“Why the Pope had to do what he did”

The author of the fine  The Heresy of Formlessness, Martin Mosebach, has published in Der Spiegel an essay about the lifting of the excommunications of the SSPX Bishops. 

I picked up this English translation here, the Society of St. Hugh of Cluny, based in Norwalk, CT.   You might recall that there is a very sensible priest there.

Let’s see what Mosebach has to say with my emphases and comments.

The Body of the Church
Why the Pope Had to Do What He Did.

By Martin Mosebach

The Catholic Church is experiencing an unprecedented moment in her recent history. A sacerdotal act of the Pope – the removal of the excommunication of four bishops who had been consecrated contrary to the prohibition of his predecessor in the Petrine office – encounters an outraged lack of understanding not only of the non-Catholic public but also of many Catholics and even bishops, who have openly renounced their loyalty to the pope. Forty years after the Second Vatican Council, which attempted an “opening of the Church to the World”, the Catholic Church has been struck dumb – as if she does not recognize any more her own institutions.

What is a Catholic Bishop? Is he a senior administrative official of the Church? Is he a high-ranking politician, who can be subjected to party discipline? This is how non-Catholics (certainly contemporary ones) view the bishop, because they never have been told anything else. For Catholics, the bishop embodies the highest form of the priesthood, connected with the capacity to represent Jesus Christ himself in the giving of the Sacraments. He receives this capacity irrevocably upon his consecration and no pope or council can take it from him. That is the disturbing thing about the episcopal office: even the most unworthy and scandalous bishop always remains a bishop, capable until his last breath of adding new bishops to the line of apostolic succession.

What is excommunication? Exclusion from a political party? That’s how non-Catholics understand it – they like to call exclusion from the communist party “excommunication.” Catholics should know that a complete exclusion from their Church is absolutely impossible. For the Church, a baptized Christian cannot become an untouchable by any deed, however terrible it may be. If the Church, as the most extreme punishment, forbids a baptized Christian from confessing his sins, from receiving the Eucharistic Christ at Mass and from receiving the sacraments at death, she does so always in the hope of soon lifting the excommunication. Ultimately, no spiritual authority wants to accept the responsibility of letting a man die uncomforted. Strictly speaking, he who offends against the unity of the Church excommunicates himself. The cancellation of the excommunication cannot be denied him if he honestly desires to return to this unity.

The use of excommunication as a means of political pressure ( as it was often done in the Middle Ages) has been justly condemned. The Jewish philosopher Simone Weil called such excommunications a mortal sin of the Church. The fact that murderers and child molesters are not automatically excommunicated shows how little excommunication has to do with moral approval. The community that receives again an excommunicated person is a community of sinners[Exactly.  We have a Church not of the pure and for the pure alone, but of sinners and those who are in need of purification.]

These are likely to have been the principal considerations of Pope Benedict when he lifted the excommunication of the four bishops who had been consecrated in a manner sacramentally valid but contrary to canon law. For the pope, it must have been a tormenting thought that these bishops, in isolation, could have succumbed to the temptation to perpetuate the schism and consecrate additional bishops. The sacraments form the heart of the Church. The danger that they could be permanently dispensed while in breach of unity must have troubled the pope exceedingly[Especially a Pope who in early years had been steeped in St. Augustine and St. Bonaventure.]

Now, in the meantime, the whole world has had the opportunity of hearing on television one of the four bishops, the Briton Williamson, utter the most revolting theses regarding the persecution of the Jews at the time of Hitler. Behind the seemingly dispassionate poker face of the prelate there was revealed a paranoia bordering on madness. This was linked, as had been long known in the Fraternity, to a complete, insane, system composed of similar “secret knowledge.” It is understandable that a general horror prevailed, on seeing that such a man might exercise his office as an official Bishop, reconciled with the pope.

Why, however, did the general public not notice that bishop Williamson specifically cannot exercise his office, because the lifting of the excommunication did not affect his suspension from the office of bishop. [Yes.  All it means is that they are now no longer forbidden to receive those sacraments they can receive.  It doesn’t mean they can dispense the sacraments in the name of the Church.]  Instead, they indulged in conjectures as to whether the Pope after all had a secret inclination to anti-Semitism. This, regarding a Pope, who, leaving aside his addresses in Auschwitz and in the synagogue in Cologne, has tried in his theology – one could say, like no other pope since Peter – to read and understand the Gospel as the work of the Jews. It even extended as far as the laughable report that the pope had set the conditions for the lifting of the suspension of the bishops only under the pressure of public opinion.

No one should deceive himself: this pope does nothing under the pressure of public opinion. [Really? I think he made statements after the Regensburg Address and after this flap in reaction to public opinion.  But he did NOT give the Regensburg Address of lift the excomm’s because of public pressure to do so.  On the contrary!]

The question was posed whether Benedict XVI knew of Williamson’s speeches. To be sure, he can’t help but have noticed the spiritual atmosphere in the SSPX. [The Holy Father has been involved as long as anyone in the Church’s hierarchy in the reconciliation of this group.  I think he must understand them very well.  That is one of the reasons why I think he considered it necessary to move forward in this way.]  Unreality and fanaticism resounded from the many attacks that the bishops of the Fraternity directed against Benedict. And it is very well possible that the knowledge of a growing pathological narrowing of the minds drove the pope to act. [Hmm… hard language.  I tend to think of hardening of positions and the passage of time.  Mosebach sees not just a hardening, but a deepening of a spirit contrary to the Roman Pontiff, etc.  Could be.  If anything, the subsequent actions of at least Bp. Fellay would perhaps somewhat ease one’s conscience in that regard.]

Twenty years ago, as Cardinal and prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he had already labored with all his strength for a reconciliation with the SSPX. At the time their founder, the legendary Archbishop Lefebvre, still lived. He had participated in the Council and had only become an opponent when the “movement of ‘68” made inroads in the Church and made a revolution out of the reform. Lefebvre refused to give up the traditional, ancient mass rite and Paul VI responded by suspending him.  [Lefebvre also ordained priests without permission back when.]

Cardinal Ratzinger attempted to win over the old man and promised that the pope would name a bishop faithful to tradition for the community. Then Lefebvre’s distrust was aroused – he felt he was being strung along. He broke off the negotiations and consecrated four bishops with whom he was excommunicated immediately thereafter. Had Lefebvre acted rightly by following his hunch? [We shall perhaps never know.  Certainly many in the Curia would have tried to hose the SSPX in the context of that concordat.  But they would have had defenders as well. God knows.  We don’t.]  Cardinal Ratzinger in any case must have been affected by the death of this man in the state of excommunication. [I have a story about that.  One morning I was into the offices of the Pont. Comm. Ecclesia Dei quite early.   I worked there. I was getting everything turned on and opened.  The doorbell rang.  I thought it was the secretary digging for her keys.  I opened the door to find Card. Ratzinger.  With a sad expression he told me he had received a call that Lefebvre had died and wanted to let us know as soon as possible.  He himself had come in early.  So, I got on the  phone and let the Secretary and Cardinal know.  I can attest from how he said it and his expression that Papa was not pleased at the news of L’s death.]  For, unlike most bishops of this time, it was impossible for him to deny any justification to Lefebvre’s struggle. “Whomever these teachings do not please he does not deserve to be a man.” This hymn of liberalism from Mozart’s “Magic Flute” became the maxim of the Church that had become liberal. The SSPX was hermetically sealed off. [And many also hermeneutically sealed themselves off.] It was not permitted to participate in the discussions of a post-conciliar Church so enamored of discussion. [And that is something I sadly fault them for.  They abandoned many of us still fighting and taking wounds in the trenches.]  Its young priests celebrated in basements and garages. One could say that the Fraternity had circled the wagons but around these wagons yawned a void – nobody cared about that.

Every sociologist knows what quickly becomes of small oppositional groups cut off from interaction with reality. That this group was endangered would have been sufficient for a responsible priest to care for it. But more was at stake here: as misfortune would have it, exactly this group had made its mission the preservation of the greatest treasure of the Church[Quite a phrase: "the greatest treasure of the Church".  WDTPRSers know what that is!]

