Ever since the publication of Traditionis Custodes (affectionately called “Traschcan Custodians” by its fans), orthodox Catholics—and not just of the Latin Mass-going variety—have been aware of a certain chill in the room. While not precisely of the life-threatening nature of the betrayal of the Underground Church in China, it is far from pleasant for those forced to function under it.
The latest development in the ongoing saga is the result of the Archbishop of Los Angeles, Jose Gomez, and the Bishop of Orange, Kevin Vann, being taken in for questioning by the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Christophe Pierre, as to their alleged non-compliance with TC. The result of that particular trip to Berchtesgaden was that, in Orange County, the venerable Tridentine Mass at St. Mary’s by the Sea, which quite literally saved the parish’s life when it was brought in, is to be suppressed. In Los Angeles, the torture is a bit more exquisite. There, wherever parishes have integrated the TLM into their regular lives, said Masses are to be moved to the gyms.
While the sheer pettiness and nastiness of this move may be the first thing to catch the eye of the casual observer, do bear in mind that there are deeper things at work. The move is symbolic of what those in charge in the Church wish to do with the Catholic Faith and its adherents—push it out to the margins. Doubtless it is hoped by the Holy See that this sort of mistreatment will push such folk into the arms of the SSPX, so that they may enjoy the Church machinery’s managed decline in peace.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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I do not blame either of the local prelates involved; they do what any branch manager does when orders come from corporate headquarters to initiate a new policy, regardless of their personal opinions—if any. I have an enormous personal affection for Archbishop Gomez, to be honest. But as this latest development shows, all that blather about collegiality at Vatican II was just that. Rather than collegiality among the successors of the Apostles, in this pontificate, the Church has become the Papal Dictatorship the Orthodox have always accused us of being.
Of course, they in turn, through the mutual excommunications between Moscow and Constantinople, have paid us back by becoming the ecclesiastical anarchy we have always accused them of being. It is as though both sides have successfully pursued the reductio ad absurdum of their respective ecclesiologies—but that is a story for another day.
It is noteworthy, however, that within a short time of the order from on high being issued to the local branch managers, the Holy Father praised the management styles of Peter the Great, Genghis Khan, and Catherine the Great. Many were surprised by this; but at least it reflects the current climate in the Holy See—and it should be remembered that, alongside Frederick the Great, Catherine the Great saved the Jesuits in her country by refusing to allow the papal bull dissolving them to be published. The Supreme Pontiff’s own order owes its institutional continuity with St. Ignatius of Loyola to those two Enlightened Despots.
Of course, this blatant exercise of power, so soon after the majority of the world’s prelates left their flocks high and dry during Covid, is particularly rich in irony. There is no better way to rouse contempt in one’s subjects than the arbitrary exercise of tyranny in the wake of what was perceived by many as cowardice and unconcern for souls. Certainly, one remembers parish website after parish website at that time, urging the viewer to make a perfect act of contrition, followed by a spiritual communion; after that, one saw the “donate here” button. Having done the first two, how many did the third?
So, the gloves are off in those two dioceses. “What is to be done?” in the immortal words of that figure so beloved of the young Jesuits of my childhood (I was raised in a Jesuit parish), Vladimir Lenin. First and foremost—pray. Pray very hard for the Holy Father, first of all. He cannot have much time left, and he is obviously a very angry man. Pray that he dies in a state of grace, repentant of all the evil he has done—as we should pray for ourselves to be, when our time comes.
Secondly, we need to pray very hard for our bishops—that they recall their Sacramental Character, the indelible marks upon their souls as Successors of the Apostles, upon which they shall be judged. They alone can decide whether they shall be hireling branch managers or shepherds of their flocks. Thirdly, we need to pray very hard that neither we nor our fellow Catholics give in to the bitterness and hatred that these measures are intended to spark in us and with which the devil hopes to damn us.
We need to keep a number of things in mind. One is that, despite current management, the Catholic Church remains the One True Church, the Ark of Salvation, and the Sacramental Gate of Heaven—just as much as she was under Stephen VI, Sergius III, Benedict IX, John XII, and Julius III—even if most of those currently running/oppressing her do not believe that. The wave of approved Eucharistic Miracles (seven, so far) in the past three decades is our proof. But it comes with a caveat: historically, such events are the response to disbelief in the Real Presence.
The first recorded one, at Lanciano (whose physical remains continue to astound scientists eight centuries later) occurred because a priest offering the Holy Sacrifice doubted the truth of it. The suspicion is that we have such an unprecedented number of these events because the level of disbelief among the clergy is also unprecedented. Nevertheless, to abandon the Church is to abandon Christ and our chance of Salvation—“Where, Lord, can we go?”
The next thing to keep in mind is the example of Bl. Karl and Servant of God Zita of Austria-Hungary. They were quite literally betrayed by both Cardinal Piffl of Vienna and Cardinal Csernoch of Budapest (who had anointed and crowned Karl as King of Hungary). To be fair, of course, those Most Eminent Lord Cardinals were only two on a very long list of traitors to the Imperial and Royal couple; still, they both offered requiems for Karl at his death, and their sermons were rather cloying in praise of a man whose downfall they had assisted in.
