Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Another Bold Stroke from the Pope of the Peripheries


On June 15 Pope Francis issued rescript changing Canon Law. The rescript, which takes immediate effect, prohibits any diocesan bishop from erecting a Public Association of the Faithful wishing eventually to become an institute of consecrated life or a society of apostolic life without explicit written permission of the Vatican Dicastery in charge of such institutes/societies. Essentially, the Vatican has assumed control over the establishment of all religious communities and priestly orders. 

Though it is not specified, it is assumed that this is primarily aimed to halt the formation of new traditional associations. It is clear from numerous statements by Francis—including his screed against traditionalist "restorers" made only one day before the issuance of the rescript—that Francis considers traditionalists the greatest threat to the modern Church. I have seen some banter online of people saying, "Don't assume this is about traditionalists" and "traddiedom is not the center of the Church." But to Francis it is. To Francis, traditionalism is the great enemy of his time. And he has not attacked any other segment of the Church as he has traditionalists. Therefore it is more than reasonable to assume this rescript is issued with traditional Catholics in mind.

The Dicastery in reference is run by de Aviz and Carballo, whom Dr. Kwasniewski referred to as "progressivist thugs", a sentiment I completely agree with. The chances of any traditional association receiving the requisite institutional approval from these gatekeepers is nonexistent.

I offer a few reflections on this development:

1) The Total Overthrow of Institutional Credibility

The Catholic Church has spent the last several decades destroying its institutional credibility, at least understood from a human perspective. The Church once possessed great institutional credibility; I am continually amazed, when I read histories of ecclesiastical events of the pontificates of Pius IX or Pius X, how the mere hint that the pope or some Congregation wanted something was enough to compel complete obedience, even beyond what the authorities asked for. But those days are long, long gone. The Church itself has continually debased its own institutional credibility since Vatican II by torrents of abuses gone too long unchecked, by the stream of garbled nonsense that is ceaselessly vomited out of the Vatican, and by unjust persecutions of Catholics whose only crime was to hold their tradition too dearly. The Church has spent a generation cultivating the mindset that the letter of the law doesn't ultimately matter; the "spirit" and the "signs of the times" are much more important. 

Thus, having worked so hard to enthrone the spirit, it is laughable that the Vatican now thinks it can rule by the letter; having spent a generation undermining the value of the letter, it now wishes to subvert the authority of every bishop by pen stroke. It is almost comedic. Liberals have long ignored the letter of the law; and Traditionalists have realized the implementation of the law is hopelessly stacked against them. The only ones still trying to square the circle are the na├»ve neo-Catholics, who have their heads so deep in the sand they can see Beijing. Traditionalism arose despite the letter of the law and it will not be crushed by the letter of the law—especially a law whose import has been eviscerated by decades of the Vatican's selective interpretation.

2) Necessity of New Models of Organization

But if no more traditional institutes are allowed to be erected by bishops on their own initiative, how shall we escape the letter of the law? The answer is simply that we will have recourse to organizational models not envisioned by the current canonical strictures. I refer you to an article called "Into the Woods" I wrote in 2018 in the aftermath of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life document Cor Orans, which essentially revolutionized the way women's religious communities governed themselves. The gist of the essay is that as the institutional Church becomes more untrustworthy under the current zeitgeist, traditional movements will be more about living a certain lifestyle than obtaining any specific ecclesiastical status. The Vatican might regulate the episcopal erection of new religious institutes, but it can do nothing against a group of individuals living together and making their own private vows. It may prohibit the creation of a new priestly society dedicated to the Traditional Latin Mass, but it cannot prohibit priests who love the Traditional Latin Mass from organizing on their own outside of official channels. It may prohibit the Latin Mass being said in diocesan parishes, but it cannot prevent it being said in private venues. The Church can shove the NAB and the Liturgy of the Hours at me as much as they please, but they can't prevent me gathering with likeminded men to pray the traditional Divine Office in Latin. Whatever we want done, we are going to have to do it ourselves—not by going "against" ecclesiastical authority in any schismatic sense, but by merely operating in spheres where ecclesiastical authority has no say. This is how Christendom was built; St. Benedict had no episcopal letter when he clambered up the slopes of Mount Subiaco and wandered into a cave.

