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Sedevacantism, Americanism, and Feeneyism, Oh My!
Navigating the Circular Firing Squad.
If you are a "seasoned Traditionalist" you can probably skip the brackets.
[For the uninitiated, "Sedevacantism" refers to the opinion that, currently, the Catholic Church has no pope. Some "sedevacantists" think we have not had a pope since Pius XII, for various and sundry reasons. Others think, along with the author, that "pope Francis" never was pope, and the chair has been vacant since Pope Benedict died in 2022.]
[Americanism is essentially the idea that one must be active in politics to be holy, and that mere prayer and contemplation to the exclusion of all else is a deficiency in the spiritual life, and life in general.]
[Feenyism derives its name from Fr Leonard Feeney, who taught that outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation. Many people believe that Fr Feeney denied what the Council of Trent implied about "Baptism of Desire", but this is a mistaken notion. But Fr Feeney did most emphatically combat the proposition that people could be saved by living "a virtuous life" while being ignorant of Our Lord Jesus Christ, often referred to as "indomitable ignorance".]
Those involved in the "Traditional Catholic Movement" have undoubtedly, at one time or another, had to parry with the three issues that make up the title of this post. To say they are divisive would be a massive understatement.
Recently, I came across a post on "Catholic Talk", sponsored by The Catholic World Report, which I consider worthy of copious comment, because it so dramatically depicts the typical atmosphere in many "Traditional Catholic" circles, the land of Michael Matt's very insightful observation that "if ten Traditional Catholics were asked to form a firing squad, they would make a circle." So, without any further adieu, let us begin by examining this paragraph, quoted in full, not very far into the article.
"Upon my return [from a failed attempt at vocational discernment to my parent's home] in 2012, my family was walking around with candles and believed the earth was the center of the universe. My parents had become enamored with the writings of Charles A Coulombe and Solange Strong Hertz. These were two intelligent Traditionalists who had followed the logical trajectory of Traditionalist principles, and they were advocating ideas and doctrines which, interestingly, most Traditionalists would reject. Coulombe advocates for Feeneyism, and points to the Aristotelian philosophy of St Thomas as facilitating the Church’s betrayal of the traditional dogma 'extra Ecclesiam nulla salus' [No salvation outside the church]. Hertz branches out even more broadly, indicating that brick-making and electricity are of demonic inspiration, that the Church has compromised herself by accepting heliocentrism and democracy, and that these two led to universal salvationism. I did not quite know how to react, especially since I had studied encyclicals by Popes Pius XII and Leo XIII which contradicted Hertz’s narratives. Whose interpretation should I accept, the Popes’ or Hertz’s? Both made solid appeals to Tradition and Scripture. Had the Church of Rome gone off track even before Vatican II?"
First off I would readily answer that yes, Johnny, the "Church of Rome" had gone off track before Vatican II. One of this Wolf's ongoing disputes with the SSPX is the official party line that the whole pontificate of Pius XII was the epitome of strong and catholic government, and that things only went off the rails with Vatican II. However, many of the writings of Pius XII are contrary to Catholic thought, to say nothing of his many speeches and letters. Tragically, most Traditional Catholics are formed by a few scant writings from the popes between Pius IX and Pius X inclusive, with the Big Two being Quanta Cura and Pascendi, and are clueless regarding the overall history of the church since 1789, except for a few blips on the proverbial radar. And this mindset is continually reinforced by priests that ought to know better, but out of human respect stay within carefully circumscribed "party lines" of their respective organizations. And God help them if they "rock the boat".
As for Charles Coulombe, I can think of few better examples of a proud windbag who is so full of himself it is a wonder the pressure does not cause his innards to explode. Coulombe is instantly dismissive of anybody not agreeing with his romanticized (and highly inaccurate) portrayal of the "Christian Monarchies". But more to the point, I have read books by Coulombe where he carefully disguises his practice and belief in order to appeal to a more general audience, in what I am suspicious is an attempt merely at boosting sales. For such people, I have utterly no respect. Coulombe comes across as a narcissistic windbag, whose every word is inspired.
