More evidence of the wedge being driven between the Benedictine and Franciscan pontificates can be seen in the recent disclaimer/clarification of Michael Voris in which he refuses to publically criticize Pope Francis. In itself this is only a small example of the difficulty, but it is also another instance of a mounting problem manifesting itself at various levels: doctrinal, liturgical, pastoral. Voris knows he is on the cutting edge of the problem.
You might legitimately ask why I think his refusal to publically criticize Pope Francis is a problem. I don’t. But Voris does find himself to be part of the wedge between Pope Benedict and Pope Francis, and in my estimation he has not really got himself out of it. Let me explain.
First off, I should give credit where credit is due. Voris has drawn a line that he will not cross and I believe he is right to do so. I may not agree with him on where the line ought to be, but hats off to him for having taken a stand on this point. But I also think he have done better by producing a Vortex episode on the matter, because it is the Vortex more than anywhere else that Church Militant TV takes up the sword against the princes of the Church. He should have done it himself on camera where it counts. Still, at least Church Militant TV did something. That being said, I do not believe Voris has gotten himself out of the problem he is trying to address.
Michael Voris finds himself in the midst of a difficulty experienced by many who have gone before him and have “evolved” in their traditionalist thought. Sedevacantists will point out the inconsistencies of other traditionalists, like the Lefebvrists who wiggle around the issue of “papal heresy,” while the Lefebvrists point out the inconsistencies of those who complain about the postconciliar Church but refuse to publicly lay the guilt at the doorstep of the pope. What each of these groups criticizes are positions that many of their members previously held and then abandoned as inconsistent and hypocritical.
During the dialogue of the SSPX with Rome, Voris was singing the Levebvrists’ praises and now he refers to them as “soft sedevacantists.” Part of the reason is most likely because he sees the failure of the SSPX to sign the doctrinal preamble as a real fault on their part. But part of it may also be because he sees his friend and former fellow supporter of the SSPX Louie Verrocchio (and perhaps others) evolving a little too quickly in too dangerous a direction for his taste.
So it would seem to me that public criticism of Pope Francis is the Rubicon that for the moment Voris refuses to cross. But by what logic would he stop at the banks of that river? If the bishops are not off limits, why should the Pope be?
To answer this we must first be frank about an objective problem that has no clear-cut answer, regardless of what the extremists on either side of the matter claim. What are we to do about prelates that are teaching heresy, or otherwise giving grave scandal? Anyone who is familiar with the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas ought to have no doubt that subjects have a right to correct their “prelates” when it is a matter of the faith being denied or falsified. They also may do it publically when it becomes necessary to resolve an issue of public scandal. But one must also be clear about the adverse effects this has on ecclesial communion, when on the one hand, there is dereliction of duty on a grand scale, involving many prelates over a significant period of time, and a resulting reactionary resistance or counter-revolutionary movement that begins to operate outside of ecclesiastical oversight and sometimes directly against it.
One has only to meditate on the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch, on the unity of the Church based on obedience to the bishop, or remember the habits and exhortations of St. Francis of Assisi, regarding his refusal to criticize priests, to know that we are speaking of a delicate problem.
In an extended period of crisis, in the face of the dereliction of duty, men feel themselves justified in policing the magisterium, and the longer this goes on there progressively develops an anti-ecclesial habit of mind. When the operative principle in regard to one’s consideration of the responsibilities of the magisterium is that of suspicion and criticism, something like a parallel magisterium comes to power. To point this out is not to apportion blame. There is plenty of blame to go around. I only wish to show that the matter is not as simple as some think. And there are real dangers to the Church in the toleration of self-appointed heresy hunters.
I believe Michael Voris’ decision reflects his acknowledgment of this danger. Taking it to the Pope, in his opinion, is taking it too far. But the problem is that Church Militant TV’s lengthy explanation only serves to confirm that they see many reasons to criticize Pope Francis, just as they see many reasons to criticize the bishops. In a way, Church Militant TV makes this their one criticism to absolve themselves of criticizing any further. And in the process they make sure we all know that, like good traditionalists, they are definitely not “ultramontanists”—what other traditionalists would “papolaters.”
It seems to me, though, that along with these assurances there is a bit of blindness as well. Take for instance, this—and yes, this really is from Church Militant TV:
Faithful Catholics need help in persevering through their anxieties and doubts, not continual reinforcement and encouragement of those troubling states. Less faithful Catholics form their judgments of “traditional Catholics” through the lens of perceived dissatisfaction and unhappiness with the Church and the Holy Father. Those who relentlessly criticize the Church, Her leaders, and especially the Holy Father, do immense harm to the Church Herself and discourage both potential converts and those struggling to stay faithful through the crisis that is all around us. The sad reputation of “traditional Catholics” as angry dissidents from virtually everything in the Church today is as well deserved as the reputations of those rightly described as modernists.
If I weren’t me, I would be speechless. Are they really that blind over there? Does Voris watch any of his videos? Maybe the video editor at Church Militant TV, who watches the Vortex clips over and over again, ought to say something to his associates. Anyway, I completely agree with the paragraph. I just have a hard time believing that it is being used as an argument by Church Militant TV to justify stopping short of criticizing the Holy Father.
Well, maybe this represents a change of heart. I hope so, but I suspect it does not. I would like to think this is the devolution of traditionalist thought. I hope it is, but it may more likely be an after the fact hesitation of Voris & Co. as they watch the vortex they have created rip the faithful apart and leave them without any trust in the magisterium.
Unfortunately, Bishop Fellay stated many times that his hope was that trust in the postconciliar Church would disintegrate as a result of his dialogue with Rome and the new traditionalist advent resulting from Summorum Pontificum. Mission largely accomplished.
H/T Mary Griffin