Second Guessing the Conclave Before It Happens

This brings us to a short meditation on our current pre-Conclave period. That there are in some sense factions among contemporary cardinals is clear. Tension among these factions ought to be quite intense, given the fact that the road that the Church will tread will be very different depending upon which of three possible “parties” comes out of the Conclave victorious: one that will follow Pope Benedict XVI’s lead, but perhaps more consistently brake the Revolution within the Church and ultimately realize that it must reverse it entirely; one that will more openly and enthusiastically join in the dismantling of the pitiful remains of Catholic Christendom; or one that will continue mindlessly to smile and praise the “fruits of the Council” as the Mystical Body of Christ is mocked, outraged, and reduced to utter impotence.

Dr. John Rao

Dr. Rao’s assessment is a good summary of the traditionalist/crypto-traditionalist habit of mind.  As a writer for The Remnant, he can hardly be characterized as a crypto-traditionalist, but I believe his tripartite division of the partisanship within the conclave betrays the evangelical bent of the crypto-traditionalists.  It is a bit of having it both ways in the interests of “conversion.”

So, according to Dr. Rao the three parties of the conclave are as follows:

  1. Party of Pope Benedict on Steroids
  2. Party of Modernist Dismantlers
  3. Party of Conciliar Disaster Denial

Rao and the crypto-traditionalists would have us believe that they are on the side of Pope Benedict, who they claim agrees with them in principle, but for one reason or another (lack of moral fortitude, blackmail from the homosexual cabal, fear of the Jews or whatever) has not found himself able to follow through with his own beliefs.

But this is where Rao wants to have it both ways.  The crypto-trads wave the Holy Father’s flag when it suits them.  Rao claims to be following “Pope Benedict’s lead,” but with perhaps with “more consistency” than the Pope himself.  Under the banner of the Holy Father and against those who wish to see the Second Vatican Council implemented properly, Rao hopes to stop the Revolution which is the Council and turn back the clock. This we are told is, in principle, the position of Pope Benedict, which he has not been able to apply consistently.

But more transparent traditionalists would say that this is just silly, because clearly the Holy Father has not abandoned his support of the Council at very fundamental levels of principle.  Take, for example, Pope Benedict’s most recent defense of interreligious dialogue, which traditionalists claim is undeniably contradictory to the position laid out by Pius XI in Moralium Animos.  Likewise, in his last substantive address on the matter of Vatican II, the Holy Father renewed his defense of the hermeneutic of continuity, which is hardly something that the traditionalists, such as Professor Roberto de Mattei, to whom Rao refers, except.  I wonder how far Dr. Rao will go to follow the following “lead” of Pope Benedict XVI:

It seems to me that, 50 years after the Council, we see that this virtual Council is broken, is lost, and there now appears the true Council with all its spiritual force. And it is our task, especially in this Year of Faith, on the basis of this Year of Faith, to work so that the true Council, with its power of the Holy Spirit, be accomplished and the Church be truly renewed.

If Dr. Rao were not trying to engage of boilerplate traditionalist propaganda he would more logically realize that there are actually four parties in the conclave to be reckoned with:

  1. Party of Benedict XVI’s Hermeneutic of Continuity in Reform
  2. Party of Trad/Crypto-Trad Counter-Revolution
  3. Party of Modernist Dismantlers
  4. Party of Conciliar Disaster Denial

In actuality, I believe the fourth party is rather small.  Rao tries to invoke Pope Benedict as his leader and places the hermeneutic of continuity in the Party of Conciliar Disaster Denial because that is what the propaganda requires.  The moment the traditionalists admit that the current situation is more complex than they imagine, and thus, that the solution is more nuanced, is the moment that their show is over.  In all actuality, those who are neither modernists or traditionalists are quite willing to engage in the reform of the reform.  They just wish to do in on the basis of the sound principles laid down by the Council and taught by the postconcilar popes.

Rao appears to be following de Mattei who in turn is following Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, founder of Tradition, Family and Property and whose thought has inspired more radical traditionalist organizations like Tradition in Action.   De Mattei and apparently Rao also, routinely refer to the Council as “the Revolution” (capital R) obliquely revealing their adherence to de Oliveria’s interpretation of history given in his work Revolution and Counter-Revolution. As I show in a previous post, de Mattei imposes an ideological framework on his historical analysis.  Therefore,  his conclusions are a priori inevitable: the Second Vatican Council was and has to remain a disaster no matter what a pope has to say about it.

So the “Conclave of the Media” has begun and the traditionalists are quick to point out that the progressives and deniers are promoting their cause in any way they can.  All the while, however, the traditionalists seem oblivious to their own campaigning, spinning, and preemptive interpreting of a conclave that has not even yet begun.

