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CONSERVATIVE CATHOLICISM: AN OBJECT LESSON IN INTELLECTUAL DISHONESTY 
by Henry Sire  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  November 12, 2019    

A response to Ross Douthat


On Nov. 10, Ross Douthat published in The New York Times a leader under the title "What Will Happen to Conservative Catholicism?" The article is very revealing, since Douthat has shown himself the spokesman of that brand of Catholicism, often in valuable ways, as in his book To Change the Church, in which he analyzes Pope Francis' revolutionary program. However, the salient lesson to be drawn from Douthat's article is the murky pool of intellectual dishonesty on which conservative Catholicism floats. 

Douthat defines his school of thought when he writes of the Francis papacy as "a crisis for conservative Catholicism — or at least the conservative Catholicism that believed John Paul II had permanently settled debates over celibacy, divorce, intercommunion and female ordination."

We have here the point of view of Catholics whose agenda has been set by the Vatican II modernists, an ecclesiological premise that Catholicism is a religion that began in 1962. Within that view, it is possible to have two opposing schools, those which Benedict XVI defined as the hermeneutic of rupture and the hermeneutic of continuity, as applied to the Vatican Council; and the "conservatives" were relying on John Paul II and on Benedict himself as the guarantors of the latter.

I beg pardon for pointing out that there is an alternative view, the one that notices that the Christian Church has been teaching for 2,000 years. Within that conspectus, what need was there for John Paul II to settle debates over celibacy, divorce, intercommunion and female ordination? They had been settled long before by the perennial doctrine of the Church. 

After the preamble mentioned, Douthat gets to the marrow of his question when he discusses the two responses that conservative Catholics can give to the present papacy: One is simply to accept whatever changes of doctrine Francis chooses to make by papal fiat. The other is outlined by Douthat as

"a conservative Catholicism that strains ... to interpret all of Francis’ moves in continuity with his predecessors, while arguing that the pope’s liberalizing allies and appointees are somehow misinterpreting him. This was the default conservative position early in the Francis pontificate; it has since become more difficult to sustain. But it persists in the hope of a kind of snapping-back moment, when Francis or a successor decides that Catholic bishops in countries like Germany are pushing things too far, at which point there can be a kind of restoration of the John Paul II-era battle lines, with the papacy — despite Francis’ experiments — reinterpreted to have always been on the side of orthodoxy."

Well, roast me on St. Laurence's gridiron. Is this intellectual contortion supposed to be the Catholic truth that the Church has always stood for? Is it the jewel of truth for which martyrs shed their blood? Is it the integrity that Christ demanded when he taught, "Let your Yea be Yea and your Nay be Nay"? At its lowest, is it the position of a person with a brain in his head?

No, it is "conservative" Catholicism in all its lucidity: the intellectual stance of those who have spent the last 50 years trying to reconcile Catholic orthodoxy with the shifts and surrenders of the Second Vatican Council. 

We need to ask ourselves, why do "conservative" Catholics look to this travesty as if it were a tenable school of Catholic interpretation? Douthat sketches the answer when he suggests that the alternative is to become

"a kind of de facto sedevacantist, a believer that the pope is not really the pope — or, alternatively, that the church is so corrupted and compromised by modernity that the pope might technically still be pope but his authority doesn’t matter anymore. This is the flavor of a lot of very-online traditionalism, and it’s hard to see how it wouldn’t (eventually) lead many of its adherents to a separation from the larger church, joining the traditionalist quasi-exile pioneered after Vatican II by the Society of Saint Pius X."

We see here how all-pervasive the intellectual dishonesty of the "conservative" Catholics has become, that they are not even able to envisage an honest answer to present problems. The position of genuine Catholics, those who stand on the doctrinal tradition of the Church, is not that "the pope is not really the pope" or that "his authority doesn’t matter anymore." Francis is indeed the Pope, and his authority matters enormously; it matters because he is using it to destroy the Church.

