The Crypto-Lefebvrist Dodge

The following is my response to Professor Roberto de Mattei (Italian, English) who recently came to the defense of Rorate Caeli. I note that neither de Mattei nor Rorate Caeli link to my original critiques (1 & 2).

Professor Roberto De Mattei, like New Catholic at Rorate Caeli, believes that my use of the term “crypto-Lefebvrism” is meaningless. They say that it is name-calling directed at faithful Catholics. In particular, de Mattei believes that my intention is to demonize those whose only wish is to be guided by Tradition and the Magisterium, and who under that guidance decide for themselves when the reigning Pope is to be followed and when he is not.

I have been saying for a long time that Bishop Fellay, the superior of the Society of St. Pius X, has been highly successful at executing his intention for the now failed dialogue with Rome. That intention, which he explicitly stated a number of times, was that the work of the Society should serve to weaken the influence of Vatican II. Roberto de Mattei has labored at this right along the Society of St. Pius X.

Obscuring the Hermeneutic

No one in this discussion seriously questions that Tradition and the Magisterium must be the criteria for the Interpretation of Vatican II. The problem is that de Mattei and others, like the Society of St. Pius X, claim that the “hermeneutic of continuity” proposed by Pope Benedict (December 22, 2005) was an invitation to debate the merits of the Council, which is simply not true. Whereas those of us who accept the hermeneutic of continuity, do our best to find the continuity between the Council and Tradition, rather than insist that the modern Magisterium, including Pope Benedict, prove to us that such continuity exists.

De Mattei goes so far as to say that if my use of the term “crypto-Lefebvrism” is justified at all, then that would make Pope Benedict himself a crypto-Lefebvrist, because he is the one who proposed the “hermeneutic of continuity.” I cannot imagine a more convoluted interpretation of Pope Benedict’s teaching than this. Indeed, the very last words of Benedict XVI on Vatican II contradict it.

Just days before his abdication, he talked about the virtual and the true Council and how the virtual Council brought ruin and obscured the true Council. But now the virtual Council has been broken and the true Council manifests itself as a “true force” for the “true renewal of the Church.” He said that it is our task now is “to work so that the true Council, with its power of the Holy Spirit, be accomplished and the Church be truly renewed.”

My position here is in accord with that of Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, who on several occasions was named by Pope Francis the best interpreter of Vatican II. One of those occasions was his response to our (the FI’s) question about the Council. In an interview the Archbishop stated that de Mattei

ignores the interpretation Pope Ratzinger gave in the famous discourse of 22 December 2005 to the Roman curia: the Council has represented continuity and not discontinuity. De Mattei espouses the cause of discontinuity and rupture. In this sense, he does not accept that which is the measure of the Pope’s hermeneutic. And it is true that he then takes refuge in a corner, noting that he writes as a historian and not a theologian, and then says he does not address the hermeneutical question. But he does not realize that the reasoning of Benedict XVI is necessarily based on history.

Indeed, de Mattei espouses the discontinuity and rupture of the Council, ignoring and contradicting the teaching of Pope Benedict, not defending it.


In fact, de Mattei reckons the Council as “the Revolution” (with a capital “R”)—not simply the disastrous postconciliar implementation, but the Council itself. Following Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, he proposes a Counterrevolution (with a capital C). This is his a priori position in respect to any question regarding Vatican II.

Thus, he does not deny the validity of the acts of the Council, but neither does he believe that the Council can be really separated from “the Revolution.” This simply is not the position of Pope Benedict. Nor is it the purely academic position of a historian, but rather it is the agenda of a man of action who uses the media and political maneuvering to achieve his end. He even speaks of these things under the aegis of Angelus Press of the SSPX, with whom Rorate Caeli cooperates as well.

I certainly have no objection—nor should I—to the debate among academics concerning the relative merits of the Council or of postconciliar liturgical changes as long as it is done in an ecclesial manner. And I hope de Mattei and Father Lanzetta learn something from Archbishop Marchetto, with whom they are in dialogue.   I believe this is a very good thing.

But I have to wonder how much this dialogue is an effort to learn, and how much of it is an occasion simply to push the agenda, which is not an academic but a counterrevolutionary one. On the other hand, I am quite sure that de Mattei would like to see our Institute become a full-fledged cog in his counterrevolutionary machine, all the while justifying it under the title of “constructive” and “in-depth” theological and historical inquiry.


