Source: Religiondispatches.org



Last December, at the end of his tour of Africa, Pope Francis answered a question about Islamic fundamentalism by pointing to the same malady in his own flock.

“We Catholics have some—and not some, many—who believe they possess the absolute truth and go ahead dirtying the other with calumny, with disinformation, and doing evil. They do evil. I say this because it is my Church.”

He didn’t name names, but for some, it was hard not to take it personally.

Father Dennis Gordon, for one, pastor of the St. Joan of Arc in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, says that “a lot of traditionalists took it that he was talking about them,” allowing himself a wry smile.

Seated in his modest parish office, resplendent in a traditional black Roman cassock, Gordon worried that the remarks might make his job, and that of his order—“to be a bridge between traditionalists and the Church”—a little bit harder.

Anything that upsets traditional Catholics is bound to have a particular resonance in his location, in the north Idaho-Washington borderland, where a decades-old resistance to modern Catholicism and the new Mass is continuing, and even growing.

Along just 35 miles of U.S. Highway 90, between Spokane and the well-kept, lakeside tourist town of Coeur d’Alene, there are more than 3,000 people attending Latin Mass each week. Among them we can see the full spectrum of lasting reactions to the modernizing reforms of Vatican II, including the new Mass.

Father Gordon and his Fraternal Society of St. Peter (FSSP) are offering the area’s only Latin Masses that have the approval of the Bishop, but only a minority of the county’s Latin Massgoers are attending St. Joan of Arc. Most attend the Immaculate Conception in Post Falls and the other nearby chapels served by the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), a priestly fraternity whose founder ran afoul of the Vatican in the 1970s and whose members—although ordained— do not have official permission from the Church to engage in priestly duties.

The balance of those attending Mass mostly do so under the auspices of the Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen (CMRI). This group is openly schismatic, and claims that the Pope’s throne has been vacant since the “heretical” excesses of Vatican II and the introduction of the new Mass. The CMRI ministers to hundreds who believe that this “sedevacantist” (literally: “empty seat”) remnant is in fact the one true church.

The SSPX and the CMRI not only offer Mass, but run schools and seminaries, minister to associated traditionalist convents, and generally offer a whole way of life in which the faithful can immerse themselves.

All sides claim that more Catholics every year are moving here to be a part of a form of Catholic life that most of the Church left behind half a century ago. This is evident in imagery and forms of devotion—largely Marian—that the mainstream Church has given far less emphasis to in recent decades.

On entering a traditionalist church like St. Joan of Arc, older Catholics might be instantly transported to the experiences of youth. For better or worse, Generation X and Y Catholics may—as I did—receive an uncanny reminder of the holy pictures, crucifixes and rosary-centered piety possessed by their grandparents.

So how did this corner of the inland Pacific Northwest become a bulwark for a frankly anti-modern form of Catholicism?

Part of the answer has to do with Idaho. Bernard Doherty, a religious studies scholar at Australia’s St. Mark’s National Theology Center who has researched traditional Catholicism extensively, says that throughout the world, the Latin Mass subculture “grows in particular areas, usually though not exclusively, rural areas, and often those with a particular demographic makeup and history of more conservative strands of religious practice.”

Conservative Catholics, like other religious conservatives, may “seek what they feel is a refuge from aspects of modernity, which is better achieved amongst a supportive community and in a less urban environment.”

Northern Idaho fits the bill on both counts. Apart from the modest amount of provincial sprawl around Coeur d’Alene, what isn’t given over to public land is all farmland and acreage. It is one of the least populated parts of a state that has the seventh lowest population density in the country. Coeur d’Alene is a seven-hour drive from the Cathedral in Boise. Geographical isolation from church authority may be a factor in allowing cultural divergence from mainstream Catholicism.

Northern Idaho is a stronghold of conservative Christians of all denominations. It has long been a target of migration by those who, as local realtor Chris Watson puts it, “are looking for the 1950s in the 2010s.” He says people come here seeking like minds, distance from liberal America, and looser restrictions on guns, home-schooling, religious freedom and property rights.