Yet neither Karl nor Zita was bitter—nor did they lose their faith or their deep piety. If anything, they dug in ever deeper: daily Mass; veneration of the Blessed Sacrament; devotion to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts, the Passion and Holy Cross, the Rosary, various saints, and the Holy Angels. Even in exile, they did their best to fulfill the duties to their states in life: to each other, their children, and their poor misled and oppressed subjects. On his deathbed, despite all that had been done to him by their political leaders, Bl. Karl declared, “I am suffering that my peoples may come back together.” This latter wish is never more needful of coming true than now, when those same peoples face Putin to the East and Soros to the West.
So, in the face of betrayal by those who should love, care for, and guard us, we can use Karl and Zita as eminent role models—avoiding bitterness, blessing those who torment us, and praying that they save their souls. We can, as they did in their various places of exile, turn our homes—places of exile from Heaven, really—into domestic churches and centers of devotion. Beyond that, we can pray for their intercession with God and His Blessed Mother to protect us from those in power in Church and State who mean us harm. We might seek out one of the thirty or so shrines to the Blessed Emperor in the United States, the locations of which are available from the American and international branches of his Prayer League; likewise, the American (headquarters at Clear Creek Abbey) and international branches of Zita’s cause can be very helpful. In the face of betrayal by those who should love, care for, and guard us, we can use Karl and Zita as eminent role models—avoiding bitterness, blessing those who torment us, and praying that they save their souls. Tweet This
For that matter, visiting any of the many shrines and basilicas in the United States (or any other country!) is very important. The saints, blesseds, or devotions to which each of them is dedicated will help keep us grounded in the deepest elements of our Faith—even if, as is so often the case, they are liturgically and/or architecturally disappointing. Geographically closer still to our homes, in all likelihood, are Perpetual Adoration Chapels. Here we may bring all of our sorrows and joys, day or night—not the least of which are the state of the Church and the spiritual needs of our wandering shepherds and ourselves. If we bless, we shall be blessed; if we curse…
Having dealt with the most important side of the current problem—the spiritual, we now descend into the mundane. Where do we go? Well, those behind this current abuse we are asked to undergo want us to go to the SSPX. I myself (and please do not jump up and down—you have your views, I have mine) do not believe them to be schismatic. Moreover, if I had a family to raise, and all that was around in the Catholic parishes surrounding us was a giant rainbow, I would no doubt feel and behave differently to what I shall suggest.
But that aside, do not give them what they want. When your prelate is a decent branch manager—just carrying out orders, as they said at Nuremberg—go to his gym; but write respectfully and ask His Excellency how he would enjoy this sort of treatment and how he would enjoy being asked to pay for it. Remind him that he is responsible for any souls lost in this action.
Of course, many will seek refuge in FSSP and ICKSP parishes, which doubtless is almost as good as going to the SSPX in the minds of those launching this. The real reason they are doing it is not simply to punish and annoy the faithful (enjoyable as that might be) but to remove the TLM and the doctrines behind it from the normal life of the Church. This is why so many evil-minded prelates have not merely banned the TLM but the offering of the New Mass ad Orientem as well.
As Pope Benedict XVI pointed out repeatedly, he hoped to improve the NOM by exposing its offererers and receivers to the TLM. But as Formosus was succeeded by Stephen VI, we find ourselves where we are. Instead of following the belief and practice of Benedict XVI, the current leadership are disciples of the late, lamented Ray Repp—doctrinally, liturgically, and often enough, morally.
No doubt, so long as the Holy Father lives—and longer if the conclave produces a similar product after his demise—the pressure will continue. We cannot tell upon whom the axe shall fall next. But this, too, shall pass; where we can act, and as we can, we should—most particularly in the financial realm. No matter what we ourselves do, the Church is, in all likelihood, about to hit a huge financial collapse; and nowhere is this truer than in the two dioceses under discussion.
Obviously, corporate headquarters in Rome are unconcerned, although they, too, are in fiscal freefall. The CEO doesn’t have much more time, and he is doubtless more invested in getting his personal agenda across than in the temporal welfare of the institution. At a guess, his successor—even if he is an ideological copy of the current pontiff—will be forced to be somewhat more practical; for those reasons alone, he very likely will be more conciliatory.
At that point, those of us still around would be well advised to be as helpful as we can. Not simply because it will be the smart thing to do, but because, like Francis, like Benedict XVI, like Bl. Pius IX, like Julius III, like St. Linus, he will be the Successor of St. Peter and (no matter how much the current office-holder dislikes the term) Vicar of Christ. Much as a given pope and bishops may vex us, we are still obligated to them, as they are to us. How well they and we keep those obligations will help determine whether they and we sing with the saints or shriek with the damned.