Anne Barbeau Gardiner’s review of Patricia Miller’s paean to abortion, Good Catholics: The Battle Over Abortion in the Catholic Church (Sept.) brought back a memory from my flights to Antarctica to do glaciological research in decades past. As Miller recounts, one of the “intellectual heavyweights” brought in to legitimize the pro-abortion front group Catholics for a Free Choice by director Frances Kissling (rhymes with Quisling, the traitor who ruled Norway for the Nazis) in the 1980s was “moral theologian” Daniel Maguire of Marquette University.
In the magazine rack on the airplane, I spotted an issue of Ms. Magazine that proclaimed on its cover, “A Catholic Theologian Visits an Abortion Clinic.” The clinic was run by Eleanor Yeo, an ordained ministress in the United Church of Christ. The Ms. article is Maguire’s account of visiting Yeo’s charnel house, located a short walk from Marquette for the “convenience” of Catholic students and faculty. After pausing to sneer at a group of pro-life sidewalk counselors outside, Maguire enters Yeo’s Abortion Auschwitz and conducts his interview. “Most of my clients are Catholics,” Yeo proudly informs Maguire.
Near the end of the interview, Maguire asks if he can see the aborted “products of conception.” Yeo takes him into the execution chamber and, after a few minutes, hands him a small plastic bag containing the results of a suction abortion. Maguire relates, “I enclosed the fleshly matter in my fist. I have held newborn babies in my hands. I know the difference.”
Maguire is an ex-priest who married an ex-nun, Marjorie Maguire. Upon reading that, I wondered, “If Marjorie were run through an adult-sized suction machine, would Daniel know the difference?”
I’m still wondering.
Terence J. Hughes
Editor, The College Fix
Fort Pierre, South Dakota
Bringing a Bold Truth to the Quad
I read with keen interest Jason M. Morgan’s argument that the pro-life movement is bringing back some humanity to hollowed-out college campuses, currently controlled by a cadre of communists, leftists, atheists, and progressives hell-bent on infecting young minds with poisonous philosophies (“How Pro-Lifers Are Saving Higher Education,” Sept.).
Morgan is right to point to the student pro-life movement as one ray of sunshine showering disinfectant on such atmospheres, bringing a bold truth to the quad. He cites reporting in The College Fix that chronicles how many college students are taught — and believe — that life does not begin until awareness is present in a toddler or young child, a frightening concept that makes the life-begins-at-conception debate look tame in comparison. Today’s campus pro-life demonstrations have forced students to face the murderous realities of abortion, and in so doing they have pushed students to either become pro-life or support infanticide. Middle ground is disappearing, and today more students are pro-life than ever before.
But in addition to pro-life ministries, Christian and conservative students on campus have made headway in other areas. For one, free speech. As their progressive peers demand “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” to shield themselves from ideas they don’t like and force campuses to adhere to their worldviews, conservative and Christian students fight to defend the First Amendment through various demonstrations and campaigns, such as “free speech walls” and successful lawsuits. As many in the academe attack Israel with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, Israeli students and their allies vigorously fight back just as loudly with counter-petitions and lobbying efforts. As universities develop graphic “Sex Week” events, the Anscombe Society and other student groups dedicated to purity see their ranks swell.
Indeed, Morgan’s argument that pro-life Christians impact campuses in positive ways can be applied to other tenets. Certainly it’s an uphill battle, but nothing is impossible with God.
National Association of Scholars
The title declares the implausible — “How Pro-Lifers Are Saving Higher Education” — but Jason M. Morgan is eloquent in its defense. The humanities, as he says, have become a “hasty village of sprawling anti-human like-mindedness.” Perhaps it takes a village to destroy a child, and a hasty village seems especially suited to the task, since to stop and think about the value of life and the need for truth could complicate things.
