A simple question for defenders of "THE Council"

Again and again, those who love the Traditional Latin Mass, the Mass supplanted by the Novus Ordo of Paul VI, are required to answer some form of the question, "Do you uphold the Second Vatican Council as a work of the universal Church, ratified by her bishops? Do you view it as valid? Do you accept its teachings, even though we agree that it was not dogmatic, as its own documents assert?" 

Anyone who is somewhere on the scale from "the Council in its evident results represents a super-dogma and I think it should be re-examined with a more critical eye" to "the Council was fine but was reduced to an amorphous 'Spirit' that makes me uneasy and has not quite borne the fruit it claimed would result from its implementation" finds himself required to preface any opinion or critique with an obligatory recitation of his credo, his "I believe" -- not in Jesus Christ, but in the Council.

But let us remember: The hand that strikes also blocks. The time has come to shed this defensive posture.

Martin Mosebach, in his First Things article responding to the promulgation of Traditionis Custodes in 2021, offers his usual insightful commentary. But perhaps the most important insight to help us overcome a fatally defensive position is this one:

"Francis appears to sympathize with the “hermeneutic of rupture”—that theological school that asserts that with the Second Vatican Council the Church broke with her tradition. If that is true, then indeed every celebration of the traditional liturgy must be prevented. For as long as the old Latin Mass is celebrated in any garage, the memory of the previous two thousand years will not have been extinguished."

A Christian ought to ground his faith in tradition. The Church Fathers are utterly unanimous on this. St. Athanasius exhorts us to have recourse to Scripture and to "the very tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning, which the Lord gave, the Apostles preached, and the Fathers kept.  Upon this the Church is founded, and he who should fall away from it would not be a Christian, and should no longer be so called” (Ad Serapion 1:28)

Therefore, let those who seek to suppress doctrinal and liturgical tradition answer the simple question: "Do you follow a hermeneutic of rupture? Do you hold that Vatican II broke with tradition?" 

Every thing they say must be prefaced with an answer to this question, and if the answer is "No, I do not," then every subsequent statement must be shown to be in continuity with tradition, as outlined in Sacred Scripture (see the letters of St. Paul) and the Magisterium. Or it must be rejected. 

It's a simple question. The conversation starts there. "Does Vatican II represent for you a break with tradition?"

Conscience is what makes the man

I wrote a piece for The Catholic Thing on Cardinal McElroy and the trap of rejecting the primacy of conscience just because he says he's for it. Spoiler, he is not.

Read it all here (mine is the second piece -- feel free to contact the editor and ask for it to be posted as a separate link so that you can more easily share it!): McElroy's Conscience Trap

Two spirited articles, against the call for self-silencing in ecclesial matters

Two spirited pieces for your perusal, one brief (but marvelously satirical), one long (and bracing), if you are getting demoralized yet again in this miserable pontificate by being berated and gaslit for standing up for tradition and, in short, Catholicism, in the face of contradictory, confusing, and really, abusive directives from the Vatican. 

First, the short one, from my husband, Phil Lawler:

Understanding the Vatican crusade against tradition

The Vatican “carried out a detailed consultation of the bishops in 2020” regarding the use of the traditional Latin Mass. Although we’ve never seen the results of that consultation, Pope Francis determined that “the wishes expressed by the episcopate” called for a crackdown on traditionalism. But the bishops who wanted that crackdown can’t be trusted to do it themselves.

 In a “synodal” Church, the Vatican listens carefully to all the faithful, and serves the needs of the diocesan bishops—in this case, by telling them what to do.

Second, the long one, by Sebastian Morello, reiterating all the things we've said for more than a decade at every step -- only, it all has to be said over and over, since new abuses are heaped upon us pretty much daily:

Yes, Francis is the Pope, and His Office Binds Him: A Reply

Recently, fellow writer for The European Conservative, Felix Miller, wrote a piece strongly criticising traditional Catholics who, in his view, have routinely been overly critical of Pope Francis. In the opening two paragraphs, three times Miller invokes the name of Satan to point his readers to the spirit he thinks is leading trad Catholics in their general attitude to current Church affairs.  

... Does Miller think that the faithful ought to just shut up and watch the Church they love, and the Faith that is Her gift to the world, be attacked by those who hold Her highest offices? Does Miller believe that Catholics shouldn’t criticise such abuses of ecclesiastical power, even though it’s their canonical right to voice their concerns (can. 212, sec. 3)? 

Trad Catholics like Kwasniewski have had recourse to this theory precisely to sustain their continuing recognition of Francis as pope whilst trying to show that the ongoing abuses of papal power during his pontificate may not possess the full authoritative force of his office. 

This latter point is especially strong for me, since my husband and I were dragged through the Catholic blogosphere five years ago for the same reason. I had posted on Facebook that Pope Francis is a bad pope precisely to make a distinction between myself and Phil and those who think Francis is not pope at all. This remark of mine provided the spark to set off the stake-burning of my husband for his book (which the main accuser, branding Phil a schismatic, of all the accompanying and merciful things, admitted he had not read), Lost Shepherd. 

