THE GREAT FAÇADE: VATICAN II AND THE REGIME OF NOVELTY IN THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH by Christopher A. Ferrara and Thomas E. Woods, Jr., Remnant Press, Minnesota, 2002. Paperback, 407pp. $21.95 (plus shipping and handling) from Keep the Faith, 50 South Franklin Tpke, Ramsey NJ 07446. Or order online at www.greatfacade.com . Also available for £19.95 from Carmel Books, PO Box 40, Wellington, Somerset TA21 8WG. Tel/Fax: 01823 664751 (Mon-Fri 9.30am-12.30pm).
In case you missed the August headlines, Bishop Vincent Malone of Liverpool thinks laywomen should hear Confessions, since it might be more appropriate for a woman to give absolution than a man in a society where it is "Common practice [to] expect equal access in many professions to either a man or a woman at the client’s choice."
No, this is not a Vicar of Dibley spoof. Although he does sound like a character from the BBC comedy, Bishop Malone actually exists and really did advocate the above. When you’ve stopped shaking your heads in disbelief, turn to Pat Phillips’ article in this edition for more on the abject ignorance of this veritable Vicar of Liverpool and the faithless feminist clique who work him and the rest of our Dibleyesque hierarchy like marionettes. And then, when you’ve said a few prayers for the deliverance of Holy Mother Church from the ruinous grip of these "diabolically disoriented" souls; after you’ve silently united your pain, disgust and frustration with the sufferings of Our Lord - feel free to seek out a quiet place… and scream!
Let’s face it, you’ve earned the right. We all get fed up. Humanly speaking, historical perspective and resignation to God’s Will only goes so far when the Malones of the world are betraying Christ, His Church, the saints and martyrs; disgracing themselves and the priesthood; shaming us all and lowering our Holy Faith to the pitiful depths of Anglican-Dibleyism that passes for religion in Britain today. And when all that is going on day in and day out with nary a murmur from Rome… well, we all have a breaking point.
Several years ago in the U.S., four well-known journalistic defenders of Catholic tradition reached theirs. Faced with "the incessant advance of the Conciliar Revolution" (as personified in England by Vincent Malone) and "the intent to extinguish the counter-revolutionary action," they released a 168 page book titled We Resist You to the Face (based on St. Paul’s rebuke of St. Peter in Galatians 2:11) in which they frankly but respectfully presented their objections to the catastrophic progressivism embodied in the "present day religious orientation of John Paul II and the Conciliar Popes." Central to this was their Declaration of Religious Resistance to those Conciliar teachings and actions they perceived as "objectively opposed to the prior ordinary and extraordinary Papal Magisterium," which included their "suspension of obedience to the progressivist teachings [on ecumenism, collegiality, liturgical innovations etc.] and the authorities who desire to impose them on us."
Their stated intention was to open "a respectful public discussion or eventually an elevated polemic with the Church authorities to deal with the erroneous character of the teachings and acts that differ from the previous Magisterium and the prior actions of the Church, as well as to debate the legitimacy and the licitness of the resistance that we are making."
Well, they certainly triggered a "polemic" of sorts!
The Wanderer, America’s venerable orthodox weekly, cried "schism!" and responded during June-July 2000 with a rebuttal of We Resist You and its Declaration via the lengthy serialisation of a pamphlet entitled Traditionalists, Tradition and Private Judgment. It was penned by a gentleman apparently on a mission to stop Catholics gravitating towards an unbalanced "ultra-traditionalism." Positing an equivalence between traditionalists and Modernists, in that both allegedly "thrive on opposition to the living Magisterium" of the Church, he effectively claimed that the authors of We Resist You were schismatic. In my view, however, not only was the turgid prose of his serialised pamphlet extremely hard-going and its convoluted argument unconvincing and exasperating in turns, it seemed an altogether alarmist overreaction by The Wanderer. Whatever one made of the Declaration of Resistance and the arguments adduced to justify it, which the authors were willing to debate, We Resist You was respectfully argued and, although forceful and controversial, hardly a faith-shattering publication in the context of our chaotic times.
