Saturday, August 17, 2019

The USCCB and the Real Presence

The USCCB has been lamenting the fact that only 1/3 of Catholics in the United States believe in the Real Presence, according to a recent PEW survey. Lifesite News published a great article about how the faithful, when the bishops asked how to remedy this, overwhelmingly suggested a return to traditional practices. 

It is really frustrating to see the shoulder shrugging of the bishops on this question. I don't know if their "let's ask the faithful" was an attempted display of humility—like when Pope Francis asked for the prayers of the people at his papal election—but it comes across as desperate and grasping for straws: like the financial manager of a failing investment firm emailing his clients and saying, "I don't know guys, I'm stumped...anyone here got any investment ideas?" 

As long as I have been following affairs in the American Church (around 2002), the failure of U.S. bishops to sufficiently promote traditional piety has always been infuriating to me. Sure, some of the better ones may give lip-service to traditional liturgical practices and devotions, but when it actually comes to using their authority to do something, very few will. Even my own bishop—who celebrates the Traditional Latin Mass and has been a relatively good pastor compared to others in this country—has done very little in way of actually changing anything at the parish level.

An individual bishop has broad authority over the celebration of the sacred mysteries within his diocese. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says:

"The diocesan Bishop, who is to be regarded as the high priest of his flock, and from whom the life in Christ of the faithful under his care in a certain sense derives and upon whom it depends, must promote, regulate, and be vigilant over the liturgical life in his diocese. It is to him that in this Instruction is entrusted the regulating of the discipline of concelebration (cf. nos. 202, 374) and the establishing of norms regarding the function of serving the priest at the altar (cf. no. 107), the distribution of Holy Communion under both kinds (cf. no. 283), and the construction and ordering of churches (cf. no. 291). With him lies responsibility above all for fostering the spirit of the sacred Liturgy in the priests, deacons, and faithful" (GIRM 387).

Let us unpack this a bit.

The bishop establishes norms for who may assist the priest at the altar; if we look at GIRM 107, cited above, the bishop has total discretion over who may serve as acolyte, lector, cantor, sacristan, and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion and in general regulate the conduct of all who serve at the altar or handle Holy Communion. If he wished, a bishop could do the following:

  • Direct all who serve the altar to reverence the Eucharist with a genuflection (instead of a bow) unless they are physically incapable of doing so.
  • Phase out female altar servers and return to male-only servers, as Fr. Joseph Illo did in San Francisco.
  • Mandate that all servers wear the cassock.
  • Direct cantors and scholas within his diocese to use only traditional chants during communion, as well as avoid any hymns which refer to the Eucharist as "bread and wine" or speak of the altar as a "table."
  • Do away with EMHC, or at least reduce their ranks or offer stricter guidelines of when they can be utilized.
GIRM 283 says "The diocesan Bishop may establish norms for Communion under both kinds for his own diocese." In theory, a bishop could go back to a more traditional practice of reception whereby communion under both kinds is reserved for special occasions or communities. Apart from any supernatural considerations, merely making the reception of communion under both species rarer, as well as restricting who may handle the sacred species, would psychologically elevate the importance of Holy Communion in the minds of the faithful—and that is before we even begin to consider the graces that would come through such changes.

But I think the individual bishop's greatest mechanism for using his authority to promote Eucharistic piety is found in GIRM 291, which gives the bishop authority over "the construction and ordering of Churches." GIRM 291 says:
"For the proper construction, restoration, and remodeling of sacred buildings, all who are involved in the work are to consult the diocesan commission on the sacred Liturgy and sacred Art. The diocesan Bishop, moreover, should use the counsel and help of this commission whenever it comes to laying down norms on this matter, approving plans for new buildings, and making decisions on the more important issues."

So the bishop, through his diocesan commission on liturgy and sacred art, can lay down norms for how churches are to be constructed or remodeled and can even mandate that all such plans must be personally approved by himself. The implications of this are astounding when you think of it. Any bishop could:
  • Create a diocesan commission on liturgy and sacred art whose members are all wholly committed to the restoration of Eucharistic piety and make this the matrix through which they view all changes to church structures.
  • Direct all parishes to replace table altars with wall altars suitable for ad orientam celebration.
  • Mandate all tabernacles be placed in the center of the sanctuary.
  • Approve only sacred art that is traditional and tasteful.
  • Establish certain norms for the appearance and materials of sacred objects such as altars, ambos, etc. that ensure a traditional aesthetic.
  • Prohibit the use of "Resurrectifixes" in parish sanctuaries.
  • Decree that every parish must have—and utilize—a functional altar rail.
  • Only allow traditional stained glass windows, not weird 1960's Pablo Picasso looking window images.
  • Mandate all parishes must have pews with kneelers; no more chairs.
  • Approve only those renovations which are based on some sort of traditional design (i.e., no more space ship churches).
  • Establish a fund for the express purpose of helping less well-off parishes pay for the most important restorations.
  • Decree that all monstrances meet certain artistic standards and aren't ugly, modern looking objects.

And these are only considering the prerogatives that flow from a bishop's specific authority over church buildings and those who serve at the altar. If we step back and look at a bishop's general competency over his flock as pastor of the diocese, he has even more opportunities. He could:

  • Celebrate his own Masses in the cathedral in such a way that offers the faithful an exemplary model of Eucharistic piety.
  • Insist on these norms when he travels and celebrates Masses in the parishes of his diocese.
  • Go on a tour of all his parishes promoting Eucharistic adoration and Eucharistic chapels.
  • Call for more Eucharistic processions as well as preside over more of them personally.
  • Hire individuals in the offices of religious education and catechesis who are committed to the truths of the Eucharist and promoting Eucharistic piety and decree that all such catechists working in parishes be committed to a similar vision—and encourage and back up pastors to dismiss such catechists as do not affirm these things.
  • Ensure that proper Eucharistic doctrine is taught in diocesan seminaries; forbid the use of such texts as question or belittle the understanding of the Eucharist.
  • Make Eucharistic adoration a regular, structured part of the formation of seminary candidates and in general instill in seminarians a love for the Holy Eucharist. 

Now, thus far we have only considered what an individual bishop can accomplish. But the initial complain we twere evaluating came from the USCCB, the national episcopal conference of the United States. When we look at what a national episcopal conference has the authority to do, the scope of episcopal negligence becomes more appalling. GIRM 390 says:

It is up to the Conferences of Bishops to decide on the adaptations indicated in this General Instruction and in the Order of Mass and, once their decisions have been accorded the recognitio of the Apostolic See, to introduce them into the Missal itself. These adaptations include
  • The gestures and posture of the faithful (cf. no. 43);
  • The gestures of veneration toward the altar and the Book of the Gospels (cf. no. 273);
  • The texts of the chants at the entrance, at the presentation of the gifts, and at Communion (cf. nos. 48, 74, 87);
  • The readings from Sacred Scripture to be used in special circumstances (cf. no. 362);
  • The form of the gesture of peace (cf. no. 82);
  • The manner of receiving Holy Communion (cf. nos. 160, 283);
  • The materials for the altar and sacred furnishings, especially the sacred vessels, and also the materials, form, and color of the liturgical vestments (cf. nos. 301, 326, 329, 339, 342-346).
Directories or pastoral instructions that the Conferences of Bishops judge useful may, with the prior recognitio of the Apostolic See, be included in The Roman Missal at an appropriate place.
This is extremely broad. The USCCB could call for universal communion on the tongue and kneeling. In such places where the Missal says standing or kneeling are acceptable, they could mandate kneeling. The could ordain a specific set of approved chants for Holy Communion. According to the last bullet point, the USCCB could direct that only traditional liturgical vessels and vestments be used.

