Saturday, January 22, 2022

Are Traditional Catholics 'corrupt'? A response to Austen Ivereigh

Mass of Reparation, celebrated in response to clerical abuse revelations in 2018.

Cross-posted on Rorate Caeli.

Austen Ivereigh writes that he has been troubled by a criticism of the restrictions on the Traditional Mass brought in last July by Pope Francis' Traditionis Custodes. This is the point, made even by people with no particular interest in the ancient Mass, that it was an example of collective punishment: the innocent were being deprived of the Mass alongside those, whoever they are, who are truly guilty, of whatever it is they are supposed to be guilty of. Even if we accept Pope Francis' characterisation of Bad Trads, it can't be true of everyone who has derived solace from the old Mass. It can't, in fact, even be true of most, because it implies a degree of theological engagement which is unusual. Most Catholics don't spend their time talking about Vatican II's teaching on Religious Liberty, for example, because most Catholics, whether they have encountered the old Mass or not, don't have a very clear idea of what it is -- the idea is absurd.

Ivereigh even takes a moment to consider those simple faithful who really aren't involved in these disputes: people who appreciate the ancient Mass because they find it predictable, orderly, and calming, like the neuro-diverse: people with Aspergers and the like. Austen's comment: they are 'oddballs'. They are beneath his consideration. 

Furthermore, we have been told over and over again that Pope Francis is all about 'dialogue', 'meeting people where they are', not expecting people to be perfect, seeing the Church as a 'field hospital', not 'throwing stones' and all the rest of it. His treatment of Catholics attached to the Old Mass seems, to put it mildly, in tension with this

Ivereigh quotes Greg Hillis: “At a time when we as a church are embarking on a synodal path,” Hillis wrote, “I have difficulty understanding why a more synodal—a more dialogical—approach is not being taken with traditionalists.”
This 'nagged' at Ivereigh, he tells us. But he has come up with a solution. He has dug up something written by the Pope back in 1991, which distinguished 'sin' from 'corruption':

Hence, writes Bergoglio, “we could say that while sin is forgiven, corruption cannot be forgiven,” for at the root of corruption is a refusal of God’s forgiveness. The corrupted person or organization sees no need of repentance, and their sense of self-sufficiency gradually comes to be regarded as natural and normal.

This is the use of words not with the usual meanings, but let's go with that. The first problem is that it is no clearer than before that all, or a majority, or even an important minority of Catholics who attend Mass regularly or occasionally in the Old Rite should be categorised in this way. It is still an unjust collective punishment. Ivereigh deals with this, however, by saying that the rest of us are guilty by association because we have not attacked the guilty ones.

I think I know what Pope Francis, and indeed everyone else, would think of a Traditional movement filled with people denouncing each other. Readers may think there is too much of that already. Not enough for Austin: certainly quite enough for me.

What, though, is this accusation? In Ivereigh's way of talking, it would seem that the unrepentant sinner is 'corrupt'. You mean, like the unrepentant adulterers invited by various bishops, apparently with the encouragement of Pope Francis, to receive Holy Communion? 

No, no! An exception must be made for them.

Conversely, the sinner—even when not ready to repent—knows that he is a sinner and yearns to throw himself on God’s mercy. This is the key distinction: the sinner remains, however obscurely and unconsciously, open to grace, while the corrupt deny that they sin. Enclosed by their pride, they shut out the possibility of grace.

Ok, so the corrupt deny that they sin. Would that be like the unrepentant adulterers who have been through a process of 'discernment' and decided that, really, they are in a state of grace despite their adultery, and so can fruitfully receive Holy Communion?

No, no! That's not what Ivereigh means. The process of discernment reveals that they are sinners, not ready to repent, not in a state of grace, and still ready to receive Holy Communion fruitfully, because, because, well because of something or other.

Let's look at the other side of the distinction. The adulterer is quite different from those wicked traditional Catholics. They are 'enclosed in their pride', not aware of their need for repentance. But this isn't quite right either: Austen has been trawling the Latin Mass Society website and old copies of Mass of Ages and found what I think is me saying “God is calling us to atone for our sins.” Indeed He is. 'Yet' (he comments) 'one searches their site in vain for any recognition of what those sins might be.' Er, well, naturally, Austen. How do I know what the sins of Mass of Ages readers might be? Particularly when the regulars are joined by random journalists like Dr Ivereigh. Would he hope to be included in the generalisation?

But this point seems to be the key difference between the unrepentant adulterer (good) and the Catholic who wants to attend the Traditional Mass in communion with his bishop and the Pope (bad). The adulterer refuses to repent; the latter, if we must generalise, likes to go to regular confession. Despite this, the latter is unforgivable and can't be dialogued with, because they aren't repenting of what Austen thinks they ought to be repenting of, something clearly far worse than adultery.

He quotes the Statement of the Religious Superiors:

“We are ready to convert if party spirit or pride has polluted our hearts.” Why if and may? Isn’t “party spirit and pride” one thing traditionalism has become famous for?

This looks very much like assuming what you set out to prove. Ivereigh thinks they are filled with pride. They say: we are open to considering that. How about a bit of dialogue so that we can clarify this? Austen says, no! Your failure to repent of what I criticise you for in advance of any dialogue, discernment, accompaniment, or sacrilegious Holy Communions, means that you are damned out of your own mouths. 

By showing that we are ready to repent, we Traditional Catholics are condemning ourselves as people who have failed to repent. Whereas the adulterer, who is not ready to repent, is vindicated as something who wants, deep down, obscurely, in some way not manifested in his words or actions, to throw himself on the mercy of God, at some future date yet to be determined. Is that it?

Or perhaps this is the idea. The Traditional Catholics have committed a sin, according to Ivereigh, which they don't think is a sin: it is a point of controversy. And that is unforgivable because they will never repent of it until they understand that it is a sin. 

But if so this is an objective but not subjective sin. It is like the sin of someone born into a schismatic ecclesial group, a Lutheran, say, who can't be blamed for being a Lutheran unless and until he realises that Lutheranism is wrong and he ought to become a Catholic: at which point of course he is likely to become one. Pope Francis is not noted for being hard on Lutherans.

But he is hard on Catholics who simply wish to attend the Traditional Mass. They, it seems, have committed the wrong kind of sin: the sin Austen Ivereigh doesn't like. That is what this great distinction comes down to. All sins can be forgiven, but not the sin Dr Ivereigh particularly doesn't like, even if it was committed unconsciously. 

Ivereigh is indeed the Savoranola of our time. Repent! he cries. You don't know what your sins are, and I am not going to help you discover them. But since you have not already repented, you are damned. All can be forgiven, but not the unfashionable sin, the sin disliked by those currently in power.

You'd best be careful, Dr Ivereigh, of the day the wind changes direction.

Rosary Crusade of Reparation in London.

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  1. Of course there are sinners within the traditionalist movement just as there are sinners everywhere. I doubt that Pope Francis is sinless! In fact the only human (not counting Jesus) without sin was Our Blessed Lady who was 'conceived without sin' & thus - as we all know - did not even have Original Sin. What should concern us most are those who point out the 'mote' in the eye of others while ignoring the 'beam' in their own.

  2. Bit hard on Savonarola..

  3. It's remarkable that PF says, "Who am I to judge?" when asked about homosexuals, yet he and his henchmen are happy to cast all manner of accusations upon the bad trads...

  4. Thank you Dr Shaw. I have also written an article responding to Austen Ivereigh, but need to be guided on how I could have it posted. Please advise. Michael