Indeed, de Mattei has things all figured out.  According to him, Pope Benedict made a mistake in abdicating, because he  was  passive “victim” (read “active proponent”) of the collegiality mandated by the Council.  De Mattei completely overlooks and minimizes the Holy Father’s stated reasons for abdicating because it does not fit his ideological framework:

But, most of all, Benedict XVI and his predecessor, even if very different in temperament, were victims of the myth of the collegiality of government which they both sincerely believed in, and so renounced taking on many responsibilities which could have resolved the problem of the apparent ungovernability of the Church. The perennial interest in the Papacy is in the charisma of the Office: the supremacy of government over the universal Church, of which the infallible Magisterium is a decisive expression.

Some say that Benedict XVI did not exercise his power in governing with authority because he is a meek, gentle man, who has neither the character nor the physical strength to face this situation of grave ungovernability. The Holy Ghost infallibly illuminated him, suggesting the supreme sacrifice in the renunciation of His Pontificate in order to save the Church. But we do not take into account of just how much this talk humanizes and secularizes the figure of the Supreme Pontiff. The government of the Church does not rest on the character of a man, but of his corresponding to the Divine assistance from the Holy Ghost.

If it were not for the fact that the traditionalists can only provide us with non-infallible contingent arguments for what they consider to be self-evident and obliging on the consciences of all, we should all be happy and grateful that have prepared us for the “worst.”  On the one hand they want us to have us realize that the Holy Father is assisted by the Holy Spirit in his deliberations, but then we are also to preemptively decide for the next pope what he is supposed to do under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Well, I should expect that there will be a great deal of disappointment among the prognosticators of the Conclave.  Unfortunately, the faithful are liable to be led astray by the know-it-alls.  Let the paranoia begin.  It all serves the traditionalist cause:

“You’ll know whether the pope is good by his agreement or disagreement with us.  And since Pope Benedict should never have resigned in the first place, in all likelihood we should expect the sky to be falling shortly.”

I agree that all this talk “humanizes and secularizes the figure of the Supreme Pontiff.”  But once again, the trads are blissfully unaware that they have convicted themselves in the process of pointing out the problem.

5 thoughts on “Second Guessing the Conclave Before It Happens

  1. Father,

    It’s unfortunate to see that you’ve decided again to bash traditionalists, in contrast with your attempts to try a more reasonable approach on other threads.

    I’d like to point out one serious problem with much of the argument, and that is the fact that your primary concern seems to be that traditionalists hold that their conclusions are “necessary” instead of (as you hold) contingent.

    In reality this is not at all relevant, nor is it the main issue which you seem to have tried to make it. The main issue is not whether traditionalist criticism of the postconciliar popes are necessary or contingent, but whether or not it is true.

    Your tactic is a bit like having a prosecuting lawyer lay out a detailed case proving that your client is guilty of murder. When the judge gives you time to speak, instead of making any attempt to overturn the clear proofs which the prosecution has offered proving your client’s guilt, you spend the whole time for the defense lambasting the prosecutor for being so smugly certain about his case, and arguing instead that it might still be possible that your client is innocent, and that the prosecution hasn’t proven its case to one of absolute necessity. But that’s not the point. The point is: did your client actually commit the crime?

    Let me give an analogy from one of the issues we discussed: John Paul II and the Koran. I’ll take 3 statements:

    1. The Koran contains blasphemies against Our Lord Jesus Christ (this is an undeniable fact).
    2. John Paul II kissed the Koran (another undeniable fact)
    3. To kiss a book containing blasphemies against Our Savior is objectively evil (a conclusion which no Catholic should deny, or would deny, unless a misguided sense of loyalty to the pope urged them to do otherwise).

    Now I think that the 3 points above are certainly true, while you will doubtless dismiss at least one as only “contingent.” But let me grant you that they are in fact contingent (I don’t agree that they are, but let’s grant it for the sake of argument). Even if my statements were contingent, the really critical thing here is this: are they true? If they are true then it doesn’t matter whether they are contingent or necessary. What matters is that they’re true.

    Now in general I don’t recall that you’ve offered any serious rebuttal to this point; the whole thrust of your remarks seems to be directed at what you perceive as traditionalist attitudes instead of traditionalist arguments. You haven’t seemed to address the truth question, which is the most important part.

