One of the more unfortunate things in the past 20 years…

Published March 12, 2021

…has been the disastrous rise of what I call the “counter-revolutionary priest”. That is, the priest who sees himself as the Savior of the Church from the Pope and the Damn Libruls, whose catechesis comes, not from Holy Church, but from a toxic brew of whack social media cults of personality centered on conspiracy theories and hostility to the actual tradition, and who regards his flock not as souls to be cared for, but as enemies to be purged and allies to be forged into a conspiracy to “retake the Church”.

Take, for instance, Fr. David Fulton, who imitated internet grifter Fr. John Zuhlsdorf by joining the insurrectionists at the Capitol on January 6 and performing an “exorcism” to cast out the results of a free and fair election:

In his defense, one could say that his prayer was heard. The visible-from-space antichrist Donald Trump was, in fact, cast out. But I’m pretty sure this is a case of God writing straight with crooked lines. As our father Joseph remarked, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

A reader who suffered under this guy’s ministrations describes his fascistic approach to his flock:

This jackass is why I drive 25 miles to go to Mass. I had been sort of the de facto music director at one of his parishes. This idiot came in 2017, following a wonderful progressive priest who had been here 24 years (and retired just before his 89th birthday). He first stopped allowing the faithful to receive the Precious Blood. Then tried to get rid of girl altar servers – they can sing and clean after all (his actual words). When we pushed back about girl servers, he gave in, but then got rid of servers all together. Last fall he “fired” all CCD teachers without telling them and taught CCD himself. The K-6 program went from about 30 students to 4 (all grandchildren of 1 deacon). He installed a communion rail (in a church never built for one – in 1967) and encouraged all to receive Communion by kneeling at it or at the very least only receiving on the tongue. He tried to force people to receive on the tongue. He humiliated my wife (a convert) became she didn’t hold her hands right and he scolded her loudly as she tried to receive Communion. He tried to get some money left to the church, but “accidentally” deposited in the wrong account to install an altar so he can say Mass with his back to the people. He encourages women to wear veils on their head. When the daughter-in-law of a newly-ordained deacon had an affair, this jackass did an exorcism on her. He refuses to wear a mask at Mass. And what I’ve said just scratches the surface. We tried to get rid of him, but the Archdiocese wouldn’t move him.

One gets the impression that the diocese is unsure how to deal with this guy. In the article, the Chancery spokesperson said, “Fulton did not break any civil or ecclesial laws while in Washington, D.C.,” the archdiocese said in a statement. “He attended the rally as a private citizen.” Then, McNeil said, however, that Omaha Archbishop George Lucas is “very upset” with Fulton and said Fulton should not have been at the rally. Then, “He should not have been there dressed as a priest. It was a misuse of his priestly ministry,” said McNeil, relaying Lucas’ comments. Then, Thirty minutes after the article was posted on Omaha.com, McNeil sent an additional comment from Lucas: “Whether or not Fr. Fulton broke any laws, I condemn his participation in the event in the strongest terms.” It looks a lot like this rogue MAGA priest didn’t bother to tell Abp. Lucas of his nutty plan, that the chancery was scrambling to deal with it, and that they are dimly awakening to the fact that this guy needs to be reined in.

The Reporter recently did a story on similar stuff elsewhere in the country:

During his tenure as pastor, Buckler has preached that parishioners had the moral obligation to vote for former President Donald Trump, skirted North Carolina pandemic regulations, and attracted a new set of parishioners from other parts of the diocese who now contribute to the support of what has become a traditionalist parish.

Buckler is among a number of pastors in the Charlotte Diocese who are dubbed restorationists, traditionalists, or, in some cases, rad-trads. They are often younger than other priests — Buckler was ordained in 2011 for the Raleigh Diocese — and they are trained in a liturgical tradition foreign to most Vatican II Catholics. Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte has invited them into his diocese and they now lead a number of parishes, much to the chagrin of some older clergy, who, mostly quietly, question their bishop’s judgment. Jugis recently opened a junior seminary to help train future pastors in a similar mold.

The Charlotte  Diocese is not alone. While Pope Francis preaches an accompaniment for all spiritual seekers and castigates clericalism — he once described young priests who put a premium on enforcing church regulations as “little monsters” — seminaries in the U.S. continue to graduate priests for ordination who look not to Francis, but to Pope John Paul II for inspiration. It is a quiet, awkward and uneasy kind of schism in church practice and discipline.

