Hierarchy or Social Network? Spirit and Method at Vatican II

Pray Tell reader Jonathan Day offers us this analysis of church factions, networking, and use of media, “Hierarchy or Social Network? Spirit and Method at Vatican II.”


  1. It would be easy to say that I thought the paper very fine; but it would be more accurate and less self-centered to say that much of it mirrored my own thinking. There is a kind of evangelical zeal among conservative bloggers, in both senses of evangelical: 1. they are eager to spread their message, and 2. they are generally document- and authority- based, with a “strict constructionist” approach to hermeneutics. As an academic AND as a theologian, I do wonder how and why people can think the way they sometimes — or, more often, fail to think, settling for sound bites instead of shared discourse proceeding from both the head and the heart. I wonder what has become of coherence, broadly conceived in a kind of Lonerganian way, the integration of the intellect, the affections, and the cultivation of virtue. I have even seen an academic article questioning this kind of integration as a human desideratum. I have heard how cops become conscious of the “thin blue line,” the sense that the border between social order and social chaos is all-too permeable, and that they are its guardians. That’s how I feel sometimes as an academic, that the border between coherence and craziness is way too porous, that teachers are its guardians, and that we are losing the battle. Then I wonder about the violent metaphor, and try to think how else to conceive it. How does one love these perceived “enemies” of coherence? Maybe that’s how it is that evangelical zeal can so easily become the “bad zeal” that St Benedict spoke of — the Augustinian focus on the will — which he conceived of as love — can so easily be turned into something else.

  2. As someone who recently discovered this blog, and as a neophyte to the faith, the urgent need for “a few straightforward moves on the part of both conservatives and progressive writers on liturgy,” is a wise and helpful suggestion. How to start? Straightforward moves in the “incessant noisy process” of dialogue and discussion, I would suggest, should first be focused on Christ, and not on personal agendas.

    One other observation: While conservatives may have an “inside” advantage in the Church today, they are decidedly outsiders from almost every other significant perspective. One other aspect that was not mentioned is that the general culture today, as reflected in the secular media, is overwhelmingly sympathetic to the views of progressives, generally hostile to the views of conservatives. This may explain the past “bunker mentality” of many conservatives and it influences the manner in which they interact within the broader culture. The internet provides a new forum for discussion, away from the existing media structures, that now provides conservatives with a place to voice opinions and form coalitions that has been virtually impossible outside of this new media forum.

    The “searching, widespread debate” that is called for, and so necessary today, must lead us to respectfully and thoughtfully discuss these issues as Church, independent of faction. Our method toward this goal must eschew the sensational and the aggressive. One way to effectively begin down this path is for conservatives to remind conservatives, as liberals must remind liberals, to engage in these discussions in a respectful and deliberate manner.

    As cited in implication #3 of the article, clarity about facts is important. If growth in our Life in Christ is the purpose of all this “activity,” then surely when can agree that it is vital, at a minimum, that we engage in dialogue and discussion from as much of a factual basis as is humanly possible.

    1. Re the “generally hostile” theme

      This is an outdated perception. I note, as a political independent, that MSM offers at least as many free passes to conservatives as to liberals and has done so for quite a while, but conservatives seem stuck in a victim mode of not seeing that. That acts as a rhetorical signal to non-conservatives that conservatives are still more interested in nursling their grievances than in conversation. So conversation is aborted.

      1. As a holder of outdated perceptions, I stand corrected and have decided, as a victim, to abort this portion of the conversation.

  3. @ Tom: On the contrary, Tom, I find that the secular media routinely assumes that “traditional” Catholicism is the Catholicism of the conservatives.
    One of the problems with the kind of dialogue envisioned in the article, and championed in your own post, is that, in the mind of some conservatives, dialogue is synonymous with compromise, which in turn is synonymous with betrayal. If one’s approach to truth is tied to specific verbal formulations taken as absolute Truth with a captial-T, there seems to be little room for other experiences, other formulations.

    1. Ann, I think it safe to say that the assumptions of the secular media on this matter are frequently wrong . . . and it is also safe to say that when traditional and Catholicism are linked by the secular media, it is almost never in a positive, or even neutral, manner.