    I maintain that the frequent tendency of neo-conservatives to slam traditionalists on a personal level with insult and name-calling, a tendency well in evidence in this post of yours, in fact suggests an implicit frustration with their own inability to offer serious rebuttals of traditionalist polemics. If you had good refutations then you would simply offer them, sans the constant personal attacks, which latter serve as rhetorical filler for the lack of calm and serious rebuttal. Someone who has an airtight or solid case to make against his opponent generally doesn’t need to call his opponents names: he simply makes his case and lets the force of the argument speak for itself.

    Here is an example:

    The moment the traditionalists admit that the current situation is more complex than they imagine, and thus, that the solution is more nuanced, is the moment that their show is over.

    The implication is that traditionalists are playing a game or putting on a show, that they are smug and arrogant, or overly simple, thinking to be open and shut what are really vague and highly “nuanced” situations (because we all know that determining the morality of kissing a book which blasphemes Christ is indeed a profoundly “nuanced” matter, no?). I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, Father, that gray is the devil’s favorite color. Christ Himself wasn’t much for nuance, it seems: “Let your speech be yea, yea, and nay, nay. And that which is over and above these is evil…He who is not with me is against Me.”

    Here’s another ironic claim:

    because it does not fit his ideological framework

    Father, with due respect, how is this criticism not appropriately directed right back at yourself? Your own arguments have been a long chain of question-begging appeals to authority. Not once do I recall you answering my question, whether there is even in theory any method, ever, by which you could be persuaded that a pope is in fact objectively, necessarily, provably, undeniably wrong? Your own ideological framework is apparently that no criticism of the pope ever sufficiently proves, that it always admits of an out, that a pope must be unconditionally obeyed, that anyone who uses the Church’s own teaching to criticize papal aberrations is a private judger or Protestant, and that it’s always safer to follow the pope, even when he’s wrong (though we can’t ever actually know with certainty that he’s wrong, because if we do, you’ll simply appeal to the hope that there might be some way of resolving the contradiction).

    So you’ve accused Mattei of arguing so as to pad his ideological framework. But Father, how is what you’ve done any different at all? Your own position is totally unfalsifiable. The pope must always be obeyed, because he’s always right, but even if you admit that he’s not always right, no one can ever point out when he’s wrong, because you will simply claim that his apparent wrong might still be a right. You’ve offered no way by which someone could dislodge you from this quasi-dogmatic position on a non-dogmatic matter, thereby falling into the trap of your own swipe at traditionalists: “the trads are blissfully unaware that they have convicted themselves in the process of pointing out the problem.” Those living in glass houses, Father, shouldn’t throw stones.

    Final comment:

    “You’ll know whether the pope is good by his agreement or disagreement with us.

    No, Father, this is a complete caricature of traditionalist arguments, and seemingly a very dishonest one. If you read my own remarks then you know that at every stage I appealed, not to the modern popes disagreement with me, but to their disagreement with past papal teaching. The criterion of judgment is not what I think, but what the Church thought for 2,000 years. The contradictions would exist even if I were never born to bring attention to them. Once more you insist on subjectivizing things which exist in the objective order, thereby making the Faith, in practice, completely unknowable, since it is put at the mercy of the reigning pope, who can change whatever he wants, upon which he will always find a willing group of obedient people ready to claim that his innovations must somehow be continuous with the past, even when they clearly are not. You do not allow past papal teaching to speak for itself or be settled, evidently, but demand that it exist in a state of flux, to be dug up and altered whenever a modern pope needs to do so to justify his novelties.

  2. Mike – I’ve followed the entire discussion up to this point, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that you are unwilling or unable to comprehend Father Angelo’s line of reasoning. This discussion seems to be morphing into an excersize in futility. Reiterating the same arguments does not give them greater credibility; neither does re-caricaturizing opposing points.

    “You’ll know whether the pope is good by his agreement or disagreement with us.”
    Since the retirement of Pope Benedict, I have heard of one religious priest who stated that if the new pope is not a traditionalist then he is going SSPX. On the one hand I completely understand the frustration experienced by Catholics who have suffered for years under a wave of dissenting modernism. I share the frustration. But what is befuddling is how otherwise orthodox Catholics can believe that defecting to dissenting traditionalism somehow translates to fidelity.

  3. Mike,

    I did not know the pope is on trial—maybe in your little world, but in the real world. I am not a lawyer, so I don’t have a client. For what its worth, though, your analogy has some merit.

    If anything is on trail it is traditionalist dogmatism. Both the prosecution and defense have contingent arguments. However, as you know, in this particular court the verdict is not rendered democratically through a jury, but through the judge who in this case is the pope. The case being tried here is whether or not there is a hermeneutic of continuity to be legitimately applied to postconciliar teaching. The judge/pope has heard the arguments and rendered his judgment. He does so not with the protection of infallibility, unless at some time in the future he chooses to invoke this power. However as de Mattei says, he nevertheless has a special illumination from the Holy Spirit. Whatever the quality of his decision in our eyes he has the mandate from Christ to make the decision.

