“That is what you call a bishop who’s not afraid to bishop.”

Because the Church has no authority to ordain women, and because of active resistance by those who dissent from that teaching, the Church provides a canonical response to simulations of the sacrament of Orders: “[B]oth the one who attempts to confer a sacred order on a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive a sacred order, incur an excommunication latæ sententiæ reserved to the Apostolic See.” 1 Such excommunications take effect ipso iure and need not be declared, 2 but on occasion it proves helpful, to do so, and his excellency Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield has seen fit to declare that Mary Keldermans, a laywoman in his diocese, has incurred one. 3 She did so when she carried out—over a warning from Bp. Paprocki that she would excommunicate herself by doing so—her publicized intention to be “ordained as a priest for Roman Catholic Womenpriests Inc. in a ceremony at the Abraham Lincoln Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Springfield.” 4 (The person who simulated the ordination, Ms. Joan Clark Houk, a laywoman of the diocese of Pittsburg, remains excommunicated from her own simulated ordination in 2006. 5)

While I do not find the snide tone pervading much of the commentary to be helpful, I applaud Paprocki and find all this quite refreshing. Excommunication is not a punishment, but rather a medicinal penalty, a call to repentance—poen[a] medicinales is the underlying Latin. 6 It is medicinal in the sense that it calls a person back to the Church. People are not excommunicated in order to banish them from the Church, but because their conduct has already placed them outside of her; indeed, to the extent that they have placed themselves in a state of mortal sin, they may well be heaping far greater judgment upon themselves if they are receiving certain sacraments. When a man dreams that he is running in a meadow while he sleepwalks through a minefield, it is no kindness to let him sleep.

And far from being a relic or museum piece, excommunication is an old idea well-suited to modern times. In this age, words are ignored, bishops are dismissed, 7 and the notion of authority—the overweening authority of the state excepted—is non-existent; we live in a radically-individualistic cultural mileu in which people find it very hard to wrap their heads around the idea that they are subject to a criterion other than their own judgment. In such circumstances, people need to be accosted by dramatic action that breaks into their lives and shakes them up. Excommunication is, in the argot of therapy culture, an “intervention,” intended to bring a person to their senses if they can’t or won’t awaken by themselves. Think about it: Why would a man who believes that he is right with Jesus seek to get right with Jesus? He won’t. Indeed, he will resent being told that he has any such need. Only a dramatic intervention can break through and make that man realize the peril in which he has placed himself. (This is also, presumably, why God quite often uses crises to break through to the unchurched.) It may not work—but nothing short of it is likely to work. The care of souls requires more than mere talk! The enemy is playing for keeps; we must realize that this is a deadly game with eternal consequences, and there is nothing charitable or loving about letting a person walk blindfold into hell for fear of her taking offense if we should tackle her to the ground.

Would excommunication make the schismatic priests of the so-called “Pfarrer initiative,” for example, realize how serious their actions are? Perhaps; perhaps not; but nothing short of it will. And perhaps it will make the watching laity realize that something is very wrong, that this is the wrong crowd in which to get mixed up. And while it’s easy to be cynical about entrenched dissent, it sometimes works. For example, in 2010, Sister Margaret McBride, RSM, incurred a latæ sententiæ excommunication which was announced by his excellency Thomas Olmsted (D. Phoenix), but, despite initial resistance, deo gratias, Sr. McBride reconciled with the Church and her excommunication was lifted. 8 Will excommunication shake Keldermans awake? Probably not. You never know. But it isn’t just about her; it’s also about the watching laity; it’s about sending a message, about sounding the alarm. Like the excommunication of Greg Reynolds, 9 it sends a message.

So three cheers for Paprocki; it may be outré to say it in this climate of gathering storms, but we need more bishops like him. Bishops who know who they are to judge, if you take my point. 10 Bishops who are obsessed with what the Church teaches and who know that it very much is necessary to talk about it all the time. Bishops who will give a Catholic blessing. Bishops who don’t want people to make a mess and who see the risk in scandal. Bishops who don’t think that the truth of the faith isn’t conditional on one’s parentage. Bishops who care about those small-minded “rule” thingies. Sacristy bishops.


  1. Decretum generale, 100 AAS 403 (CDF, 2008), available at http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20071219_attentata-ord-donna_en.html (last visited May 21, 2014); see generally Ap. Con. Ordinatio sacerdotalis, 86 AAS 545 (John Paul II, 1994).
  2. Rev. Ethelred Taunton, The Law of the Church: A Cyclopedia of Canon Law for English-speaking Countries 330 (1906) (imp. +Johnson, 1906). They are disfavored, see Beal et al, New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law 1538 (2000), but the 1983 Code does impose them for some situations.
  3. See John White, Dear Woman Priest, You’re Excommunicated, Catholic Vote, May 22, 2014, http://www.catholicvote.org/dear-woman-priest-youre-excommunicated-love-bishop-paprocki (last visited May 23, 2014).
  4. Steven Spearie, Local woman to be ordained as Catholic priest, State Journal-Register, April 12, 2014, http://www.sj-r.com/article/20140412/News/140419782.(last visited May 22, 2014).
  5. See Marylynne Pitz, Despite excommunication threat, McCandless woman plans to become a priest, Pittsburg Post-Gazette, July 12, 2006, http://www.post-gazette.com/life/lifestyle/2006/07/12/Despite-excommunication-threat-McCandless-woman-plans-to-become-a-priest/stories/200607120195 (last visited May 22, 2014).
  6. See 1983 CIC 658 § 1
  7. Cf. Simon Dodd, Episcopal authority and the abuse crisis, http://simondodd.org/blog/?p=1065, 3 MPA __ (2013).
  8. Compare Dan Harris, Nun Excommunicated After Saving a Mother’s Life With Abortion, ABC News, June 1, 2010,  http://abcnews.go.com/WN/Media/church-excommunicates-nun-authorized-emergency-abortion-save-mothers/story?id=10799745 (last visited May 22, 2014), with Mercy nun at hospital that allowed abortion ‘no longer excommunicated’, CNS, Dec. 9, 2011, http://www.catholicnews.com/data/briefs/cns/20111209.htm#head13 (last visited May 22, 2014).
  9. See Brian Roewe, Australian priest, advocate for women’s ordination excommunicated, National Catholic Reporter, Sept. 24, 2013, http://ncronline.org/news/global/australian-priest-advocate-womens-ordination-excommunicated (last visited January 4, 2014).
  10. Cf. Simon Dodd, Of Humanæ vitæ and the approaching Synod on the Family, n.11, http://simondodd.org/blog/?p=1332, 4 MPA __, __ n.11 (2014)

Look at me still talking while there’s science to do!

Like GlaDOS, it turns out that the ISEE-3 probe is still alive!

Full story.

Notice: Site update

Next week, I plan to upgrade the WordPress engine that powers Motu Proprio; during that time, the blog may become unavailable for a short period of time.

Update: Upgrade complete. I’m going to leave this notice in place for now because upgrades do have a tendency to break things that don’t get noticed at first!

Conservatives, traditionalists, and Traditional Catholics

In the Remnant, Chris Ferrara contemplates the question “What exactly is a traditionlist?” 1 The nub of it is that a man who is, by Ferrara’s label, a “traditionalist,”

is a Catholic who lives the faith as if the ecclesial calamities of the post-Vatican II epoch had never happened—indeed, as if Vatican II itself had never happened. And the astonishing truth about the traditionalist is that no doctrine or disciplinary rule of the Church whatsoever forbids him to believe and to worship God in just that way, even though the great preponderance of Catholics no longer does. ¶ That Catholics who have simply gone on believing and worshiping as Catholics always did before the Council have come to be called traditionalists—quite suddenly in historical terms—that the very word tradition now distinguishes these relative few Catholics from the vast majority of the Church’s members, is the undeniable sign of a crisis like no other the Church has ever witnessed. Those who deny this would have to explain why it is only within that transformed vast majority, … described [by some] as neo-Catholic, that the faith has been steadily losing its grip on the people, with many falling away completely into the “silent apostasy” John Paul II lately lamented after hailing for so many years a “conciliar renewal” that was actually a massive collapse of faith and discipline.

