The Wilson Question at Princeton
Robert Lowry Clinton’s article “Dreams of a Perfected Beehive” (Nov.) came into my hands just as American college campuses were erupting with protests advancing the view that rampant racism makes the country’s elite universities “unsafe spaces” for students of color and other minorities. One of the milder scenes took place at Princeton, where students objected to the honor paid to its onetime president and alumnus Woodrow Wilson, whose name is on academic programs and buildings, and whose portrait hangs prominently here and there. The complaint of the students was that Wilson was a racist who, among his other sins, segregated the federal workforce and admired D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film Birth of a Nation enough to screen it at the White House.
But Wilson, an early beneficiary of the arrival of German-style higher education on American shores (he earned one of the first doctorates in political science from Johns Hopkins), was also responsible for transforming Princeton into a modern research university, with graduate degrees, labs and libraries, lecture halls and “preceptors.” It is fitting that his name is on a school of public policy because, as Clinton shows, Wilson’s “living Constitution” was to be remolded by expert administrators with professional training who would take over from those outmoded democratic institutions the original Constitution had created, and who would cast aside the limited government based on the natural rights of equal men made in God’s image. Wilson was, as Clinton shows, a Darwinian through and through. It is the least surprising thing of all to learn that he was a racist.
Uncharacteristically quiet amid the denunciations of Wilson has been President Obama, who has been so ready to weigh in elsewhere when racial issues emerge. Even First Lady Michelle Obama, a Princeton alumna herself, has not been heard from on the Wilson question. Perhaps this is because President Obama, as Charles Kesler showed in his book I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism (2012), is himself a thoroughly Wilsonian believer in an evolutionary Constitution, the priority of the collective over the individual, and the rule of experts who are unaccountable to the American people. How many of these student protesters look forward to a future in which they take their places at the levers of power, schooled in Wilsonian thinking?
Darned if our real history isn’t just a little too complicated for placards, bumper stickers, and slogans shouted into bullhorns.
Matthew J. Franck, Director
The Witherspoon Institute
Princeton, New Jersey
The Problem with Asking "What If?"
Your very provocative New Oxford Note “What If #AhmedIsaFake?” (Nov.) raises important questions about public responses to events. It also provides a narrative of an incident that runs contrary to that presented in the mainstream media. Unfortunately, the rhetorical device of phrasing a stream of sentences as questions beginning with the words “what if” dreadfully weakens its impact.
The question “What if (fill in the blank)?” is a shorthand way of asking, “What are the consequences if (fill in the blank) were true?” The answer might be that the consequences are dire, even catastrophic, but since the referenced event or condition might not be true, the consequences are irrelevant. This literary device removes all factual content from the most important section of the Note, replacing it with what amount to allegations and innuendos. One may ask “what if” of the most farfetched and ridiculous things while maintaining a legal deniability of having made false statements.
Thankfully, the Internet is an excellent research tool, and the questions you raise in the Note provide excellent starting points for inquiries. It should not be necessary, though, to go through the trouble of having to make such inquiries.
John F. Fay
Paul A. Byrne, M.D., Fr. Alan B. Maria Wharton, F.I.
Mary Esther, Florida
THE ASSOCIATE EDITOR REPLIES:
Our New Oxford Notes are the types of articles known in the publishing world as editorials. The primary purpose of an editorial is to provide not reportage but opinion and commentary on, typically, newsworthy items of the day. Some editorials are cheeky, others grave. Some use rhetorical devices that assume that an audience can distinguish between the literal and the figurative. Some choose syntax and diction that lend rhetorical flair. Such is the case with our New Oxford Note on #Ahmed.
This Note uses the stylistic device known as anaphora, the repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginning of successive clauses, sentences, or lines — in this case, “What if…?” The excessive use of the repetitious “what if” structure purposefully serves to build an increasingly caustic tone, one that illuminates the utter absurdity of the whole #Ahmed affair.
The use of standard syntax wouldn’t have quite the same provocative effect. Given the cumulative effect of the anaphora, few would be left wondering by the final “what if” whether all these “what ifs” were already facts at hand. The downside: Any time writers employ a creative literary device, they risk being misunderstood or dismissed by readers who don’t take easily to the figurative and rhetorical. We at the NOR operate on the assumption that our readers are intelligent and savvy, and that they can recognize rhetorical devices and interpret them correctly without leaping to the conclusion that what we’ve written is mindless drivel meant to fill up some extra space.