      If some conservatives link dialogue with compromise and compromise with betrayal, then fellow conservatives must remind conservatives that, while respect for tradition (and Tradition) is important, growth only occurs through renewal and adaptation. I’d like to think, as a “conservative” myself, that I am able to be open to new ideas and approaches, while giving the “benefit of the doubt” to the traditions and Traditions that I respect.

      With respect to faith, this must always be done with Christ at the center, keeping personal aspects and preferences in their proper perspective. There are times to stand firm in one’s beliefs, times to be open to new ideas and approaches. May we all acquire the wisdom to discern the difference. I believe that Jesus confronts us with challenges to our conventional thoughts and actions, but that how we confront those challenges should be through the filter of our traditions and experiences, always keeping an open mind to change and renewal. Perhaps I am a hopeless optimist!!

  4. This essay is an excellent, timely reflection in my view.

    The new communication and networking media may contribute to a distortion of reality. Isolated, frustrated individuals from any ideological group are able to seek out other like-minded partisans electronically and form coalitions that convey the impression that their opinions are more prominent and widely-held than they actually are. “Dialogue”, from which people might change their minds, is not allowed in the “bunker” as Ann Riggs points out, and this leads to hard hearts, walls and divisiveness.

    The “facts” referenced in point 3 are often murky on the internet, where anyone can make any claim and become a guru with disciples. We lose clarity in the unedited panegyrics, rumors and hyperbole in the electronic fantasy land.

    An internet presence that is not simply a gossip column from the “bunker” or an amen chorus for the like-minded could positively build up the Body of Christ at the present time. Compared with internet sites with similar content and concerns, I think Pray Tell does a really good job at offering information that is clear, multi-faceted and engaging.

  5. Thanks, Mr. Day – excellent thoughts; well written. May I add another component that I have wondered about but have no actual documentation; too hidden, only bits and pieces.

    That is the usual quote – “follow the money” in terms of your media process. Think about what we know – significant “traditional”/conservative money has been at work since the late 1970’s.

    Examples – EWTN; bankrolled by very convervative elements
    Opus Dei – per what has been revealed and published, a worldwide organization worth billions in both cash, financial deposits, and property.
    LC/Maciel – like Opus Dei, worth billions. Notice that Rome has appointed “masters” but we have heard little about their past/current/future financial plans. We also have documented instances in which Maciel “bribed” curial officials with money, cars, gifts.

    Think of other conservative groups that have undue influence on Rome e.g. Ave Marie, Sirico’s group (Acton Institute), etc.

    1. Bill, don’t forget George Soros, financier of a number of “catholic” dissenter groups. The big bucks don’t exclusively benefit the orthodox.

  6. Bill, I don’t see the money as a major factor here. A good number of apparently high-traffic blogs seem to be run by priests with limited financial means. I don’t know about EWTN or the Ignatius Press.

    The conservative publishers and bloggers all seem to have found one another – there is even a sort of metablog that simply lists posts found in other conservative Catholic blogs.

    Ignatius Press is a good example, I think: Fr Fessio, its founder, also founded Adoremus, the reform-of-the-reform group, and has published (among many others) Pope Benedict, Cardinal Pell, Fr Aidan Nicholas, Mother Angelica …

    In social network terms, he has a high level of centrality. So does Fr Tim Finigan, parish priest of a small parish southeast of London. I doubt he has all that much money.

    Are there people on the more ‘progressive’ wing who are similarly connected? I haven’t found them. Perhaps James Martin SJ?

    Connectedness doesn’t imply correctness. But it influences the likelihood that a voice will be heard.

    1. Understand but my guess is you can find examples all over the place.
      Example – Fr. Z – let’s face it; he is patrons and financial backers in high places;
      Example – Fessio has access to many big funders – no less that Mr. Pizza Man, Monaghan, and Ave Marie University (which is not certified by the local bishop – interesting?)
      Example – on the other side, you make no comments about the European experience of groups such as We Are Church; their impact on the tax revenue in Germany, Austria; impact in Holland.
      Example – wonder how your thesis extends to the continents of Asia, Africa, South/Central Americas – we know that there is significant ties between archbishops/cardinals in these continents and what in the US we would describe as “repressive” regimes. Again, follow the money.

