Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre
Volume 3, Chapter LVIII

The Plight of the Papist Priest


Critics of Mgr. Lefebvre often claim that he would serve the Church more effectively by working within the official structures. The following article proves that such a suggestion could only come from those who refuse to accept the reality of conciliar Catholicism. Father Kenneth Baker, S.J., Editor of The Homiletic and Pastoral Review, has stated that the article which follows provoked a greater reaction than anything else he has ever published. It is the cri de coeur of a parish priest who is loyal to the Pope, and who shows that in certain (probably most) American dioceses today he will be subjected to persecution and eventually forced to resign to live out his life without exercising his priestly ministry. The reaction to the article showed that this situation prevails throughout the United States. It is also typical of most countries throughout the West. The author of the article stresses that hs is not a "Lefebvrist," but the very fact of being orthodox shows that, where contemporary bishops are concerned, he might just as well be. It is unfortunate that he considers resignation and living out his life without exercising his ministry the only option open to him. The "papist priest" might have remembered that the salvation of souls is the supreme law, even if this means working for this end outside the official diocesan structures, as St. Athanasius did. Could any true Catholic who reads this article truly fault Mgr. Lefebvre for going into the dioceses of the Modernist bishops which it describes in order to sustain the faith of the persecuted remnant of orthodox believers?

"The Plight of a Papist Priest"
by a Parish Priest

The Homiletic and Pastoral Review - December 1981

"Papist," a Catholic regarded a partisan of the Pope-used disparagingly.

The tag was minted in post-Reformation England. The division it betokens was spawned by Henry VIII's lustful demand for an annulment. Two powers were joined in conflict: King v. Pope; State v. Church; temporal v. spiritual. We all know, at least schematically, the historical drama resulting in the abject capitulation of the English bishops to the royal power which was, in contrast to Rome, uncomfortably proximate and potent. In 1534 the formal Act of Supremacy was issued: "Be it enacted by the authority of the present parliament that the King, our sovereign lord, his heirs and successors, kings of this realm, shall be taken, accepted and reputed the only supreme head on earth of the Church of England called Anglicana Ecclesia." In 1535 this was understood as a formal renunciation of the Pope. Henry then demanded of the clergy that they fully submit to the Act of Supremacy.

Years passed, as did the sovereigns, with a brief Catholic restoration sandwiched between. Bishops, priests, religious and laity, sooner or later, with some modicum of remorse, abandoned the papal communion. There were, however, some splendid exceptions, lone stars in the night sky all the more brilliant against darkness: Fisher, More, Franciscan and Carthusian martyrs, some abbots, and many simple faithful, peasants and gentlemen alike, in the wake of the Pilgrimage of Grace, Margaret Pole. These obstinate few, then, along with their disgraceful successors, constituted the disgraced cohort df the "papists."

However cursory our review of the Anglicana Ecclesia, the phenomenon provokes serious meditation, if not the sense of deja vu, in these days when the disarming code word "The American Church" is evolving in some quarters into a semantics of schism.

Some fifteen years ago there was much talk of "polarization" on the American Catholic scene. Even back then some reflective observers sensed that it was more than that. Those were the heady days of the newly-hatched NFPC1 and the fledgling National Catholic Reporter. A spirit of alienation from. Rome wafted through clergy, religious, academe and an elitist "mature" laity. Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M., wrote prophetically about the "A" and "B" strains in religious communities and left no doubt that a true division in faith was entailed. Now, in the dawning eighties, the complex evolution of the revolution is neatly defined and well advanced. The basic documented facts, however resented, are abundantly manifested in Msgr. George A. Kelly's Battle for the American Church. Through these long years, subjected to a paced but relentless driftshock syndrome, the Church at large has become desensitized to what is an unholy amalgam of authentic reform with schismatic rebellion.

