Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Catholic Traditionalism verses Fundamentalism

A Traditional Latin Mass (Vetus Ordo) Celebrated at St. Agnes Cathedral in Springfield Missouri in 2010
Celebrant is  Rev. Jeffery A. Fasching, the Most Rev. James V. Johnston kneels in Choir
Photo by John Kelly
NOTE: This article pertains primarily to Catholicism in the English-speaking world.  The situation can be quite different in non-Anglophone countries.

Traditionalism and Fundamentalism; yes there is a difference.  This is most especially the case in Catholicism.  We see it in Protestantism too, but in Catholicism the line is more clearly drawn, and it is a line based in attitude.

Traditionalism is when Catholics cling to tradition, and overall, this is a very good thing.  It helps to keep the Church connected to her past, and in the end, it keeps her identity clear.  From the 1970s through early 2000s, there was a shortage of traditionalists in the Catholic Church, and the Church suffered because of this.  Thankfully, that is starting to change.  The trend toward returning to traditional practices really picked up in the late 1990s to early 2000s, however, because many priests and bishops had adopted a hostile attitude toward tradition, many traditionalists had nowhere to go but to illicit SSPX chapels and schismatic sedevacantist groups.  Consequently, there was a mix between what I will henceforth refer to as "traditionalists" and "fundamentalists."  Traditionalists mingled with the fundamentalists and vice versa, because they had nowhere else to go, creating a traditional-fundamental soup in those dioceses were the bishop was hostile to the traditional Latin mass and other traditional practises.

Fundamentalism in the Catholic world actually has a whole lot in common with fundamentalism in the Protestant world, and I'm sure some Catholic fundamentalists will object to me using that term in reference to them, and shriek at me making such a comparison.  However, I am very familiar with fundamentalism from my experience as a Protestant.  I know it like the back of my hand, and I can smell it a mile away. Fundamentalism, in a Catholic sense, is when a Catholic basically adopts an attitude of thinking he's more Catholic than the pope.  I mean this quite literally.  The pope is often referred to as a "heretic" or a "schismatic" or an "antipope."  The mainstream Catholic Church is often seen as a "false church" of heresy, and the only "true Catholics" are those who adhere to their sectarian groups and mentality.  A good example of this can often be found in the SSPX (Society of Saint Pius X).  Now it's not fair to paint all persons within this group a Catholic fundamentalists, but I think it is fair to say the SSPX fosters this sort of attitude among its members.  It is an attitude of superiority, wherein one thinks one is "more Catholic," or even worse, "more legitimately Catholic" simply because one clings to the older traditions of the Church.  However, it runs deeper than that.  There is a doctrinal division too, wherein Catholic fundamentalists become a magisterium unto themselves, believing they are the only "authentic" interpreters of Catholic teaching and tradition.  Even Rome is presumed to be "in error" about these things.  That being said, there is always room for disagreement over some pastoral issues within the Catholic Church, but this isn't what I'm talking about here.  I'm not talking about two Catholics, who both submit to the authority of Rome and the local bishop, but have a vehement disagreement over how a certain Church teaching or discipline should be interpreted.  I'm not talking about Catholics who have different liturgical preferences and think the Church has gone too far one way or another.  I'm not even talking about Catholics who say the pope is wrong on this issue or that.  Again, there is room for disagreement within the pale of orthodoxy.  No!  What I'm talking about here is entirely different.  I'm talking about a Catholic, who may have a disagreement with the Church (over this issue or that), and then takes it to the point where he pronounces the Church to be false, or having been "taken over" by the forces of evil, to the point where this Catholic feels he can no longer be a regular member of the Church, but instead must live and worship apart from it.  This is when traditionalism goes beyond traditionalism and becomes fundamentalism.  The SSPX is not alone in flirting with this kind of fundamentalist attitude.  There are other organisations even more involved: such as the SSPV (Society of Saint Pius V) for example, which is outright sedevacantist, along with the CMIQ (Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen), and the MHFM (Most Holy Family Monastery) among others.  While it would be unfair and (so far) inaccurate to classify the SSPX as a sedevacantist organisation, it is however accurate to say that many sedevacantists frequent SSPX chapels and mingle in this traditionalist-fundamentalist soup.

All of this changed in July of 2007, when Pope Benedict XVI issued Summorum Pontificum.  To any non-traditionalist Catholic reading this, pay attention here, because I'm going to reveal something big to you.  No recent document of the Church has done more to hinder the fundamentalist movement in Catholicism than this document.  If you don't like Catholic fundamentalism, then you better love Summorum Pontificum, and here is why...