Morgan is certainly right that Christian witness in the form of pro-life activism is among the complications that impede the humanities’ rush to self-destruction. But he hangs too large and heavy a picture on too small a nail. Higher education in America is groaning under a weight greater than the rise in the number of students hypothetically willing to countenance infanticide up to age five or a professor of pornography at UC Santa Barbara assaulting a 16-year-old pro-life activist. “Christianity is saving the humanities,” writes Morgan. Let’s hope.
But let’s also consider that what ails the university has also spread to many Christian communities. The quasi-religion of global warming, for instance, has gained a now very substantial foothold in the Catholic Church, as well as in many of the Protestant churches, after incubating for a quarter-century in the anti-humanist university. There is a two-way street in the exchange of ideas between campus and pulpit, and climate alarmism, which is deeply entangled with the view that the human population is excessive and needs to be culled, has traveled to the source from which we derive the idea of the sanctity of life. Granted, the Church is trying to sort all this out, but then so is the university.
As higher education struggles with the corruption of the humanities, it is also facing the problems of insupportable student debt, large numbers of students ill-prepared for any kind of collegiate-level study, rising competition from online education and “disaggregated” forms of education, a growing appetite among students for censorship, bouts of campus hysteria as in the fictitious “rape epidemic,” the real epidemic of student licentiousness, a coarsening of tastes, a plummeting level of general education, and perhaps a dozen other gaping holes beneath the waterline. The pro-life movement can touch some of these for the better, but not all. Those who think higher education is worth saving really need to consider the whole picture.
That said, Morgan’s point, though exaggerated, is helpful. It is important to recognize the few really constructive developments taking shape while so many things are going awry.
Peter Wood, President
NCCC-CAMP-6C-2B; P.O. Box 1812
New York, New York
Often I am surprised in my daily life by what I call synchronous serendipity, that strange phenomenon of discovering, in a timely manner, valuable or agreeable things not sought for. I suspect the Comforter (a.k.a. the Holy Spirit) enjoys positing these little surprises for us, like highway signposts assuring us anxious pilgrims that we are not lost but homeward bound.
One night I watched the 2014 PureFlix production God’s Not Dead, the ad copy for which reads, “When an atheist philosophy professor plans to forego ‘dusty arguments’ in his class, he insists the new students declare that ‘God is dead.’ Unable to comply, Josh [the student protagonist] is challenged, at great personal sacrifice, to defend his faith and prove to the class that God’s Not Dead. Against all odds, Josh stands up for his faith and takes on the challenge. Let the debate begin.” The philosophy professor severely threatens Josh if he embarrasses him. I enjoyed this film and thought it well done.
The next day I read Jason M. Morgan’s description of UC Santa Barbara Prof. Mireille Miller-Young’s assault on Thrin Short, a 16-year-old who was boldly exhibiting pro-life signs on the campus. Naturally, I smiled over one more comforting signpost flashing past.
Richard M. Dell'Orfano
Handee Correctional Institution
San Marcos, California
Apropos Jason M. Morgan’s article, an opinion piece appeared in The Daily Californian, the official student newspaper of UC Berkeley (Sept. 8), chronicling a doctoral student’s experience in a class on the Old Testament. “Don’t take this class if you believe the Bible is inspired or infallible,” the teacher proclaimed in the opening moments of the first class session. The student, David Kurz, recounts:
“Despite UC Berkeley’s ultra-liberal reputation, I took it as a given that there was still significant latitude for free thought and expression in the classroom.
“Thus, I was not expecting the unapologetically heavy-handed double standard I encountered from the professor, a well-respected biblical scholar. His initial cutting remark within five minutes of the start of class was soon followed by more: ‘This stuff isn’t taught in synagogues or churches because they don’t want to piss people off…. Anyone can take this class, as long as you play by the rules of the game…. If you disagree with the approach we use, that’s an F.’
“I was shocked — not only by his contempt for religion but also by the fact that he wasn’t even trying to be subtle about his narrow-minded academic approach. Apparently, free thought and academic curiosity were off limits from the get-go. ‘I don’t want people who are going to disagree with me all semester,’ the professor declared in no uncertain terms.