For Solange Hertz I have much more respect. Her research is certainly groundbreaking, and demolishes many mistaken notions of Traditionalists. She certainly is the bane of the Americanists, and utterly exposes the lie that the United States was founded on Christian principles. Nothing could be further from the truth. And while I do agree with Hertz that bricks and electricity have certainly been great aides in the demolition of Christendom, employing either bricks or electricity is not a sign of apostasy.
I would certainly agree with the author that, before deciding to become a total luddite and embracing the Amish lifestyle- and those who know this Wolf know I am very far along this road myself- people would do much better to enkindle the spiritual life. By far the easiest and most practical way to do this is to jettison the whole cycle of secular feast days and make the Great Catholic Feast Days the center of home life. How many "Traditional Catholics" know when the Feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist is? And how many even know what "Michaelmas" is, let alone when it is celebrated? Personally, I think it is much more radical to forgo the celebration of "Thanksgiving" and save the turkey for Dec 8th, Feast of the Immaculate Conception. And meanwhile, do penance during the season of advent rather than celebrating the "Holiday Season" from Thanksgiving to Christmas. And for even the average "Traditional Catholic", the Christmas spirit is long gone by the time of the Feast of the Epiphany, which is actually greater than Christmas and takes several weeks to celebrate in all its manifestations.
"Shortly after 'coming into Tradition,' my mom discovered Sedevacantism, which demonstrated to her several logical and historical problems with the doctrinal positions of the SSPX. These are what had prompted the first splinter group of priests to break away from the Society in 1983, called 'The Nine'. Among them were the now well-known Traditionalist priests Daniel Dolan, Donald Sanborn, and the late Anthony Cekada. They refused to accept the reformed 1962 Missal of Pope John XXIII, and believed that the ecclesiological position taken by the Archbishop and his Society was inconsistent with the Tradition of the Church. These priests were expelled, and lengthy legal battles over real estate ensued. Mom came to embrace their position as her own, although she continued to receive the sacraments from the SSPX chapel our family attended."
Some time ago, I watched a debate between Mr Jeff Cassman Br Peter Dimond on Sedevacantism, and watched Br Dimond demolish Mr Cassman. Now, I could have demolished Br Dimond merely by flipping the script and pointing out the errors and heresies of Pius XII. The whole problem with The-Pope-Loses-His-Office-Over-Heresy crowd is that very few popes would survive microscopic scrutiny. Yes, all of the "Conciliar Popes" starting with Good Pope John were certainly "a breed apart", and obviously departed from Catholic Tradition. But large cracks in the foundation had made their appearance long before Vatican II. My main dispute with "The Nine" is that several of them decided they must "save the church" by being consecrated bishops and to do so they used dubious "Bishops" from the "Thuc Line". While I generally agree with the actions of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre I absolutely reject any cleric who subscribes to the "Ordinations-R-Us" cabal who will ordain or consecrate anybody so long as the price is right. Even in 2023, the practice of simony is alive and well.
"Besides the SSPX chapel, where Mass was available only every other weekend, we would also attend Masses offered by the priests of the Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen (CMRI), which they would offer in our houses on the off-weekends. As my dad liked to say, 'We’re all on the same team.' This lasted until a parishioner snitched to our SSPX pastor, who threatened to ban us entrance to the chapel if we continued to open our house to the naughty Sedevacantist priests. This seemed very ungracious, considering the CMRI did not forbid its followers to attend the SSPX chapel. But perhaps it is to be expected in a turf war."
