In a “featured” article on the newspaper’s website, The Remnant has proclaimed that “Satan has made his move. He has the See of Peter,” and Bergoglio is “his tool.” And to make the point abundantly clear, Ann Barnhardt tells us that the pope is a “Diabolical Narcissist Peronist-Fascist”; he has committed a “massive crime against humanity,” one that places him above such evil-doers that he ends up “personally responsible for the most loss of human souls to eternal damnation, above Luther, above [M]ohammed, above Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha), above Paul VI Montini.”
And of course there can only be one response to such evil: Pope Francis must be “deposed and anathematized for being a heretic.” And who is to carry out this sentence? It must be “those bishops remaining who still hold the Catholic faith” called together in an “Imperfect Ecumenical Council.”
One would hope that a publication that claims to be a bastion of orthodoxy would not be a place to find a call for schism. But I can see no other way to interpret an open call for a rump group of bishops to depose the pope.
And like all calls for schism, it is placed in such vile language as violates every standard of charity and fidelity. All schismatics share a common vile vocabulary and a common low rhetoric. This is not surprising, since as Thomas Aquinas tells us, schism itself is an offense against charity (ST, IIa IIæ, 39, 1, ad 3).
The Limits of Propriety
Now, I am the last person with a right to lecture anybody on charity, but I think I can say something about propriety. And what I can say is this: I am a man living under authority, the authority of those upon whom hands have been imposed, beginning with the hands of the Apostles. I am not such a fool as to think they are anything but what they are. I suppose that half are fools and few are saints.
But for all that, they possess the authority of the Apostles. This is not to say they cannot be opposed on this or that; it is to say they cannot be deposed, save on competent authority, and I can’t think what that authority might be when it comes to the Vicar of Christ. But I am pretty sure that authority is not an “Imperfect Ecumenical Council,” which can only mean, not the College of Bishops acting in unity, but a rump group of bishops acting in rebellion.
It is similar to the situation in Vietnam: I did not follow the lieutenant because I thought he was the best man in the platoon; I followed him because I thought he was the lieutenant; he had those butter-bars on his collar. And it was not a good time for Proof-Texting the Field Manuals and Making Up Your Own Mind.
Likewise, I do not follow the bishops because I think they are the best, I follow them because I think they are the bishops; they have those funny hats. Oppose them on this or that issue I must, because I happen to have the training to do so. But there are lines that must not be crossed. And after all, I could be wrong; they could be right. It must be admitted: they might be better men than me.
In the last analysis, we owe the bishop, and the Bishop of Rome, charity, obedience, and even docility. This docility is not of course servility, because even the worst order—or especially the worst order—needs to be carried out with intelligence and creativity. But in the end, it needs to be carried out.
There is a reason it is called The Church Militant.
What I see most of all in all this is the evil of Private Interpretation once again rearing its brutal visage. It is as if they are saying that Any Plowman Can Interpret Pascendi, and pass his infallible judgment on bishop and pope after supplying the appropriate proof-texts. We have been here before. In fact, we never left it. The same errors always occur in monotonous succession and lead to the same place.
What really impresses is the comic-opera buffoonery of the whole thing. Of course, no serious person will take them seriously, and it will come to naught, will end in the absurdity in which it begins. But in the meantime, it will lead many souls astray; teach the weak that this is an appropriate mode of discourse and an appropriate line to cross. It will not build up the Church, but work to tear it down.
And what is the point of leading these poor souls astray? Does Michael Matt, The Remnant’s editor, really suppose that the “orthodox” cardinals were just waiting for the clarion call from an American weekly newspaper to overturn the Pope and re-impose the Latin Mass? Suppose they do get their wish and Bergoglio is deposed, resigns, or (as he must do at some point) dies. What will change then?
Nothing! The same college that elected him by two-thirds vote will elect him again, or someone very like him. I see no evidence that the cardinals are in revolt, just waiting for The Remnant to raise a banner to take up their positions on the barricades of the Via Appia.
And who are these bishops who will participate in this “imperfect ecumenical council”? The ones judged by The Remnant to be “orthodox.” And what is the test of this “orthodoxy”? Why, that they would vote to depose Francis, of course. But Michael Matt knows as well as I that there are no such bishops, or not so many that you would need the fingers of one hand to count them. This “ecumenical council” would be “imperfect” enough to be held in a phone booth.
The Absurd Call
So why issue such an absurd call? This does not arise from Catholic culture, but from clickbait culture, the need to drive readership by whatever means necessary. It is to build up the circulation of The Remnant by tearing down the unity of the Church. Michael Matt is trying to become the Donald Trump of Traditionalism by appealing to the worst passions of his audience and saying the most outrageous things.
Vile memes may be bad for the soul, but they are really good for circulation. Perhaps the new motto of The Remnant ought to be, “Schism: It’s not just for sedevacantists anymore.”
The biggest tragedy is that there is much to work with, with this Pope. Almost every page of Evangelii Gaudium and Laudato Si’ fairly drips with contempt for individualism, subjectivism, relativism, capitalism, and all the other evils of modernism.
R. R. Reno was correct when he said Laudato Si’ “is perhaps the most anti-modern encyclical since the Syllabus of Errors, Pius IX’s haughty 1864 dismissal of the conceits of the modern era.” But rather than give the Holy Father a charitable reading, and working with him where their concerns coincide, they have elected to advance the cause of our enemies and to make with them a common enemy of our pope.
The Traditionalist Ism
Now, I fully understand and indeed sympathize with the traditionalists. Like them, I hold in great reverence the traditional forms and beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church, particularly the Mass, whether the Latin Mass or (my preferred rite) the Byzantine. And I am firmly repulsed by the casualness and, too frequently, the liturgical abuses of the “New Mass,” not to mention the studied ugliness of modern church architecture. And like them, I have devoted my life to fighting the evils of modernism.
Yet I have never been able to call myself a “traditionalist.” The problem I see is that the “ism” turns too quickly into an ideology and acquires its own agenda, an agenda that ends up doubling back to cancel out the original concerns.
G. K. Chesterton put it this way, “Men who begin to fight the Church for the sake of freedom and humanity end by flinging away freedom and humanity if only they may fight the Church.” Changing this slightly, we can say, “Men who begin to fight Pope Francis in the name of anti-modernism will fling away anti-modernism if only they may fight Francis.” And that seems to have happened when they cannot even join with the pope to fight what in Laudato Si’ he calls the myths “of a modernity grounded in a utilitarian mindset (individualism, unlimited progress, competition, consumerism, the unregulated market).”
And who can fail to note the irony that on the eve of the five-hundredth anniversary of Luther’s famous 95 Theses that split the Church apart, some Traditionalists, with their own theses, want to do the same? And to make the irony complete, they seem to want a council to overrule the pope, which sounds a lot like the conciliarism they pretend to oppose.
There are many issues in the Church that need to be debated, and indeed, since the days of Saints Paul and James, the Church has always been something of a debating society. But there are lines that must not be crossed, if one is to remain a faithful Catholic. Debate, dialogue, discuss, argue, or even shout, as your personal taste in such matters dictates. But schism is never the answer.
For Further Reading
Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’
Ann Barnhardt’s The Die Is Cast: Bergoglio MUST Be Deposed. (We list this only because it’s the article John Medaille is discussing. The editors agree that it’s crazy talk.)
R. R. Reno’s The Return of Catholic Anti-Modernism
John Médaille’s Radical Traditionalism: The Fall of Triumph Magazine
David Mills’s The Bitter Sons Speak of Francis
Aaron Taylor’s Pope Francis’s Conservatism of Joy
Andrew Haines’ Why Domestic Tyrants Hate Pope Francis