There’s a spectrum of belief and practice in the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, this spectrum extends beyond the limits of what is faithful and reasonable. On the left, many Catholics utterly reject dogmas of faith and morals with little reason other than they wish to decide for themselves what to believe and how to live. On the right, this same problem occurs, whereby some conservatives or traditionalists have decided to reject the authority of the Church, and follow only what the conservative Catholic subculture or traditionalist subculture teaches. These two ends of the spectrum are not so different in their sinfulness. They both reject Church authority. It is two different masks on the same face.
However, another problem arises on the right, which is the extension of what is to be believed and how the faith is to be lived to include definitive answers to almost every question. They have decided how women should dress and behave, and they attempt to impose this on every woman who wishes to attend a Latin Mass or wishes to adhere to a conservative point of view. They have decided exactly how the Mass must be said. They also attempt to extend their influence to politics and society. One conservative priest claimed that no faithful Catholic could be a member of the democratic party (in the U.S.). To be a conservative or traditionalist Catholic has come to mean, in some quarters, the wholesale adoption of a large set of very specific opinions, not taught by the Magisterium. And adherence to these opinions is insisted upon by the subculture. Many conservative Catholic media outlets continually push certain opinions, such as that no faithful Catholic should ever receive Communion in the hand, or that the Novus Ordo Mass does grave harm to the Church.
The most alarming example is Covid-19. During the Covid-19 pandemic, many leaders on the far right in Catholicism developed a set of rash unscientific and provably-false opinions on the pandemic, and these errors were widely adopted within the conservative Catholic subculture. Conservative Catholic media outlets pushed this false narrative. Why would so many Catholics adhere to the same set of opinions on a pandemic, especially when the persons pushing this false set of claims are religious leaders, not medical experts? It is a case of religious totalitarianism.
The leaders of a certain subculture in the Church have developed a following of persons who, for some reason, wish to have definitive answers to every question. It is as if they feel more secure with every question seemingly answered. Or perhaps they like the power of being able to give answers to every question definitively. Whatever the motivation, the result is a version of Catholicism that demands adherence to whatever the subculture decides on every question.
And this is exactly the error found in sinful secular society. The society has reached a point where an answer is decided upon by the culture, and anyone who disagrees risks being denounced by tens of thousands of persons online, risks loss of their job, and risks being treated like an outcast in society. Who decides these answers? There seems to be no person or group; it is a function of modern social media. And once the media coalesces around a particular answer, holding a different opinion is dangerous. People pretend to believe whatever the culture demands, just to avoid having their lives destroyed by the control given to social media and mass media.
The conservative Catholic subculture has imitated this error, unwittingly. They wish to answer every question. They use the internet and mass media to spread their decisions on various questions. And anyone who disagrees risks being cast out from the conservative Catholic subculture. The result is that Catholics lose their freedom of religion within the Church. The result is a straightjacket Catholicism, where every decision is made for you. The true faith is then transformed into a cult, where prominent traditionalist or conservative personalities have more power over beliefs and practices that the Roman Pontiff or the Bishops.
And this leads in the end to schism and heresy. Actually, heresy is found throughout this subculture. For in attempting to answer every question in religion by cultural influences, rather than Tradition, Scripture, and the teachings of the Magisterium, errors abound.
On salvation, the far right has moved ever more closely toward Feeneyism, the heresy that claims only Catholic Christians can be saved. The most common view right now in that subculture is that very few persons outside of Catholicism are saved, and it is only theoretical that they might be saved. It is essentially mitigated Feeneyism. It ignores many teachings of the Church on salvation for the unbaptized, on invincible ignorance, on the elements of salvation and sanctification outside of the formal structure of the Church. It demands even of those who are Catholic that they adhere to a very conservative version of the Faith also in order to be saved. This “be like me” version of salvation is self-serving, unsupportable theologically, and utterly rejects anything from the Magisterium contrary to its own view.
The offer of salvation is universal. God wills all persons to be saved. Some persons certainly do end up in Hell, to be punished forever. But it is not for a far right subculture to decide what is required to be saved.
On the Mass, the subculture rejects the Novus Ordo Mass and even asserts that it has done grave harm to the Church and the path of salvation. Such a claim is contrary to the perennial teaching of the Church on Her indefectibility. The Church can never lead people away from the path of salvation. And that means Her decision on discipline as well as doctrine can never err gravely. It is essentially heretical to claim that the Novus Ordo Mass is a grave error because that implies that the Church went astray in a very significant way, to the detriment, it is claimed, of everyone who attends the Novus Ordo liturgy. Such a grave error, which supposedly harmed the salvation of so many souls would break the indefectibility of the Church, if it were true. Therefore, it is not true.
How many souls would be lost, if the Church, in modern times, did not reform the Mass with the Novus Ordo, but insisted that all the faithful attend Latin Mass? How many persons would fall away from the Church because they find the Latin Mass inaccessible, and they simply want a Mass in the vernacular, with a liturgical form that is informal and also accessible? I believe that the Novus Ordo Mass, for all of the missteps and mistakes that do occur from time to time, has saved hundreds of millions of souls, who otherwise would have fallen away from the Catholic Faith. So it doesn’t matter if the Vetus Ordo Mass is better in some abstract aesthetical sense. The Novus Ordo Mass fulfills an essential role in appealing to a vast number of persons, making the Faith more available to them.
Even worse is the present situation, where, if one wishes to attend the Latin Mass, one has to contend with a subculture that would like to control one’s every opinion and action. Why can’t a woman attend the Latin Mass who dresses like most women in her culture? Why is there a cultural pressure, if she is a regular attendee at Latin Mass, to dress like we were living in the 1800s? Why can’t a man with liberal or moderate political views attend the Latin Mass? It is not tolerated. They will keep at you, until you change your views on every point to match theirs. And when the subject is the pandemic, the views that they wish to impose on their followers are harmful and may pose a risk to one’s life. They vehemently refuse to wear masks. They do not want anyone to receive the vaccine. They think Covid-19 is part of a great conspiracy to remake the Church and the world to be more liberal, and less conservative.
This subculture has taken the Traditional Latin Mass away from the rest of the Church, and made it into their possession. They will not allow a liberal priest with a liberal congregation to say the Latin Mass. They will not concelebrate with Novus Ordo priests. They will not obey a Bishop who wishes their Latin Mass priests to sometimes say the Novus Ordo. They use the Latin Mass as a way to build a walled garden within the Church, a supposedly-true Church within the larger Church. And they literally think that they are the only truly faithful Catholics, and that liberals are necessarily heretics.
Catholicism must never become a small tent, which only welcomes those sinners who have all the “right” opinions on politics, society, medicine, education, raising a family, etc. Since the Church is the sole Ark of salvation, She must always be a large Ark and not a small lifeboat. And that is why Pope Francis is right to allow Communion to sinners who are still struggling with grave sin. That is why Amoris Laetitia is a landmark papal document that will be important to the Church until Christ returns. Straight-Jacket Catholicism is not salvific; it is a cult and a spiritual sickness.
If you are a Catholic priest who has rejected the Novus Ordo Mass, and refuse to ever say that Mass, what is your reason? Are you really saying that the Church defected? If the NO Mass is so bad that one can never say the Mass or attend it, then that is the implication, the heretical claim that the Church went astray by choosing that form of the Mass, a form that saves vast numbers of souls. What priest would not be willing to say a form of the Mass that is contrary to his own preferences, in order to save souls for Christ? Such a priest does not love the Lord Jesus, but only loves a certain culture. It doesn’t matter if the Vetus Ordo Mass is better. What matters is making Christ accessible to more souls.
Ronald L. Conte Jr.