joseph Zen calls “extreme conservatives” or others call “rad trads” (radical traditionalists). Posting their declarations on social media, they are causing a great deal of consternation, confusion, and division… if not preparing the soil for schism. Here are just a few examples of claims being made by extreme conservatives (though these views may be held by others in the mainstream to one degree or another)…
I. “Vatican II is the source of apostasy”

Second Vatican Council

This is one of the most breathlessly repeated assertions, yet do people know what they mean by blaming Vatican II? They hardly ever offer specific substantive proofs other than perhaps a handful of ambiguous statements in Second Vatican II documents that can just as easily be interpreted in accordance with Sacred Tradition. In fact, whenever there is an ambiguity, it must be interpreted according to a hermeneutic of continuity with the past.

Pope Benedict believed strongly in the continuity of the Magisterium guided by the Holy Spirit, for him the only hermeneutics of the Council must be that of continuity, not of rupture… Obviously, when he said: “We must remain faithful to the today of the Church”, he meant faithful to a today which is guaranteed to be faithful to the yesterday. A Council of today is faithful to all the Councils of yesterday, because the actor of today’s Council is properly the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit who guided all the past Councils; He cannot deny himself.

…To which ‘yesterday’ do you want to be faithful? To the First Vatican Council ? Or to the Council of Trent? You trust more the Holy Spirit of the previous Councils? Don’t you think that the Holy Spirit may have said something new to all the previous Councils and may have new things to tell us today (obviously, nothing in contradiction to previous Councils)? —Cardinal Joseph Zen, May 28, 2024; oldyosef.hkdavc.com

Cardinal Zen then rightly points to the misconstrued understanding of what took place after the Council asking whether the metastasizing of modernism was a result of “The Council itself or the situation of the Church after the Council?”

Post hoc is not necessarily propter hoc. You cannot blame on the Council all the wrong things that happened after it in the Church.

The liturgical reform, for example, was maturing in the Church long before the Council, many thought that they knew what it had to be, and they simply ignored the Council Document. Then we could see so many abuses, with the consequent loss of the sense of reverence for the sacred Mysteries. When Pope Benedict appealed for the “reform of the reform”, he did not mean to repudiate the Council, but a distorted understanding of the real Council.

Distortions and amputations of Vatican II teaching abound.

In truth, there were already serious warnings of apostasy prior to Vatican II. Many repeat the mantra that, if we just return to the Tridentine Mass, it would resolve our problems. However, they either forget or are unaware that it was precisely at the height of the Latin Mass’s glory — when churches were full and pomp and piety were on full display — that Pope St. Pius X stated:

Who can fail to see that society is at the present time, more than in any past age, suffering from a terrible and deep-rooted malady which, developing every day and eating into its inmost being, is dragging it to destruction? You understand, Venerable Brethren, what this disease is — apostasy from God… When all this is considered there is good reason to fear lest this great perversity may be as it were a foretaste, and perhaps the beginning of those evils which are reserved for the last days; and that there may be already in the world the “Son of Perdition” of whom the Apostle speaks. —POPE ST. PIUS X, E Supremi, Encyclical On the Restoration of All Things in Christ, n. 3, 5; October 4th, 1903

In fact, six years prior, Pope Leo XIII warned:
…he who resists the truth through malice and turns away from it, sins most grievously against the Holy Ghost. In our days this sin has become so frequent that those dark times seem to have come which were foretold by St. Paul, in which men, blinded by the just judgment of God, should take falsehood for truth, and should believe in “the prince of this world,” who is a liar and the father thereof, as a teacher of truth: “God shall send them the operation of error, to believe lying (2 Thess. ii., 10). In the last times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to spirits of error and the doctrines of devils” (1 Tim. iv., 1). —Divinum Illud Munus, n. 10
Clearly, the popes saw something brewing beneath the facade of popular piety. Indeed, when the sexual revolution arrived in full bloom, it quickly swept away many Catholics, laity and clergy alike, who gave “heed to spirits of error and the doctrines of devils.” Ad orientem, communion rails, veils, and Latin were not enough to stop the apostasy from spreading within the Church’s ranks. It’s precisely why Pope St. John XXIII convoked the Second Vatican Council in order that the Holy Spirit would guide the Church anew and prepare her to be ushered into an Era of Peace after the coming days of tribulation.

