Dropping the Siege Mentality in the Church

Super-Tsunami Hits City
Artistic Conception -- Seeking Artist Credit

In a previous essay I wrote two years ago, entitled Vatican II Actually Saved Catholicism, I postulated that the modernist tsunami that swept the Western World in the middle to late 20th century was universal in nature, and affected every aspect of Western life, including virtually every single Christian denomination in the West. I pointed out that the seeds of this tsunami were actually planted way back in the late 19th century, and that its devastating effect over our entire civilisation was inevitable. We are now living through a post-modernism age, wherein the tsunami has washed away all vestiges of the former world that was circa 1900.

In the midst of this tsunami, mainstream Protestant denominations fell, one by one, each caving in to the modernist deluge. The deluge was overwhelming to all of Western Christianity, and I pointed out that the explosion of Evangelical mega-churches was the direct result of this flood. Evangelicalism was the primary beneficiary of the exodus from mainstream Protestantism, caused primarily by the inundation of modernist ideology. When the mainstream Protestants started changing liturgy, experimenting with modern architecture, ordaining women and homosexuals, accepting contraception and abortion, and blessing same-sex "marriages," a good chunk of mainstream Protestants left for the morally higher ground of the Evangelical churches. How do I know this? Demographics tell the story, and I cited that in my previous essay, but I have a personal experience to add. My own parents were part of the exodus from mainline Protestant denominations into Evangelicalism. Had the deluge not happened throughout mainstream Protestantism, I would have been raised a devout Lutheran, and would probably have remained so to this day. My own conversion to Catholicism was initially driven by an attempt to escape the tsunami of modernism.

For all it's flaws, and there were many, Vatican II actually saved Catholicism from this tsunami. The tidal wave was going to hit the Catholic Church anyway, in fact, it already had. The Church was filled with modernists in the 1950s, even as far back as the 1920s. So when the Council was convened in the 1960s it had two main effects. The first was to deny modernists the doctrinal changes they so desperately wanted. Yes, some of the documents of Vatican II were vague, even flawed, but none of them carried the note of infallibility. It was essentially a pastoral council, not a doctrinal one, and that in turn made it subordinate to Vatican I and Trent. So frustrated were the modernists in the Church that they had to invent a fictitious "Spirit of Vatican II" to go forward with the changes they wanted anyway, lacking any real documents to back them. Second, it gave them a new liturgy to play with, not immediately, but some years later. The Missal of Pope Paul VI was a godsend, because even though it gave the appearance of suppressing the Latin Missal of Saint Pius V, in actuality it set it aside for those who love it, safely away from modernist meddling. This effectively allowed two main movements within the Church to develop independently of each other. On the one hand, it allowed the modernists to go ahead and experiment with near impunity for decades. While on the other hand it allowed traditional Catholics an opportunity to develop their own societies and communities using the mass of the ages, without having to worry about anyone meddling with it -- not even Rome! What Vatican II actually did, believe it or not, was protect the mass of the ages while simultaneously denying the doctrinal changes modernists sought by denying them the 'note of infallibility' needed to make them. This is why so many modernists within the Church today either refer to the nebulous "Spirit of Vatican II" for cover, or else they blatantly call for a Vatican III council to addressed the "unfinished business" of Vatican II. In other words, they subconsciously recognise the weakness of their own position, even while they triumphantly move forward with whatever they seem to want. Things were not actually as they seemed. It appeared that modernism was winning in the Catholic Church, but in truth, what was actually happening was this. The things most loved and cherished by traditional Catholics were set aside, out of the spotlight where they wouldn't be meddled with, so that those who love them could continue to be nourished by them, unmolested by the changes in the mainstream church. Can you imagine the catastrophe that would have happened in the 1970s and 80s, if the Latin Missal of Saint Pius V were translated into vernacular languages, and toyed with the way the Missal of Pope Paul VI was?

Sadly, something else happened during this period. Conflict developed between mainstream clergy and traditional laity. This happened in a reactionary way, wherein traditional laity tried to force some mainstream clergy to go back to the old ways. In turn, mainstream clergy then pushed back in the most extreme way, marginalising traditional Catholics, making it harder and harder for them to find traditional liturgy. In both cases, the reactions of both sides were uncharitable, unchristian and very uncatholic. For the traditional Catholics, which were the smaller group, it created a siege mentality.