I would think that Ferrara is describing what is often called a “Traditional Catholic” or “Trad.” To my way of thinking, a (small-t) traditionalist is more closely-related to a conservative—those whom some Trads dismiss, prissily, tendentiously, and unhelpfully, as “neoconservatives” or “neocons.” 2

Let me offer a partially-baked taxonomy. In a Catholic context, it seems to me that the difference between Trads and conservatives/traditionalists is that the former, as Ferrara perceptively suggests, seeks to “live[] the faith … as if Vatican II itself had never happened,” while the latter accepts what she regards as legitimate postconciliar developments. The differences between conservatives and (small-t) traditionalists are more subtle. I might suggest that it breaks down something like this:

  • The former is more normative and positivistic: Postconciliar developments are legitimate because and insofar as they are correct, reasonable, and promulgated by legitimate ecclesiastical authority. (To put it more critically, they are taken for granted because nothing else exists in living memory.) The EF is okay, but they see no real problem with the OF beyond a vague and often unguided preference that it be “done reverently.” Their (recent) hero is apt to be John Paul II.
  • The latter thinks in terms of the hermeneutic of continuity: Postconciliar developments are legitimate because and to the extent that they harmonize with preconciliar tradition. She acknowledges legitimate development in the postconciliar world but insists that it has been encrusted and obscured by abuse and illegitimate accretions, and hopes to fix those problems. Thus, for instance, the EF? Good. The OF? Problematic, but capable of being good.  Our (recent) hero is apt to be Benedict XVI.

If the conservative has one over on the traditionalist, it’s that he is more flexible and capable of growth whiles he can be too rigid and hidebound; if the traditionalist has one over on the conservative, it’s that she has a criterion external to herself while he is too wedded to his own judgment.

Both positions, by themselves, have limits and difficulties.But just as in the political arena, most (American) conservatives cut our conservatism with a measure of libertarianism, and vice versa, and both are healthier for it, 3 I think it fair to aggregate conservatives and traditionalists because most of the conservatives and traditionalists that I encounter in person are somewhere in between. Cardinal Dolan and the EWTN people might serve as high-profile exemplars of unmixed conservatives, but certainly I would say that there is a constructive middle ground.


  1. Ferrara, What exactly is a traditionalist?, The Remnant, May 3, 2014, http://www.remnantnewspaper.com/web/index.php/articles/item/601-what-exactly-is-a-traditionalist (last visited May 19, 2014).
  2. Or rather, have done since that became a fashionable term of abuse in political discourse, regardless of its aptness.
  3. See The conservative premise, 2 MPA 50, 51 (2012).

The role of the ordinariates

Elsewhere, the Anglican Ordinariates are criticized: “If you want to belong to the Catholic Church then be a Catholic; if you want to be an Anglcan, be an Anglican. If you want a bit of both then you need to find a church with a bit of both. A foot in 2 camps doesn’t work.” This criticism, while common, misses the mark.

I once saw a neat formulation from someone who had gone the opposite way from me; let’s call her “Lisa.” Lisa was “Episcopalian by confession, Catholic by disposition.” Disposition maybe too narrow a word (“sensibility,” “culture,” “attitude,” “praxis,” “taste,” and so on all go into it), but I understood what she was driving at: Lisa believed (i.e. confessed) what the Episcopal Church teaches, but she is disposed to (i.e. prefers, needs, is nourished and sustained in faith by) the external forms and incidents of Catholicism. What’s the problem? There’s no inherent contradiction in that. Certainly there can be; if Eucharistic adoration was Lisa’s bag, that isn’t going to work. That’s a Catholic sensibility at war with an Anglican confession insofar as it’s a pious action that conflicts with substantive Anglican doctrine—articles of religion 25, 28 and 31. But while Anglicans don’t generally pray the Angelus and the Rosary, they could. Anglicans don’t generally pray the hours (and if they do, they use the BCP not the Breviary) but they could. One would not be a bad Anglican if one did so. If Lisa finds her faith nourished by those things, what’s the problem?

So, likewise, the other way (and setting aside the ordinariates for a moment). I would invert Lisa’s phrase and adopt it as my own: In many ways, I am “Catholic by confession and Anglican by disposition.” I confess the distinctive truth-claims of the Catholic church, ergo I must be in communion with that church. But if I choose to pray before Mass “Almighty God unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no Secrets are hid, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy holy spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name through Christ our Lord,” 1 why is that any more objectionable or problematic than the traditionally-inclined Catholic who chooses to pray before Mass (mutatis mutandis) the prayers at the foot of the altar from the usus antiquior, as some do? If I am as happy to use the BCP minor hours as those supplied in the breviary, what’s wrong with that? If I choose to use (mutatis mutandis) the BCP act of contrition rather than the (to my Anglican-formed sensibility) maudlin and difficult one often posted in confessionals, what of it? What’s the problem?

And so also likewise, it seems to me, the Ordinariates. If Rome sees no difficulty in dressing the Roman Mass in an Anglican garb by adding to the words and music of the Anglican patrimony a valid priest and such words as are needed, what’s the problem?

Much of the current puzzlement is simply because it is as yet unclear how the Ordinariates are going to work. In time, that fog will clear. It would help—because I understand the Ordinariates not simply as a lifeboat to bring Anglicans across the Tiber but rather a permanent part of the Church—if Catholics could join the Ordinariates. It would also help if there were greater clarity about exactly what the Ordinariates are, where they are, how they operate, what their liturgy is, etc., and about the correct vocabulary. Much could be solved if Rome said straightforwardly what is in fact true: that there is now an Anglican Rite celebrated by what amounts to personal parishes within the Latin Church.


  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collect_for_Purity; http://friendsoftheordinariate.org.uk/official-introduction-of-the-ordinariate-use/; http://www.crisismagazine.com/1992/coming-home-the-anglican-return-to-rome,; cf. The Anglican Use, 3 MPA __ (2013).

Of Humanæ vitæ and the approaching Synod on the Family

Ross Douthat and Msgr. Charles Pope have written blog entries pertaining to the approaching Synod and the anxiety it is provoking; Douthat’s piece follows up on his own New York Times column; Pope’s, in turn, on Douthat’s. 1 Some background will help before we get to them.

I. Phonegate

This fall, there will be a Synod of Bishops on “the family.” There has been growing delight on the left, and concern among everyone else (excepting those neo-ultramontanes who have blinded and deafened themselves to every concern about Francis) that the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage is in the crosshairs. 2) “When Francis summoned cardinals to a recent session to prepare for [the Synod] …, he entrusted the opening presentation to [Walter Card. Kasper] … undoubtedly anticipating that Kasper would say something about readmitting divorced and remarried Catholics to communion.” 3 Kasper predictably obliged, and with one exception, reaction was brutally negative—“[Camillo] Card. Ruini noted that some 85% percent of cardinals who spoke up after Kasper were against Kasper’s proposals.  [Ruini] opined of those who said nothing that perhaps they were simply ‘embarrassed.’” 4 Alas, the one high-profile exception was you-know-who, who promptly lauded it as a “beautiful and profound presentation.” 5

Against this backdrop, it was reported in late April that Francis had called an Argentinian woman whose irregular marital situation prevented her from receiving communion. He supposedly told her to go ahead. 6 The Vatican was invited to deny the story; two different spokesmen confirmed to two different outlets that the call had happened while refusing to comment on the content. 7 They instead complained that reporting was “confusing”—a preposterous posture insofar as they were not only in a position to eliminate any confusion, but were, indeed, being asked to do so. 8

One reaction might be to dismiss the allegations as absurd. A year ago, I would have; I would have urged caution, urged that a pope deserves the benefit of the doubt. 9 But it is not now a year ago—it is now, and our response to this has to take into account what we have seen over the last year:

The pope doesn’t just call people! Well, except… this one has repeatedly “just called people” over the last year. 10

The pope probably didn’t make this call! Well, except… the Vatican seems to have confirmed that he did.

The pope wouldn’t make so stupid and scandalous a comment! Well, except… this one has made a habit of making stupid and scandalous comments. 11

The pope wouldn’t do this particular thing! Well, except… this one effusively praised Kasper’s proposal that the Church do on large scale precisely what this call seems to have just done on an individual scale.

The pope wouldn’t do something so weird and passive-aggressive! Well, exceptthis one does. 12

Tellingly, the Vatican did not say “the allegations are frankly absurd, and the holy father said no such thing,” which is what one might expect if you-know-who said no such thing. I should imagine the Holy See should deny such a story as swiftly as the Clinton White House might have denied a story that Clinton had called a woman and had phone sex with her. 13 (Imagine that the Clinton WHPO, when asked, confirmed that the call took place, but, instead of denying the allegation as to content, said that it was private!)

