Why I’m not going to lambast Traditional Catholics

Why I’m not going to lambast Traditional Catholics

Posted by Joseph Shaw on Friday, May 12, 2017

I’ve been taken to task for defending Catholics attached to the Traditional Mass from various exaggerated criticisms, and for pointing out that other identifiable groups in the Church have the same characteristics, if not worse ones, rather than engaging in Maoist-style self-criticism. Today I’m going to say a bit more about this.

We are all sinners, and if anyone reading this has a story about a sinful Traditional Catholic, I’m not going to claim that such a thing could not be true. There are a number of dangers, however, with Maoist self-criticism, which really should be obvious.

1. It is narcissistic and inward-looking. Frankly, the personal qualities of Traditional Catholics are not very important for the Church as a whole. Let’s just get over ourselves, shall we?

2. It implies the truth of generalisations about Traditional Catholics, which is itself uncharitable. For me to say ‘I’ve heard these criticisms and there is truth in them – yes, [taking out an onion] I’m a Traditional Catholic, and I’m a bitter, hate-filled, Pharisee’ implies something not just about me personally but about the group as a whole: it is an accusation against my fellow trads, and one I have no right to make.

3. Public self-criticism implies moral superiority. Only the morally superior are so humble as to accept snarky criticisms as the Voice of Conscience. To do this publicly is to declare one’s superiority publicly. The paradox is acute because we are being accused, among other things, of thinking ourselves superior. If there is an ounce of sincerity or compassion or indeed common-sense in our accusers, the reaction they will seek from us will not be a public proclamation of humility.

4. It suggests a degree of uniformity among trads which is completely false. Traditional Catholics (thank heavens) are not members of a cult. We haven’t all been through some kind of training, we have no means of enforcing ‘message discipline’, and some of the people in a typical EF congregation will only recently have started going – others may be trying it out for the first time. We have nothing in common with each other in terms of education, life experience, social class, or ethnic background. This may be a shock to some people who have come to expect every movement in the Church, and every ‘type of Mass’ (Family Mass, Student Mass, Polish Mass etc. etc.) to be colonised by a ‘type of Catholic’. We are not a ‘type of Catholic’: we are simply Catholics who love the Traditional Mass. That brings with it an interest in traditional spirituality, traditional devotions, and, in general, orthodoxy. But we have very different personalities and life experiences: to suggest we are all, for example, pessimistic, or afflicted by pride, or that we have specific tastes, is to engage in a very unhelpful fantasy. I’m certainly not going to engage in that fantasy myself.

5. To promote a Public Relations programme for Traditional Catholics to make the movement more attractive would, if possible (which it is not), turn the movement into something fake. ‘Watch out, everyone! there’s a non-trad coming, big smiles everyone, no-one mention sin or penance, no-one talk about Pope Francis! We’ll be able to relax when he’s gone…’ Is that the kind of movement we want to be? That is what cults do. I’ve heard it said that this is what some movements in the Church do. If that is true, that is a terrible thing. By all means be polite and tactful, but don’t be fake. We should be at home in the Church. We should be at our ease when chatting with our fellow Catholics.

6. To engage in specific apostolates as a PR exercise is to instrumentalise the suffering and needs of others. It has been suggested that Traditional Catholics do more ‘for the poor’ in obvious and eye-catching ways to counter the accusastion that we are less interested in social justice than we should be. This is an unworthy suggestion. Traditional Catholics, like everyone else, look about them to see what needs of our fellow creatures are most urgent and what we have the resources and skills to address. Trads are very heavily involved in the pro-life movement and in education, and (obviously) in supporting the Church’s liturgy in all sorts of ways. To suggest this are the wrong things to focus on for public relations reasons is an insult not just to the good people who spend their time and money so freely for their fellow men in these particular ways: it is an insult to the people who would benefit from the more PR-friendly work. They are being treated like extras in a publicity stunt.

7. Public self-criticism gives credence to accusations which in many cases are projection (people accuse us of what they fear about themselves), and in other cases are actually criticisms of the tradition itself. Shall I tell you why certain liberal Catholics think that trads are ‘judgmental’, for example? Because, first, they are themselves judgmental, casting anyone with whom they disagree into outer darkness. And second, because they think the traditional Mass, and associated devotions and spirituality, is judgmental. After all, they might say, since the EF, with its references to sin, is horrible and judgmental, surely the only people who like it will themsevles be horrible and judgmental. In this situation, to say ‘yes, maybe we are a bit horrible and judgmental’ is the worst possible response. It may sound arrogant to some for us to reject such accusations, but what is needed here is for people to say: actually, you don’t need to be like that to like the Traditional Mass, because the Traditional Mass is not itself like that.