“Undeterred, I politely peppered my professor with questions to try to better understand his intellectual paradigm. Just to be clear, there is a correct answer you want us to accept, I asked. ‘Correct.’ What about rigorous biblical scholarship claiming, for instance, that Moses did, in fact, write the vast majority of the Pentateuch? ‘That doesn’t exist.’ It does, I argued. ‘I don’t want people who are going to disagree with me all semester,’ he repeated. I thought a university was an environment in which multiple viewpoints and debates were encouraged, I countered. ‘Not in this classroom’ came the maddeningly smug response.
“After the class, I was left shaking my head, a mixture of indignation, sadness, confusion and frustration exploding inside me. As I packed up my things, other students came over to me and thanked me for my questions, explaining that they, too, were upset about the professor’s overly harsh attitude toward religion and religious students. We all felt the arrogance of the professor and the injustice of the situation, but did not know what to do about it.
“First, I was deeply troubled by the hypocrisy of a famously ‘liberal’ school employing such a closed-minded professor…. Not only did the professor make no effort to value students with academic and religious perspectives differing from his own, but he actively persecuted us, essentially forcing us to drop his class or suffer.
“Second, the fact that religious persecution was flaunted so unabashedly by a well-established professor in front of an entire classroom of students — at the premier public university in the world, no less — speaks to a teaching culture that, at best, tacitly acquiesces to his attitude and, at worst, actively encourages it. This was certainly not the first class this professor has taught, nor is he the only professor to openly criticize religion in a UC Berkeley classroom, nor is UC Berkeley the only campus where this type of persecution is a problem. A number of my friends, at UC Berkeley and other universities, have experienced similarly hypocritical discrimination based on their unpopular religious or scholarly perspectives, thanks to a certain ‘liberal’ fundamentalism as narrow-minded as any conservative, religious fundamentalist. Such a deep-seated posture of indifference toward the religious and academic freedom of students — in general, but particularly for those of strong religious faith, who are often the minority — is shameful and outrageous.
“The ‘liberal’ double standard — by which all views and scholarship are permissible and encouraged, except those deemed too traditional, passé or otherwise unpalatable for the sophisticated 21st century thinker — is simply unacceptable at the modern pluralistic university.”
Federal Correctional Institution
JASON M. MORGAN REPLIES:
A double thread runs through these letters: freedom and God.
Jennifer Kabbany touches on this when she expands my focus on campus pro-lifers to show that conservatives and Christians (some of the former agnostic free-market evangelists, to be sure, but even atheist libertarians must reckon with whence man’s freedom ultimately derives) are challenging more than just the pat — and profoundly disturbing — campus relativisms about human life. Wrapped up in the opposition to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions chicanery, for example, is a revulsion at the openly anti-Semitic and gleefully tyrannical tone of the divestment crowd, and a deeply felt sense that the attack on Israel has more than a little to do with Israel’s standard appellation among Christians of “the Holy Land.”
Prof. Wood is also right to say that I am drawing too fine a distinction between campus and Church, especially given that much of the anti-human Alinskyian sloganeering we find on the quad has swamped the Vatican too. This, also, seems to stem from a fundamental mistake about mankind’s freedom before God: Once sin becomes “structural” (as with sins of economic oppression and environmental degradation), and not a personal transgression of God’s freely given grace, then the battle has already been lost and the best a Christian can hope for is a useless parsing of the terminology of the conquerors. It is like Frantz Fanon: We cannot help but critique colonialism using the language of the colonialists. Pro-life arguments, too, are often couched in the phraseology of high liberalism; to repurpose Prof. Wood’s fine metaphor about the picture and the nail, the pro-life lever alone is far too small to dislodge the universities’ Big Lie, especially when the fulcrum is resting on the Lie itself!