Many traditionalist seminarians seek training in regular seminary classes. But on their own time, they follow leaders such as Taylor Marshall and Church Militant, both anti-Francis websites.

“It’s an alternative magisterium,” Fr. Tim Kelly, a pastor in the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, told NCR. Kelly was formerly a teacher of homiletics and patristics at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston, where he observed how seminarians, after classes, would flock to social media for instruction on liturgical rubrics and moral doctrine.

While the faculty at St. Mary’s offers a curriculum much in line with Vatican II teachings, said Kelly, seminarians are often inclined to go online, where they are presented with an alternative vision. There they are told that Francis is failing to proclaim church teaching, that most bishops are lacking in orthodoxy, and that it will be up to new, younger priests to rescue the church from its shortcomings.

***

While bishops became more conservative and tradition-minded, so have their seminary students, said Schuth.

“They want certainty. They want answers,” she said, noting that they prefer to gloss over complicated issues of moral theology and other concerns. They also prefer the power granted to pre-Vatican II clergy and look forward to running parishes on their own terms.

Today’s seminarians, said Schuth, are part of an overall generational cohort that is more likely to be liberal and secular. These conservative seminarians are set apart in many ways from their peers, with a strong focus on evangelizing their age group members into traditional Catholic ways. They latch on to traditional modes and symbols, such as the wearing of elaborate cassocks. She said they will exert influence on the church as more are ordained.

“It’s a small number, but they are not insignificant because they tend to be active,” she said of today’s more tradition-minded seminarians. They immerse themselves in conservative Catholic media sites such as EWTN, Life Site News and Church Militant.

Their politics also tend to the conservative. Many supported former President Donald Trump. Their vision of church social teaching is limited, said Schuth.

“It’s all about abortion, nothing else matters,” she said about their politics.

In my experience, the fruit of Traddery is always toxic. I know a few–a handful–of nice Trads. But where Traddery reigns, the extinction of charity, the growth of anti-semitism, the rise of weird conspiracy theories, the crushing grip of legalism, the domination of a fear-based relationship with God, the suffocation of the Catholic intellectual tradition, and an Inquisitorial contempt for nearly the entirety of the actual body of Christ is always the fruit. When I meet a Traddery whose hatred for me and those I love does not hit me in the face like a blast furnace, I will take it seriously as an expression of the Faith that I want to be associated with. But I don’t have any belief I ever will and I will not miss it if it brings about its own well-earned extinction. The chief fruit of Traddery, in my experience, is overwhelming Pride–and a shocking ignorance of the actual Tradition.

The reader above, who was driven away by this domineering priest, like people driven away in the Reporter article, is a familiar story and one which Reactionaries see as a win. Alienation of people seeking Christ and expulsion of the impure is a feature, not a bug, for this sect of self-pitying bullies. They will reply “OK Boomer” to people like me as they smirk, but this only makes clear the incoherence of their narrative.

Y’see, one of the little cognitive dissonances of Traddery is the whinging and complaining about the “trauma” of Vatican II coming from the mouths of kids who delight in mocking Boomers. But unless you believe in genetic memory, the sneering makes clear that much if not most of the Trad demographic is kids who weren’t even alive at the time of the Council cosplaying at a “tradition” that is younger than the Bangles and almost entirely a creature of the internet.

Meanwhile, it is the Magisterium in union with the Holy Father that is the proper custodian of the Tradition, not some pipe-smoking dilletantes with a fetish for Latin, Euro-aesthetics, fascism and a penchant for conspiracy theories and anti-semitism and libertarian econ videos. That Magisterium bids us go out into the highways and byways and call in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. That has been the constant call of this papacy and that is why he is so hated by these people. Because Reactionary Catholicism is about pouring boiling on all who approach Fortress Katolicus and driving out most of those who are within in a misguided zeal for aesthetic and ideological purity that long ago excommunicated the pope himself.

Had they known the first thing about actual Tradition, they would have welcomed Amazonian Catholics seeking the sacraments with open arms. Instead they spat in their faces over an aesthetic quibble. Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Isaac Jogues, and most especially St. Paul would have had their guts for garters.

