Tradition In Action
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The Campaign Against We Resist You to the Face: My Response to Alphonse Matt
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Michael J. Matt, editor

Published in The Remnant, August 31, 2000

Readers will not have failed to notice that there is, at present, a smear campaign being waged against We Resist You to the Face. Our esteemed columnist, Atila Guimaraes, addressed this campaign in the last issue of The Remnant, but I will also weigh in alongside my colleague and co-signer in defending the Statement from my own perspective.

We Resist You to the Face (referred to henceforth as the Statement of Resistance), though having to my knowledge not a single intelligent argument put to the test against it by its critics thus far, is nonetheless portrayed as representing all sorts of ugly things which clearly it in no way does represent. Not surprisingly, few (if any) Remnant readers have misunderstood the Statement (that is, if the piles of mail supporting it are any indication). No, the only ones who seem to have a problem understanding the clear language of the Statement are our "conservative" adversaries, many of whom must have finally given the work a careful read and found it difficult to refute, which is why they have launched nothing more substantial against it than name-calling and caterwauling.

Far from examining the Statement and critiquing it on its stated intentions, our "conservative" friends (e.g., a The Wanderer columnist and even its editor, Alphonse Matt) seem much more interested in simply calling the Statement names, while condemning it solely on the basis that they don’t like the way it sounds and, for that matter, they don’t like its authors either. Here’s an example of how our cousin, Al Matt, presents his "evidence" against us in a recent editorial in The Wanderer:

"It is our judgment that the 'resisters' have nothing to say, or to offer to their fellow Catholics, so long as they continue to 'suspend' their obedience to the Pope and remain in a state of 'resistance.'"

Perhaps this is adequate "proof" of the Statement’s illegitimacy for the "conservatives," but the rest of the Catholic world would, I believe, be looking for a wee bit more in the way of substance than Al Matt’s private judgment that we "have nothing to say."The Wanderer editor has apparently taken a brief hiatus from Bishop-bashing, just long enough to pronounce judgment and condemnation on all Traditional Catholics from east coast to west. I guess a few of us are beginning to wonder just exactly who died and appointed Al Matt head of the Holy Office? Talk about private judgment! "It’s a schismatic statement," they shout at us, without bothering to consider our evidence or weigh the historical precedents of our defense. "You're in schism!" Why? Because we say so!

Again, The Wanderereditor:

"In fact, among all the tons of newsprint spent by the 'resisters' in their wailing and gnashing of teeth over Mr. Hand's monograph, not an ounce has been spent to explain why their suspension of obedience to the Pope and their 'state of resistance' to Vatican II do not constitute objective schism."

If The Wanderer editor had taken the time to actually make a case that sought to prove that we are in schism rather than running a seven-part series that dealt primarily with the reflections, confessions, accusations, musings and personal anecdotes of one of our former columnists, then perhaps we would have used the little Remnant's "tons of newsprint" to respond even more specifically to the charge. As it is, however, Traditionalists were accused of all sorts of horrible and mortally sinful things in our former columnist’s tract, which also—for the sake of justice and decency – had to be responded to. As for the case substantiating the reckless charge of schism against the authors of We Resist You to the Face: It was never delineated, and we still have nothing more than name-calling coming from The Wanderer headquarters (e.g., in addition to being Integrists and pope-haters, we are now arrogant wailers and teeth-gnashers).

Nevertheless, in lieu of any kind of factual, evidential case, Al Matt apparently wishes us to first do the work that his "prosecutor" failed to do, and then provide our own defense as well. Though we requested (by telephone) a copy of The Wanderer's monograph when the series first began, we were denied this little consideration and were told to wait until the pamphlet came off the press some weeks later. So, as Mr. Ferrara explained in his last article, we were forced to initiate our defense based on The Wanderer tract's opening blast of trumpets (and allegations), which, we soon discovered, "quickly faded into the doodling of a lone kazoo" where any real proof was concerned. Our defense was initially based on the assumption that their tract would eventually get around to claiming it could bring substantive, coherent and evidence-based proofs to support the charges. Instead, the rambling Wanderer tract turned out to be a good deal less than substantive, having never even bothered to define its myriad charges or build a coherent case. Instead we were subjected to a lot of name-calling (e.g., "midwives to sede-vacantism"), hyperbole (e.g., "dangerous trajectories toward schism") and inflammatory verbiage.