Even today it is a difficult undertaking to speak of the importance of the liturgy for the Church. [There it is.] Twenty years ago it was almost hopeless finding a sympathetic ear. It was a foregone conclusion for many clerics that the traditional, over 1500-year old liturgy of the Church was decorative mumbo-jumbo for the nostalgic and for aesthetes. [Today we hear talk of "elitism".] It had the same importance for “emancipated Christians” [not just emancipated… but evolvedsuperiormature...] as the string quartets played on occasions of state have for politics. What had been true throughout the entire history of the Latin Church had been forgotten: that liturgy is the visible body of the Church; [GET THAT? "liturgy is the visible body of the Church"] that Church and liturgy are identical. It is the mystic depiction of the whole plenitude of revealed truths[It is encounter with MYSTERY.  Sound familiar? ] It is the locus of faith, where subjective conviction and feeling become objective contemplation and encounter. [YES!]  It is this liturgy which carried the Christian faith through the centuries. The success of the mission in the entire world was owed to its sacrality in liturgical language and chant.

The liturgy had soared above the deep divides of European history because it was equally removed from every epoch into which it entered. It is always unseasonable and therefore always an image of the other reality which awaits man. This great form of the liturgy had been softened up by Paul VI’s radical reform of the mass – an intervention unheard of in the entire history of the Church. It splintered into a thousand improvisations. [And put the whole of Western Civilisation in peril.  Save the Liturgy – Save the World.  Change how we pray as a Church and you change the belief and identity of her members.  Those members them behave differently in their own spheres, in the public square.]

But why was Archbishop Lefebvre the only bishop in the entire world who uncompromisingly rejected this attack against the liturgy and thus against the Church? With this no to a process of decomposition so highly dangerous to the Church, Lefebvre entered ecclesiastical history[NB: Mosebach is not delving into the other issues of difficulty, more purely theological.  But he doesn’t need to.  The Church’s liturgy is more important in these sense, in theis examination.]What gave him the strength was the milieu, only found in France, of a Catholic laity which had acquired its world view in the struggle against aggressive republican secularism. This was the tragedy of Lefebvre and his movement: they rescued the ancient liturgy but linked it to the struggle of political parties in recent French history[As the SSPX Williamson thing started to heat up, and journalists were calling me for background, I reminded them on the French dimension to this and past and contemporary political overtones.] The only refuge that the traditional liturgy had found threatened to become its prison. Pope Benedict had already freed it from this prison with his Motu Proprio and had given it back with its universal claim to the entire Church.

Must he not, however, have felt a sense obligation to the SSPX; that, for all its faults, it had become an instrument for preserving the Holy of Holies of the Church in a time of crisis? Whether the SSPX succeeds in finding a place in the multiplicity of the present day Church remains to be seen. Its historic mission, in any case, has been concluded. [Perhaps this is overstated.  In the time after the Motu Proprio there has been progress, and it is accelerating. There is a long way to go.]

In the last few days it could be heard again and again that the Vatican is incapable of conveying its concerns to the public. It is certainly true that there would have been less excitement among those of good will if, for instance, one had emphasized at the lifting of the excommunications that Bishop Williamson remained suspended until further notice. [All four are still suspended until further notice.]  But one cannot underestimate what black holes of ignorance have been created even in believing Catholics by more than thirty years of neglected religious instruction. These cannot be closed even by the cleverest public relations work. [In other words, you cannot make up for 30 years of devastation of catechesis and liturgical experience by means of a press release.  Or a number of releases or conferences.  Agreed.] Regarding the pope, broad circles know only that he is for human rights and against condoms. It is happily declared that “the Church can’t return to before the Second Vatican Council.” Few, however, think about the contradictions and need for interpretation of the most important texts of this council.

Does anybody notice that the pope has acted exactly in accordance with the theology of the council in his magnanimous lifting of the excommunications? The restoration of the sacral visage of the church must remain for the majority of “worldly” observers foreign and incomprehensible. [Let us not forget frightening.] Probably only later generations will grasp that the restoration of liturgical identity was worth a great sacrifice. Building up is, after all, slower than tearing down. [Brick by brick, friends.]

Naturally, things could reach a point that the state and society lose the taste for tolerating within their borders a corporation, which visibly stands under a different law and defends values other than those of the secular majority. [and maybe soon] The coarseness of a chancellor in an election campaign gives us a foretaste. As was done under Bismarck, the accusation could be made against the Catholics that they are bad citizens of the state because their heart is ultramontane; it clings “over the mountains” to the pope and his authority. [Culture War with higher tech weapons and wider battlefields.]

Ultramontane – this word describes perfectly the Catholic mentality: with a small part of one’s consciousness to be not German, [or American, or English, etc.] not contemporary, [in continuity, not rupture] not cosmopolitan. [not mired in the city of man, but facing toward the city of God.] Despite all distrust, the commonwealth does not have to fare ill with such members – the result of the constant tension between the Pope and the Emperor in the Middle Ages was nothing less than the European idea of freedom.


Exquisite points.  Truly thought provoking.

I call your attention back to the core: the connection of liturgy and the Church, our identity.

This is one reason why some people so violently resist the idea of the SSPX reentering the mainstream of the Church.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Pray for the Holy Father

  2. John Enright says:

    All in all, it is a pretty good article.

  3. Andrew, UK and sometimes Canada says:

    Article and Fr Z’s comment: 1500-year old liturgy of the Church was decorative mumbo-jumbo for the nostalgic and for aesthetes. [Today we hear talk of “elitism”.]

    This highlights something I have thought about for a while. It strikes me that the OF Mass, despite its openness to the banal, is actually a Mass for the elites. Based almost entirely on the word, on comprehension, on understanding it is geared to educated, literate people. The OF, with sensory experiences and the levelling use of Latin and, particularly, silence, is filled with symbolism, which requires no great education or comprehension to grasp. It is the Mass for everyone – rich or poor, lettered or unlettered, foreigner or native. (Cf: Galatians 3:28)

    Now I grew up in middle-class Canada so I admit to speaking from fairly narrow experience. But it strikes me that the OF Church is a solidly middle-class, well-meaning, social-action, “respectable” type of institution akin to the rural CofE. Despite their laudable fundraising and outreach to the poor and marginalised, how often does one see such people truly welcomed into a well-meaning OF parish? How many people (and I truly mean this with no malice or prejudice) would move away from the smelly drunk who sat down in the pew? Mind you, with so many words to follow would the drunk even know what was going on? Or for a more modern example: how many tut at the large family of noisy children because they can’t hear what’s happening. Hearing and understanding has taken over truly experiencing the Mass, which should require no words.

    The 1500-year old liturgy was not “decorative mumbo-jumbo” but known and loved by peasantry and royalty for centuries. So how can we call it elite?

  4. Irish says:

    Brilliant. Although I take issue with the premise that “the Vatican is incapable of conveying its concerns to the public.” As I wrote on another thread, I think the Vatican communications office knew exactly what they were doing by lifting the excommunication when they did. Let the left get all worked up about the lifting of the excommunication now. Then when the Pope and SSPX announce the unification, the left will be out of ammo. As I remember, they did the same thing with the MP. The left made their pitch at the rumor and had nothing new for the media when it became a fact.

  5. Cathguy says:

    Best article I have read in a LONG time. Wow. In so few words he says so much.

    I think the point about the French political thinking are especially cogent, but the whole thing is masterful.

    I just want to say that I do find the SSPX “frightening” but not for the reasons that Fr. Z. mentions. I LOVE the traditional liturgy. However, it seems to me, and admittedly my opinion means little, that these people are out to attack core institutions that have proven themselves beyond a doubt beneficial to Western Civilization (and are a result of its genius). I speak here of the freedoms that I hold self-evident: assembly, speech, religious practice, and the right to vote.

    Those of us who are afraid (I have just starting reading Freedom of Religion Questioned by Lefebvre, along with re-reading the works of Fr. John Curran) are not upset with the Pope with lifting the excommunications. I prayed for this to happen. I am also not out to use Williamson’s lunacies to attack the Pope. I AM afraid that a large group of people who hate the propositions I consider self-evident: the rights of life, liberty, freedom of religion are having those ideas validated.