The solution, of course, is to learn the actual Tradition taught by the actual Magsterium under the guidance of the actual Holy Spirit, not the paranoid conspiracy theories of the spirit of MAGA and QANON. That process can begin any time for any who are humble enough to try.

I would start here, with Pope Francis’ fine new letter Fratelli Tutti.

22 Responses

  1. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but to me, when you take the vows of the priesthood, you forfeit all rights to act as a “private citizen.”

    Can you imagine if the rest of us acted that way?

    Wife: “Someone told me you were at a strip club last night and spent all night in a back room.”

    Husband: “Don’t worry. I’m your husband at home, but after hours, I’m a private citizen.”

    1. This! ^^ I used to work for a diocese and the priests would get annoyed if we called them on mondays, typically their day off. While everybody needs a break, I could never understand this attitude. Being a priest is their vocation as being a husband and father is mine. “Daddy can you help me go potty?” Sorry kid, I’m a private citizen, ask your mother…

    2. MarkofMaine, they don’t forfeit their rights to act as a private citizen, but priests definitely do take on a vocation with many obligations different from a 9-5 job, and their ministry is subject to the authority of their bishop and the bishop of any place where they may travel.

      So I don’t know canonically speaking, but if this was a public action, it might not have been licit. I know the Church takes matters surrounding demonic influence fairly seriously and requires a priest be authorized for some of them. On the other hand, some types of exorcism are ordinary and common. For instance, the ordinary (although less common since the Book of Blessings introduced a simpler option) practicing exorcising the water and salt before blessing holy water.

      With that said, however, the comparison of a prayer of exorcism to going to a strip club is wrong.

    1. Aesthetic that privilege European traditions–particularly classical ones–over the aesthetics of other cultures, particularly poor and brown ones. It is no coincidence that an Austrian fascist threw Our Lady of the Amazon in the Tiber and white racist goons in the US cheered at this insult to Amazonian Catholics.

      1. One of my archaeology professors once said that an exclusive focus on classical aesthetics is a hall mark of fascism. Besides, what many see as classical architecture, is literally whitewashed stuff. Those Greeks and Roman temples looked a lot like contemporary Hindu temples in terms of color. The same, no doubt, is true of what remains of the indigenous stone architecture of the Americas.

        That being said, inasfar as there *are* ”European” aesthetics: Bernini, but also Chagall. Viollet le Duc, but also Bauhaus.

      2. Do you know that the young man is a fascist or are you just tossing out calumnies?

  2. What I see is a lot of goats without a shepherd. I didn’t say sheep for obvious reasons. (Or that there isn’t a shepherd.)

    North Americans still can’t come to terms with not being the saviors of the world. Our faltering superiority complex bleeds into so many aspects of our lives.

    I wonder what will become of us.

  3. I have mixed feelings about this article, but have had a really tough year spiritually anyway. On the one hand, I agree with much of your picture of traditionalism and its toxic aspects. People I’ve considered friends and held in great respect have, particularly this past year, completely gone off the deep end. Sermons and post-Mass chatter have drifted more and more into “Deep State, Deep Church, Great Reset, End Times, Lavender Mafia, Bad Bishops” craziness. On the other hand… traditional liturgy and praxis is by and large absolutely amazing, beautiful, and spiritually rich in a way Vatican II liturgy really isn’t or even intended to be. I’m not even sure I’d still be a practicing Catholic had I not discovered the old Mass. I generally liked the 80s-90s Novus Ordo Mass I experienced growing up, but practically can’t live without the Mass now having been immersed in traditional liturgy for most of my adult life. I’d say it has nothing to do with cosplay.

    What I tend to see from those criticizing traditionalism, even when rightfully so, is a lack of desire to really take a look at the problem. The answer tends to be “these people have something wrong with them that draws them to this,” rather than “how has the Vatican II Church failed them or made them look for answers elsewhere?” People seem to have no problem being reflective and asking this tough question regarding those who completely lapse, but seem to shy away from it when it comes to traditionalists.

  4. I can’t find fault with Pope John Paul II, even if he didn’t have the foresight and strength to confront corruption. He was out on the highways and byways like Francis. The traddies didn’t like JP either. They were never happy with anything. I remember them having hissy fits over Theology of the Body, allowing altar girls, the third secret of Fatima…even the papal altar for World Youth Day and his vestments. They hated everybody outside of the strange kingdom in their heads.