The task of humble Pope John is to “prepare for the Lord a perfect people,” which is exactly like the task of the Baptist, who is his patron and from whom he takes his name. And it is not possible to imagine a higher and more precious perfection than that of the triumph of Christian peace, which is peace at heart, peace in the social order, in life, in wellbeing, in mutual respect, and in the brotherhood of nations. —POPE ST. JOHN XXIII, True Christian Peace, December 23rd, 1959; www.catholicculture.org

Therefore, “It is nonsense to talk about the spirit of the Council,” writes Cardinal Zen, “if you ignore the Documents of the Council. Were the long sessions of fierce discussion a futile exercise? The careful analysis of sentences? Even the meticulous pondering of a single word? The Documents are the fruit of the cooperation between the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the hard work of the Council Fathers with the help of many outstanding theologians. Only through the attentive reading of the Council Documents can you get to the real spirit of the Council.”[1]May 28, 2024; oldyosef.hkdavc.com
II. “The Charismatic Renewal is a Protestant invention”
It was not only St. John XXIII who invoked a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit but Pope Leo XIII some 65 years earlier:
…we ought to pray to and invoke the Holy Spirit, for each one of us greatly needs His protection and His help. The more a man is deficient in wisdom, weak in strength, borne down with trouble, prone to sin, so ought he the more to fly to Him who is the never-ceasing fount of light, strength, consolation, and holiness. —POPE LEO XIII, Divinum Illud Munus, Encyclical on the Holy Spirit, n. 11
Decades later, Pope St. Paul VI, who closed Vatican II, himself said:
…so great are the needs and the perils of the present age, so vast the horizon of mankind drawn towards world coexistence and powerless to achieve it, that there is no salvation for it except in a new outpouring of the gift of God. Let Him then come, the Creating Spirit, to renew the face of the earth! —POPE PAUL VI, Gaudete in Domino, May 9th, 1975; www.vatican.va

In 1967, two years after the official closing of Vatican II, a group of students from Duquesne University had gathered at The Ark and Dover Retreat House. After a talk earlier in the day on Acts Chapter 2, an awesome encounter began to unfold as students entered the upstairs chapel before the Blessed Sacrament:

…when I entered and knelt in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, I literally trembled with a sense of awe before His majesty. I knew in an overwhelming way that He is the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords. I thought, “You had better get out of here quick before something happens to you.” But overriding my fear was a much greater desire to surrender myself unconditionally to God. I prayed, “Father, I give my life to you. Whatever you ask of me, I accept. And if it means suffering, I accept that too. Just teach me to follow Jesus and to love as He loves.” In the next moment, I found myself prostrate, flat on my face, and flooded with an experience of the merciful love of God… a love that is totally undeserved, yet lavishly given. Yes, it’s true what St. Paul writes, “The love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” My shoes came off in the process. I was indeed on holy ground. I felt as if I wanted to die and be with God… Within the next hour, God sovereignly drew many of the students into the chapel. Some were laughing, others crying. Some prayed in tongues, others (like me) felt a burning sensation coursing through their hands… It was the birth of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal! —Patti Gallagher-Mansfield, student eyewitness and participant, http://www.ccr.org.uk/duquesne.htm

It was arguably God’s direct answer to papal prayers for a “new Pentecost” to fall upon the Church and aid her against mounting heresies being embraced by individual bishops and laity. But rad trads claim this is a Protestant invention. On the contrary, the charisms of the Holy Spirit and the so-called “baptism in the Holy Spirit” are thoroughly biblical and rooted in Sacred Tradition.[2]cf. Charismatic? The movement itself has been endorsed by all the last popes:

How could this ‘spiritual renewal’ not be a chance for the Church and the world? And how, in this case, could one not take all the means to ensure that it remains so…? —POPE PAUL VI, International Congress of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, May 19, 1975, Rome, Italy, www.ewtn.com

I am convinced that this movement is a very important component in the total renewal of the Church, in this spiritual renewal of the Church. —POPE JOHN PAUL II, special audience with Cardinal Suenens and the Council Members of the International Charismatic Renewal Office, December 11th, 1979, archdpdx.org

The emergence of the Renewal following the Second Vatican Council was a particular gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church…. At the end of this Second Millennium, the Church needs more than ever to turn in confidence and hope to the Holy Spirit… —POPE JOHN PAUL II, Address to the Council of the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Office, May 14th, 1992

The institutional and charismatic aspects are co-essential as it were to the Church’s constitution. They contribute, although differently, to the life, renewal and sanctification of God’s People. —Speech to the World Congress of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities, www.vatican.va