So, to be clear: All the “What if…?” statements in the #Ahmed Note were verified facts that only became clear once the dust had settled after the initial adulation had been heaped on Ahmed. Still, to this day, most mainstream media outlets have not corrected the misconceptions they created through their impetuous reporting immediately following the “clock-maker” incident.
For those who might be interested in a follow-up on the Ahmed Mohamed saga, he and his family have since moved to Qatar, an Islamic nation with a long history of human-rights abuses. Ahmed is now being educated at a ritzy private school, his tuition paid by a fawning patron. In his spare time, Ahmed’s family is suing school and city officials in Irving, Texas, for $15 million and has demanded written apologies from the mayor and the school superintendent. The family claims that Ahmed is an innocent victim of Islamophobia and racial profiling after he was arrested for bringing to school what his teachers initially thought was a bomb (and later determined was a “hoax bomb”). Even though Ahmed became an instant celebrity, getting to hang out with everyone from Google executives to the president of the U.S. to the president of Sudan, Ahmed’s family claims he was “traumatized” and that his reputation is “permanently smeared” — even though he has received college scholarship offers and lucrative job offers thanks to the instant celebrity status he achieved as a result of his alleged “victimhood.” The absurdity continues as the mainstream media works feverishly to disregard all facts in the case in order to run with the “Islamophobia” narrative.
National Organization for Marriage
The Failure of Safety-First Arguments
There is much to praise in Carl Sundell’s presentation of the religious thought of Blaise Pascal (“An Atheist’s Guide to Gambling,” Nov.). I found particularly fascinating Pascal’s use of an argument similar to C.S. Lewis’s in Miracles that matter cannot think, and another echoed by Lewis that one of the outstanding notes of the Christian religion is that it can appeal to both philosophers and peasants since it “alone is adapted to all, being composed of externals and internals.”
Nevertheless, insofar as Mr. Sundell and Pascal base their apologetic on the so-called wager, I must disagree. The wager fails, it seems to me, for the following reasons.
(1) It is not an argument for the existence of God. It proves nothing; it merely urges one to take the safe route and act as if God existed — just in case.
(2) How does the attitude that since God might exist, I’d better act as if He did produce belief? If I decide there might be a tiger outside the house and act accordingly, that does not produce the conviction in me that a tiger is indeed present; it merely causes me to change my behavior when I go outside. Perhaps Pascal’s wager might cause someone to behave as a Christian, but how would it cause him to believe?
(3) As expounded by Sundell, the wager overturns centuries of Catholic and Thomistic teaching on the primacy of the intellect over the will. Sundell is quite explicit about this. “Pascal recognized that will, rather than intellect, is behind every decision,” he writes, and “the heart ultimately rules the head.” Whether we should equate the will with the heart is not clear to me, but in any case, what we have here is the principle underlying modernity — the principle that came to the fore with Martin Luther. As Jacques Maritain wrote in Three Reformers, “We are therefore fully justified in looking to Luther for the origin of…the idea of the primacy of the will” (emphasis in originab~ This is the kind of apologetic that leads to the evangelical Protestant approach of just believe, make a leap of faith, leave your intellect behind. It is not the classic Catholic way. One will look in vain in such venerable Catholic texts of philosophical apologetics as Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange’s God, His Existence and His Nature or Maritain’s Approaches to God for any appeal to Pascal’s wager. Each of these philosophers makes use of Aquinas’s five ways, arguments that can produce metaphysical certitude.
Though I am sure that there are atheists who refuse to consider the question of the existence of God because they fear to find out the truth, do Catholics really want to present the Church’s apologetic to nonbelievers as one of simply choosing the safer policy? An atheist might well reply that he does indeed have something to lose if he opts for God with insufficient reason — namely, both his intellectual and moral integrity.
I am certainly in favor of the Church engaging the culture, including nonbelievers of all sorts. But we should do this with intellectual integrity and the assurance of having the truth and being able to justify that truth. We do not need to take refuge in safety-first arguments that prove nothing and are all too likely to confirm the suspicion that Christians are simply afraid to face reality.