    I used to think it was odd that at Opus Dei evenings of recollection or retreats, they didn’t pray the Fatima prayer after every decade of the rosary. Now I think I know why that is the case. Human beings are still filled with a profound inclination for superstitious ideas and complexes. We chase ideas that fill us up with fear and dread, because they give us more adrenaline than a lamb of God who lays down his life for love. The devil has far too much play time in their minds, and became fertile ground for perversions like Q. My Catholic friend who is deep in the Q mentality is utterly and completely obsessed with satanism. It literally stole her personality.

    1. Belief in Fatima (or any apparition for that matter) is not necessary for one to be saved, or be a Catholic in good standing.

      1. Sure. It’s just a pity that humans had to ruin something simple and beautiful by turning it into a cult.

  5. It’s unfortunate that uber-Trads act the way they do. I believe they have a lot to offer the Church, such as kneeling and receiving on the tongue (and several other things this priest did). When I hear people wonder why 70% of Catholics don’t believe the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, I can’t help but wonder in return, “If in the last several decades we had all been kneeling and receiving on the tongue, would the statistic be that high?” I’m sure there are other factors (there always are) but I can’t help but think the sort of “drive through” Communion lines, moving as quickly as possible, with crumbs on people’s hands that get brushed away, all contribute to irreverence which leads to unbelief.

    Unfortunately, the uber-Trads seem to think that if the right things are done in the right way, regardless of hearts, then all will be well and that we’ll get back to some Golden Age of Christendom. Our world isn’t like that. People need love and forgiveness and acceptance, and embarrassing them in the Communion line isn’t going to win any converts or friends.

    1. My grandmother used to say “the proof is in the pudding”. The longer version is “the proof in the pudding is in the eating.”. Another way of putting it is: “by their fruits you shall know them”.

      So what are we to make of people who eat and drink the body and blood of Christ, believing it to be Him, but who support racism, tribalism, keeping wages low for the poor, healthcare for those who can pay for it and who consider their own sins more appealing than the sins of those they malign?

      There must be a special kind of blasphemy in kneeling, saying “amen” to Him before receiving him and continuing to do violence in word and deed to the people they are afraid/suspicious of.

      I have seen too many examples of sanctimony being directly linked to cruelty.

      I think it was Fulton Sheen who said, “we become what we eat” but I’m sad and afraid to say that some embody the blasphemy of thinking we can serve two masters without it disfiguring us. It is an unholy proposition no matter how beautiful the outward gesture and appearance of the EF of the mass.

      1. @tacoanybody

        I agree! You hit on a very important point. It seems hypocrisy abounds on all sides and all sides justify it with “whataboutism”. Cafeteria Catholicism is rampant in the Church right now. But that just means all sides end up being hypocritical at some point along the way. That’s why books like Mark Shea’s “The Best Kept Secret” are so important right now. We shouldn’t be at each other throats but rather working together. When each “side” chooses only a couple points of Catholic Social Teaching and ignore the others we get tribalism within our own ranks.

        The divide isn’t Ordinary Form vs. Extraordinary Form because I go to an OF church and see the same divide between “liberal” and “conservative” (whatever those terms even mean these days). It’s a problem within the whole Church. Or at least American Catholicism; I can’t speak for what things are like in the rest of the world.

        We need to follow Church teaching in everything. The moment we pick-and-choose what parts we will believe and not believe we become a scandal, and how will we convert the world then? Because the world can smell hypocrisy a mile away (even as it ignores it’s own, but that’s another topic and does not exonerate the hypocrisy of the other side).

  6. It’s an interesting problem, St Paul’s observation, where sin abounds grace abounds even more, its an interesting problem because the new jansinists always imagine they can have the grace without the rabble which elicits the generosity of God. They are the poorest of the poor for they hate that which God loves, a Jesus who will not be denied in his pursuit of lost sheep. they, unfortunately, imagine that liturgy can be a tool to exclude the world, when every single liturgy is instead an open invitation to every human who was is or shall be. No wonder they are so angry and lost.

    1. True – but we are also not called to sin more so we can get more grace 🙂 I like Scotus’ interpretation that if we had not fallen, then God would still send his Son… He enjoys our company that much.