Now, of course, all of this has to be approved by the Holy See with the Apostolic recognitio if it were to actually be incorporated into the GIRM in use in the United States, and who knows how that would go. But that's beside the point; the fact is, they have never even tried.

This is why the episcopal hand-wringing over "What can we do about Catholics' lagging belief in the Real Presence?" doesn't arouse my sympathy. The contemporary American hierarchy has made no effort to solve the problem because they are too dependent upon the masses of quasi-believing Catholics to keep the diocesan apparatus functional—and they fear the backlash of what would happen should they try to actually change things. And so nothing happens, and they wonder why the problem persists; to again quote Ned Flanders' parents, "We've tried nothing and we're all out of ideas."

Let us pray for our bishops, that they will find the courage to do what needs to be done and trust in God to give the increase where man has sown and watered.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Chesterton's Cause is Dead

This week his Excellency Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton, U.K. announced that he would not be opening a Cause for the beatification of G.K. Chesterton. The bishop listed three reasons, two of which are excellent and the third of which is nonsense:
"That conclusion is that I am unable to promote the cause of GK Chesterton for three reasons. Firstly, and most importantly, there is no local cult. Secondly, I have been unable to tease out a pattern of personal spirituality. And, thirdly, even allowing for the context of G K Chesterton’s time, the issue of anti-Semitism is a real obstacle particularly at this time in the United Kingdom" (source).

I want to address these concerns one at a time before offering my own opinion on the matter.

The first reason given by Bishop Boyle is lack of a local cult. This is actually one of the best reasons to not advance a candidate to the altars. Remember that the entire process of canonization is supposed to begin with the existence of a stable local cultus. The process of canonization is essentially supposed to take that cultus as a starting point for proposing that the candidate's cultus be extended to the Church Universal (for an extensive study on this, please see our article "Canonization and the Early Church"). The lack of any local cultus really is an exceptionally strong reason a person should not be advanced to regional or universal veneration. A universal cultus is proposed to the faithful based on the existence of a stable underlying local cultus. And it makes clear that Chesterton's universal popularity does not equate to a religious cultus. So I absolutely approve of this rationale.

The second reason given is that the bishop was "unable to tease out any pattern or personal spirituality." My goodness, if this isn't a great reason for not opening someone's Cause, I don't know what is. I have to say, based on his writings and based on what I know of his life, GKC never struck me as a man with a disciplined spiritual life. He struck me as incredibly insightful, capable of perceiving profound beauty, and of elucidating timeless truths in a manner unparalleled, but he never struck me as a personally holy man. His writings are treasured beyond question; but if we are considering him for sainthood, then I am more interested in questions like how often did he go to confession? How often did he pray? What kinds of penances did he do? Did he go to daily Mass? Adoration? What were his personal devotions like? Was his spiritual life orderly? What was his spiritual reading like? Did people who knew him consider him holy—not just good-natured, jovial, or charitable, but holy? And here the man in charge of investigating GKC says that he can't find any pattern of personal spirituality. If that's true, then that's a pretty darn good reason for not proposing Chesterton for veneration. Have we lowered the bar so much that a person who has no pattern of personal spirituality is considered a good candidate for sainthood?

I often hear proponents of Chesterton's sainthood arguing that his profound writings are sufficient evidence for his sanctity. "His insights are astonishing! What more proof do we need?" This reasoning is naive. Way back in 2009 I wrote an article on Chesterton's beatification ("Blessed GK Chesterton?"), and even then I had reservations due to the fact that people were tending to misunderstand the nature of sanctity, substituting instead the idea of a Chesterton as a "role model" and citing Chesterton's writings in lieu of any evidence of real holiness. Ten years ago I said:

I appreciate the praise of Chesterton's work, but a beatification is about the man, not is work. I once heard (I think on EWTN, maybe on some Catholic Radio station) a certain lay apologist make the errant claim that St. Thomas Aquinas was canonized solely by virtue of his writings and not because of his personal holiness. Anyone who has studied the canonization proceedings of any saints from the 13th or 14th centuries knows that everything revolves around personal sanctity. Saying Chesterton was innocent and humble, and then going on to praise his writing, is really not enough for me to jump on the bandwagon, however much I love Chesterton...
I love G.K. Chesterton. His writings have moved me profoundly and have been very formative in my intellectual and spiritual development, both when I was a young man and to this day. Furthermore, I know countless souls who have similarly benefited from his works. But the writings do not the whole man make. This is about supernatural virtue, not profound writings. It does not matter whether it is Chesterton, or Cardinal Newman, Fulton Sheen, Mother Teresa or Paul VI. We should not be afraid of asking questions about these people, because ultimately we want God to be glorified, and God is glorified by true sanctity, not by papering over or dismissing valid objections. (source)

Now, the third reason the bishop gives is a nonsense reason. The issue of "anti-Semitism", which he goes on to say is a "real obstacle particularly at this time in the United Kingdom." With this comment, he is admitting that this might not have been an obstacle in another time or place, but because of the current socio-political climate with its endemic political correctness, Chesterton's comments on Jews—even understood in the context of their timemake him persona non grata in the milieu of modern, hypersensitive 21st century Britain. This is especially ridiculous because we expect a beatification or canonization to be about the objective state of a person and whether or not they can be considered holy and worthy of veneration. When the bishop cites things like the current sensitivity level in a specific country, he is moving the discussion from the objective realm to one of pure subjectivity. Is Chesterton a saint or not? Depends on the zeitgeist I guess. So I think this argument is a bad one. And I don't believe Chesterton was actually anti-Semitic. But the bishop thought opening his Cause might upset some Jewish Brits. So there it is.

Interestingly enough, the bishop did not bring up what I consider to be another good argument against Chesterton's canonization, and one that was discussed a lot a few years back
—namely, Chesterton's famous intemperance with food and drink. No, I am not saying that just because he was large. No, I am not saying this because he smoked and drank liquor. I am saying this simply because existing biographical accounts present him as a man who lacked temperance when it came to food and drink. Now, I know there is going to be some ignorant commentator who says, "Uhhhhh...yeah but St. Thomas Aquinas was overweight...duhhhhh." THIS. IS. NOT. ABOUT. CHESTERTON'S. WEIGHT. I do not look at an overweight person and go, "Ugh, they must be intemperate." Weight may be an indication of intemperance, but cannot establish it. Rather, this is about the well-documented anecdotes of his intemperate and even gluttonous behavior when it came to food and alcohol.

