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Luke 6:41 Alert…

The Importance of Not Being… Sedevacantist?
Chris Ferrara’s Double Standard

On Dec. 31, 2017, The Remnant‘s senior polemicist Christopher Ferrara published an interesting blog post entitled “The Importance of Not Being Us”. In it, he takes to task the two Novus Ordo apologists Karl Keating and Dave Armstrong for a recent public exchange they had over a new book by Catholic Culture‘s Philip Lawler, bearing the title Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis is Misleading His Flock.

Keating, Armstrong, and Lawler all fall into the “conservative” or “Neo-Catholic” camp of the Novus Ordo Sect, the difference being that Lawler is no longer willing to deny what is in front of his very eyes with regard to “Pope” Francis’ teachings and actions. Keating and Armstrong’s exchange is about whether or not this makes Lawler now a “traditionalist”, or “radical Catholic reactionary”, to use Armstrong’s preferred lingo.

The Blind blasting the Blind

In his blog post on the three Neo-Catholic pundits, Ferrara rightly criticizes them for the unreasonable lengths to which they go in order not to be associated with those evil “traditionalists” who dare point out that Francis’s ideas and actions are simply not in conformity with Catholicism. Here are some highlights from Ferrara’s post:

What Keating and Armstrong think about Lawler’s exposition of what has long been obvious to traditionalists is uninteresting in itself. Worth noting, however­—if only as a kind of sociological observation of our troubled ecclesial commonwealth­­—is that here we have two “conservative” Catholics bickering over how to approach a book that essentially echoes the traditionalist view of what Lawler himself calls “this disastrous papacy.”

For Armstrong, it is a matter of maintaining the neo-Catholic polemic of “radical traditionalists” as objects of fear and loathing, even though Lawler, a decidedly non-traditionalist commentator, agrees with them regarding Francis. For Keating, it is [a] question of how Lawler can be defended without also conceding that the traditionalists who preceded him by years in reaching the same conclusion were right from the beginning. Both agree, therefore, on the same implicit premise: under no circumstances can the traditionalist assessment of Francis be credited at all, much less acknowledged as prescient, for this would mean that the neo-Catholic commentariat has been wrong and wholly lacking in prescience. Wrong not only about Francis, but the entire course of the post-conciliar crisis in the Church whose roots in unprecedented and manifestly destructive ecclesial novelties they, being neo-Catholics, refuse to acknowledge. While Francis has made that refusal untenable as to his own novelties, the neo-Catholic polemic nonetheless precludes any admission that traditionalists had a point concerning him.

…Just as [American political theorist Russell] Kirk accepted the fatal principles of political modernity while arguing for their compatibility with traditional values via a “conservative” application, so does the neo-Catholic accept the officially approved novelties of the past fifty years, despite their manifest incompatibility with the traditional teachings he would defend. …Francis, however, has made that exercise impossible. Hence Lawler’s book and the ensuing sociological disturbance it has caused in a neo-Catholic cohort that did not even exist before Vatican II.

Finally, Lawler has entered the fray personally to assure Armstrong that he has not become a radical Catholic reactionary: “If you give me your email address, I can send you a copy of the proofs, and you can make your judgment on the full book. I don’t doubt that you’ll still have problems with it, but I hope you won’t conclude that I have become a reactionary.” Perish the thought that any Catholic would react radically against a radical Pope bent on changing Church teaching! Catholics must always remain inert in the face of radical attacks on the Faith, especially when the radical is a Pope. Lawler thus hastens to give assurances of his continued inertness, despite his book.

So, Armstrong, Keating and Lawler himself are all essentially agreed: one must never allow oneself to become a radical reactionary Catholic, even if what those unclean ones at The Remnant and elsewhere are saying happens to be perfectly true. The neo-Catholic narrative of passive acceptance of the post-conciliar regime of novelty qua superior fidelity to the Church remains intact, even if Lawler has unsettled the quiescent status quo by observing that Francis has gone too far down the road to officially approved disaster they have all been following for decades without protest. Despite this lapse of protocol, Lawler is still not one of them. He has not sullied himself by joining the untouchable caste. And isn’t that what matters before all else?

Such is the profound sociological disease of the human element of the Church in the midst of the worst crisis in her long history.

(Christopher A. Ferrara, “The Importance of Not Being Us”, The Remnant, Dec. 31, 2017)

Ferrara’s critique of the silly and reality-denying Neo-Catholic position that closes its eyes before the Vatican II apostasy is right on the money. However, what has apparently escaped Ferrara entirely is the ironic fact that the criticism he levels at Keating, Armstrong, and in part also at Lawler is in essence just as applicable to himself when it comes to the issue of Sedevacantism. For just as the conservative Novus Ordos refuse to acknowledge the apostasy in Rome, so Ferrara and his ilk, though they recognize that apostasy, distort its true nature and/or refuse to draw the necessary conclusions that follow from it, even at the expense of traditional Catholic teaching on the Church, the Papacy, and the Magisterium. This is something we have demonstrated time and again:

Just as Keating and Armstrong are guilty of filtering the evidence in front of them to ensure it conforms to their a priori rejection of (what Ferrara would call) traditionalism, so Ferrara is guilty of filtering, distorting, or rejecting the evidence in front of him to ensure it conforms to his a priori rejection of Sedevacantism. In both cases it can be said that the individuals in question have made up their minds that certain things must not be true and therefore will not be admitted into evidence. While Ferrara’s criticism of Keating and Armstrong is sound, it is entirely hypocritical of him to accuse them of acting the way they do while, mutatis mutandis, he himself acts no differently in essence.