      1. Tis true, and I forever concur Jesus Christ was eternally the point of our creation fall or not, but the reason we can fearlessly join the Shepherd in His search is that no matter how wrong / sinful our neighbor may be their wrongness elicits from the Beloved a super abundance of grace.

  7. I recall seeing a Facebook post of yours where you said something to the effect of: ‘Liberating the Extraordinary Form was Pope Benedict’s biggest mistake; it ought to be suppressed and Traditionalism starved out of existence. Change my mind’.

    My only response then (and my only response to the horrors detailed in this article) was that of Abraham in Genesis 18, when God was contemplating the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah:

    (23) Then Abraham drew near and said, ‘Wilt Thou indeed destroy the righteous with the wicked? (24) Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; wilt Thou then destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that are in it? (25) Far be it from Thee to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from Thee! Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?’ (26) And the Lord said, ‘If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake’. (27) Abraham answered, ‘Behold, I have taken upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. (28) Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Wilt Thou destroy the whole city for lack of five?’ And He said, ‘I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there’. (29) Again he spoke to Him and said, ‘Suppose forty are found there’. He answered, ‘For the sake of forty, I will not do it’. (30) Then he said, ‘Oh, let not the Lord be angry and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there’. He answered, ‘I will not do it if I find thirty there’. (31) He said, ‘Behold, I have taken upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there’. He answered, ‘For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it’. (32) Then he said, ‘Oh, let not the Lord be angry and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there’. He answered, ‘For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it’.

    N.B.: I make absolutely no claim to be one of the ten righteous. In fact, I’m painfully aware that I’ve fallen into some of the very traps you enumerate in the past (e.g., lack of charity, fortress mentality, conspiracy theorising, suspicion of non-European traditions), which is part of why reading this article made my teeth stand on end. That, and also a real sense of shock and disorientation over how we could have such polar opposite experiences of Traddom (you mostly horrible with a handful of good eggs, me mostly wonderful with a handful of bad eggs). Is it because I’m something of a pipe-smoking, Neo-Classical dilettante myself (albeit one who would never force his aesthetics on anyone, and who has no patience for anti-Semitism or libertarianism)? Is it because I’m less confrontational and therefore present less of a target? Am I actually right in the thick of this freak show and I’m just not seeing it? It honestly makes my head spin!

    Still, I suppose I ought to thank you for writing this, since it gave me the opportunity to do two things. First, to go back and re-read a couple of articles on the ‘Pachamama’ controversy by Eric Giunta (possibly the only Trad to take a sane and balanced approach on the question) which brought me up short in a way I really needed to be – and which I was originally notified of via your Patheos blog:

    https://ericsgiunta.wordpress.com/2019/10/23/mother-earth-in-medieval-christian-art-and-literature/
    https://ericsgiunta.wordpress.com/2019/11/07/my-last-word-on-the-fake-vatican-pachamama-idols-controversy/

    Second, to reflect on the words of the late, great James Larson (+2020) – a Trad among Trads who was also deeply critical of the Traditional Movement – who had this to say in his second-to-last published article, ‘Archbishop Viganò, Donald Trump, and the Americanist Delusion of Traditional Catholics’:

    ‘We are in a profound state of emergency. Our hope is not to be found in lying down on the peripheries of God’s infinite waters of grace, while occasionally lapping a drink which sustains our lives and our faith for the moment. Our hope and our faith will not ultimately survive lying in the muck of believing we can be a friend of this world – especially the American Dream of prosperity and affluence – while at the same time being a friend of God. Nor will our hope achieve any fulfillment in the “Make America Great Again” programme of Donald Trump. And our prayers will not be answered if they are offered primarily against the Deep State or the invisible enemy without. They will only be answered in the desert of, “We have sinned”, rather than, “They have sinned”. Here lies the ocean of God’s grace which is Mary, who awaits our immersion in Her Immaculate Heart for the sake of our own purification and the purification of the whole Church. It is only this which the Enemy truly fears’.

  8. Every “tradition” that the traditionalists obsess over was once a newfangled thing. The mass in 1890 was different from the mass in the 7th century which was different from the mass in the 1st century. It is an error to hang on too tightly to an era. Every era had its imperfections and difficulties.

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