R&R Traditionalism: Some Serious Doubts

Preliminary Note to Readers:

This essay will be of interest only to Roman Catholics. It does not touch upon my usual subjects of poetry, politics, aesthetics, or literary composition. It is published here by the courtesy of The Pennsylvania Review to escape the arrogant and high-handed censorship of the Vatican, which has launched a major campaign to intimidate and silence any public discussion by Catholic blogs and websites that is critical of the current occupant of the Chair of St. Peter, or of his opinions and actions. The essay deals with matters and disputes that are familiar to Roman Catholics, but not necessarily to anyone else. Its terminology and allusions are also specialized in a similar manner. I apologize to non-Catholic readers for this parochial essay, which they are invited to pass over. And I thank The Pennsylvania Review for the opportunity to present it, uncensored, to my fellow Catholics.

R&R Traditionalism: Some Serious Doubts

I am impatient with fiercely defended but intellectually untenable positions. It’s one thing to be uncertain about a subject in cases where the facts are in dispute, or where testimony is unclear. And obviously some complex situations call for nuanced analysis, wherein persons may honestly differ. Historians can disagree over the causes of World War I, and naturalists may argue over whether a newly discovered species should be grouped in a certain genus. Even in a doctrinally precise Roman Catholicism there can be some disagreement—for example, as to whether Limbo exists, or whether Mary can be called Mediatrix of All Graces.

It is altogether something else when an argumentative stance is maintained in the teeth of glaringly obvious evidence contrary to it, or by means of a legalistic quibble, or as a patent ploy to avoid serious debate. In such cases fanaticism, ideology, and partisanship are at work rather than a bona fide desire to determine the truth, or to justify, by rational inquiry, an intellectual position.

The acrimonious dispute between sedevacantists and “Remain and Resist” traditionalists (hereinafter designated as R&R) is an example of this latter case. The question of whether the See of St. Peter is vacant, or whether Jorge Bergoglio (“Pope Francis”) is a heretical Antipope or the Vicar of Christ, is fraught with intense emotional fervor, simply because so much is riding on the correct answer. Moreover, neither answer provides much solace to either side. If the sedevacantists are right and there is no valid living Pope, Catholicism in its earthly aspect is profoundly wounded. If the R&R traditionalists are right and Bergoglio is the Vicar of Christ on earth, then the entire corpus of Catholic received doctrine is undermined and relativized in a radical manner. Neither position is comfortable for its adherents. Both sedevacantism and R&R traditionalism are what the military calls “last-ditch” positions, held in the face of impending defeat.

Nevertheless, it is clear who holds the stronger hand in this card game. The position of R&R Catholics is intellectually untenable. If a valid Pope is the Vicar of Christ, and if his pronouncements on matters of faith and morals carry magisterial weight, then a “Pope” who is a manifest heretic—as evinced by habitually repeated and undisavowed words, deeds, and characteristic attitudes—cannot truly be the Pope. He may rule in Rome, he may appoint bishops and cardinals, he may be officially recognized by the great majority of the Catholic establishment, and he may be popular with the secular press and the Novus Ordo pew-warmers. But he can’t be the Pope. There is simply too much cognitive dissonance required to swallow that lie, not to mention scads of canonical and ecclesiastic authorities that insist a manifest, public, and unrepentant heretic loses membership in the Body of Christ, as well as any churchly office he might hold. We don’t need a council of learned theologians to tell us that Bergoglio is a heretic. It is apparent to anyone with a grounding in Catholicism and a functioning brain.

