I am about to cite to two (TWO!) articles in the National “Catholic” Reporter, both of which are by John L. Allen, and both of which have some good things to say.

Told you it was mass hysteria.

First, Cardinal Antonios Naguib, the Coptic Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt, is of the opinion that the January 1 attack on Coptic Christians widely attributed to Islamic fundamentalists may have been a false flag operation conducted on former President Mubarak’s orders. Food for thought. Read the article here.

Secondly, Allen blogs that “Traditionalists add spice to the Catholic stew“. Even that much praise and acknowledgement from an NCR writer seems a glorious thing. I will excerpt a few sections of that article, with my comments and emphases:

If ever an object lesson were needed in the complexities of running the universal Catholic Church, a recent interview with Bishop Bernard Fellay, the Swiss head of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, offers it in living color. It may be an especially apposite read for liberals, both inside and outside the church, who sometimes struggle to grasp that there’s actually Catholic life to the right of the pope.

Granted, although its bishops are no longer excommunicated, the Society of St. Pius X — which broke with Rome in 1988, when the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre ordained bishops in defiance of the pope — has no formal standing in the church (that might be stating it a little too broadly). Granted, too, we journalists probably pay more attention to the traditionalists than their real-world following might justify (he speaks of numbers, not of the truth to which they adhere, I assume), largely because they often say and do inflammatory things (real or imputed) that make great copy.

Even with those stipulations, the climate of opinion represented by the Society of St. Pius X nonetheless remains an important part of the broader Catholic conversation.

In terms of news value, the headline from the Feb. 2 Q&A with Fellay, posted on the society’s American web site, is that a round of talks with the Vatican is coming to an end without resolution — because, in Fellay’s view, Rome refuses to concede the “contradictions” between the eternal Catholic faith and the innovations introduced by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

Fellay also announces that two new stumbling blocks have emerged along the path to reconciliation: Benedict XVI’s plan to host an inter-religious summit in Assisi this October (as the next paragraph alludes, this isn’t really new), and the May 1 beatification of Pope John Paul II.

On Assisi there’s no surprise, since the Lefebvrites (and many, many others) lodged similar protests when John Paul II assembled religious leaders there in 1986, and again in 1993 and 2002, to pray for peace. (Their objection is the risk of syncretism, or the combining of different religious beliefs.) I think risk is an understatement. And don’t forget about scandal. And don’t forget about grave violations of the first commandment.

Facing yet another Assisi summit, Fellay calls on Catholics to pray that the “Good Lord intervenes in one way or another” — which some in Rome, by the way, took as a not-so-subtle prayer for Benedict to die (who? give me a break) before the event can take place (this is an uncalled for insinuation)— and in case that doesn’t happen, to “start making reparation now.”

What may be more counter-intuitive, at least for some (the same “some”, no doubt), is the fiercely negative reaction to the beatification of John Paul II, which Fellay defines as “a serious problem.”

Here’s why: According to Fellay, John Paul led “a pontificate that caused things to proceed by leaps and bounds in the wrong direction, along ‘progressive’ lines, toward everything that they call ‘the spirit of Vatican II.’ This is therefore a public acknowledgment not only of the person of John Paul II, but also of the Council and the whole spirit that accompanied it.” A more thoughtful critique of some of the issues of concern was penned by Fr. Brian Harrison, in a “devil’s advocate” style, in Latin Mass Magazine. Part one can be found at this blog post, scroll down.

That will likely be a stunning assertion for many left-leaning Catholics, who simply can’t fathom seeing John Paul in those terms. Yet if you put the pieces together the right way — such as John Paul’s ecumenical and inter-religious outreach, his social teaching, even the style of his liturgical celebrations (think World Youth Day) — one can begin to see how a traditionalist might style him a terribly “progressive” pope.

Whatever one makes of Fellay’s views, it’s tempting, from the perspective of Realpolitik, to dismiss them as irrelevant. The society’s following is fairly miniscule — even if one takes the high-end estimate of one million faithful, that’s less than one tenth of one percent of the global Catholic population. What percentage of those who go to Mass every Sunday, I wonder?


Yet the number and influence of Catholics who may feel some sympathy for the positions taken by the society should not be under-estimated, and any Vatican regime (only the NCR would refer to the Holy See as a regime) would feel obligated to try to heal what they regard as the lone formal schism to follow Vatican II.

The traditionalist perspective is thus something church leaders have to consider as they survey the Catholic landscape.

If nothing else, all this illustrates a core insight about the political science of the church: If you think the answers to the questions facing Catholicism are ever obvious, or that making any policy decision ever comes without a cost, you simply don’t understand the stew of competing pressures and perspectives that make up ecclesial life. (This is part of the fear of the SSPX, as I understand it–that regardless of whether they are given faculties and standing, they will become just one exhibit in the zoo, where any opinion or practice “goes”.) As John XXIII once put it, a pope has to consider the views both of those with their foot on the gas, and those with their foot on the brake.


When speculation about the motu proprio began to gather steam in 2007, there were fairly dramatic forecasts of its impact on all sides of the debate. Some devotees of the older liturgy predicted that its inner power and beauty would prove so compelling that in a free market environment, Catholics would “vote with their feet” against the new Mass. Critics warned that reintroduction of the Tridentine Mass would fracture the unity of the church and herald a broader “rolling back of the clock”.

Four years down the line, such predictions now seem a little over-hyped. Whatever one makes of it, the motu proprio so far does not seem to have triggered an earthquake. It takes awhile, Mr. Allen– just ask those who still front for the idea that the great renewal of Vatican II just needs more time to spread.

After this post, Allen shifts to an interview he had with Fr. Richard Hilgartner, Executive Director of the Secretariat for Divine Worship of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, about the motu proprio and the Traditional Mass.

* * *


Are seminarians today being trained in celebrating the extraordinary form?

It’s probably unrealistic to expect seminaries to provide the kind of training and formation that would mean every new priest, upon ordination, emerges ready to celebrate it. Of course! Why would a Catholic SEMINARY train priests who say the Roman Rite to actually say the authorized forms of the Rite? Preposterous! The nerve of these crazy trads! There are a lot of technicalities in the older rite. Liturgical formation is already taxed by many other things (like learning to use marionettes, perhaps), and it’s hard to squeeze in something else (when you refer to the Mass as “something else” that has to be “squeezed in” you really highlight the depths of the problem) that’s incredibly involved and time-consuming. Many seminaries are offering a broad introduction, and then for those who are really interested there are places they can go, such as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter and the St. John Cantius Society. They’ll go for a workshop, and then they have to commit to practicing it.

Benedict XVI seems to hope that the extraordinary form will gradually influence the approach to the ordinary form, nudging it in the direction of greater reverence and appreciation for tradition. Do you see evidence that’s happening?

It’s limited, because there are plenty of people who never see the extraordinary form. And why is that? More broadly, though, the whole climate of the church today might be focusing on things that perhaps we weren’t paying a whole lot of attention to before, especially the integrity of the rites. A damaging admission. In that sense, the extraordinary form can help shape the regular liturgical experience — not by taking on its trappings or externals, but by calling attention to the importance of celebrating faithfully, with a sense of reverence, understanding that the rite itself has a beauty built into it. The Tridentine form is maybe hyper-sensitive ha! to the rubrics and performing the prescriptions of the rite accurately, but it can help us be more attuned to those things in the ordinary form.