No one supposes that this phone call changes church teaching, but, I argued (and maintain), is the scandal of it not troubling enough? Once the story became public, failure to drop the hammer on it swiftly and firmly allowed it to create scandal because there are many people who will cleave to Francis’ example over the Church’s teaching. They will deem such a dichotomy possible and legitimate, and they will conclude that the pope has “finally changed” the church’s “policy” on “divorce.” Father Dwight Longenecker—in a piece otherwise defending Francis, and so perhaps unwittingly—hit the nail on the head:

The bottom line for ordinary parish priests who are struggling with church discipline and the realities of marriage in modern life is that the secular press’ interpretations of the Pope’s actions become the new standard. 14

Quite. No matter how unwilling many people are to believe that Francis did this, their number and the intensity of their desire pales next to those who are very willing to believe it because they desperately want the church to accept their situation as regular. Francis didn’t change the teaching on marriage—but he didn’t change the rubric for the Mandatum, either, and yet, behold, his actions on Maundy Thursday are used to justify rubrical disobedience. In the same way, those who think the Church’s teaching is wrong, those who are desperate because of their own irregular marital situations, will gladly understand this as cover. 15 They will not seek to remedy their situation, they will not confess it, and they will compound the situation by receiving communion in a state of mortal sin. 16

II. Douthat and Pope

Francis’ praise for Kasper’s borderline-heretical and radioactive proposal, and indeed his very indulgence of the debate, were worrying enough, but the revelation of “the phone call” was the alarm call that should have woken everyone. It woke Douthat, who, in his original piece, destroyed the Vatican’s frivolous attempt to classify the call as a private action of no relevance to doctrine, and astutely proposed that we are risking “what you might call the late-Soviet scenario, in which Catholic doctrine is officially unaltered, but the impression grows that even the pope doesn’t really believe these things, and that when the church’s leaders affirm a controversial position they’re going through the ideological motions … and not actually trying to teach a living faith.” If that impression takes root (regardless of you-know-who’s actual, private intentions), souls will be lost.

In his follow-up, Douthat clarifies his concerns for a non-Catholic audience. 17 He points out that “what’s being proposed and discussed and debated … [is an] official mechanism whereby a divorced and remarried Catholic could, without having their previous marriage declared invalid, do penance for any sins involved in their divorce and then receive communion without their new marriage being a moral impediment to [communion].” For Douthat, “it is very hard … to understand how this kind of change wouldn’t create some pretty significant internal problems for Catholic doctrine as currently and traditionally understood,” and he recognizes that if Francis approved such a change, he “would be either dissolving important church teachings into what looks to me like incoherence, or else changing those same teachings in a way that many conservative Catholics believe that the pope simply cannot do….” And vitally, he further recognizes—he may even be the first to have said so publicly—that even if it is unlikely that Francis will do so, “it is being debated with his apparent encouragement, so the possibility has to be addressed….”

Msgr. Pope is unwilling to address the possibility. His post insists that the teaching is clear, and that it is not going to be changed. In comments, he says that we must not address the possibility, that we must trust the Holy Spirit. “For a little evidence,” he says, “go back to 1968 and everyone expects the Pope to cave on contraception. The ‘majority report’ of theologians urge him, priests and bishops are urging him. Everyone presume[s] the change is imminent. To almost everyone’s surprise Paul VI … had to say ‘No.’ Whatever Pope Francis’ personal practices of the past, when it comes time for him officially rule on the matter and write the synod exhortation, he will not, he cannot teach error in this regard.”

Six or twelve months ago, I would have said something similar. I am less and less optimistic about that, but let us set that aside and stipulate that Msgr. Pope is right. I agree that the parallel is apt, but I’m not sure that the Church’s scandalous dithering over contraception in the 1960s is entirely reassuring. Francis is heading for a “Humanæ vitæ moment,” I want to agree, and have said so, 18 but that’s not reassuring. Humanæ vitæ was catastrophic. Not because it was wrong, mind you, but because its effects were magnified by the Church’s failure to squelch the idea that it would say something else. It was “met with ‘bitter contestation’ from entire groups of bishops and was disobeyed by ‘countless faithful’” because it came only after the Church’s failure to clearly say “no” in a time in which anticipations created a “‘driving crescendo of anticipations of change.’” 19 When it came down, then, those who most wanted the change were not only wounded, they were able to convince themselves that disobedience was warranted because the decision was not only painful, it was illegitimate and wrong: everyone knew that the Church was about to change, and that everyone wanted the change, so what in God’s name was Paul doing?

On standard ecclesiastical assumptions, the Bishop of Rome will not teach error, period, 20 and on those assumptions, it follows that after the Synod, you-know-who must issue a postsynodal exhortation that is analogous to Humanæ vitæ insofar as it will reaffirm the Church’s teaching in the face of massive expectation of a different outcome. So: What happens when a freight train traveling at speed hits an immovable object? In the 1960s, the Church allowed lay opinion to get up to a dangerous speed down a track that led to an unacceptable result. In the end, as Msgr. Pope says, Paul did not actually teach error—but he was silent for too long, in an era in which the truth was openly challenged, and when he finally bestirred himself to teach the truth,  it was too late. The fallible part of the Church had already done the damage. The train was already in motion, and when Paul installed crash buffers with Humanæ vitæ, the result was a violent derailment that scars the Church to this day.

Now you-know-who is repeating the same mistake. There is nothing pastoral about letting people believe that an intimate and painful teaching is about to change when it isn’t. There is nothing merciful about all-but inviting people who are already hurting to go into schism. If our ecclesiastical assumptions are right, the expectations that Francis has raised, the hopes that he has raised or allowed to be raised, are going to crash into the buffers and violently derail at high speed, just like the hopes that were raised before Humanæ vitæ. 21 For many people, it will be unbearably-painful. Francis will (as Msgr. Pope says) suffer for it, just as Paul suffered for Humanæ vitæ, but in the end, it’s the Church that will be worse for it, just as she was after Humanæ vitæ. 22

What Paul should have done was apply the brakes years sooner. He should never have let the train get moving, and if it was moving before his election, he should have stopped it at the very first opportunity while there was still time to do so gently. It’s sterile to talk about what Francis should have done differently, but what he should do now, and the sooner the better, is to stop this train. Right now. Gently if possible, forcefully if not. Expressly and personally reaffirm the teaching, cancel the Synod, excommunicate Cardinal Kasper—a better-looking idea with each new day—and depose the renegade German prelates. Because with every passing day, it picks up more speed and the crash will be worse. The salient lesson of Humanæ vitæ, it seems to me, is not that the magisterium was preserved from teaching error, but that the Holy Spirit was pleased to rescue the Church from error only after every human element failed.

* * *

Tempers snapped so violently when Paul reaffirmed the Church’s teaching on contraception because hopes had been stretched so very taught in anticipation of change; as we reflect today on the run-up to the synod, as we consider that hopes are being stretched ever-taughter in anticipation of a change that cannot, will not come, we must surely foresee a violent reaction. And the more that you-know-who ups the anticipation that he’s about to apostatize on divorce, the more pain and disenchantment and blowback he will create when (or if) he affirms the traditional teaching.

When or if? I must admit that the last year has beaten Msgr. Pope’s optimism out of me. I applaud Douthat for being frank and honest enough to raise the possibility of catastrophic consequences; he sees clearly that “the church’s claim to a constant, non-contradicting authority lies close to the heart of why many conservative Catholics are conservative Catholics.” He’s right. If the Church of Rome apostasizes, there will be a very serious argument that the premise for my being Catholic will stand falsified. 23 The fact that she is even flirting with apostasy is scandalous and distressing enough! But if she actually does it, I may have to face the possibility that the Catholic Church is not what I thought she was. So will you.

That said, the Synod is unlikely to do anything cleanly and clearly, and this pope is incapable of it, so I think it unlikely that I will wake up one morning to discover in the newspaper that I have been wrong all along; whatever comes out of the Synod will probably have to be weighed and disentangled. There are certainly proposals that could come out of it that would be stupid, dangerous, pastorally unacceptable, and yet not actually heresy. 24 But I think we need to start thinking about the possibility. Everyone sees where this is going, the direction we are being dragged, and there seems little that we can do to stop it. So we have to start considering, as Douthat wisely does, what the world looks like the day after a postsynodal exhortation endorsing the Kasper proposal is handed down, lest we be blindsided. We have to start thinking about what can be said to calm the storm thus unleashed to allow the weighing and disentangling just mentioned, because if anything seems certain, it is that what comes out of the Synod will be less straightforward than it appears at first blush.

As Msgr. Pope recognizes, the Church cannot change this teaching. So what, then, will we do if the Synod makes a mushy, vague recommendation of “mercy” (=change) and Francis writes a mushy, vague endorsement of “mercy” (=change)? That seems the most likely outcome and we know what will be done with such statements “on the ground,” as Fr. Longenecker recognizes. If the Church is what she claims to be, she cannot do this. If she does do this, what will we then think?