Apart from the long-term attraction of Idaho, there’s the fact that this is one of the places where anti-modern traditional Catholicism got started.

First here was the Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen, which was founded as an approved congregation in 1967 with the permission of the bishop of Spokane. Its originator was Francis Schuckardt, then a layman with a long history as a fervent organizer of Marian devotional groups.

As the reforms of Vatican II took hold, Schuckardt’s misgivings took a dramatic turn. He came to believe that the Council’s reforms contradicted the infallible pronouncements of previous popes, meaning that the Council itself as well as post-conciliar Popes were heretical—Peter’s throne was empty.

From here, it was only a short leap to Schuckardt’s claim that the CMRI was actually the last embattled remnant of the true Church. In 1968, he had himself consecrated as a bishop by the Old Catholic Church (which had itself split from Catholicism over doctrinal disagreements in the late 19th century). He then began attracting priests, religious and laypeople to his congregation, and to the region.

CMRI expanded around the world in the 1970s and 1980s, opening churches, seminaries and convents in Canada, Europe and Australia. But Schuckardt was ousted from the leadership of his own congregation in 1984 amid allegations of sexual impropriety and administrative incompetence. The CMRI moved its headquarters to Omaha, Nebraska, under a new bishop.

In many ways CMRI exhibits a pattern found in the more extreme traditionalist organizations: erratic leaders, improvised and dubious forms of ecclesiastical succession, an increasing isolation from the mainstream Church—and a hefty dose of conspiracy thinking to account for how post-conciliar Catholicism  went so wrong.

I encountered all of this when I visited Rathdrum, Idaho for a chat with assistant pastor, Father Anthony Short.

Father Short is only 25, having gone straight from home-schooling under traditionalist parents intoSt. Joseph seminary in Rathdrum, and then into the major seminary in Omaha, from whence he returned to be deputy pastor.

He was sincere—even guileless—in conversation, not least in his explanation of the “Masonic infiltration of the Church,” whose first major success was the installation of John XXIII as pope.

“They wanted to get their man on the throne. They started infiltrating seminaries, they got enough people as bishops and then finally they went for the whole thing.”

Father Short held no hopes of being reconciled with the Church as it stood, but was more optimistic about uniting the various streams of Latin Mass Catholics.

“Realistically they’re not going to drop what they’ve accomplished. The fact of the matter is that they have left the Church.”

He did think that traditionalist breakaway groups might one day unite as a single congregation. Speaking of the SSPX, he offered, “We have much more in common with each other than we do with that guy in Rome.”

This view is not shared by the SSPX, the largest Latin Mass congregation in the area. Neither sedevacantist nor completely estranged from the Church, they remain in the peculiar in-between position they have occupied for years.

The organization was established by French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1970—as he became more and more alarmed by the implementation of Vatican II reforms, and the rollout of the New Mass by Paul VI.

Lefebvre’s views wove together theological, ecclesiastical and political conservatism. Though, like all traditionalist groups, the SSPX claims to be preserving the Church’s immemorial traditions, Doherty says this is a selective view. “In many respects they are really preserving the kind of Catholicism in which Archbishop Lefebvre was raised and imbibed at the French Seminary in Rome during the early 20th century.”

This brand of Catholicism was oriented towards contesting the legacy of the French Revolution, and in particular a perceived “dechristianization” of France—and Europe. At the level of the papacy, it resulted in a string of “anti-modernist encyclicals from Gregory XVI’s Mirari Vos (1832) onwards.” But it also meant that priests like Lefebvre were formed in a conservative, even reactionary milieu.

During the 1970s and 1980s Lefevbre was gradually estranged from Rome due to repeated conflict with popes, and his adherence to the Latin Mass and traditional doctrine. In 1988 he consecrated several bishops without papal approval and he, the bishops, and other members of the SSPX were excommunicated.

This excommunication was in place until after Lefebvre’s death in 2004. But it did not stop the SSPX from expanding, training more priests, ministering to more parishes, and maintaining its stance on Vatican II and the Mass.