A. Patrick Schneider II, M.D., David W. Hart, M.D.,
A Devilish Dervish
Your New Oxford Note “What Goes on Inside the Clinic” (Oct.), describing the performance of Satanic rituals at abortuaries, is entirely plausible to us based on our recent observations.
This past fall, the pro-life group Doctors for Life held a rally in Bloomington, Indiana, in front of the downtown Planned Parenthood facility as part of the 40 Days for Life campaign. The September day was beautiful: sunny and warm. An estimated 150 people came to hear 20 doctors (18 physicians and two Ph.D.’s) give pro-life witness. It was a blessed event.
But as a priest was walking to the podium to lead the closing prayer, a young man suddenly appeared dressed in black, covered in tattoos, metal, and strange symbols. He was whirling, running, dancing, and hurling F-bombs at the crowd and at Christianity and Jesus generally. He came out of nowhere and was instantly everywhere in the crowd. “Satan forever!” he screamed. His linking of the Satanic to Planned Parenthood was more convincing than any words that any of the scheduled speakers could have uttered.
Once to the podium, the priest made the sign of the cross and led the crowd in the Lord’s Prayer. Within seconds, the Satanist with his bizarre movements and vulgarities had vanished.
Brian S. Brown, President
The Supposed Success of Surrogacy
Ellen Giangiordano gets it right that third-party reproduction is an American failure (“Third-Party Reproduction: The Commercialization of Parenthood,” Nov.). The fact that a supposed laissez-faire approach to the commercial production of humans has stripped children of essential rights is something too few publications touch upon. Is this because, in our politically correct world, publications, even Catholic ones, wish not to offend donor-conceived children or their parents? This represents a double failing, for anyone who wishes to look can see on sites like AnonymousUs.org or in Jennifer Lahl’s path-breaking movies Eggsploitation and Breeders (www.cbc-network.org) the angst, dejection, and anger welling up in both children and adults affected by this industry.
Perhaps it is also because so many of our popular images of the supposed success of surrogacy owe to the rise of same-sex parenting. The pictures of happy same-sex couples who have cobbled together their very own “families” are clearly intended to engender sympathy.
It takes effort to realize that what these images do not show is that these couples have intentionally created a situation in which the child will be deprived of either a mother or a father. And because so many of our elites have endorsed a belief that there is “no difference” between same-sex and opposite-sex couples, they must simply ignore this elephant in the room. That the same-sex partner of Hollywood celebrity Neil Patrick Harris, for example, can refer to a child’s natural mother as an “oven” without outcry from feminist leaders is one clear example of this intentional blindness. Another is the fact that five members of our Supreme Court can rule that same-sex couples can “marry” while ignoring the reality that same-sex couples can never naturally bear their own biological children.
While most states in the U.S. allow surrogacy, the European Parliament recently condemned the practice. France, Germany, Italy, and Spain completely ban it. It is instructive that even in secular Europe the moral problems involved in manipulating human life have rightly hindered surrogacy’s spread.
Great social movements generally require broad coalitions. In Europe especially, Greens, feminists, Catholics, Muslims, Protestants, and secularists have joined together to oppose surrogacy. It’s going to take such unlikely coalitions in the U.S. to take on the powerful and profitable third-party-reproduction industry and end the dehumanization it represents.
Adding to the List of the Obscure
Regarding Clara Sarrocco’s article “Great Refusals” (Nov.): It is one of the fascinating facts of life that influential people often come from obscure places, whether it’s the Missourian haberdasher Harry Truman becoming president of the U.S., or the Alabama-born, Ohio-reared Jesse Owens who single-handedly humiliated Hitler and his vile religion of Aryan supremacy, or Rita Antoinette Rizzo, a.k.a. Mother Angelica, “the dumb Italian nun” as she called herself, who as a schoolgirl was shamed and shunned by her nun-teachers because her parents had divorced but who defied all odds in establishing the largest and most influential religious television network the world has ever seen.