The response to this is to recognize facts as they are, not to exercise oneself in squaring circles in the service of an ill-instructed papolatry. As Catholic theology has always recognized, there have been bad councils in the past — the Arian councils, which obfuscated the divinity of Christ, or the Council of Constance, which promoted the conciliarist heresy — and there have been bad popes, notably Honorius, who was condemned after his death as a heretic and "cast out of the holy Church of God."

The Catholic response to these facts is not to wriggle away from them but to face them and fight the evil they represent. Saint Robert Bellarmine, confronted with the theological question in the abstract, did not tie himself into the knots of today's Catholic "conservatism." He taught forthrightly: "It is legitimate not to obey the orders of the pope and even to prevent the execution of his will if he puts souls in danger, especially if he were to strive to destroy the Church."

That, however, was four centuries before 1962. Conservative Catholics haven't heard about it.
I eagerly await Sire's next book.  The Dictator Pope was wonderful.  

I have commented elsewhere on Douthat's apparent brain problems as evidenced by his nonsensical, bizarre opinions lately.  I've been unable to understand why he is willfully misinterpreting and obfuscating, including on topics he has written about previously with obvious insight and clarity.  Reading this piece, I almost feel like Douthat is placing fish in a barrel for people like Sire to shoot.  I don't know if Douthat is a "closet traditionalist" or if he is a genuine cuck.  He is far too enigmatic for me to tell.  On politics, it is clear he is an outrageous neocon and there isn't much wiggle room.  But when it comes to Catholicism... it's a coin toss.  As Sire says, Douthat is the mouthpiece for conservative Catholicism.  So for Douthat to write a piece where he strawmans traditionalism, directly highlights the contradictions of his own position, and then concludes the article by throwing his hands up in the air, it appears he is hoping someone puts conservative Catholicism out of its misery.

I don't know how else to explain it.  He has written chapters of books on the limits of / different understandings of papal authority and infallibility.  Did he forget he wrote those things when he sat down to pen this last op-ed, or is he being disingenuous?
Quote:Well, roast me on St. Laurence's gridiron. 

I'm going to use that one.  :LOL:
(11-13-2019, 06:58 AM)Imperator Caesar Trump Wrote: [ -> ]I eagerly await Sire's next book.  The Dictator Pope was wonderful. 

Me too; I think that "Phoenix in the Ashes" was even better. Exhaustive and for me a bit too detailed about French integralistes, but it provides a solid overview of how traditional Catholicism evolved. Digs much farther back than Ferrara + Woods' irascible prose and dogged score-settling in "The Great Facade"; I tried to find Sire's earlier book on the Knights of Malta but it's scarce now. He covered the Knights. Burke, and the sad tale of the demolition of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate well. Scared me as I fear that it may be the rehearsal for an assault on the FSSP, ICK, et al. Sire's work is very well documented, if not always a speedy read. He makes one slow down and ponder his lessons, and his diligence as to archival and investigative material is admirable, when so much today about Catholic matters tends to the scandalous, the ephemeral, or the predictable. I wonder what his next book will be about?
(11-17-2019, 06:41 PM)Fionnchu Wrote: [ -> ]Me too; I think that "Phoenix in the Ashes" was even better. Exhaustive and for me a bit too detailed about French integralistes, but it provides a solid overview of how traditional Catholicism evolved. Digs much farther back than Ferrara + Woods' irascible prose and dogged score-settling in "The Great Facade"; I tried to find Sire's earlier book on the Knights of Malta but it's scarce now. He covered the Knights. Burke, and the sad tale of the demolition of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate well. Scared me as I fear that it may be the rehearsal for an assault on the FSSP, ICK, et al. Sire's work is very well documented, if not always a speedy read. He makes one slow down and ponder his lessons, and his diligence as to archival and investigative material is admirable, when so much today about Catholic matters tends to the scandalous, the ephemeral, or the predictable. I wonder what his next book will be about?