    You are right, Mike, I have not entered into a discussion with you about the Kissing of the Koran and the other instances you have brought up and I do not intend to, because none of it is to the point and I have already explained why that is so. I am not going to do it again. The diversion you want to take is not going to happen. Period.

    I will agree with you, we can indeed act with certainty sometimes on conclusions rendered from a premise that is contingent. But in many cases, questions about facts and perceptions of facts are debated because they are inherently debatable. You kept bringing up “2+2=4” and “triangles have three sides,” because you claim that there is nothing about your conclusions that can be debated. This is simply not the case.

    I have presented you with arguments concerning some of your objections when they have touched upon matters of substance. I have also shown that there are others far more qualified than you or I who do defend postconciliar doctrine. But all of it is contingent and therefore inherently debatable. In the end the matter has to be settled by the pope. I am sorry, Mike, that just the way the Church, which Christ founded, works.

    Actually, Mike, I have said over and over that I don’t have everything all figured out. The only part of my argument that is not “falsifiable” is that the Holy Father is the source of unity in the Church and when there is controversy, it is his competence and jurisdiction to settle it. The fact of the matter is that traditionalist intellectuals and apologists regularly indoctrinate the simple faithful, impressing them with their knowledge and earning their faith and trust. These disciples are set against the pope without having the tools necessary to discern the matter on their own. Most people rely on what they consider to be the good judgment of others when they have to confront matters that are controverted. What seems reasonable to them actually involves a large measure of faith.

    You think you are saved from this because you read a text and then are convinced that your reading is the only reasonable interpretation it can be given. But in fact, there can be other readings shown to be reasonable, as is the case of Thomas Pink’s defense of ecumenism. But you can’t consider his reading as having even a remote possibility of being right because the traditionalist system implodes if you do.

    You accuse me of being mindlessly obedient to the pope. But you are mindlessly adherent to a contingent framework of less authority. So much so, that not only do you think you have better arguments than your opponents, you a priori conclude that any opposition presented must be false. I make no such conclusion. I just say that it is the pope’s business to settle the matter.

    In order for your system to work you have to prove your position metaphysically. But you can’t. In order for the Catholic system to work, the faithful don’t have to prove anything. They just have to have faith that controversies will ultimately be settled by the Holy Father.

    I am not the smartest guy in the room, but I am smart enough to know, for example, that you cannot prove that postconciliar teaching contradicts Mortalium Animos. That question is inherently debatable and is in fact debated. Thomas Pink’s argument, I find to be more compelling than yours, but proves nothing. It is the pope’s job to determine the matter.

    I am just leaving a record here with this post and linking to the comments that will take readers back to the other threads where these topic were previously discussed. I am not doing this again, Mike.

    God bless you.

  4. Steve,

    Your error, I think, is to hold that if I don’t arrive at agreement with Fr. Angelo, somehow I “haven’t understood him.”

    I assure you that I understand what he says quite well, since at least some of it was probably my own position at one time in the past. It’s not that I don’t understand what he’s saying. I do understand it, and it’s precisely because I understand it that I conclude that it is on some points quite wrong.

    You seem to assume that whoever doesn’t come ultimately around to your and Fr. Angelo’s way of thinking is the subject of a futility exercise, a lost cause, etc.

    You say that reiterating arguments doesn’t give them greater credibility. But I reiterate them because they haven’t been answered. They don’t need greater credibility if their original credibility hasn’t in any way been diminished.

    I would say the same to you as well: reiterating falsehoods doesn’t endow them with truth, and yet you have once again reiterated the falsehood that traditionalism is to be characterized as “dissent.” In fact the keystone of my argument throughout is that traditionalists are the only ones not at least implicitly dissenting from past, settled, unchangeable papal doctrine on matters like ecumenism and Modernism. If repeating caricatures doesn’t make them less caricature, Steve, as you yourself admit, then with due respect, I think you need to begin by putting your own advice into practice. Traditionalism is about remaining faithful to the the Church’s perennial teachings, against the attempts to introduce contradictory novelties. There is nothing about this which involves “dissent” from anything which Catholics are obliged to obey. On the contrary, the Church at Vatican I laid it down as a law binding all the faithful that no one, not the faithful, and not even the pope, can ever rescind from any once-settled Catholic teaching.

    God bless you.

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