Modernism's last stand: How rebellious priests in Europe and the US seem to be following Luther's example - even if they are more arrogant and less courageous than he was. "Here I stand, I can do no other" - At least Luther stood by his conscience, abandoning Rome to form his own sect.
The National Catholic Reporter reported on December 2 that four Flemish priests issued a "church reform manifesto" - which has the support of about 200 dissident priests and about 5000 members of the Belgian laity - during the week leading up to Advent. This document, reminiscent of Luther's Ninety-Five Theses, calls for the appointment of laypeople as parish leaders, preachers and liturgical ministers, as well as for the immediate ordination of married men and women as priests. Needless to say, the article (written by an American "historical theologian" called John Dick) seemed supportive of the so-called "Believers Speak Out" manifesto. The NCR is known for its enthusiasm for "progressive" Catholicism, much like The Tablet over here in the UK - which also covered the Belgian "reform" manifesto story in a recent online edition.
Any bias that might have been in the NCR article itself seemed small compared to the openly rebellious comments in support of the four Belgian priests that appeared both in a comments thread under the piece as well as in various "liberal" blogs on the internet. On his blog, Queering the Church, Terence Weldon, a prominent member of the Soho Masses Pastoral Council - which itself seems to be more about rebellion against Catholic teaching than pastoral support for homosexuals - appeared to be full of praise for the Belgian dissident priests. In the past he has often been supportive of other "call to disobedience" movements within the Church, such as the one led by a handful of priests in Austria. Yesterday, Weldon even seemed to report with glee that we should expect Dutch Dominicans to renew "[their] call for reform, and even open rebellion, sometime soon." He also claimed that most Catholics supported active disobedience towards the "oligarchs" (his word) who lead the Church - the "oligarchs", one assumes, are the Vicar of Jesus Christ and those who work with him in Rome?
Some of the comments in support of the Belgian rebels on the NCR site itself seemed to inhabit a realm somewhere beyond parody. Many were also engrossed in an exaggerated form of pride whilst also sadly lacking in a proper understanding of Catholic catechises. They claim to be experts in Catholicism, yet know very little about the faith and why we believe what we do. Openly flaunting their hatred for the Pope and calling for a heretical protestantisation of the Church, many of these "free thinkers" also appeared to exhibit classic signs of anti-Catholic self-hatred. Some even seemed to rejoice in being protestantised Catholics, one even declaring that "Luther was (mostly) right". Another claimed that Catholics had a "duty to revolt" against the "monarchical rules of corrupt curial bureaucrats" - Stalin would have been proud of that one! Here are a few other choice quotes from those Modernists who came out of the woodwork to comment on the NCR story: -
"Do what Martin Luther did and have people in each parish post a manifesto just like this one on the front of each church in this country." [Why not go the full hog and cause schism and form your own church or just leave the Catholic Church? No-one is forced to stay!]
"The Church has become exactly what Jesus was against... a top heavy dictatorship that wants us to live by the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law!" [If that's how this person really feels, why don't they just join their local Lutheran or Anglican church? I'm sure there'll be a welcome for them amongst the hundreds of thousands of Protestant movements - all of which seem to share the same sentiments, whilst also managing to ignore their own problems and faults]
"Our church of old men in dresses simply will not allow this or ever address the truth about the elephant in the room...and I'm not referring to the overweight hierarchy!" [If I said that, I'd be called ageist, a homophobe and / or transphobic! Liberals seem to get away with a lot of hating]
"The current administration totally ignores that command of Jesus by restricting the Eucharist and those whom it will accept as ministers of the Eucharist. The leadership has been failing, weighed down by the accretions of wealth, secrecy, tradition and corruption. The people who are the Church need to lead the way." [Modernism, gnosticism, Americanism, false liberation theology, fanaticism, obstinacy, and disobedience, etc, etc]
"Bishops Vasa, Finn, Bruskewitz and others either join the chorus, or end up thrown out of their choir stalls. Their negativity and unbending obeisance to an out-of-touch patriarch should not stop the faithful from taking back THEIR Church." [This type of threatening open rebellion and modern-day revolutionary Marxism has no place within the Church founded by Christ]
"Leave Rome to spin its incantations and grind out the anathemas. Their day is over." [Honestly, doesn't this rhetoric sound like something that Luther or Calvin would have said?]
"What America's bishops, in fact all bishops, watch for very closely is the sudden disappearance of the laity's loot falling into the collection basket. Then these decrepit drama queens in violet begin to perk up and pay attention." [Is that statement homophobic? It's definitely anti-Catholic and horribly nasty]
"Let the frightened hierarchs take refuge in their chanceries and cast their anathemas. It's time for them and Pope Benedict to listen." [How charitable - this comment seems like the kind of threat that the Bolsheviks would have made]
"Occupy OUR Church movement? You bet!" [It's my Church, too, as well as being the Church of millions and millions of obedient and quiet followers of Jesus in loving communion with Rome! I wonder whether some of these rebels realise that they are actually in a minority and that even in those places (Europe and the US) where they're popular they've virtually apostatised from real Catholicism anyway?] (Emphases are mine)
Anyway, you get the gist of it all. Some of these NCR followers and commentators also claimed that the Pope was acting against the Holy Spirit and that they knew more than he did about Catholicism. They also seemed convinced that nearly 2000 years of Catholic tradition was wrong and that their new model theology was the one chosen by God and was "Spirit-led".
Pope St Pius X warned the Church about these types of people (whom he called Modernists), when he said: "feigning a love for the Church, lacking the firm protection of philosophy and theology, nay more, thoroughly imbued with the poisonous doctrines taught by the enemies of the Church, and lost to all sense of modesty, vaunt themselves as reformers of the Church." In the same truly prophetic encyclical - Pascendi Dominici Gregis - this holy Pope went on to describe how these dangerous and insidious heretics (his words) "put their designs for [the Church's] ruin into operation not from without but from within; hence, the danger is present almost in the very veins and heart of the Church." One of their primary and most deceitful ways of doing this according to Pius X is by claiming to be true reformers, whilst actually denying key Catholic concepts (such as the fact that Christ works through the hierarchy, or that the ordained priesthood is different to the priesthood of all the baptised). Here is what Pope St Pius X has to say about the "Modernist as reformer" : -
From all that has preceded, some idea may be gained of the reforming mania which possesses them: in all Catholicism there is absolutely nothing on which it does not fasten. Reform of philosophy... Reform of theology; rational theology is to have modern philosophy for its foundation, and positive theology is to be founded on the history of dogma. As for history, it must be for the future written and taught only according to their modern methods and principles. Dogmas and their evolution are to be harmonised with science and history. In the Catechism no dogmas are to be inserted except those that have been duly reformed and are within the capacity of the people. Regarding worship, the number of external devotions is to be reduced, or at least steps must be taken to prevent their further increase, though, indeed, some of the admirers of symbolism are disposed to be more indulgent on this head. Ecclesiastical government requires to be reformed in all its branches, but especially in its disciplinary and dogmatic parts. Its spirit with the public conscience, which is not wholly for democracy; a share in ecclesiastical government should therefore be given to the lower ranks of the clergy, and even to the laity, and authority should be decentralised.
The Roman Congregations, and especially the index and the Holy Office, are to be reformed. The ecclesiastical authority must change its line of conduct in the social and political world; while keeping outside political and social organization, it must adapt itself to those which exist in order to penetrate them with its spirit. With regard to morals, they adopt the principle of the Americanists, that the active virtues are more important than the passive, both in the estimation in which they must be held and in the exercise of them. The clergy are asked to return to their ancient lowliness and poverty, and in their ideas and action to be guided by the principles of Modernism; and there are some who, echoing the teaching of their Protestant masters, would like the suppression of ecclesiastical celibacy. What is there left in the Church which is not to be reformed according to their principles?
These Belgian priests are not Catholic reformers - they are not like our great saints who called for a genuinely reformed Church, so that it would become more Catholic, more able to turn sinners into saints. Rather, they seem to conform to Pope Pius X's description of a typical Modernist - false reformers who actually wish to destroy the Church from within. Sadly, they also appear to be little more than mini Martin Luthers scurrying about full of anger, with their own ego-based plans for the Bride of Christ. They wish to change Catholicism, to create a rupture - breaking away from what the Church has always been, destroying our ecclesiastical roots. Whilst pretending to be humble and wishing to save souls, they actually think that God speaks directly to them and that He opposes his own faithful. They bizarrely seem to believe that the same Holy Spirit who has appointed the Pope is also calling everyone else to rebel against him. Sadly, they also appear to imagine that they are better educated and enlightened than those whom Christ has put in authority over them - even the Successor of St Peter himself!
Back to the "Believers Speak Out" manifesto which seems not to be a humble supplication, but a demand made in the language of Marxism and secular politics... In it the Belgian four called for five major "reforms" to the Church, echoing similar agendas recently called for by proudly disobedient (and rather elderly) priests in Austria, Germany and Ireland.
Their first demand is that "parish leadership be entrusted to trained laypeople." This is necessary according to some of the Belgian priests' supporters in order to being to an end a perceived "culture of clericalism." But, surely, having lay leaders within parishes would actually create more clerics - lay ones with a predominantly anti-Catholic, Leftist, and very middle class bias? In my experience, lay clerics or "progressive lay ministers" can often seem to be far more controlling, secretive and out of touch with reality than the ordained men they appear to despise so much.
For centuries, lay men and women have helped to run our parishes - they have painted and cleaned our churches, they have raised money for the missions (both at home and abroad), they have supported priests and the vulnerable in society and helped beautify the Sacred Liturgy (singing in choir, praying at Mass, serving at the Sacred Mysteries, etc). It was also the case that lay people before the Second Vatican Council were far more able / willing to organise guilds, devotional groups, traditional parish processions and the like, whereas (ironically) post-Concilar Catholicism seems to have become more about the priest (and special elite laity) and his (and their) "active" role in the Liturgy.
Pope Benedict XVI wrote as Cardinal Ratzinger in The Spirit of the Liturgy that the priest is not that important - the Mass is never supposed to be about him (the "Father said a good Mass today" syndrome). The new Mass, though, appears to encourage priests to be performers, entertainers and jokers - they have become the "presider", their egos sometimes even becoming the centre of attention. A post-Conciliar misunderstanding about the real nature of lay active participation during the Holy Sacrifice has also led to Masses that are now more centred on the people and on their "leadership qualities" than the reverential and pure worship of Almighty God.
It is now accepted by many that post-Conciliar Catholicism has become over-inflated with professional lay clerics, to the detriment of actual priests. Those dioceses that have put a stop to the self-appointed ministries of interfering know-it-alls (who usually have substandard degrees in theology from Jesuit universities!) are actually seeing a rise in priestly vocations, whilst those dioceses that cling onto the false "spirit" of Vatican II continue to experience a dearth in successful vocations to the priesthood.
So, do we need a new and insidious form of middle class "lay clericalism", led by Left-wing ex-hippies with an axe to grind? No, thank you!
Secondly, the four Belgian Luthers asked in their manifesto for "Communion services be held even if no priest is available." But why is it necessary to have Communion services when Mass cannot be offered? Receiving Holy Communion seems to have become an obsession for post-Conciliar Catholics - as if it is some human right that they cannot live without.
The reality, though, is that Catholics are only obliged to receive Communion once a year - during Easter-tide. And those who live in the desert or outer-space need not worry about fulfilling even this obligation - God does not expect us to do the impossible! Attending Mass on a Sunday is only an obligation when it is possible to do so. If there is no priest available or one cannot get to Mass on Sunday through ill health or whatever, then there is no need to worry about organising so-called Communion services or the fact that one won't be able to receive Holy Communion that day. One's salvation does not depend upon it and a spiritual Communion performed with a longing and loving heart will in itself bestow immeasurable gifts on the soul.
When there are no priests available to celebrate Mass on Sundays or Holy Days of Obligation, the faithful should congregate and celebrate such liturgies as Lauds or Vespers, pray the Rosary together and offer up the cross of not being able to worship God in the way they would like. It is important to remember that God does not demand that we all receive Holy Communion every Sunday (it is not part of the obligation to attend Mass)! Pre-Conciliar Catholics knew this, and had a greater respect for the Body and Blood of Christ - which they received with far less frequency than happens nowadays. Today it seems that nearly everyone receives Communion all the time but hardly anyone goes to Confession as a means to prepare for this wonderful gift.
Do we want lay-led pretend Masses that don't fulfil the Sunday obligation anyway? No, we do not! If the parish I was in had no priest and there was no Mass offered on Sundays and I couldn't travel to the next parish(es), I would rather watch Mass on a Catholic television network or pray Lauds with some friends or family, whilst staying well away from clerical lay people - some of whom seem to be more interested in getting others to join the Communist party than in convincing them to turn away from their personal sin.
The third demand made by the Belgian rebels is that they want "laypeople [to] be allowed to preach." More "lay clericalism" led by Left-leaning middle class know-it-alls! If there is no bishop, priest or deacon to preach on Sundays, then it would be better to rejoice and let Christ speak to us in the silence of our own hearts than have to listen to some self-appointed progressive urge us to recycle our Cornflakes' box. There is no need to have "lay preachers" giving sermons at Mass - if there is a priest there, let him do it, for that is what he was ordained to do.
Isn't ironic that those who complain about a "culture of clericalism" (or "oligarchies" and "monarchical government" in the Church, or whatever Marxist language they use) are actually the ones who want to form their own clique of professional (and predominantly middle class or elitist) lay Catholics? As we know, when monarchs have been toppled in the past (by Communists and revolutionaries and the like), those who at first promised liberation to the people soon became far more tyrannical and dictatorial than any previous king or emperor - Soviet leaders soon outdid Ivan the Terrible in their lust for human blood and oppression! Those who say they want to save Catholics from the Pope are very dangerous people - they actually want to control us and to usurp the authority of Christ, who ordained the Church's hierarchy. Don't be fooled by their utopian dreams - a Church of lay clerics would be horrendous.
Do we want sermons by arrogant, anti-Catholic and doctrinally spurious laypeople? No we don't! We lay men and women are actually already called to preach the Gospel in the world which we inhabit - not at Mass, and not with self-important homilies, but through the way we live our lives! Those words attributed (wrongly, but there we go...) to St Francis of Assisi are very apt: "Preach the Gospel, but use words only if you have to!"
The forth demand made by the four Belgian clerics is that "divorced and remarried people be allowed to receive Communion." Whilst understanding the pain that some divorced and remarried Catholics might feel at not being in a state that allows them to receive Holy Communion, it is important to point out that they did choose through their own free will to enter into an irregular union that puts them at variance with the Church's teaching.
Their consciences alone, then, should inform them that they cannot receive Holy Communion (just as anyone who is in a civil partnership or who is "living in sin" cannot receive the Body of Christ). The Christian life is about choices - we either choose to put Christ first, or we place other idols before him. Those who love him, keep his commandments - and his teaching on marriage and divorce is clear. It's not easy to be a Catholic, but no-one ever said it would be. "And he said to all: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me" (Lk 9:23).
As mentioned above, Communion is not a right, neither is it necessary to receive it every week (or day) in order to be saved. In the early centuries of the Church, as is still the case in many Eastern Churches to this day, most Christians only received Our Lord's Body and Blood once - such was their reverence for Christ and the holy things of God. The Body of Christ is not some trinket over which unrepentant and obstinate sinners have a right! In fact, it is the same Jesus Christ who has put the Pope and the bishops in authority over us, so how can any of us (in good conscience) receive his Body when we openly rebel against them (him) and the Church he has given us?
The seemingly Modernist priests' last openly rebellious desire was that "as quickly as possible, both married men and women be admitted to the priesthood". To paraphrase what Pope St Pius X said: their arrogance knows no bounds! It is the Lord Jesus Christ who ordained the sacred priesthood and who calls only men into it. He is the one who wills this, and the Church has no authority to override the mind and heart of Christ, her Lord! He is not some president that people can campaign against or order about, and neither is his Vicar, the Pope, some dictator or politician. Filial obedience to him is obedience to the one who sent him, arrogant rebellion against the Pope is rebellion against Christ himself.
Although the question of women priests is now definitively beyond discussion, the way these Belgian priests have gone about demanding a married clergy (with the threat of disobedience, as has happened in Austria) is not conducive to proper discussion or dialogue. If they are so desperate to marry, then they have to choose, like every other Christian, between their own desires and the demands of their particular vocation. If they are genuinely called to priesthood in the Latin Rite, then the grace of chastity will be given them. If they are called to marriage - or other forms of life - then the priesthood is obviously not the place for them. As Pius X said, "feigning a love for the Church, ... and lost to all sense of modesty, [Modernists] vaunt themselves as reformers of the Church."
I would suggest that by pretending to be concerned for the future of the priesthood in Europe - a priesthood that has actually been emasculated and weakened by an over-bearing and liberal "lay clericalism" - these Belgian rebels are in fact (even if they cannot see it themselves) seeking to destroy the priesthood, to "lay an axe" to the Catholic Church's very roots (cf Pope St Pius X's Pascendi Dominici Gregis).
We all know that many Catholics are so in name only, as Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in his recent set of interviews with Peter Seewald, Light of the World. Many are actually further away from Rome than Luther was - they seem convinced, like he was, that they have some divine mission to save the world from what they see as a tyrannical Pope! They have very little decency or courage, otherwise they would have walked away from the Church years ago, as opposed to trying to turn it into a protestant movement with relativism as its only doctrine. They are therefore potentially dangerous, even if their ideas aren't really that popular within the universal Church - i.e. that beautiful Body Christ that exists not only in parts of modern-day America and Europe, but which is found throughout the world and which even transcends time and space itself.
There was a time, not that long ago, when malcontent rebels whose theories endanger souls would have been kicked out of the Church. Sadly, though, it seems that some overly-indulgent clerics in the West appear to have been encouraging Modernist thought since the Second Vatican Council (if not before it). This means that it's now harder for bishops (even if they wanted to / were brave enough) to act as they once did - by excommunicating or anathematising those who had reneged on their baptismal and confirmation promises before God: to accept all that the Catholic Church holds and believes. Something needs to be done about these disobedient rebels, though - the salvation of souls demands it. But are there bishops brave and wise enough to act - will any of them follow the example of holy Pope St Pius X?
Dylan Parry is a Spero columnist who lives in Wales.