In any event, now Al Matt decries the fact that we have, to his way of thinking, failed to explain why our actions do not "constitute objective schism" (we are apparently off "the dangerous trajectory" now and have moved straight into objective schism). Okay, I’ll bite. Even though The Wanderer never actually put together a case against us and now behaves as though pointing fingers and making allegations will suffice to prove its point, I will nevertheless offer yet another explanation that will in no way stray from proving why the actions of the authors of We Resist You to the Face do not, in any way or by any reasonable consideration of the facts, "constitute objective schism."

We take the time to make this newest defense under the assumption that it will appear in the next issue of The Wanderer. After all, since Al Matt publicly criticized us for failing to offer an explanation for why we’re not schismatics, we are most confident that he will not deprive his readers of their right to read our explanation. Certainly he would not allow fellow Catholics (one of whom is a member of his own family) to be accused of schism in his paper without allowing them the opportunity to provide his readers with their defense against this charge. Anything less than publishing our explanation would seem to me to constitute simple detraction on Al Matt’s part (regardless of whether or not he believes our explanation ends the discussion of the matter), and we remain confident that he would not engage in detraction. We will, therefore, send this column to our cousin in time for the next issue of The Wanderer.

Our Defense

Let's start with The Wanderer's unfounded accusation that we’re schismatic. I don’t believe that anyone at The Wanderer truly believes we’re in schism. Their use of the term reminds us of the sodomites’ use of the silly label "homophobe" – it is an attempt to end the discussion of the issue before it ever begins by attempting to make the opponent appear beyond the pale. Still, we’ll take them at their word: They say we’re in schism. But I don’t believe that Cardinal Ratzinger would resort to such slander. Speaking to the Bishops of Chile in 1988, Cardinal Ratzinger provided us with what – as far as he’s concerned – are the only conditions that make schism possible. He said:

"One of the basic discoveries of the theology of ecumenism is that schisms can take place only when certain truths and certain values of the Christian faith are no longer lived and loved within the Church."

I would ask critics (and supporters, for that matter) to reread We Resist You to the Face and explain to us where we have advocated that anyone, least of all ourselves, should cease to love and live a single truth or value of the Christian Faith. Quite the contrary, the Statement is predicated upon a desire on the part of its authors to defend all the values and truths of the Christian Faith, without exception. We are, in fact, motivated to resist any and all novelties that we believe in conscience are compromising those Christian "values and truths" which we cherish as immutable parts of the Catholic Church. For example, who at this late date can seriously deny that the new liturgy has compromised "certain values of the Christian Faith," such that most Catholics no longer even believe in the Real Presence or understand what it is? Who can seriously deny that altar girls, forbidden for 2,000 years, have compromised the path to the priesthood for young boys who no longer wish to serve at the altar with a flock of girls?

As far as The Wanderer is concerned, to suspend compliance with any unjust or harmful novelty approved by the Pope always constitutes schism. But the essence of schism is denial of the divine institution of the Papacy itself, not licit disobedience to a particular command which the subject believes is harmful to the Church. Indeed, our Resistance Statement is an appeal to papal authority to undo the harm caused by the post-conciliar innovations, not a denial of that authority. So the charge of schism is simply ridiculous.

As the "conservatives" would have it, even if a Pope were, for the sake of "dialogue" among religions, to command that all of our children study and learn the tenets of the Hindu and Islamic religions, we would – if I am understanding the "conservative" position correctly – be on a "dangerous trajectory towards schism" if we suspended obedience to this papal command. Likewise, according to our accusers, we are schismatics in fact because we resist and oppose the scandalous ecumenical waltzes with heretics being staged almost weekly at the Vatican. Another example: the Pope recently called for outlawing the death penalty because it is cruel and unusual, and said that "the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil." (L’Osservatore Romano, weekly edition, February, 1999, p.8) What? Are we now schismatics if we hold fast to the constant teaching of the Church that the state has the right and even the duty to impose the death penalty for a sufficiently grave offense?

Besides the papal order to destroy our liturgical tradition, which even Cardinal Ratzinger now admits was a huge mistake, we could fill all the pages of The Remnant with examples of what appear to us to be novel papal pronouncements of various kinds (encyclicals addressed to the whole world and not binding the Church, audience addresses, youth rallies, Vatican gatherings, etc.), teachings by example, or dogmatic tolerance of error which deviates from the line of all of the pre-conciliar popes. Who can seriously deny that Saint Pius X would be horrified by the very things the "conservatives" tell us we must adhere to today or else be accused of "schism."