The Great Façade was largely precipitated by this controversy. Through a series of essays in the summer 2000 editions of The Remnant, the authors sought to defend the basic thesis of We Resist You: "that Catholic teaching itself demonstrates that Catholics have the right and even the duty to oppose certain papally approved innovations of the postconciliar period, because these innovations - all without precedent in Church history - have manifestly caused confusion among the faithful and grave harm to the common good of the Church." Which defence then naturally evolved into "a restatement and defense of the main lines of the entire traditionalist position, written from the perspective of two reasonably well-informed lay Catholics, whose principal qualifications are that they know the Faith and that they are eyewitnesses to the results of what can only be called the postconciliar debacle in the Catholic Church."
From the outset the authors define "traditionalist" to mean a Catholic who continues to worship and believe as all Catholics did up until the mid-60s when the Church began to impose unprecedented reforms in the name of Vatican II. Along with the new liturgy, these "reforms" introduced into the Mystical Body of Christ a raft of "viral pseudo-concepts" devoid of any real meaning - like "ecumenism" and "dialogue" - which, like actual viruses, "exist only to reproduce themselves, which they do by infecting the understanding of genuine concepts with precise meanings - namely, the perennial teachings of the Magisterium." Consequently, these pseudo-concepts have enabled satan to confuse, divide and wreak havoc on the faithful "without the Church ever having taught actual error of doctrine."
A Catholic, it is argued, is under no obligation to adhere to such Conciliar "non-doctrines" and "non-teachings."
Opposed to the traditionalist is the "neo-Catholic," a generic term used to describe the true and pious Catholic who, in the authors’ opinion, has "fallen into self-contradiction because a misguided sense of loyalty to Church leaders counsels him to defend novel notions and practices that run counter to the Church’s traditions." The neo-Catholic attitude is characterised as roughly: ‘I would rather be wrong with the Pope than right without him.’
In essence, then, traditionalists argue that one can and should resist the novel pastoral dictates of Vatican II on the basis that they contradict previous teaching and have proved harmful to the Faith (bearing in mind, they add, that past Popes and Councils have occasionally taken wrong turns requiring re-alignment with tradition). Neo-Catholics, conversely, consider this attitude as the real danger to the Church because gravely disobedient to papal and Conciliar authority, regardless of the pastoral or doctrinal, ordinary or extraordinary nature of the Vatican II decrees. It’s a stand-off.
The Great Façade argues that it is the very existence of a large body of "quiescent" neo-Catholics promoting the above view that has facilitated the Modernist advance: because "the basic function of the neo-Catholic in the dynamic of the revolution has been the marginalization of traditionalists, whom neo-Catholic leaders helpfully denounce for their simple refusal to cease being what neo-Catholics themselves were only thirty-five years ago." As arch-Modernist Richard McBrien gloats in his book The Remaking of the Catholic Church: "Criticism of the extreme right by moderate conservatives is far more effective than by moderate progressives."
The authors even venture an underlying psychological reason for the routine neo-Catholic denigration and denouncement of traditionalists, being "but a reflection of an inner conviction that traditionalists legitimately oppose the ruinous postconciliar changes they themselves should have opposed but did not… It would be very convenient indeed if traditionalists could somehow be declared non-Catholics, so that the neo-Catholics’ failure to act could thus be seen as exemplary ‘trust in the Church’ and the only Catholic way to behave."
Like much in the book, a provocative view – but one that rings true.
"The crux of the matter," explained a friend who has fought tirelessly against the inexorable dissolution of his own parish, "is that the neo-Catholics attempt to hold conflicting views simultaneously: the Church is in a mess (observation) but it can’t be in a mess because it is the Church; everywhere you look there is heresy and moral decay but this can’t have anything to do with the Popes or Vatican II; ecumenism is a manifest disaster but it can’t be a disaster because the Pope promotes it; the documents of Vatican II and all postconciliar documents are misleading and ambiguous but they can’t be misleading and ambiguous because an ecumenical council cannot err on any matter, etc. etc."