Not entirely on point, but: Have you ever read anything by Michael Davies?  I have not and was wondering where to start with him - if you have, of course.
(11-17-2019, 09:34 PM)Imperator Caesar Trump Wrote: [ -> ]Not entirely on point, but: Have you ever read anything by Michael Davies?  I have not and was wondering where to start with him - if you have, of course.

I've read a great deal of him. Given what I think I know of you, based on what you've said here in the Tank, I'd start with Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre and move on from there.

I was privileged to meet Mr Davies and have dinner with him at a conference back in 1991.
(11-17-2019, 09:59 PM)jovan66102 Wrote: [ -> ]I've read a great deal of him. Given what I think I know of you, based on what you've said here in the Tank, I'd start with Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre and move on from there.

I was privileged to meet Mr Davies and have dinner with him at a conference back in 1991.

Thanks, Jovan, you always come through!  I plan to start reading it tonight.  I hope one day I get to meet neat people and run in trad circles...
(11-17-2019, 09:34 PM)Imperator Caesar Trump Wrote: [ -> ]Not entirely on point, but: Have you ever read anything by Michael Davies?  I have not and was wondering where to start with him - if you have, of course.

I read Liturgical Time Bombs (TAN Books), but that's it. That cover photo of Sisters Doing It for Themselves as bowing fire bearers was taken at the consecration of the eerily sacrificial stone slab altar of the Raj Mahal aka Taj Mahony, my archdiocesan cathedral erected by our past prelate Roger Mahony. Cost $330 million. Layouts to date that followed soon after to settle 300 abuse cases in same jurisdiction under his watch...$660 million, 1/5 of U.S. totals...so far...

I wanted to share this link to the three vols. of Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre. The SSPX Asia site also has the first chunk (for me the most engaging sections) of Iota Unum by Romano Amerio, too. That tome took me ages, but it will enrich your theological and liturgical acumen. It did for me, raised starting kindergarten in 1966 with CCD and collages instead of catechism and nuns with fearsome wimples. Or as James Joyce notes in Ulysses, barbed wire=rosaries.

I share your aspirations to hobnob with jerset trads in the know. I guess I need to become a TLM professional YT influencer first. Gotta bankroll those flights to + from the Vatican. Never know who might be taking the redeye back to Buenos Aires.
https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/...SY346_.jpg

Liturgical Time Bombs cover photo
(11-19-2019, 01:54 AM)Fionnchu Wrote: [ -> ]I share your aspirations to hobnob with jerset trads in the know. I guess I need to become a TLM professional YT influencer first. Gotta bankroll those flights to + from the Vatican. Never know who might be taking the redeye back to Buenos Aires.

I haven't exactly hobnobbed with with a lot of well known Trads. I got lucky in 1991. I had made a bit of a name in Catholic monarchist circles and I was invited to speak on Christ the King and monarchy at the Catholic Voice conference in Chicago. Michael Davies was the keynote speaker. The talk he gave was 'The Reign of Christ the King', which you can read here from the Remnant, or buy here.

During the weekend of the conference, I had dinner with Mr Davies and lunch with Fr Gruner. I also met an assortment of other well known names in the Trad world almost 30 years ago.

Due to a set of unforeseen circumstances that included my first, very frightening, trip in an airliner, I ended up with a very large hotel room with a lot of easy chairs and sofas. When another speaker saw it, he declared, 'Weismiller's room is party central!'

On the Saturday evening, Gary Potter, Charles Coulombe, the Tank's own HailGilbert, and I (and possibly one or two others, I don't remember), gathered in my room for a lively discussion and a bottle or two of wine. Surprisingly, Mr Davies turned out to be an NFL fan, and he was at a Bears game or something to do with American football.

I've often said that it was that weekend, and especially that Saturday night, that turned me from a very conservative Catholic to a full blown Traditionalist, integralist Catholic.