A brief follow-up to my last post: Why I criticize certain kinds of “traditionalists.”

June 10, 2021

I want to address, briefly, an issue that has been raised by several of my readers in emails to me in response to my post on Balthasar’s “Dare We Hope” thesis.  And that is the issue of why I seem to go after “traditionalists” more than I do Catholic liberals, despite my obvious disdain for the latter.  In answer I will borrow an argument from the traditionalist’s own playbook who, when asked why they go after Bishop Barron far more than they go after Cardinal Cupich, reply that it is because they do not expect orthodoxy from the latter but they do from the former. Likewise, I do not write much about Catholic liberals because they bore me and I think that their views are clearly animated more by the popular zeitgeist than by the Gospel.  In short, I do not take their views seriously and think that they will eventually be eclipsed by saner Catholic voices, despite their current influence in the Church.  And those saner voices will come from some version of Catholic traditionalism.

Therefore, the only truly interesting debates for me are those between differing versions of traditionalism. And they are interesting not only because the theological ideas are captivating, but also because it matters greatly which version of traditionalism will emerge as the most influential.  I am a traditionalist of the ressourcement/Communio school and I have serious and deep disagreements with some people in the currently emerging neo-traditionalist school, especially among its more prominent internet pugilists.  Therefore, the fact that I write so much on that debate is because I think that it matters far more in the big picture than trying to convince Fr. James Martin and his epigones that they are wrong.  And yes, I am often a bit snarky, as is my style.  But hey, it is a blog – – my blog – – and I like to write in a style that is both intellectually substantive and entertaining, which are not, after all, mutually exclusive.  And besides, what is “overheated snark” to one person is “funny and spot-on satire” to another.  I write as I want to write and I like to interject humor into my posts. And I make no apologies for that.   Quod scripsi, scripsi.

However, in response to the charge that my snark is every bit as nasty as the traditionalists I criticize, and that I am therefore “just as guilty” as they are, I will respond with an analogy.  If I were to see my sister unfairly attacked, physically, by some street bully I would, of course, rush to her defense even it that means using the same tactics as the bully – – fisticuffs.  Now, someone watching the whole thing could later say to me, “hey dude, you were just as much of a bully to that dude as he was to your sister,” I would respond by saying that he was nuts.  And any sane person would say the same.  The means might be the same – – fists – – but the moral quality of my actions are of a different kind altogether from that of the bully.  Likewise, when I “punch down” at some traditionalists it is for that very same reason.  Folks like Taylor Marshall and Michael Voris, when it comes to their gross and unfair mischaracterizations of people like Balthasar, von Speyr, and Bishop Barron, are the moral and intellectual equivalents of that bully.  They use their highly visible platform and their popularity to engage in ad hominem attacks on those with whom they disagree theologically.  For example, Fr. Altman, despite his many apparent qualities, recently said in an interview with Taylor Marshall that Bishop Barron is a heretic who needs to be excommunicated.  This statement is beyond idiotic and is just a click baiting effort to toss red meat at his base and to gin-up opposition to Barron on utterly false premises.  Theological disagreement is fine and I have engaged in civil and legitimate theological debate my entire career.  So my issue is not that some disagree with Balthasar or Barron, but the ignorance and mean-spirited manner in which they do so.  Thus, to accuse of me of “doing the same thing they are doing” is, I think, a profound confusion about the difference between ignorant and unfair theological bullying and a spirited defense of the bully’s targets.

As I said, I have no issue – – none – – with traditionalism as such and count myself as one kind of traditionalist.  Indeed, even among those traditionalists of a more Tridentine orientation than myself, I count many as my dear friends and respect them greatly for their love of the Church and their devotion to Our Lord.  Folks like Janet Smith and Steve Skojec are fine examples of this kind of traditionalist and I say, “let’s have at the debate” and will engage them as befits the charitable manner in which they conduct their conversations.  Most of the traditionalists of my acquaintance are devoted Catholics who want nothing more than I do – – a renewal of the Church – – and I tip my hat to their devotion.

Nevertheless, the traditionalist movement has spawned an ugly underbelly of internet bullies who do not conduct themselves with this kind of dignity.  And they are giving the wider traditionalist movement, which I largely support with some caveats, a bad reputation.  In short, the traditionalists of this type have weaponized a certain form of the Church and used it against people who should be viewed as their natural allies even if those people do not share all of their views on traditionalism.  The traditionalist movement needs to fight back against these kinds of folks in their ranks and see them for what they are:  a detriment to their overall message.  And if, for example, “Summorum Pontificum” gets rolled back then the fault for that will lie, at least in part, with the fact that many bishops who were formerly open to it have grown weary of the subculture of animosity toward those outside of the TLM community that many such communities display.  Having a variety of differing liturgical forms is great and I love the TLM and I support Summorum and hope it does not get overturned.  But using the TLM as a cudgel against the broader Church, and to use it as a reference point for creating a “remnant Church against the Church” mentality, is counterproductive in the extreme and it will become identified with something negative and will end up in self-destruction.

There is a lot at stake here and we need the traditionalists.  I am happy – – very happy – – that they exist.  But they need to get out of their own way and to understand that their message is a profound one that should stand on its own merits without all of the bullying towards anyone who might harbor a different view of what “traditionalism” means.

That is all.  I am now off soon on a much needed vacation to visit my family in Lincoln, Nebraska, my home town.  Therefore, this will be my last post for a while and will resume in late June.  Peace to all.

Dorothy Day, pray for us.

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