Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Strange Symmetry

SYMMETRY CATCHES THE EYE: obvious order, balance, opposition, and similarly in something tells us that it may have some underlying unity. While we are used to symmetry in organisms and art, society is often chaotic enough to lack clear symmetry. When we do see a clear symmetry in the news, then we ought to take notice, and attempt to understand what principles underly it.

The Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), a traditionalist group founded in 1970, rejects many of the reforms in the Church since the Second Vatican Council. The Society fell out of communion with the Church in 1975, and time is running out for bringing the Society back. According to a deadline issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the Society must give assent to a “doctrinal preamble,” which presumably is about certain documents of the Council and vows of obedience. Apparently, there is a strong disagreement within the leadership of the SSPX as to how they ought to proceed.

The Leadership Council of Women Religious (LCWR), which got its current name in 1971, represents the majority of religious Sisters in the United States. In 2009, the CDF started an investigation of the Council, because of its promotion of opinions contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church. The CDF subsequently appointed an Apostolic Delegate to oversee the reform of the LCWR. The Council has yet to decide how to respond to the CDF, and will hold a meeting later this month.

As far as I know:
  • No members of the SSPX serve with the permission of their local bishops.
  • All members of the LCWR serve with the permission of their local bishops.
It seems that:
  • The leadership of the SSPX accepts many of the doctrines and teachings of the Church, except for certain Declarations of the Second Vatican Council.
  • The leadership of the LCWR rejects many of the doctrines and teachings of the Church, except for certain Declarations of the Second Vatican Council.
  • The SSPX gets no support whatsoever from the mainstream media.
  • The LCWR gets overwhelming support from the mainstream media.
From what I’ve seen:
  • Ardent supporters of the SSPX, especially on the Internet, tend to be very nasty and uncharitable, and seem to care little for the wider Church.
  • Ardent supporters of the LCWR, especially on the Internet, tend to be very nasty and uncharitable, and seem to care little for the wider Church.
I’ve noticed that:
  • Writings from the SSPX often appear to be antiquated, excluding contemporary language and thought.
  • Writings from the LCWR often appear to be in line with the latest academic and political writing, excluding older language and thought.
Regarding political goals,
  • The SSPX in France wants an Absolutist monarchy, and is allied with the far political Right.
  • The LCWR wants socialism in the United States, and is allied with the far political Left.
  • The SSPX rejects the magisterium, with disobedience to the Holy See primarily in matters of unity.
  • The LCWR rejects the magisterium, with disobedience to the Holy See primarily in matters of doctrine.
In the world,
  • The SSPX is invisible. They have little involvement with the outside world.
  • The LCWR is visible. They are actively and clearly engaged with the outside world.
Regarding the apostolate:
  • The SSPX is growing, young, and has many new vocations to the priesthood and religious life, for it is easy to find youth who reject the Second Vatican Council.
  • The LCWR is shrinking, aging, and has few new vocations to the religious life, for it is difficult to find Catholic youth who reject the authentic teaching authority of the Church.
Regarding the Obama administration’s healthcare mandate:
  • The SSPX generally opposes the U.S. bishops’ attack on the Obama administration, because the bishops are arguing from religious liberty, and religious liberty is a concept rejected by the SSPX.
  • The LCWR generally opposes the U.S. bishops’ attack on the Obama administration, because the LCWR supports the administration’s goals.

The Catholic Church makes the audacious claim that it was founded by Jesus Christ, who personally selected a college of Apostles, with one of them as their leader, and the same Jesus intended this group to exist until the end of the age, and that it does truly exist to this day, led by the Pope and his Bishops, who authentically teach the doctrines of Jesus Christ through sacred scripture and tradition and the authority of the Church. Add to this the claim that Jesus is the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, and therefore God Himself, the source and sustainer of all, means that we have to take the Church's authority very seriously.

The actions of the SSPX and the LCWR seem to imply that they don’t believe this, that rather, the Catholic Church is merely a human institution. I think the symmetry of the situation accentuates this: although both organizations are very different, their actions compared and contrasted with each other seem to imply this belief.

Obedience (and I know this from experience) is very difficult for someone who considers themselves smart, especially when their superior appears to be dull-witted, uneducated, or just unthinkingly following the latest fads. As I said, I know personally how difficult it is to submit to a superior when I know I am right (or perhaps, I just think that I am right). But this submission is called the “martyrdom of the mind,” and is praiseworthy. Disobedience — found in both groups — may be a sign of the capital sin of pride. The best way to combat pride is to overlook the failings of others and instead to concentrate on, and have sorrow for, your own failings, while praising others.