To be perfectly clear, my beef with the CMRI, as also the SSPV (a congregation contra-SSPX that several of "the nine" formed) is not their Sedevacantist position, but rather the resorting to dubious clerics for Holy Orders. The only thing I really ask of a priest is he be consistent. If he declares himself sedevacantist, he should exclude the name of Francis from the Canon of the Mass, and if he think Francis to be pope "happily reigning" then he should include him in the Canon. I would gladly attend either liturgy. Opinions concerning the Chair of Peter is not a mark of catholicity one way or the other, given these abominable times. And shame to both the SSPX and the SSPV for making the Church "One, Holy, Catholic, and Papal" rather than "Apostolic". Vatican I, or, rather, the "party line" following that council, distorted the role of the papacy, and, at some future better time, it will be fixed. In the meantime, we have, thank God, Our Lady of Fatima as our center of unity, and the Most Holy Rosary to sustain us.
"...The possibility of a second major split in the SSPX began to loom on the horizon. Lefebvre’s vacillations between acceptance and rejection of Rome had produced two kinds of priests, which we called 'hardliners' and 'softliners'. The tension between these two groups came to a head at the height of the Society’s discussions and negotiations with Rome. Three of the SSPX bishops wrote a letter to Bishop Bernard Fellay and the General Council, warning them that to make a merely practical agreement with Rome would be unfaithful to their founder’s mission and apostolate, and could lead to its destruction. They received a hot retort, which included an astounding and telling rebuke that their 'dialectic between the truth and the faith on the one side and authority on the other is contrary to the spirit of the priesthood.' How could they say such a thing? Was this dialectic not the foundation on which the SSPX rested, the guiding principle that gave the Archbishop his special balance between two extremes? Were his ordinations of priests and consecrations of bishops contrary to the spirit of the priesthood?"
Here we see an excellent example of the lingering "papal idolatry" in the SSPX. The papacy is the measure of all things, and not to be "in communion with the Holy Father" was to be an outcast. The "hardliners" referred to above were content to adhere to Catholic Tradition with confidence God would resolve all things. The "softliners" resented their "excommunicated status" and felt they were missing out on the work of the church in the world. Both sides, however, from this Wolf's perspective, were missing the main point- that this "crisis in the church" was foretold by Scripture, and that one should be perfectly content with the Providence of God. Instead, politics and factionalism were the main currents of the day, to the detriment of Holy Charity.
"The authorities of the SSPX tried to do damage control as they had done with 'The Nine' in 1983. Ironically, the first man to be expelled was the one who had been in charge of damage control for the first splinter group: Bishop Richard Williamson. Why was he expelled? For following the example of Archbishop Lefebvre, and refusing obedience to his superiors in the name of truth. Other priests started leaving the Society, many more than in 1983, where they coalesced to form a new 'resistance'. This included my own beloved Dominicans of Avrillé. What was I to do? The Society was my family, the one true “remnant” of the Church. But so were the Dominicans in Avrillé and the priests and bishop who had left. Should I stay with the first resistance, or should I join the resistance to the resistance? The emotional pain and confusion I went through during this time is indescribable."
This is a typical response by the typical Traditional Catholic in the SSPX, who has made an extensive emotional investment in the hierarchy and leadership of the SSPX. I, too, was affiliated with the SSPX at this time, which was about 2010. Bishop Williamson became a pariah after his famous interview with Swedish Journalists concerning the "Nazi Holocaust". That remained the real reasoning for the distancing, with everything else being more or less window dressing. This response, tragically, is facilitated by the SSPX priests, who constantly put themselves out as the last refuge amid total disaster, and who will not tolerate even the mildest of criticisms of their "hierarchy". They are often consummate hypocrites, critical- and very rightfully so- of the "Conciliar Church", but adamantly refusing to consider that Archbishop Lefebvre could have been wrong in any of his perspectives, as though their whole reason for existence would vanish in a puff of doctrinal smoke. Like the Pharisees and Sadducees of old, they are invested in "the establishment" and are wary of anything that might cause instability. They appear more devoted to the dinner plate and the community chest than the cause of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Fortunately, I had seen the problems with the "doctrinal discussions" of the SSPX as far back as 2002, and thought them to be a grave mistake. I was quickly coming to the conclusion that the SSPX leaders were not nearly as erudite as I had thought them thus far, having been employed by the SSPX essentially since 1991. The whole "Bishop Williamson Affair" had not caught me unawares. And what I thought most tragic was the utterly partisan spirit that manifested itself, the alienation of any dissent from the party line, and the absolutely untenable course events were taking in the light of the actions and teaching of Archbishop Lefebvre.