Back in 2014, I wrote an article about this ("This is Not About Chesterton"); a person who lacks a fundamental cardinal virtue cannot be considered saintly, and based on the extant biographical and anecdotal evidence about Chesterton, the man certainly did not possess temperance when it came to food and drink. Or if he did possess it, it was certainly not in a heroic degree. I wrote then:

"Remember, a saint possesses not only natural virtue, but supernatural virtue. This means, of course, faith, hope and charity to a heroic degree, but it also means that even the saint's natural virtues are elevated and oriented towards supernatural ends. For example, a virtuous man has formed the habit of prudence, which is the virtue of being able to identify and pursue the good in particular circumstances; i..e, of making good decisions. The saintly man, however, not only exercises natural prudence, but also demonstrates supernatural prudence; i.e., the virtue of prudence ordered towards supernatural ends, meaning exceptional discernment and good sense in spiritual matters.
Now, since supernatural virtue is a requisite of sainthood, and since grace builds on the natural virtues, it follows that a person who lacks even one of natural cardinal virtues cannot be "saintly" in the strict sense. Natural virtue is the foundation of supernatural virtue; if a natural virtue is obviously lacking, they cannot possess the supernaturalized version of that virtue which is built upon the natural. We may still have an exceptionally virtuous person, but nevertheless one with a major defect that makes it inappropriate to classify them as a saint. A person certainly cannot possess supernatural temperance if they lack even the natural virtue of temperance" (source).
I recommend reading the above cited article in its entirety as a background to this essay. Needless to say, my own position on this matter is that G.K. Chesterton, regardless of his indisputably brilliant writings, is not a suitable candidate for sainthood. I think Bishop Peter Boyle made the correct call in refusing to open a Cause, even if one of his reasons was specious. And I think people who want to ignore this and push through with a GKC canonization need to step back and consider all these matters and actually address them rather than just dismissing them. This isn't about ramming through "our guy." I adore GKC. He was an exceptional man and one of the greatest English writers ever. But not a saint. You don't need to be saintly to be a great writer. All you need to be is...a great writer. Heck, I'm no shabby writer myself, but that doesn't mean I'm an upstanding, exemplary Catholic. I'm just a so-so Catholic who happens to be good at explaining things. Get that concept through your heads.

Some objections:

"You can't trust a modernist bishop like Boyle to make the right call."

I know nothing about Boyle, but the fact is it's his call to make. And if God wants this to happen, then it will happen someday, regardless of Bishop Boyle. Also, you can't complain about the laxity of modern canonizations and then simultaneously complain that in this case the bishop was too strict with his criterion. To do so makes it look like we are only complaining about canonizations we don't like, which is what most Trads do, to be honest. "We mistrust modern canonizations, unless they are of someone we approve of." Are the canonization criteria too strict, or aren't they? If they're not strict enough, then you should rejoice that they screened out GKC. If they're already too strict, then that applies for Paul VI and John Paul II and Romero as well and these candidates all legitimately passed muster.

"It's just because Chesterton smoked and smoking is bad now."

No, the bishop doesn't mention that at all. Actually deal with the arguments put forward instead of obfuscating them.

"Oh, so you don't think G.K. Chesterton should be canonized but you accept the canonizations of men like Paul VI?"

Irrelevant. This is about GKC, not whomever else was canonized. Also, Paul VI is already canonized, while GKC never even made it to a beatus, so they are certainly in two different categories. And when Paul VI was not yet canonized I argued against his canonization as well. The fact that Paul VI made it to canonization is no argument that GKC should.

"Saints aren't perfect."

They are certainly not. But too often we can use this phrase to basically drop all standards. Saints are not 'perfect.' They do have sin. But, while they are not perfect, a saint is someone we expect to have attained a degree of victory over their sin. While I would never argue that saints must be sinless, I would also argue that a person who has capitulated to sin in one aspect of their life should not be considered a saint. Saints are those who, while having sin like all of us, labor to attain victory over that sin. There are compelling arguments to suggest that Chesterton fundamentally failed in his battle against drunkenness and gluttony, which signifies a lack of temperance. If this were true, Chesterton did not have victory over these vices but rather succumbed to them—they may even have contributed to his death (see also: "Saints Aren't Perfect", USC, 2013).

Bottom line is we can respect and laud and honor Catholic heroes without insisting that they be canonized. It is good that Bishop Boyle refused to open Chesterton's Cause because he really was not a saintly man. An exemplary writer? A light in the darkness? A bold apologist? Absolutely to all three. A saint? It does not appear so.

Friday, July 26, 2019

The Church Doesn't Need More Women's Involvement

One of the sacred cows of liberal Catholicism is the unwavering belief that the Church is dominated by men and that women are voiceless and passive in an institution run by the patriarchy. To that end, there are endless proposals being tossed about to get women "more involved" in some sort of "official" capacity. There is always talk about utilizing the particular "gifts" women have to offer the Church and how much we will all benefit by hearing the woman's "voice", et al.

There's always this recurring idea about a female diaconate (by the way, for an excellent theological explanation of why this cannot be, please see Fr. Ripperger's article On the Unity of Holy Orders). We're going to see a lot of this nonsense being bandied about at the upcoming Amazon Synod; the Pre-Amazon Synod meeting in Rome spoke of the "the indispensable mission that women have", and the document "urges the Church to identify the type of official ministry that can be conferred on women." Now these comments were made solely with reference to the Amazon, but that doesn't really matter; we all know the end game is to shoe-horn women into an official ministerial role as a means of eventually force-feeding women's ordination to the entire Church.

A while ago I was traveling and compelled to attend a random Novus Ordo parish to fulfill my Sunday obligation. As I sat there during the Mass, I watched the procession of young, female altar servers preceding the elderly priest into the sanctuary. I listened to the readings done by female lectors. The organ was played by a female organist, the hymns and psalms sung by a female cantor. Two young girls brought up the gifts at the offertory. During the announcements he mentioned the religious education program, whose director was a woman. He thanked a female parishioner for organizing the floral arrangements around the altar. At communion time, two female EMHCs distributed the sacrament along with the priest. After Mass, I looked at the congregation and wondered how many men I saw would be attending Mass of their own volition if their wives were not dragging them there—in how many homes was the woman the functional spiritual leader of the family?

I later visited the parish website and saw that the organizers or contact persons for 10 of the 19 ministries listed on the website were women—even for the Knights of Columbus, which  found bizarre. Only two ministries had male contacts; the rest just said "Call the office", where no doubt the inquirer would be put in contact with a female secretary. And children attending CCD classes would most likely be taught by female catechists.

And in all my years as a Catholic I can say with confidence that this situation is normative in most parishes. When I was a Youth Director and DRE, I remember going to a meeting of all the DREs in the diocese and I was one of only three men. The rest were all middle aged (or elderly) women. I have noticed a similar trend among parish Youth Directors. The same is true for the moribund National Catholic Youth Ministry organizatio: according to their site, 57% of the national leadership of the National Catholic Youth Ministry organization is female, including their executive director. Women are broadly represented in the regional chairs of the NCYM (43%) and hold 75% of the at-large chairs. You may like Catholic youth ministry, you may hate it, but either way the fact is it is dominated by women.