  7. Excellent paper.

    One thing, and only one thing I find egregious with your posting Jonathan, it is this little gem:

    “Some of the most heavily visited conservative blogs are marred with uncharitable and sometimes schismatic comments and postings. Moderators who swiftly delete the lightest criticism of Pope Benedict look the other way while
    their commenters post vicious anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim comments.”

    In the few progressive blogs that I have visited, the comments are mostly uncharitable towards opposing views. As for anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim comments, I have not seen any at all. And I read a lot of blogs, mostly pro-life (conservative).

    Probably, from my ‘conservative’ perspective that is most damaging to progressives/liberals, are that they dissent a lot from the teachings of the Church. Many conservatives are far more open-minded that the other, again in my experience.

    Maybe because liberals hold most positions of old authority on news and opinion, ie, magazines, academia, newspapers, etc. So they become more defensive.

    I have found very few blogs, this one being the exception (so far) where charity abounds and dissent is nowhere to be found. With the exception of DotCommonweal (at times), this and DotCommonweal are more the exception rather than the rule.

    In my humble opinion, if you stick to the teachings of the Church, then you’ll go farther than preaching for wymyn priests and contraception. (again not on this blog, but many other blogs that claim to be ‘progressive/liberal).

    1. Tito, thanks for your kind words. As to uncharitable comments in traditionalist blogs, it took me seconds to find examples:

      Anyone who really believes that muslims will negotiate meaning, as the ideological Vatican phenomenologists lend pretense too, does not comprehend the actual nature of mohamatenism. When they are sufficiently strong in Europe then they will bend the defenceless, hedonistic materialists of the EU with the iron will of their fanatical politicised faith and enslave the weak-willed European of the so-called liberty he imagines he posesses. The numbers grow each year while the white man’s dwindles and they have noticed. Time is on their side. Abortion, sodomy and artificial contraception with some euthanasia with increasing sterility already condemns the future of the continent to such subjugation.

      If you doubt this then read the history of the Chosen People – God disciplines his idolatrous followers even to the point of captivity and the destruction of the holy places.

      And in another blog, linked by the first one:

      The Judaism of the western world throught the gnostic cabbala cult of the defied man of the jews is the cause of the fall of the Catholic monarchy of the papacy and all other catholic and protestant monarchies. The Jews are trying to create a world wide labor republic according to them in which annointed Jew leaders with messiah like qualities will bring social justice. Get rid of the Jews. Get rid of their cult of man and being a member of the Jew collective. Materialism is the God of the Jews and now our God not Christ. All the Marian apparitions are to warn about the Jews and the faith required to overcome their pagan atheism.

      As far as I can tell, these are “mainstream” traditionalist blogs, not far-out or sedevacantist ones. There are plenty of comments like these, and too many similar posts in the blogs themselves.

      1. It’s quite true that antisemitism is the number one problem in the traditionalist community. This must never be denied or minimized. Antisemitism is especially problematic in communities with priests that have celebrated Mass and other sacraments for the SSPX at one time and have subsequently reconciled with the Church. Also, many SSPX, schismatic, or sedevacantist sympathizers also attend legitimate celebrations of the EF. It’s difficult, even almost impossible, to purge hatred from clergy and laity which have ministered or worshiped in schismatic chapels. It is a sin of omission not to (charitably) report a priest’s antisemitic or bigoted preaching to his ordinary, no matter how difficult it is to speak up against clergymen. I can’t understand why a bishop would let a reconciled SSPX sympathizer celebrate the EF publicly, but perhaps bishops are not diligent about feeling out priests’ hidden allegiances to radical rightist groups. We should all pray that the SSPX never receives corporate reconciliation with the Church.

        However, I would not be quick to delegitimize Summorum Pontificum or the EF because of latent antisemitism in certain quarters. Many EF celebrants go out of their way to remind parishioners that the Jewish people are never guilty of deicide. The best that any priest can do is consistently preach against anti-semitism and celebrate the OF Good Friday in Latin rather than the EF liturgy (they’re not that different). The laity can only be changed through charity, patience, and example.

        EF Passion Sunday (especially the Gospel) and Good Friday, as well as the Tridentine Breviary for Passiontide and Holy Week, contain inflammatory passages. I pray that the offensive parts will be removed from the Missal and Office sooner than later. However, the beauty and profundity of the EF cannot be underestimated. Don’t sell the liturgy short because it can be abused in evil hands.