Camps are Demarcated

The extent to which this has been developed is neatly limned out in Raymond Brown's 1981 NCEA convention address. In essence, he suggests that it is now lawful for divided Catholics to recite the same words of the Creed with different meanings. He sees two basic camps: one, rigid and literalist, is the "rightist"; the other, liberated and laid-back, is the "centrist." Now .a Catholic instinct should suggest that the "centrist" position must somehow be that of the Pope, foundation rock of the Church. Not so! The Pope, who clearly shows he takes the Creed as the literal, divinely revealed truth, not subject to on-going reinterpretation, undivided by a false pluralism, has slipped to the right of true "center," which is, of course, the hallowed turf of exegete Brown and his co-religionists. What Brown's revealing speech calls "rightist" and "centrist," this article will call "papist" and "Modernist." Harsher terms. But any careful reading of Pascendi and Lamentabili, alongside the positions of Brown centrists, will establish our identification of centrist with Modernist.

This article is written with six U.S. dioceses in mind. What is described here, in a very abridged way, is typical in one or the other. These dioceses are the only ones of speak. How many others are in similar straits? Cursory reading and occasional conversations with priests and laity suggest that there may be many more. At the outset, it must be stressed that what is said here is not uttered in bitterness, but in sadness; not in despair, but in ultimate urgency. Here are facts, from personal experience in most cases; given these facts, we need more guidance from the Holy See, the only source on earth to whom we papist priests can turn. To whom else can we go?

For all practical purposes these "control dioceses," as we henceforth refer to them, are dominated by theological Modernism. I would judge at least two of the Ordinaries are themselves willingly Modernist. The true leanings of the other four are harder to discern. Suffice it to say that they have appointed Modernists to all or most of the key positions; they have voiced public praise and support for these officials; they have never-at least publicly-attempted to correct their errors. Are they, then, "neutral" victims? Or are they perhaps unwillingly paralyzed by a clerical coup de siege?

In these "control dioceses" at least three-eighths of the clergy stand in a posture of radical alienation from the papacy. Whatever other issues there may be, papal authority is the cutting edge. About one half of the clergy comprise the swing area: a vast, mushy no-man's-land where the priests will flip-flop wherever and whenever convenience dictates. At present this means conforming to the radical Modernist leadership. For some of these men, a nostalgia for Rome surfaces now and then but is quickly submerged. Theirs is the tired refrain: "But this is what the bishop wants, and we took a vow of obedience to our bishop." Here one might well flash back to the nascent Anglicana Ecclesia.

Only about one-eighth of the priests teach and act in full accord with the Pope. These openly promote and defend papal teaching among their people and in their schools. They are proud of their despised allegiance to the Holy Father in a time of contestation. They do not look forfights, but they do not dodge issues when raised. They are not Lefebvrists. They are, like the Pope, in harmony with Vatican 11 and all it entails when authentically interpreted.

They are as Liberal as the Pope; they are as conservative as the Pope. These, then, are the "papist priests."

In his diocesan context the papist priest is a pariah, the butt of obloquy, of condescending pity, barred from any positions of influence, quarantined to small enclaves, usually isolated rural places where he can do least "damage." For all that, it must be emphasized that what we call here the "papist priest" is, in any healthy Catholic diocese, just another priest in good standing.

To get some grasp of the jeopardy in which he exists, let us, sketchily, survey some conditions in the control dioceses in which Modernism has all but smothered Roman Catholicism. In all six, the Priests' Senate is affiliated with the NFPC. It is true that in recent years a few have worked out compromises which allow "conscientious objectors" to withhold that portion of the dues which are allocated to NFPC. But in these dioceses the animus of the Priests' Senate has been dominantly that of NFPC. Now the history of this dissident organization is open for all to see: it is simply anti-papal, and whenever any bishops attempt an exercise of authority in union with the Pope, the rebellion is extended to them. Each Senate has its panoply of committees and sub-committees. The Senators are almost entirely NFPC enthusiasts, with a few token "semipapists," usually retired priests, allowed in to refute claims of exclusivism. Among the manifold commissions are: "ministry to priests," "continuing education,' "justice and peace," etc. These front groups are Senate-appointed and stacked with NFPC types. Hence, invited outside speakers, the itinerant gurus for priestly indoctrination, are consistently dissidents, more or less openly anti-papal. Priests are urged, at times ordered, to attend these harangues, at which the bishop sits listening to sundry heresies only to rise at the end to thank and praise the heretic. There are also permanent, on-going structures for intensive "reeducation" of the clergy, e.g., Vincent Dwyer's Genesis II.