While sedevacantists acknowledge both the observable facts about Jorge Bergoglio and his apostate Vatican establishment and the Catholic teaching on the Church, the Magisterium, and the Papacy, conservative Novus Ordos and semi-traditionalists deny one or the other, and sometimes even both:

  • Keating & Co. retain the traditional teachings on the authority of the Pope and the Church in teaching and governing but deny the empirically verifiable fact that the Novus Ordo Sect promotes a new religion that is incompatible with Catholicism prior to Vatican II
  • Ferrara & Co. basically admit the apostasy of the Novus Ordo Sect and its chief leader but deny the traditional teachings on the authority of the Pope and the Church in teaching and governing

Both positions have one thing in common: They each allow their respective proponents to hold on to the belief that Francis is Pope and therefore Sedevacantism is false. But both positions are wrong because both deny something that it is necessary to affirm.

A Mirror for Mr. Ferrara

How much Ferrara’s criticism of the three Novus Ordo pundits is just as applicable to himself, can be seen in the following illustration, where we adapt his very own words against Keating, Armstrong, and Lawler to his own behavior with regard to Sedevacantism. Here’s what that looks like:

…under no circumstances can the sedevacantist assessment of Francis be credited at all, much less acknowledged as prescient, for this would mean that the semi-traditionalist commentariat has been wrong and wholly lacking in prescience. Wrong not only about Francis, but about the nature of the entire Vatican II Church and all of its false popes as well, whose claim to being the Catholic Church and the Vicars of Christ is incompatible with traditional Catholic teaching on the Church and the Papacy; something which they, being semi-traditionalists, refuse to acknowledge. While Francis has made that refusal completely untenable, the semi-traditionalist polemic nonetheless precludes any admission that sedevacantists have a point concerning him.

Perish the thought that any Catholic would react radically against a radical apostate trying to change Church teaching! Catholics are never allowed to draw necessary conclusions in the face of radical attacks on the Faith, especially when the radical claims to be Pope.

So, Ferrara, Michael Matt, and [the now deceased] John Vennari are all essentially agreed: one must never allow oneself to become a sedevacantist, even if what those unclean ones at Novus Ordo Watch and elsewhere are saying happens to be perfectly true and sensible. The semi-traditionalist narrative of passive acceptance of the Novus Ordo “popes” qua superior fidelity to the Church remains intact, even if Ferrara has unsettled the anti-sedevacantist status quo by observing that Francis is an “anti-Catholic Pope”. Despite this manifest contradiction in terms, Ferrara is still not one of them. He has not sullied himself by joining the untouchable caste. And isn’t that what matters before all else?

Is this not a pretty accurate description, overall, of the Ferrara/Remnant/semi-trad attitude towards Sedevacantism? Why, then, the double standard?

Chris Ferrara

Ferrara says Keating, Armstrong, and Lawler don’t want to admit that traditionalists had it right about Francis and the Novus Ordo Church from the beginning? Fine, but neither does Ferrara want to admit that sedevacantists had it right about Francis from the beginning. An assessment, we might add, that was not based on rash judgment, as “Fr.” Nicholas Gruner and Ferrara claimed in spring of 2013, but that was based on what was known about Jorge Bergoglio, the Novus Ordo Sect, and Catholic teaching on the Papacy and the Church at the time.

We recall that it wasn’t until early October 2013 or so that The Remnant publicly turned against Francis. For the first six months of his “pontificate”, they were trying their darndest to spin Bergoglio into a Catholic, just as they had done for years with Benedict XVI, routinely ignoring, downplaying, or otherwise dismissing Ratzinger’s Modernism (see here for an example and here for our criticism). When it became evident that this approach was not going to work in the long term with regard to Francis, The Remnant changed its stance.

Let’s be clear: The idea is not to criticize anyone for being a “Johnny come lately”. This would not be a Catholic attitude: “And many that are first, shall be last: and the last shall be first” (Mt 19:30). It does not matter who is first in recognizing the truth; what matters is that we all do. No, the criticism here is directed at Ferrara’s double standard, criticizing others for that which, in essence, he does himself: “And why seest thou the mote in thy brother’s eye: but the beam that is in thy own eye thou considerest not?” (Lk 6:41).

That “Human Element” of the Church again

Alas, Ferrara does not conclude his post on Keating, Armstrong, and Lawler without blaming everything on the Church’s supposed “human element”, which he leaves conveniently undefined: “Such is the profound sociological disease of the human element of the Church in the midst of the worst crisis in her long history,” he writes. Since Ferrara in his post lambasts Armstrong for using “undefined terms”, surely he could humor us and provide a well-sourced Catholic definition of “human element of the Church”… couldn’t he?