We are merely on the tiresome, new go-round of this awful clown-house ride. But we must continue to offer all the reasons why we persist, because the alternative is the wrong one: simply subsiding and accepting that well, things are the way they are, and there's no reason to put up a fight -- our hierarchy deems it all so.

But, as Morello points out (and as I pointed out here and here and here), in the only really comparable cataclysm endured in the Church from within, the Arian heresy, resistance -- and especially resistance from the laity -- saved the day. 

Let me just say that it's beyond what anyone can endure to be taken to task for standing up, not even for oneself but for one's children and grandchildren, and for all those who, in Morello's words, 

have made enormous sacrifices and received astonishing mistreatment from their own bishops merely for worshiping as did their forebears in the Faith, and for protecting their children from the heresy preached or irreverence practiced at the local parish (sometimes necessitating travel over vast distances every Sunday). They’ve often undergone terrible bullying by the Church’s ministers precisely because, rather than deny that there’s a pope in Rome like the Sedevacantists or opt to be in a canonically irregular situation like the Lefebvrists, they chose to tough it out in submission to the Church’s law and Her hierarchy—undergoing frequent persecution as a consequence. Miller contributes to the bullying of these faithful Catholics and calls his hounding of them “a spiritual work of mercy.”

It was Fr. Mankowski who introduced me to the words of the poet Rabindranath Tagore, which I have quoted before and will continue to quote until the beatings stop, for they are more apt every day under this intolerable regime: 

“Power takes as ingratitude the writhing of its victims.”

Do read all of both articles for a good shot in the arm today, if you need to recover from all the scoldings!

By the way, as someone on Twitter pointed out (I'm sorry that I went by too quickly to credit), Bishop Robert Barron, a conservative Novus Ordo bishop not especially friendly to Trads if there ever was one, offered the SSPX the use of the chapel he has set aside in his diocese for worship in the usus antiquior. QED, the SSPX are not schismatic. 

Begin again this Lent

On my other blog, I posted about making your home's little oratory or prayer place. I did write a book with David Clayton about how to do this; it's not hard because you probably already have all you need to get started (and if not, our book is like a little kit), it doesn't have to be fancy, and you don't need to think about anyone judging you, because it's a traditional thing to have in your home.

This Lent is a great time to start on this project, and it's important because a place of humble beauty draws us in to prayer, and if we even desire to pray, we are already praying! Instead of relying on the abstract thoughts in our minds, we can have beautiful images that radiate the love of God.

In the book, which is called The Little Oratory: A Beginner's Guide to Praying in the Home, we also explain the difference between devotional prayer (such as novenas) and the liturgical prayer of the Church, The Divine Office. We give you help to get started on perhaps praying Vespers or Morning Prayer with or even just for your family. 

My Facebook friend Denise Trull posted a reflection on her Lenten resolution regarding this practice (which can be as little or as much as you desire, as a layman; perhaps just praying Compline with your children, for instance) -- and I asked her permission to share what she wrote, because it's very inspiring, informative, and beautiful:

This is going to be part of my Lenten efforts. To pray the real Divine Office. I love the Magnificat book’s format, but I find I am missing all these psalms. When I prayed it more regularly in times past I almost had them memorized. And parts of them came so easily to mind. Plus, it is the official prayer of the Church. It is Christ praying in a special way through me to the Father. 

I remember a talk given by an English Benedictine here in St Louis named Father Laurence.He was lucid,  knowledgeable, and obviously in love with this prayer as a true son of Benedict would be. 

He started with a quote from the beginning of the Liturgy of the Hours in the Instructions.   It made me think of the wonderful scene in C.S. Lewis's ‘The Magician's Nephew’ when the magnificent Lion sang the world of Narnia into existence and kept singing to make it fruitful.

"When He came to give men and women a share in God's life, the Word proceeding from the Father as the splendor of his glory, Christ Jesus, the high priest of the new and eternal Covenant, took our human nature and introduced into the world of our exile that hymn of praise which is sung in the heavenly places throughout all ages. From then on the praise of God wells up from the heart of Christ in human words of adoration, propitiation and intercession, presented to the Father by the head of the new humanity, the mediator between God and mankind, in the name of all and for the good of all".

The Divine Office is '' that hymn of praise" introduced by Christ to us from Heaven.  It is HIS prayer to the Father and he invites us to pray it to Him and with HIM to the FATHER.  The whole Psalter we are praying is actually Christ praying and simply allowing us to join in.  

Fr. Laurence also said this: 

"We are always heard because the prayer is HIS". 

So even if we are tired, even if we get distracted, even if we feel nothing.  IF we persevere and pray it faithfully, the Father ALWAYS HEARS IT because He hears His Son most of all and our voice through and with His.  That is so BEAUTIFUL.  

And more! We know He is the primary speaker. There are many times we pray the hours of the office and the tone of the psalms does not at all match up to our personal mood at the time. We might be very happy and joyous and be praying one of the lamentation psalms.  Or we may be sad and suffering and the psalm is full of joy.  This is to show us that it is not our personal prayer.  It is the prayer of Christ for his Church and the things that HE wants to be praying to the Father about.  He is the primary speaker.  We are merely invited to join Him.  