This experience really made me stop and ponder, in what sense can anybody claim that women are underrepresented in the Catholic Church? Anyone who walked into an average Catholic parish and got involved to any degree would get the impression of a Church completely run by women. Women already dominate the Church at almost every level. If you add to this the prevalence of women in Catholic education, the ratio of women to men becomes staggering. 

And it's not just at the parochial and academic level. At our dioceses as well women are broadly represented, usually at or far above their societal demographic. According to the staff director of my diocese, 50% of the diocesan staff are women. A very fair representation of the general demographic! However, if you remove the ordained from the equation and look only at laypeople, the percentage of women working in the diocese rises to 60%. In other words, 6 out of every 10 lay people involved in administering the diocese are women. They represent a majority of the lay folks currently managing the diocese. Women are running the place.

Please tell me how women are underrepresented? How their voices are suppressed? The average Catholic is going to hear the Word of God read by a woman, worship to music played and sang by women, have their kids catechized by women, probably receive communion from a woman, deal with women in parish and diocesan administration, and interact primarily with women volunteers and employees at all levels of Church.  In many places, deacon's wives are also elevated to an unofficial, semi-ministerial role in "couples ministry" with their husbands, so Catholics often receive baptismal or marriage prep from women. But I guess because there is one, statistically tiny office women are excluded from—the ordained—then they are completely oppressed. 

Even among the ordained, however, women are not without their influence. I don't want to be too particular so I will stay to vague generalizations here—but even in the priesthood I have noticed that parish priests who are surrounded by women staff are often completely cucked by them.

Several years ago, I was traveling up the coast of California visiting the old mission parishes ahead of the canonization of St. Junipero Serra. I visited the lovely mission of San Antonio de Padua, the only one of the missions where I felt a spirit of genuine Catholic piety was still alive. Within the old church there was a mural painted in the early 19th century. It depicted a priest (perhaps Fr. Serra) posing at the altar with several of his servers and other eminent men of the mission. In the late Rococo style, the figures are all looking out of the painting at the viewer. The priest has rugged, hard features and a dark beard. The servers are all robust young men with dark eyes and evidently Spanish or Mexican, some of them sporting beards or pointed mustaches. They are all kneeling in white surplices with ornate lace trimming, hands folded. There are also a few men in secular dress, apparently landowners or local magistrates, wearing sashes and holding swords. All of them are standing or kneeling before the altar, looking out, a half dozen or so. It really struck me what a manly enterprise Catholicism was at that time and place—looking at this old portrait, I could clearly grasp its appeal and why men of that time would have wanted to be part of this.

This is nothing against women by any means. I'm not one of those "back to the kitchen" Catholic men. But my friends, the crusade to "finally" get women "involved" is a farce. Women are pretty much already running the show at every level; at least they are heavily represented to such a degree that nobody can sincerely argue that the Church is excluding women from involvement. The Church is already inundated with women. We don't need more women involvement. If anything, we need more male involvement. It is men who vanished from Catholic administration, schools, parish life, and liturgical service as servers, cantors, etc. And many of our priests, if they are not part of the homosexual clique, are far too effeminate. A entire gender has been silently atrophied away while progressives lament that the atrophy has not been extreme enough.

A Church without the active engagement of an entire gender is a Church on life support. Our Lord requested that we pray for vocations by asking God to send workers into His harvest; these days we need to pray also for the much more basic petition that one of the two human sexes merely shows up. What times indeed.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Pius VI and the Synod of Pistoia

One of the most brazen attempts to undermine the traditions of the Church prior to the post-Conciliar age occurred at the Synod of Pistoia in 1786, held in the region of Florence under the presidency of Bishop Scipio de Ricci, Bishop of Pistoia and Prato.

The Synod of Pistoia was the last gasp of the Gallican movement, which attempted to detract from the authority of the Holy See by transferring much of the governance of national churches over to their respective governments and synods of local bishops. It asserted radical innovations in Church governance and proposed sweeping reforms that touched on everything from monastic discipline to the sacramental theology to the order of the liturgy. In many places, the acts of Pistoia anticipate the thinking of the theologians of the Nouvelle théologie responsible for the calamities that followed the Second Vatican Council.

Pope Pius VI condemned the organizers of the Synod of Pistoia as “embarked on confusing, destroying, and utterly overturning [sound Christian doctrine] by introducing troublesome novelties under the guise of a sham reform" in his 1794 bull Auctorem Fidei. His bull goes on to condemn many of the propositions of the Synod as heretical, erroneous, impious, or contrary to Catholic custom.

I have been rereading a lot of the writings surrounding the Gallican controversy and the Synod of Pistoia in light of the coming Synod of the Amazon. A lot of the teachings given by Pius VI were prescient of our current crisis. I want to share some of the more relevant condemnations from Auctorem Fidei that might be eye-opening. The entirety of papal teaching on the Synod of Pistoia can be found in Denzinger 1501-1599.

I will list each condemned proposition in italics along with my commentary afterward:

On the Use of Persuasion to Enforce Discipline

"[The Church] does not have authority to demand obedience to its decrees otherwise than by means which depend on persuasion" (DZ 1505).

This proposition, condemned as heretical, essentially consists in asserting that the Church's only means of asserting its teaching and discipline is through the power or persuasion--that the only God-given power the Church possesses to regulate its affairs is by persuasion, and as such lacks the divine authority to enforce discipline through laws, positive decrees, and spiritual and temporal punishments. I found this interesting because the condemned proposition essentially mirrors the attitude of the contemporary Church, which envisions its only means of operation as a continuous dialogue with itself in the world through the tools of persuasion. Or, as Pope John XXIII said at the opening of the Second Vatican Council, "The Church has always opposed these errors. Frequently she has condemned them with the greatest severity. Nowadays, however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity. She considers that she meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnations."

Do not mistake me, as I am not asserting John XXIII formally denying what Pius VI says in Auctorem Fidei—after all, John is only saying the Church "prefers" to use persuasion whereas Pistoia claimed that the Church could only resort to persuasion—but the attitude expressed by John XXIII and subsequent popes certainly represents a clear divergence from the teaching of Pius VI.

On Local Bishops Possessing Doctrinal Authority

Pius VI condemns the following proposition as schismatic or at least erroneous:

"The doctrine of the synod [of Pistoia] by which it professes that "it is convinced that a bishop has received from Christ all necessary rights for the good government of his diocese" (DZ 1506).

Pius elaborates that the reason this proposition is schismatic is because it infers "as if for the good government of each diocese higher ordinances dealing either with faith and morals, or with general discipline, are not necessary, the right of which belongs to the supreme Pontiffs and the General Councils for the universal Church." In other words, if one were to assert that a bishop of a confederation of local bishops possess "all necessary rights" for the government of his diocese, we are immediately confronted with how this is understood with regards to matters of universal faith and morals. If a bishop possesses "all necessary rights" without any reference to the Church universal, then we only have two options (1) matters of faith, morals, and discipline are among those things that can be determined by a local bishop, or (2) that those things which traditionally fall under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Pontiff are simply necessary.