  1. Douthat, More Catholic than the Pope, NY Times Blogs, April 29, 2014, http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/04/29/more-catholic-than-the-pope/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0; Douthat, The Pope’s Phone Call, The New York Times, April 26, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/27/opinion/sunday/douthat-the-popes-phone-call.html; Pope, The Church Cannot Change Her Doctrine on Marriage and Divorce: Concerns for the Upcoming Synod, Archdiocese of Washington Blog, May 4, 2014, http://blog.adw.org/2014/05/the-church-cannot-change-her-doctrine-on-marriage-and-divorce-concerns-for-the-upcoming-synod.
  2. Cf. Ed Peters, Let’s understand what’s at stake, In the Light of the Law, Dec. 12, 2013, http://canonlawblog.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/lets-understand-whats-at-stake. As this post goes to press, Edward Pentin reports that Lorenzo Cardinal Baldisseri, the secretary-general of the Synod, and thus, as Father Zuhlsdorf astutely observes, a man positioned to skew the proceedings of Synod, “says he wants a change in Church teaching on marriage,” that “it is time to update Church marriage doctrine, for example in connection with divorce, the situation of divorcees and people who are in civil partnerships.” Edward Pentin, Synod Secretary General Wants Change in Church’s Teaching on Marriage, The National Catholic Register, May 7, 2014, http://www.ncregister.com/blog/edward-pentin/sec.-general-of-synod-wants-change-in-churchs-teaching-on-marriage; Rev. John Zuhlsdorf, What is Card. Baldissieri up to?, May 8, 2014, http://wdtprs.com/blog/2014/05/what-is-card-baldissieri-up-to/ . Nevertheless, the characterizations are Pentin’s, and it is not yet clear what Baldisseri said.
  3. See John Allen, Fracas over divorce stirred by call from the pope, The Boston Globe, April 25, 2014, http://www.bostonglobe.com/news/world/2014/04/25/fracas-over-divorce-stirred-call-from-pope-francis/jooLklqtjP90teJpEk7drM/story.html?rss_id=Top-GNP .
  4. Rev. John Zuhlsdorf, Secret Consistory: How did other Cardinals react to Card. Kasper’s proposals?, WDTPRS, March 26, 2014, http://wdtprs.com/blog/2014/03/secret-consistory-how-did-other-cardinals-react-to-card-kaspers-proposals); see, e.g., Edward Pentin, Criticism Mounts Over Cardinal Kasper’s Speech on Divorce and Remarriage, National Catholic Register, March 25, 2014, http://www.ncregister.com/blog/edward-pentin/criticism-mounts-over-cardinal-kaspers-speech-on-divorce-and-remarriage; Robert Fastiggi, A Reflection on Cardinal Kasper’s Speech on the Family, Zenit, March 12, 2014, http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/a-reflection-on-cardinal-kasper-s-speech-on-the-family .
  5. Transcript: Pope Francis’ March 5 interview with Corriere della Sera, CNA, March 5, 2014, http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/transcript-pope-francis-march-5-interview-with-corriere-della-sera
  6. See generally Allen, supra note 4.
  7. See Daniel Burke, Pope stirs Communion debate with call to woman, CNN Belief Blog, April 23, 2014, http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2014/04/23/popes-stirs-communion-debate-with-call-to-woman; Vatican: Francis phone call doesn’t mark a change in Church teaching, April 24, 2014, http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2014/04/24/vatican-francis-phone-call-doesnt-mark-a-change-in-church-teaching. It was interesting watching the evolution of the neo-ultramontane spin on the story. First, they insisted that the call never happened. Then the Vatican confirmed it and the neo-ultramontanes said that we still can’t be sure, that the confirmation was ambiguous. Then the Vatican gave a second confirmation, and it became futile to deny the obvious. Thus defeated in spin 1, they next insisted that the call didn’t involve the alleged content. But in light of the Vatican’s refusal to deny the content of the call, which amounted to confirmation, it seems futile to deny the obvious.
  8. Doubts increase over Pope’s alleged phone call on divorce, CNA, Apr 24, 2014, http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/doubts-increase-over-popes-alleged-phone-call-on-divorce/ .
  9. When you-know-who was elected, Rorate coeli and many in its orbit went berzerk. They insisted that Jorge Card. Bergoglio had been an avowed foe of the usus antiquior. I defended him; the evidence tendered was scanty at best and a pope deserves a fair shot. So I did not start as a critic.
  10. See Allen, supra note 4 (“As he’s in the habit of doing, especially with people from his native country or his adopted home in Italy, Francis picked up the phone on Monday after reading the letter and called her” (emphasis added)); Andrea Gagliarducci, Pope Francis calls a traditionalist writer who criticized him, CNA, Nov. 23, 2013, http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope-francis-calls-a-traditionalist-writer-who-criticized-him/ .
  11. “Who am I to judge”; “small-minded rules”; “stubbornly try[ing] to recover a past that no longer exists”; “we don’t want to change and what’s more there are those who wish to turn the clock back”; “we can’t be obsessed with abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptives”; “I am a son of the church”; “[g]iven that many of you do not belong to the Catholic Church, and others are not believers, I give this blessing from my heart, in silence”; “even the atheists, everyone!”; “sacristy christians”; “yes? does this sound good?”; “the dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent”; “I want people to make a mess.” These are just examples that spring readily to mind.
  12. Compare Allen, supra note 4 (noting that regardless of Francis’ apparent sympathy for a doctrinal change, “[i]f a substantial bloc of bishops argues against change in October’s meeting, it might induce Francis to stay his hand”), with Christa Pongratz-Lippitt, Pope says married men could be ordained if world’s bishops agree, The Tablet, April 10, 2014, http://www.thetablet.co.uk/news/659/0/pope-says-married-men-could-be-ordained-priests-if-world-s-bishops-agree-on-it .
  13. See generally Sandino, Parsing the Modern non-denial denial, Daily Kos, Jan. 25, 2014, http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/01/25/1271623/-Parsing-the-Modern-Non-Denial-Denial-A-Field-Guide-to-Statements-of-the-Unindicted. Stories quickly gain legs when they reflect the existing narrative about a person. See Simon Dodd, Developing an idea, Stubborn Facts, April 21, 2007, http://stubbornfacts.us/politics/partisanship/developing_an_idea .
  14. Rev. Dwight Longenecker, Did Pope Francis Just Endorse Communion for the Divorced and Remarried?, Aleteia, April 24, 2013, http://www.aleteia.org/en/religion/article/did-pope-francis-just-endorse-communion-for-the-divorced-and-remarried-5781297871978496; accord, e.g., Sandro Magister, Francis, the Pope of “Humanae Vitae”, Chiesa, May 1, 2014, http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1350783?eng=y (the Vatican’s rationalizations of Francis’ actions and words “do[] not attenuate their impact on public opinion”).
  15. Cf., e.g., Chris Mooney, What is Motivated Reasoning? How Does It Work?, The Intersection, May 5, 2011, http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2011/05/05/what-is-motivated-reasoning-how-does-it-work-dan-kahan-answers/ .
  16. I want to suggest that there is another problem here. Not only does this pope scandalize and jeopardize the souls of those who will be mislead into thinking their marital situation is okay, it also occurs to me that there is a problem at the other end. I know at least one person who is so scandalized by this wretched pontificate that he is flirting with sedevacantism. I think that there are some people out there who cannot reconcile the stupid things that Francis says with their beliefs (often unexamined, neo-ultramontane, and erroneous) about the papacy, and they will reconcile that cognitive dissonance in the most straightforward, painless way, which will never be (of course) to examine and correct their mistaken beliefs about the papacy, it will be to simply declare that Francis is not or cannot be pope, thus lapsing into schism, which is very likely a mortal sin per se.
  17. The insult “more Catholic than the pope,” which Douthat invokes (presumably tongue-in-cheek) in his title, is incompatible with a familiarity with papal history. There have been many pontificates in which one could say with little fear of contradiction that most laymen were “more Catholic than the pope”; there is an era of papal history so depraved that it goes by the name of “the pornocracy”—google it—and you can infer what kind of men sat on the throne of Peter in that era. John XII seems to have been a murderer, fornicator, and gambler: A “coarse, immoral man,” says the Catholic Encyclopædia, “whose life was such that the Lateran was spoken of as a brothel, and the moral corruption in Rome became the subject of general odium.”  See generally John Julius Lord Norwich, Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy (2012). To paraphrase John Henry Card. Newman, be be in any way familiar with papal history is to cease being an unqualified ultramontane.
  18. E.g. http://wdtprs.com/blog/2013/10/i-find-your-lack-of-faith-invalidating/#comment-435128.
  19. Francis will not be prisoner to public opinion, CNA, May 4, 2014, http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/francis-can-stand-against-the-majority-vaticanista-says (quoting Magister, supra note 14).
  20. N.b., this is an assumption, and one with a significantly broader sweep than the Church’s formal teaching about the papal magisterium.
  21. Accord Magister, supra note 14 (“the decision will come at the end of 2015 or at the beginning of the following year, not before, under the formidable pressure of a public opinion that at that point is likely to be almost exclusively expecting a yes”).
  22. The pain caused by thwarted expectations left people too hurt to listen to what Paul eventually had to say. I would venture that few of the ex-Catholics who left over Humanæ vitæ has ever read it.
  23. See Simon Dodd, The Catholic Proposition, 2 MPA 80 (2012); accord Dodd, Authoritative teaching, liturgy, and authority, 3 MPA __ (2013).
  24. For example, as we go to print, Card. Kasper has just told Commonweal that you-know-who believes that half of all marriages are not valid. Patrick Archbold, Kasper: Pope Thinks 50% of Marriages Not Valid, Creative Minority Report, May 7, 2014, http://www.creativeminorityreport.com/2014/05/kasper-pope-thinks-50-of-marriages-not.html. So that suggests one possibility that would, presumably, satisfy Msgr. Pope’s insistence that the Church teaches that marriage is indissoluble, and she cannot and absolutely will not going to change that teaching, for she will do no such thing: She will simply declare that most purported marriages weren’t actually
    marriages at all, and while they would be binding were they actually marriages,
    they aren’t. So that’s okay, right? Nothing to see here. Cf. Benedict XVI, Audience with the Clergy of Rome, Feb. 14, 2013, available at
    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2013/february/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20130214_clero-roma_en.html (noting that the media’s portrait of the a council may be mistaken for the council itself).