That is a very basic depiction of the extremely damaging (not to say intensely frustrating!) mindset fleshed out and tackled in The Great Façade. Yet even those who find it disturbing might baulk at designating its proponents "neo-Catholics". It may sound too pejorative in comparison to synonymous terms like "neo-conservative" or, in England, "Establishment Catholic," "Pollyanna Catholic" and "Jolly Hockey Stick." But "neo-Catholic" does perhaps more starkly define the battle-lines and what is at stake in the controversy between these two parties, which, as the authors state, "may well determine the direction of the Roman Catholic Church in the Third Millennium."
Moreover, the reader is likely to find himself warming to the expression by the time he has finished this scathing polemic, which on page after page depicts neo-Catholics defending the indefensible. And although still clinging to "neo-conservative" and "Establishment Catholic" as my own preferred blanket phrases, I must confess that such labels do sound a bit lame and inadequate when applied to the sort of infuriating idiocy, blindness and complacency of otherwise devout Catholics that one encounters at every turn. The following recent examples are representative.
The idiotic element was on display at Sydney’s Coogee Beach in the early months of this year, where thousands of faithful stood on the headland gazing adoringly at a white fencepost which, quite understandably, they mistook for the Virgin Mary. The Faith took a battering as the local and international media made great play of the optical illusion which drew the credulous onlookers. The Catholic owner of the laundrette across the road who discovered the ‘apparition’, said: "She’s gorgeous – she looks right into the shop", and prophesied that "people could come worldwide for pilgrimages" (‘yeah, and bring their washing and ironing no doubt,’ I cynically mused); the local priest opined that it was nice to see people showing faith in something; the pathetic diocese offered no comment; while the local residents, seeking to restore sanity and their car parking spaces, finally stole the post!
It was a circus. As the ‘vision’ played endlessly on a video before crowds crammed into the laundrette, I got short shrift for pointing out that it was just a boring old fence, tracing it on the screen with my finger. "You’ve gotta have faith mate," a young surfie assured me. All very touching, but the problem was there was no Catholic faith to be found anywhere among the crowds gathered solemnly around the holy post, which was adorned with flowers, holy pictures and, you guessed, a message from Our Lady of the Fencepost urging them to spread their "love" across the world like a "lotus blossom" (but not, it seems, up the road and into the empty parish church where Love Himself awaited). The corrosive influence of Catholic Charismatic Renewal could be sensed among all those I questioned or engaged in conversation. As one young woman was telling me, a tad unconvincingly, how she had seen Our Lady even after the locals stole the post, a strapping young man from the nearby parish took me aside to rebuke me for ruining everyone’s day with my sceptical enquiries. A Charismatic-World Youth Day stereotype, he was appalled by my arrogant claim to know the difference between the Mother of God and a white picket fence. And anyway, it didn’t matter what these people believed, he said, aping his parish priest and just about everyone else, as long as they believed something… anything. Clearly, no religion could claim full possession of the truth. I was a stranger among my own.
This is one level of neo-conservatism: pious faithful immersed in the sort of charismatic, fuzzy-wuzzy pap propagated by the papally-sanctioned New Movements inspired by the Council, and ready to manifest their syncretic ‘feelings’ on a whim. "Even if these movements do not claim a majority of neo-Catholics as formal members," notes The Great Façade, "they are all compatible with the neo-Catholic mentality, which defends them because it has learned to accept the most outrageous and destructive ecclesial innovations as a matter of course, and even as a sign of health and ‘ferment’ in the Church. What is common to all these movements," the authors continue, "is a rejection of the Church’s supposedly ‘triumphal’ and hidebound past, her immemorial Latin liturgy and her divinely conferred status as the one true Church outside of which there is neither Church nor salvation." The end result was tragically conspicuous at Coogee.