      2. Mr. Zarembo, your brush may be a bit too broad. I am pretty familiar with some active TLM communities (though not SSPX) and have never encountered any antisemitism in them. Admittedly, mine consist mainly of mainstream Catholics, while I’m aware of more separatist types. However, I believe the type of EF Catholics more familiar to me—younger folks carrying neither antisemitic nor EF-vs-OF baggage from the past—are emerging as the main force and dynamism of present-day EF communities, and these problems from the past are of diminishing significance.

      3. Yes, this is quite true Mr. Edwards. Many, if not most, EF communities that have been recently established tend not to contain SSPX-influenced priests or antisemitic lay cliques. It’s important to remember that there are regions of North America (and probably elsewhere in the world) where schismatics held sway during the period when the EF was prohibited. The “restoration” of legitimate celebrations of the Tridentine rites in these areas has released former schismatic worshipers that sometimes carry antisemitic baggage to legitimate churches. Sometimes, the bigotry has overtaken the parish. I cannot maintain fellowship with a church that either actively preaches hatred or tolerates hatred among the laity.

      4. I am glad to hear that the antisemitic culture that marred the Church of my childhood is on the wane.

        I have noticed a few remaining vestiges in traditionalist groups here in the UK. These observations are drawn primarily from conversations, by the way, not Internet reading.

        The first concerns Pope Benedict’s revisions of the Good Friday prayers; some have told me that he had no authority to change the prayers, others that he was unconscionably ‘soft’ in absolving the Jews’ alleged responsibility for the death of Christ. Personally, I don’t think he went far enough: the prayer in the OF is far better and should replace the EF prayer entirely.

        The second stems from ‘young fogey’ nostalgia for a time when political correctness did not hold sway and when it was acceptable to refer to groups in language that the groups themselves wouldn’t acknowledge – Mahometans, for instance, rather than Muslims, or to refer to a woman as a Jewess.

        The third is related to the second: an unfortunate reverence for Chesterton and Belloc, both of whom wrote some nasty things about Jews (and about people they considered ‘foreign’ more generally).

        I share Jordan’s view that the best that any priest can do is consistently preach against anti-semitism and celebrate the OF Good Friday in Latin rather than the EF liturgy (they’re not that different) and I would extend this to Passion Sunday as well.

  8. Tito, there have always been dissenters, and sometimes the dissenting views eventually become the magisterial views. The Bishops of the East were Arians and semi-Arians for decades, before what is now trinitarian orthodoxy was firmly established. John Paul II’s Fides et Ratio is an apologetic rooted in human experience — it would have seemed suspiciously Modernist to his Pian predecessors. The revered Thomas Aquinas was highly controversial in his own time. There are “hot button” theological and doctrinal topics in every age; for some of us, this kind of tension is seen as part of the work of the Holy Spirit.

  9. Interesting article. Trads have definitely taken more advantage of the internet and other popular media. Usually out of necessity. The Latin Mass community in my area has to rely almost entirely on secular media and the internet to broadcast its existence (not to evangelize, but merely to let its existence be known for those who have requested Latin Masses) since virtually all of the local parishes refuse to have anything to do with it and act like it doesn’t exist.

    I think (liturgical) progressives need to look at themselves a little bit when trying to figure out how (liturgical) conservatives have gained in influence in recent years. A lot of the “problems” today strike me as being the result of progressive excess, cruelty, and unwillingness to compromise or have dialogue with those who didn’t agree with them over the past several decades. A lot of the “devision” that has come to the fore under Pope Benedict seems to have been brewing under the surface for the last forty years, but was cheerfully ignored by progressives. As ye sow so shall ye reap.

  10. It strikes me as odd that dialogue should be considered so suspect by more conservative Catholics. I would draw their attention to Ecclesiam Suam, Pope Paul VI’s first Encyclical, published in the middle of the deliberations of Vatican II, which explicitly encourages dialogue, and no doubt reflecting his experiences of how the Council had proceeded.

    It is still a good read for anyone!


