A Tale of Two Traditionalists

Last week, a Jewish friend of mine wrote me, trying to makes heads or tails of a particularly ridiculous piece the New York Times published. It was by Michael Brendan Dougherty, who is what passes for an intellectual in the circles of Francis-hating, Second Vatican Council-despising Traditionalists. Pretty much all you need to know about it is the fact that he said the quiet part loud by declaring, “Pope Francis envisions that we will return to the new Mass. My children cannot…the new Mass is not their religion.”

As Deacon Steven Greydanus pertly replied, “Where Peter is, there is the Catholic Church. If the Mass the pope celebrates isn’t your religion, your religion isn’t Catholicism.”

That, and the comment my Jewish reader notes below makes clear that the bulk of the Trad sect is an anti-Catholic cult filled with such massive self-pitying narcissism that it is hard to gauge the scale of it. These are people who can seriously compare themselves to Holocaust victims. But I get ahead of myself. Here’s the conversation:

This Op Ed appears in today’s NY Times. Of course the issues raised are mostly obscure to me, and only of, at most, tangential interest. But I’m a big fan of John XXIII (most of my tribe who are of a certain age are), and this statement struck me as truly outlandish: “I have faith that one day, even secular historians will look upon what was wrought after Vatican II and see it for what it was: the worst spasm of iconoclasm in the church’s history — dwarfing the Byzantine iconoclasm of the ninth century and the Protestant Reformation.” But I could be wrong. Any thoughts?

This is an expression of hysteria from the hyper-Reactionary Traditionalist sect in the Church. It is a bit analogous to the ultra-hyper Orthodox in Judaism or the Taliban in Islam. In the US, it has the benefit of an outsize microphone and a bunch of GOP money, so it seems bigger than it is. It hates the Council and this pope. It is intensely anti-semitic, and it dreams of a world in which the Church holds the power of both throne and altar. It is attracted to monarchy and the fantasy of Rule by a Strong Righteous Man (currently Orban of Hungary is their dreamy guy, but Putin has also charmed them). If it ever got the power it wanted it would put a Franco in charge of the US and there would be a lot of firing squads and ghettoes, as well as jail for gays and other undesirables. It seeks the typical idols of wealth and power, combined with a fantasized medieval piety. It loathes democracy and cannot bear the idea of living in a world that shares power with non-Eurocentric Catholics. It is committed to guarding a fortress, not evangelism and certainly not concern for the least of these. Francis’ whole message, which is easily summarized as “He has preached good news to the poor” is anathema to it. It is deeply pathological and filled with enmity for the gospel (and, by the way, for the prophets).

Disappointing that the Times would give him a platform… 😕

As I say, they have a buttload of GOP money. Francis is a huge enemy of the cult.

I think that in the grand scheme of things, one of the dramas being enacted in agonizing slow-motion is the Church’s long, slow act of extirpating the spirit of fascism that tempted it in the 20th century as it grappled with the loss of secular power. An awful lot of Catholics are still attracted to Satan’s promise “All this will I give you if you bow down and worship me”. The Council is the biggest single challenge to that spirit that has occurred in the history of the Church and the outcome of that battle is still contested bitterly by the enemies of the Holy Spirit.

Meanwhile, though, besides the Francis-hatred and power fantasies of Traddery that make it to the op-ed pages of the NY Times to poison hearts and minds, there are other, more hopeful signs out there, like this piece by Steve Skojec, in which that deeply wounded man, struggling for light, finds a bit of wisdom in the eastern Church, shares it, and is prompt spat upon by the Inquisitors of Traddery. Here is what he found in searching for the God who is love, not rule-bound legalism:


Skojec is reacting to a terrible (and, to be fair, perhaps badly translated) remark attributed to St. Alphonsus Liguori to the effect that once you hit God’s allotted quota for sins, that’s it. You’re going to hell. It’s an idiotic statement, foreign to the Tradition, but it appeals to the cruelty of a certain sort of Trad, who see love as weakness and law as salvation and so Skojec got reamed out for rejecting it in favor of the charity and sanity of St. Paisios.

I say, more power to him.

Skojec and I have crossed swords many times. Yet I feel a lot of empathy for him, despite the fact he has said some awful things and done some awful things–like me. In his very public struggles, seems to embody the old saying, “Be kind to everyone you meet. For everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” His anguish and struggle for light, whatever else may be true about him, mirror my own and I can do no other than wish him well and pray that he finds his way to God’s safe harbor.