We cannot but be reminded here of Pope Francis' teaching in Evangelii Gaudium that "genuine doctrinal authority" in order to possess the "concrete realization of the collegial spirit" that the "new situation" of the Church calls for (EG, 32). Whereas Evangelii Gaudium sees this kind of doctrinal decentralization as a wholesome development in the service of collegiality, Pius VI sees as leading to schism, and it is simple to see why: if local bishops possess "all necessary rights", including "genuine doctrinal authority", then the results would be that what constituted the faith itself would be determined by local taste; one of the marks of the Church, Catholicity, refers to the universality of faith. If what constitutes the faith is left more to local conferences, that Catholicity would be fractured. We'd be left with what would be essentially be a loose confederation of national churches that "agree on essentials." I have written elsewhere on why the concept of "we agree on essentials" is fallacious (see "We Agree on Essentials", USC, May 2008). How does that principle work in Protestantism? It is a recipe for schism, which Pius VI clearly saw.

This concept is condemned again in DZ 1510:

"Likewise, the doctrine by which parish priests and other priests gathered in a synod are declared judges of faith together with the bishop, and at the same time it is intimated that they are qualified for judgment in matters of faith by their own right and have indeed received it by ordination, [is] false, rash, subversive of hierarchic order, detracting from the strength of dogmatic definitions or judgments of the Church, at least erroneous."

Whereas the previous condemnation attacks the idea that a bishop can possess authority over doctrine and morals, this one condemns the idea that a gathering of clergy in a synod could possess such authority. Now, this does not address national episcopal conferences (such things did not exist in 1794, and such conferences are gatherings of bishops, not priests), but the principle remains: local bodies of clergy cannot, apart from the universal Church and the Holy See, make their own judgments on what constitutes the faith or morality of the Church.

Pius returns again to this subject later in Auctorem Fidei:

"The proposition stating that any knowledge whatsoever of ecclesiastical history is sufficient to allow anyone to assert that the convocation of a national council is one of the canonical ways by which controversies in regard to religion may be ended in the Church of the respective nations; if understood to mean that controversies in regard to faith or morals which have arisen in a Church can be ended by an irrefutable decision made in a national council; as if freedom from error in questions of faith and morals belonged to a national council
" (DZ 1593).

This proposition is considered schismatic and heretical by Pius VI that a national council could ever arrive at an irrefutable decision in matters of faith. While the condemnation of DZ 1506 applies to bishops alone, and 1510 applies to local clerical synods, this statement extends Pius's condemnation to national councils, presumably episcopal councils. It is condemned as "schismatic, heretical", for the same reasons mentioned above. Local churches must all have unity with each other and the Holy See on matters of faith, but how can this be if national councils have authority to determine doctrine?

Against Local Innovations

Also condemned is the following:

"[That a bishop is] "to pursue zealously a more perfect constitution of ecclesiastical discipline," and this "against all contrary customs, exemptions, reservations which are opposed to the good order of the diocese, for the greater glory of God and for the greater edification of the faithful" (DZ 1507)

Pius VI says this proposition is not only schismatic, but erroneous and subversive of the hierarchy, "in that it supposes that a bishop has the right by his own judgment and will to decree and decide contrary to customs, exemptions, reservations, whether they prevail in the universal Church or even in each province, without the consent or the intervention of a higher hierarchic power" (ibid). This proposition is not so much about doctrine as about custom and discipline, which Pope Pius VI notes has a unifying affect. There is something relevant to the unity of the Church when the same customs are observed throughout the world. It would be subversive of the hierarchy for that Church authorities to enforce one discipline somewhere and exempt from it elsewhere—now please, before some one hops in the comments and says, "But Boniface, there's lots of dioceses and local churches that have customary exemptions, blah blah, Americans can eat meat on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and this country can do that blah blah," yes, I know and that's not what I'm talking about—in my own state we are allowed to eat muskrat during Lent and that's fine. What Pius is getting at are local changes to customs that are much more integral and know like, oh I don't know, for the sake of, allowing the ordination of married men in a certain province because of local conditions of something.

The Number of Altars in a Church

Pius VI condemns the following rule of the Synod of Pistoia relating to altars in churches:

" is fitting, in accordance with the order of divine services and ancient custom that there be only one altar in each temple, and therefore, that it is pleased to restore that custom" (DZ 1531).

One need only think of the elimination of side altars (or their relegation to mere decoration) and the abolition of private masses that came in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. Pius VI says that such a proposition is "rash [and] injurious to the very ancient pious custom flourishing and approved for these many centuries in the Church, especially in the Latin Church" (ibid). The removal of accessory altars has certainly been injurious to piety by making the sanctuary only about what happens on Sunday morning with the "gathering of the community" and not on regular acts of piety that can go on there at all times.

Against Simplification of the Liturgy

Interestingly enough, part of what the Synod of Pistoia was trying to accomplish was a "greater simplicity" of the liturgy. To that end, it proposed introducing a liturgy in the vernacular, and having the laity recite the prayers aloud with the priest:

"The proposition of the synod by which it shows itself eager to remove the cause through which, in part, there has been induced a forgetfulness of the principles relating to the order of the liturgy, "by recalling it (the liturgy) to a greater simplicity of rites, by expressing it in the vernacular language, by uttering it in a loud voice"; as if the present order of the liturgy, received and approved by the Church, had emanated in some part from the forgetfulness of the principles by which it should be regulated,--rash, offensive to pious ears, insulting to the Church, favorable to the charges of heretics against it" (DZ 1533).

Note Pope Pius' teaching that the "present order of the liturgy, received and approved by the Church" could not proceed from a fundamental forgetfulness of the principles which regulate the Catholic liturgy. This is essentially opposed to the critique that the traditional Mass of the Church had, over the ages, derogated from the principles of right Christian worship; i.e., that the authentic worship of the Church had been obscured by an "encrustation" of traditions accumulated over the ages. Pius says that the traditional Mass, by virtue of being universally received and approved by the Church, necessarily preserves the proper liturgical principles—if it did not, why would the Church have received it?

This teaching does pose an interesting conundrum, however. Pius essentially teaches that a liturgy that is received and approved by the Church, by that very fact, has consonance with proper liturgical principles; this is similar to what the Council of Trent teaches that no authentic ritual or gesture of the Church's liturgy can be an incentive to impiety (Session XXII, Can. VIII). Thus, the concept that the traditional Latin Mass is incapable of answering to the needs of the faithful or that it, over time, became detached from the basic principles of Christian worship is false.

Also condemned is the following:

" would be against apostolic practice and the plans of God, unless easier ways were prepared for the people to unite their voice with that of the whole Church"; if understood to signify introducing of the use of popular language into the liturgical prayers" (DZ 1566).

Pius calls this "false, rash, disturbing to the order prescribed for the celebration of the mysteries, easily productive of many evils" (ibid).

On Promoting Worthy Men to Major Orders

The following is also condemned:

"The doctrine of the synod which says that in promoting to orders this method, from the custom and rule of the ancient discipline, was accustomed to be observed, "that if any cleric was distinguished for holiness of life and was considered worthy to ascend to sacred orders, it was the custom to promote him to the diaconate, or to the priesthood, even if he had not received minor orders" (DZ 1551).