For me, this is just such a revelation and a comfort.  It shows me that he is quite physically there.  These are not my sentiments.  These are HIS sentiments.  It is like the spoken words show me that HE is very much present there beside me.  For the words are His and not what I would say alone. WE are praying His words together.  We are never alone.  He is right there singing with and through me to the Father. That fills me with such joy. 

The office. It is beauty and has the pageantry of a dance as the ribbons gracefully flow back and forth. And Christ, the Lion of Judah, sings His song to the Father through my voice and fills the world with the melodies of Heaven and continually renews the face of the earth.

Thank you, Denise. You have expressed the mystery of this liturgical prayer so well!  

Dom Alcuin Reid stands athwart Traditionis Custodes and its defenders

Three respected academics, John Cavadini, Mary Healy, and Thomas Weinandy, have written a five-part series in the Notre Dame Church Life Journal on the Novus Ordo, the Mass of Paul VI -- the Mass that the vast majority of Roman Catholics throughout the world attend. (The articles are linked here -- the last link gathers them together in one.)

This series is frustrating to read, because it assumes what it sets out to demonstrate, that the Novus Ordo is superior to the (in their view, following Pope Francis in Traditionis Custodis) superannuated Traditional Latin Mass; a premise that the authors seem not to understand is self destructing, as it undermines the ability of the Church to guarantee true worship, if it must discard as inadequate the form in which it was celebrated for Roman Catholics in a span comprising the greater part of its history. 

I commend to your attention this excellent response from Dom Alcuin Reid, published in OnePeterFive today: The One Thread By Which the Council Hangs: a Response to Cavadini, Healy, and Weinandy.

“Don’t touch that! If you do, everything will collapse!” The warning is clear enough. Any sensible person would rapidly desist, lest their one seemingly minor act bring everything crashing down, undoing the work of many days, weeks, years or even decades.

I am not sure whether these were the exact words used by a number of bishops at the beginning of the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, but, whatever words they chose, these bishops forcefully conveyed to him their opinion that he could not under any circumstances permit a wider use of the older liturgical rites without perilously detracting from the authority of the Second Vatican Council. “Don’t do it,” they insisted, “or the Council will seem to have been reversed and will lose its authority.”

Of course, Benedict XVI did “do it” with his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum (7 July 2007)—having first spent a cheerful morning or two telephoning many of the bishops who had previously shouted at him, in order personally to ‘explain’ that they had little or nothing to worry about. The world did not come to an end. The Church did not implode, and the Second Vatican Council’s true authority was not undermined.

Dom Reid has the confidence of one well versed in his subject, who is not academically or in any other professional way beholden to the regime built up around what he calls "the super-dogma" of Vatican II. He is exactly right, that those in the extraordinarily entrenched status quo live in fear of challenges to their received notions about liturgy -- that this "old, thin, and worn" thread will be pulled and everything will tumble down.

His freedom from human respect (a breath of fresh air, for these academics have throttled us with their iron grip on how we may think about the post-conciliar time) allows him to respond to the arguments (some of which, as you will see, is aimed at him) with what is readily observable to those not invested in the opposing narrative -- what even the National Catholic Reporter, that bastion of unorthodoxy, has on many occasions noted as "the hemorrhaging of Catholic youth" out of our Church. And, what supporters of innovation do not like, the popularity amongst the young of Tradition:

Calvadini, Healy, and Weinandy are honest in seeing that this poses quite a problem when there is at least one generation of Catholics, young and growing in number, for whom the reformed liturgical rites are practically unknown. They have discovered or even have grown up with the usus antiquior—the older liturgical rites—and they are now raising their own children accordingly, having been assured by popes and prelates across the world—even by the likes of the then Archbishop Roche[1]—that this was perfectly acceptable and did not in any way damage the communion of the Church; indeed, that it enriched it as an expression of that legitimate plurality that is part of the One Church of Christ.  

Today, he goes on, 

"... as repeated statistical studies from various countries demonstrate, the reformed liturgy has simply not delivered the ecclesial renewal promised. Promised? Yes: the assumption that guided (“motivated”? “sold”?) the introduction of the new rites was that if the liturgy were simplified, modernised, made more contemporary, then people would participate in it more fruitfully and a new springtime in the life of the Church would be ushered in. Alas, the opposite has proved to be true."

I highly recommend reading the whole thing. It is long, but bracing. His words are a tonic for the wilting spirit, especially as the attacks on Tradition show no signs of abating.

Gas stoves vs. Electric, an alarming anecdote

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is looking into banning gas stoves, and an uproar ensued. Now the president is saying that he is not for banning them and people in general are backtracking, but don't be fooled. 

No one is coming for the gas stove you currently have. But the administrative state absolutely will (and the article above says as much) go forward making regulations for the production of new ones and the fitting of hookups in new builds (forbidding them). So your freedom to have a gas stove will certainly be restricted in the future.