Now, thanks to Sarrocco, we may add to this list Pietro du Morrone, later Pope St. Celestine V. Sarrocco’s captivating account of this man from the obscure Italian mountain town of L’Aquila rising to supreme pontiff of the universal Church is a wonderful lesson in geography, history, and, most importantly, the invisible yet inexorable activity of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Catholic Church. Celestine’s time as pope was limited, but it was long enough for him to establish the principle and precedent that popes do not have to serve until they die; rather, when circumstances allow or dictate, they may resign.
Is it too much to suggest that that is precisely why the Holy Spirit gave us Pope St. Celestine V? He served only three months in the chair of Peter and then died an ignominious death in prison following his resignation. Yet the effect of his resignation and his justification of it resonate to this day. Our current Holy Father, Francis, has suggested that he may not serve for very long and indeed has fallen twice recently. It makes one wonder whether Francis, too, might one day join Benedict XVI and take advantage of the Celestine Rule.
Francis: Equal-Opportunity Critic
In your astute New Oxford Note “Pope Francis Doesn’t Need Your Applause” (Nov.) you write that “the Pope gives liberals the kid-glove treatment and conservatives the back of his hand.” It feels like that to many conservative American Catholics, but I don’t think it’s completely true, and if it is true, it’s not really a criticism.
In his closing address to the first meeting of the Synod on the Family, for example, Francis rebuked liberals as much as conservatives. Most of his critical statements hit both sides, but conservatives didn’t notice that the other side had been hit as well because there the Pope was, as they see it, just saying what needed to be said.
Indeed, Francis has been at least as great a problem for Catholic liberals. He speaks strongly for the sanctity of life at all stages and for marriage and the family. It is hard to think of any genuinely liberal statement he’s made. The New York Times ran a quiz titled “How Recent Popes Differ on Key Issues” (Mar. 18, 2013), in which readers had to guess whether John Paul II, Benedict XVI, or Francis had said a particular thing. It was very hard to guess because the statements didn’t differ much.
But liberals have convinced themselves, as have the major media, that Francis is the great liberal pope they’ve been waiting for — the one they believe will make their dreams come true. Many conservative Catholics have read him the same way, making the same judgments from the same selective reading — the difference being that they find it a problem. Many read him like a prosecuting attorney, and sometimes like an unscrupulous prosecuting attorney. They look for reasons to feel offended.
It may be, though I’m not sure it is, that Francis’s sharpest criticisms are directed at conservatives. But who will say that those criticisms are inaccurate or undeserved? I can often see where he’s describing me and people I know. Conservatives have long asked their popes and bishops to speak bravely and challenge the flock. Now that Francis is challenging them, they object.
I think the Note’s reading of Francis’s reasons for speaking as he does is probably right. The Pope feels no need to tell conservative American Catholics what they want to hear, and why should he? He stresses living out the truths we know, and living them in a way that draws people to Christ and His Church — and that is a lesson many of us need to hear again and again.
Conservative Catholics may need to hear this more than anyone, because we can so easily mistake our orthodoxy in doctrine and morals for the entire Catholic life. How many of the Pope’s theologically correct critics live so that their coworkers and neighbors know they’re serious Catholics and feel themselves drawn to the Church by their lives? How many do anything to bring others to Christ and His Church? Remember the beams and motes.
It’s a natural reaction when orthodoxy is under assault not only from the world but from prominent churchmen, and when defending it can cost us something. We can easily be the Pharisee whom Jesus condemned in Luke 18:9-14. Jesus doesn’t allow us the out of saying, “Stop picking on us. We’re not as bad as those guys.”
Francis could speak with more doctrinal clarity and be more careful to say what he is not saying because people will misread him, but that’s not his style. I wish he were more “Benedictine” in his speech, though Benedict’s precision didn’t save him from being misread. But Francis is not Benedict. Francis’s style has benefits for which his conservative critics don’t give him enough credit, or any credit. He reaches, and attracts, people to the Church whom John Paul II and Benedict couldn’t. With personal styles, you win some and you lose some.
That’s the thing most disturbing about Francis’s conservative critics. They speak and write as if he has done no good, said little or nothing good, not defended and advanced the Church’s life and work in the world in any way. That’s unjust to the man and ingratitude to God for the gift Pope Francis is.
Michael V. McIntire
Big Bear Lake, California
Francis: Spokesman of Immutable Truths?