    These uniquely European views that are so opposed to the genius of the American proposition are VERY dangerous. Take out of the equation his agenda for a moment, and consider the fact that Barak Obama’s presidency is a thing only imaginable in the U.S.. In Germany, in France, in England, in Italy, the thought of having someone of a different color with a different sounding name become completely German, or French, or English, or Italian, and then even be elected president is laughable and preposterous. Europe is still a hateful place that resembles Babel. The ideas (and POWER) of the US brought peace to that violence blighted continent. We don’t want to have to do it again.

    Furthermore, we really do want them to learn from our example. Pluralism with relativism is possible. It is possible for Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Athiests to all belong to one nation and be united by one national ideal. The U.S. works. These people are opposed. And that DOES bother me.

  6. Cathguy says:

    In my last post it should read “pluralism without relativism” in case anyone is interested.

  7. RichR says:

    Great read.

    As I read Mosebach’s comments about the 1500 year-old liturgy, I couldn’t help but recall Fr. Brian Harrison’s comment that repetition in liturgy (meaning, a visible continuity throughout the ages without much change) is the closest mortals come to eternity. And that is what the Church’s doctrine is: timeless.

  8. Aelric says:

    In the hope that one might pose a thought without stirring a hornet’s nest:

    Why, however, did the general public not notice that bishop Williamson specifically cannot exercise his office, because the lifting of the excommunication did not affect his suspension from the office of bishop.

    Perhaps this is because, to most people, bishop Williamson is exercising an office? He offers Mass; he administers (change tense now) a seminary; he and the SSPX continue to claim (see: http://www.sspx.org/miscellaneous/validity_of_confessions_1.htm) that marriages witnessed and absolutions granted by Society priests (and thus bishop Williamson) are valid. Nuances of formal vs. material schism escape most parish priests much less “Joe Catholic” or the media (or, it would seem, some in the curia).

    In other words, “we” say bishop Williamson can now go to confession (validly); the world says that bishop Williamson has been claiming that he’s been doing that all along. Put in a nutshell, then, the Catholic Church is portrayed as being, as John Henry Newman was once famously accused by Charles Kingsley of being, either a knave or a fool.

    In a world more interested in – or, better, which no longer knows the difference between – appearance and superficiality as compared with ontology, how can we be surprised?

  9. Hendrik says:

    >Furthermore, we really do want them to learn from our example. Pluralism with relativism is >possible. It is possible for Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Athiests to all belong to one >nation and be united by one national ideal.

    Umm, Cathguy, in Europe we have serious problems to (re)define our identity. We will fail to construct a state based on ideas, like the USA. But: France for example is based on republican ideas, but still fails to win hearts and minds of his 5 million immigrants from North Africa. In Germany we have a rising muslim population and personally: I don’t think, that a stronger Islam would like to integrate in a secular state. That’s a chimera, a pure utopia.

    And to be honest: as chancellor Merkel attacked the Pope, I rather took the ultramontane way and fully supported the Holy Father. It was a feeling like in the age of Bismark with his “kulturkampf” against the church. I hope I will never be again in the situation to choose between my country and Rome. But: our real fatherland lies in Heaven. And our family is the church. So my decision would be clear, Rome sweet home ;)

  10. PAT says:

    I will just add that Martin Mosebach’s book, The Heresy of Formlessness, is quite excellent. It is well-written and poignant. Very much worth reading.

  11. Paul Bailes says:

    Dear Father Z,

    can you explain/justify your allegation re the SSPX “they abandoned many of us still fighting and taking wounds in the trenches” please? I really can’t understand how continuing (as the SSPX did) its global apostolate can be described as some kind of running away. They didn’t run away from me and my family. The SSPX priest was there to absolve my dear father-in-law as he lay dying here in Brisbane, Australia. And thousands of us will have similar histories. [And a lot of priests stayed loyal in their obedience and did not go off to leave their brothers fighting it out by themselves within the Church.]

    Respectfully, I’ve wondered reading some of your words if there isn’t something personal going on between you and the SSPX (or some of its people), [That is over the line.] which your reference to “many of us” would seem to corroborate. It’s your business, and your blog, but if you’d ever care to elaborate I think it might explain a lot to your readers (10/11 of whom it seems can find at least something good to say abt Abp. Lefebvre and “his crowd”). [I think you should pay attention to what has been written on this blog. You have had a good experience of SSPXers. Fine. That is wonderful.]

    God bless

  12. Cathguy says:


    Great post. Thank you. I hope and pray I didn’t insult you.

    I was upset too by Merkel’s arrogance, and I would have stuck by the Pope too. You did the right thing.

    Here is my concern. I am not 100% European ancestry (only 50%). My father is from a Muslim country.

    Now, here in the US, I am a free and opening and practicing Catholic who, despite my name and my background is 100% American. No door is closed to me here.

    Immigrants from my father’s “old country” do not fare so well in Germany or Europe. Assimilate there, when they could NEVER be fully German or fully Italian or whatever?

    Do you see where my questions are leading? Perhaps Europe is an entirely different place, and it will be forever impossible to be what I am and fully integrated into a European country.

    In that case, I can only praise God I was born in the USA.

    I am not trying to be insulting, and I apologize for any offense given.

    God bless you.

  13. Hendrik says:

    Yes, Mosebach is great! Ah btw: in Frankfurt (his hometown) the misa tridentina is now read every sunday, approved by the bishop :)

  14. tecumseh says:

    Thought provoking….you can say that again Father. I wont be e-mailing this one. This will be printed off and handed over in person.

  15. meg says:

    I love this piece, and Father’s comments – together they clarify many things for me.

    I only recently became aware of claims that the Latin Mass was “elitist” from an extremely well-educated Commonweal-reading relative who probably learned lots of Latin and Greek in college in the 60’s.

    I find the claim utterly ironic – it is itself the height of elitism. You can almost hear their thought process: “Well, of course *I* understand the Latin Mass but *I* am more sophisticated and better educated than the poor unwashed masses – *they* need to hear the Mass in their own language so the poor things can understand it. I will help them by making myself a part of the rebirth of Catholicism!”

    The height of both elitism and pride.

  16. Hendrik says:

    Dear Cathguy,

    >I hope and pray I didn’t insult you.

    No problem. I’m not insulted, don’t worry :)

    I understand you’re concerns. As I said: modern Europe is built on nationality, a result of history and the formation of the national states. It’s a mess sometimes, because we actually fail to form an identity and even have a lot problems to integrate good people. There were times, where a gentleman could hire everywhere in a king’s service. For example a lot of prussian officers joined in Russia (after 1805), Sweden e.g. And there were times, where every european first defined himself as a christian. And that’s the most important I think: to be part of the church and united in Christ :)

    God bless you!

  17. Sam says:

    The fact of being accepted and within the Catholic Church does not by itself validate anyone’s political ideas, neither yours nor the reactionaries.

    The Church is above those things, she has to be, she has existed before the state as we know it existed, before nations existed, she has seen more political forms and diverse organisational structures than most people in any age could conceive of and has worked with them all, because with them all there were sinners.

    I myself am deeply frightened of the Church in some fit of forgetfulness making contemporary political assumptions, structures and values formal aspects of her doctrine. To do so would hobble her immensely. There should be room for the libertarians, the democrats, the republicans, the Jacobites and the Ancien Regimeists and everything in between, because although politics is not irrelevant, and does indeed impact on the Faith, it must be subordinate to it, subordinate to God. When people start to think “democracy” or “religious liberty” (defined more liberally) and so on are more important than Christ, who is truth, when they put their faith in politics and particular forms of social organisation above their faith in God. This is a great tragedy.

    Society has changed and developed a lot over the centuries, although people seem to have stayed hillariously the same, there is no reason to suppose society will suddenly ossify. If contemporary politics is treated as a given the Church will lose her timeless nature and be unable to talk to the future, or to credibly represent her past.

    That prospect frightens me a lot more than a bunch of people who disagree with democracy or contemporary concepts of individualistic freedom.