This is interesting given the elimination of Minor Orders after the Council; but it is more interesting in the context of the debate about viri probati, "approved men." The condemned statement does not have anything to do with ordaining married men of good repute to solve a priest shortage in a particular region, but the underlying principle is the same: the idea of taking men of good reputation and promoting them to positions of authority within the clergy by skipping over the intermediate steps that should accompany an ordination.

More relevant to this discussion is the following:

"Likewise, the doctrine by which it professes to desire very much that some way be found of removing the lesser clergy (under which name it designates the clerics of minor orders) from cathedrals and colleges by providing otherwise, namely through approved lay people of mature age, a suitable assigned stipend for the ministry of serving at Masses and for other offices such as that of acolyte, etc." (DZ 1555).

Again, the Synod was looking to replace the administrative diocesan function of certain members of the clergy (traditionally reserved to the canons of a cathedral chapter) with "approved lay people of a mature age"; similarly, the Synod of the Amazon is looking to replace the ministry and jurisdiction of priests with "approved men" (literally viri probati) of a certain age ("elders").

"Special Ministry" of the Ordained

"Likewise, the doctrine which intimates that there was no other title for ordinations than appointment to some special ministry" (DZ 1552).

Pius IV condemns the idea that the essential purpose for the priesthood is just to perform a specific ministry that is in need to being fulfilled. Many have noted the tendency of the priesthood today being reduced to a kind of vending-machine function—a priest shows up on Sunday just so people can "get their sacraments" they can't get elsewhere but all other juridical and administrative functions are carried out by lay people. The priest in this scenario exists merely to fulfill some special ministry nobody else can do. His role within the Church and the life of the faithful is radically reduced.

Even though Pistoia was making these claims from different motives than what we see in the discussions about the Amazon and viri probati, again, the principle is the same: we err if we think the issue of priesthood and who to ordain is merely about making sure people "getting sacraments"; the priesthood is much bigger and more integral than that and if this is the only dimension in which we can think about it, we are already wrong.

Bishops Translating Feasts to Sundays

This one made me laugh. Apparently, the Synod of Pistoia discussed allowing bishops to translate holy days of obligation to Sundays and even allowing penitential fasts to Advent:

"The deliberation of the synod about transferring to Sunday feasts distributed through the year, and rightly so, because it is convinced that the bishop has power over ecclesiastical discipline in relation to purely spiritual matters, and therefore of abrogating the precept of hearing Mass on those days, on which according to the early law of the Church, even then that precept flourished; and then, also, in this statement which it (the synod) added about transferring to Advent by episcopal authority the fasts which should be kept throughout the year according to the precept of the Church; insomuch as it asserts that it is lawful for a bishop in his own right to transfer the days prescribed by the Church for celebrating feasts or fasts, or to abrogate the imposed precept of hearing class" (DZ 1574).What does ole Pius VI have to say about letting bishops, on their own authority, translate holy days to Sunday? He says it is "a false proposition, harmful to the law of the general Council and of the Supreme Pontiffs, scandalous, favorable to schism" (ibid).

By way, I feel like I have to explain the implication here because I fear some simple people will not grasp it. If you read this and walk away thinking, "The translation of feasts by bishops is totally invalid then and if going to such transferred holy days does not fulfill the obligation," then you are errant. Pius VI believed allowing bishops such authority would be harmful to the Church; the modern Magisterium disagrees and has allowed that very authority to bishops to translate certain feasts. Whether you think this was a bad idea or not—and I certainly think it was—the bishops were granted the authority to do so and such translations of feasts are valid (even if stupid) and people who attend on those Sundays have fulfilled their obligations.


I recommend reading the acts of the Synod of Pistoia, its history, and the papal condemnations of not only this synod but everything related to Gallicanism. It seems like, in many respects, we are revisiting the controversies of the day, but with the Church now affirming the positions once taken by the Gallicanists, at least with regards to the power of local churches and the concept of "synodality." This is not at all to suggest that the alternative should be a mindless centralization; indeed, as we discussed earlier this summer, we really need to get back to the fundamentals of what it means to carry authority within the Church. The relationship between the pope, the bishops, and the national churches is all in flux right now. May the Lord right the ship in our days.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Duodecimus Anniversarius

Good heavens...has it been twelve years!? Indeed it has; twelve years of blogging here at Unam Sanctam Catholicam, my friends. It was June 29, 2007 when this blog was launched. I was a young man working as a Director of Religious Education at a parish in the Diocese of Lansing. I remember for some time I had been frustrated with what I was experiencing in the churches around where I lived. I was baptized Catholic as a child but had no faith formation; I returned to the Church in 2002, receiving my First Communion at the tender age of 22. 

But over the next few years I started to realize that the Church I had studied and prayed my way back into did not look the same as the Church I was experiencing on the ground in parish life. I had read about all the "riches" supposedly unlocked by the Second Vatican Council, but was extremely disappointed that the most vibrant aspects of the Church's tradition were notably lacking from parish life. Why was there such a paucity of Latin? Why was I hearing contemporary guitar music or Protestant hymns instead of Gregorian chant? Why were so many homilies so wimpy on Catholic dogma? Why did those in charge of the Church seem to lax when it came to promoting the Gospel? And most alarmingly of all, why did so many Catholics seem uninterested in their spiritual heritage?

When I returned to full communion with the Church in 2002, I had just kind of assumed that the Church I'd read about in my studies still existed. But by 2005ish there was a kind of disquiet and spiritual rut I was in. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. But it almost felt like a conspiracy...a conspiracy of silence about the Church's history and customs. As if traditional Catholicism was that one relative that we don't talk about because he's in prison. I remember 2005 was my senior year of my undergrad and that year I had completed a historical research project on the Second Vatican Council. I had studied the actual daybooks of the Council and read the interventions and came across the story of Cardinal Ottaviani's microphone being disconnected. This led me to Ralph Wiltgen's The Rhine Flows Into the Tiber, which was really the point where I started to realize what happened in  Rome in 1962-1965 was more revolutionary than I had hitherto understood.

But the transformative moment came in June of 2007 when I was hired as a DRE and had the privilege of reconnecting with Dr. John Joy, who at the time was not Dr. Joy but just a young dude working for the Church and preparing to go study abroad with his family. John and I had been friends back from our days at Ave Maria College and managed to catch up. John helped me understand that what I was really missing was the vital connection that any serious Catholic needs to the Church's tradition. He gave me a copy of Msgr. Klaus Gamber's book Reform of the Roman Liturgy, as well as Michael Davies' Liturgical Timebombs. He also introduced me to other valuable works like Msgr. George Agius' Tradition and the Church and the works the the Dominican theologian Servais Pinckaers on Christian ethics and the morality of happiness. Understand, before I was introduced to these authors I had primarily been reading Jimmy Akin and Scott Hahn sort of books, which, while having some value, left me profoundly undernourished. These works John introduced me to had a very profound effect on my thinking and helped me to crystallize some things in my head that hitherto had been vague, unformed sentiment. They helped me really reconnect with the foundations of the Catholic faith and understand more about what my spirit was lacking and where to find it.