Father Paul Vassal is the Prior of the Post Falls community, and he stresses that the SSPX is primarily a priestly order, and the fathers are not specifically trained to be parish priests.

Vassal is urbane, mid-40s and speaks with a heavy French accent. It took some doing to get him to sit down, and he admits that the order is media-shy due to a tendency on the part of reporters to “reduce matters of faith to sociology or politics.”

He steers clear of culture war topics: his concern is with faith and the Mass. He still speaks of a “crisis in the Church,” but expresses hope at the fact that figures in the Diocese of Boise are more “respectful and sympathetic” of traditionalism.

But the success of SSPX brings us to a final reason why so many have moved to be in an area where the Latin Mass is readily available, and where they can be immersed in traditional Catholic cultureone that hints at a certain degree of pastoral misjudgement by the Church over decades.

And that is the unique beauty of the liturgy, which until the separatist groups were provoked was the Church’s exclusive property.

I was raised in the Church, but I didn’t attend my first Latin Mass until I visited Idaho. I am 42 years old. Having done so, I find it difficult to disagree with Father Gordon, that there is something about this liturgy that powerfully invokes the mystery of faith.

The High Mass deploys incense, traditional garb and choral responses to engage all of the senses. And every Latin Mass is staged in a way that orients the entire congregation and the priest towards the transcendent. It is almost entirely unlike the new Mass with its greater focus on interaction, mutuality, community, and its consequent admission of more of the quotidian world into the act of worship.

For some of those who spent a lifetime committed to the Latin Mass, its absence in those dioceses most committed to reform must have been a sharp disappointment.

It’s possible that Church authorities thought that these people were just holdouts, who would soon give up or die off. The large number of young families I saw at St. Joan of Arc—around a third of the parish—suggest to me what others must have by now have realized: that this constituency is not going anywhere soon.

Perhaps mistakes were made by those bishops whose “reformist zeal won over their pastoral sense,” as Doherty puts it. Wherever the commitment to the new Mass led to an overenthusiastic attempt to get rid of the Latin Mass, breakaway groups were encouraged, and Catholics were driven into the arms of groups sometimes led by erratic personalities like Schuckardtwho held troubling views about race, penance, and conspiracy.

If Latin Mass Catholicism isas Francis hinteda kind of fundamentalism, the answer to it might lie in a redoubled commitment to liturgical pluralism. Rather than berating traditionalists, Doherty thinks, it would be best for “local bishops to encourage and foster devotional and liturgical alternatives to those which groups like SSPX and CMRI provide their members.”

As Father Gordon somewhat acidly put it, “Since there seems to be room in the Church for a lot of different manners of worshipping and modes of expression, it’s nice when there is room for us too.”

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  1. There was a time at Post Falls, ID, that what I would term ‘Williamsonites’ ruled the roost. Such to the marked detriment of Fr. John Rizzo and others. I would assume that such situation has long been regularised.

  2. SSPX Regularization: A gift for “confused Catholics”

    Louie Verrecchio
    April 4, 2016

    Word is spreading like wildfire that Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X, met with Pope Francis on April 1st at his residence at Domus Santae Martae.

    According to an SSPX news release:

    [The meeting] lasted 40 minutes and took place under a cordial atmosphere. After the meeting, it was decided that the current exchanges would continue. The canonical status of the Society was not directly addressed, Pope Francis and Bishop Fellay having determined that these exchanges ought to continue without haste.

    Details, as expected, are few, but Rorate Caeli is reporting:

    We have learned that it was a very positive meeting.

    No doubt, any news of a very positive meeting between Bishop Fellay and Pope Francis will elicit a very negative reaction from two groups in particular; the liberals and the “resisters.”

    Let’s begin by talking about the latter first…

    Look, I appreciate all of the passionate responses to my post Resistant to what?

    In all of them, however, I didn’t find one, single, solitary thing that would justifying the calumnies that are being leveled against Bishop Fellay as cited therein.

    As I said, one can charitably debate the wisdom of certain prudential decisions (e.g., the wording of the proposed doctrinal declaration, the dangers such a document may have invited if ratified, the best way to protect and propagate the treasures of the Church moving forward, etc.), but accusing Bishop Fellay of harboring nefarious motives, as Bishop Williamson has, is simply beyond the pale.