  18. As you know, Father, I have a strong love for Augustine, and as usual he has a lot to say in this situation. I am more and more conscious of how relevant the Donatist situation is. Both SSPX as well as those who think they have no business being in the Church because of some immoral views of the Jews are both in many ways falling into the Donatist trap. One of the things Augustine talked about in his sermons was how beautiful the Donatist liturgies were, such that he was envious of them, and that was all the more reason why he wanted them back in the fold, because they had so much liturgical richness to offer the Church. But primarily he wanted them back because he recognized that disunity is a major blow to the Church. The Donatists had excellent theology in many regards, and their liturgies were impeccable, but they broke away from communion with Rome. Because of their seemingly traditional views and their superior liturgies, the Donatists assumed that they were really the better expression of the Church, and that it was up to the rest of the Catholic Church to come to them. On the other side of the coin, there were many Catholics who just figured that the Donatists were the ones who left, and so we should make no concessions to them, but rather let them falter out on their own. While there wasn\’t so much of the problem of any sort of personal morality that is equivalent to the anti-Semitism that is found within some parts of the SSPX organization, nonetheless Augustine\’s argument about the controversy speaks poignantly to this current situation. First, he argued that unity is absolutely imperative for the Church to be strongest. Any disunity is a victory for Satan, for just as Christ himself said, a house divided against itself cannot stand. The schisms that formed from the Protestant Reformation, the schism of the Orthodox Church, and this quasi-schism (I\’m sorry, I just don\’t know what else to call it. The Vatican has said it\’s not schism, but they also aren\’t in full communion, obviously. So that\’s what I\’ve come up with for now) with SSPX is a victory for Satan, and weakens the Church\’s ability to proclaim the Gospel and help souls to understand and believe the truths that we teach. What Augustine also said, and this was an argument directly to the Donatists, and this especially applies to those who do not want SSPX back because of Williamson and those who share his anti-Semitic views, is that the Church is not a place only for the most pure, but rather it is a hospital for sinners. This is where Williamson and the others need to be, receiving the valid and licit Sacraments of the Church in communion with Rome, with no scandal. I have been clear that I do not want Williamson to be an active bishop, and I hold fast to that opinion. At the same time, certainly his soul needs the Sacraments as much as anyone\’s, including mine, because the Sacraments are our vehicle for healing and reconciliation. Anyway, those are my thoughts. I\’m thinking about posting a sermon from Augustine regarding the Donatist schism on my blog later on this week, just because the one I have in mind really speaks well to this situation we\’re facing now. Thanks as always for your wise words for all of us.

  19. fortradition says:

    “….exactly this group had made its mission the preservation of the greatest treasure of the Church.”

    The SSPX did indeed keep the traditional Liturgy from completely dying away. Would it have come back had the SSPX never existed?
    Perhaps there would not be a Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter either. [This is mere speculation. We don’t know what would have happened.]
    Came across the following and wonder what to think of this re: the SSPX:

    We are what you once were.
    We believe what you once believed.
    We worship as you once worshipped.
    If you were right then, we are right now.
    If we are wrong now, you were wrong then.

    Yes, Archbishop LeFebvre was disobedient. But aren’t the bishops also disobedient who do not enforce Canon 915? They are not excommunicated for disobedience. [And yet the wrong doings of one group does not justify the wrongs of another.] Yet almost 50,000,000 unborn human beings have been slaughtered through abortion.

  20. Matthew says:


    Western civilization was not founded on those said freedoms. Right to vote is a modern freedom, elevated to the notion of a super-freedom because modern countries such as the US were built upon it. Western civilization is over 2000 years old, and a majority of that time was spent with monarchies. Deomcracy is unsupportable,even though the notion is engrained these days of it being the only way.

  21. Cathguy says:


    I actually agree with your post entirely.

    Have you read Lefebvre and his followers? He isn’t talking about “making room” for people who disagree with him. They honestly believe that one of the rotten fruits of the Vatican II Church is freedom of religion, and they are PASSIONATE about it.

    I am not afraid because I do not believe in everything you said. I am afraid because I fear these people could move the Church to exclude the real progress made since the Second Vatican Council in the Church coming to terms with American style freedoms.

    YES, you are right, there should be room for all sorts of political thought in the Church, so long as it all subjugated to objective truth. The problem is I believe freedom and democracy are good things that are and can be subjugated to objective truth, and the Lefebvrites disagree WITH A PASSION. Is the Church going to move back to upholding the Syllabus of Errors as part of “capital T” tradition without nuance or recognition of democracy’s accomplishments?

    That to me would be a disaster. I would always remain a Catholic mind you. But I still believe in what the founders of the United States proposed. There is no reason that those of us who are “liberals” in the CLASSICAL sense cannot be Catholic.

    The SSPX are talking about taking Richard John Neuhaus (God rest his soul) out of the canon of orthodox Catholic writers for goodness sake!

  22. Cathguy says:


    See Matthew’s post.

    As is clear, I didn’t claim that Western Civilization was founded on freedom and democracy. Never once. I said that these things were positive inventions of the West’s genius.

    Yet, look at how the laity of the SSPX speak out against human freedom.

    These people are extremists out to excommunicate MANY MANY good Catholics from the Church, and since they did not have to apologize to have the excommunications lifted, they act as if they are in the right, and the rest of us who have remained loyal to the Pope are in the wrong.

    I really do think this is serious.

  23. Clinton says:

    I have a new favorite author. So much good sense and sound observation packed in a few paragraphs.
    Can’t wait to begin ” The Heresy of Formlessness”.

  24. brendon says:

    Human freedom is not found in doing what one wants. Rather it is found in doing what one ought.

    One ought to worship God out of praise and thanksgiving for His totally gratuitous act of creation.

    If God has told us how He is to be worshipped, then He ought to be worshipped in that way.

    Catholicism is freedom. Everything else is a greater or lesser form of slavery. And a man doesn’t cease to be a slave simply because he has agreed to be one.

  25. ssoldie says:

    As Fr.Faber said about the Traditional Latin Mass,’Gregorian Rite’, “the most beautiful thing this side of heaven” my thankful prayers go to Archbishop Marciel LeFebvre may his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed R.I.P. Amen

  26. Wm. Christopher Hoag says:

    The discussion here about the FSSPX on modern liberties needs to have this element interjected, [But probably not under this entry. Mosebach’s piece did not so much zero in on this thorny issue, though there are connections: liturgy can be God oriented or man oriented and religious liberty can be conceived as directed to doing God’s will or man’s will without respect to God. Still, I prefer that this not be channeled into a discussion of religious liberty.] namely, that the FSSPX does not draw its opposition to those liberties taken for granted in the modern world from any political motivation or partisanship. Rather, this opposition comes directly from the Magisterium in wake of the revolutions of eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The position of the FSSPX comes directly from the teachings of Gregory XVI, Bl. Pius IX, Leo XIII, St. Pius X, and Pius XI. Indeed, I encourage everyone to read the Syllabus of Errors of Bl. Pius IX, keeping in mind that each of the propositions cited is a condemned position, that, according to Pio Nono, Catholics are to hold the opposite position:


    The complaint of the FSSPX is that there appears to be a material discontinuity between the teaching of Pio Nono (and the other Popes) and that of the Second Vatican Council without any tangible development from one position to the other. Further, their complaint is that a formal discontinuity exists in practice. So far this apparent rupture in Catholic teaching has not been addressed by the Church.

    I believe that it is part of the Benedictine Renewal and the Hermeneutic of Continuity to engage the complaints of the FSSPX in order to reach clarity in these tendentious areas. This will hopefully be a fruit of the doctrinal dialogue between the Holy See and the FSSPX.

    One must also understand that the FSSPX, although an international body, is coming out of a substantially French milieu in which “liberty”, “equality”, and “fraternity” have come to have a particularly anti-clerical if not explicitly anti-Catholic meaning which witnessed horrible persecutions of the Church. The experience of modern freedoms for the FSSPX has been that of the continental Enlightenment which is distinct from the British Enlightenment that forms the basis of the US experience. CAVEAT LECTOR: Before praising the US experience of freedom in a manner of “Thank God were not like the continental Europeans.”, please read Leo XIII’s “Longinque Oceani” and “Testem Benevolentiae”!