Here is my little story about the dangers of an electric stove, and how the CPSC thinks that is all a big yawn.

Far from worrying about the imagined harms of a gas stove, I wish I had one. I don't because I live where there is no municipal gas and I don't have propane. If I am able to renovate my kitchen, I will certainly get a propane tank and a nice, big stove with great big blue flames! 

As of nine years ago I had a pretty nice electric convection range. The oven worked very well and my bakes and roasts were always on point. The stovetop was, of course, sadly lacking, as all electric ones are. My water boiled aggravatingly slowly and my pans were hard to regulate. But I lived with it -- because I had to.

Until one day I happened to be in the kitchen (thank goodness) when the stove turned itself on. I noticed it heating up when it was turning red, actually, in the oven, so hot was it getting. 

There was no way to turn it off. None of the buttons or dials had any effect, and the outlet for the oven was behind it and unreachable, since the oven was getting very hot. My husband had to run down to the basement and throw the circuit breaker.

We thought that there was perhaps some fluke and shakily plugged the range in again. Again it turned itself on and wouldn't cancel. Of course we disconnected it entirely.

I contacted the manufacturer and they said that the malfunction would have to be repaired at our own expense. I bought a new range, of course. I wasn't about to pay to have this one fixed and then spend my time worrying about it burning a hole through my kitchen!

I contacted the Consumer Products Safety Commission, which you would think would be interested in an event that certainly could have burned our house down, had I not been present in the kitchen, and perhaps killed us all in our beds. 

The outcome of that interaction was... a duly noted reception of my file.

So it seems that the CPSC is interested in safety if it means exercising random, capricous power, and not if it means actually doing something about a dangerous ELECTRIC stove! 

The Record of Cardinal George Pell, RIP

 On Facebook, at the passing of the Cardinal I wrote:

Cardinal Pell has died, may his memory be eternal!

When he was the head of the Congregation for the Economy (investigating Vatican finances), he kindly agreed to endorse my book, God Has No Grandchildren.

Later, when the second edition with the pointed criticism of Amoris Laetitia came out, I asked if he was still amenable to keeping his endorsement -- it seemed only fair to give him an out from the position of opposing his boss.


He knew.

Bless him.

Phil wrote an excellent piece about him: Cardinal Pell's Long Shadow. 

His death brought up the past, and with it, amnesia as to the details but a memory of fault, especially in the secular media but also among Catholics. So I also linked to an article that carefully goes over the timeline and evidence about the sex abuse accusation, trial, conviction, and overturning that he endured. Here is the article (a condensed version of a much longer, detailed explanation) I linked to: Pell's Kangaroo Court.

As I said, 

My husband wrote an important book about the sex abuse scandal in the Church. Our family had dealings with a priest subsequently jailed for abusing many boys, including a lad who lived with us for a time. We are no strangers to the issue and have no illusions about who can commit this atrocity. Reputation alone leaves us cold. Our default position is to be skeptical.

The ONLY defense I will entertain is "it was physically impossible."

Now that Cardinal George Pell has died, people will be bandying about the old accusations as if they are true, simply because some were guilty. Let's be fair and just. Know what the case was about and why he was cleared. What he was accused of was impossible.

In other words, if anything, I'm disposed to believe accusations. But I know Pell was innocent because what he was accused of could not have happened. 

Some, when confronted with evidence that undermines their narrative, bring up other, older suspicions and accusations. I want to be sure to bring to your attention two things: first, the facts of what went on, and second, the fact that when he had the authority and in stark contrast to other prelates who did nothing, he set about cleaning house. He also admitted that he should have done more -- something else that other men in authority have not expressed. 

Here are the articles that delve into the situation in Ballarat that people are bringing up, as well as other sundry accusations. No one is perfect, many have a lot to answer for. I am convinced that the Cardinal did what he could. Read the facts for yourself: Misplaced Blame for Horrific AbuseGet Pell: the facts behind the Royal Commission headlines.

My experience with an abuser (alluded to above) shows me the reality of the situation, which is that by definition the perpetrator manipulates everything so that you doubt your suspicions and have no idea how to act on them, especially when you are not directly responsible. I really challenge anyone who judges the early Pell to be honest about confronting what he has done, himself, in a similar situation, and I assure you that we have all encountered it. Don't let yourself off the hook!

At the end of the day, we are left with the big picture, that Cardinal Pell was the figure in Australia and one of the few in the higher ranks in the Church in general who stood for certain counter-cultural truths about man, woman, and marriage against overwhelming political pressure. He had enemies who laid the groundwork for his destruction and nearly succeeded. Truly, if it had not been for the one righteous Justice (of three) on the Australian Federal Court, Mark Weinberg, being willing to tell the truth and point out the deceptions, the Cardinal would have died in jail. 

Some think that this would have been a suitable end for him, regardless of his guilt or innocence, so angry are they about the whole stinking business. While I share their general disgust, I don't think the particular position reflects well on their claim for justice. I think Pell was willing to do it, honestly. And that too speaks to his innocence.