But John also did something equally formative—he introduced me to blogging. It being 2007, I still did not have the Internet in my house so I was oblivious to he existence of a traditional Catholic blogosphere, which in those days was still in an inchoate, latent phase of development. But John introduced me to three blogs: the New Liturgical Movement, Rorate Caeli, and a particularly entertaining blog run by some eccentric crank out on the west coast called Athanasius Contra Mundum. 

Learning of the existence of traditional Catholic blogs was revolutionary. See, before I started reading them, I was under the impression that my own frustrations with contemporary Catholicism were more of a matter of personal taste. I did not realize that there was a rather substantial sub-group within Catholicism who felt the same, and not as a matter of mere sentiment, but as a coherent, alternate vision for what the Church could and ought to be, grounded in its history and traditions and faithful to its own charism.

In other words, I realized I was not alone.

And then I was like, "Imma blog also."

And so, here I am, 12 years later, with 1,808 essays and 3.5 million pageviews across two different sites under my belt, still rolling with this weird hobby of mine—and pleasantly surprised that so many of you are still along for the journey.

God bless you all, blessed Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, and prayers for another year of blogging!

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Book Review: Infiltration by Taylor Marshall

A few days ago, when I spoke negatively about Dr. Taylor Marshall's book Infiltration on this blog's Facebook page, people responded with hostility, confusion, and consternation. Dr. Marshall's book purports to offer a causal explanation for the current crisis in the Church. It invokes Freemasonry, Fatima, Paul VI, and a whole slew of subjects important to traditional Catholics. Why speak poorly of the work, then? The man is doing a good thing for the Church; why knock it? Is this more of the  "circular firing squad" dynamic at work?

What is said is important, but how it is said matters quite a bit as well. When one is making certain historical assertions, this becomes desperately important. Cause and effect need to be clearly and indisputably linked by well-documented and universally accepted sources. The scholarly threshold is high. You can certainly publish a historical work where cause and effect are  not clearly demonstrated, where allegations are not documented thoroughly, where sources are questionable or non-existent—but what you have is not a work of history, but of gossip or innuendo.

Unfortunately, Infiltration is a work full of innuendo. It would be tedious to expand upon every unsubstantiated innuendo Dr. Marshall presents as fact; below I am posting a review from my friend Kevin Tierney who writes on this site occasionally. His review gets to the point much more lucidly and quickly than anything I would write. But I do want to expand upon what I mean by "innuendo" and why I think books like Infiltration are ultimately harmful to the traditionalist cause.

An historical argument by innuendo will usually start with a predetermined assertion and then try to prove it by appealing to causal factors which, taken on their own, do not rise to the threshold of establishing a certain cause and effect relationship. The author typically knows this but, rather than admitting the connection is tenuous, the author tries to bolster his claims by resorting to innuendo in lieu of actual facts. A classic example of this is well known historical sensationalist and journalist Graham Hancock, author of such books as Fingerprints of the Gods about Atlantis. Or we could take his book The Sign and the Seal on the Ark of the Covenant. In this book, Hancock opines that we really don't know what was inside the Ark, but points out that ancient cultures used to worship meteorites. He also speculates that a radioactive meteorite could have caused some of the effects we read about in the Old Testament associated with the Ark (e.g., making Moses "glow", killing people who touched it, etc). Now, does Mr. Hancock have any proof that the Ark contained a radioactive meteorite? Of course not. Could such an assertion ever be proven? Most likely not. But that is not going to stop Hancock from simply "throwing it out there" and then moving forward with his line of argumentation with the latent assumption that this implication is trustworthy. In essence, he makes a radically unverifiable statement, shrugs and says "maybe", but then moves ahead anyway on the working assumption that the hypothesis is correct, creating the illusion that an argument has been made when really only an innuendo was proffered.

In Dr. Marshall's Infiltration, you will see many such arguments. You will see the Siri Thesis rehashed, with no proof other than to retell the story because "legend says." Paul VI is alleged to be an Alinskyite on the premise that Cardinal Montini and Saul Alinsky were mutual associates of Jacques Maritain. It is asserted that John XXIII was referring to the children of Fatima when he referenced "prophets of doom", even though Marshall offers no proof of this and despite the fact there are many other more plausible explanations. He reports that Paul VI was a sodomite, on no evidence other than retelling the gossip of French diplomat Roger Peyerfitte who says he knows of an actor who said he had a homosexual relationship with Paul VI. In other words, it is pure hearsay. Marshall is just reporting what other people gossip about. It's historical writing of the shoddiest form. Tabloid material.

I like Dr. Taylor Marhsall. I'm happy he has gravitated more towards the traditionalist camp. And I know people will inevitably say that myself or Mr. Tierney are harming the traditional cause by ripping this book. On the contrary, it is the existence of books like Infiltration which do damage to the traditionalist cause by making us look like a bunch of conspiracy theorists for whom a certain narrative is more important than the facts. It's highly likely that anyone I gave this book to in hopes of convincing them of our cause would walk away shaking their head. I don't deny the book is entertaining and engaging; but as history, it's a huge fail. And please don't tell me "He's just trying to do a good work for the Church." We can't play loose with the truth in service of the truth. When I was in college, I wrote a paper on the Protestant Reformation for my history class. It was a blistering critique of the Lutheran movement. I thought my professor, a militant Catholic, would heartily approve of it. Instead he lambasted it ruthlessly. My citations didn't prove what I said they proved. Connections I inferred were not sufficiently demonstrated. Too much reliance on secondary sources and not enough on primary. He ripped it to shreds. It didn't matter that I was "trying to do a good thing for the Church." And he was right to destroy it. The scholarship of that paper was garbage. Its shoddy reasoning and weak citations were actually more damaging to Catholicism than supportive of it. And that's always been my approach as well. You can show me a book that argues 100% in line with things I believe, but if it's scholarship and citations are sloppy I'm still going to say it's bunk. Even if I happen to agree with a lot of Taylor Marshall's conclusions, he offers no compelling reason why I ought to believe them.

Well, that's enough for my introduction. I guess I should actually get to Kevin's review.

Review of Dr. Taylor Marhsall's Infiltration: The Plot to Destroy the Church from Within by Kevin Tierney

How does one explain the crisis in the modern Church? This is a subject that has taken up endless amounts of discussion. After this review, we will spend even more hours, but God willing, not too many. During that time, in addition to discussing the root causes of the crisis, we will discuss how present these problems, and what one can do to solve them. In having that discussion, a wide variety of viewpoints will be presented.

Taylor Marshall has given his own viewpoint in Infilitration: The Plot to Destroy the Church From Within. This is a 250 page work with 50 pages of appendices, in addition to a glowing foreword by Bishop Athanasius Schneider. By appearances alone, this is a serious and sober book. Yet as with many things, appearances are deceiving. Infiltration fails as a serious and sober look at the problems facing the Catholic Church. More importantly, the ways in which it fail can have real consequences for how that crisis is perceived, and for those who advocate it along these lines.