  27. C.L. says:

    Perhaps somebody could explain this to me but is not the familiar argument that Vatican II was holy and right but its interpretation wrong becoming just a little hackneyed? [No, I don’t think so. I think it is a very good issue to contemplate.] I want to believe it myself because, in a way, my Catholicity depends on it. However, it seems undeniable that the Council and Paul VI (in particular) erred massively in what they inaugurated liturgically. Massively. What, then, do we do about that other problem vis-a-vis the SSPX: its hostility to an ecumenical council? [That is exactly what must be worked out between the reps of the SSPX and the reps of the Holy See.]

  28. Mark G. says:

    While being largely in agreement with the author, I’d say he takes a bit of a grandiose leap in suggesting that the Traditional Mass has existed in its iconic, pristine state since the waning days of Imperial Rome. It has, undeniably & inarguably changed, & continues to change even now. Not in the essential sacramental rite, naturally, but in its celebration. The approved missal is that of Pope John XXIII, not Pope Gregory. Even Benedict himself changed it last year. Perhaps the New Mass isn’t what the Council intended, yet the Council called for a reform of the liturgy in specific ways mentioned in SC. Though I get the author’s point, the real Treasure of the Church is Christ Jesus himself present in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist; not the specific sacramental formulae that make the Mysteries present. Again, I agree with the author, but the diversion about the liturgy detracts from his actual topic about the pope & his recent actions as the Church’s symbol & agent of unity, & of Ratzinger’s personal concern for the Lefebvrians. I’m just glad the Church is beginning to talk about what the Council was really asking for, what was actually done, & what should be done now.

  29. PMcGrath says:

    … that liturgy is the visible body of the Church; that Church and liturgy are identical. It is the mystic depiction of the whole plenitude of revealed truths.

    Now THAT is a thought worth savoring over and over. “The mystic depiction of the whole plenitude of revealed truths.” Wow.

  30. Cathguy says:


    That is the 100,000 dollar question. Those of us who love the old Mass and also defend the Council are a little confused right now.

    Exactly how much of the Second Vatican Council is the Holy Father prepared to throw away in “negotiations” with the SSPX? [I can’t accept your premise. It doesn’t have to be an either/or. It doesn’t have to be “throw away”.]

    Since lifting the excommunications those supportive SSPX have been triumphalist about the direction the Church is going in, and they are claiming that negotiations will lead to clarifications which will lead to the Church abandoning its stance on religious and political liberty. Since the fire-storm of controversy, the Holy Father has pointed out the SSPX are not “back in” in the sense that the media is spinning it (Fr. Z has pointed this all out in his commentary on the article we are discussing) and has also pointed out the SSPX MUST accept Vatican II. But what does “acceptance” mean? Does it mean that they can take what they want, and ignore what they don’t? Does it mean that freedoms that you and I take as a FUNDAMENTAL to our existence will soon come under attack? [Umm… no. There are things in the Council which are unclear, things which could be clarified and improved. The issue of religious liberty is complicated and must be well understood. The document on RelLib must be read in continuity with the Church’s previous teaching. Some will say that is not possible. Others will argue that it can be. This has to be worked out. Either way, it is complicated enough that we have to be patient about the process.]

    Wm. Hoag’s very well written and articulate but horrifying statement above is a case in point.

    The Syllabus of Errors is NOT infallible teaching. Papal Encyclicals are not considered infallible. Humane Vitae is, but that is because it contains infallible Church teaching that is clearly in the Tradition of the Church on morals.

    The Syllabus of Errors and the other documents like it are ways the successor of Peter, in his time and place, applied Catholic thought to the social challenges facing the Church. These sort of statements are not infallible. They do not together create a super-dogma that can be used as a stick to attack a Church Council!

    Vatican II clearly recognizes this fact and communicates a “yes” to the world. Yes, we can live in freedom from fear of persecution because of our religious beliefs. Fr. Curran’s faithful and scholarly work is a MUST read. For our own time, the late great Fr. Neuhaus stands as a giant.

    Yet, the SSPX wishes to silence Vatican II on the religious liberty issue. Far from rightly rejecting VII as “super-dogma” what they are out to do, with laser like specificity, is DENY authentic and God given freedoms to people (like the freedom of the Jews to practice their faith… lets be honest here).

    This causes legitimate panic and fear in the hearts of many, and those who write publicly on the issue need to understand that fact, and NOT REVEL IN IT like some have been.

    When someone like me hears these sorts of “European Conservative” values being pushed, terror follows. People with similar names and faces like mine have been beaten to death in European countries (RECENTLY… LIKE IN THE LAST FIVE YEARS), and have not been allowed to access to employment, or freedom, or political exercise. These same old European mistakes, which the Church finally recognized as mistakes in the Second Vatican Council, mistakes which in NO WAY affect the Church’s rightful claim of indefectibility, could be foisted upon us all.

    Now, I am NOT criticizing this Pope. I love him, and I serve him, and I think he is doing yoeman’s work and has been unfairly pilloried. He spoke in the US recently in praise of the authentic God given freedoms we have. But do not think that this hulabaloo with the SSPX doesn’t scare faithful and conservative Catholics here in the U.S. who know what we are dealing with. 60 years is not all that long, and just because mine and Fr. Z’s generation is young, people are still alive with memories that go back that far.

  31. Patrick says:

    Does anyone have a link to the original German article?

  32. R says:


    The original German article appears only in the print edition. Some speculate that the editors kept it out of the website in order to deny Mosebach his platform — he is obviously still someone whose opinion counts in Germany. It appears that the the cultured despisers of religion who run the German media will not tolerate dissent from the official opinion, which is that the pope has committed a grievous sin. To make matters worse, a hit-job on Mosebach and this article was published in the FAZ last Sunday (“Mosebach in der Piusfalle”, by Christian Geyer), and is freely available online. Let’s hope that via outlets like this blog, Mosebach’s message will trickle back into Germany, which deserves to hear it. Maybe then we can hope that Der Spiegel will reverse course and publish the piece on their website.


  33. Robert says:

    Cathguy wrote:

    “The U.S. works.”

    I hope you’re right. I’ve come to the conclusion, though that the U.S. “worked.” We’ ve squandered our patrimony of freedom under God and limited government and handed it over to a socialist political and media elite, in return for the promise of a soft life of hedonism and “economic security.” Who knows what the results will be as the decline in morality and concentration of power accelerate: vast numbers of poor; loss of security internal and external–war, terrorism, crime, persecutions of the religious and other opponents of whatever regime is in power. Under our current political system, I think we’ve reached the point of no return. And I don’t think I’m alone in the feeling that we’re just awaiting the denouement. [And this pertains to the topic…. how? Rabbit hole.]

  34. Wm. Christopher Hoag says:

    @ Cathguy

    Your comments: The Syllabus of Errors is NOT infallible teaching. Papal Encyclicals are not considered infallible.

    This actually illustrates a part of the problem present before the Church. Are these infallible? To what extent does infallibility apply?

    I think that you may be confusing infallibility with dogma. The teachings of the papal encyclicals of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are not dogmatic except in so far as they restate any dogmatic teachings previously defined by the Extraordinary Magisterium. The same may be said of the documents of Vatican II.

    The encyclicals blend variously Ordinary Magisterial teaching and authentic teaching. Does papal infallibility, i.e., teaching without error, extend to the Ordinary Magisterium? Yes. Does it extend to authentic teaching? Theologians are divided. As Catholics, we do not assent to the opinions of theologians; we assent to the Magisterium. With the FSSPX doctrinal discussions, the Church is given an opportunity to clarify these issues, especially in regard to the teachings of Vatican II.

    It is important to understand that the criticisms of FSSPX with regard to “Dignitatis Humanae” take place within the now hypothetical existence of the Catholic State. (There are no Catholic confessional states any longer in the sense of which FSSPX criticisms speak, not even Malta or Liechtenstein.) These criticisms presuppose a relatively homogenous Catholic nation in which Catholicism is the established Church. In today’s concrete reality, the principles of “religious tolerance” and “the common good” would apply, according to the position of the FSSPX.

    I feel uniquely able to speak on this matter because I composed the thesis for my M.A. on the question of “Dignitatis Humanae” and previous Church teaching at a time when it seemed that a hermeneutic of discontinuity be the only acceptable position in academia, i.e., Vatican II = all-good super dogma while pre-Vatican II = evil dark age. Alas, in certain places that still seems the case.