Since we have cited our historical precedents for suspension of obedience in the face of what we believe to be harmful novelties and pronouncements, and since we have provided the proof of the legitimate theological opinion (taught by Doctors of the Church and never condemned as error) that suspension of obedience to the Pope can be justified under the right conditions, on what grounds can we be called schismatic? If we are wrong, then show us where we are wrong. And if we are wrong, then we are mistaken, but being mistaken is not the same as being schismatic. And, again, we appeal to the Pope’s authority, so the charge of schism is baseless in the first place.

So, at the risk of boring readers by repeating what is crystal-clear in the Statement, let us again cite what we called the "Basis of this Act" in Chapter V of the Statement. Let us start with St. Robert Bellarmine, no stranger himself to a Church that was drastically in need of reform – nearly as badly as the Church is today:

"Just as it is licit to resist a Pontiff who aggresses the body, it is also licit to resist one who aggresses the souls or who disturbs civil order, or, above all, one who attempts to destroy the Church. I say that it is licit to resist him by not doing what he orders and preventing his will from being executed. It is not licit, however, to judge, punish, or depose him, since these are acts proper to a superior."

And again, Fr. Francisco Suarez, S.J.:

"If [the Pope] gives an order contrary to good customs, he should not be obeyed; if he attempts to do something openly opposed to justice and the common good, it will be licit to resist him; if he attacks by force, by force he can be repelled, with a moderation appropriate to a just defense."

Fr. Francisco de Vitoria, O.P., states:

"A Pope must be resisted who publicly destroys the Church. What should be done when the Pope, because of his bad customs, destroys the Church? What should be done if the Pope wanted, without reason, to abrogate Positive Law?" His answer is: "He would certainly sin; he should neither be permitted to act in such fashion nor should he be obeyed in what was evil; but he should be resisted with a courteous reprehension. Consequently,... if he wanted to destroy the Church or the like [such as doing away with the Traditional Mass!], he should not be permitted to act in that fashion, but one would be obliged to resist him. The reason for this is that he does not have the power to destroy. Therefore, if there is evidence that he is doing so, it is licit to resist him. The result of all this is that if the Pope destroys the Church by his orders and actions, he can be resisted and the execution of his mandates prevented."

And, finally, in his Comments on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, St. Thomas teaches how respectfully correcting a Prelate who sins is a work of mercy:

"Eccl. 17:12 says that God 'imposed on each one duties toward his neighbor.' Now, a Prelate is our neighbor. Therefore, we must correct him when he sins.... Some say that fraternal correction does not extend to the Prelates, either because a man should not raise his voice against heaven, or because the Prelates are easily scandalized if corrected by their subjects. However, this does not happen, since when they sin, the Prelates do not represent heaven and, therefore, must be corrected. And those who correct them charitably do not raise their voices against them, but in their favor, since the admonishment is for their own sakes.... For this reason, the precept of fraternal correction extends also to the Prelates, so that they may be corrected by their subjects."

Having thus established that a "suspension of obedience" can, in fact, be a legitimate recourse for Catholics who seek to defend (not defect from) the Church, it was incumbent upon us (the co-authors of the Statement) to couch our decision to resort to this legitimate recourse in a sense of the gravity of the situation, in the proper terms, in the spirit of humility and in the knowledge of our place in the Church as laymen. This, without question, is something which we went to great pains to accomplish in the Statement. But, as even casual readers of the Statement will attest, we went one step further: we hasten to admit freely that we do not consider the matter closed; that we present our analysis of the facts, and that we now ask, rather plead with, the proper authority – the Holy Father (or his representatives) – to address our concerns, to engage in dialogue, and even to "debate the legitimacy and the licitness of the resistance that we are making." (Page 55)

In other words, the Statement of Resistance is by no means an attempt to make pronouncements of doctrine and usurp the role of the Pope. With perfect clarity, we stress that the Statement is a means to an end – that end being the initiation of a "respectful public discussion or eventually an elevated polemic with the Church authorities." (Page 55)

What legitimate objection can The Wanderer possibly raise against a statement which recognizes its own limitations, speaks respectfully to the legitimate ecclesiastical authorities, cites examples of novelties in the Church over which it takes issue, and then asks to be corrected if its authors have somehow erred in their presentation of the facts and their implications? We humbly ask to be shown where and how we have misunderstood or misread the character of the post-conciliar orientation – an orientation which begins at the Chair of Peter itself.