"Around this time, Mom had begun listening to a lot of talks by Gerry Matatics, and recommended that I listen to them. I had generally shied away from Sedevacantism, since the Fathers of Avrillé were staunchly opposed to it. But at this point, I needed options. I had to rediscover the true remnant. And after all, had not the famous Dominican Michel-Louis Guérard des Lauriers, the ghost writer for the Ottaviani Intervention, become a Sedevacantist? So I began my research. An especially powerful realization came to me when I read Fr Anthony Cekada’s article 'Resisting the Pope, Sedevacantism and Frankenchurch', where he states in conclusion that 'all traditionalists, therefore, are really sedevacantists—it’s just that they haven’t all figured it out yet.' It rang true. All my life I had prayed for the pope, seen his picture in the sacristy, or heard his name in the Mass…but in reality he was just a figurehead, a 'cardboard pope' as Cekada termed it. The SSPX (and SSPX-Resistance) was indeed Sedevacantist; not in theory, but in practice, definitely. They acted independently from the popes, whether the seat was vacant or not. Sedevacantism and the Recognize-and-Resist position were in reality two sides of the same coin. At least the Sedevacantists’ doctrine was consistent with their practice."
This paragraph comes from the anguished pen of one who has lost the whole principle and foundation of the Spiritual Life. Our Lady of Fatima appeared to three completely unlettered children. They had probably never even heard of the Council of Trent, let alone could they recite any of its anathemas. Yet they had the essence of the Faith. The Faith is not a collection of dogmas. Yes, dogmas are important, and have their place. Knowing the Faith is important. But practicing it is even more important. And we can be confident that the Holy Ghost will teach us the relevant and important truths. Meanwhile, what this poor young man is on is not a quest for God, but a quest for structure and heros. He bounds from one to the next, as do many Traditional Catholics. They have been trained that the pope is their hero and, when he fails, they continuously look for a replacement.
"I found another remarkable inconsistency in the writings of Michael Davies, a prolific apologist for Lefebvre and the SSPX. He wrote three enormous tomes about everything that could be imaginably wrong with the Novus Ordo Mass, only to write a little booklet directed at the Sedevacantists (I Am With You Always), where he argues that in its officially promulgated edition, Pope Paul VI’s Missal is free from error in faith and morals and protected by the Church’s infallibility in her universal disciplinary laws. Needless to say, Angelus Press does not offer this title."
Michael Davies, for all his brilliance and research, never escaped the Vatican I illusion concerning the "infallibility of the pope". Now, I could write paragraph after paragraph here, but the reader is referred to Fr James Wathan's epochal book "The Great Sacrilege". Suffice to say that the "New Mass" was the creation of the Masonic Lodges circa 1850, and everything post-Vatican II a prefabrication, a mere "Cover Story".
"While Sedevacantism seemed to bring more consistency, it certainly did not bring any consolation. In his talk 'Unauthorized Shepherds: Why the SSPX, SSPV, CMRI, and Similar Post-Vatican II Traditionalist Clergy Are Not Priests of Christ’s Church', Gerry Matatics convincingly makes the case that Traditionalist clergy can exercise no official ministry in the Church, based on the teaching of St. Francis de Sales in The Catholic Controversy. Bypassing the intricate canon law debates about epikeia and supplied jurisdiction, he challenges Traditionalist clergy to demonstrate how they have received either mediate or immediate mission. Of course, none can accept his challenge, for the simple reason that they have no proof of apostolic succession, the papal mandate (mediate mission) and they are not working miracles (immediate mission). Matatics conclusion: hopefully there is an underground Church somewhere in Asia, but in the meantime we’re stuck being “recusant Catholics” at home. Matatics is a brilliant example of intellectually honest and consistent Traditionalism. After converting to Catholicism before his friend, Scott Hahn, he then proceeded to research Tradition until he was alone in his house. I recalled what a priest had once told my parents: 'When you take Protestantism to its logical conclusion, you ultimately end up alone.'"