    It is important for all, Catholics and non-Catholics, to hear the complaints of the FSSPX on religious liberty as well as collegiality and ecumenism. Through dialogue on these issues truth and justice can emerge where currently confusion and anger are found.

    There is no question in the forthcoming dialogue of repudiating the teaching of Vatican II. Yet, let us be realistic, Vatican II arose out of a particular historical circumstance which no longer corresponds to the current milieu. Vatican II calls for Catholics to read the signs of the times. Benedict XVI is doing just that!

  35. C.L. says:

    Thanks for that thoughtful response, Cathguy. When we discuss religious liberty, of course, we also bump into that other, wider ecclesiological conundrum relating to the necessity of the Catholic Church in the economy of salvation. I’m not sure it’s accurate to imply that SSPXers believe that people of other religions have no civil right (per se) to practice their faiths. (Although, yes, there are still advocates of the confessional state being a requirement of the Church’s mission). Rather, I think, the Lefebvrists cannot and will not accept the obviation of Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus – least of all via the Subsistit in work-around, a contrivance even educated, faithful Catholics of a novus ordo disposition find impenetratable and even somewhat casuistic.

    It seems to me, in other words, that it is ecclesiology – not just liturgy – that separates the SSPX from the post-conciliar Church. And I would have to say (as someone born years after the Council’s conclusion and who hasn’t ever attended a Latin Mass) that I am not unsympathetic to the Lefebvrists’ estrangement on this more generic front. I would add, finally, that this difficulty has been complicated by the ‘one Mass, two rites’ formula of Summorum Pontificum because how we pray conveys what and how we believe (Lex orandi, lex credendi). Clearly – ecclesiologically – there is a gulf between what we and the SSPX believe about the Church. The question therefore arises, logically: has that gulf been bridged by the restoration of the TLM or sanctioned as an ineradicable feature of post-conciliar theological topography?

  36. Jerry says:

    1) No mention by Mosebach that the Holy Father satisfied the 2 pre-conditions for doctrinal discussions by the SSPX.

    2) No mention by Mosebach of two Rosary crusades given to the Holy Father by the SSPX and the faithful attached to it. Because if he did that would ruin the new narrative of the “narrowing views of the SSPX” that the Holy Father “rescued” them from.

    3) Bishop Williamson said nothing “revolting” about what happened in WWII. He contributes to the lies about Bishop Williamson unless someone saying “I think fewer died in the…Inquisition, Crusades, Abortion,the Holocaust, the bombing of Dresden than was previously reported.

    Only a ghoul would not try to research any possibility that man’s inhumanity to man has been exaggerated in this case as it has in numerous others. I’m not revolted by research that indicates that 38,000 died in Dresden compared to numbers as high as 300,000 previously put forth.

    4) The Holy Father and Bishop Fellay had better not try to coerce Bishop Williamson into acting outside of his conscience or as Mosebach said, “For the pope, it must have been a tormenting thought that these bishops, in isolation, could have succumbed to the temptation to perpetuate the schism and consecrate additional bishops.”

    Well geniuses, you’ve (meaning: the media, the Curia, leadership of the SSPX ) have managed to put the most fearless bishop in the world in isolation. Williamson Against the World. And he’s not going to recant nor back down unless his well-formed conscience and the evidence tells him to.

    From his 2006 interview with Stephen Heiner, Question: “Why do people always say there will be a “Williamson schism” in the case of a deal with Rome?

    Answer: “Maybe a number of people sense that I would have great difficulty in going along with neo-modernists because I didn´t struggle out of liberalism only to go back into it a few years later, in a cassock with red piping.”

    And don’t think he’s blowing smoke. As he answered in another interview about becoming a bishop, “To be honest, becoming a priest from being a deacon seemed a bigger step in my mind than going from priest to bishop. To go from not being able to say Mass to being able to do so is a tremendous leap, as opposed to “merely” adding the powers of Confirmation and Ordination. The priest interceding at the altar is the very heart of our religion.”

    The smartest thing for the Pope to do, (since he’s the only one capable of doing it) is to tell the Jewish leaders and the vile media, “enough.” The Good Shepherd does not feed his sheep to the wolves in order to appease the wolves.

  37. Steve K. says:

    @Robert: I quite agree. Freedom of religion in the US is steadily losing the battle against license to engage in vice, and it is going to get much worse yet. The book is not closed on our society, and I fear what is to come. The handwriting is already on the wall. It is bad enough now – we have the blood of 50 million of our own children on our hands, and more abominations are ready to break loose upon us now. I am quite disenchanted with the direction our democracy, our whole system has taken in the last few decades and I don’t see it doing much else but getting worse. Maybe the FSSPX has a point about freedom? Also, I rather doubt that the FSSPX are seriously considering a political abolition of the right not to be Catholic. For starters, such a thing would not be possible in this day and age.

    In any event, I think a great many people misunderstand the nature of the modern world, and many in the Church too, and I think there is room, ample room, for criticisms of ideas that came out of V2 regarding saying “yes” to the world.

    R – I haven’t checked yet, but perhaps summorum-pontificum.de has a copy of it posted online. If not, someone should send one to them. They are a good source of German-language information for traditional Catholicism.

  38. Cathguy says:

    Mr. Hoag,

    A very thoughtful post. And VERY scary.

    Are you aware of the well-publicized position of Lefebvre (and the less nuanced and more… hateful.. position his less thoughtful lay followers take on various websites) vis a vis the Jews in Europe? He defends ethnic cleansing vociferously just to give one example.

    Enough is enough. I don’t believe I will ever be made to leave the Church because I don’t believe Vatican II will ever go away. It assures me of my right to exist, and those relatives of mine who have not embraced the Catholic faith yet also have a right to exist, and do business, and partake in the activities of the state, and have freedom to associate, and even aspire to high office. These rights are self-evident to all Americans, and I had no idea that there were Catholics out there who wanted to excommunicate every American Catholic from the Church until after these excommunications were lifted. I didn’t read “Religious Liberty Questioned” until now. I didn’t know all that much about the SSPX until now. And I don’t like what I see. I am actually starting to feel a little guilty for saying rosaries for the excommunications to be lifted. I am VERY glad I always prefaced my request with “if it is your will Lord.” I will just have to trust that it is. Although, I also know that Popes can make mistakes outside of faith and morals.

    How on earth will those of us who love the Church and try to evangelize on Her behalf be able to convince ANYONE of good will to give the Church a hearing if the Church is proclaiming things that are arguably evil: “People have no right to exercise their faith if it isn’t Catholicism. The Jews are the enemies of Christ etc. etc. etc.”

    You need to understand, this sort of garbage does SERIOUS harm.

    A great saint once said something like this:

    In matters of doctrine, always be faithful. In everything else, charity, charity, charity.

    Do you believe, as did Lefebvre, and as do many if not most of his followers, that it ought to be illegal to be a Jew?

    I personally wouldn’t choose to move to Iran. Furthermore, and I can’t believe I have to say this, as everyone who knew me before the last few weeks would tell you I was the most traditional Catholic around, with a large homeschooling family that drove over an hour to attend the TLM. But listen well: I wouldn’t belong to a Church that taught that Iran’s model was correct, so long as the state was Catholic and not Muslim.

    This because of my belief in this Church is based on REASON as well as a gift from the Holy Ghost.

    Consider: I believe it is impossible for the Church to take such a stance, for if it did, it would show that Dignitatis Humanae was a lie. That document is part of a Church Council, and if a Church Council can lie, then the Church isn’t what She claims to be, and I have given the greater portion of my adult life to a farce. I believe in the inerrant word of God because a Church Council told me what books were in the Bible. I rejected contraception because John Paul II wrote Theology of the Body and I learned that Humanae Vitae taught timeless and infallible truths. All of this, all of it, would be called into question if Dignitatus Humanae were suddenly thrown out. THAT IS A COUNCIL we are talking about!

    Right now I believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and founded a Church, and that Councils like Vatican II can’t lie, even if we don’t like what they say. (That is not to say that VII is perfect in every way, or a Super-dogma… just that it doesn’t contain error – Councils are not protected from being poorly worded…. just from professing error)

    If the Pope professed that the Syallabus of Errors was infallible Church teaching, and that therefore Dignitatus Humanae needed to be rejected, I think I would be presented a serious crisis of faith. How could I remain in a Church that attacks one of the few things that has lead human beings to be able to peacefully co-exist? Furthermore, it would at that point become evident that Church Councils aren’t infallible, and therefore, my entire faith has been built on sand.

