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The bishops and popes in modern times

I address this post to James Kalb primarily, but I do not want to pry into something that would better remain hidden, so I take no offense at a non-reply to my inquiry here.

I have been some alarmed at the manner in which those Catholics who identify as traditionalists publish criticism of the bishops of the Church, most especially the Pope. I am not speaking of those who believe there is not currently a legitimate pope in the Chair of St. Peter (the sedevacantists), or even of those who are canonically in schism with the Holy See, such as the SSPX. Their gripes with the Pope and bishops, aside from any consideration of their errors, are understandable in the context of the explicit positions they have taken.

Those traditionalists I am referring to identify themselves as in communion with the Holy See and the current pope, yet present themselves in opposition to the same in a manner that is often more critical, more prone to assume bad faith, and even more insulting than those who have explicitly separated themselves from the man currently in the Chair, including Protestants. A paradigm for this sort of traditionalist is presented by the website <i>Tradition in Action</i> ( In spite of some very helpful material there, their mode is to present the actions, statements, and other public appearances and positions of the popes since Vatican II with an interpretation that almost exclusively assumes a bad, or at best maladjusted, motive behind the actions.

On the one hand I can understand what might be their reasoning: the traditions of the Church are under violent attack, especially (so it appears) since, and perhaps because of, the institution of the Second Vatican Council. The argument can be made, and plausibly so, that the popes since Vatican II have themselves played a major part in undermining many of the important traditions of the Church. If one observes such things, I can see how it is difficult not to speak against it in the strongest of terms.

My difficulty in trying to determine how to think about their approach is the part that faith plays. Catholics who publish their thoughts at places such as <i>Tradition in Action</i> make it a matter of constant practice to post only items critical of the Holy Father. Being a Catholics, it seems they ought to be concerned with the very likely possibility of scandal in such activities of theirs, the scandal of causing a weak brother to lose his belief in the ability of the Successor of St. Peter to exercise his office. It would seem that their faith would require them to remain more silent in their criticisms than they are; I certainly don’t see any precedent for it among the faithful throughout history, at least not in the constancy of their criticisms. And yet they consider it their duty to publish such criticisms, and do so (they say) in defense of the Catholic faith, the same Catholic faith which requires fealty to the Pope.

I wished to raise these thoughts especially to Mr. Kalb because I have appreciated his approach (as seen in his articles posted at places such as <i>Crisis</i> and <i>Catholic World Report</i>) to the problems raised by the activities of our bishops, an approach which has been always respectful while not insisting on viewing things through rose-tinted goggles. I wonder if he ever has serious difficulties reconciling the positions of a Church that breathes tradition with her bishops and even her popes, who at least appear to eschew the same tradition.


There’s a lot of mediocrity in the Church, or maybe a greater-than-usual shortage of non-mediocrity, and unsettled traditions make things worse because there’s less to fall back on when inspiration flags. Still, I think the Church has what she needs to return to type and that’s what the tendency is going to be. All the resources she ever had are still available if people want to tie into them.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.