Summorum Pontificum is the papal motu proprio that liberalised the regular celebration of the pre-1970 Traditional Latin Mass.  It brought the Missal of 1962 back into the mainstream of Catholicism as the "Vetus Ordo" or the "Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite."  This means that all lay Catholics, anywhere in the world, have a sacred RIGHT under canon law to request, and be accommodated with, a Traditional Latin Mass to a stable and consistent group.  It also means that every Catholic priest, everywhere in the world, has the sacred right under canon law to celebrate this form of the mass (privately), assuming he is competent to do so, without permission from his local bishop or ordinary.  Contemporary or "modernist" Catholics were initially livid about this, and some of them still are, but I assert their frustration is misplaced, and in fact, they should rejoice at this decision, because it has done more to undermine Catholic fundamentalism than anything else.  What Pope Benedict XVI did here was pull the rug out from underneath the Catholic fundamentalist movement.  You see, prior to 2007, Catholic fundamentalists had a virtual monopoly on the Traditional Latin Mass, especially in those areas where the local bishop and priests where hostile to the older traditions of the Church.  What these bishops and priests didn't realise, was that their hostility toward older traditions was actually the very "fuel" feeding the Catholic fundamentalist movement.  Those Catholics who were merely "traditionalists," and not fundamentalist in attitude, had nowhere else to go, but to a local schismatic chapel, where they could be gradually indoctrinated with fundamentalist propaganda.  In short, the greatest thing fuelling the rise of Catholic fundamentalism was the very hostility toward tradition that some bishops and priests were using in a futile attempt to quash it.  Here is the fatal flaw that many contemporary or "modernist" bishops made.  They failed to understand that fundamentalism is 100% reactionary in nature.  It is a response to provocation, nothing more and nothing less.  By creating a provocation, such as eliminating all Latin masses for example, the bishop actually creates the perfect conditions necessary for the rise of Catholic fundamentalism in his diocesan territory.  Nowhere was this more evident than in my own local diocese, wherein the previous bishop (presumably in an attempt to quash fundamentalism) did just that. He banned traditional Latin masses all throughout the diocese.  It wasn't long after that a local SSPX chapel sprang up, and grew, and grew, and grew!  I suspect it would likely be nearly a mega-church by now, where it not for Pope Benedict XVI's intervention in 2007 with Summorum Pontificum.  By 2008 a new bishop was installed in the diocese, and he immediately provided for a traditional Latin mass to be celebrated in his own cathedral almost daily.  As a result, the growth of the local SSPX chapel came to a grinding halt.  The damage was done by the unwitting actions of the previous bishop, but is now controlled (for the time being) by the actions of the new bishop.  In short, all Catholics must learn a lesson from this, because the exact same thing can be seen in the Protestant world.  You don't stop fundamentalism by attacking tradition.  In fact, that is the worst possible thing you can do, because you see, fundamentalism is entirely 100% reactionary.  If you create a provocation, you will get a reaction.  The way you stop fundamentalism, contain it, and limit it's growth, is by embracing tradition!  For heaven's sake people, learn this!  Burn this into your brains!  A Catholic fundamentalist is no different than a Protestant fundamentalist in attitude and action.  You want to stop fundamentalism -- then embrace tradition!

As a general rule, there is a simple litmus test that can be applied to determine if a Catholic is a fundamentalist or merely a traditionalist.  Protestants don't have this luxury in identifying their fundamentalists, as they don't have the necessary structures.  It's called the full-communion rule.  This is how you know.  If the Catholic in question is very traditional in nature, and exclusively attends the traditional Latin mass, but does so in a parish or cathedral that is under the bishop, or else a traditionalist society that is approved and regularised by Rome, then what you have here is a Catholic traditionalist -- not a fundamentalist.  Traditionalists are absolutely not threat to the Catholic Church.  Indeed, they are the spice and life of the Church, because they keep her connected to her past and very identity.  They are humble.  They submit to proper ecclesiastical authorities.  They are in full union with the pope.  Such people should be celebrated not ostracised.

If however, the Catholic in question is very traditional in nature, exclusively attends the traditional Latin mass, but does so in a parish that is neither approved nor regularised by Rome (when a fully regularised mass is available nearby), then what you have here (in most cases) is a fundamentalist -- not a traditionalist.  This is an extremely important distinction, because the term "radical traditionalist" or "rad-trad" is often incorrectly applied to these people.  Because you see, there is nothing "traditional" about breaking communion with Rome, or worshipping at a mass that is neither approved nor regularised.  A mass that is illicit is anything but "traditional."  It is the very antithesis of "traditionalism."  Fundamentalist -- yes.  Traditionalist -- no!  Not even close.  I assert if Pope Pius X were alive as pontiff today, he would make many changes to today's Church, but simultaneously, I assert he would excommunicate the fundamentalist society that bears his name (SSPX), along with anyone who continued to frequent their masses.  No sir, there is nothing "traditional" about bucking the authority of Rome.

What Pope Benedict XVI did with Summorum Pontificum was brilliant, and he will remembered by future generations as one of the greatest minds in Church history.  By regularising the traditional Latin mass throughout the Church again, he effectively put an end to the virtual monopoly fundamentalists had on traditional Catholicism.  He opened wide the doors of the Church to traditionalist Catholics who do not fit in with the fundamentalists they had previously associated with in illicit chapels and groups.

So let's start using terminology correctly, and reclaiming "traditionalism" as something that is welcome within the Catholic Church.  Traditional Catholics who remain humble and submissive to the pope and bishops should be given praise and support, even if you're a priest or layperson who wants nothing to do with this way of expressing Catholicism.  Likewise, let's start identifying those who operate outside the Church as what they are -- fundamentalists.  As their behaviour is strikingly similar to fundamentalism within Protestantism, even to the point of declaring the pope a "heretic."  Finally, it's time to stop confusing traditionalists with fundamentalists.  There is a difference, and it's insulting to traditionalists within the Catholic Church to classify them with the same word used to describe fundamentalists outside the Church.  It is also counter-productive.  If you're a Catholic who doesn't care for fundamentalism, then stop calling it "traditionalism."  It is not.  Stop calling fundamentalist "traditionalists."  They are not.  There is a difference. Traditionalists operate inside the Church, fundamentalists do not.  Let's start recognising that please!


This article was posted on this website at the request of the Rev. Jeff Fasching.