Mosebach on Benedict

When the characterizations of Benedict XVI's pontificate (and, naturally, abdication) began to appear, I couldn't help thinking about the penultimate essay in Martin Mosebach's book, The Heresy of Formlessness (affiliate link), On the Occasion of the 90th Birthday of Benedict XVI. This essay captures the greatness of the man while expressing "disappointment," and, ultimately, thoughts of the patrimony of the Latin Mass, which he brought out of hiding for the people. 

So I was glad to see this remembrance in First Things: On the Death of Benedict XVI, for I knew Mosebach, a novelist and imaginative traditionalist, would again express what I feel, with the right touch of deep appreciation coupled with an honest sense of bereavement, not only at his death but at the resignation. 

His reflection adds to the previous tribute, as it takes into account the attempt, by Pope Francis, to obliterate his predecessor's work, especially in Traditionis Custodes. These passages about the "hermeneutic of continuity," the magnificent and inspired papal solution to the disruption of the post-conciliar time, so flagrantly abandoned by the current jackals in charge and so misunderstood by even well meaning guardians of tradition (understandably wracked with suspicion as they have become), are particularly needed now:

From his years as a cardinal, therefore, Pope Benedict saw it as his duty to refute the notion that Vatican II was a “super-Council” overruling all prior councils. Cardinal Ratzinger countered this idea of a “hermeneutic of rupture” with a “hermeneutic of continuity”—not because he was a troubled conservative but because he saw the Church as bound to a once-for-all revelation, to the tradition of the early martyrs and Church fathers. The Church was constantly to be reformed: For him this did not mean that it must measure itself continually against the social standards of the day, but that it must always take its measure from its Founder. As a historian, he knew only too well that the Church would have a heavy price to pay for having aligned itself too closely with “the spirit of the times.”

Accordingly, he was less concerned with revising Vatican II than with seeing it in the context of history, that is, locating it in the series of antecedent councils. So his view of the papal teaching office meant that, where Vatican II’s documents turned out to be ambiguous, they should be interpreted in the spirit of tradition. He did not intend to compel acceptance of such corrections; but, observing in his opponents a certain lack of both religious fervor and  intellectual acumen, he felt confirmed in his hope that the Church would one day overcome its postconciliar crisis—even if it had to dwindle to the small body it had been two thousand years ago.

The “hermeneutic of continuity” might have remained on the level of theory, had Benedict XVI not drawn from it one practical consequence that initially had a small effect on the life of the universal Church but eventually attracted bitter opposition. This was the renewed permission for the old liturgy that had been celebrated for more than fifteen hundred years. This attack on the liturgy, an attack unique in Church history that had not been foreseen by Vatican II, was devastating. Holy Mass, the most important feature of the visible Church, had forfeited the sacredness of the sacrificial mystery and was reduced to a sober, Protestant meal. The Church’s teaching office had not altered the theology of the Mass, but nonetheless a large part of the faithful had lost their belief in the physical presence of Jesus in the transformed sacrificial gifts of bread and wine. In religion, forms can be more important than doctrinal assertions; this anthropological insight was lost on the majority of bishops.

I recommend the whole piece.

Post-parodic government overreach

There is no way to parody the push from government agencies to ban gas stoves. We are officially post-parodic.

Using literally no threat to anyone's health or well being, our overlords are seeking to ban the use of a form of cooking employed by 40% of our population, rich and poor alike, and that number would certainly be higher if, like me, people could make the switch from their stupid electric stoves.

Toqueville famously said, "No sooner does a government attempt to go beyond its political sphere... than it exercises... insupportable tyranny."

Truly, it is insupportable tyranny for a capricious bureaucracy randomly to decide to invade the privacy of the home to impose its will on a matter that endangers no one. Did we embolden them by rashly and unreasonably bowing to mask mandates? Did we signal, somehow, that we were docile by accepting the harsh, laboratory-worthy, jagged light of LEDs without a whimper? Were we inattentive when they abused their power by making our other appliances inefficient and wasteful (viz. dishwashers)?

Well, whatever the reason, we are facing a looming intrusion we will come to regret. Bless Gov. Ron DeSantis for pointing out that in the recent hurricane, people would have been sunk without their gas stoves (something that troubles me in our frequent power outages here in the rolling hills of Central Massachusetts, and the reason I will convert to gas as soon as possible, though maybe I should consider a wood-burning range like my grandmother had)

"But Leila, you know, maybe there is something to the idea that gas stoves are harmful, as the experts warn us."

Please read this thread before you succumb completely to totalitarian brainwashing, because no, they are not harmful unless you try to use them in a hermetically sealed room. Please: 

Click on that to read the whole thing, all the way down.

Don't miss this:

Keep reading... there's this <headdesk>


I have an idea -- let's not let them do this!  


The death of Benedict means finally confronting ultramontanism

The passing of Pope Benedict XVI was, of course, not unforeseen; in fact, everyone, himself included, expected him to die during the first year after his resignation. Instead he lived for 10 more. But his death is a cause for sorrow, as it leaves us bereft and with a strange feeling of fatherlessness. I don't know how to characterize his life myself. I appreciate the memorials I have read so far. 