When Roberto de Mattei publishes on Corrispondenza Romana he is the propagandist and politician par excellence. For instance, he has stated that our friars would be justified for disobeying the Holy See in the matter of the restrictions regarding our use of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, and has encouraged friars and sisters to leave the Institute if the Holy See does not capitulate to his (their) demands. He also gave an interview to one of the most rabid anticonciliar news outlets, expressing his opinion that the canonization of John XXIII was invalid. In these matters, he is not acting in the capacity of an academic in the service of the Church, but as a counterrevolutionary. And so he is when he attacks me.

In fact, Roberto de Mattei, as much as he contends “crypto-Lefebvrism” to be a term without content, could not find himself in compliance to the modus operandi urged on the Society of St. Pius X by Archbishop di Noia. Just as the dialogue between the Society and Rome was disintegrating, Archbishop di Noia, at the time, Vice President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, wrote to the Society:

It has been a mistake to make every difficult point in the theological interpretation of Vatican II a matter of public controversy, trying to sway those who are not theologically sophisticated into adopting one’s own point of view regarding subtle theological matters.

Further, quoting the Instruction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Donum Veritatis, which specifically treats of the responsibility of theologians, Archbishop di Noia warns that a while the academic has a duty to make known to the Magisterium his conscientious concerns regarding non-infallible teaching that seems to be problematic, the theologian

“should avoid turning to the ‘mass media’, but have recourse to the responsible authority, for it is not by seeking to exert the pressure of public opinion that one contributes to the clarification of doctrinal issues and renders service to the truth.”

As Archbishop Marchetto notes, de Mattei takes refuge in the corner, by denying he is is saying anything theological. But just has Pope Benedict’s hermeneutic of continuity is based on history, so Roberto de Mattei’s rejection of it has immediate theological consequences.

Loving what the Church Loves

But my problem is not fundamentally with Professor Roberto de Mattei the academic historian, but with Roberto de Mattei the propagandist and politician, especially as it regards the way in which he has—to quote my superiors—“instrumentalized” our Institute. Since he is not a professional theologian or cleric, he doesn’t come under the same hierarchical control by which theologians and clerics are bound.  But that is precisely the point.  On this he follows the example of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, who used his position as lay historian and propagandist to operate outside of the control of bishops.  Thus, de Mattei continues to be the head of the spear in the resistance against the Holy See’s efforts to renew the Franciscans of the Immaculate.

Even now, De Mattei and Rorate Caeli characterize those who support the efforts of Fr. Volpi, Apostolic Commissioner of the FI by the will of the Holy Father, as “dissidents.” All the while there are friars, who following the encouragement of de Mattei, subvert the work of the Commissioner—and the Holy Father—and spread unfounded rumors that the representatives of the Holy See who established the Commission as well as the Commissioner himself are the enemies of the Church.

But thanks be to God, Pope Francis, who is nobody’s fool, has taken a personal interest in our welfare, even working to find us a house in Rome, as we are being evicted by our former benefactors. He also fully supports Fr. Fidenzio Volpi in his work as Apostolic Commissioner.

Roberto de Mattei states:

The ultimate criteria of judgment for a Catholic must be the one of the Church: to love and hate what the Church loves and hates: loving the truth in all of its uniqueness and integrity and hating error in all of its multiplicity of expressions. Orthodoxy and heterodoxy remain the final measure of judgment which Christian Reason must be subject to.

Yes, and this means thinking with the Church and being faithful and obedient to the Vicar of Christ.

The full measure of the damage to our institute caused by Roberto de Mattei ought to be more than evident by now, even to those friars who are encouraged by his support. No good will come of it.

This opposition is not against “a few dissidents,” nor against just the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Apostolic Commissioner. It is against Pope Francis. And he who eats the Pope dies. This has been verified over and over again. I pray that those who have been radicalized among the traditionalists finally learn this lesson and I sincerely hope that Roberto de Mattei, as well as New Catholic and Francesca Romana at Rorate Caeli will truly love what the Church loves and hate what it hates.

It is time for them to stop opposing Pope Francis and his work to renew our Institute.