A time for choosing

As it happened, Easter fell on 4/20 this year, the day on which addicts throughout America titter at the happenstance of the date resembling an early drug meme. (I don’t know whether drugs are harmful, but the foregoing suggests detrimental consequences to one’s sense of humor.) This coincidence underlines the choice before Catholics between the Church of God, which warns against drugs, and the World, which, increasingly, shrugs.

Elsewhere, it was urged that recreational use of cannabis need not be confessed. That is error. There is no question that cannabis is a drug, and there is no question that the Church teaches that the recreational use of drugs is a mortal sin: “The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense,” i.e. a “mortal-qualified sin,” if you will. 1

It is no answer to gainsay the judgment that cannabis should be treated in a different way from, say, tobacco, or alcohol, and to demand that the Church explain her judgment. Asking “why is pot a no-no yet alcohol is okay” is not essentially different from saying “why are female priests a no-no yet married priests are okay”; the impulse behind that the question is invariably a demand to reweigh the evidence in an effort to evade the teaching rather than a good-faith attempt to understand it. The Church has made a distinction between “drugs” and alcohol; whether that answer makes sense to you or not is  irrelevant.

The pertinent inquiry is not whether cannabis is dangerous, or what else qualifies as a drug: It is what the Catechism means when it refers to “drugs.” Because paragraph 2291 does not specifically define the word “drug,” we resort to background interpretative principles. When a word is neither expressly-defined nor draws a precise definition from the immediate context, its use elsewhere in the document, or an understood technical meaning, we interpret its use in the common, ordinary sense of the time that is suggested by the context. Thus, for example, when John Paul II refers in Evangelium vitae 88 to conditions of hardship imposed by challenges such as “drug addiction” and those of “the mentally ill,” it would be desultory to argue that he had in mind not only those suffering under the weights of, for example, heroin addiction and schizophrenia, but also those whose fondness for coffee is technically an addiction and those whose anxiety about spiders is technically phobic.

Accordingly, the decisive question is whether, when the Catechism was written, the term “drugs” was understood to include cannabis. It did; now as then, cannabis was considered a “drug.” Accordingly, where the Catechism uses the word “drugs,” that reference includes cannabis because the word “drugs” ordinarily includes cannabis.

Seeking to evade that obvious result, my interlocutor argued that “[a] drug, according to the catechism, causes harm to human health and life. Those are the criteria laid out for us … [and] until [the Church] chooses to enlighten us on what, specifically, [is] a ‘drug’ …, we are left to … try to determine … that on our  own.” 2 Sequentially-stated, the theory of that argument is:

  1. The Catechism defines the use of “drugs” as serious subject-matter,
  2. it defines a “drug” as a substance that “causes harm to human health and life,” and
  3. it therefore remands to the individual Catholic to determine whether a particular substance causes harm and is, for that reason, a drug.

That theory is false. Paragraph 2291 of the Catechism, to which her theory refers, is not definitional; it does not say that “a drug is a substance that causes harm to human health and life.” It says that “[t]he use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life.” Those are very different statements. To say that a drug inflicts grave harm is not to say that that which inflicts grave harm is a drug—that would be nonsense, just as to say that water can drown a child is not to say that that which drowns children is water.

It might help to break down paragraph 2291 into smaller chunks:

¶ 2291: Drugs.
The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life.
(b) The use of drugs, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense.
(c) Clandestine production of and trafficking in drugs are scandalous practices. They constitute direct co-operation in evil, since they encourage people to practices gravely contrary to the moral law.

Whether cannabis causes “very grave damage” would be the pertinent question if ¶ 2291(a) defined a drug as something that “causes grave harm to human health and life,” and ¶ 2291(b) was qualified by that definition, but as we can see, neither of those predicates are true. The Catechism does not define a drug as something that “causes grave harm to human health and life,” it assumes the common and ordinary definition of “drugs,” asserts that they “cause[] grave harm to human health and life,” and makes a freestanding prohibition on their use for non-therapeutic grounds.

In fine: Whether one agrees with the assessment of ¶ 2291(a) in regard to any particular drug has no bearing on the relevant questions which are, again, (1) does the Church teach that recreational use of “drugs” is a grave sin, and (2) do the magisterial documents that express the Church’s teaching on “drugs” understand cannabis to be a “drug”? The answer to both of those questions is, beyond serious cavil, “yes.”


  1. CCC ¶ 2291
  2. Accordingly, she argued, cannabis cannot be considered a drug because it is not dangerous, and its use should not be considered sinful since there are other, more dangerous drugs: “[E]nergy drinks could be said to be more ‘drug-like’  than cannabis, since they are directly responsible for killing more  people and therefore more harmful to human health.  … Tobacco is somehow excluded from this, though it is highly addictive and will horribly kill 25% of those who use it. Alcohol is also excluded, though it is much more addictive and causes much more death and destruction than marijuana.

The new ultramontanes

“The personality of the Pope alone contributed to it. His charm and open nature, so different from the reserved behavior of his predecessor, … gradually gave him … a popularity such as no pope had known before him.” 1 Apposite though that line might seem, it was written of Pio Nono, and the “it” referred to is the rise and apparent triumph of ultramontanism. I want to suggest that there is a dangerous current in the Church today and that rebuffing it requires us to reexamine what happened between the Gallicans and the Ultramontanes. 2

I. The old ultramontanes

Gallicanism and ultramontanism were tendencies, schools of thought in ecclesiology. Broadly-defined, Gallicanism may be thought analogous to Anglicanism in its insistence on the distinct and independent nature of national churches, whereas ultramontanism insists on the prerogatives and authority of the Pope, the “papa ultra montano,” the “father beyond the mountains.” The conventional wisdom is that the First Vatican Council’s constitution Pastor æternus crushed Gallicanism and baptized Ultramontanism as orthodoxy; the treatments of the topic in the the roughly contemporary Catholic Encyclopedia and Encyclopedia Britannica both reflect this assumption. But the assumption is wrong.