A siege mentality is defined as a defencive or paranoid attitude based on the belief that others are hostile toward one. In other words, it's the mindset that everyone is out to get you. For traditional Catholics it was true that some clergy were hostile, but certainly not all of them. The siege mentality is a natural human response to abuse, and yes, traditional Catholics were abused by many mainstream priests and bishops between 1965 through 2007. It is also true that some traditional Catholics attempted to abuse mainstream Church clergy too, but I don't think the mainstream Church can use this as an adequate defence. In the fight between the giant and the dwarf, its the dwarf that always looks brave, and the giant that always looks like the bully. In the ecclesiastical quarrel between the mainstream and traditionalists, it is the mainstream Church (having adopted many ideas of modernity) that is the giant. The dwarf obviously represents the traditional Catholics. This is my perspective as an outsider, having come into the Church in 2000, and yes, that's how any convert would see it once the battle between both sides is defined and understood. The mainstream (modern) Church is still very much a giant today, while traditional Catholics are still very much the dwarf. In watching these two duke it out, I can't help but root for the dwarf. He is the underdog and he is bullied by the giant. It would be different if we were talking about a matter of doctrine here. If the traditional dwarf was a heretic, then yes, let the giant smash him to pieces, because he is a threat! But since most traditional Catholics are more orthodox than the mainstream Church on a good number of issues, again it is difficult to take the side of the giant. I can't help but root for the dwarf.

This was the case leading into 2007, but after 2007, something interesting happened. Pope Benedict XVI issued Summorum Pontificum, the motu proprio decree the liberalised usage of the old Latin mass (Missal of Saint Pius V) and made its celebration much more widely available. This was, and remains, a watershed event marking the end of an era. Priests and bishops, who previously marginalised traditional Catholics, no longer had a leg to stand on. Not that they every really did to begin with, but Summorum Pontificum ended whatever fantasy they previously excused themselves with. Traditional Catholicism was, is, and remains a perfectly legitimate expression of the Catholic faith. Case closed.

Of course that didn't stop some clergy from trying to continue their marginalisation of traditional Catholics. After all, the giant isn't going to go down without a fight. Nevertheless, the dwarf has been given a very powerful resource that levels the playing field. A good number of diocesan bishops are attempting to accommodate requests for the traditional Latin mass. While at the same time, the number of traditional societies and institutes have increased as well. We are currently waiting for the establishment of a personal prelature for the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX). If and when that should come it will add yet another powerful resource to the dwarf. Yet even without it, the flourishing of traditional Catholicism is secured now for at least another generation. That being said, it's time to end the siege mentality. The time for paranoia is over. Traditional Catholics must move forward now with confidence that the giant has been dealt a significant attitude adjustment, and in time the dwarf won't be so small anymore.

A similar situation exists for some of my fellow Catholics in the ordinariates, though our battles were never with Rome to begin with, nor the local diocesan clergy. Our battles were outside the Catholic Church, with fellow Anglicans who did the same thing to us, in the way of the giant and the dwarf, but far worse. The battle that traditional Catholics fought with the mainstream Church was insignificant in comparison to the all-out-war fought in the Anglican world between traditional Anglicans and their local provinces. Many of us who fled to the ordinariates, as a result of the 2009 apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, retain the siege mentality left over from that war. It's vitally important that we don't carry that mentality into the ordinariates. We in the ordinariates are actually in much better shape than our traditional Catholic brethren, because our war is completely over. We won! We achieved what our Anglican ancestors in the Oxford Movement could only hope for, which is full communion with Rome, and we are free from our mainstream oppressors in Anglicanism. The provision that Rome has made for us inside the Catholic Church is unprecedented, and we are at total liberty to continue in our traditional Anglican ways, now as Catholics! Thus it is time to eradicate any vestige of the siege mentality within us and move on. We ordinariate Catholics do not need to worry about any hostile bishop, whether Anglican or Roman, ever bothering us again. We are free of that now. In fact, the only enemy we have left is ourselves. If we will not allow ourselves to be liberated of the siege mentality, then we imprison ourselves inside a cage of our own making, with nobody to blame but ourselves. In most cases, diocesan bishops are friendly toward ordinariate communities, and we must not only be mindful of this, but we must build a stronger relationship on it. In those rare cases where diocesan bishops are not as friendly, this is usually because of ignorance and misunderstanding. The ordinariates are but a dwarf. We pose no threat whatsoever to the giant of diocesan life, and we would very much like to be included with it, if the giant will allow it. We can exist on our own, somewhat independently, but we don't want to. We can never impose our liturgy on the diocese, so there is no threat of that. We may be different, but we are equal. We would much rather be family with our diocesan brothers and sisters. We pose no threat whatsoever to the diocesan way of being Catholic, and the diocese poses no threat whatsoever to the ordinariate way of being Catholic. This is how we in the ordinariates must learn to think, if we have not done so already. Any sour relationship with diocesan clergy can be improved if we just drop the obsolete siege mentality and adopt this mindset instead.

