On Straight-Jacket Catholicism

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.

This entry was posted in commentary. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to On Straight-Jacket Catholicism

  1. erm6 says:

    Hi Ron. You have written several articles this week about this subculture. In my opinion, your comments are becoming increasingly insightful, and more astute than other things I have read online.

    In the past, I have heard things like, “Traditionalists think that they are the only ones who are going to Heaven and everyone else is going to Hell” but that is an oversimplification. Generally speaking, Traditionalists do not assume that they themselves are all going to Heaven. To the contrary, much of the culture around the Latin Mass (in my experience in the United States) values a heightened awareness of the ongoing risk of not getting into Heaven. The importance of going to Confession before Communion, if one has committed a mortal sin, is emphasized. When the schedules are drawn up for Mass and Confession times, there is an emphasis on making sure that the priest is extensively available for the Sacrament of Confession on multiple days per week, perhaps before all scheduled Masses. It is emphasized that one unrepented mortal sin is enough to land you in Hell. It is very good to have Confession available so frequently—my point is only that this heightened awareness of the risk of sin, and the increased access to Confession, easily disprove the oversimplified stereotype that traditionalists blithely assume they themselves are all going to Heaven automatically.

    I suspect that people who make such stereotypes about traditionalists, do have a grain of truth in their mind, but rather than this oversimplified stereotype, it is more astutely expressed in the way you put it in the French diocese article: this idea that “only the very conservative are considered to be pure enough to recognize truth in doctrine and discipline.” It’s not “We are saints and everyone else is a sinner.” It’s more like “We are sinners but at least we’re traditional enough to recognize true doctrine and discipline to give us a shot at attaining salvation, but all the other sinners are too misled on doctrine and discipline and don’t stand a chance.” This is more subtle. I feel that many critics of the traditionalist subculture do not understand this nuance.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Sorry, I’m somewhat biased due to the influence of prominent traditionalists like Taylor Marshall, Carlo Vigano, John-Henry Westen, Fr. Z. and other self-appointed speakers for traditionalism.

      Emphasis on Confession and repentance is very good. I know that many traditionalists are faithful to the Church. However, there is a subculture that has grown up around the Latin Mass, like weeds among the wheat. And something has to be done to remove the weeds.

      On salvation theology, it is increasingly common for traditionalists to take a position similar to Feeneyism, mitigated somewhat by vague claims that many some non-Catholics can be saved. On the far left, the opposite error occurs, where persons like Mark Shea and Bishop Barron claim we may reasonably hope that all are saved. That is not a reasonable hope.

  2. Thomas Mazanec says:

    They think Covid-19 is part of a great conspiracy to remake the Church and the world to be more liberal, and less conservative.

    The irony, of course, is that by refusing masks and vaccines, they are making Traditionalists more vulnerable to death by Covid-19 and thus they themselves are making the world more liberal and less conservative.

  3. erm6 says:

    Hi Ron. I saw my comment as being in agreement with your article, so I was a little surprised to see your “Sorry.” I am grateful for the articles that you have written this week about this subculture. I see them as providing insights that I have not read elsewhere. That was my main point.

    I guess I went a little bit further than you did, because I called out a certain oversimplification that I read somewhere before, but I still saw myself as building on your statement in the French diocese article (the idea that “only the very conservative are considered to be pure enough to recognize truth in doctrine and discipline”). That statement of yours, together with your statement in this Straight Jacket article about a “small tent, which only welcomes those sinners who have all the ‘right’ opinions,” inspire my comments. I see the subculture as not so much saying “Others are sinners and we aren’t”; rather they seem to say “We are the type of sinners who can clearly see our own sins and repent of them, by virtue of our conservative/traditionalist worldview/disciplines/devotions. People with a liberal/progressive worldview are the type of sinners who are blind to their own sins and don’t repent.” I think I am building on your analysis when I make this point.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Thanks. I just want to be careful not to lump all traditionalists together, esp. with certain leaders who don’t represent every traditionalist.

  4. John says:

    Outstanding insight! I don’t mean to over simplify or generalize too much either, but this is pretty much exactly what i have been dealing witih – and i say this as a farily staunch conservative on many topics. I especially relate to the “definitive answers to everything” mentality – every topic from planetary climate to world wide pandemics to geo political relations to world banking and global economic structure and of course religion. a sense of self worth, meaning, and accomplishment seems to derive from thinking “i’ve done the research” (i.e. watched some youtube videos and found out what the subculture is saying) and then the glee of telling someone else about the doomsday apocolyptic end times situtation we are facing – it is disturbing. Combine that with the “Be like me” (I refer to it as “my way or the highway”) dogma and it’s dangerous. In my case it’s even gone to schism of sedevacantism – anything that contradicts the sede narrative is false. Literally the dogma of no salvation outside of sedevacantism… The ironic thing is that this sede chapel was founded by a Vatican II denier in the 60s who was ordained and consecrated bishop by a man who himself was ordained and consecrated bishop from an excommuniicated line of vatican I deniers – how’s that for a line of succession. I wonder if it goes back to Trent and further – an unbroken line of council deniers. starting with the bishops who held onto arianism after Nicea?

  5. Matt Z. says:

    There is an hour and fourty minute youtube video on the sin of Pride I believe by Catholic Audio Books. In the talk it is said somethings on the lines of it is pride to argue or assert your will over things which have not yet been fully decided by the Church or are debatable.

  6. Matt Z. says:

    To add there is nothing wrong with Catholics wanting to dress modest as someone in the 1800’s if they assert thay it is thier opinion and choice to want to dress this way as to show modesty. The problem comes when it is asserted as dogma that this is the only way to dress modest. Or when someone would look down on others if they are not dressed to their own view of modest dress.

  7. Matt Z. says:

    I also notice a hatred of those that may be more traditional. I noticed in my own personal life where I have stated my own OPINIONS on certain ways I want to live my faith that by todays standards are traditional and I have gotten mocked, ridiculed, and shut down. There is definitely a hatred and non tolerance of what we could call traditional in todays modern world.

  8. erm6 says:

    Hi Ron. Pope Francis talked about the Straight Jacket issue in his General Audience today: https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2021/documents/papa-francesco_20210623_udienza-generale.html

    • Ron Conte says:

      Pope Francis: “Indeed, today too there is no shortage of preachers who, especially through the new means of communication, can disturb communities. They present themselves not primarily to announce the Gospel of God who loves man in Jesus, Crucified and Risen, but to insist, as true “keepers of the truth” – so they call themselves – on the best way to be Christians. And they strongly affirm that the true Christianity is the one they adhere to, often identified with certain forms of the past, and that the solution to the crises of today is to go back so as not to lose the genuineness of the faith. Today too, as then, there is a temptation to close oneself up in some of the certainties acquired in past traditions. But how can we recognise these people? For example, one of the traces of this way of proceeding is inflexibility. Faced with the preaching of the Gospel that makes us free, that makes us joyful, these people are rigid. Always the rigidity: you must do this, you must do that… Inflexibility is typical of these people.”

Comments are closed.