Yet in reviewing this work, we must be careful. We must avoid being like Dr. Jeffrey Mirus, whose review of Infiltration was less a review on the book and more on his belief that Taylor Marshall is a moron. There is no valley so low to which Mirus will not stoop in his quest to insult Dr. Marshall, no pettiness he will not engage in to further his belief that Marshall is a crazy uncle. Sadly, many people have picked up on this review, and are promoting it. While this no doubt makes them feel good and superior, I doubt its actually reaching anyone who has actually read the book, or who isn’t absolutely certain of the intellectual capacity (or lack thereof) of Dr. Marshall. In this review, I want to avoid those pitfalls. This is a bad book, but we need to explain why exactly it is bad, even if you agree with the authors overall conclusions about there being a modernist crisis in the Church.


In his rejection of a certain theological position, Marshall says he rejects it because it “does not present a consistent theological narrative” for the present crisis. For Marshall, the narrative is what matters above all else. The narrative about the crisis matters more than the actual crisis, which is almost secondary. Unlike most traditionalist polemics, Infiltration spends a shockingly small amount of time talking about the problems the Church faces. Instead, he is concerned most with telling you what the cause of these problems are. The cause of these problems are a hyper-organized and almost omniscient cabal of secret societies (the Carbonari, Freemasons, the Sankte Gallen Mafia, among many others) carefully and calmly putting together a plan to take over and subvert the Church. The blueprint of this plan is the Permanent Instruction of the Alta Vendita, written in 1859. Marshall’s job is to trace a straight line from this document up until 2019, and show how it explains everything about the current crisis.

The problem with conspiracy theories is they adopt an approach of paranoia in their reading of history. In every event, they see otherwise invisible narratives—and if you look hard enough, there are signs of these narratives, signs the author will gladly tell you about if you spend the money for their book. Hence he begins his narrative by asking why lightning struck the Vatican the day Benedict resigned the papacy. Was it connected to the Vatican banking scandal? Was it about sex abuse? Doctrine? To Marshall, that lightning strike means something. To the reader, that strike might also mean something: a weather pattern developed in the earths atmosphere that was conducive to strong storms, and one of them produced a bolt of lightning which struck the Vatican. That possibility is never once mentioned by Marshall.

Another problem is that it gives the enemy far too much credit. That secret societies exist, and that they are often hostile to the Catholic Church is no doubt true. Yet Marshall presents these societies less as the dangerous threat that they are, and more as cartoonish supervillains who are all powerful, hyper organized and disciplined, and every action done is followed verbatim by a plan written 160 years ago. Anyone who has studied the history of these societies for even a second will be skeptical of this. The movements of secret societies and radicalism spends just as much time knifing each other as they do trying to attack their common enemy. They splinter into factions upon factions. If anything, that’s what makes the assault on the Church so difficult from these groups: it is highly decentralized. Even today you could excommunicate and jail every member of the Sankte Gallen Mafia (the liberal group that by their own admission and boasting were the ones who lobbied and organized for Pope Francis during the recent conclave), and the crisis would continue without missing a beat. The problem isn’t so much a central playbook they are following, as there are a bunch of highly motivated individuals whose only thing they agree upon is a disdain and loathing for tradition and the Gospel.


For Dr. Marshall, one of the biggest problems the Church faced was the loss of the Papal States.  For a variety of reasons (although not important enough to elucidate in great detail in the book), the Papal States are central to everything.  It goes without saying that Dr. Marshall would not be happy about the Lateran treaty which gave rise to the modern Vatican City and the protection of the city from outside threats, in exchange for the pope relinquishing claims on everything else that comprised the Papal States.  The absurd assumptions that follow upon this are legion: for example, did you know that Ambrogio Ratti took the papal name Pius XI to rebuke his two predecessors named Pius?  Did you know that he took the name explicitly because he would solve the tensions with Italy that they failed?  And did you know that this Lateran treaty unleashed a demonic army that infiltrated the Vatican, culminating in the pontificate of Pope Francis, a Masonic Manchurian Candidate?  This is all just fluff; Marshall nowhere gives evidence that Ratti chose Pius XI as a slight towards his predecessors, or that Pius XI viewed himself as repudiating their failed policies.  He takes frequent leaps of logic to arrive at these conclusions.  He’s a habitual logic leaper.  Often, it is harmless.  Other times, he says things like the following:

Flanked by representatives of Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism, Pope John Paul II opened the Jubilee Year of 2000. One year later, he would be diagnosed with Parikson’s disease and begin his slow, painful descent into death (Infiltration, pg. 192).

Now, maybe God really did punish John Paul II with Parkinsons for mistakes regarding ecumenism. I would be very careful in writing that opinion in public though. As in, don’t write that in public. It's unprovable and a tremendous leap of logic; yet Marshall seems to imply a causal relation here that the reader is invited to uncritically accept.


In addition to seeking out the emanations of penumbras of various events in the Church, Dr. Marshall will also inform the readers of various theological controversies. Yet the way he does so is, quite frankly, fundamentally dishonest. In discussing “infiltration” of the Sacred Liturgy, he states his belief that the prayer “for our dearly departed… and all who died in your friendship” you hear during one of the Eucharistic Prayers is “seen” as promoting universal salvation. Nowhere does he mention who sees this, and where they record that view. Nowhere does he state if he agrees with that view or not. It is just “seen” by some. Yet for the purposes of his narrative, that “seen” is then treated as a verifiable fact. Elsewhere, he says it is “still debated” whether Vatican II’s decree on religious liberty gives a divine right to engage in idolatry. He nowhere mentions where this is “still debated.” He nowhere mentions what side of the debate he finds himself on. He is simply noting some impersonal passive debate going on somewhere. Yet, for purposes of the narrative, the Church, in a decree from an ecumenical council, gave divine sanction to idolatry. Yet if you press him too hard on this, he will fall back on saying the text “seems to suggest” it, and then just continue onward as if it is undebatable truth. The problem with both is clear: they are very much not established truths. If they are not established, then there’s a real chance his “infiltration” narrative is incorrect. Debating such a mindset is impossible. It is heads he wins, tails you lose. Even if one is disposed to agree with Dr. Marshall's fundamental arguments here, he offers no reason why you should believe them.

Marshall responds to these criticisms by hinting that people are afraid of his work and his conclusions, while other defenders point to the fact Bishop Schneider endorsed the work. That Bishop Schneider endorsed this work is tragic. Yet it is a reminder that staunch doctrinal orthodoxy does not always translate into sound judgement. Just as Christopher West was (wrongly) endorsed by several orthodox bishops, so it is with this work. As far as the conclusions, I am not "afraid" of those conclusions. I have no problem believing that people have tried to undermine the Gospel from within positions of the Church. If you don’t believe that, you haven’t been paying attention the past 50 years.

Yet there is a right way and a wrong way to respond to those conclusions. Sound evidence and logic matters. We must be careful to present the facts as they happen, and when we are engaging in speculation, make clear we are doing so, and make sure that speculation is backed by sound evidence. If we don’t, it becomes far too easy to paint critics as a bunch of crazy reactionaries and as Alex Jones with incense. Nobody is expecting a modern day Iota Unum, a dry manifesto 800 pages long outlining the problems with the Church’s surrender to liberalism. (Yet it is a great book!) We badly need a book outlining in easily readable fashion the problems the Church is facing, and how to confront them. (You see almost nothing in how to confront the problems from Marshall, outside of pious generalities.) Infiltration is not that book.