Your New Oxford Note “Pope Francis Doesn’t Need Your Applause” is another one of many well-written attempts by orthodox Catholics to parse and examine speeches and statements made by Pope Francis, looking for evidence that, despite the absence of vigorous proclamations of immutable moral truths, the vicar of Christ is indeed a true advocate and spokesman for the truth of which he is the guardian.
Like most others, this Note examined one specific (and significant) speech in light of the audience to which it was addressed (U.S. Congress), straining for clues that could verify that this Pope truly believes the fullness of the truth — all of it — and attempting to explain why, if so, he does not clearly and boldly proclaim it. A Catholic would expect that when the vicar of Christ addresses the political leaders of a powerful country whose announced policy is to promote the culture of death, he would be unequivocal in his opposition to that policy and in his advocacy of a culture of life. Prior popes had no problem doing so. Neither did Mother Teresa.
Orthodox Catholics have discovered that, this far into his papacy, they are uncertain whether Francis truly believes in the teachings of Jesus Christ on the vital moral issues of the day — teachings the Pope is duty-bound to promote, protect, and proclaim, in season and out. Is Francis pro-life? He has occasionally indicated that he is, but what does he mean? He has also voiced disdain for those who act publicly to save the lives of unborn babies in the womb, has appointed bishops who have a similar disdain for pro-life advocacy, and refused to use the “A-word” in his speech before a Congress whose longstanding policy is to fund abortion mills that traffic in the sale of aborted baby parts. One might ask where this Pope stands on the morality of contraception, which is the doorway to abortion and about which he has said little to nothing. Will he ever preach on Humanae Vitae or even mention it in a positive way? While appearing to advocate “acceptance” of homosexuals, why does he not warn them that their sexual activity puts their immortal souls in danger?
That there is a legitimate basis for these concerns raises a more fundamental, and frightening, question: Is Francis the person whom the Holy Spirit selected to be pope?
Scripture urges us to be watchful, alert, and attentive to the signs of the times, and it tells us that we will know “false prophets” by their “fruits.” Catholics therefore have the duty to be attentive and informed and to examine the fruits of this papacy in light of Church teaching. Unfortunately, even a superficial look at the fruits of this papacy raises legitimate concerns about the current leadership of the Church.
We know that Jorge Mario Bergoglio was formed in a Jesuit seminary in the late 1960s, a turbulent time when the “spirit of Vatican II” was in vogue and dissent from the teaching of the Magisterium was raging throughout the Church, especially in Jesuit formation houses. We know that, by accepting the papacy, Bergoglio broke the longstanding tradition that a Jesuit is to defend the pope but never become pope.
We have learned, from a newly published biography of Godfried Cardinal Danneels, confirming a previous but never denied report, that before the conclave in which Francis was elected, a group of high-ranking cardinals (known variously as the St. Gallen Club or Team Bergoglio) lobbied on behalf of Bergoglio, in violation of Universi Dominici Gregis, which explicitly forbids cardinal-electors from campaigning or gathering votes for a designated person. The purpose of Pope St. John Paul II’s 1996 apostolic constitution is to assure that all of the cardinals entering the conclave do so with minds open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. A pre-conclave campaign has a contrary purpose: to assure that certain cardinals enter a conclave with their minds already made up, closed to the Spirit’s influence.
The concern this raises is deepened when one considers that many of the prelates Francis has selected as his close advisors openly advocate heterodox views, without papal correction. His appointment of progressive bishops and open contempt for, and even removal of, conservative bishops add to the concern. There is also this Pope’s acerbic tongue to consider, which he primarily reserves for those orthodox Catholics who “cling” to their rosaries, pieties, and Catechisms, who believe in sin and damnation. He has likened those who teach traditional Catholic morality to the Pharisees of Jesus’ time. Indeed, even Timothy Cardinal Dolan, who’s not much of a conservative, has lamented that, under this papacy, the institutional Church is marginalizing the faithful, Mass-attending Catholics who struggle in this hostile culture to conform their lives to the Church’s timeless teachings. Having long endured relentless attacks from the secular culture, these faithful Catholics are now under attack from their own Church leaders, calling to mind the lament of David: “If this had been done by an enemy, I could bear his taunts. If a rival had risen against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, my own companion, my intimate friend! How close was the friendship between us. We walked together in harmony in the house of God” (Ps. 55:12-14).