The only way that R&R Catholics can get around this dilemma is via pathetic quibbles and legalistic legerdemain. Some of them will claim that all of Bergoglio’s outrageous acts and statements can be reconciled, in some convoluted Rube-Goldberg manner, with orthodox Catholicism. It takes a truly Stalinist effrontery to argue that position after five years of Bergoglian chaos, but you still hear it from a few diehards. Some will say that Bergoglio has made no outrageous statement ex cathedra, and therefore has not shown himself to be lacking in the charism of infallibility. These types conveniently ignore the enshrinement of an out-and-out heretical interpretation of Amoris Laetitia in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis. Some will desperately opine that Bergoglio is merely “the bishop of Rome,” and therefore his antics are of no special importance (this was precisely the position of Henry VIII in the divorce and supremacy dispute, over which the Carthusian Martyrs and many other devout Catholics suffered death). Some will even contend that Bergoglio may be a material heretic, but no one except a council or a future Pope has the authority to judge that he is a formal heretic, and therefore we Catholics have no choice but to accept his authority and give him obedience, while “resisting” him. This last position is truly absurd, and is analogous to arguing that a woman being raped by her husband should remain loyal and obedient to the man violating her because—after all—he hasn’t actually been convicted of rape yet. She can “resist” him, but he isn’t legally a rapist.

If all this desperate special pleading sounds weird and contrived to you, welcome to the club. Every one of the above R&R excuses is lame, and redolent of lawyerly grasping at straws. They come across as stopgap and ad-hoc arguments thought up quickly by a college debating team during a bad run of forensic luck.

The trump card that R&R advocates try to use, as their final and decisive argument, is the “private judgment” contention. It is a non-Catholic and essentially Protestant stance (they argue) for an individual Catholic to set forth his private opinion on an ecclesiastical matter in opposition to the judgment (or not-as-of-yet-formulated judgment) of the Church. To do so, they contend, is contrary to the entire hierarchical structure of authority in Catholicism, which does not allow for individual interpretations of weighty issues touching on belief or required obedience. The argument is essentially this: We have to wait for someone of unquestioned authority to tell us what to think.

This entire line of thought is nothing but an ignoratio elenchi, or total disregard for the question at issue. There no longer is any unquestioned authority in the post-Vatican II Novus Ordo church. That is the very thing we are arguing about. Bishops and cardinals have gone off in their own self-absorbed directions. Almost the entire hierarchy of Germany is in de facto schism. So-called “Catholic” universities are now hotbeds of explicit heresy. Openly homosexual priests preach an LBGT agenda everywhere, and are neither disavowed nor disciplined. “Pope” Francis will not answer serious questions raised concerning the possible heretical implications of Amoris Laetitia. And in the midst of this massive shit-storm, R&R Catholics are piously hoping for a chimerical council to call itself into session and declare Bergoglio an Antipope.

It must be comforting to be that naïve. A council composed of what cardinals? The left-liberal scum whom Bergoglio has appointed? It is the height of imbecility to think that the corrupt and indifferent hierarchy running the Novus Ordo church today is going to take the smallest step to change anything at all in this racket that is their bread and butter. Don’t these R&R simpletons think that it would have happened before now? We are five years into this hellish pontificate, and even Cardinal Burke is afraid to submit his Correctio to Rome.

In short, where is the “unquestioned authority” that R&R Catholics claim is necessary before we are allowed to say that Bergoglio is an Antipope and a manifest heretic? If you push them on this, they usually reply “There is no authority we can turn to yet, so we just have to shut up and accept the situation.”

That’s not an acceptable answer. In fact, it’s merely an abdication of intellectual responsibility. In the R&R world, Catholics are not allowed to observe, not allowed to think, not allowed to make judgments, and not even allowed to examine evidence. It is a thought system that requires a kind of silent and unquestioning idiocy on the most pressing religious question that contemporary Catholicism has ever faced: Is Jorge Bergoglio the Pope, and are his clear and unmistakable pronouncements magisterial?

Let’s be perfectly candid, shall we? There is no fixed authority right now in the earthly, visible Church that can call Bergoglio to book over his errors, and neither will there be in his probable successor, Cardinal Parolin or one of the other modernist flunkies sitting in the next conclave. So the entire R&R argument about a future council or Pope being the only possible remedy for Bergoglianism is a moot point—purely hypothetical, and purely imaginary. It’s perfectly parallel to the old joke: If we had some ham we could make a ham sandwich, if we had some bread. When are R&R Catholics going to realize that they have a non-Catholic Pope, a largely non-Catholic hierarchy, non-Catholic universities, and no resources for stopping the ongoing massive destruction of the earthly Catholic Church? How long are they going to close their eyes and pretend that this nightmare is somehow going to go away?