The most sensitive diocesan offices are in the hands of Modernists. They are, as was boasted publicly a decade ago, "in lock-tight control" of the religious education establishment. All the staff must be in harmony with the director's philosophy. Any papist catechetical books, aids, lectures, etc., are rigidly excluded, in some cases by a list of "disallowed" materials. Only Modernist texts are endorsed. Thus has the Index been revived-to destroy the Faith! Diocesan education conventions are brainwashing spectaculars whose rosters of speakers and topics are completely predictable.

The liturgical commission is also headed and staffed with desacralizing change-agents. With gradualism over the years, liturgical abuses were grafted into regular worship, and, with rationalizing doubletalk, into pontifical services as well. There can be no doubt of the malice involved if one would attend the official lecture circuits on baptism, reconciliation, etc. At these regional meetings the assertions are vintage Modernism. It is noteworthy that the Religious Education Department and the Liturgical Commission work in tandem to exert pressure on pastors in matters such as First Confession (delayed to later grades), and insistence on Communion in the hand for small children. These official objectives are attained subtly. Often word is passed to the nuns who take the matter out of the pastor's hands. In fact, on many fronts, the role of the teaching sisters is that of commandos. Catechesis, liturgy in all its aspects can, in effect, be legislated by the nuns who know well how to reduce the pastor to impotence. In these dioceses the veiled threat of the sisters pulling out of the parish school had only to be realized in a few instances before every pastor learned that what sister wants, sister gets. (I would quickly add that there are some noble exceptions and I have been blessed in this way.) Where there are no nuns, religious education coordinators perform the ministry of the barricades. Furthermore, most of these control dioceses insist that all religion teachers, including volunteer CCD2 teachers, receive certification by attending party line courses sponsored by the diocese. At this late stage of the takeover there is no adversary relationship in most parishes, except for those few remaining bastions where the pastor is a papist.

The diocesan press is firmly in the progressive camp: columnists (McBrien, Greeley, Boster, Curran, et al) features such as "Know Your Faith"; and even the diurnal flow of news is filtered through NC whose slant is showing. That Rome knows the problem has been brought home by the remarkable message of Archbishop Pio Laghi to the American episcopal publishers. The parishes are under enormous pressure to take "full coverage."3 A papist priest has the choice to disobey his bishop or feed poison to his flock.

The Family Life Office also bears the mark of Cain. From these busy, busy people there is nary a word about abortion, no support of pro-life activities, not the meekest hint of a prophetic critique of Planned Parenthood. On the contrary, their official marriage preparation courses are infected with the immoral theology of Kosnick & Co. Again the papist priest cannot in good conscience send his young couples to these required courses.

The use of diocesan structures: pastoral council, deanery councils, parish councils, boards of education at all levels, parish committees (liturgy; especially), as well as the ominous enforcement arm, the personnel board-all these are polypodal tenacles ever sucking, sapping, squeezing and throttling the non-conformists, who must, in turn, extract huge sums from the parishioners to feed the monster.

To add to the dismay, we realize that the seminaries utilized by our dioceses, some belonging to the diocese itself, are now hot beds, seminaria, of Modernism. We send bright-eyed idealist, Catholic youth, into these dens of revolution only to have them come back on vacations and, rarely, for ordination, as programmed anti-papal unCatholic activists. The few ordained thus build up the youthful base of dissidence far beyond the wildest dreams of the 60's. The only salvation for seminary candidates, unless they can master the art of dissembling, is for the pastor to dissuade them from going. (In the control diocese there is no chance for a candidate to be sent to the few well known orthodox seminaries.) Most of us then urge the young men to postpone entrance, hoping for eventual reconstruction of the system. Here is a peak of priestly suffering: dissuading a candidate from the seminary in order to save his soul!