So, what fruits of this papacy can we see? We see dissent, disunity, and confusion. We see cardinal aligned against cardinal, bishop against bishop. We see open advocacy of heterodoxy, denial of the concept of sin, admission to the sacraments without conversion, forgiveness without repentance — in other words, salvation without the cross. We see an open attack on Church teaching from within her highest offices — what some have called “the smoke of Satan.”
The faithful are confused. How can this be happening in the Church that Jesus promised to guard and guide until the end of time? Isn’t it true that the Holy Spirit selects each pope? Can a pope whose own words and actions have brought the Church to this state truly be the person whom the Holy Spirit selected?
Troubled, I put these questions to a wise, well-traveled priest. His prophetic response was that the Holy Spirit does indeed select the person He wants as pope, and He reveals His choice to the cardinals gathered at the conclave. But the cardinals do not have to listen. They are free to elect a pope of their own choosing, without heeding the promptings of the Spirit.
However it happened, Francis is our pope. For our part, we laymen can only pray with fervor, trust in the power and wisdom of God, and follow the advice of Raymond Cardinal Burke: “Keep the faith.”
Jeffrey D. Tiner
Wrong Turns on the Highway to Heaven
In her letter defending Marcel Lefebvre and his Society of St. Pius X (“The Right of Necessary Disobedience,” Nov.), Colleen Drippe informs us that we cannot possibly understand the complexity of the issues surrounding the SSPX’s abandonment of the Church unless we first read a U-Haul truck’s worth of their own propaganda. Then she changes gears and concedes that “no one would argue that a schismatic act incurs and deserves excommunication.” However, she immediately obfuscates this truth by deflecting the conversation onto Martin Luther, going so far as to state, “I don’t know what Martin Luther intended.” She refuses to say that Luther was a schismatic, for fear of hoisting Lefebvre on the same petard. Yet both Luther and Lefebvre willfully, knowingly, and deliberately abandoned their priestly (and in Lefebvre’s case, episcopabpvows while in the intoxicating throes of their own pride. Both men believed they knew better than the pope and the Magisterium of the Church.
Perhaps Drippe should familiarize herself with the actual episcopal vows, including the sacred vow of obedience to the vicar of Christ, taken by Lefebvre when he received the pallium. If she examined this vow, she would perhaps conclude that the moment Lefebvre chose to ignore his sacred oath and disobey the pope by making bishops for the SSPX was the exact time when he excommunicated himself from the Roman Catholic Church.
Drippe correctly points out that “of course, the pope is endowed with the authority to govern the Church.” But then she qualifies that unassailable truth by tacking on her own private codicil, “as long as he provides for the welfare of the Church and allows nothing that may bring harm to the faithful.” Here she makes the same wrong turn on the highway to Heaven that Luther and Lefebvre made: She wants to be the one to define what is “harmful” to the faithful.
Drippe notes that the Vatican itself made reference to the “right of necessity” in making bishops but denied that this right applied to the SSPX. She then uses SSPX propaganda to support her position on this “right to necessity” while admitting that “the argument assumes a circularity.” This is the proverbial dog chasing its own tail.
She rounds out her letter by saying, “There is no rival pope and the Society remains Roman Catholic.” As for the SSPX remaining Roman Catholic, you’re not Roman Catholic if you’re not in union with the pope. Therein lies the rub, eh?
In Defense of the SSPX
Thank you for covering many of the facets of the Society of St. Pius X (letters, May, Jul.-Aug., Oct., Dec.). It is important to remember that the Society is a response. For better or worse (and I believe overall for the better), the Society embarked on a course that has saved churches, statues, and relics that would have been discarded or destroyed in the aftermath of Vatican II. More importantly, the Society has been integral in saving the Tridentine liturgy. Most importantly, the Society has forced the Church to revisit modernism, false ecumenism, and Vatican II, among other things. The Society is fundamentally Catholic, which is why Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunication of the Society’s bishops. The Society itself was never excommunicated.
During his life as a Carmelite, St. John of the Cross was imprisoned by his superiors while helping to develop the discalced Carmelite order. After nine months he escaped. Could this not have been viewed as a case of disobedience to the established hierarchy? Could the activities of the Society not be viewed similarly?