I suppose dropping the siege mentality will be a little harder for traditional Catholics, who don't have quite the same sweetheart arrangement as we traditional Anglicans have acquired in the ordinariates. Still yet, they have to admit that they are in much better shape in 2017 than they were in 2007, or in 1997 for that matter. Parting ways with the siege mentality will do more to improve their situation by 2027 as well. It's time to put away the paranoia and move on. Yes, there are some wild and crazy things going on in the mainstream Church right now, but that doesn't stop any of us from living a traditional faith and learning how to become more holy. In this post-tsunami age of Summorum Pontificum and Anglicanorum Coetibus we now have at our disposal the tools needed to begin the process of rebuilding the Church after the modernist deluge.

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Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'CatholicInTheOzarks.com.' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.

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Comments

I agree with your analysis, being a Novas Ordo Catholic who attends the Latin Mass because 5 of my Godchildren/Confirmandi do. However, I do have a caveat: Francis has done very little on his part to reduce the siege mentality among traditional Catholics. Francis is VERY pastoral, so long as you are one of his "toadys"
Richard Malcolm said…
As a board member of a local Juventutem chapter, I fully agree that a siege mentality is not helpful to the cause of growing tradition with the Church. Fortunately, as TLMs proliferate and generations turn over, this is already happening (certainly in our community) - even if the present pontificate's signals create the risk of increasing tensions once again.

That said, I am going to have to take exception to part of this analysis:

"...even though it gave the appearance of suppressing the Latin Missal of Saint Pius V, in actuality it set it aside for those who love it, safely away from modernist meddling. This effectively allowed two main movements within the Church to develop independently of each other."

The problem is that to the extent that this happened, it was a much later, ad hoc development. To describe what happened in 1965-1970 in this way makes it sound like there was a Summorum Pontificum regime in place - that the Pope was introducing a new rite, but allowing the old one to remain in place for those who wanted to keep it. In fact, utter and very thorough obrogation of the traditional Roman Rite was the order of the day from one end of the Latin Church to the other, even in the religious orders - the only exceptions being in the defiant Diocese of Campos, Brazil, and the mostly ignored so-called Agatha Christie indult in England from 1971. Otherwise, any efforts on behalf of tradition were guerrilla warfare efforts, taken in defiance of ecclesiastical authority - from isolated renegade priests like Goummar de Pauw to the nascent SSPX. Overwhelmingly, though, priests who could not get with the new liturgical program were simply cashiered from active ministry, and laity who could not do so typically just drifted away.

Only after the 1984 and 1988 indults and the creation of Ecclesia Dei was there any institutional effort to move toward the two track regime you allude to - and even then, until 2007 that second track was not far removed from guerrilla insurgency, since the vast majority of bishops preferred to pretend that the indults did not exist. More to the point, by the time it had got its legs, two generations had gone by. And effort to stand up tradition had to take place virtually from scratch - and that is why it remains even now such a small dwarf. Had it gone this way from 1965 onward, the dwarf would be far taller.

It is true that even so we do have the benefit of a largely intact Roman Rite (notwithstanding the regrettable deformations of 1955-62) rather than some watered down or mutated quasi Roman Rite. That is something. But that advantage came at a very, very terrible cost. Let us not kid ourselves about that.
Tom B. said…
I agree with Richard Malcolm. While I very much appreciated the general thrust of the article as regards both Ordinariate and traditional Latin communities, it did in places sound like a strange mix between Baghdad Bob and the American major during the Vietnam War who (in)famously said, "It became necessary to destroy the town to save it." I'm really not sure I buy that reasoning.

Regardless though of what might (or might not) have happened had V2 not taken place or the liturgy was reformed differently or not at all, I think we all agree: it's time to count our blessings and -- to quote a favorite saying of the current ordinary of the Roman bishopric -- "move forward."
Peter Aiello said…
Evangelicalism also took in a lot of Catholics.