Pastoral life is a new ball game. There is a general collapse of discipline and doctrine in the six dioceses. Each parish is a brave new world, teeming with its own flora and fauna. Tot capita, guot sententix. Cujus Regio, ejus religio. Even we papists are honestly confounded by the claims and counter-claims of what Rome has or has not allowed. Ukases emanating from diocesan or national sources give all the pretense of bearing Vatican authority. An egregious example: just what is Rome's will concerning the use of the Cup at weekend Masses?4

What has transposed this nightmare into a wide-awake scream in the dark focuses on the activities *ribunals. For years, we papists have suspected that something was rotten with their praxis. We were constantly assured that all was beyond reproach, that the soaring numbers of annulments were due to new norms, expanded staffs, greater efficiency, etc. Meanwhile, in our (typically) small country parishes there were disproportionate volumes of annulments. Folks at the bars began to gossip and make bitter accusatory jokes. They knew people on the next farm who had been married for years and had five children and suddenly they were "rendered asunder." We pastors closed our eyes, swallowed hard, told God that we couldn't overrule the bishop's own experts and we married the new annullees to new spouses who were often enough annullees themselves. Thank God, we were not privy to the grounds, much less to the acts. But then came cracks of thunder: Pope John Paul II in November 1979 spoke of "divortio sub alio nomine tecto" in reference to unqualified annulments. The full storm broke loose publicly at the fall 1980 Synod on the Family. Cardinal Felici told us what we had long suspected and the Holy Father seconded the complaint in equally firm if less inflammatory terms. It was this crisis more than anything else that drove me to write this article and suggested its title. Once more the papists may be constrained to stand up for the Pope on the matter of annulment-this time by the hundreds of thousands. Poor Henry! Why the fuss in 1534? It is now imperative to pose hard, excruciating questions that cannot be left unanswered. There is now sufficient doubt about U.S. annulments that pastors cannot drift along without a final decision. It is the opinion of this writer that the annulment debacle has for a decade rooted and institutionalized the potentials and dynamics of an American schism. How can thousands of these cases, affecting new families, and affecting all who are related to them, be reversed? How do you annul an annulment? On the other hand, how can the Church close her eyes to what are invalid unions, for that is precisely what has been suggested by the Roman comments.

We papist priests find ourselves, by the grace of God, entrenched here and there in these arenas of apocalyptic anarchy. Usually we are in the "boon-docks," small rural communities. It has become nearly impossible to serve larger parishes except where two papists have contrived to be assigned together and have been in place for some time. Also these priests must have found good religious, who still staff the schools and allow them to satisfy their "scruples." Once a parish has been converted to the "new Church" it becomes interdict to papists. I have seen a brilliant, devout, vigorous priest attempt to assume control of a Modernist parish. Within six months he had been ground to powder by the parish council and the nuns. He left for the hinterlands, broken and disillusioned. In our foxholes we must compromise as far as we can, for, we are well aware, there are few places left to take us in. These "priest holes," to allude again to the past, are far from hermetically sealed. Our people are very mobile. They often visit Modernist parishes as they travel or attend weddings and funerals. Their children bring their stories to school on Monday mornings. "Father, guess what they do in that other church!" Do we tell innocent children that the other priests are disobedient? The confusion mounts as the months go by. Less stable parishioners apply pressures for outdoor polka masses, for scandalously secularized weddings, for intercommunion, for general absolution, etc.

In Modernist dioceses the papist priest has no chance of being called to effective positions. This is the least of his personal problems, though it dooms the whole dioceses to a regime totally alienated from the Holy See. What is pathetic, however, is that, given the current practice of prior consultation, there is never a chance that a papist will be voted on for episcopal candidacy by Modernist priests and religious. Recent appointments, e.g., Archbishop Szako of Detroit, offer some hope that this barrier can be bypassed. It is exasperating to think that loyalty to the Pope has become a diriment impediment to the episcopacy in some dioceses. If Rome seeks methods to restore the Church, surely the clearest way seems to be the appointment of (dare we call them "papist"?) bishops who are truly Roman Catholic. No disorder discussed here can be corrected unless the bishop is sound and courageous. Even the seminaries, the crucial next priority, cannot be reconstituted without heroic good shepherds. Heroic, because they will have to purge the present faculties and begin all over again. Words of exhortation from Rome will not effect changes so long as the present bishops are in place in the control dioceses. There is simply no way to reform seminaries, religious education offices, marriage tribunals, the diocesan press, liturgical and other abuses, until tough, papally-oriented bishops are in position. Such a bishop would immediately rally the pusillus grex of papists and soon the gelatinous gray area would slither over to him. The losses will be heavy and the battles bloody. But what is the alternative? To betray the Church? To abandon souls? To play the hireling?