Beyond this fatuous sphere, there is the infuriating blindness of the mainstream, who just don’t get it. Around the same time as the Coogee experience, a most devout friend from the ‘I’d rather be wrong with the Pope than right without him’ stable, informed me that neo-conservative Cardinals Arinze and Schoenborn were among the short-priced favourites to become the next Pope. "I would be ecstatic if either of those guys became Pope!" he gushed. It was the sort of cheerfully obtuse, falsely optimistic, thoroughly superficial neo-conservative estimation that makes you want to shout: ‘Wake up! The last thing we need is more of the same. Smiling neo-con ecumenists can only prolong our agonizing death-by-a-thousand-cuts. If we can’t find a fighting traditional Pope, let’s have a mad Modernist who runs amuck. If he brings the whole postconciliar façade crashing down it might bring people like you to their senses!’
I endured the same exasperation very shortly afterwards during an e-mail exchange with Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, another prelate of the Arinze-Schoenborn mould and also revered by my friend. To orthodox dismay, this admirable Archbishop, one of the best neo-con Shepherds on offer, had issued a statement to his flock exhorting them to bow instead of kneel before Christ at Communion, as requested by the US Bishops Conference, stating that those who knelt would be guilty of disobedience. Suffice to say that during an exchange of half a dozen courteous mails, in which I included Roman correspondence categorically stating that nobody who kneels is to be considered "disobedient", His Grace backed down not one inch. Not even a humble admission that he may have been a little harsh in his approach. Instead, for stating that reverence for the Holy Eucharist is not an insignificant issue, but central to our beliefs; for claiming that loss of faith across the West is directly related to the loss of reverence; for asking whether bowing, reduced to nodding, inevitably reduced to nothing at all would truly restore that reverence? – for these and similar objections to his Communion ruling, including my view that insisting people stand to receive Christ played into Modernist hands, I was accused of "excessive and divisive rhetoric"; of giving myself "too much credit for virtue in this matter"; of "making too much of this"; of "making difficulties more difficult for everyone involved"; and told: "Please don’t think you serve the Church with this kind of attitude"!
It was a most revealing ‘dialogue’. Further confirmation, if it were needed, of the timeliness of a bold traditionalist apologetic like The Great Façade. It reminded me of Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerick’s vision in June 1821 of a protestantised Church of the future which "fell into complete decadence" as "long processions of bishops" traipsed about, some with "only a body, with a dark cloud of fog instead of a head" (errors of thinking?), others with "only a head, their bodies like thick vapours" (high intellects but divorced from reality?); some "asleep" (unaware of the problems facing the Church?).
Finally, beyond the idiocy and blindness, there is the complacency of those self-satisfied orthodox who, as a chapter in The Great Façade relates, "make a virtue out of doing nothing" - or, perhaps, ‘out of pretending to do something.’ An annual Catholic bazaar held in London, for instance, appears to promote orthodoxy yet manages to fit arch-Modernists like The Tablet into its programme and court the execrable Cardinal Murphy O’Connor without the least concern. Christian Order has more than once condemned these types who live in an ecclesial "springtime" of their own imagination while the Church burns around them [see "Polarising the Pollyannas," CO, Aug-Sept. 2000]. Within their quiescent Conciliar (God’s-in-charge-everything-will-be-fine) milieu, traditionalist sensibilities and Old Mass leanings are suspect and provoke an underlying tension. Traditionalists can find themselves marginalised and quietly frozen out of neo-con organisations, even if this means their vital expertise and experience (say, in bio-ethics) is lost in the process.
So, on the one hand, use of the pejorative "neo-Catholic" to describe the indicative array of bishops and faithful cited above is dicey, because at face value it implies that they are not bona fide Catholics, which they certainly are. On the other, the term is far more evocative of the reality we face in a Church that is breaking up into separate entities; wherein many neo-conservatives have adopted a liberal or quasi-liberal mindset without even realising it. In any event, for better or worse, the present Catholic maelstrom makes such generic labelling unavoidable. Readers will make their choice.