I sometimes wonder if the first thing that will happen in Heaven is that old enemies will look each other in the eye and burst into tears of empathy for all the wounds they suffered and gave each other, and find that Christ is crying too and embracing them both.

I hope that is true for all the people I have felt so betrayed by and struggled to forgive in between my furious rants at them.


10 Responses

    1. She’s probably right, but I think she’s also horribly wrong. She’s right when she says liturgy is not the problem, but certain views among traditionalist are.

      She’s, I think, on a very dangerous path when she equates a number of – let’s call them leftist – positions with the Catholic faith. I’m not of a fan of Spanish monarcho-fascism, nor am I inclined to be particularly woke or inclined to sign up to the idea of equity. Regardless, I’d like to be welcome in any Catholic Church anywhere in the world. Let’s stick to a common faith and a very cautious, nuanced approach to politics.

  1. 1. Steve Skojec has never been on my radar, but God does love a contrite heart.

    2. Eventually we’ll all need to have a talk about liturgy. Things are not as they should be, and there’s a lot to be said for a stricter approach, in my opnion. Still, it’s immensely silly to claim that one’s liturgical preferences are the yardstick of a faith.

    3. I’m still puzzled by the word ”Eurocentrism” …

    3. In these dark days for parts of the world and no doubt anguish for many Americans, veterans above all, I’d like to share two bits of poetry which you’re all probably familiar with already. The second one I had never read before yesterday, since I was only familar with the ”huddled masses” verse. ”Sic Transit Gloria Mundi” is, I think, not a sad thing for a Christian.


    Far-called, our navies melt away;
    On dune and headland sinks the fire:
    Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
    Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
    Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
    Lest we forget—lest we forget!


    Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
    With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
    Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
    A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
    Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
    Mother of Exiles

  2. DH George was raised Episcopal, poorly catechized, and is largely agnostic. He’s also a Southerner who lived a good while in and around Atlanta. He had long acquaintance with folks from little Protestant congregations in the days when he worked commercial construction. He read the Times Editorial and asked me what on earth it was about.

    I explained a little about Archbishop Lefebvre and different reactions in the Church to the Latin Mass, that Benedict was striving for unity, that Francis thought it hadn’t worked and since people of more or less good will were using it as a wedge. Also that the Old Rite was allowed if the local Bishop said so. (In my area we have a couple parishes offering the Old Rite as part of regular Sunday or weekday worship, and the Bishop has no reason to stop them.)

    He observed that it’s a chain of command issue, that “Frank” is within his rights, and that “these folks can go pray in Latin and pray with snakes if they want to, but they can’t call it Catholic Mass.” The point being that this is what Protestants do when they disagree on practice, doctrine or anything else; they splinter.

    Made sense to me. And I was uncharitably amused at the comparison between this Dougherty and a snake handler.

    1. My wife and I were in the Reformed Church for 25 years before becoming Catholics. I remember a comment one of our elders said to me, once, with somewhat of a wry look (should be said in Dutch-accented English): “In The Netherlands, the saying is: ‘One Dutchman, a Christian; two Dutchmen, a church; three Dutchmen, a heresy trial.'”

      During the time we were Reformed – the ‘Reformed Churches of New Zealand’ had only about ten churches, and perhaps a few tens of thousands of member – there were two splits.

    2. I think it is funny, and ironic, that Dougherty spasms over the Protestant Reformation, yet he himself countenances schism.

  3. “Where Peter is, there is the Catholic Church. If the Mass the pope celebrates isn’t your religion, your religion isn’t Catholicism.” What does Deacon Greydanus think of the various eastern Catholic Churches in union with the Roman Church?

    1. I’m curious why you ask. Since saying the pope celebrates a Catholic liturgy is not at all the same as saying other rites in the Church are not Catholic, I cannot see any point to your question except to baselessly attempt to sow discord and false accusation against Deacon Greydanus. Why would you do that?

      1. Really not intending to “sow discord.” Just want to emphasize that the Catholic Church has more than the one rite that the Pope celebrates. I’m asking what I think is a valid question. I attend a Byzantine Catholic parish and I’m grateful for the opportunity to worship in that rite. The Deacon’s comment could be misunderstood. I enjoy your writing Mark.

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