But this is perhaps why I like Mr. Dell’Orfano’s and Mr. Rose’s thoughtful responses so much. For all of their heartbreaking capitulations to the idols of the age — from blessings of same-sex unions and gung-ho endorsement of contraception to tragicomic global-warming millenarianism and sophomoric gospels according to Marx — the Christian churches continue to send Jonahs into Nineveh. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, indeed. I have not seen God’s Not Dead, but it sounds very much like what Thrin Short did at UC Santa Barbara. And David Kurz, too, found that speaking the truth about God meant, inescapably, defending the freedom to speak in the first place.
To return to Prof. Wood’s critique, I agree that the problems of debt (both student and institutionab| functional illiteracy, centrifugal curricula, and petty student-government tyranny will never be solved by the pro-life club. But campuses — as Prof. Wood needs no reminding, having fought the good fight for a very long time — are hostile places, and those who brave the hostility, and who will later go on to solve the myriad problems plaguing our institutions of higher education, had better believe in something if they hope to persevere.
More often than not, that “something” is freedom, or God, and usually both. And I know of no group more consistently arguing on campus for either than the pro-lifers.
Douglas Spies, #A224-166
Marion, Ohio 43301-1812
Putting Away the Sword, Embracing the Cross
Thank you for renewing my scholarship subscription. It has been wonderful to have such thought-provoking, informative Catholic material to read. It has been a real blessing to me.
I am 55 years old and have been in prison for the past 25. It is hard in here to keep one’s head about the right thing. Your publication helps me do this.
There are plenty of Protestant heresies being promulgated in this environment. I’ve tried attending a few of their religious services — after all, we’re all Christians, right? Wrong. The disrespect toward the Blessed Sacrament and our precious Mother is unbelievable. Their services appear to be nothing more than unruly emotional rollercoaster rides with no real structure of any kind. Everyone seems to do whatever he wants, with no reverence at all. It really is disgraceful.
I was raised Catholic and I thank God that my mother put me in Catholic school early on. But in my mid-teens I forsook my faith for drugs and the violence of the streets of Cleveland. This lifestyle resulted in my being here serving a 19- to 65-year sentence. Who knows how much of the sentence I will have to serve before I am paroled. But we live and die by the sword or the cross — whichever we choose to embrace in this life.
I am not complaining; I have reaped exactly what I sowed. But I am grateful that my situation brought me back like the prodigal son to faith in Christ Jesus. I honestly believe that without coming to prison I would never have come back to our beloved faith. Prison is what it took to bring a guy like me to full repentance.
We do have Mass on Monday mornings, celebrated by Fr. Joseph Klee, an occasional contributor to the NOR, which is a huge blessing. But my family is all gone now (I think I have a brother somewhere in Oregon but I haven’t heard from him in years). So your magazine is one of my most valued sources of Catholic news and information. I deeply appreciate each and every issue I receive, and I pray that you are able to continue sending it to me.
If any Catholics among your readers would like to correspond with me, please pass on my mailing address.
The NOR staff and readers remain in my prayers. May our heavenly Father bless you in all that you think, say, and do.
Bowling Green, Florida
I want to thank all of you who made a subscription to the NOR available to me through the Scholarship Fund. In the prison environment, when something is desirable, men try not to discard it when they are done with it. They find creative ways to use even wrappers, boxes, and any other items they come across. We lead a life of desperation.
Our Catholic community is grateful that your publication can be read by a dozen men in the weeks after I receive it. In the midst of a very secular world, the truth found in the NOR and the theology spelled out in your articles bring us closer as members of Christ’s One Body.
When we read other prisoners’ letters about the reach of your magazine into numerous prisons, we are comforted knowing that the Lord is available, through reconciliation and the Eucharist, even to the least of us. This is the love of God, through Christ Jesus.
Thank you all for your thoughtfulness.