Within this traditionalist/neo-Catholic framework, the authors treat all the usual culprits – the Modernist infiltration of the Council, ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, liturgical minimalism, religious liberty et. al. - along with many other related issues such as the New Movements, World Youth Days, the death penalty, evolution and so on. Naturally, there are debatable conclusions and observations along the way with which one can firmly disagree (such as the view that the Society of St. Pius X is not really in schism as a result of the 1988 episcopal consecrations, or that the New Mass was an abuse of papal authority). Yet that is to be expected. We cannot and need not agree on every issue.
This should be kept in mind by those commentators who have fulminated against The Great Façade, dismissing it as "one long rant" full of "exaggerated and extreme statements." They need to chill out: to worry less about this book tipping the unstable into sedevacantism and more about why it has rung true for so many eminently stable Catholics outside the traditionalist movement. The fact is that far from being a rant, the authors state their case cogently but take no prisoners in the process, which is a winning mixture. On several occasions, friends who picked up my copy of the book simply could not put it down. "Absolutely devastating!" is the most commonly repeated description I have heard from the widest range of Catholic sensibilities.
Neo-conservatives should not be defensive about this, but simply accept that while they may not agree with every position and argument presented, the authors have struck a chord with the rank and file - who are surely fed up, worn out, sick and tired of all the feeble rationalisations of the Council and the ruinous novelties it generated. They are especially weary of neo-conservatives excusing Rome’s acquiescence, non-intervention and relentless elevation of Modernist bishops like Vincent Malone. The overwhelmingly positive response to The Great Façade which I have observed, and the positive effect it has had in opening eyes and even bringing souls back to the Old Mass, is nothing if not an instinctive reaction to this interminable neo-con striving to jam the square pegs of postconciliar innovation and irresponsibility into the round whole of Catholic tradition and justice. It’s called the sensus catholicus.
Stating the Case
Here is just one random example of the refreshing candour that permeates the book and which has proved so appealing in this era of fog and fudge. Addressing the common neo-conservative plaint about "Catholic triumphalism" which allegedly blighted the preconciliar era, the authors argue:
Such blunt questions posed throughout demand blunt answers - which have not been forthcoming from Rome for a long time. And for those, like myself, flummoxed by the ecumenical views of the Holy Father and Cardinal Ratzinger - who, as Romano Amerio put it, no longer present harmony in the world in terms of a single religion, but of a single civilization [of love] - there is a lengthy, enlightening chapter on the Cardinal’s Dominus Iesus. But needless to say, it is not just the ecumenical field in which the authors find the neo-conservative response riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies. On the liturgy, for example: "… certain neo-Catholics spend a great deal of time decrying the abysmal state of the liturgy, without ever seeming to notice that it results from practices fully permissible under Vatican guidelines. Without exceeding a single Vatican permission, any local bishop can authorize the repellent spectacle of a charismatic guitar Mass with babbling parishioners speaking "in tongues," altar girls, female "lector," communion in the hand, and even readings by a Protestant minister – all conducted in a church used jointly by a Catholic parish and a Protestant sect, as allowed and even encouraged by the utterly astounding 1993 Directory on Ecumenism."
A whole chapter is given over to revealing similar contradictory positions in defense of such "novelties" in the Church, especially the way neo-cons criticise priests, bishops and cardinals for doing precisely what the Pope often does himself. On numerous occasions, Christian Order has also respectfully pointed out ‘papal anomalies,’ losing not a few indignant readers in the process. Yet as the authors state, postconciliar Catholics should bear in mind these wise words of Dominican theologian Melchior Cano, an important figure at the Council Trent:
They also point out, as I did myself in Cronies, Crooks and Crisis Popes [CO, Jan 2002], that the past few pontificates compare unfavourably with those in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries very simply because "those great Popes, at a time when the world was in much better shape than it is today, sounded the alarm for the faithful to guard against the lures of the modern world and to press on in seeking its conversion to the one true religion." And they add: "We can hardly be blamed for advocating a return to the Church’s own perennial teaching." Indeed.