    Is it really so difficult to follow after the example of Pope St. Pius X in leaving out of consideration the internal disposition of soul of which God alone is the judge?

    That out of the way, let’s talk about the liberals; i.e., those who treat the Council, not only as if it is “an integral part of the tradition of the Church” (the condition for regularization set by Benedict XVI in 2012 and the same that Bishop Fellay rejected), but the “super dogma” that supersedes everything prior.

    Setting aside for the moment the valid concerns that all of us have with respect to the Society’s protection, the question is, why do the liberals fear the canonical regularization of the SSPX so much?

    The answer should be obvious; it is because “regularizing” the SSPX by granting it ordinary jurisdiction is essentially admitting that Archbishop Lefebvre’s positions, the same held by the Society today, on such things as Vatican II – in particular, ecumenism, relations with the Jews, religious liberty, collegiality – and even the rejection of the Novus Ordo, are entirely legitimate.

    In other words, it is as if the pope himself is conceding that there is nothing whatsoever about adhering to these positions that would place one in schism, or otherwise impair their communion with the Church.

    This is obvious enough to most readers of this space, but it’s no small concession just the same!

    Many “resisters” take the irrational position that Rome must convert entirely to tradition before the SSPX can even enter into discussions with the Vatican apparatus, much less “accept” any regular canonical status.

    To embrace such a claim is tantamount to insisting that those religious orders and other groups that are officially recognized in the Church have ever had a duty to renounce their canonical standing and their regular jurisdiction whenever they may have perceived that the preponderance of the hierarchy has fallen into error.

    Martin Luther would probably agree with this manner of thinking, but Archbishop Lefebvre never made such a claim, nor did he ever act to withdraw from Rome prior to being censured.

    If he had believed as much, the Archbishop wouldn’t have had any discussions with Rome himself. Clearly the hierarchy in 1988 was thoroughly hostile to tradition, and even more hostile to the Traditional Latin Mass than it is today, and yet he obviously still recognized jurisdiction as something to be valued.

    It seems where many “resisters” err in large degree is in losing sight of exactly who primarily benefits from the Society’s regularization.

    HINT: It’s not the Society.

    SSPX bishops, priests and faithful (as well as those in agreement with them) already see the Roman apostasy for what it is. They already strive to embrace tradition in its fullness; they already recognize the validity of the Mass and the Sacraments as offered in Society chapels, and they are already quite clear about the dangers associated with the Council and the Novus Ordo Missae.

    For such persons as these, canonical regularization does little or nothing either to enhance, or to endanger, their faith. (We’ll have more to say on potential dangers momentarily.)

    Rather, the primary beneficiaries of the Society’s regularization, should it come to pass, will be the “confused Catholics” to whom Archbishop Lefebvre wrote his famous open letter, and for whom he had great concern.

    In other words, it is the sincere yet confused Catholic who today finds himself unduly influenced by the arguments of Council-worshipping “full communion” profiteers, both in the hierarchy and in Catholic media, who for far too long have gotten away with making baseless claims about the SSPX in an effort to discredit them; furthering their careers and building their burgeoning franchises by exploiting the naiveté of those innocent souls who wish only to remain obedient to Holy Mother Church.

    It may also be the case that some among those who benefit from denigrating the Society today are themselves genuinely confused, but either way, once the Society is regularized, we will know for certain.

    The Roman “stamp of approval” that comes with regularization of the SSPX will also greatly benefit what we might call “anonymous sons of Archbishop Lefebvre,” those priests and bishops who fully agree with the Society’s positions, and yet, rightly or wrongly, feel compelled to hide in the shadows for fear of repercussion.

    This brings me to potential dangers.

    As Bishop Alfonse de Galarreta recently said:

    So you are going to tell me: ‘In these cases [of regularization] there is a risk!’ – Yes, of course. In life there are many risks; in war there are even more. We are at war. So it will be as God wishes. But I have trust in Providence; I have complete trust in the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ for His Holy Church.