    Jim Hynes

    1. Jim,

      In my experience, conservatives tend to be more open to dialogue in practice than are progressives. A good example would be the reaction to the EF Mass (at the throne) celebrated at the Basillica of the Immaculate Conception earlier in the year and soon to be repeated next Lent. The very sight of this highly praised, properly celebrated, and obviously permitted liturgy drew gasps and ridcule from many mainstream progressives, even some here. I’m not sure where we see gasps coming from mainstream conservative Catholics at the mere sight of the correct celebration of an OF liturgy in English or any other language (with the possible exception of the 1967 Synod of Bishops), I’ve never seen it.

      1. Helena, I’m glad to hear that you’re able to dialogue well… with people who agree with you! I’m not sure that you respect or even try to understand those you disagree with.

      2. Helena, although you seem to me like a very understanding person, I must confess to a bit of difficulty in understanding you (at least, on this one occasion). In that last sentence, are you saying that you have never seen a correct celebration of an OF liturgy, or rather that you’ve never seen a conservative gasp at the mere sight of one. While I myself have seen some correct and impeccably proper OF Masses—and greatly appreciate the opportunity when it presents itself—I am aware that there are wide areas where such a thing might well be so shocking a sight as to possibly make a liturgically deprived local Catholic gasp in amazement (and perhaps even wonder whether it’s a Mass that’s really permitted).

      3. Fr. Ruff,

        Do you deny that these gasps of horror and ridicule toward the Mass I described above took place? You’ve painted me with a broad brush without ever engaging the substance of my example. I guess your comments illustrate my point better than I did.

      4. Helena, I didn’t see “gasps of horror” at that EF Mass; I did see mild critique (which I think has some legitimacy) about the procession in cappa magna that preceded it. But I’m prepared to stipulate that I missed the “gasps of horror” on the part of progressives; maybe you can provide a citation.

        But the point of my essay is that conservatives are now leading the way in dialogue — they are using multiple methods, not just the Internet, they are in discussion in Rome, in academic settings, in chanceries. They have engaged a good number of bishops. They have connected their liturgical views with conservative political views, just as some progressives did, on the other side of the house, during the Council. I think they are largely wrong, to be sure, but they are ahead in dialogue.

      5. “Gasps of horror” may be a rhetorical device but progressive Catholics seem very uncomfortable with more traditional Catholics and appear to be critical of them and their worship to a degree that discourages real dialogue. It is among progressives that I see what Fr. Ruff describes as a tendency to dialogue well with those who agree with (themselves). Here on PT comments about legitimate and dearly loved liturgical celebrations include the following:

        “The reemergence of the cappa magna is Catholic silliness at its worst. Somehow such lunacy must be confronted with gospel simplicity”
        “it just looks rather silly., “It’s retreating into the past, so it comes off as fearful of the modern world and the questions confronting the church today. It shows a leadership not quite able to lead the church to a confident consensus and to necessary reforms…” “it symbolizes for many, including Catholics, the marginalization and irrelevance of the Church” “…to please (conservative Catholics) we offer (the EF) which, according to the last council, doesn’t fit our understanding of liturgy” “…the (EF) Mass is a remnant of a _time_ we’ve moved away from…”
        “Those who want EF do not realize that SP did not give them permission to proselytize..”, “Those who want EF are asking for more celebrations…”Many of those who want EF are not only vocal out of all proportion to their tiny numbers, but they are vicious and vitriolic with it..”I think there is likely a connection between a certain type of conservatism and traditionalism, including traditionalist liturgy, which is overly skeptical of the modern world, of women’s advancement, of modern psychology”.

        These comments about a legitimate form of the Roman liturgy show enough hostility to discourage dialogue and should lead to introspection.

      6. Jack, certainly there is a Catholic extreme on the right (perhaps characterized by SSPX views), consisting of traditionalists who admittedly are uninterested in constructive exchange of views. The quotes you list characterize a Catholic extreme on the left consisting of progressives who are equally closed-minded. I think these are opposite extremes, roughly equal in their distance from the mainstream of Catholicism as defined by Pope and Magisterium.

        Many mainstream Catholics are equally optimistic about the resurgence of traditional Catholic faith and liturgy in the enthusiasm of many young Catholics for traditional Latin liturgy and for events like the pontifical EF Masses at the National Shrine, and about the revitalization of the OF associated with more accurate translation, more appropriate sacred music, and for the glorious potential for the newer Mass that exemplified by recent papal liturgies.

        I believe that any Catholic who is not buoyed and excited by the return of beauty and reverence in both ordinary and extraordinary forms is thereby sadly diminished in his or her capacity for full joy and participation in Catholic worship.