Thank you for another year’s worth of news (some of which we “may have missed”), articles on the faith and the many culture wars we are experiencing, and book reviews. I quickly devour each issue (not literally, though the food here does leave much to be desired) and then pass them on to the rest of our Catholic community here.
I am thankful for your offer to renew my scholarship subscription and very much wish to accept it with all humility. I know that money and funding are a big issue for print publications, so I am sincerely grateful for your generosity and that of your donors who make your scholarship program possible because print publications are the only way for us inmates to receive periodicals.
May God bless you and keep your much-needed apostolate in business.
Ed. Note: We invite those readers who’d like to ensure that more prisoners like Messrs. Spies, Spataro, and Reaves are able to receive the NOR free of charge to contribute to our Scholarship Fund. To do so, click here, select “General Donation,” and indicate in the comments section that your donation is for the Scholarship Fund.
Although we’ve expanded our operation to include digital and web versions of the NOR, the prison population is not served by our new initiatives. This is another reason (among many!) why we are determined to continue publishing a print edition. We invite those who’d like to ensure the viability and continuation of our print edition to contribute to our current fundraising campaign. Since April, when we announced the launch of the mobile version of the NOR, we’ve been trying to raise $213,000. To date we’ve raised just over half that amount, $108,816. To contribute to our campaign, click here.
We thank you for your apostolic zeal!
Joseph E. Staskewicz
Southampton, New Jersey
I attend the traditional Latin Mass in the city where I live. On Sundays and special feasts we have the Solemn High Mass. On two weekdays we have “low Masses.” Although I appreciated Thomas Storck’s review of Peter Kwasniewski’s Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and the Renewal in the Church (June), I take exception to the following two statements:
(1) “Many supporters of the traditional Mass seem content with a low Mass, sometimes said entirely silently, in violation of the rubrics. I venture to predict, however, that the traditional Latin liturgy will never regain its rightful place in the Church unless it is everywhere celebrated with the solemn splendor and richness it deserves.”
(2) “As Kwasniewski says, ‘If the liturgy cannot immediately show something meaningful to a wide-eyed child, then it has failed.’ In this respect, the silent low Mass does fail, especially for the vast majority of Catholics today who did not grow up with it.”
The Solemn High Mass is a feast for the senses: There is beauty to the ears in the chants and time-honored music, and in the ancient language. There is beauty to the eyes in the brocade vestments and the tableaus formed by the strict rubrics of the movements, where every single action is loaded with symbolism. There is the scent of incense. And, as in every single Mass, there is the non-bloody re-creation of the sacrifice of the cross. The priest celebrates the Mass facing God, giving glory and praise to Him on behalf of the people assembled behind him, and presenting their needs and petitions to God on their behalf, as in the tradition of the ancient Hebrew priests.
The low Mass is a complement to the Solemn High Mass. At my parish, the low Mass is silent. In this silence, one is still, and one participates in the Mass by following the prayers of the priest mentally or by reading one’s missal. Again, each movement of the priest has meaning, and again, he offers praise and glory to God on behalf of the congregation, and he presents their needs and intentions to the Lord.
This Mass is contemplative. We kneel at the foot of the cross and listen. Those who regularly attend the low Mass come to understand this. The graces come. Silent, contemplative prayer is not widely understood in this age. But the children who attend these Masses with their parents learn from them what is happening.
Both forms of the traditional Mass enrich the soul, but in different ways.
The man I married was raised a Methodist, and his family had a great animosity toward Catholics. He played high-school football, and in his neighborhood were other teens who played football for a Catholic boys’ school. He ran around with the Catholic boys and would party with them on Saturday nights. He was astounded to learn that each Sunday morning the Catholic boys would go to the cathedral downtown for the 6:30 AM low Mass. To him this was an unthinkable thing to do. They often invited him to join them, and finally he did. He understood absolutely nothing about the Mass, but when he walked out of the church, something hit him deeply. He had no idea what it was but he knew there was “something” there that was not anywhere else. Those rowdy boys became very respectful and silent. He could not believe the difference in their demeanor and behavior.