    If we take Lefevbre and his followers at their word, that is what they want. Not a return of the Sacred Liturgy (they would have come back with the Motu Proprio). Not an end to liturgical abuse in the Ordinary Form (they would celebrate the ordinary form sans abuse). What they want is an end, IN SPECIFIC, to Dignitatus Humanae. Or am I misreading Lefevbre?

    If they were to succeed in this crusade, it would be the first time to my knowledge in the history of the Church, that a relatively small group of excommunicated folks had those excommunications lifted without having to issue any sort of apology, and then managed to get an Ecumenical Council reversed.

    How can we argue that the SSPX (at least as Lefevbre said, and his followers profess) do not claim a Magesterium superior to the Pope? After all, all the Popes after the Second Vatican Council are still Popes right? And if THEY all upheld freedom of religion…

    As Mother Angelica once famously said to a Bishop out to silence her “You follow your Magesterium…. I’ll follow mine.” That is what our Church is coming to. Fracture after fracture, all because SOME OF US (SSPX, sedevacantists, liberals etc. etc.) cannot accept that a Church Council is a Church Council and we can’t reject what it says on the liberal end by referencing its “spirit” and we can’t reject it on the conservative end because we don’t like what it says!

    [Be brief, please.]

  39. Mark says:

    A formidable article.

    I only have two quibbles:

    One, no acknowledgment of FSSP as the locus of Traditionalism within the Church. The “uninitiated” may erroneously conclude that Catholic Traditionalism resides solely within the SSPX; [Good point. Many forget that.]

    Second, the author noted that

    “.. things could reach a point that the state and society lose the taste for tolerating within their borders a corporation, which visibly stands under a different law and defends values other than those of the secular majority.”

    It should be noted that, with respect to the state, this point has already been reached many times during the last century, and even today in some countries. How this plays itself out in real life is no longer a terra incognita. However, it is understandable that these experiences are outside the consciousness of Western Catholics.

  40. Patrick says:

    thanks for the info. I agree Geyer’s article on Mosebach was anything but fair. The FAZ is becoming more like Spiegel, though.
    Steve K.,
    summorum-pontificum.de didn’t have the German an hour ago.


  41. Al says:

    I am watching Malcolm Muggeridge special on EWTN and reading this article at the same time. (Quite a challenge really) I am moved at the goodness and insight of Malcolm, the author of this article and Father Z.

    Strive on Good Men! What can I do to help.

  42. Cathguy says:

    Did everyone read Jerry’s post?

    I am more scared with each passing day. Everyone with a google browser should type in “Williamson” and “The Hilter We Loved.”

    It is the title of a book that Williamson is oft to recommend. Also check out “Williamson” and “protocols of the elders of zion.”

    Now the Jews are wolves…

    And apparently, most here don’t find it offensive enough to comment on, and we praise Williamson’s eloquence in a previous interview.

    Hitler was bright and articulate and gave a good interview too.

    Wake up people!

    God help us. [Don’t fall into the trap. Williamson is not the real issue.]

  43. Al says:

    The reconciliation with the SSPX is a great thing….Williamson, his pride and his imprudence aside.

  44. Steve K. says:

    Calm down, Cathguy.

  45. Wm. Christopher Hoag says:


    Please do not misread ME! I am simply setting out the doctrinal situation on religious liberty as it stands vis-a-vis before and after Vatican II.

    The Church has not but, under the new situation, can now address the issue of religious liberty, to demonstrate a continuity between the teaching before and after Vatican II. As the FSSPX argues, there does appear to be a material incompatibility between the teachings. Yet the Church cannot contradict Herself. And we must understand that the previous teaching has a clear continuity into the Patristic Age. Again, the Church cannot contradict Herself.

    It is very important to keep in mind that the philosophical grounding and the linguistic vehicle used to express the previous teaching is different from that employed at Vatican II. The former starts with the dominion of God while the latter with the dignity of man. The doctrinal dialogue, God willing, may show how the two positions can be reconciled, not in some Hegelian synthesis (something that the FSSPX incessantly and unjustly accuses modern theology, including the thought of Benedict XVI) but in true organic development.

    Keep up your rosaries for the unity and needs of the Church!!!

    The world has changed since Vatican II. The Church is responding to the new situation, one where She can finally assess Her situation unfettered by the political and social baggage of the late twentieth century. Indeed, it seems to be those fixed in that time who are showing the greatest opposition to the entire programme of Benedict XVI.

    The Church belongs to Christ. Read chapters 15-17 of John. And again, keep up the rosaries!!!

  46. C.L. says:

    There is no question in the forthcoming dialogue of repudiating the teaching of Vatican II.

    See, this is what I’m driving at. Why is there “no question” of repudiating the “teaching” of Vatican II? Virtually everything that Council touched, it utterly ruined. Priests, religious, catechesis, liturgy, sacred art and music, ecumenical indifferentism – the whole thing is a train wrech. The orthodox answer to this is to say, ‘well, yes, but the Council itself was good – the interpretation was bad.’ I just think that’s dishonest baloney.

  47. TomS says:

    “This great form of the liturgy had been softened up by Paul VI’s radical reform of the mass – an intervention unheard of in the entire history of the Church.”

    For decades, many conservatives refused to acknowledge the above. They attached the “schismatic” and “heretical” labels to Traditional Catholics who made the above point. [Many of whom stayed within clear and manifest unity and suffered greatly as a result.]

    Oh, man…have times changed. Nobody today in his right mind disagrees with Martin Mosebach’s above statement. Traditional Catholics were correct regarding the post-Vatican II liturgical “reform.”

    Only when Rome returns to the TLM will the crisis of Faith, which is actually Peter’s liturgical crisis, subside.

    Return to the Traditional Roman Liturgy…(Latin Church) Catholic identity will be restored…and the post-Vatican II crisis of Faith will fade into oblivion. [Dramatic… but there are many intervening steps that would have to be taken.]

  48. brendon says:

    These rights are self-evident to all Americans…

    You do know that various states had legally established churches into the 1800s, right? Or that a number of states had laws that prohibited non-Christians from holding public office? And that all this was fully legal under the Constitution, which says nothing about “the separation of church and state,” but rather limits the Congress of the United States – as opposed to the states themselves – from passing laws that establish a religion or prohibit its free exercise? “All Americans” apparently does not include most of our forefathers.

    If the Pope professed that the Syallabus of Errors was infallible Church teaching, and that therefore Dignitatus Humanae needed to be rejected…

    …he would be stating nonsense, since Dignitatis humanae itself states that it, “leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.” Thus Dignitatis humanae rejects nothing from the Syllabus. A right to not be coerced into believing the truth is not equivalent to a right to believe falsehood.

    It is Catholic doctrine that God forces His grace upon none, coercing none to hold to the Catholic faith, i.e. that man is free to accept or reject the grace of God. But it is also Catholic doctrine that God punishes with damnation those who culpably reject the Catholic faith. To state and equivalence between a right to not be coerced to believe the truth and a right to believe falsehood would make God unjust, since one cannot be justly punished for doing what one has a right to do. But God cannot be unjust, and thus there can be no equivalence between a right to not be coerced to believe the truth and a right to believe falsehood.

    I would suggest reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church on religious freedom (2104-9), and then following up on its footnotes and reading such documents as Leo XIII’s Immortale Dei and Libertas praestantissimum; Pius XI’s Quas primas; and Pius IX’s Quanta cura. One might find that the “due limits” of religious freedom are not necessarily as broad as one might think.

    [Long digressions on religious liberty after this will be deleted. I can have another entry about that topic on the blog soon. So don’t do it here.]

  49. brendon says:

    I see, on reloading the page, that Father has warned us not to derail the comments by turning them into a discussion of religious liberty. That being said, I will simply thank Father for bringing this article to my attention and apologize for the part I played in taking the discussion off topic. I will do what little I can to spread the word about this excellent article.