I am really a friend of movements—Communione e Liberazione, Focolare, and the Charismatic Renewal. I think this is a sign of the Springtime and of the presence of the Holy Spirit. —Cardinal Ratzinger (POPE BENEDICT XVI), Interview with Raymond Arroyo, EWTN, The World Over, September 5th, 2003

The Charismatic Renewal, which developed in the Church by the will of God, represents, to paraphrase Saint Paul VI, “a great opportunity for the Church”… These three things – baptism in the Holy Spirit, unity in the body of Christ and service to the poor — are the forms of witness that, by virtue of baptism, all of us are called to give for the evangelization of the world. —POPE FRANCIS, Address, June 8, 2019; vatican.va

The most faithful Catholics I know througout the world today have roots in the Charismatic Renewal. It has been embraced and officially approved by the Church — that’s a magisterial fact. It’s also a fact that it has seen its share of flawed humans and implementation like every other movement in the Church (see my series on the roots of the Renewal in Sacred Tradition: Charismatic?).
III. “The ‘seat’ of Peter is vacant”
The way some extreme conservatives get around the Magisterium in this regard is to simply declare that the popes since Vatican II (and even earlier) are not valid and that the seat of Peter is vacant. It was precisely this sedevacantism that the Lord seemed to warn me about years ago (see Deluge of False Prophets), and it’s now beginning to spread like a cancer. Our Lady’s warnings that a schism is coming[3]see here, here, here, here and here appears to be drawing ever closer. If it happens, I see it primarily as the extreme conservatives pulling away from the extreme liberals… and left in between will be those who simply stand on 2000 years of truth, yet remain in unity with the present pope, despite this papacy’s obvious flaws.
No Catholic has the authority to unilaterally declare a papacy invalid except a pope himself, since “The First See is judged by no one.”[4]Canon Law, 1404 However, the rad trad will simply argue that Pope “So and So” went off the rails, and a future pope will merely justify their position. However, these schismatics cannot even agree among themselves whom the last valid pope was, hence revealing the utter subjectivity of their exercise (cf. Martin Luther).
The papacy of Francis, however, has only given greater resolve to a new sedevacantism as speculation abounds that the so-called “St. Gallen’s mafia” meddled in the recent papal election.[5]cf. Who is the True Pope? Yet, not a single cardinal who voted in the election has even remotely hinted that there was anything untoward that “fixed” the election of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio. As such, Catholics who are openly adopting these theories need to be careful that they are not causing confusion themselves, or inadvertently excluding themselves from the Barque of Salvation:

They, therefore, walk in the path of dangerous error who believe that they can accept Christ as the Head of the Church, while not adhering loyally to His Vicar on earth.  —POPE PIUS XII, Mystici Corporis Christi (On the Mystical Body of Christ), June 29, 1943; n. 41; vatican.va

Keep in mind, this is loyalty to the “authentic magisterium” of the Pope — not necessarily his off-the-cuff statements or media interviews where he offers personal opinions and viewpoints that are even outside the pervue of his papacy.
IV. Rails and veils and the “only” valid Mass
Perhaps the most damaging and scurrilous posts on social media revolve around the wholesale condemnation of any Catholic who continues to participate in the Ordo Missae of Paul VI (often referred to as the “Novus Ordo” Mass). Before I go further, let me repeat again my personal love of candles, incense, icons, bells, cassocks, albs, Gregorian Chant, polyphony, high altars, Communion rails… I love it all! I appreciate all the rites within our Catholic heritage.
Even though Catholicism understands and utilizes the beauty of drama and art like no other religion, the Mass remains a participation in the single act of Calvary:
This is Mass: entering in this Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus, and when we go to Mass, it is as if we go to Calvary. Now imagine if we went to Calvary—using our imagination—in that moment, knowing that that man there is Jesus. Would we dare to chit-chat, take pictures, make a little scene? No! Because it’s Jesus! We would surely be in silence, in tears, and in the joy of being saved… Mass is experiencing Calvary, it’s not a show. —POPE FRANCIS, General Audience, CruxNov. 22nd, 2017
Certainly, one of the fallouts of the ill implementation of the “reform” of the Mass has been a genuine degradation of the mystical — the transcendent that one readily perceives in the Latin and Eastern rites. Hence, it is no surprise that many youth have recently been drawn from the shallow theatre of the world (and relatively mundane new Ordo Missae) into the beauty of the Tridentine rite.
But this does not justify the literal persecution of those Catholics who remain in their local parishes to love and adore Jesus in the valid consecration of the “Novus Ordo.” In that regard, Pope Francis’s criticism towards this kind of mentality is fully understandable as he calls out…