Quite some years back, this Wolf had a long, long discussion that lasted all afternoon with Gerry Matatics on the issue of Sedevacantism, with his collie jumping up on me and impersonating a lapdog. And I kept nodding my head and saying, "Yes Gerry, I agree with everything you say. Pope John Paul 2 did all those things. But the next day he could have gone to confession. Perhaps we need a light on the papal chest that is a steady green when all is well, and flashes red when heresy is being uttered."
The problem with The-Pope-Is-A-Heretic is the proposition is not static. You are not pointing at a picture and saying "This is Mt Everast." You are pointing at a television screen. One minute the sun is shining, the next the moon is out.
But more to the point, Gerry is dead right about the need for an apostolic mandate. Now, the SSPX claims a "supplied jurisdiction" and I agree with the position. Obviously, if a prelate gives an unjust decree or censure, one is bound to resist it if the good of souls is at stake. But on the other hand, the Apostolic Mandate is a very real thing. St Paul talks about the Apostle being SENT, not taking the mission upon himself. Obedience is a very important aspect of clerical life and discipline. Which is why I regard ordinations and episcopal consecrations made outside the structure of the SSPX with a very wary eye. And while I do not agree with the "home alone" crowd, I certainly know where they are coming from.
"I thus began a new search, in the place where I had least expected to find Christ’s Church. Was it messy and full of confused and broken sinners? Yes. But I also found something beautiful: reverent and sincere Novus Ordo liturgies, eucharistic miracles and miracles through the intercession of the saints, Catholics who knew and loved their faith, orthodox doctrine preached by good priests and bishops, and men and women with high levels of sanctity who had never attended a Tridentine Mass. The Church may sometimes appear disfigured, but she is alive! I also discovered a great and holy man whom I had always believed was a personification of evil: your fellow countryman, Pope St. John Paul II. Archbishop Lefebvre called this man an “antichrist,” and drew cartoons of him denying Our Lord and being summoned by two demons into hell. But I encountered a man who, though imperfect, loved Christ above all else and spent his life and pontificate bearing witness to him. Why had I been presented with such a caricature?"
I suppose there are "reverent and sincere Novus Ordo liturgies" out there. As recently as 2008, I happened across a Novus ordo parish that was apparently thriving and devoted to Our Lady of Fatima. To say that all Novus Ordo liturgies are full of clowns, dancing girls, and heretical balderdash would be to vastly oversimplify the apostasy and the current malaise. But on the other hand, this poor lad apparently never stumbled across the multitude of photographs in "Peter, Lovest Thou Me?" Calling John Paul II an "antichrist" is hardly a stretch. But I would agree that if the Archbishop was drawing cartoons about Pope John Paul, that would be most unbecoming of a cleric of his stature. Archbishop Lefebvre did say things I can hardly agree with, but that will be the subject of another post on "The Bearded One".
Allow me to conclude by saying that what I see here is a victim of his own research, and a stranger to The Simple Truth. Satan does not care how he gets us, and the way he ensnares many a Traditional Catholic is through logic and reason. They go to church not so much because God comes in The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to greet them, but so that they might socialize at Coffee and Donuts. Mass is just a formality they must persevere through before the Big Event, and meanwhile what most grabs their attention is the sermon, not the Silence of the Sacred Canon (which hopefully is not punctured by an enthusiastic organist). And so I have to endure, after Mass, the latest incarnation of a wannabe St Thomas on his soapbox, giving his listeners the latest Theory of How to Fix Everything.
So we have lost the pope, and the bishops, and, in many cases, even a priest. But we have the promises of Our Lady of Fatima, the Most Holy Rosary, and the Brown Scapular. With these, if we persevere, we shall conquer. Viva Cristo Rey!