At the same time, controversial papal incidents are treated firmly but sensibly, like this assessment of the Pope’s notorious kissing of the Koran episode, which took place on 14 May 1999 before an Iraqi delegation at the Vatican:
And, mercifully, through all their evaluations, the authors do not confuse the source of our problems with mere symptoms. In particular, Sacrosanctum Concilium is presented as a case-study of why the much trumpeted neo-con panacea of a "return to the Council" is no solution to the liturgical crisis in the Church, since the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy is no less than "a blank cheque for liturgical reform, with the amount to be filled in depending on who wields the pen in the postconciliar period." Harsh experience bears it out.
Importantly, the book also has an excellent Index which makes the whole apologia an even more valuable resource.
Bypassing the authority of the bishops - via apostolic administrations like that granted to the Society of St. John Vianney in the Campos agreement, or patriarchates enjoyed by the Uniate Eastern churches, or after the fashion of the tenth century Cluny monks - is presented as the key to the revival of traditional Catholicism. Readers will find the recounting of the magnificent Cluniac restoration a real tonic. As the authors state, it reminds us just "how resilient the Church can be, under the worst of conditions, when even the tiniest minority of her members is passionate about genuine reform… how much can be accomplished in the Church by a small band of rebuilders."
The fascinating history of the ill-fated Second Council of Constantinople, held in 553 and as disastrous in its way as the Second Vatican Council, will also give readers heart. Though not teaching dogmatic error, Constantinople II caused such division, confusion and strife for so many years afterwards that later Popes finally urged silence about it and "consigned its decisions to oblivion." We may legitimately hope against hope for a similar denouement in respect of Vatican II. And there are signs that the long-awaited reappraisal is already underway.
Only last May, the leading neo-con monthly Catholic World Report carried a scathing reassessment of the Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, written by the eminent neo-conservative commentator James Hitchock, a Professor of History at St. Louis University and founder of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. Entitled "The End of Gaudium et Spes?", it questions the motivation and viability of this pivotal Conciliar document, which John Paul II himself helped to frame, citing its false optimism and failure to identify the evil in the modern world as major causes of the postconciliar crisis (which he describes as the most severe in Church history). Hitchcock even suggests that such optimism might be heretical since it doesn’t acknowledge the existence of sin. Among much else, he also frankly addresses the Holy Father’s refusal to face the mass apostasy in the Church and admits that many of the Pope’s arguments (e.g. his denial of capital punishment and past just war theory) are open to discussion, while finding the Vatican’s support of the vehemently anti-Catholic, anti-life United Nations incomprehensible. ... Perhaps he read The Great Façade?
In sum, we might say that this compelling work has struck a nerve and a chord at the same time: creating friction and satisfaction in equal measure. It has outraged the neo-conservatives but provided a measure of relief for many. It has wielded a charitable sword that has upped the ante in the postconciliar debate and given new impetus to the sort of outspoken critiques which alone can call the Council and its injurious postconciliar experiment to account.
Argued with an admirable and unfashionable conviction that refuses to take a backward step from the view that nothing less than "a restoration of the Church to her basic condition a mere forty years ago" will suffice, The Great Façade challenges the paralysing complacency bred by decades of bullet-proof confidence in the Council and its major proponents - the Conciliar pontiffs and their curias. As a necessary vehicle for sharpening lines of demarcation amidst the unprecedented turmoil we face, it succeeds admirably.
But I leave the last thoughtful and provocative word to the authors, who, in the end, return inevitably to the papal office, in which "alone rests the power to cause or cure a crisis throughout the Church." Of the present incumbent of that office - an enigma who ended all debate on women priests but gave us the scandal of altar girls; who calls the ongoing liturgical destruction a renewal yet "has also given the banished traditional liturgy a precious and ever-widening foothold within the official structure of the Church" - they conclude: