By Dr. Larry Chapp
Many folks who follow this blog have contacted me and are wondering if my views on Archbishop Vigano and Taylor Marshall have changed in light of the most recent ecclesiastical dirt devil set into motion by Pope Francis’s lamentable comments on civil unions for homosexuals. Some people, who I greatly respect, have even suggested that I owe Archbishop Vigano in particular an apology for my criticisms directed at him. I am sorry to disappoint those folks but no apology from me is forthcoming. I stand by every word of what I wrote about both Marshall and Vigano, despite the recent papal brouhaha. In what follows I will first comment on the Pope’s statement and then clarify why I don’t think any of it in any way “vindicates” these two dissenters from Magisterial teaching.
Let me begin then with the comments by Francis on civil unions. I have been following the ebb and flow of articles, essays, and social media comments on what the Pope may have said. A lot of silly ink has been spilled parsing his words in painstaking detail, and in exposing the nefarious agenda of the documentary film maker. “The Pope was misquoted!” “He did not say what the filmmaker says he said!” “It was all a clever manipulation!” “Hooray, Church discipline has not changed after all!” And if one challenges this chorus line of high-stepping Rockettes, one is met with silence as they seem unwilling to even consider that all of their linguistic gyrations are a completely irrelevant red herring.
Because here is the deal people: as the Vatican-based journalist John Allen has noted, the Pope has not clarified his remarks in the face of almost universal agreement in the popular press, and among many Catholic activists like James Martin, that he has indeed endorsed gay civil unions. And so, until the Pope comes forward with a correction to this dominant narrative, then it is that narrative that stands. In other words, perception and reception of what he said is far more important in terms of the life of the Church than what he actually said. And if a grievous mistake has been made in the appropriation of his words then it is incumbent upon the Pope to say so. But he hasn’t. And probably never will. Therefore, I don’t care what he may or may not have “really said.” Without a correction from him then what he said is what the world says he said. And perhaps that is exactly what the Pope wants. How else to interpret his silence other than saying that it bespeaks an insouciant disregard for the public consequences of his cavalier statements?
Furthermore, as others have noted, why should we doubt that he has indeed endorsed gay civil unions when in point of fact he has already done so while Archbishop of Buenos Aires? Granted, (or so the narrative goes) he endorsed such an idea as an alternative to “gay marriage” and therefore adopted this stance as a rear-guard action to preserve the flank of the traditional teaching on marriage. But a question immediately arises – – why not oppose both gay marriage and gay civil unions if both are contrary to the moral doctrine of the Church? Is it not the role of an Archbishop to teach the truth, in season and out, rather than engage in this kind of “lesser of two evils politics”? And how does granting civil recognition to what the Church considers a sinful situation protect the traditional notions of marriage and the family anyway? Why not instead simply reaffirm the Church’s teaching – – politely, persuasively, pastorally and without pugilistic bluster – – and then let the chips fall where they may? Especially in light of the fact that an endorsement of civil unions is hardly, even on the level of political “strategy”, a long-term hedge against the slow creep of LGBTQ ideology, and is instead a nod in its direction, if not a nudge.
So instead of wasting time and energy on trying to salvage some semblance of papal integrity in the face of what is, in my opinion, a papal error of judgment, why not simply acknowledge that the Pope has made a mistake here and humbly request that he rescind his comments and that he affirm the still standing CDF prohibition against such civil unions? I for one am tired of playing these “whack a mole” games every single time another papal whammy pops into the public square only to have Francis quickly duck away into silence and obscurity. Such antics hardly constitute “confirming the brethren in the faith” which is the central duty of the papal office. So if you want to go on playing word games by all means feel free. But I am done with this game of papal Scrabble.
So what then of my criticisms of Marshall and Vigano? Have I not just signaled that I am in agreement with their criticisms of Pope Francis? Not only no, but Hell no. For starters, I don’t think the Pope is a Freemason sympathizer. Nor do I think Vatican II is a heretical and demonic Council that needs to be rescinded. Nor do I think that the entirety of modern theology, post Pascendi, should just be chucked into the circular file along with the rest of the day’s trash. Nor do I think the Pope is a heretic. Nor do I think the Church, and this Pope, are falling into religious relativism and a George Soros like globalism. Nor do I think that there is nothing of merit in this papacy on any level. Nor do I reject the notion that there is some truth in non-Christian religions and that we can merit from an honest encounter with those religions, even as we hold fast to the necessity of Christ for salvation. Nor do I think that the Church has been “infiltrated” by an evil cabal of conspirators who have created a counterfeit Church and that this “Church” is therefore a false Church, with the true Church being preserved, somehow, somewhere, by Vigano and those who think like him.
I might be critical of certain decisions and statements made by Pope Francis. But that is where any similarity between my views and those within the Vigano/Marshall circus tent of malcontents ends. Theirs is not a measured and balanced criticism, but a hyperbolic overreaction of paranoid fantasy that borders on the delusional. To accept their views one must accept that the entirety of the modern Church, from about 1910 until now, and with the full approbation of every pope of that time, is just a witch’s brew of heresy, apostasy, and corruption: a little eye of the Guardini newt here, a little wart of de Lubac there, mixed with a pinch of John Paul’s phenomenological pixie dust, and swimming in a Balthasarian broth of universalist acid, the Church of that time according to Vigano/Marshall is just a toxic elixir born of Satan. Furthermore, neither one of them offers us a positive construction of a theological alternative other than to constantly invoke the “Tradition,” as if they alone are its preservers and proper interpreters, and as if the Tradition is just an undifferentiated homunculus without nuance or breathing space. In their view, everything, absolutely everything, was “settled” somewhere about 150 years ago and one need only have recourse to Denzinger to adjudicate whatever piddling little disputes may remain on such burning topics as the propriety of certain altar linens or the number of threads in one’s phylacteries.
There are some who say I am attacking a caricature of their views, a straw man construction of my own invention, and that my snark is lacking in charity. And so I encourage everyone to read Vigano’s Molotov cocktail letters on Vatican II and the modern Church, or to read Marshall’s book “Infiltration” (borrow a copy from an SSPX friend, don’t buy it), or watch one of Marshall’s YouTube performances, and judge for yourself. I encourage you to do this most highly since there is no need to invent straw men here. These guys are already cartoonish caricatures of what a “loyal opposition” should look like. I haven’t had to invent anything.
And as for my snark? Deal with it. Stop reading my blog if you don’t like it. Because I extend to them the same charity that they have extended to others. Indeed, if truth be told, I am actually holding back harsher words and replacing them with the milder genre of “snark” because these guys are attacking my Mother, the Church. This is no mere academic disagreement but also the defense of my Mother, who has brought me to her Son, nourished me with her Sacraments, enlivened my soul with her spirituality, and elevated my mind with her teachings – – yes, even the modern ones. And I wager I am not alone in that. Well aware of the Church’s warts, mistakes, corruptions, and mind-numbing stupidity at times, she nevertheless remains my Mother. And my Mother did not become a prostitute to the times sometime after Pascendi.
Finally, I can only say that were the Church to adopt the vision and pastoral program of Vigano/Marshall it would be a catastrophe of historic proportions. Gone would be just about every Catholic intellectual of the past 150 years – – intellectuals that include far more than just theologians but also count in its ranks great philosophers, literary figures and a host of academics in various liberal disciplines. Gone would be the increased role of the laity in the Church (sorry Taylor, but your book would have been on the Index), or the explosion of Catholic growth in places like Africa and Asia, which would not have happened without the liturgical reforms – – reforms that had problems and need to be revisited in part, but which did open the door for more enculturated forms of worship. In the Vigano/Marshall universe that reform was nothing more than a Freemason plot, with Bugnini as the grand boogeyman, in need of total rejection.
And they say I am setting up straw men? There is no bigger straw man than the Church that is portrayed in the Vigano/Marshall ViewMaster slide show of alleged horrors. Like good mudslingers they throw enough crud at the wall that some of it sticks, which gives them street cred with Catholics who are rightly angry at the Church for a variety of valid reasons. But their remedy for the problem – – just burn the whole “modern thingy” down and go back to some imagined “good ol’ days” that actually never existed (another straw man of their creation) – – is honey-laced arsenic.
The Vigano/Marshall supporters are fond of reminding us that “souls are at stake!” Indeed they are, which is why it is important in these confusing and irritating times to avoid the snake oil salesmen peddling miracle cures. And the snake oil cure offered by Vigano/Marshall – – the elimination of Vatican II for its putative heresy – – is both completely unrealistic (it just is never going to happen. Ever. Full Stop) and theologically absurd. And it is absurd because whatever its demerits might be, Vatican II was attempting to address questions and issues that the Church was going to have to address at one time or another anyway. For even if you grant that the answers Vatican II gave to those questions was in grave error (and I do not grant that) the questions themselves are valid and will remain. To ignore them and to call instead for a restorationist return to a premodern “fortress Church” with its stifling clericalism, its deductive dogmatism devoid of any encounter with actual living things, and its boring-as-crap, degraded scholasticism, is just a non-starter. Sooner or later the Church needed to pose the question of modernity to herself. Because if she didn’t, the world was going to impose an answer anyway since Catholics swim in the culture of modernity and are formed by its narrative. Therefore, the fact that “souls are at stake” actually mandates the asking of those questions and further mandates, at the very least, the lineaments of an answer. That is why the Council called itself a pastoral Council. Because it knew souls were at stake. Therefore, to accuse the Council Fathers of being stooges duped by a cabal of modernist Freemasons is both a calumny and an ignorant historical revisionism.
Therefore, this is why I call their approach honey laced arsenic and snake oil. Because it comes across as reasonable in light of our modern problems and it appeals to the nostalgia in all of us that rises up in times of crisis. But this appeal must be resisted. Thus, rather than rejecting Vatican II tout court, the Church would be better served by actually doubling-down on the questions the Council was addressing. And if in the light of our own times, and with 20/20 hindsight, in answering those questions we deem Vatican II to have been deficient in spots, then by all means let’s discuss that. By all means revisit it and ask the questions anew with an even deeper awareness of why the Council was right to ask those questions in the first place.
But for the love of Christ (I mean that literally) do not reject the project itself and invent all sorts of evil conspiracies as to why it should be rejected, all the while advocating for a return to a past that never was.
Pope Francis was wrong about civil unions. And he has been wrong about some other things as well. So let’s just say I am not a fan. But if I had to choose between the modern Church – – a Church that includes Pope Francis – – or the Vigano/Marshall Church of Latter Day Arsonists – – I will choose the former with great prejudice.