It has been unnecessary to rehearse the now copious documentation on the state of the Church. The horror stories hardly generate a chill anymore. One thing is certain in the six control dioceses considered here: the priests with full allegiance to the Pope are a despised minority and the faith of most of their fellow priests, and yes, God help us, the faith of their bishops, is simply and plainly not their faith.

The basic question is what do we papist priests do when we experience a direct conflict between the authority of the Holy Father and the authority of our local bishop? What are we to do when the bishop, directly or indirectly through his officials, orders us to disregard (and in fact disobey) repeated and insistent papal directives? Do we obey the bishop or the Pope? To state the question seems to answer it, but to know the answer in theory is not to solve it in practice. We need guidance from the highest authority since problems such as time of First Confession, general absolution, inter-communion, to name only a few common conflicts, are well known to Rome but the bishops have been permitted to remain in authority, to all appearances in full communion. We appreciate that remedial action takes time, but meanwhile we need moral direction for our consciences and pragmatically clear pastoral guidance. The questions become specific: Must we attend lectures given by heretics when the bishop so insists? Should we feel justified in concelebrating with priests who openly deny essentials of the Faith, including the doctrine of the Real Presence, or when glaring abuses take place and we seem to endorse them by our participation? Very specifically, if we have been directed by the diocese to pour the left over Precious Blood down the sacrarium, should we do so in peaceful conscience? When priests, notoriously radical in doctrine and in liturgical discipline, come to our parishes, let us say for weddings or funerals, what should be our response? Are we to continue to suspend judgment, stifle our fears, and routinely cooperate with our tribunals in areas of suspect annulments? Is it tolerable that the now public disagreement between Rome and the U.S. canonists simply drifts for years without a resolution? What should be our stance in regard to the people committed to our pastoral care? Must we remain silent forever about the errors and abuses which inundate them? Dare we risk causing scandal by warning our faithful people about this spiritual poison when they know that specific priests and perhaps the bishop himself are prescribing it? We have been prudential for years; is this a virtue or a vice?

These, and a long litany more, are momentous, historical questions. They are of utmost urgency. If they are not answered soon, or if remedy is not otherwise given by corrective action, the papist priest will have no recourse but to meekly and silently retire and live his life (be it years or decades) without public exercise of his public ministry. And why? Simply because in these sorry times he must, in conscience, remain loyal to the Vicar of Christ. He demands the right to believe what the Pope teaches and freely to obey his directives. In Washington, D.C., October 7, 1979, in his address at Catholic University, Pope John Paul reminded the bishops of the "greatest right" of the faithful: to receive the Catholic doctrine purely and entirely. In April of 1980 he issued Inaestimabile donum, in which he added to this "bill of rights of the faithful" the "right to a true liturgy, which means the liturgy desired and laid down by the Church..." Surely faithful priests, a fortiori, since they are pastors of the flock, must have these same rights: the right to openly profess and teach and defend the Faith as it is taught by the Pope; the right to adhere to the liturgical laws authorized by Rome; the right to defend the Holy Eucharist from profanation; the right to keep inviolate the Profession of Faith and the Oath Against Modernism, which we solemnly swore on the eve of our ordination. Were we not imbued with a sense of deference and reverence towards ecclesiastical office, we would be tempted to call for a "priests' liberation movement" to demand these rights, without which we cannot survive.

1. National Federation of Priests' Councils.

2. Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.

3. The parish priest is compelled to purchase one copy of the diocesan newspaper for every family in his parish, even if the parishioners do not purchase them or he feels in conscience unable to put them on sale, and destroys them (which is by no means unusual)

4. In 1978 the American bishops voted to defy Rome and permit Communion under both kinds at Sunday Masses. In 1984 the Vatican surrendered to this act of defiance and authorized the practice in America. Full documentation concerning this rebellion is available in The Angelus Press pamphlet, "Communion Under Both Kinds."

Chapter 57

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