What did the Ultramontanes believe? There is a temptation to circular reasoning: The ultramontanes believed what Pastor ætenus teaches, and we know that because they prevailed at the first Vatican council, and we know that they prevailed at the first vatican council because Pastor æternus teaches what the ultramontanes believed. It is difficult to define ultramontanism more precisely than in the broad strokes just used because, perhaps like Anglicanism, it comprised diverse people of diverse tones and emphases. And like any movement, it had moderates and extremists. Nevertheless, the 1911 Britannica article on ultramontanism says—correctly, I think—this:

It is indisputably legitimate to speak of Ultramontanism as a distinct policy, but it is very difficult to define its essential character. For, true to its nature, it has itself drawn up no complete programme of its objects, and, in addition to its avowed aims, its subsidiary effects claim attention. There is something chameleon-like in its appearances; its genuine views are kept in the background from tactical considerations, and first one aspect, then another, comes into prominence. It is evident, therefore, that the request for a definition of Ultramontanism cannot be answered with a concise formula, but that the varied character of its manifestations necessitates a more detailed examination of its peculiar objects. 3

I think correct Fr. Ignaz von Döllinger’s assessment, quoted thereafter, that the Ultramontane view is largely that

[t]he pope is the supreme, the infallible, and consequently the sole authority in all that concerns religion, the Church, and morality , and each of his utterances on these topics demands unconditional submission—internal no less than external.

The Ultramontanes, then, did not merely support papal infallibility as we know it today. They “exalted the Papacy.” 4 They did not merely emphasize its prerogatives, they “support[ed] … an active intervention of the Roman pontiffs in the governance of national churches” and a “vocal insistence on the papal magisterium.” 5 They “argued for a strong papacy whose voice would be decisive in matters of doctrine and authority,” because “only a strong papacy could protect the Church against … heterodox movements. 6

That is not the Second Vatican Council’s ecclesiology. But more importantly, it is not the First Vatican Council’s ecclesiology, either. Pastor æternus gives a much more modest, qualified endorsement of the papal prerogatives, and so it’s little surprise when we read that Pius IX was unable to water down Pastor æternus to accommodate the concerns of the Gallicans because it was already a compromise from what the ultramontanes wanted. 7

Pastor æternus “teach[es] and declare[s] that … a primacy of jurisdiction over the whole Church of God was immediately and directly promised to” and conferred upon Peter,” and that “the Roman Church [therefore] possesses a pre-eminence of ordinary power over every other Church, and that this jurisdictional power of the Roman Pontiff is both episcopal and immediate.” The ultramontanes believed not only this but also that the pope should actively use that authority in an interventionist way. The council did not say that. 8

Pastor æternus “teach[es] and define[s] as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks ex cathedra , that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals.” The ultramontanes believed in infallibility, but many of them would have accepted few of those hedges and caveats; there was a strong current of “the pope can do no wrong, can speak no wrong” that would attribute infallibility to almost every utterance. The council did not say that.

II. The new ultramontanes

When people like the pope, it’s natural to emphasize the authority of the papacy, a fortiori if one senses that the broader episcopal barrel has a number of bad apples in it. That seems to have been the case with Pio Nono. But what happens when there’s a bad pope? As Brantly Millegan pointed out in a prescient article last year, “[t]he danger of good popes” is that when “there has not been an egregiously bad pope in recent memory ,” it’s easy “to think that popes will always be this good, or that God protects the papacy from grave immorality or stupidity.” 9

A year ago, I would not have resisted the label “ultramontane”—keen-eyed readers will notice that posts on this blog appear beneath a papal crest—and would have cheerfully recited the conventional wisdom that since Vatican I, ultramontanism has merged into Catholic orthodoxy. As we have seen, that is not quite right. For a while, though, it was right enough; that kind of sloppy thinking worked when Benedict XVI was pope, because there was no need to delineate carefully between the prerogatives proper to the papacy itself and the substantial deference and respect afforded to its distinguished occupant. But with Francis’ election to the See of Rome, it became necessary to think more precisely, and I have become convinced that in recent decades, in Millegan’s words, conservatives have “overstate[d] the role, powers, and privileges of the papacy.”

We need to pause and back up a little. One of the most helpful things that I read during the last year was a blog post by Joseph Shaw that I resisted for some time because I felt Shaw’s framing was overly tendentious. Nevertheless, reflection persuaded me that he is substantially correct, and so I want to give you just a little of that post, edited to use terminology that I think is more helpful and to focus on the points onto which I latched:

One very easy misconception is that Traditionalism fits onto the same linear scale as ‘liberal’ and ‘[conservative[', but at the extreme [conservative] end … [W]hen [Conservative] Catholics become [Trads] … they give up two positions which are crucial to the standard ‘conservative Catholic’ offering: Legal Positivism and Ultramontanism.

[Conservatives] might deny that they really hold these positions, but … [t]hey accept whatever has just been enacted by the Church as the most authoritative statement on any subject, regardless of the weight of earlier laws, or considerations such as Natural Justice and custom. And they place enormous emphasis on the person of the Pope, seeking at all costs to endorse and live by even their non-magisterial statements and philosophical preferences … [But] neither Legal Positivism nor Ultramontanism are teachings of the Church. It is going to be particularly painful for conservatives under the present pontificate, however, since Pope Francis is even more clearly opposed to these tendencies than his immediate predecessors. …

Perhaps [conservatives] great respect for the Office of the Papacy will lead them to reassess these attitudes, and become [Trads]…. On the blog of … [the conservative] Fr. Longenecker, is a neat expression of the dilemma. … ["]I find [the Jesuit publications] interview very hard. I have accepted that this is the Holy Father’s personal view, and that it is not infallible, but this interview is challenging my prior notion of what devotion to the Papacy meant because previously I would not have selected what the Popes said but assiduously read things like this. I can’t get past the cognitive dissonance.["]

Did you get that? While in theory he accepts the distinctions between fallible and infallible, and between magisterial and private, in practice, up to now, he has tried to accept whatever any Pope has said without ‘selection’. He doesn’t mention this, but this only applies to living Popes, otherwise he would have gone mad long ago. 10

I think that analysis trenchant. From a conservative perspective, I would suggest that most Catholics under forty have no recollection of a bad pope, and our direct, personal experience has been two giants who were adored and respected far beyond what we might know, intellectually, to have been above and beyond the ex officio authority of the papacy. How much mileage did the “reform of the reform” try to extract from Benedict’s liturgical example? There is no particular reason why the Bishop of Rome’s preference in ars celebrandi ought to be normative for the Latin Rite, but we often spoke as though it was, forgetting (or at least failing to emphasize) the point made by Shawn Tribe in the aftermath of the conclave:

Pope Benedict’s liturgies were indeed identified as exemplars in the recent past but that was not because it was the pope’s liturgy that it was an exemplar; rather it was an exemplar because they were liturgies celebrated according to sound liturgical principles. It is the principles that matter and we should keep that always closely in mind. 11

There was a natural tendency to project our personal esteem for and deference to the man onto the office. Our language naturally starts to enlarge the papacy. When that office is taken over by someone else, that shock to the system forces us—or should force us—to consider whether there has been an undue rhetorical excess that has enlarged our rhetoric about the papacy to fit great popes. This should be a chastening experience.

* * *

The old ultramontanism was a spectrum of opinion that ranged from what is today the orthodoxy of Pastor æternus all the way up to what today might be called papolatry.

Today, there is a contingent of neo-ultramontanes among conservatives who are wedded to a way of thinking that, no matter how much they might disclaim it, places excessive emphasis on the papacy, and the dignity and personal competence of the pope. They can’t quite adjust to the new reality, or bring themselves to believe that it must. So much of what we had thought was part and parcel of the papacy was in fact an incident of two good popes. Whenever controversy happens—it’s never far away with Francis—the conservative neo-ultramontanes, of whom Jimmy Akin springs most readily to mind, jump in to spin anything Francis says, to put the most determinedly-positive and orthodox spin possible. They will insist, no matter how implausible the spin must be, that Francis is the victim of forces beyond his control, that what he says is clear and orthodox, but it is invariably misreported and mangled by reporters, that there just isn’t enough evidence. Just this week, we saw the pattern: Deny outright until evidence appears, insist that there’s not enough evidence until there is, and then spin, spin, spin.

A hesitance to believe alarming accusations about a pope, and an impulse to defend him, is, as Millegan notes, a good thing in the abstract. But a refusal to accept the obvious, a radical skepticism about anything that tends to be critical of a pope, is ultramontane and unhealthy. Is it not written in the Letter to the Galatians: “When Cephas came to Antioch, I said ‘now hang on a minute, chaps, what’s the source for this story that he refused to eat with the gentiles? Can you really believe what the gentile’s husband said on their facebook page? I mean, this is our Pope, our Holy Father we’re talking about, we shouldn’t criticize him. I mean, okay, the meal took place, but do we really ‘know’ that Peter separated himself for fear of the circumcision party?”

This disastrous pontificate should force conservatives to more carefully examine what the Church truly teaches about the papacy, and to distinguish between its prerogatives, on the one hand, and the latitude, deference, and respect to which a pope is personally entitled as a rebuttable presumption.