My husband Phil Lawler offers an obituary: 

Unfortunately, governing was not Pope Benedict’s strong suit. His greatest weakness as a manager was his tendency to assume the goodwill of others: to take it for granted that the prelates who surrounded him were honestly dedicated to their tasks, willingly carrying out his policies. He had denounced the “filth” that corrupted the priesthood, but he did not see—or did not know how to uproot—the corruption within the Roman Curia. Financial scandals rocked the Vatican, leaked memos embarrassed the papacy, subordinates resisted his policies. Eventually, Pope Benedict concluded that he lacked the strength, the stamina, and perhaps the decisiveness necessary to right the barque of Peter. So he resigned, in what I see as the one grievous error of his pontificate. His frustration was understandable, but when the shepherd leaves, the wolves begin to circle.

Michael Brendan Dougherty writes with spirit in defense of the great man (archived here if you are not a subscriber):

I predict confidently that he will be one of the only figures of his era to be remembered, celebrated, studied, and beloved in the future.  

In the near term, Benedict will be misremembered as a tough-minded reactionary, the “Panzer Cardinal,” when in fact he was a pioneering liberal, frequent innovator, and gentle-souled cleric. He will be mislabeled as a man whose reputation was fatally compromised by the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, when he was perhaps the sole figure of his era at the top of the church that took on the treacherous responsibility of reform — centralizing the handling of clerical abuse cases in his office and drastically speeding up the process of defrocking criminal priests (a project that has been thrown into reverse by his successor). 

Dom Alcuin Reid writes, "it is for us to thank him by learning daily from his humble and habitual recourse to love—even when our hearts are broken by others whom we thought we could trust."

Father Uwe Michael Lang writes of Benedict's liturgical legacy: 

His reticence as a lawgiver—for instance, there was no new editio typica of any liturgical book during his pontificate—could be interpreted as a lost opportunity. On the other hand, the fragility of legislative decisions was demonstrated when his immediate successor, Pope Francis, cancelled the provisions of Summorum Pontificum.

Against the odds, Pope Benedict did open perspectives for a renewal in continuity with the liturgical tradition, and these impulses have been taken up especially by younger generations in the Church throughout the world. This “new liturgical movement” Joseph Ratzinger desired has the potential to mend the torn threads of Catholic ritual. The best testimony to his liturgical legacy will be to continue his work with patience, perseverance, joy, and gratitude for his luminous theological mind and his long-suffering service to the people of God.

Bishop Schneider offers a concise and consoling summation: 

Pope Benedict XVI made shine brightly his episcopal motto “Collaboratores veritatis”, i.e. collaborators of the truth. With this motto he wants to say to each faithful Catholic, to each priest, to each bishop, to each cardinal and to Pope Francis as well: what really counts is the unshakable fidelity to the Catholic Truth, to the constant and venerable liturgical tradition of the Church and the primacy of God and eternity.

Jacob Phillips speaks of The Benedict XVI Generation:

Benedict XVI was always attentive and responsive to the needs of the present day. His own motu proprio [Summorum Pontificum] on this issue states that “young persons … have discovered this liturgical form [of the Traditional Latin Mass], felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them”. 

His contemporary moment presented a need for a more widespread celebration of this ancient liturgy. This was no attempt to get people running back to the past, but a response to the needs of the present. The modus operandi was to undo the rupture and discontinuity at work in the fact that, for many, the Church seemed to be alienated from its own past by restricting the ancient form of the Mass. He writes, “in the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.” 

Like children of divorce, the death of one of whose parents puts an end to fantasies of reconciliation, we Catholics are left with a strange sense of a closure that does not heal.

We are in the position of having something like a step-father Pope, a Pope who we have ample reason to think doesn't love us and is an enemy of his spouse, the Church. The child's dream that Benedict would speak up or offer an explanation for his abdication that would satisfy, as opposed to the one he gave, which seems so thin, is now buried with him. 

So perhaps we have the opportunity to confront the specter of ultramontanism, or hyperpapalism, now that we are left alone, so to speak, with Pope Francis. I have been wanting to write about a two-volume book set from Peter Kwasniewski for a while, called The Road from Hyperpapalism to Catholicism (affiliate link), and the death of Benedict seems an appropriate time to do so.

The centralization of authority in the person of the pope is a paradoxical issue. On the one hand, in a universe where human authority is fatally tainted by the Fall, we need Christ's promise that the Rock upon which He places His church is indestructible. Without authority, the claim to govern (and there always will be claims, no matter how purportedly individualistic the religion might be -- even Quakers have elders!) always becomes a matter decided by personality and power. Only a religion the Master of which died on a cross to prove His love can offer the model of "servant of servants" in authority, and that authority must be traceable to and explicitly established by Him. 