    If anyone thinks for a moment that the Society can do God’s will, in service to the Church Militant for the good of souls, without inviting risk, he deceives himself.

    There will be many concerns that will require careful attention if and when a process of regularization begins in earnest; among them will be the conditions for incardinating diocesan clergy, the freedom to open new priories, chapels, and schools without interference, the ability to preach openly about the Council’s errors and the deficiencies of the new Mass, etc.

    It remains to be seen how these details will be addressed, and all talk about an approaching “sell out” or a “doctrinal compromise” is pure speculation that in no way justifies hurling invectives at Bishop Fellay or any other individual priest or bishop in the Society’s leadership.

    Moving on, let’s remain very clear about what concerns us most in this matter and why.

    According to Archbishop Lefebvre, the Society’s raison d’etre and its motivation for persevering in tradition are simple:

    “We are persuaded that we can render no greater service to the Holy Catholic Church, to the Sovereign Pontiff and to posterity.” (cf 1974 Declaration)

    In other words, the Archbishop’s primary concern wasn’t so much for the preservation of the Society, per se, but rather the good of the Church and the salvation of souls.

    In my humble opinion, one would be hard pressed to demonstrate that the status quo best serves that cause …

  3. What is important is not persons and personalities but doctrine and dogma or, to put it simply, that sacraments signify that which they contain. I find it personally distasteful that there is so much quarreling and in-fighting among traditional Catholics. What would Our Lord think? That, to me, is the only thing that is important.

  4. Louie Verecchio,

    That’s all well and good, sincerely. But the Great Archbishop knew that there are not 2 Religions Christ founded, the Catholic Religion and the modernist one. And 2 different religions can’t coexist in one house, because as Our Lord told us, a house divided against itself cannot stand. The Great Archbishop, if I remember his words correctly, also warned his sons to resist until Rome be converted. Has Jorge converted?

  5. The truth is that Archbishop Lefebvre withdrew his signature on May 6, 1988 because Rome had not converted. During his Episcopal consecration sermon less than two months later, Archbishop Lefebvre explains his reason for changing his mind regarding the May 1988 protocol. He starts out posing a question from a hypothetical person who does not understand the situation:

    “And why, Archbishop, have you stopped these discussions which seemed to have had a certain degree of success?”

    [The Archbishop Lefebvre answers this question:] Well, precisely because, at the same time that I gave my signature to the Protocol, the envoy of Cardinal Ratzinger gave me a note in which I was asked to beg pardon for my errors. But if I am in error, if I teach error, it is clear that I must be brought back to the truth in the minds of those who sent me this note to sign. “That I might recognize my errors” means that, if you recognize your errors we will help you to return to the truth. What is this truth for them if not the truth of Vatican II, the truth of the Conciliar Church? Consequently, it is clear that the only truth that exists today for the Vatican is the conciliar truth, the spirit of the Council, the spirit of Assisi. That is the truth of today. But we will have nothing to do with this for anything in the world!

    That is why, taking into account the strong will of the present Roman authorities to reduce Tradition to naught, to gather the world to the spirit of Vatican II and the spirit of Assisi, we have preferred to withdraw ourselves and to say that we could not continue. It was not possible. We would have evidently been under the authority of Cardinal Ratzinger, President of the Roman Commission, which would have directed us; we were putting ourselves into his hands, and consequently putting ourselves into the hands of those who wish to draw us into the spirit of the Council and the spirit of Assisi. This was simply not possible.

    This is why I sent a letter to the Pope, saying to him very clearly: “We simply cannot accept this spirit and proposals, despite all the desires which we have to be in full union with you. Given this new spirit which now rules in Rome and which you wish to communicate to us, we prefer to continue in Tradition; to keep Tradition while waiting for Tradition to regain its place at Rome, while waiting for Tradition to reassume its place in the Roman authorities, in their minds.” This will last for as long as the Good Lord has foreseen.