…those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past [and a] supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline [that] leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism… —Evangelii Gaudiumn. 94

I have witnessed both family and acquaintances alike turn up their noses as they don their veils, to the point that they have cut off communication. They speak as if “clown Masses” take place at every “Novus Ordo” liturgy. They deride “guitar masses” as if the organ was handed down with the Ten Commandments and every guitarist sings Kumbaya. They accuse truly devout Catholics of sacrilege for (validly) receiving Communion in the hand, though — whether prudent today or not — was once practiced in the Early Church (read Communion in the Hand – Part I and Part II). They seem to think that young Catholics on fire with love for Jesus and raising their hands at Mass in worship is worthy of public scolding (even though St. Paul called for this very thing in 1 Timothy 2:8: “It is my wish, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument.”)
Pharisaism is rearing its ugly head again.
As a travelling evangelist in the Catholic Church who has visited more parishes than probably any bishop in the world, I can attest that the instances of liturgical abuse I’ve seen are rare. It’s an utter lie and scandal for Catholics to post “rainbow” and “radical feminist” liturgies online — lamentable as they are — as if this is the norm. You are persecuting Jesus all over again by defaming both faithful clergy and laity!
Yes, I would love to see ad orientem (the priest facing the altar) return; Communion rails and Communion on the tongue should be fully restored in our context; and questions on the “watering down” of Mass readings and prayers should be revisited in a true spirit of synodality. But the condemnation of the new Mass as invalid is perhaps the most troublesome and scandalous manifestation of extreme conservatism.
The fact is that the Latin Mass had come to a point where the prayerful participation of the faithful was lacking; their attention was clearly being drawn by the “glamour of Satan”, as the popes warned a half-century earlier. Summarizing the thought of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict), Cardinal Avery Dulles notes that, at first, Ratzinger was very positive about ‘the efforts to overcome the isolation of the priest celebrant and to foster active participation by the congregation. He agrees with the constitution on the need to attach greater importance to the Word of God in Scripture and in proclamation. He is pleased by the constitution’s provision for Holy Communion to be distributed under both species [like the eastern rites] and… the use of the vernacular. “The wall of Latinity,” he wrote, “had to be breached if the liturgy were again to function either as proclamation or as invitation to prayer.” He also approved of the council’s call to recover the simplicity of the early liturgies and remove superfluous medieval accretions.'[6]“From Ratzinger to Benedict”, First ThingsFebruary 2002 That is, superfluous layers that also diminished the simplicity and core essence of the Mass that the Council Fathers sought to recover and rejuvenate.[7]see The Mass Going Forward
V. The rejection of private revelation
Reading the above, one can understand why extreme conservatives go another step further and reject nearly all private revelation outside of Fatima. In particular, they have a curious bone to pick with the apparitions of Medjugorje where annual youth gatherings see the blending of Marian devotion, Eucharistic Adoration, and charismatic expression — centered around, of course, the “Novus Ordo” Mass. But once again, we find these rad trads at complete odds with the Magisterium.
The Ruini Commission, established by Pope Benedict XVI, concluded that the first seven of these Baltic apparitions were ‘supernatural’ in origin, with a neutral decision on the remaining and ongoing apparitions.[8]May 17th, 2017; National Catholic Register; cf. Medjugorje… What You May Not Know I have answered ad nauseam other objections and falsehoods surrounding these apparitions here and here.
The main argument posited is that one cannot judge Medjugorje based on the good “fruits”: at least 600 vocations to the priesthood, thousands of new lay apostolates, and countless conversions. You see, skeptics claim, “Satan can produce good fruit too!” They’re basing this on St. Paul’s admonition:

…such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, who masquerade as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan masquerades as an angel of light. So it is not strange that his ministers also masquerade as ministers of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. (2 For 11:13-15)

Actually, St. Paul is contradicting their argument, for he is also repeating Our Lord’s teaching that you will know a tree by its fruit: “Their end will correspond to their deeds.” The conversions, healings, miracles, and vocations we’ve seen from Medjugorje over the past four decades have overwhelmingly shown themselves to be authentic. And those who know the seers attest to their humility, integrity, devotion and faithfulness. No, Satan cannot produce the good fruits of virtue and holiness; what Scripture actually says is that he can manufacture false “signs and wonders”.[9]cf. Mark 13:22

Is Christ’s word true or not?