Then he met me, a Catholic girl. We have been married for 58 years. He converted, and it is a joy to be together at Mass, side by side. He told me when he started the process of conversion that it was the experience with those Catholic boys at the low Mass that had stirred him.
Those low Masses that Storck thinks “fail” have converted many people — even saints — by virtue of their silence and reverence.
THOMAS STORCK REPLIES:
I enthusiastically endorse what Judith Martin says about a Solemn High Mass. Indeed, I find it difficult to understand why every Catholic who assists at such a liturgy, even one time, doesn’t immediately realize how superior it is to the barebones liturgies — so lacking in beauty, symbolism, and historical depth — that are unfortunately the norm nowadays.
But I must insist on what I said about the low Mass. If some find it attractive, well and good. When it is celebrated according to the rubrics, I have nothing against it either. But an entirely silent low Mass is a liturgical abuse, no matter how common such an abuse might have been or still is. The rubrics of the 1962 Missal (sect. XVI) are clear that the prayers at the foot of the altar, up to when the priest ascends the altar steps, are to be said clara voce, in a clear or manifest or plain voice. Likewise the Kyrie, Gloria, Collect, Epistle, Gradual, Gospel, Credo, and afterward, the Agnus Dei and Last Gospel (to mention only the major parts). Moreover, the rubrics state, sacerdos autem maxime curáre debet, ut ea quæ clara voce dicenda sunt, distincte et apposite proferat…neque tam submissa, ut a circumstantibus audiri non possit — that is, “the priest should especially take care that those things which are to be said clara voce be said distinctly and fittingly…and not so quietly that he can’t be heard by those in attendance.”
People may have gotten accustomed to an entirely silent low Mass, and may invent justifications for it after the fact, but the rubrics are clear. If one can rightly complain about the frequent violations of the rubrics in the Novus Ordo, are the rubrics of the Old Mass less binding or important?
St. John's, Arizona
We All Lost
In reference to Christopher Gawley’s review of Thomas Fleming’s A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War (May) and the ensuing letters (Sept.): The truth of America’s experience with slavery must be a terrible thing since no one wants to address its aftermath. One has to ask: What were the Christians thinking 150 years ago when they forced Africans into bondage? What is the legacy of the descendants of the former slaves?
Numerous problems now plague African-American communities. As an ethnic group, African Americans have the highest per-capita abortion rate in the nation. Those lucky enough to make it out of the womb are often neglected by their families (absentee fatherhood is an ongoing problem in the black community) and may eventually be killed by their own people (in many black neighborhoods, gangs, murders, robberies, muggings, and carjackings are all too common). It is as if the descendants of former slaves, having turned their neighborhoods into warzones, are bent on destroying each other. The citizens and even the armed police who find themselves in these areas face untold dangers.
Who lost the Civil War? From the perspective of history, we all lost the Civil War!
CHRISTOPHER GAWLEY REPLIES:
Warn the Bullies
Your New Oxford Note “Learning to Live as Dissidents” (Sept.) lists various “authoritarian bullies” and “talking heads” who are driven by hate, anger, and intolerance, or who lack of the ability to reason in their mania to enforce the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision.
I believe these are the “wicked men” of whom Ezekiel spoke (cf. 3:18-19). Even a bully who lacks the ability to reason soundly, if God places a stumbling block before him and he turns away from virtue without asking God for forgiveness, will “die for his sin.” And though I agree that we Catholics (as well as Protestants) need to stand our ground on traditional marriage, we also need to warn these bullies for, as Ezekiel says, if we do not “speak out to dissuade” them from their “wicked conduct,” not only will they die for their sin, the Lord will hold us responsible for their deaths. It is our responsibility to warn these politically correct bullies and help them understand the error of their ways.