      7. “The quotes you list characterize a Catholic extreme on the left consisting of progressives who are equally closed-minded.”

        Henry, I do understand what you are saying and I agree with you. I don’t think, however, that the people whose comments were referenced consider themselves close-minded at all. My guess is that they view themselves as being open to dialogue in every way and they may be troubled to consider that their comments & the ecclesiastical perspectives they represent may actually hinder dialogue in the Church. Perhaps it would help them to imagine that their comments about the EF Mass were applied to another more progressive group and their worship, perhaps some kind of mainline Protestant community or the CTA convention liturgies, then they might be more sensitive.

        I think it was Pope Benedict who said “all tolerance ends here” when considering progressives and their view of adherents of the EF Mass. I would extend the lack of progressive tolerance to any traditional Catholic group or parish not only those who use the EF. Try telling a progressive liturgist that you want to use a cross with a corpus on Good Friday (shudder).

  11. There is much that is good in this essay, or at least that I agree with. It seems obvious that today’s conservatives have learned from their progressive predecessors. (but not from their mistakes.)

    It is unfortunate that the analysis is marred by some delusional notions. There is no “prevalence of conservative liturgical thought”, except in the mind of those who never leave the world of blogs. The ‘surface area’ of that community is surprisingly small, and only seems large because it is out of touch with the larger world.

    Part of this minimal contact lies in identifying their positions with the Pope’s, but not recognizing the breadth of Benedict’s positions. The Lefebvrists received the Summorum Pontificum without recognizing Benedict’s ecumenical principles at its foundation. Others throw around the phrase “hermeneutic of continuity” without acknowledging that Benedict applies this to the reforms of the last 40 years; continuity means that they cannot be repudiated. etc.

    The dismissal of progressive reliance on the academy shows how shortsighted some of this analysis is. The internet is essentially modeled on academia, grows out of it and is fed by it. It is ancillary for progressives, instead of being the sole field of operation as it is for conservatives. And the academics have a wider influence because they are academics, teaching many more people than the bloggers can reach. Conservative dismissal of academia is far more limiting than a progressive dismissal of the blogosphere could ever be, even if progressives really dismissed the blogosphere.

    Most importantly, “the prevalence of conservative liturgical thought” is not among those who shape and teach the Church. The internet is in no way comparable to the body of bishops meeting in the Vatican. Everyone who uses the internet might get together and agree on how liturgy should be done, and they would have no impact on how liturgy is done. It is too small a group with too little power,…

  12. Reading the antisemitic remarks posted by Jonathan I immediately guessed “Rorate Caeli” — and I should have guessed “Athanasius contra Mundum”. I imagine that saner neocaths like Fr Z and Carl Olson would keep these extremists at a sanitary distance.

  13. I wish that Jim’s analysis were true, because it fits my own delusional notions. I had long hoped that informed thinking would prevail in the liturgy debate. I believed, as Jim suggests, that the ‘surface area’ of the liturgical retro movement was small and that it was out of touch with daily parish life.

    Sadly, I’m no longer sure of this. I see tendentious and weak scholarship praised by bishops and even given papal endorsements, while such strong work as John Baldovin’s Reforming the Liturgy and Peter Jeffery’s Translating Tradition gets little attention. I see many of the positive changes that were made at and after Vatican II rolled back in the name of ‘hermeneutic of continuity’, itself a flimsy shibboleth. For the avoidance of doubt, I spend far less time on the Internet than in the work of a large parish in a very large city.

    The major evidence I would bring to the table is the dreadful Mass translation that is now less than a year away. Priests, bishops, cardinals and even the pope lavish praise on the new English version(s); the academics I speak with shrug with regret, puzzled that this debacle is taking place and apparently voiceless in doing anything about it. This kind of thing may happen in American politics but it shouldn’t prevail in the Church.

    I don’t think that internet debate is, essentially, modelled on academia. The academy has methods for certifying reputations, or for dealing with what economists refer to as the market for lemons. As the linked essay suggests, the system can be slow to work. But at least I can see that the author of a given paper is a professor at Cambridge or Harvard and that the paper has been peer-reviewed. On the internet, anyone can write anything and, as they say, nobody knows you’re a dog.

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