  50. RBrown says:

    Although it is true that the LeFebvrist movement became linked to the struggle against aggressive secularism and its politics, I think that is insufficient to define the SSPX embrace of Latin and the Gregorian Rite.

    For all the French inclination toward politics, there is nonetheless a strong inclination toward the contemplation of beauty and the contemplative life. For more than a thousand years the French have all but cornered contemplative monasticism: Cluny, the Cistercians, the Carthusians, the Trappists, and the Solesmes Congregation. In fact, at one time there were strict contemplative Dominican houses of men in France.

    The French instinct for contemplation means not only an appreciation for Latin liturgy but also the many symbolic gestures found in the the Gregorian Rite.

    IMHO, it was the French who rose up to preserve the Missal of 1570 for the same reason that it was the French who built Chartres Cathedral.

  51. Peter Morrell says:

    I agree father – all in all a beautiful article. Especially the paragraphs discussing the liturgy.
    As to some of our esteemed posters here, however, it sounds as if many who comment about Vatican II and its aftermath have little more than a vague understanding about what took place. To all my friends, and anyone else interested, I always recommend Iota Unam by Romano Amerio. A more masterful explanation about the state of present day Catholicism I have yet to find. It helped me immensely.

    Granted, I am only a 20-something lay Catholic whose expertise lies in science – but I offer this recommendation to all those struggling with ecumenism, religious liberty, and the dichotomy between the hermeneutic of rupture and tradition.

  52. Matt says:

    To me, a man of 31, I see several things that I can not reconcile:

    Pre VII = Convert everyone to the Catholic faith thru spreading Christ’s message (True Ecumenism)

    *Post VII* = Look for similiarites among all faiths so we can all be closer (Modern Ecumenism. Note the lack of requiring to convert)

    Pre VII = The secular state shall not establish laws or legally elevate the status of hethens so as to give flashood an equal footing with truth.

    *Post VII* = You stay out of our business, we stay out of yours.

    The article was spot on. As my mother always said to me, “Just wait son, your longing for tradition in the church will start to return when those that are currently in power are dead. Only then will the younger generation who adhere to traditional teachings be able to restore the Church.” This what the libs are so scared of. Many of the VII council attendees will be dead within the next 10 to 20 years.

    Just look at what has happened since VII. Catholicism, or the overall percentage of people who truely practice their faith, has decreased in numbers so substantially that we should think a lethal plague has entered the church to kill it’s members.

    You now have Obama praising his funding of “faith based” initiatives. The hitch? No government money unless you allow ALL protected classes to participate. This means if the Catholic Church takes money for programs like adoption, they must allow gays to adopt or work in the adoption agencies.

    This elevating of democracy and pluralism without the government being informed by true Catholic teaching will only lead to the destruction of the Church. Sodom and Gomorrah is being recreated. Pre conciliar teachings, such as is taught by the SSPX, is the antidote to this evil world that is developing.

    So many people are so conditioned by the media and the secular world to think that anyone who speaks to traditional Catholic teachings and natural more law are biogots.

    Mark my words, Catholic institutions around the world will be forced to close or submit to secular diests. Recognize and support all acts of evil or choose prison or death. That is where unchecked democracy ultimately leads.

  53. scholastic says:


    Do you honestly believe that before Vatican II, you had no right to exist? If you look at the United States before 1962, Catholics existed along side everyone else, and were not claiming everyone who was not Catholic was “illegal.” I think some, on both sides, (maybe including the SSPX) have the wrong idea about what existed before Vatican II’s statement on religious liberty.

  54. The words of Cathguy represent the typical american mindset. Americans are very patriotic (that’s good and love democracy. But Democracy is not a dogma and it certainly doesn’t work everywhere. I’m pretty convinced democracy doesn’t work in Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, etc., that is, countries with a catholic mindset (while the USA is based on a protestant mindset).

    Note that my intention is not to insult the USA nor american catholics, but you have to understand that the rules of the ‘civitas’ are really different, and the way people think and beahve are completely different.

    While in Catholic countries people usually trust blindly the people they recognize as authorities (which is good when they have a good pastor and a good bishop, awful if they are led by modernists, and that’s whats happening), and people hate real debate (in fact, people with the typical catholic mindset are incapable of having a real debate), and thus democracy never works properly, democratic governments use propaganda to act on a totalitarian fashion and corruption is widespread.

    IMO, Catholic countries will only become great again when they get rid of what we call democracy.

    Regarding what I call “catholic” and “protestant” mindsets, that’s my explanation to the success of the Motu Proprio in the USA, where catholics are used to a protestant mindset, which allows them to DEMAND a Mass to its pastor, write letters to Ecclesia Dei, make noise, etc.

    In Catholic countries (Portugal and Spain are good examples) that doesn’t exist. People just conform to what their pastors and bishops want, and they would never demand anything to them. Because Portuguese and Spanish Bishops are mostly modernists (and the Portuguese are exttrreme progressists) people just don’t care about the TLM. I even go further, people began using condoms and having a indifferentionist attitude because that’s what they perceive from their bishops.

    As a Portuguese, I have no doubt. If we had hard-line conservative Bishops, this country would become the glory of Christendom in no time. We pray, we pay and we obey. Its a pity that obedience to progressism doesn’t get us anywhere.

  55. Richard says:

    Fr Z said of the SSPX: “And that is something I sadly fault them for. They abandoned many of us still fighting and taking wounds in the trenches.”

    Father, this is something I was thinking about after your post the other day (who has done more damage – Mgr Lefebvre or Fr Fitzpatrick). Did the SSPX breakaway do more good or harm?

    For the good, from outside the Church they preserved the Old Rite, and were a thorn in the Vatican’s side to prod them into acting. For the bad, they weren’t there inside the Church, ministering and fighting.

    Perhaps ww would never have had the FSSP and other traditional orders, the Eccelsia Dei Commission, Indults, the Motu Proprio and so on without Lefebvre’s consecrations. But perhaps he might have been able to achieve even more within the Church?

    I don’t know.

  56. Mark: One, no acknowledgment of FSSP as the locus of Traditionalism within the Church.

    With which I fully agree, as an FSSP adherent and (alas, presently only a) former memer of an FSSP parish. However, I think Mosebach’s reference

    … the SSPX; that, for all its faults, it had become an instrument for preserving the Holy of Holies of the Church in a time of crisis

    is accurate, and in fact that the SSPX was the instrument by which the ancient form of the Mass was preserved. In particular, it is a historical fact that without the SSPX there would have been no FSSP — which was founded on July 2, 1988 by 15 former members of the SSPX in reaction to Ab. Lefebvre’s illegal consecrations two days earlier:

    Declaration of intention by the founders
    “For the honour and glory of the holy Catholic Church, for the consolation of the much troubled faithful, and for the peace of their conscience, the undersigned, members until now of the Fraternity of Saint Pius X, declare with profound regret over the illicit consecration of bishops on 30 June [1988] that they have remained within the Catholic Church as pars sanior of this same Fraternity, and that they have but one desire: to be able to live as a religious society in this Church and place themselves at her service under the authority, of course, of the Roman Pontiff, her supreme head.”

  57. craig says:

    Brendon writes: “Human freedom is not found in doing what one wants. Rather it is found in doing what one ought.”

    This statement, I think, underlines the basic point of argument. “Freedom” can be understood in both a moral sense and a political sense. If “doing what one ought” means following the dictates of conscience, then the freedom described is a moral freedom and I don’t think anyone can disagree.

    The problem is when the above statement, a perfectly Catholic statement in a moral sense, is construed in a political sense (as SSPX-ers do on numerous occasions). Then it takes on a 1984-ish “Freedom is Slavery” aspect of negating exactly what it pretends to affirm. Particularly for us Americans, because we historically associate freedom with its political sense first, this construal is alarming and a blunt repudiation of Dignitatis Humanae.

    The American instinct is to suspect any inequality before the law (except by mutual agreement) as simply indicative of the strong dominating the weak because they can. For the Church to be cast in the role of the strong dominating the weak is fatal to evangelism (and explains the growth of secularist hatred of the Church particularly in Europe).

  58. Cathguy says:

    Dear Fr. Z

    Please do a religious liberty post on the blog soon! Many have questions and I bet you can answer them!

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