Our Received Religion
Tom Bethell writes that “environmentalism today is our received religion, so much so that its ethos is mostly implicit and no longer needs to be spelled out” (“What the Revolution Has Wrought,” Sept.).
It is necessary to go deeper than that. The religion of the modern world, the religion of environmentalists, and the religion of many so-called Christians is, in fact, scientism. Those who are afraid to turn their backs on scientism are neither Christians nor environmentalists. They will neither reach God nor achieve a healthy planet.
Will We Need Another Gregory?
After reading Thomas Storck’s article “The Catholic Church After Obergefell” (Sept.), I’ve come to the conclusion that we are entering a period of history wherein the Church will be trying once more to state the first reason for her existence: that God comes first. The First Commandment states as much. The latest opponent to challenge the Church in this regard is the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade to legalize abortion took a sledgehammer to the Second Commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” On the pretext that the child in the womb is nothing more than a clump of cells, the Court legalized a form of first-degree murder: the premeditated killing of a defenseless person. The Court’s latest decision in Obergefell v. Hodges displaces God as creator of the institution of marriage. The civil courts and legislators have usurped His place. Marriage is the core, the beating heart of any civilization, and marriage in the U.S. has been on a downward trend for some time now. I only hope that our bishops, and the laity, have the backbone to stand up for the Church’s teachings.
After reading Storck’s article, I started flipping through a book on the history of the Church. By sheer happenstance I opened to the pages on the conflict between Pope St. Gregory VII and Emperor Henry IV in the 11th century over the state’s undue influence over the Church’s affairs. I couldn’t help but wonder whether another such conflict is brewing today. I hope not, but if it comes to that, please Lord, give us another Gregory!
The Right of Necessary Disobedience
In response to the editor’s reply to my letter and Donna Kruger’s in defense of the Society of St. Pius X, and his call for a “reasoned debate on this topic, conducted in all charity and good will” (Jul.-Aug.): This matter is so complex that it would take more than a letter, more than an article, more even than a shelf or two of books to cover the entire controversy. Some of those books have already been written, and I would recommend a few to anyone who is interested, including Is Tradition Excommunicated?: Where Is Catholicism Today?: A Collection of Independent Studies (Angelus Press) and just about anything by Michael Davies, especially his Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre. As to studies of the theology and status of Vatican II, these alone would fill several of those bookshelves. One good study of some of the results is Pope John Paul II’s Theological Journey to the Prayer Meeting of Religions in Assisi by Fr. Johannes Dormann (in three volumes of painstaking research and closely reasoned discussion), which concludes that the Council represents a true break from the teachings of all previous popes as well as from the accumulated writings of the Church Fathers.
Aware that the NOR does not have the space for a lengthy critique of the Council, I would like to limit myself to answering Mr. Vree’s assessment of the current status of the Society.
First, no one would argue that a schismatic act incurs, and deserves, excommunication. However, the question here is whether Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre did in fact either intend or commit such an act when he consecrated four bishops for the Society without Pope John Paul II’s permission, and whether the Society continues in any sort of schism. Vree’s comparison of Lefebvre with Martin Luther (who said “I have within me the great pope, Self,” and “I feel much freer now that I am certain the pope is the Antichrist”) does no more than cloud the issue. There has never been any question of attacking the pope on the part of Archbishop Lefebvre or the Society, and when they have criticized actions or statements of a particular pope (even St. Paul did as much), they have never challenged the papacy itself or the legitimacy of any reigning pope. The Society has never taught or believed in sedevacantism.
The issue here is whether Lefebvre’s consecrating four bishops constitutes a schismatic act. Certainly there are plenty of conditions under which it could and would be. While I don’t know what Martin Luther intended (and there are some indications that he himself didn’t know what he intended initially), there are simply no grounds for Vree’s accusing the Society of trying to create a “shadow church.”