No, Mr. Ferrara: False teachings, false theology, false sacraments, false saints, sacrilegious-heretical liturgical rites, and universal disciplinary laws and pastoral practices that deny the Faith or are otherwise detrimental to souls, such are not the human element of the Church. If they are, please tell us what is left to constitute the divine element!

Speaking of the latter, we would do well to recall the words of Church historian Fr. Fernand Mourret, who said the following about the gravely immoral but true Pope John XII:

Divine providence, watching over the Church, miraculously preserved the deposit of faith, of which this young voluptuary [John XII] was the guardian. This Pope’s life was a monstrous scandal, but his bullarium is faultless. We cannot sufficiently admire this prodigy. There is not a heretic or a schismatic who has not endeavored to legitimate his own conduct dogmatically: Photius tried to justify his pride, Luther his sensual passions, Calvin his cold cruelty. Neither Sergius III nor John XII nor Benedict IX nor Alexander VI, supreme pontiffs, definers of the faith, certain of being heard and obeyed by the whole Church, uttered, from the height of their apostolic pulpit, a single word that could be an approval of their disorders.

At times John XII even became the defender of the threatened social order, of offended canon law, and of the religious life exposed to danger.

(Rev. Fernand Mourret, A History of the Catholic Church, Vol. 3 [St. Louis, MO: Herder Book Co., 1946], pp. 510-511; underlining added.)

The Catholic Church is divine, not human. This is why Pope Leo XIII taught:

…the Church has received from on high a promise which guarantees her against every human weakness. What does it matter that the helm of the symbolic barque has been entrusted to feeble hands, when the Divine Pilot stands on the bridge, where, though invisible, He is watching and ruling? Blessed be the strength of his arm and the multitude of his mercies!

(Pope Leo XIII, Allocution to Cardinals, March 20, 1900; excerpted in Papal Teachings: The Church, p. 349.)

Pope Pius XII echoed the same thing in an address he gave to the people of Rome:

The Pope has the divine promises; even in his human weaknesses, he is invincible and unshakable; he is the messenger of truth and justice, the principle of the unity of the Church; his voice denounces errors, idolatries, superstitions; he condemns iniquities; he makes charity and virtue loved.

(Pope Pius XII, Address Ancora Una Volta, Feb. 20, 1949)

Whatever definition of “human element” Ferrara may be using, it’s certainly not the correct one. We suspect, in fact, that Ferrara is not using a definition at all — he is simply taking whatever is wrong with the Vatican II Sect and declaring it to be ipso facto the human element, a posteriori. As long as no one challenges him on it, he may be able to get away with it. (We are reminded here of Ferrara’s 2016 debate with Mark Shea.)

Again and again we notice that the supposed “traditional Catholics” of our day stray rather far from the traditional teaching of the Church, whenever that traditional teaching threatens to overturn the anti-sedevacantist world they have made for themselves and have led their followers to embrace.

Anything but Sedevacantism

At a time when such high-profile individuals as “Fr.” Paul Kramer, “Fr.” Nicholas Gruner, Louie Verrecchio, and possibly also Dr. Peter Chojnowski have realized there is no way Francis could be the Pope of the Catholic Church (although they all accept Benedict XVI as the currently-reigning Pontiff), the semi-traditionalists at The Remnant, Rorate Caeli, Catholic Family News, The Fatima Center, etc., would have some credibility if they at least admitted Sedevacantism as a possibility — but they will not deign to concede even that much. No, Sedevacantism is excluded dogmatically as the first premise in every argument. Hence they end up in the most absurd doctrinal contortions, matched in their folly only by the persistent refusal of reality entertained by Neo-Catholics like Keating, Armstrong, and — everybody’s favorite — Jimmy Akin!

At the same time, Ferrara’s unshakable refusal to countenance Sedevacantism even as a possibility runs afoul of some other recent oral utterances he’s made, to the effect that it doesn’t matter if Francis is Pope or not (see here, beginning at 6:46 and 15:24 min marks). If it truly doesn’t matter, then why not bring it up at least as a possible option that would explain, well, a lot? This would be a testimony at least to consistency and sincerity, although, as we have pointed out in one of our podcasts before, the one thing worse than saying that Francis is a true Pope is saying that it doesn’t matter if he’s a true Pope.

Tragically, we must conclude once more that what seems to be driving Ferrara’s prolific commentaries is not the desire to present a sober analysis of the facts enlightened by a strict adherence to traditional Catholic doctrine, but the desire to continue to push the semi-traditionalist and decidedly anti-sedevacantist “traditionalist” party line, no matter the evidence or the consequences.

To sum up: Ferrara rightly points the finger at conservative Novus Ordos for their senseless, reality-denying position, satirically labeling it “The Importance of Not Being Us.” At the same time, he acts no differently from the very people he criticizes, as he himself continues to pull out all the stops to maintain the importance of not being sedevacantist.