7 thoughts on “The Crypto-Lefebvrist Dodge

  1. That essay from de Mattei was rather infuriating. You won’t be surprised to learn that I don’t think crypto-Lefebvrism is a beneficial category. I think it risks encouraging a hermeneutic of suspicion when talking with our fellow Christians that can war against proper charity. We should take people at their word, and if people claim to deny a thesis of the SSPX, e.g. that the revised Mass is evil, I don’t think we should assume that the person is being disingenuous or read into their words more radical ideas hidden behind them. But the category of crypto-Lefebvrism is based off the thesis that Traditionalists in general show one face to the world and another face to fellow Traditionalists and utilize mental reservation, if not outright lies, to do so. Of course it’s reasonable that someone would express opinions to friends that he would not express to the world, but I try not to interpret people through a hermeneutic of suspicion and dis-ingenuousness. Assuming people are hiding their real radicalized opinions does a disservice. I myself know many people who have a broad range of legitimate opinions on disputed questions, but they hold these various opinions genuinely, openly, and with charity. The fact that some have adopted the tactics of the SSPX does not mean that all have, and the possibility that some are being disingenuous does not justify a more general attitude of suspicion. But back to the topic at hand..

    Agree or disagree with your term, you did, in fact, define it, and your definition is not all that difficult to find. Cypto-Lefebvrists, if my memory serves me, are those that profess obedience to the Pope openly, but privately take it upon themselves to determine which parts of the living Pope’s magisterium to accept or reject based off their own interpretation of tradition. Even if this definition is a little off, de Mattei did not try IN THE LEAST to even offer your definition and refute it. He made no attempt to understand or make distinctions. His style was bombastic and magisterial and hardly addressed anything that you had actually said. He dismissed you in a way that you did not dismiss him in your reply. That he (and r-c) reflects badly on them– no doubt they didn’t want to drive traffic your way.

    When I saw the headline, that de Mattei was replying, I was hoping he would reply to some of the accusations you’ve made about him– that he was very close with the founder, influenced the former governance, and has been mounting a campaign against obedience, the order, and the Pope. But he didn’t actually reply to anything you said. All he replied to was the word “crypto-Lefebvrism,” and that reply did not take into account your definition of the word.

    de Mattei’s style is problematic.

    • Joseph Anthony,

      I understand your concern about the use of the term and I do not place myself beyond criticism, especially in matters of charity. But on the other hand, while I have tried not to generalize, I think it would be foolish to ignore the issue, especially, for me, insofar as it is very much part of the problem which my Institute now confronts. But you are right and we should not make assumptions.

      De Mattei will not deny those things because they are verifiably true.

      I should say to be clear that I think you refer to my definition of “traditionalism,” though the manner in which you express it would be better attributed to “cryto-traditionalism.”

      I would say “crypto-Lefebvrism” is constituted by a fundamental agreement with the SSPX in private and inconsistent double talk in public with the purpose of furthering the cause without taking responsibility for it.

  2. “This opposition is not against “a few dissidents,” nor against just the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Apostolic Commissioner. It is against Pope Francis. (…) I sincerely hope that Roberto de Mattei, as well as New Catholic and Francesca Romana at Rorate Caeli will truly love what the Church loves and hate what it hates.
    It is time for them to stop opposing Pope Francis and his work to renew our Institute.”

    This hope is probably vain. Such people are convinced, or affect to be convinced, inter alia, that Francis is the Antipope. Cultivating a “sky-is-falling mentality” and a “perpetual persecution complex” (Father Angelo), is very useful to the rise of certain political ideas , values and cliques. Look to the East.

  3. In observation, if one follows the writings, reactions, and protests of Professor de Mattei, the more tightly the term “crypto-Lefebvrism” seems to fit him.

    Good Pope Francis is warding off a huge split in the church, by refocusing the FFI on the Marian teachings of St. Francis, the complete magisterium; and by being obedient to teachings of his brother Popes.

    Am I wrong? I think Pope Benedict’s Summorum Pontificum states:
    “If an individual community or an entire Institute or Society wishes to undertake such celebrations (TLM) often, habitually or permanently, the decision must be taken by the Superiors Major, in accordance with the law and following their own specific decrees and statutes.”

    Shouldn’t the Founder have consulted with the General Community of the FFI before summarily imposing the Traditional Mass on all? This would have been an action in accordance with the laws of his own Institute?

    This might have lead to discussion, and an evolution of the charism, as a community, towards traditionalism; if that was the way it was heading, rather than what has happened.

    Was he afraid of asking? Or did he just feel he had the right, as an ultimate Superior?

  4. Saint Francis celebrated in the Traditional Latin form.

    Death to the enemies of Tradition!

    Hunt them down in the chanceries and strangle them of their resources!

  5. Pingback: I Believe in Ghosts, or Even More on Crypto-Lefebvrism | Mary Victrix

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