  1. 8 History of the Church 307 (Jeden, ed. 1981).
  2. Careful usage should favor “ultramontane” for an adherent of ultramontanism, for fear of confusion with adherents of the second-century Montanist heresy.
  3. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/1911_Encyclop%C3%A6dia_Britannica/Ultramontanism
  4. Encyclopedia of Catholicism 1278 (McBrien, ed. 1995).
  5. 2 Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought 1087 (Coulter et al, eds. 2007).
  6. Modern Catholic Encyclopedia 849 (Glazier & Hellwig, eds. 2004).
  7. See 8 History of the Church, supra, at 329-30.
  8. Pastor æternus continues, and the ultramontanes would demur, that “[t]his power of the Supreme Pontiff by no means detracts from that ordinary and immediate power of episcopal jurisdiction, by which bishops, who have succeeded to the place of the apostles by appointment of the Holy Spirit, tend and govern individually the particular flocks which have been assigned to them.” This delicate and seemingly contradictory balance was further explicated by the Second Vatican Council but remains a vexing and complex topic in ecclesiology.
  9. Millegan, The Danger of Good Popes, First Things, Sept. 27, 2013, http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2013/09/the-danger-of-good-popes.
  10. Shaw, Mystical not ascetic, LMS Chairman’s Blog, Oct. 8, 2013, http://www.lmschairman.org/2013/10/mystical-not-aescetic-response-to-pope.html. We all recognize, I hope, that there are distinctions between conservatives, traditionalists with a small t, and Trads with a large T. To my mind, conservatives and traditionalists are largely the same thing for most purposes, but as Shaw notes, Trads are in a different place.
  11. Shawn Tribe, Some Liturgical Thoughts for the NLM Following the Election of Pope Francis, New Liturgical Movement, March 15, 2013, http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2013/03/some-liturgical-thoughts-for-nlm.html#.U1sP0VdWOSo. Tribe astutely notes that “the idea of a ‘personal liturgical style’ is inherently problematic since the liturgy is no one’s personal possession to alter and shape at whim or will—not even a pope’s.”

The foothills of sedevacantism

Elsewhere, it was suggested that priests ordained in the postconciliar Rite of Ordination might need be “conditionally [re-]ordained (ordained in the Traditional Rite), taking the Oath against modernism … Were they ordained in the true Traditional Rite or the new rite? It makes a world of difference as the form (words) were completely changed in the new rite of ordination! … Every prayer in the Traditional Rite which stated specifically the essential role of a priest as a man ordained to offer propitiatory sacrifice for the living and dead has been removed.”

I agree that the Oath against Modernism should be reinstated, and I agree that the postconciliar revisions to the form promulgated by Paul VI in Pontificalis Romani are unfortunate, but  to the extent that the validity of the revised form is questioned, rather than its felicity, we are, literally, in the foothills of sedevacantism.

My interlocutor expressly denied being a sedevacantist, but this is a train that has only one destination. If the new rites of ordination and consecration are invalid, Jorge Bergoglio’s ordination in March 1969 was perforce invalid, and his consecration as a bishop in June 1992 was also invalid—ergo (long story short) he cannot today be the legitimate Bishop of Rome. 1 It inexorably follows from the denial of the validity of the postconciliar Rite of Ordination that Jorge Bergoglio is not today the legitimate incumbent of the Roman See.

And the tear won’t stop there: If Bergoglio isn’t, either someone else is, or the See is vacant. The last person elected to the papacy before Bergoglio was Joseph Card. Ratzinger, but he can’t have been a legitimate pope either: He was ordained under the old rite, but consecrated a bishop in March 1977, which, if invalid, means that he was a priest when elected to the Roman See, and thus was never the legitimate Bishop of Rome absent a re-consecration which didn’t happen. 2 So we go back further. The last person elected to the papacy before Ratzinger was Karol Card. Wojtyla, pope John Paul II, who was both ordained (November 1946) and consecrated (September 1958) under the old rite, and who was therefore a bishop when elected to the Roman See, and thus did not require reconsecration and was thus legitimately the Bishop of Rome. But he’s dead. If the last person to be elected to and to legitimately hold the Roman See is dead, perforce the See is vacant—which is the very definition of sede vacante-ism.

If one’s theory produces the result that there is not currently a legitimate pope, even if that is not the focus of the argument for which the theory is advanced, I am at a loss to see how that’s not sedevacantism.

The “priesthood is a constitutive element of the Church,” 3 and it follows that it’s impossible for her to prescribe an invalid form of ordination. (And that’s assuming arguendo that it’s possible for her to prescribe an invalid form for any sacrament.) That act must participate in the ecclesial charisms because if God permitted her to get that wrong, one generation could cut the throat of all subsequent generations by breaking the apostolic succession, thereby permitting the gates of hell to prevail against the Church. 4 Whatever concerns we may harbor about the new ordination rite, it must be valid, because if it is not, virtually every priest and bishop walking around today was invalidly ordained, millions of Christ’s faithful have been led into inadvertent idolatry, and, as the numbers of priests ordained and bishops consecrated under the old rite dwindle, the valid celebration of the sacraments and the apostolic succession itself disappears into the twilight.

It’s important to look at the theory that underlies one’s argument, to understand where that theory goes, and to realize that you can’t ride the theory only so far as you want your argument to go. This theory has disturbing implications that should make one think twice.


  1. The long version might go something like this. I am aware of no prerequisite in ecclesiology that a man must be a bishop when he is elected Pope, and there is (unhappy) precedent for that happening in Urban V, Celestine V, and Leo VIII. But since it is obvious that the bishop of Rome must be a bishop, it is obvious that a layman, deacon, or priest elected to the Roman See must be consecrated (and ordained, if a layman or deacon). Therefore, if Bergoglio’s original ordination and consecration were invalid, he was a layman when elected to the Roman See, and while that election is not invalid, he must be (legitimately) ordained and consecrated before he can legitimately assume the Cathedra Petri. Which, of course, he has not been, and will not now submit to, which means that he is not today the legitimate Bishop of Rome.
  2. His appointment as cardinal was also canonically illicit, because while a pope can waive the requirement imposed by John XXIII that a cardinal be a bishop, as was done with Avery Card. Dulles, John Paul II didn’t waive that requirement in Fr. Ratzinger’s case, for the good and sufficient reason that he thought (mistakenly, of course) that Ratzinger was a bishop. Do you see how far one can tumble down the insane rabbithole of sedevacantist logic, and how fast?
  3. Simon Dodd, Straight Talk on Altar Girls, 1 MPA __ (2011).
  4. I should note that it is conceivable that such an act could be done in the Last Days: If the second coming is imminent, it follows that there is no need for a continuing, valid priesthood. I am generally skeptical of arguments premised on the rapture happening before teatime.

Universæ Ecclesiæ 19

In a footnote to my post yesterday regarding the goings-on at Fisher-More College, I noted number 19 of the PCED instruction Universæ Ecclesiæ, which reads: “The faithful who ask for the celebration of the forma extraordinaria must not in any way support or belong to groups which show themselves to be against the validity or legitimacy of the Holy Mass or the Sacraments celebrated in the forma ordinaria or against the Roman Pontiff as Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church.” I noted that this text, on its face, “is a threshold requirement; its application to a continuing community is unclear.” I write today because Scott Alt and Diane Korzeniewski have each written posts that assume an “ongoing state” interpretation that is structurally and textually implausible, and at odds with the mens of the legislator, Pope Benedict. 1

As with most of the canonical issues involved, the waters are murkier than the categorical tone adopted by each side would suggest. 2 Alt and Korzeniewski seem to assume that UE19 requires that its condition must be met throughout—at every moment during—the lifespan of a “Summorum Pontificum celebrating community,” so to speak; if at any time that requirement is no longer met, the group loses its authorization and either ceases to exist ex vi facti or places its “certification” in jeopardy, subject to revocation by the granting authority. Alt says: “Last year, when … Francis curtailed the usus antiquior for the Franciscan Fri­rs of the Immaculate, it was because the[y] … had been plagued by a faction … who were suppress­ing the Novus Ordo. To do that is against the norms of [UE19]. [Pope Benedict] … allowed broader celebration of the Latin Mass [and] also forbade [usus antiquior-]Only­ism among those who say it and attend it. If you are an Only­ist, you have no right to the Latin Mass.” And Korzeniewski wonders “if that is what Bishop Olson of the Diocese of Fort Worth is acting on, in light of what is coming out on Fisher-More College. The instruction doesn’t tell the bishop how to respond, so it’s open to interpretation. ¶ What consequences does PCED foresee if such a conflict arises? Does it preclude withdrawing permission for the TLM?”