To conclude, insofar as I can be said to have a position of leadership or influence in the Traditional movement, is absolutely not my role to act as some kind of morality policeman. Further to point 3, criticising one’s fellow traddies (for being judgmental and superior etc.) is precisely to engage in the behaviour (being judgmental and superior) which is being criticised in the first place. The idea that the movement should have a clique of scribes and pharisees going around keeping everyone else up to the mark is so utterly insane, as a response to the kings of criticisms to which we have been subjected, that I can only appeal to the common sense of those involved in this debate to see the problem. Come on, have a laugh: it’s just silly, isn’t it?

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2 comments on “Why I’m not going to lambast Traditional Catholics

  1. [Nonetheless, Dr. (for Fellow of Philosophy at St Benet’s Hall, Oxford University) Shaw does lambast lambasters of Traditional Catholics/Catholicism]

    Monday, May 08, 2017

    Are traditionalists paranoid?

    Over on Unam Sanctam blog, the old canard of the ‘obnoxious trad’ is wheeled out. Apparently the author has met a couple of priests don’t like the people who come to the Traditional Mass; one has stopped celebrating it. Hmm. Maybe these Catholics were sinners, in need of the sacraments. It seems they won’t be receiving them with much good will from these priests.

    It has been well answered by Brian Williams at the Liturgy Guy here. Catholics attached to the ancient liturgy are accused of ‘chasing’ the traditional Mass from parish to parish, and not coming to other parish events. Williams points out that this is simply a consequence of the fact that they are not having their legitimate aspirations for the sacraments in the traditional forms met in any one parish, and very often have to travel long distances to attend services and events. A priest who declines to go beyond what he describes as a ‘semi-regular’ provision of the EF can hardly complain about that. I don’t necessarily blame the priests for not doing more: I don’t know what their other commitments are. But by the same token no one is in a position to criticise laity for not making multiple two-hour round trips each week for extra events at a parish which has not given them a liturgical home.

    Another aspect of such complaints is the claim that Traditional Catholics are over-critical or polemical. What strikes me is the double standards this exhibits. Every parish priest has a store of tales to tell about difficult Novus Ordo Catholics. They don’t usually have the luxury of closing down this or that Mass, abolishing the Liturgy Committee, and throwing out the Flower Arranging Rota, because the people involved would raise a stink. The limited number of Catholics in most places attending the Traditional Mass, and the lack of fellow-feeling from Catholics in the same parish attending other Masses, not to mention the attitude of local clergy and the bishop, make them an easy target by comparison.

    It would be impossible to establish empirically who are the most annoying, at the parish level, but are the kind of Traditional Catholics who attend diocesan Latin Masses really more aggressive and downright rude than their critics, at the level of public debate? This is what the post below was about, back in July 2013. Some of the voices carping about traddies noted in it have fallen silent since then; others have not.


    Are traditionalists paranoid?

    If so, our paranoia is justified.

    First off are the letters pages in the Catholic press. Letter writers can act as the attack dogs of a newspaper since while editors have complete freedom to choose what to publish, they can still disclaim responsibility for it. When we find obsessives attacking trads what seems like every week, this tells you a lot about what is deemed acceptable. There is the busy Martin Elsworth, mainly in The Universe (traditionalists are ‘cafeteria Catholics’ for preferring the EF) and Tom MacIntyre in the Catholic Herald (‘The Old Rite’s individualist allure has intensified with postmodern vogues for the antique, the “retro” and the exotic in religion.’), who rejoiced in 47 letters published in just 44 months.

    But what of feature articles? These are the real meat of the press.

    Well, there is Dr John Casey, in the pages of The Tablet, called us ‘dissidents’, ‘rubricists’, ‘ideologues’ and ‘misogynists’.

    Nice. But Casey has got all liberal in his old age, hasn’t he? Isn’t that kind of vituperation to be expected?

    Maybe, but we we also were edified by George Weigel characterising us in terms of ‘Maniples, lace albs and Latin liturgies’, and John Haldane as ‘nostalgic and slavish’, in the same paper

    That was the The Tablet, right? That would never happen in a conservative paper, would it?

    Perhaps not – until, in The Catholic Herald, Stuart Reid told us to ‘abandon the Church and join the SSPX’, and that we are ‘not on [Pope] Benedict’s team’. Not a loopy letter-writer, you understand, a man with a prestigious regular column.

    I need hardly add the things which Mgr Basil Loftus lobs at us in The Catholic Times.

    Ok, so that’s journalism, it’s tomorrow’s fish-wrap. You’d never get that kind of attitude in a more permanent publication, from a respectable publisher like the Catholic Truth Society?