The SSPX can be praised for keeping the holy traditions of the Latin Church, and for insisting on an authentic, magisterial interpretation of the more ambiguous parts of the Council, an interpretation which has been sorely lacking. Will Archbishop Lefebvre, founder of the SSPX, be universally praised one day as a new Athanasius contra mundum?

Likewise, the LCWR can be praised for abandoning a normal life, and for taking the dangerous and insecure life, “the road less traveled,” of service to the Church and to world. They worked hard, and with much opposition, to reform their religious orders according to the requirements of the Council.

But if the Second Vatican Council is binding and authoritative, then so are the other Councils of the Church, and also binding and authoritative is the magisterial authority of the Pope, for it is he who determines whether or not a Council is binding and authoritative. The LCWR cannot have it both ways. If the Superior of the SSPX does not submit to the authority of the magisterium of the Church, then why should any of his subordinates submit to him? What authority does he have?

These are difficult situations, and the fact that they are both reaching a critical point at the same time is very important. I pray for a happy resolution of both.


  1. Dear Mark,

    Hi! I'm glad you're a convert to Catholicism and a cat lover. I'm a convert also (although at five years old) and a rat-lover. Strange symmetry! Cue the spooky music!

    Listen, I wish you would pursue the doctrinal aspects of the tension between SSPX and Vatican II. The points are not many: religious freedom, collegiality, and ecumenism. The first and last are really the same, religious freedom is the term when used in a theological debate, and the third, ecumenism, when planning an apostolic initiative. There is another term for the same thing when used in a civic discussion, secularism. And collegiality is about who's the boss, what's the management style. Christ set up a Church on a particular management arrangement, a heirarchical one; Vatican II tweaked it, and reversed the Church's teaching on religious freedom, substituting an equality of religions before a secular law for the previous claim of the necessary centrality of Christ the King and a Catholic religious state demonstrating tolerance to other faiths if they merit it with good behavior, like not blowing up innocent civilians. You will find these issues to be more productive in a spiritual analysis than whether SSPX is nice, or uses old fashioned language, although those are interesting items, of course. May I suggest they Have Uncrowned Him, or Letter to a Confused Catholic, both by Archbiship Marcel Lefebvre, and the language is not old fashioned, but electrifying with the grace of clarity on the issues. You have an SSPX chapel in St. Louis, and I have it on good authority that 18% are grumpy as hell, but the rest of them run the gamut from boring to rather cool, and you can google it (SSPX chapel St. Louis) and go by some Sunday. The chapel itself is unpretentious--until that beautiful mass starts.

    Dear heart, there's a whole world you clearly haven't explored yet. I almost envy you for the fun you'll have opening your eyes. Please, if you love our country, and I know you truly do, join with me in a small attempt to bring Christ to it and save it. That's all SSPX is trying to do. Modern LCWR nuns, not so much. I hope I personally did not offend in this com box, but it is early and I've had only two sips of coffee. Be well.

    1. The church I attend has magnificent liturgies, and offers the sacraments both validly and licitly. The point here is that the SSPX is not in union with the Church.

      I agree that the modern Church is a huge mess in its earthly form, and needs reform. Certainly we need new Saints in our day, perhaps of the kind of St. Athanasius. The Church, in my opinion, needs to be far more open to tradition, integrating it seamlessly into its daily practice, which is what she has almost always done until recently.

      But visible reform ought to come from within the Church herself, it cannot (and I think, must not) come from without, except for grace. Of course, the reform of our hearts must come first.

      Being united with those who appear to be modernist heretics is a sorrowful condition for me, but I joined the Church because of what she is, and not how she appears to be. The Church even accepted me as one of her members, and I do not live a holy life, although the Church does teach me how to live so, if only I would act rightly.

      According to the Gospel of John, Our Lord, just before His passion, prayed that we all may be one, and the Book of Acts shows many times how the Apostles struggled to keep the flock together as one Church. The Reformation proves that reform can never come from disunity, and history also proves that reform can never come from secular authorities.

  2. Please document your claim that the LCRW wants socialism in the United States.
    Many many of these woman have worked first hand with the poorest of the poor in America and around the world, tending the wounds of the body and soul. They are the real troops on the ground and at the front of the mission of the church......if they see the social injustice of capitalism and call out for society through government to care for the least of our brothers I cannot equate that to a call for that awful "socialism" that right wing scare mongers like to throw around. I am no scholar and dont pretend to be a learned authority on most the topics that you address but I can certainly detect that politics taint your writings from time to time.

  3. Apparently bullying and defamation in a faux comparison of overt schismatics and devout religious is what passes for intellectual discourse here now. Mark, a previous comment fully meant was suppressed, but libeling the sisters of our religion is not Christian, Catholic, or good.