I doubt that that interpretation is tenable. Some traditionalists misread Summorum Pontificum by wrenching from their proper context the words “the priest has no need for permission from the Apostolic See or from his Ordinary,” omitting the important fact that they are describing what used to be termed “private” Masses. The “ongoing requirement” interpretation makes the same mistake. It has textual difficulties, and it forgets that Universæ Ecclesiæ is not a freestanding document but an authoritative commentary on Summorum Pontificum. This context matters.

Part III of Universæ Ecclesiæ, in which numbers 15-19 are located, sets out “specific norms” that clarify “the proper interpretation and the correct application” of Summorum Pontificum. Article V section 1 of the latter (hereinafter “SPv§1″) explains the circumstances in which members of the faithful who do not presently have, and who want, the celebration of the usus antiquior in their parish may petition for it: “In parishes, where a group of faithful adhering to the earlier liturgical tradition exists stably, let the pastor gladly receive its petitions to celebrate Holy Mass according to the rite of the 1962 Roman Missal.” 3 The stated purpose of the subsection containing UE15-19 is to clarify the meaning of SPv§1. Thus, UE15 explains how we are to interpret the terms “group of faithful” and “exist[ing] stably” not always and everywhere, but in the specific contest of SPv§1.

The meaning of UE19 is tethered to the same context. Because SPv§1 deals with the threshold requirements for a petition by a stable group of the faithful who do not yet have the usus antiquior in their parish and who are seeking to get it, it would be strange to read UE19 as dealing with an entirely different question, stating an ongoing requirement for the valid celebration of the usus antiquior in parishes where it is already celebrated. Thus, the ongoing-state interpretation disconnects the interpretation from the interpreted text.

And if it is structurally implausible given the relationship of UE19 to SPv§1, it is textually implausible because UE19 itself frames its application in the nature of a threshold test: “The faithful who ask for the celebration.” Thus, the ongoing-state interpretation effectively rewrites UE19: “The faithful who ask for attend the celebration of the forma extraordinaria must not in any way support or belong to groups which show themselves to be against the validity or legitimacy of the Holy Mass or the Sacraments celebrated in the forma ordinaria or against the Roman Pontiff as Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church.” 4

There is a third problem, too: Even if we had the authority to untether UE19 from SPv§1 and re-write it by interpretation, the ongoing-state interpretation would not be an attractive use of that authority. It is a niggardly interpretation of the mens of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict, 5 insofar as it pictures Summorum Pontificum as providing only a benevolent allowance that exists at the indulgence—suffrance, really—of the local ecclesiastics, an exceptional situation that exists only insofar as it does not get out of hand, and one over which hangs the sword of damocles, always ready to drop. This can be reconciled with neither the letter nor the spirit of Summorum Pontificum and its accompanything letter.

* * *

It may be appropriate to add a postscript. If there is a thinly-veiled paranoia in the reactions of Bp. Olson’s traditionally-inclined critics, there is a seething undercurrent of contempt for the usus antiquior and its adherents in those who have criticized the critics. “The college brings in wack job like Gruner, shuts down the ordinary form, thoroughly politicizes the EF, attacks their bishop, fails to mention that the EF is available within walking distance of the school,” Mark Shea complained an ill-considered colloquy with me on Facebook. (Shea subsequently removed his side of the conversation; fortunately, some of it has been preserved.) King, Shea insisted, was using the usus antiquior to “poison[ ]” the students. He has deleted his most inflammatory comment, but you can infer what it was from the version preserved in my rhetorical inversion of it in a reply to him: “These people hold clown Masses [read 'extraordinary form’] and I’m supposed to give a shit that they feel butthurt when the bishop doesn’t let them use the [extra]ordinary form to keep poisoning the hostages they call ‘parishioners’ [read 'students'] against the Church?”

Why is this significant? Because it reveals an attitude, a cast of mind that I would suggest is shared by Olson and by many of the “critics’ critics.” (A strange locution, I know, but what else can we say?) In Alt’s post, it pokes through in this sentence: “Bishop Olson is not try­ing to keep students from the Latin Mass, but rather to save them from an environment that has been indoctrinating them into [TLM-]Only­ism — a form of ‘Catholicism’ at odds with the teaching of the Church.” In Korzeniewski’s post, it lurks in this sentence: “[Students] at Fisher More College are seemingly being indoctrinated in a brand of Catholicism that is not in harmony with Church teaching.” 6 Latent in comments such as these is the attitude that, well, if those weirdos want it that’s all well and good, but it must be watched carefully and with suspicion, especially when the question is exposing other people to it. There is a strange recusant-era suspicion of the malus illecebrosus Missae Romanae, the “seductive evil of the Roman Mass.” In a spirit of benevolent liberalism, we will tolerate it and its adherents—but only so far, and only on a short leash, a leash that must be yanked good and hard if anyone’s getting too rowdy.

And that’s such a weird attitude. If you made similar accusations about the ordinary form—”it’s all well and good if you like it, but it’s likely to lead people astray, and so must be watched with concern”—you would be accused of precisely the kind of intolerant bigotry that those now making such assumptions about the extraordinary form decry in its adherents. One simply can’t imagine a bishop suspending the ordinary form in an oratory in his diocese because he thinks that it’s poisoning the souls of his flock. Once we invert the rhetoric, its strangeness is unmasked.


  1. See Alt, Why Latin Mass Onlyists are Destroying the Latin Mass, Scott Eric Alt, March 6, 2014, http://scottericalt.com/why-latin-mass-onlyists-are-destroying-the-latin-mass, and Korzeniewski, Did Fisher More College run afoul of Universae Ecclesiea 19?, Te Deum Laudamus, March 4, 2014, http://te-deum.blogspot.com/2014/03/did-fisher-more-college-run-afoul-of_4.html (both last visited March 6, 2014).
  2. How Summorum Pontificum interacts with canon CIC 1225 is complicated. Article 2 of Summorum Pontificum authorizes any priest to celebrate Missæ sine populo (canonically-speaking, although not necessarily literally) according to the usus antiquior. It is in that provision and context that we find the language “the priest has no need for permission from the Apostolic See or from his Ordinary.” We probably read Article V as contemplating Missa cum populo, but since a parish is not usually without a church, see 1983 CIC 1214 et seq., and since a bishop’s authority over a parish Church is distinct from his authority over an oratory (compare canons 1219 and 1225), that isn’t helpful here. And all this assumes that a university chapel is an oratory in the first place—because if it isn’t, then what, canonically-speaking, is it? Precisely to avoid this nettlesome thicket, my previous post assumed without deciding that the bishop acted lawfully.
  3. The latin text reads as follows: “In paroeciis, ubi coetus fidelium traditioni liturgicae antecedenti adhaerentium stabiliter exsistit, parochus eorum petitiones ad celebrandam sanctam Missam iuxta ritum Missalis Romani anno 1962 editi, libenter suscipiat. Ipse videat ut harmonice concordetur bonum horum fidelium cum ordinaria paroeciae pastorali cura, sub Episcopi regimine ad normam canonis 392, discordiam vitando et totius Ecclesiae unitatem fovendo.” The translation is mine. As I mentioned in an earlier footnote, insofar as this provision follows articles that deal with the celebration of Missæ sine populo by the priest, and the admission of the faithful to what are canonically “private” Masses, it makes sense to read it as dealing with the circumstances in which the faithful may petition for regular, scheduled, and public celebration of the usus antiquior in their parishes, rather than extraordinary, private, or ad hoc celebrations.
  4. “[A]mendment may not be substituted for construction.” Yu Cong Eng v. Trinidad, 271 U.S. 500, 518 (1926).
  5. But cf. UE13.
  6. Korzeniewski may rejoin, I suppose, that she did not mean to imply that the usus antiquior was the instrument of indoctrination, but that premise is necessary in order for her post to cohere. Her intention is to defend Olson: “I’m amazed that [the previously-quoted] part of it is being minimized and the bishop’s actions magnified. If these reports are true, then even if the bishop acted imprudently and was overbearing, much greater weight should be placed on things that, if true, are grave. Where is the concern for a students’ rights to learn what the Church teaches at a Catholic institution over what an administrator believes it should teach? Where is the concern over parents rights to know their kids are not being taught strange teachings at a self-described faithful institution?” But what does any of that have to do with the usus antiquior absent the assumption that the usus antiquior is an instrument of those problems?