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Traditional Catholic is a broad term used to describe fringe groups of Roman Catholics who follow more traditional aspects of the Catholic Faith associated with pre-Second Vatican Council Catholicism. Some Catholics reject some or all of the reforms instituted after the Second Vatican Council, especially the Novus Ordo Missae, i.e., the revised rite of Mass. Traditional Catholics normally attend the older Tridentine Mass whose use was prohibited by Pope Paul VI following its replacement by the revised rite. ." ¹
Many traditional Catholics believe the pre-Vatican II Mass, Catechism, and Code of Canon Law are necessary to keep the Catholic faith. Some adhere to the old forms simply out of personal preference; the more extreme ones claim the Popes since the Second Vatican Council are heretics and have no authority and have even elected their own Popes.
"Conservative Catholic" vs. "Traditional Catholic"
The distiction between "conservative" and "traditional" Catholics is that the former tolerate with some unease many of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council while the latter insist that those reforms were "modernist" and thus out of step with traditional Catholicism and instead remain attached to what was considered "conservative" or "traditional" at the time of the Second Vatican Council ("Vatican II"). "Conservative Catholics" accept the revised Mass introduced by the Church after the Council, believing it to be valid and consistent with the Catholic Faith, while "traditional Catholics" reject its validity, dismissing it as "Protestantized," weak in doctrine, and dangerous to the faith of Catholics who attend.
"Conservative" Catholics tend to attribute post-conciliar problems simply to local bishops who are disobedient to the Pope. Traditional Catholics allege that Council documents were ambiguous and "in error", with the pope and the Vatican, and not just local bishops, are responsible for what they perceive as the wrongs in the Catholic Church following Vatican II. The understanding of these perceived errors depends on whether the traditional Catholic is a sedevacantist or not (see below).
Traditional Catholicism and Sedevacantism
Traditional Catholics can be generally divided into two groups. The majority of traditional Catholics accept the authority of and claim union with the Roman Pontiff. Despite this, they often reject what they claim are the 'liberal opinions' of Catholic prelates and teachings which they believe contradict previously accepted doctrine. Such groups include the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) and the Fraternity of the Society of Saint Peter (FSSP), the former group being formed by Archbishop Lefebvre, an attendee of the Second Vatican Council - subsequently excommunicated for engaging in illegal ordinations - while the latter was formed in reaction to the perceived schism of the SSPX.
The smaller group, called "sedevacantists", believe in the papacy itself but reject one or more of the "Vatican II popes" (Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul I, and Pope John Paul II). They consider one or more of these men antipopes, claiming they have taught heresy and, therefore, lost their authority as Pontiff. A small subset of sedevacantist groups, often called "Conclavists" have elected popes of their own.
Not all groups which consider themselves Catholic yet reject Vatican II are considered traditional Catholic. Most notably, in the People's Republic of China, the state sponsored Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) denies the papacy entirely and rejects all pronouncements by the Vatican after the Communist Revolution in 1949 including those regarding the Tridentine Mass. It is used as a way of keeping state control over the church, and is one of the main reasons that the Vatican has not established diplomatic relations with the Chinese state.
Ironically, within the PRC holding a non-Tridentine Mass implied recognition of the authority of the Vatican rather than that of the Chinese government and is an act of political dissent. In the early 1990s however, the CCPA reversed this policy, specifically with regards to the liturgy, and now uses a ceremony modeled closely after the Novus Ordo Misssae.
However there is also a large underground church that retains alligence to the Pope and the Vatican. A large number of clergy - estimated at about 70% - in the CCPA have reconciled with the Vatican and are secretly part of the underground church. Members of the underground church are often harassed, and some leaders have been jailed on what have been termed political reasons.
Traditional Catholic claims
Traditional Catholics see the Second Vatican Council as a pastoral Council whose documents were marked by a supposed ambiguity which has led to error or which contained errors themselves. Foremost among these perceived errors are:
- a new collegiality which they claim has weakened the papacy and made Bishops' conferences a veritable "second Vicar of Christ" of the Church. Traditional Catholics see this as contradicting Pope Leo XIII's Satis Cognitum the documents of Vatican I, and other documents and teachings. Traditional Catholics firmly support the papacy (even those who are sedevacantist firmly support the doctrines concerning the papacy), but they often accuse mainstream "conservative Catholics" of an attitude bordering on papolatry (pope worship) rooted in what they see as the latter's limited understanding of papal infallibility and the nature of Christian obedience. They see "conservative Catholics'" as misunderstanding the documents of Vatican I and the scholastic understanding of true obedience as characterized by Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica, II-II-104.
- a new ecclesiology that they claim doesn't equate the Catholic Church with the Church estabilished by Jesus Christ, but which states that Church "subsists in" the Catholic Church. Traditional Catholics claim this is a contradiction of Pope Pius XII's Mystici Corporis Christi among other papal documents, or leads to false ideas of "ecumenism".
