Catholic Traditionalism

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Catholic traditionalism is defined as an international movement to preserve religious, ideological, organizational, and cultic patterns of pre-Vatican II Catholic identity. Catholic traditionalism emerged in a diffuse and segmented manner. The movement was initially part of the conservative Catholic discontent with the reform initiatives of the Second vatican council. With the spread of conflict and polarization in the wake of the Council, and following the prohibition of the Tridentine Liturgy after November 1971, Catholic traditionalism became a more organizationally and ideologically distinct movement.

Distinguishing ideological characteristics of Catholic traditionalism include tendencies toward a literalistic and ahistorical reading of pre-Vatican II Church documents and decrees (especially those associated with the Council of trent, Vatican I, and papal anti-modernist encyclicals and pronouncements) and a strong conspiracy orientation embued with apocalyptic imagery. The most extreme element in the movement (sede-vacantists ) asserts that Vatican II was a "false council," that recent popes are deposed and excommunicated, and that the Novus Ordo Mass is an intrinsically invalid rite. More moderate elements accept the authority of the Magisterium, but assert that the pope and bishops have erred in judgment. These traditionalists have also focused attention on alleged "contradictions" between the pre and post-Vatican II Church doctrine and discipline. As a sectarian-like movement, traditionalists have openly defied Church hierarchy by establishing illicit chapels and Mass centers in a campaign to "save" the Latin tridentine form of the Massthe culture symbol of the traditionalist discontent with aggiornamento.

The first traditionalist organization, the Catholic Traditionalist Movement, Inc., was publicly launched in the United States in March of 1965, when the Reverend Gommar De Pauw, a professor of theology and canon law at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, issued a "Catholic Traditionalist Manifesto" warning against the Vatican II "Protestantizing" of the Roman Catholic faith. By the early 1970s, other traditionalist organizations had formed under various names in the United States. The best known are the Orthodox Roman Catholic Movement, Traditional Catholics of America, Roman Catholics of America, and St. Pius V Association; and in Europe the Society of St. Pius X, Catholic Counter Reformation, and Association of St. Pius V. These groups, along with the support of unaffiliated traditionalist priests, established a world-wide network of traditionalist publications, schools, chapels, and Mass centers promoting pre-Vatican II theology and liturgical and sacramental practice.

The most visible figure in the traditionalist movement is the Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. After the Second Vatican Council, the former Archbishop of Dakar (Senegal) and of Tulle (France) allied himself with those forces resisting aggiornamento. In 1968, he resigned as head of the Holy Ghost Fathers in a dispute over reform of the order in keeping with Vatican II directives. Lefebvre moved to Rome to retire but, by his own account, was sought out by young men desiring direction in priestly formation. In October 1970, Lefebvre opened a seminary in Econe, Switzerland. The next month, the Bishop of Fribourg canonically established Lefebvre's Fraternité Sacerdotale de Saint Pie X (Society of St. Pius X).

Following a canonical investigation of his seminary in 1974, the French archbishop issued an acerbic "Declaration" (November 21) repudiating the "neo-modernist" and "neo-Protestant" tendencies manifest in the documents of Vatican II. For the next several months, a series of meetings, negotiations, and an exchange of letters took place between Lefebvre and the Vatican. In June of 1975, Pope Paul VI removed the canonical approval of the Society of St. Pius X and all its establishments, including the seminary at Econe. In July of 1976, following public defiance of an explicit Vatican directive prohibiting new ordinations, Lefebvre was deprived of the canonical authority to exercise his priestly powers.

Subsequent negotiations failed to resolve the conflict between the French archbishop and Rome and the status of the traditionalist movement in general. Lefebvre's priestly fraternity currently operates an international network of seminaries, chapels, schools and religious foundations and remains the flagship organization in the traditionalist cause.

The number of seminarians grew from a handful in 1970 to over 350 ordained priests by the mid-1990s. In 1987, at age 82, Archbishop Lefebvre made known his intention to perpetuate the movement by consecrating episcopal successors. In order to forestall the threat of schism, the Vatican made several attempts at rapprochement, but all fell through. Finally, on June 30, 1988, Archbishop Lefebvre ordained four bishops, all members of the Society of St. Pius X, including Richard Williamson, rector of the Society's seminary in Ridgefield, Connecticut. Because he proceeded in defiance of papal directives, Archbishop Lefebvre and the four bishops he consecrated automatically incurred excommunication.

See Also: lefebvre, marcel.

Bibliography: y. congar, Challenges to the Church: The Case of Archbishop Lefebvre (Huntington, Ind. 1976). m. w. cuneo, The Smoke of Satan: Conservative and Traditionalist Dissent in Contemporary Catholicism (New York 1997). m. davies, Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre, v. I & II (1980, 1983). w. d. dinges, "Roman Catholic Traditionalism," in Fundamentalisms Observed, ed. m. e. marty and r. s. appleby (Chicago 1991). j. hanu, Vatican Encounter: Conversations with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, tr. e. shosberger (Kansas City 1978). m. j. weaver and r. s. appleby, eds., "We Are What You Were: Roman Catholic Traditionalism in America," in Being Right; Conservative Catholics in America (Bloomington 1995).

[w. d. dinges]

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Catholic Traditionalism

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