Friday, May 12, 2017

Why I'm not going to lambast Traditional Catholics

Self-cricism. They were executed anyway.
I've been taken to task for defending Catholics attached to the Traditional Mass from various exagerated criticisms, and for pointing out that other identifiable groups in the Church have the same characteristics, if not worse ones, rather than engaging in Maoist-style self-criticism. Today I'm going to say a bit more about this.

We are all sinners, and if anyone reading this has a story about a sinful Traditional Catholic, I'm not going to claim that such a thing could not be true. There are a number of dangers, however, with Maoist self-criticism, which really should be obvious.

1. It is narcissistic and inward-looking. Frankly, the personal qualities of Traditional Catholics are not very important for the Church as a whole. Let's just get over ourselves, shall we?

2. It implies the truth of generalisations about Traditional Catholics, which is itself uncharitable. For me to say 'I've heard these criticisms and there is truth in them - yes, [taking out an onion] I'm a Traditional Catholic, and I'm a bitter, hate-filled, Pharisee' implies something not just about me personally but about the group as a whole: it is an accusation against my fellow trads, and one I have no right to make.

3. Public self-criticism implies moral superiority. Only the morally superior are so humble as to accept snarky criticisms as the Voice of Conscience. To do this publicly is to declare one's superiority publicly. The paradox is acute because we are being accused, among other things, of thinking ourselves superior. If there is an ounce of sincerity or compassion or indeed common-sense in our accusers, the reaction they will seek from us will not be a public proclamation of humility.

4. It suggests a degree of uniformity among trads which is completely false. Traditional Catholics (thank heavens) are not members of a cult. We haven't all been through some kind of training, we have no means of enforcing 'message discipline', and some of the people in a typical EF congregation will only recently have started going - others may be trying it out for the first time. We have nothing in common with each other in terms of education, life experience, social class, or ethnic background. This may be a shock to some people who have come to expect every movement in the Church, and every 'type of Mass' (Family Mass, Student Mass, Polish Mass etc. etc.) to be colonised by a 'type of Catholic'. We are not a 'type of Catholic': we are simply Catholics who love the Traditional Mass. That brings with it an interest in traditional spirituality, traditional devotions, and, in general, orthodoxy. But we have very different personalities and life experiences: to suggest we are all, for example, pessimistic, or afflicted by pride, or that we have specific tastes, is to engage in a very unhelpful fantasy. I'm certainly not going to engage in that fantasy myself.

5. To promote a Public Relations programme for Traditional Catholics to make the movement more attractive would, if possible (which it is not), turn the movement into something fake.  'Watch out, everyone! there's a non-trad coming, big smiles everyone, no-one mention sin or penance, no-one talk about Pope Francis! We'll be able to relax when he's gone...' Is that the kind of movement we want to be? That is what cults do. I've heard it said that this is what some movements in the Church do. If that is true, that is a terrible thing. By all means be polite and tactful, but don't be fake. We should be at home in the Church. We should be at our ease when chatting with our fellow Catholics.

6. To engage in specific apostolates as a PR exercise is to instrumentalise the suffering and needs of others. It has been suggested that Traditional Catholics do more 'for the poor' in obvious and eye-catching ways to counter the accusastion that we are less interested in social justice than we should be. This is an unworthy suggestion. Traditional Catholics, like everyone else, look about them to see what needs of our fellow creatures are most urgent and what we have the resources and skills to address. Trads are very heavily involved in the pro-life movement and in education, and (obviously) in supporting the Church's liturgy in all sorts of ways. To suggest this are the wrong things to focus on for public relations reasons is an insult not just to the good people who spend their time and money so freely for their fellow men in these particular ways: it is an insult to the people who would benefit from the more PR-friendly work. They are being treated like extras in a publicity stunt.

7. Public self-criticism gives credence to accusations which in many cases are projection (people accuse us of what they fear about themselves), and in other cases are actually criticisms of the tradition itself. Shall I tell you why certain liberal Catholics think that trads are 'judgmental', for example? Because, first, they are themselves judgmental, casting anyone with whom they disagree into outer darkness. And second, because they think the traditional Mass, and associated devotions and spirituality, is judgmental. After all, they might say, since the EF, with its references to sin, is horrible and judgmental, surely the only people who like it will themsevles be horrible and judgmental. In this situation, to say 'yes, maybe we are a bit horrible and judgmental' is the worst possible response. It may sound arrogant to some for us to reject such accusations, but what is needed here is for people to say: actually, you don't need to be like that to like the Traditional Mass, because the Traditional Mass is not itself like that.

To conclude, insofar as I can be said to have a position of leadership or influence in the Traditional movement, is absolutely not my role to act as some kind of morality policeman. Further to point 3, criticising one's fellow traddies (for being judgmental and superior etc.) is precisely to engage in the behaviour (being judgmental and superior) which is being criticised in the first place. The idea that the movement should have a clique of scribes and pharisees going around keeping everyone else up to the mark is so utterly insane, as a response to the kings of criticisms to which we have been subjected, that I can only appeal to the common sense of those involved in this debate to see the problem. Come on, have a laugh: it's just silly, isn't it?

Support the work of the LMS by becoming an 'Anniversary Supporter'.


  1. I find the public self-criticism which usually follows the "obnoxious Trad" articles incredibly abasing since I have never seen the critics say "oh, look, there's a humble Trad, maybe they are not so bad after all."

  2. The susbtance of the question itself is deficient. It deals with superficiality and how people feel. Questions about traditionalists should ask about their observance of the decalogue and their practic of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. This is a policing of morality that is worth doing, and that does actually bear upon the liturgical claims of traditionalists. Since the traditional liturgy is supposed to be a superior means of sanctification, it is reasonable to ask if it has that effect on the people who attend it. Being sanctimonous and prickly is not terribly important, and can even be a good thing in some circumstances.

  3. Excellent points!

  4. No bad Mr Shaw.

    One criticism is that it seems that you equate traditionalism with orthodoxy. I'm not certain if that was your intent, but to me it seemed that way.

    It also seems that you equate traditionalism with liking the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite. Although, you mention that it comes along with a certain devotionalism and other older practices. If we're behind by honest, isn't traditionalism most defined by a rejection of several of the Church's teachings that came out of VII? Ecumenism, Divine Revelation, the Mass update,....Ressourcement in general?

    1. On your last question: no. Neither the people criticising nor I in responding have more in mind than an attachment to the Vetus Ordo, along with certain obviously connected things like traditional spirituality and devotions and orthodoxy.

  5. Thanks for responding.

    I do have a follow up that I hope you'll find time to respond to... you use the word orthodoxy at the end of your last response and a few times in the article. I tend to believe that the word 'orthodoxy' is often misunderstood and/or miused.... would you expand on what you mean by orhodoxy in the context of your article and comments?