In the big picture, perhaps the Society will be seen as a blip on the screen when it comes to the history of the Church. The Society might not have done everything 100 percent correctly, but overall it has proven itself a significant benefit to the Church and a kick in the pants of entrenched Church bureaucracy and heterodoxy. This has been sorely needed over the past 40 years.
Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, founder of the SSPX, was considered knowledgeable enough to be selected to write the preliminary outlines for Vatican II. He was among those who warned Pope John XXIII that irregularities, misinterpretations, and even conflicting theological ideas were present in the pastoral language coming out of the Council. He suggested that a legal-language counterpart also be published to ensure a continued magisterial interpretation. Alas, John XXIII did not heed his suggestions or warnings.
When Pope Paul VI introduced the Novus Ordo Mass and suppressed the Traditional Latin Mass, Lefebvre again warned of conflicts with traditional teachings of the Church. In response, Paul called Lefebvre disobedient.
Finally, years later, after failing to convince Pope John Paul II of the dangers of continued novelty and the introduction of philosophies that conflict with the traditional deposit of faith, Lefebvre consecrated four bishops against the Pope’s wishes and was excommunicated for disobedience.
But if the act of consecration could reasonably be interpreted as necessary for the good of the Church, then it was not worthy of either a call of schism or excommunication. A view from the pew, I think, would give Lefebvre the benefit of the doubt.
Since Vatican II we have had our homosexual (“pedophile”) priest scandals with bishops and even cardinals who oversaw those priests still in office, in good standing. We’ve seen a dramatic decline in the number of priests and religious. We’ve also seen the number of vacant pews increase in spite of a spate of church closings. In the 1950s about 75 percent of those who professed to be Catholics went to Mass every Sunday. In explaining the most recent closings of churches, the archbishops of New York and Detroit estimated the percentage of Mass-going Catholics in their dioceses to be 12 to 18 percent.
Meanwhile, priests, bishops, and cardinals who continue to offer Holy Communion to politicians who support abortion, contraception, open homosexuality, and unmarried unions are not reprimanded. While working to pass Proposition 8 in California in 2008, a law that defined marriage as between one man and one woman, I found that the biggest obstacle to reaching and convincing Catholics was my own diocesan office. (According to exit polls, Catholics voted against traditional marriage by 54 percent.)
Yet, when I visit Catholic churches run by the SSPX, I find vibrant communities with families dressed in their Sunday best and the majority of women wearing head coverings, as was done and taught when I was a child (I am old enough to remember the time before Vatican II).
Martin Luther had no intention of reforming the Catholic Church. He declared parts of the Bible unnecessary and helped the German government confiscate Catholic property and convert its populace to his new religion. By contrast, Lefebvre and the SSPX never sought to leave the Church or change any of her existing documents or teachings. They have endured hostility and ostracism with no thought of leaving the Church. They have consistently supported the popes as head of the Church.
Again, I’m just a guy in the pews, but I think a better comparison than Martin Luther would be St. Athanasius. He also disagreed with popes and was driven from his diocese, but in the end he was declared a saint.
Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
Ed. Note: Here we go again with allusions to Lefebvre’s alleged sainthood. The comparison to St. Athanasius (or St. John of the Cross) won’t hold: Athanasius, unlike Lefebvre, was never excommunicated. And unlike Athanasius, Lefebvre died in a state of separation from the Church.
It takes some real mental gymnastics to believe that the SSPX, which was founded on Lefebvre’s “disobedience” to the Pope, has “consistently supported the popes as head of the Church.” Disobedience to the titular head of the Church might very well be the opposite of support.
Yes, the SSPX very much wants to change (or better yet, toss out) some of the Church’s “existing documents and teachings” — basically, most of those that emanated from Vatican II, including all or parts of the Church’s teachings on the liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium), the nature of the Church (Lumen Gentium), ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio), religious life (Perfectae Caritatis), relations with Jews (Nostra Aetate), religious liberty (Dignitatis Humanae), modern philosophy (Optatam Totius), and the Church’s role in the modern world (Gaudium et Spes).
Binghamton, New York
The Tridentine rite as celebrated by the SSPX was the major rite of the universal Church for almost 2,000 years. To call the Society a “radical traditionalist movement” is nonsense!