When R&R types lose their temper, they start howling that “The Pope is not subject to judgment by anyone except God Himself! None of us can make the judgment that Bergoglio is not the Pope. It is not for us to decide!”

It is not for us to decide. In other words, our rationality, perception, and ability to judge evidence must be put on permanent hold while we wait for a nonexistent council to come forward, and while Jorge Bergoglio wreaks havoc and heresy throughout the Catholic world. How many times at The Remnant have I read R&R postings of this nature: “Our job is simply to pray and be good Catholics in our private lives, and not meddle in questions of how the Church is run, or who runs it.” I have called this attitude “pietistic quietism,” or the last refuge of old ladies who want to say their rosaries and hear their Latin masses in peace. It is more than risible when this attitude is expressed at R&R websites and chatrooms that are in a state of perpetual rage over every new injustice, heresy, or downright idiocy perpetrated by Jorge Bergoglio. If we must immolate our private opinions and judgments by maintaining silence and outward respect, why are R&R Catholics operating their angry and argumentative websites at all?

But beyond this, to say that “a Pope cannot be judged by anyone” is a begging of the question. A genuine, Catholic, orthodox, and canonically elected Pope cannot be judged by anyone, of course. But that is precisely what is in dispute here! The first three adjectives are clearly not applicable to Bergoglio, and the fourth (the validity of his election) is fiercely contested. If there is a “Pope” against whom a prima facie case can be made it is surely this one. Moreover, if R&R Catholics concede that a Pope can be called to account and deposed by a duly ordained council, then they are in fact tacitly admitting that a Pope can be judged. Which is it, guys? Can a Pope be judged by a council composed of human beings, or can he be judged only by God? Which position will The Remnant take, on which day of the week?

If I sound irritated and impatient in this essay, it’s for a simple reason: I’m driven to the brink of exasperation by the ostrich-like refusal of R&R traditionalists to see that their position is not just an intellectual dead end, but also a surrender to their own marginalization. As long as they recognize Bergoglio as a genuine Pope, and as long as they remain subject to the sufferance and whim of Bergoglio-appointed local ordinaries, they will be nothing but a tolerated but despised corner of a revolutionized Catholicism Lite. They will be under the thumb of a regnant modernism. At any moment their beloved Latin mass may be abrogated, or compelled to conform to changes dictated by Vatican commissars. At any moment their pastors may be removed, or summoned to Rome to answer for what they say or think. It is not in the nature of liberalism to remain still, tolerate serious dissent, or give up its urge to dominate and dictate. These last five years have demonstrated that truth with a vengeance. And as long as R&R Catholics persist in calling this appalling Peronista heretic “the Holy Father,” they are complicit in empowering him and his allies to crucify the Body of Christ. Is that a price R&R Catholics are willing to pay, just to keep their Latin mass?

Joseph S. Salemi has published poems, translations, and scholarly articles in over one hundred journals throughout the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. His four collections of poetry are Formal Complaints and Nonsense Couplets, issued by Somers Rocks Press, Masquerade from Pivot Press, and The Lilacs on Good Friday from The New Formalist Press. He has translated poems from a wide range of Greek and Roman authors, including Catullus, Martial, Juvenal, Horace, Propertius, Ausonius, Theognis, and Philodemus. In addition, he has published extensive translations, with scholarly commentary and annotations, from Renaissance texts such as the Faunus poems of Pietro Bembo, The Facetiae of Poggio Bracciolini, and the Latin verse of Castiglione. He is a recipient of a Herbert Musurillo Scholarship, a Lane Cooper Fellowship, an N.E.H. Fellowship, and the 1993 Classical and Modern Literature Award. He is also a four-time finalist for the Howard Nemerov Prize.