On the other hand, as Kwasniewski argues persuasively in the two volumes of The Road from Hyperpapalism to Catholicism, we now labor in a delusional matrix of papolatry, where every casual utterance of the Pope is taken to be on a par with or even higher than Scripture. We suffer the whiplash of trying to solve his contradictions, a kind of squaring of the circle that some have not quite accepted is impossible. 

Kwasniewski writes of John Henry Newman's prescient concern at the time of Vatican I, which codified the doctrine of infallibility, "that a party of 'ultramontanes' was busy pushing a theologically unsound, philosophically unreasonable, historically untenable, and ecclesiastically damaging version of papal inerrancy that threatened to confuse the pope's office with divine revelation itself, rather than seeing him more modestly as the guardian of Tradition and the arbiter of controversy." Newman didn't deny that the pope has the power to define matters infallibly; he questioned whether it was prudent to make a dogma of that power.

Hyperpapalism has odd manifestations on the ground. I have heard mothers of large families offer as a reason for having so many children, "the Pope tells us to." (I am not making this up.) Now, apart from the rather sad observation that the last pope to praise large families was Pius XII, who died in 1939, this is a strange thing to say. The pope can only encourage large families (if they be granted by God, for not every couple is thus blessed) as a result of generosity and an expression of the love of husband and wife, besides being the purpose of marriage, which is procreation (in response to the command given by God in Scripture, "Be fruitful and multiply"). He cannot order couples to have more children; certainly their begetting would seem to be less likely if his image is invoked as a prelude to the necessary act!

At minimum, it's simply normal for husband and wife to have children! What is not normal is to create of this natural consequence and virtuous response -- the joy, really, of a man and a woman making a family -- a sort of legalistic duty imposed by a remote figure of authority. The truth is that the pope exists to protect something quite outside of his whims or even personal thoughts however deep -- he exists to, in this case, safeguard God's original plan to redeem and restore the world to Himself through the intermediary of the man and woman, as they live out the gift of marriage and co-creation by bringing children into the world. The pope's role is to keep them safe, not to burden them with a task that doesn't originate with him. 

The pope, far from being a capricious monarch invested with unlimited powers, going around (as is now the case) scolding people for not recycling or having too many children, like rabbits, is a steward. I don't know about other cultures, but in the English-speaking world, the idea of an unjust or unworthy steward or false king is an enduring theme that captures our imaginations. From Robin Hood to Denethor in the Lord of the Rings, and in many of our fairy tales, we muse on and explore the tragedy of the steward who is corrupt or who yields to something other than the will of the (absent) king, often due to a forked-tongued advisor. 

One strange, perhaps forgotten episode early in the pontificate of Francis occurred shortly after the four cardinals (Burke, Müller, Brandmüller, and Caffarra) submitted their "Dubia," their (pointed) questions regarding his apostolic letter Amoris Laetitia. On Twitter, his close friend Fr. Antonio Spadaro, nicknamed "Francis' mouthpiece," posted a couple of tweets with pictures of Gandalf and the caption, "to bandy crooked words with a witless worm." Some, including me, thought at first that his account had been hacked. Others (including Ross Douthat) thought Spadaro was calling the Dubia cardinals worms. It seems, most tellingly of all for my false steward/Denethor comparison, that he was joking about critics' view of himself  -- which of course makes Pope Francis the hapless Denethor, who has led his people astray by forgetting the existence of the true King. Denethor's particular error is using the Palantír to probe matters beyond his ken, unwittingly turning his will over to Sauron. If it was a joke, it was one that had more than a dash of truth to it, as all humor does.

In general, we can say that in our legends, the steward easily falls prey to delusions of grandeur. Kwasniewski says that, beginning around the time of Pius X and due to modern popes' abuses of power, "Catholics came to view the pope as a god on earth, a divine oracle who could never be wrong" -- a view adopted in large part with the encouragement of the pontiffs themselves. "[In Pope Francis] the ruptures of his predecessors, which in them had coexisted uneasily with more traditional Catholic pieties, have found an unresisting and unmixed welcome." All exacerbated by our instantaneous, all-pervading media.

The first volume of The Road from Hyperpapalism explores the history of the papacy and its limits. The second focuses on the challenges of this particular papacy. There are dozens of essays and they are all of interest. I will point out one almost at random to recommend, from Volume 1, Chapter 13: Are the "Inopportunists" of the First Vatican Council Being Vindicated? Inopportunists were those who, like Newman, wondered if that council was on the right track. 

In this chapter, we ponder what I wonder how many are aware of, that encyclicals are a recent development in the magisterium? They came into fashion in the 18th century, before which time popes tended to single out doctrines and promoters of doctrines, by name, to be condemned. As Kwasniewski points out, this practice safeguarded the teaching office not only of the pontiff but of the local bishop, who was assumed, unlike today, to be able to handle "proclaiming the orthodox faith or taking on heretics without the pope leading the way."