    No – not until Dr Raymond Edwards said in one that we were characterised by a ‘defensive “ghetto” mentality’, and a ‘fondness for dressing up’, and are connected with ‘hard right’ and anti-semitic politics’. This is a booklet still in print.

    Right, but that’s just a little booklet, isn’t it? I mean you wouldn’t hear a proper academic dishing out silly and insulting comments about trads, would you?

    Ok, so perhaps you would.

    Audience at the LMS One Day Conference last year: nutters, every one of them.

    Some of the above writers have criticised liberals alongside trads, and others lump trads and conservatives together for abuse: we get it from both directions. But it goes beyond that. In terms of intensity, frequency, and the prestige of the writer and the forum, it is open season on traditionalists in a way it never is on other groups in the Church. The Tablet has never published such an extraordinary screed, like Dr Casey wrote about us, about conservatives; nor has the Catholic Herald printed anything remotely as embittered and personal attacking liberals, as the stuff provided by Stuart Reid about trads. The same is true of the letters pages, the CTS, and academics addressing conferences. It’s just not done, old boy.

    One might assume this is a hang-over from the time when trads were assumed to be schismatic, but the attacks have actually intensified since Summorum Pontificum. Before then we were more often ignored. Now, it seems, we are a threat.

    While this state of affairs continues, please don’t accuse us of paranoia.

    [Some other examples of Dr. Shaw’s lambasting the lambasters:]




  2. Some great points by Shaw; numbers 2, 4, 5, 6 in particular.
    I do think a few corrections and clarifications are needed.
    Re/ point 1: Inward-looking behavior is not necessarily narcissistic. It could actually be an expression of morbid self-hatred. It could also just be what we all, as individuals, have to engage in: a healthy and truthful self-criticism (sometimes taking the form of an examination of conscience in preparation for Confession). Shaw’s main point, however, is absolutely valid and important: Leave your self-criticism at the personal, or at most the organizational level…it’s *not* for public consumption.
    Re/ point 3: Public self-criticism does NOT in itself imply moral superiority. It may be perceived to, but that can be a false perception. There could be any number of reasons for it; a sense of moral superiority indeed, but also the narcissism or self-hatred mentioned above, purely pragmatic public relations strategy, etc. The very good advice that Shaw gives in point 1 applies here: we need to get over ourselves; our personal faults have nothing to do with the truth or falsehood of what we say, or the principles and worth of the organization we belong to.
    Re/ point 5: The criticism of promoting Public Relations programs for Traditional Catholics is an excellent observation — and an uncomfortable reminder of the “branding” campaign launched some time ago by the SSPX.
    Let’s just be Catholic. Certain persons will either like Catholicism and be attracted, or hate it and be repelled. Leave them to the grace of God and their free will, which you can’t in any case take away from them.
    About his closing paragraph:
    “criticising one’s fellow traddies (for being judgmental and superior etc.) is precisely to engage in the behaviour (being judgmental and superior) which is being criticised in the first place.”
    Again, not necessarily. It depends on whether one is judging individuals or not.
    One is being “judgmental” only when one’s judgments are insufficiently supported by evidence.
    It could also be that, though one has insufficient evidence, one’s judgment happens to be true. In that case, one is being subjectively judgmental, but objectively merely factual.
    In the case of individuals, it’s possible one has sufficient evidence of the nature of their interior attitude (based on that person’s history, et al). Even though this can’t be definitive, since God alone reads hearts, it can at times be reasonably certain. It’s possible therefore that a judgment of an individual’s attitude can be non-judgmental, both subjectively and objectively.
    Here Shaw is engaged in stereotyping; mistaking the parts for the whole; assuming each individual in a group is just like the majority in the group, which overall seems to be exactly what he insists we avoid doing. That means that he is being — not judgmental (since given original sin it is a safe bet that *most* people are both judgmental and have an attitude of superiority) — but hypocritical.
    As Tom says: “Nonetheless, Dr. Shaw does lambast lambasters of Traditional Catholics/Catholicism”.
    Whether this blindness comes from an attitude of superiority I have no idea.
    I do know that this post does. ;o)
    Oh wait, in publicly confessing my attitude of superiority, am I actually professing myself to be humble?
    Oh wait, in looking inward to question my motives, am I being narcissistic?
    Oh wait, do I truly want to know if I’m narcissistic, or do I just ask myself these questions for form’s sake, so I can pretend to myself that I’m rigorously honest and upright?
    Oh wait…
    Oh hell.
    Now I see why so few people know themselves, and consequently become hypocrites. You can break your head with this self-criticism stuff, but criticizing others is easy.

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