- a new focus on "the dignity of man" which they claim ignores original sin and the need of supernatural grace, and which they claim has led to a sort of Utopianism that sees peace as possible without recognizing the Kingship of Christ. Traditional Catholics see this supposed attitude, and teachings rooted in it, as contradicting Pope Pius XI's Quas Primas, Pope Leo XIII's Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae, Pope Pius X's Our Apostolic Mandate (Notre Charge Apostolique), and other papal and conciliar documents.
- a new "ecumenism" that has as its goal a "unity" that traditional Catholics claim doesn't require conversion to the Catholic faith. Traditional Catholics see this as contradicting Sacred Scripture, Pope Pius XI's Mortalium Animos, Pope Pius XII's Humani Generis and other documents.
- a new attitude toward ecclesiastical tradition as changeable and which has led to what they see as dangerous modifications in Catholic practices, the liturgy, and the Church's pastoral orientation. Traditional Catholics see this as a contradiction of the Fourth Anathema of the Second Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, Vatican I (especially the document "Pastor Aeternus"), and other papal and conciliar documents.
- a new attitude toward novelty which they claim had been unheard of in the Catholic Church prior to the Second Vatican Council. Traditional Catholics see this as contradicting the Saints, Doctors and Popes of the Church prior to Pope John XXIII; the papal oath, written by Pope St. Agatho ca. A.D. 681 and taken by all Popes from Pope St. Agatho himself to Pope Paul VI, inclusive; Pope Pius X's Motu Proprio Sacrorum antistitum (an oath taken by all priests prior to the Council); Pope Gregory XVI's Mirari Vos; the Fourth Anathema of the Second Ecumenical Council of Nicaea; and other papal and conciliar documents.
- a new Paschal theology that they see as de-emphasizing the Sacrifice of the Mass and which they claim leads the faithful to believe that it is Christ's Resurrection, not the Blood shed by His Sacrifice on the Cross, that saves. Traditional Catholics see the Novus Ordo as being a fruit of this "Paschal theology" as it is marked by such things as the replacement of Altars with tables, a focus on "community" rather than the offering of the Son to the Father, and so on. They see this orientation as contradicting Scripture and Encyclicals such as Pope Pius XII's Mediator Dei.
- a new philosophy which they see as "relativism" and a focus on the natural, de-emphisizing the supernatural. This they say leads to Deism, Pragmatism, and moral relativism.
Differing Traditional and Conservative Catholic attitudes towards Vatican II
Most traditional Catholics see the Second Vatican Council as a valid Council, but one which was pastoral and which produced no infallible definitions that Catholics must accept as a part of the Faith. Support of this claim is found in Pope John XXIII's Opening Address to the Council, Pope Paul VI's closing address , the lack of formal definitions and anathemas in the Council's sixteen documents, and the ambiguity of the documents themselves. Some traditional Catholics see the Second Vatican Council as having been deliberately hijacked by 'Modernists' and 'liberals', and its documents further twisted in postconciliar interpretations. They see this alleged Modernist influence as the result of ignoring papal warnings against such, most explicitly in Pope Pius X's "Pascendi Dominici Gregis."
Traditional Catholics see the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ which is united by the same Faith, same Sacraments, same discipline, and the same Sacrifice that they see as having united Catholics from the time of the Church's origins. Contrary to popular belief, they believe that practices can change, but should do so organically; with great prudence; in a manner consistent with Scripture, Tradition, and Natural Law; and never if it harms souls or leads to sin or unbelief. They see as their "motto":
- We are what you once were.
- We believe what you once believed.
- We worship as you once worshipped.
- If you were right then, we are right now.
- If we are wrong now, you were wrong then.
Traditional Catholics worship at: "indult" Masses (those "Tridentine" Masses offered with the permission of local Bishops); chapels of priestly societies, such as the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) or the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP); other chapels run by traditional priestly orders; or chapels run by independent priests. Traditional Catholics, as opposed to a subset of "neo-conservative Catholics" who might simply prefer the "Tridentine" Mass, agree that traditional Catholicism is about much more than the Mass; in addition to the liturgy, they see as integral to Catholicism all of the Sacraments and preserving what has always been taught, what has been solemnly defined, and all those practices which have served to pass the Faith on from one generation to the next.
Attitude of most Conciliar Catholics towards Traditional Catholics
Traditional Catholics make up a tiny minority of Roman Catholic members, though their numbers are growing, their seminaries are full, and the demand for such Traditional Catholicism is high. Their analysis is not widely shared by more mainstream Catholics. Most Traditional Catholics see their situation as comparable to that of Traditional Catholics during the Arian heresy when the majority of Bishops were heretics or condoned heresy. Catholics like Saint Athanasius (who was excommunicated by Pope Liberius) and St. Joan of Arc (who was also excommunicated) were vilified yet ultimately canonized. The Catholic perception is that Eternal Truth does not change and that what was taught 2,004 years ago, 1,000 years ago, and 50 years ago is still true today. Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos , Prefect for the Congregation of the Clergy, stated in a recent interview that "those who are attached to the old Rite are involved in expressing a legitimate religious ... sentiment that is ... rooted in the Ancient Tradition..." and that they should be "protected in their right to ... express their Faith and piety...." ² Nonetheless, the Traditional expression of the Faith is actively fought by many of the Conciliar Catholic clergy and hierarchy.