A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. (Matthew 7:18)

Indeed, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith refuted the notion that said fruits are irrelevant. It specifically referred to the importance that such a phenomenon… 

…bear fruits by which the Church herself might later discern the true nature of the facts… — “Norms Regarding the Manner of Proceeding in the Discernment of Presumed Apparitions or Revelations” n. 2, vatican.va
Regarding all private revelation, it is completely contrary to Scripture and the spirit of the Church to outright reject it.[10]see Prophecy in Perspective Rather, we are commanded by God’s Word to…

…not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good… (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21)

Thus, taught Benedict XIV:
One may refuse assent to “private revelation” without direct injury to Catholic Faith, as long as he does so, “modestly, not without reason, and without contempt.” —Heroic Virtue, p. 397
“Dangerous and Confusing Times”
There is much said here, and more could be written about toxic traditionalism. And I repeat, some people may hold some of the views above without falling into radicalism. That’s why I stress the word “toxic” because I consider myself a traditionalist. Isn’t every Catholic supposed to adhere to Sacred Tradition?
Indeed, if we are going to judge the fruits of this growing movement — and by this, I do not mean those Catholics who love the Latin Mass and yet remain in unity and charity with their brethren — then the fruits are often rancid. I’ve read a number of people describe how some Latin parishes are hostile and cultic, judgmental and superficial — toxic. Some of the most brutal letters I’ve received come from rad trads. One priest, who had left the “Novus Ordo”, repeatedly wrote me uncharitable and caustic emails until, one day, I wrote back and said, “Dear Fr., if you consider me an enemy, are you not called to “love your enemies”? How are you winning me over without being charitable?” He wrote one more email — pleasant this time — and I’ve never heard from him since.
But I want to conclude with what is now unquestionably a living “now word” that came to me in the two weeks following Benedict’s retirement:

You are now entering into dangerous and confusing times.

Few of us had even heard the name Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio at that point. But after he became Pope Francis, it was apparent that the days of clear, pristine teaching that the faithful had become accustomed to under Benedict and John Paul II were over. From unqualified statements in papal interviews, to shocking appointments of progressives, to the promotion of Mother Earth (Pachamama) and the UN’s pro-abortion and gender ideologies, to the horrifying endorsement of experimental mRNA gene therapies that have now wounded and killed scores… the soil has been ripe for extremism — on both ends of the Church.
So I will repeat what I have been compelled to say over the years (and what Our Blessed Mother has repeatedly exhorted): we are called to remain in unity with our pastors and to pray for them. Unity does not mean silent submission in the face of scandal and genuine confusion (such as the publication of Fiducia Supplicans or the controversial endorsement of scientific or medical positions contrary to the Church’s mandate). What it means is charity and perseverance through it all, even if filial correction is necessary.
The fact is — and we must soberly ponder this — the Barque of Peter at this moment is like…
…a boat about to sink, a boat taking in water on every side. —Cardinal Ratzinger (POPE BENEDICT XVI), March 24, 2005, Good Friday meditation on the Third Fall of Christ
The confusion, internal divisions, and embrace of worldly agendas have caused a massive breach in the hull of this Great Ship.[11]see St. John Bosco’s vision: Living the Dream? Many have begun crying out like the apostles: “Master, master, we are perishing!” (Luke 8:24). The answer to all of this is to follow In the Foosteps of St. John… to lay our head again on the breast of Christ and calmly pray “Jesus I trust in You”; to not abandon our daily bread (prayer); to read the Word of God, to partake as frequently as possible of the Eucharist and go to regular Confession; to pray the Rosary, and finally, plainly, to just calmly hang on (persevere) for dear life.
Eternal life.
Because you have kept my message of endurance, I will keep you safe in the time of trial that is going to come to the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming quickly. Hold fast to what you have, so that no one may take your crown. (Rev 3:10-11)
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1 May 28, 2024; oldyosef.hkdavc.com
2 cf. Charismatic?
3 see here, here, here, here and here
4 Canon Law, 1404
5 cf. Who is the True Pope?
6 “From Ratzinger to Benedict”, First ThingsFebruary 2002
7 see The Mass Going Forward
8 May 17th, 2017; National Catholic Register; cf. Medjugorje… What You May Not Know
9 cf. Mark 13:22
10 see Prophecy in Perspective
11 see St. John Bosco’s vision: Living the Dream?