How can they condemn us for asking for clarifications and explanations such as these? They can’t! And so they mischaracterize our motivations, they sensationalize our Statement by taking one phrase – "suspension of obedience" – out of context and harping on only that, and they vilify our legitimate call for an elevated dialogue by making ad hominem attacks against the signers (e.g., calling us pope-bashers, Integrists, arrogant, schismatic, etc.) and thus trying to minimize our right to a fair hearing by legitimate authority. See can. 212 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law

It must be that the Statement is hitting too close to home, so its authors must be painted as schismatic, so that rational discussion can be prevented. Never mind that we revere the Papacy and recognize John Paul II as Vicar of Christ, the holder of the highest office on earth. Never mind that we clearly state our intention to remain in the Church, and that we deny not a single truth of our Faith. We are still called schismatic. There is no justice in this. This is the ultimate ad hominem attack.

Is our call for an elevated dialogue something that, in and of itself, can be characterized as schism? Please! Not by any standard, and certainly not by the Vatican’s standard. The Vatican itself has admitted that there may appear to the faithful to be contradictions between the old and new presentations of the Faith and between the reforms of liturgy and law and what came before. In addition to Cardinal Ratzinger’s startling admissions in this regard, it becomes ever clearer that the Vatican itself anticipated resistance such as ours, due to the nature of the unprecedented "renewal" which the post-conciliar Church has embraced.

Let us again read Cardinal Ratzinger’s words taken from his 1988 Remarks to the Bishops of Chile Regarding the Lefebvre Schism: "All this leads a great number of people to ask themselves if the Church of today is really the same as that of yesterday, or if they have changed it for something else without telling people." Of course, the Cardinal goes on to assert that the Church has not broken with the past, and that Vatican II can be made "plausible" by being reconciled as part of the totality of tradition. But why should this even be necessary in the first place, if the Council is so obviously in line with tradition in everything it said? No one – not even The Wanderer, I would hope – would deny that the Cardinal at least understands why "many people" would come to the conclusion that the Church of today is not the same as the Church of yesterday. This perception of the faithful arises from only one thing: the radical nature of the "reforms" of Vatican II, the likes of which have never been seen in the history of the Church.

But let us take this a step further. The Vatican itself allowed for the severity of the changes in the Church to be so great that Catholics would have a hard time reconciling these changes with the past teachings of the Church. In the Protocol of Agreement Between the Holy See and the Priestly Society of St. Pius X, which the Vatican asked Archbishop Lefebvre to sign in Rome on May 5, 1988, we find the following frank admission couched within a statement that they asked the Archbishop to accept:

"With regard to certain points taught by the Second Vatican Council or concerning later reforms of the liturgy and law, and which seem to us able to be reconciled with the Tradition only with difficulty, we [Lefebvre and company] commit ourselves to have a positive attitude of study and of communication with the Holy See, avoiding all polemics." (emp. ours)

The Vatican conceded this to Archbishop Lefebvre: Traditionalists would find some points taught by Vatican II and some later reforms of liturgy and law difficult to reconcile with Tradition. They’re admitting a substantial amount here about the nature of the reforms. Here we have permission from the Vatican to explore the difficulty in reconciling the new orientation of the Church with the perennial Church before the Council – which, wouldn’t you know it, is precisely our stated point and purpose in writing We Resist You to the Face.

The basis of our legitimate Statement of Resistance is the tremendous difficulty we are having in reconciling previous Church teachings with present Church teachings. We not only find many of these modern and novel teachings difficult to reconcile with Tradition, but to us many of them seem impossible to reconcile! Thus, the impasse. All the more serious is our predicament and all the more legitimate should be our course of action. Let the authorities of the Church, not Al Matt, judge our efforts.

So, we do not seek to start a new Church. We do not declare that the Pope is not the pope. We do not even declare that the new Mass is invalid. The author of The Wanderer’s tract and Al Matt know this, but pretend that they do not.