Traditional Catholic groups include, among others:
- Society of St. Pius X, a priestly society, founded by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre
- Society of St. Pius V - Sedevacantist group
- Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen - Sedevacantist group
- True Catholic Church - Conclavist group
- Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, a priestly society in full union with Rome.
The numbers of such Traditional Catholics is very hard to pin down. Worldwide, they probably do not number more than about a million. However, in common with other strongly religious groups, such as Muslims, Mormons, and Orthodox Jews, they tend to have large families and a high birthrate. Demand for the Tridentine Mass among traditional Catholics is very high; many families are hard-put to find one to go to. Conversions from other religions (mainly Protestants) are not uncommon, but the reverse seems to be quite rare. The sex scandals rocking the Catholic Church have not appeared to have affected this growth to any appreciable degree, though one sedevantantist 'pope' was arrested for child sexual abuse in the late 1990s in Canada. Traditional Catholics appear to be most common in the United States, with significant numbers in western Europe (especially France and England), Canada, Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church
- Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus
- Father Leonard Feeney
- First Vatican Council
- Novus Ordo Missę
- Militia Cristi
- Pope John XXIII
- Pope Paul VI
- Pope John Paul II
- Second Vatican Council
- Tridentine Mass
Pro-traditional Catholic publications
- Patrick Henry Omlor, Questioning the Validity of the Masses Using the New, All-English Canon
- Michael Treharne Davies, "Cranmer’s Godly Order" ISBN 1912141247, "Pope John's Council," "Pope Paul’s New Mass" ("Liturgical Revolution" trilogy).
- Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, "Open Letter to Confused Catholics"
- Father Paul Kramer M.Div., STL, "A Theological Vindication of Roman Catholic Traditionalism"
- Christopher A. Ferrara and Dr. Thomas E. Woods, Jr., "The Great Facade: Vatican II and the Regime of Novelty in the Roman Catholic Church" ISBN 1890740101
- Romano Amerio, John P., Fr. Parsons, "Iota Unum" ISBN 0963903217
- Atila Sinke Guimarćes, Michael J. Matt, John Vennari, Marian T. Horvat, "We Resist You To The Face" ISBN 096721663X
- Fr. Adrian Fortescue, "The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy" ISBN 1930278268
- Monsignor Klaus Gamber, "Reform of the Roman Liturgy: Its Problems and Background" ISBN 0912141050
- Griff Ruby, "The Resurrection of the Roman Catholic Church - A Guide to the Traditional Catholic Movement" ISBN 0595250181 and ISBN 0595771491
- Benns T Stanfill and Bawden Davin, "Will the Catholic Church Survive the Twentieth Century?" http://www.WillCatholicChurchSurviv.Homestead.com/Book.html
1 Use of the Tridentine Mass has been allowed more freely in the last decade but it is still only allowed in specified circumstances and is prohibited from being used generally.
2 An Exclusive Interview with Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos, The Latin Mass: A Journal of Catholic Culture, Vol. 13, No. 2, Spring 2004, pp. 5–6.
- Traditio, an Independent Traditional Catholic Website
- Roman Catholic Traditionalism a basic overview of the traditionalist movement
- Society of St. Pius X in the USA
- Society of St. Pius X in Great Britain
- Society of St. Pius X in Australia and New Zealand
- International Locations of the Society of St Pius X
- On The Society Of St Pius X (SSPX)
- Apologia: Apologetics and Traditional Catholic Instruction
- Catholic Apologetics International
- Seattle Catholic
- Catholic Insight
- The Dead End of Integrism (Extreme Traditionalism)
- Angelus Magazine
- Si Si No No
- The Remnant Resistance
- Catholic Family News
- Fatima Perspectives
- The Fatima Crusader
- The Destruction of the Christian Tradition
- Summa Theologica
- Catechism of Trent
- New Church, New Gospel, Part I: Mangling St. Matthew
- The Problem of Liturgical Reform online book by priests and theologians of the Society of St. Pius X. In .pdf format.
- How the liturgy fell apart: the enigma of Archbishop Bugnini
- The Ottaviani Intervention Cardinal Ottaviani's words to Pope Paul VI concerning the Novus Ordo Missae
- A history of the Traditional Catholic Church
- Tridentine Parish of St. Peter & St Paul -- An indult parish.
- Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest
- Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter
- Latin Mass Society of England and Wales
- Oblates of Mary
- Latin Mass Magazine Published Quarterly.
- Agenda A site critical of the SSPX,by a former supporter
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