    It is not for me to know when Tradition will regain its rights at Rome, but I think it is my duty to provide the means of doing that which I shall call “Operation Survival”, operation survival for Tradition. Today, this day, is Operation Survival. If I had made this deal with Rome, by continuing with the agreements we had signed, and by putting them into practice, I would have performed “Operation Suicide”.

    June 30, 1988 sermon, bracketed note and emphasis added.

  6. Archbishop Lefebvre signed the protocol at 4:30 p.m., on May 5, 1988. Biography of Archbishop Lefebvre, by Bishop Tissier, p.554. Archbishop Lefebvre then spent a sleepless night, during which he composed his retraction letter. He declared: “Oh! How I wanted morning to come so that I could give Fr. du Chalard my letter of retraction which I had written during the night [of May 5, 1998].” Id., p.555.

    Here is how Bishop Tissier recounts what Archbishop Lefebvre did on May 6, 1988:

    The following day, after Mass and Prime, he finished off his letter and put it in an envelope which he showed to Fr. du Chalard at breakfast: ‘Father, before leaving, it is essential that this letter be taken to Cardinal Ratzinger. It’s a little bomb.’

    Thus, it is clear from Archbishop Lefebvre’s own words that he realized within hours of signing, that he made a big mistake causing him a sleepless night during which he wrote his rejection of the practical agreement with modernist Rome. He never wavered thereafter from his determination to not make an agreement with Rome until Rome comes back to the Church’s traditions and Faith.

  7. And sorry, the above 2 posts are from the Catholic Candle. Even if you think it an unworthy source, a broken clock, you can agree, at least, even a broken clock is accurate twice a day. Quomodo

  8. I hadn’t heard of “Catholic Candle.” It’s good to see that they refute sedevacantism. But here are a few of the articles listed in their current newsletter:

    Bishop de Galarreta contradicts himself about agreement with Rome
    The Evil of Participating in the “Holy Year” Commemorating Vatican II
    The “New” SSPX Promotes the Evil of Going into Conciliar Churches to Pray during the “Holy Year”
    Bishop Fellay’s Latest Interview Exposes How Liberal and Timid He Is
    Is Bishop Fellay Truthful with the Vatican or with the Faithful about Religious Liberty?
    New-SSPX says Problem in the Church after Vatican II is Particularly Lack of Priests Hearing Confessions (Rather than the Lack of Faith)
    The New-SSPX Now Publishes Movie Reviews and Recommends Movies
    Fr. Wegner’s Lent—a Time for the new-SSPX to Focus on Fundraising
    Bishops Williamson and Faure Consecrate Bishop Tomas Aquino, OSB

    How loverly. It’s not good enough to just disagree on how to proceed, but it has to get rough: liberal, timid, (un)truthful, “New”-SSPX, etc. And BTW, is it really evil to enter a “conciliar” church building? That was Fr. Wathen’s gig.

    The overarching issue is that the clock is running and the SSPX bishops aren’t getting any younger. There will come a time to consecrate more bishops. Shouldn’t every effort be made to obtain the permission of the Holy Father?

    IMHO, if the SSPX makes more bishops on their own, they are finished. There will be no way a future pope will overlook that, and there will be no hope for canonical recognition. It will end badly, as standoffs in the past have ended. It is astounding that the SSPX bishops have not flown off into schism, but are at a point where this could be resolved. Those who would quote the Archbishop to scourge Fellay can’t actually know what he would think viewing the last 25 years. Do you really imagine that he desired an indefinite standoff?

  9. Is Canonical recognition by leaders of a different religion really necessary? did Athanasius worry about Canonical recognition?

    Look, I’m still trying to work all this out in my head, and I don’t agree with the polemics. But this doesn’t seem to be the course the Great Archbishop took, nor would take if he were alive.

    • The goal is to operate with the blessing of the Church, not in a parallel standoff position. Again, the main issue here is bishops.

      St. Athanasius was a Patriarch. Back then, without modern communications, he effectively had papal authority. He didn’t need to consult Rome in making bishops, for example.

  10. I think the main issue here isn’t at all as you describe it. I’m not smart enough to describe properly either, so no offense meant. But I don’t think anyone would want to receive a blood transfusion from someone with hepatitis.

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