Rather we do as the Vatican suggested Archbishop Lefebvre should do: "Commit ourselves to have a positive attitude of study and of communication with the Holy See." In our Statement we call it a "respectful public discussion with the Church authorities." (Page 55) No one can argue that our tone is not respectful and that our attitude is not positive, else we would not express the positive hope that the Holy See would answer our concerns and hear our complaints.

No, my friends, the case we’ve made in our Statement cannot be dismissed on the grounds that it betrays some elusive and ill-defined "schismatic trajectory" on the part of its authors. It is a sound case, made by Catholics in good standing, with reverence, respect, humility and, yes, audacity. We are objecting! We are resisting! But the thought of deserting the Church is as repugnant to us as the Modernism that claws at her heart and bosom. And until we are made to see how the novel teaching of the Council (which John XXIII explicitly said would not have an infallible character) and of the present Pontiff can be reconciled with previous Magisterial teachings, we – for the sake of our own souls and the souls of the millions of confused Catholics all around us – are suspending obedience to any commands or teachings which, after mature study, appear not to be in accord with previous Church teaching.

For example, we respectfully decline to believe that the death penalty must be outlawed and that criminals may never be put to death, as the Pope recently declared in L'Osservatore Romano. For example, we respectfully decline to believe that altar girls are a good thing for the Church, as the Pope declared in his Letter to Women. For example, we respectfully decline to believe that the New Mass is "a great renewal" and that it is not inferior to the Old Mass, as the Pope declared in his address on the 25th anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium. For example, we respectfully decline to believe, as the Pope taught in Ut Unum Sint, that the ministers of Protestant sects which preach abortion are "disciples of Christ" – a novel teaching His Holiness has demonstrated again and again by conducting joint liturgical services with pro-abortion laymen pretending to be bishops. And, for example, we respectfully decline to believe that Islam is a religion deserving of divine protection, as the Pope taught when he declared "May Saint John Baptist protect Islam and all the people of Jordan." at Wadi Al-Kharrar, on March 21, 2000.

Yet we clearly state that we do not and cannot judge the Pope. We also state that the level of authority of his novel teachings is far from clear, and that this too is one of the major issues for which we beg clarification. But, until such clarification is forthcoming, only an ignorant person or someone with a prior prejudice would claim that Catholics must "obey" every novelty, initiative and experiment of the post-conciliar era, just because it meets with papal approval in some speech or letter or other pronouncement not clearly specified to bind the entire Church. Are these "teachings" in the general sense? Yes, but are they binding Catholic doctrine which we are obliged to believe?

The Magisterium cannot contradict previous magisterial teachings on faith and morals. In fact, Vatican I is perfectly clear on this: not only is it impossible for the Magisterium to do so, but the Magisterium is, in fact, powerless to ever issue any new doctrines. The onus, therefore, is on the present hierarchy of the Church to explain how their novel teachings (some of which are cited above) – never before seen in the history of the Church – could possibly be considered part of the binding Magisterial teachings of the Church. Certainly, doctrines can be developed, but this only means that doctrines can be further explained so that Catholics might have a better understanding of them…. Engaging in novelty and innovation can certainly not be equated with explaining doctrine. If, then, the novel teachings are just that, new, how could they be binding, especially since their inherent novelty automatically rules them out as being doctrinal in essence? So, what are these teachings? How do we categorize them?

Again, here is the root of our dilemma. Here is the basis of our call for dialogue with the proper authority – Pope John Paul II. The Wanderer may wish to maintain its carefully cultivated silence in the face of this grave situation in this darkest of all hours in the Church’s history, but we (the "resisters," as Al Matt calls us in his editorial) feel obliged in conscience to call for this eleventh-hour clarification.

Still, the matter is not closed, obviously, as We Resist You to the Face is only our "opening statement" in what we hope will be a fruitful discussion with legitimate Church authority. If, in the face of all the chaos that has visited itself upon the Church since the Council, The Wanderer and the rest of our "conservative" friends find such a loyal and fundamentally Catholic call for clarification to be somehow schismatic, then quite simply, they are trying not to understand what the Statement clearly is saying.

We seek answers from our Pope. We’re confused by the antics of our shepherds, which are so shocking in many cases that our children and siblings are leaving the Church in disgust. It would be nice if The Wanderer and the other conservative watchdogs of the Council would either show proof of how we are wrong, or else step out of the way of this perfectly legitimate course of action.


Blason de Charlemagne
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