3) Machiavellian Delegation and the Farce of Synodality

In case anyone had any shred of doubt left, this should make it perfectly clear that Pope Francis's ideas about "decentralization" and "synodality" are farcical. The same pope who allegedly wants to allow local bishops' conferences to make true doctrinal judgments also wants to tell bishops what organizations they can and cannot erect in their own dioceses. This is the same pontificate that, in the explanatory letter after Traditionis Custodes, purported to tell individual parishes what they could and could not advertise on the parish website or in the parish bulletin. The same pontificate who has systematically dismantled the independence of various religious orders and trampled on their charisms. Decentralization and synodality indeed!

Francis does not, and has never wanted, decentralization. Rather, he believes in what I would call Machiavellian delegation. Actual decentralization is too risky. After all, bishops like Cordileone and Mutsaerts exist, and we can't risk allowing more space for their ideas. He lacks the testicular fortitude to throw the cards to the wind and see where they land. Actual administrative control must be centralized as much as possible. But, since Francis is the pope of the peripheries, he needs his more revolutionary bold-stroke changes to appear to come "from the people"; after all, if everything were imposed from top down, it would merely reinforce the caricature of Francis as a dictator pope. So certain things are strategically delegated to local churches where and when Francis knows they will return a result favorable to his overall agenda.  In this way the most radical changes can appear to have come "from the peripheries," their adoption being presented not as a bureaucratic fiat but as yielding to the vox populi that the God of surprises foists on us. It is a machination worthy of Pontius Pilate. To put it bluntly, power is centralized, but revolutionary change is outsourced. If I were to illustrate the movement of Machiavellian delegation, it would look like this, where Rome is the yellow dot and "the peripheries" are the blue:

Taking control of religious orders and priestly societies? That power can be assumed by Rome. Married viri probati clerics? That change must come from the Amazon. Regulating the Latin Mass and forbidding parishes to advertise it? That power can be assumed by Rome. Allowing Holy Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried? That change must come from Germany. Of course which specific "peripheries" this radical change is outsourced to are matters of calculated deliberation; you'll never see the Vatican allowing the African bishops to take the path of synodality when it comes to handling same sex marriage. It's all carefully crafted theater rigged to return pre-determined results.

4) We Follow the Way

For us, though, this is ultimately about a way of life, not who has institutional control. I don't mean to downplay the importance of institutional control; and God willing, one day, the institution will be better, the ship's course will be righted, and mother will not be drunk anymore. Until that happens, however, what we are seeking is a way of life. In the New Testament and the earliest Christian writings, the Catholic faith was referred to as "the Way," and Christians were called "followers of the Way." This sort of thinking has greatly benefitted my own spiritual life during these difficult times. I am seeking a city whose builder and maker is God (cf. Heb. 11:10). The regime the Church finds itself under can annoy me, make me drive a little farther, make me jump through a few more hoops, make me roll my eyes, but it can't ultimately stop me from following the path our Lord Jesus has laid out. It cannot stop me from living the Faith of our ancestors and loving our traditions. 

But if things get so bad that I am deprived of certain spiritual benefits through no fault of my own, will God hold me to account? Certainly not. "For," the Scriptures say, "if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he has not" (2 Cor. 8:12). This means that if I earnestly will to follow God with my whole heart, I cannot be judged for what I lack, only what I have. It's not about how many talents I have, but what I do with whatever amount has been entrusted to me. God chose you to live in these times. He wants you here. And if we believe at all in God's Providence, that should be a very encouraging thought. The pope can make certain aspects of my external observance difficult, but he cannot touch the pearl of great price. "My Father is greater than all...and no one is able to snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:28). The corrupt regime in Rome is only able to knock me off the path to the degree that I let them. 

Stand Fast

So stand fast, brethren. Follow the Lamb wherever He goes. Purify your hearts, so you can hear His voice. And remember, "Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:38-39).

3 comments:

Paul said...

Excellent. Gave you props here, Boniface. Keep up the good work.

https://fatherofthefamily.blogspot.com/2022/06/not-by-constraint.html

Anonymous said...

Well written!

Seneca said...

We're all Benedictines now.