Anecdotally, I notice that a tentative "is there an encyclical about that?" is a common response to a self-evident statement about the moral law. What have we wrought? Interestingly, older catechisms (that predate the Vatican II era) simply offer brief teaching on the 10 Commandments and urge the faithful to have a clean conscience. The assumption is that the Christian has the grace to act morally if he knows Scripture and the moral precepts, being united to Christ in the sacraments. I recall a discussion of a scandal in a seminary; the response, from a theologian, was to remark that the seminarians need a course on the theology of the body. My first thought was that they need to be made to memorize the 10 Commandments and lined up for Confession! Somehow we have off-loaded our inner, supernatural life onto a papal platform, making it accessible only by a quasi-academic pathway. Some go so far as to exclude all but theologians from any conversation about all these matters, so arcane have we made what was once plain.

The overall theme of The Road from Hyperpapalism is that we are undergoing a purgation for this error that is not as new as we think it is, and has only grown with the "pop star" view of the papacy, in many ways cemented in the long reign of John Paul II. The cult of personality was, we are discovering now, a high price to pay for the excellence of his thought and the depth of his piety. 

We have to free ourselves from a slavish dependency on the papacy, while affirming it as a necessary safeguard of authority. The problem goes to an excessively legalistic, rather than organic, interpretation of what the papacy is. Instead of seeing the pope as an almost god-like entity, separate in essence from the brethren (meaning all the baptized) he is meant to strengthen, we need to recover a more relational view of things, akin to a family in which the father's authority derives from his submission to a hierarchy he has not invented and which is not identical to his personal attributes; his role as protector and provider. 

Just as a father who arbitrarily and capriciously wields power against the supernatural interests of those entrusted to him quickly loses their respect, the supreme pontiff must remain aware of and devoted to the principle held in the Church and expressed by St. Vincent of Lérins: "Yet teach still the same truths which you have learned, so that though you speak after a new fashion, what you speak may not be new." This precept is backed by Scripture, which warns us, "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!" (Galatians chapter 1)

All that is valid, and well expressed in the two volumes of The Road from Hyperpapalism. But stepping back from the edifying details, we must recover the central gift of God in the New Covenant to us as followers of Christ: that we, all the baptized, are called to have the life of Christ within and thus to be able to act divinely, with divine goodness, as opposed to being mere keepers of the law, doomed in our flesh to fall short (as St. Paul warns in Romans chapter 7). 

Ultimately, this is the false promise of ultramontanism and hyperpapalism: while in practice it hides God's Law, which after all is written on our hearts as we learn from Scripture, from the faithful, by keeping their minds focused on papal decrees and even random remarks, it nevertheless represents a form of religion that will always fail. It is a false religion that keeps its adherents tied to rules and pronouncements "from on high" -- but not high enough. It distracts from the Gospel and from Tradition, offering instead novelties and ever-changing expressions of power to be submitted to.

Christ came, as Benedict of dear memory so admirably explicates in his Jesus of Nazareth, to reveal Himself as the Law incarnate, Goodness itself. The whole argument of that book, hidden to a certain extent in his gentle, explorative style (he speaks not in sound bites but in long paragraphs), is that it's this claim of Christ's that is so radical and such a stumbling block to the Jews, who rightly see their covenanted mission to be witnesses to that Law, but are blinded to the revelation that it has been made into a living stone, Himself. 

Christians are called to live in the freedom of being children of God, of being united, sacramentally, by means of Christ's blood, to divinity itself. “God became man that man might become God" -- no less an authority than Athanasius proclaims this shocking truth! We moderns are content to imitate His example; the ancients knew our destiny is to be incorporated in Him.

In his Introduction to Christianity, Joseph Ratzinger (later to become Benedict XVI) says:

"The essence of Christianity is not an idea, not a system of thought, not a plan of action. The essence of Christianity is a person: Jesus Christ himself. To become truly real means to come to know Jesus Christ and to learn from him what it means to be human." 

The Church must recover her mission to make us "become truly real." We are not exempt in some new, human dispensation from this mission, nor can we escape from it by waiting for the pope's latest proclamation. In God's challenging providence, this recovery will not be mild. We are, again, in the midst of a vast purgation, the likes of which we cannot see whole, but the parts of which we continually batter ourselves against with tears of frustration and anguish. The death of Pope Benedict is the closing of a door.

May we quickly find the right path to the truth; may God have mercy on that admirable, beloved, heart-breaking Holy Father. 

What is the duty of the ordinary Christian?

So many questions swirling around, about our relationship to authority in the Church, when that authority is going wrong. We can clearly see the result of dismissing authority full stop. Christ founded His Church and a hierarchy to govern it (this is clearly laid out in the Book of Acts).

But when the Gospel isn't being defended? Then what?

I recommend meditating on this beautiful sermon by St. John Henry Newman: The Gospel A Trust Committed to Us. You can also listen to it here (I don't know what the quality of the narration is). Print it out, take it to your prayer, meditate on it slowly. 

Ask for a copy of his collected sermons for Epiphany or your birthday -- they have nourished me for many years (affiliate link),

Your conscience is a real voice within and must be heeded. Know the 10 Commandments and the catechism to grow in wisdom. There are many good catechisms -- this one is short and to the point. A book to help you understand when to obey: True Obedience in the Church.