On the other hand, Lefebvre’s consecration of bishops was undeniably an act of disobedience. What could he have been thinking? Of course the pope “is endowed with the authority to govern the Church,” as Vree states, as long as he provides for the welfare of the Church and allows nothing that may bring harm to the faithful. And yes, we are “to act in obedience to” the pope — but we are not to give blind obedience. Vree juxtaposes this obedience with setting ourselves up as “authorities unto ourselves who owe obedience to no man.” Total obedience to a man who was not speaking ex cathedra or else professing a sort of moral and intellectual anarchy — are these really our only options? What about the option to act in accordance with the traditions of the Church, even though these have been broken off by a pastoral Council and replaced with novelties and things such as modernism and religious indifferentism that were actually condemned by former popes (not to mention the remaking of the Mass into something unrecognizable).
So, why did Lefebvre do it if he did not mean to establish a rival church? One reason is that there would have been no other means for the ordination of traditional priests. There was no provision for those who did not want to change to a suddenly mandated new religion after the Council. How else would Catholics have access to the Mass and sacraments as they always had before Vatican II if only modernist priests were to be formed? The Vatican had put off consecrating a traditional bishop, and Archbishop Lefebvre was growing old. Were they waiting for him to die — and the Tridentine Mass with him? It was a frightening situation, a real quandary. There was, in short, a perceived state of necessity, or so the archbishop believed.
And now we come to one of the more difficult parts of the argument. The Vatican did make reference to the “right of necessity” at the time but denied that it would apply in this particular instance. What is a right of necessity? According to the essay “Neither Schismatic nor Excommunicated” (from Is Tradition Excommunicated?):
“To be able to invoke a state of necessity and to be able to benefit from its corresponding right:
“1. there must really be a state of necessity;
“2. one must have attempted to remedy it by ordinary means;
“3. the ‘extraordinary’ act performed must not be intrinsically evil and no harm must result to one’s neighbor;
“4. in this breaking of the law, one must keep to the limits of the requirements really imposed by the state of necessity;
“5. in no way should the validity of the competent authority be questioned and that, on the contrary, one could presume that in normal circumstances, it would have given its consent.”
Were these conditions met when Lefebvre consecrated the bishops? As to the first, we must ask whether the faith is being preserved and passed on. Well, is it? Are the clergy teaching true Catholic doctrine? Does the New Mass encourage reverence and orthodoxy? Is the current vogue for ecumenism making new converts, or is it instead promoting indifferentism? In the face of massive defections among priests, religious, seminarians, and the faithful in general, the archbishop found himself faced with a crisis and, running out of time, he did the best thing he could think of to salvage the situation.
As to the second condition, Lefebvre faced numerous trials in founding and maintaining the Society’s seminary in Ecône, Switzerland, due to his refusal to implement the teachings of the Second Vatican Council; the Society was suppressed and the seminary ordered to close. So his “disobedience” goes back further than the episcopal consecrations, since the seminary not only didn’t close but spawned several new ones.
As to the third condition, the argument assumes a circularity that makes it hard to answer. Schism is evil. But is this schism? If it isn’t, then the act isn’t evil. On the other hand, since the authority of the pope, as pope, has never been questioned, then there is, at least, no intention of schism.
As to the other two conditions, Lefebvre did no more than necessary in consecrating the bishops (more than one because a time may come when they would have to consecrate other bishops, and one bishop alone can’t do it), giving them the power to ordain priests and perform confirmations, which was their only purpose. They were not to preside over any given territories or in any way constitute a rival church. There is no rival pope and the Society remains Roman Catholic.
I submit this letter not in the expectation that anyone will be convinced by the arguments it contains but because these things are true and must be said. There are many more things that can be added, clarified, and, most likely, corrected. I have responded to Vree’s request for reasoned arguments. And in this spirit, I would expect a lengthy debate.
Ed. Note: A reasoned and lengthy debate conducted in all charity and good will? Let’s have at it! We’ve had our say. What say you, dear readers?
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- Karl Keating
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