The Novus Ordo Mass was an extemporaneous concoction put together with the “help” of Protestant ministers. That Protestants were delighted with the creation is a clue to its poverty of expression of the Catholic faith. Even Pope Benedict XVI, when he was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, called it “banal”! The Novus Ordo is inferior in both word and action to the Tridentine Mass — by a mile. It is not surprising that the startling decline in Catholic numbers and religious vocations coincided with the manufacture of the Novus Ordo.
That the SSPX is now building in Virginia what will be one of the largest — if not the largest — seminaries in the U.S. speaks for itself.
Patricia D. Scott
Ed. Note: It is categorically false to state the Tridentine Latin Mass as celebrated today was the “major rite of the universal Church for almost 2,000 years.” Pope St. Pius V codified this Mass in 1570 in response to a mandate from the Council of Trent (hence the name Tridentine), essentially prescribing for the whole Church the liturgy that was celebrated in the city of Rome. (Previously, the Church had embraced a multiplicity of liturgies.) It was the “major rite” of the Church for 400 years — until around 1970, when Bl. Pope Paul VI introduced the Novus Ordo Mass.
Even so, the Tridentine Mass does not exist in a historical vacuum. It is not the same Mass today (or in 1970) as it was prior to its codification in 1570. Pius V introduced his own revisions, as did a number of his successors, including Gregory XIII, Urban VIII, Leo XIII, St. Pius X, Pius XII, St. John XXIII, and Benedict XVI.
First of all, please note for the record that I do not attend an SSPX chapel. I have been patient the past few issues as the NOR has attacked the SSPX relentlessly with spurious accusations. The editor’s arrogant reply to Colleen Drippe’s quite reasonable and charitable letter (Jul.-Aug.) was the last straw, as was the NOR’s corkscrew-spinning defense of what most likely is a heretical Pope (“Pope Francis Doesn’t Need Your Applause,” Nov.). Francis is not getting my applause, nor are you. I noticed several cancelations recently as a result of your treatment of the SSPX (letters, Oct.). Your revenue losses will likely continue. Please cancel my subscription. Enough is enough, and this is more than enough.
Ed. Note: So we get no points for promoting Colleen Drippe’s call for a “reasoned and lengthy debate conducted in all charity and good will” (ed. note, Nov.)? Debate involves divergent viewpoints. Is that not allowed?
I have been a subscriber for many years, and I used to enjoy the NOR. In March my renewal will come due, but I have absolutely no intention of renewing since the attitude of the NOR has shifted.
I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of the SSPX, yet I sense that you have a deeply resentful dislike of the Society along with distaste for the late Fr. Nicholas Gruner. It verges on nastiness and unwarranted rudeness. At the same time, you say nothing against a Pope who seems bent on degrading, if not destroying, the faith with the confusion and even heretical comments he spews.
I am done with the direction you are going. You may keep your minions who favor such babble, but I will not be one of them.
Ed. Note: We’re not sure where the complaint about Fr. Gruner, the self-proclaimed “Fatima priest,” comes from. The most recent time his name appeared in our pages (save for another letter-writer’s random suggestion that we’ve somehow treated Fr. Gruner poorly, Oct.) was nearly three years ago in an article by Howard P. Kainz titled “An Epilogue for the Disappointed” (Apr. 2013) and in subsequent letters in reply to his article (June 2013). Perhaps some readers were expecting us to eulogize this wayward priest who went to his reward in April 2015? Sorry, no such luck.
Would it be “nastiness” or “unwarranted rudeness” for us to point out that Fr. Gruner was suspended a divinis by his bishop — a suspension upheld by the Congregation for the Clergy — but continued to practice the faculties of the priesthood while portraying himself as a “victim” of the Vatican? All the while he spent his time building a lucrative empire that includes the Fatima Center and publications The Fatima Crusader and Catholic Family News, all based on a conspiratorial claim of an alleged official “cover up” of the Fatima event. For the record, in 2001 the Congregation for the Clergy announced that “the activities of Fr. Gruner…do not have the approval of legitimate ecclesiastical authorities.”
If readers want us to choose between a suspended priest and an excommunicated archbishop, or a Pope who pops off a bit too much, we’ll gladly side with the latter.
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