Fr. Giovanni Cavalcoli, O.P.
The return of Modernism that has characterized these 50 years since the end of the Second Vatican Council can be divided into two periods which reveal the tenacity, the strength and power of persuasion that this plot against the Church, has produced operating within Her and accomplishing the “work of auto-demolition”, that Paul VI had spoken about.
The first period is characterized by the famous chaotic and disordered contestations of 1968 and, at that same time, the wild, uncontrolled spreading of heretical doctrines in dogma and morals among seminarians, youth, priests, religious and theologians. The bishops, taken by surprise, and not wanting to be labeled “prophets of doom” or pre-conciliar conservatives, more or less allowed them free rein, at times with the formula ad experimentum (“Let’s see how it goes.”); as if the truth of a doctrine depended on the success it meets.
Since there was some ‘success’ in numerous cases, “Let’s see if it works”, which was before - was adopted, taken for granted and not to be questioned. Those who tried to question it, whatever authority they had, perhaps in the name of the precedent Magisterium or Tradition, were subjected to public derision as “anti-conciliarists.”
The disobedience to the Magisterium and to the Pope himself, either openly or covertly in the name of an unspecified “spirit of the Council” began to be a habit which spread among the faithful, intellectuals and people, the clergy, theologians and moralists. [Thus] the so-called “Catholic dissent” was born, and Paul VI spoke about “a parallel Magisterium”.
Heretical and modernist ideas, especially those along Protestant lines, started to be taught freely, tranquilly and with impunity in Catholic schools and were also found in the publications and press of many so-called “Catholic” publishers. The scandal and anxiety of the devout and orthodox among the faithful, were considered with derision and superciliousness by the modernists – those so-called “progressives” increasingly sure of themselves and convinced they were the new Church of the future and modernity: “in the heart of the world”, in “the Church of the poor” in “the Church of dialogue”, guided directly by the Spirit, truly evangelical, attentive to the “Word of God” and the “signs of the times” and so on.
Throughout this first period, the modernists had the opportunity of becoming more and more dominant in social communications, thus infiltrating into families, in culture - schools, universities, workplaces, parishes, movements, academic environments and Catholic education, seminaries and religious institutes, thus forming an entire generation of new priests, new religious, new leaders, new bishops and even new cardinals. All of this in the face of extremely weak resistance on the part of good pastors and the Holy See, itself weakened and contaminated through ultra-recommended infiltrators by ambitious prelates of dubious orthodoxy.
What was the catastrophic outcome of all this? We see it today before our eyes, growing in proportions, and it could have been but figured out - as it had indeed been figured out and foreseen by those many clear-sighted “prophets of doom”. (We should better say: the “unheeded sentinels”). Or let us say more simply, it was foreseen by those endowed with common sense: that gradually from the modernists and false teachers, free to spread their errors, there would have risen (as indeed it has) a generation or a category holding ecclesiastical power at various levels, more or less ruthless or convinced, more or less oscillating and double-crossing, imbued with their own ideas and therefore, not only able to spread modernist ideas, but order their implementation, subject to disciplinary sanctions, in the name of “obedience” or even, persecution against those that wanted to remain faithful to the Church’s Magisterium.
Even more severe penalties have been inflicted against scholars and theologians who not only remain faithful to sound doctrine, but reveal and denounce the errors and misdeeds of the modernists with names and facts, as well as proof and precise accusations. The modernists are most able at hiding under the appearance of what is true, and are irritated by those who warn the faithful of the hidden dangers and use tones of rebuke against the inventors and diffusers of error.
As far as possible, they strive to ignore these protestors, above all if they have no followers. But when they become aware that the eyes of the faithful have been opened, they resort to threats and violence. Thus, a kind of “reverse” inquisition has come about: today the heretics, are not only seen in a good light, but they even have the audacity (as happened in the 16th century in the Catholic countries overrun by Protestants) due to the nefarious power they have achieved, to obstruct or block those who defend sound doctrine and who want to shield the people of God from the epidemic of lies and falsehoods that are the origins of every kind of moral disorder. Pastors, frequently, because of insufficient theological formation, even if they are good and conscientious, limit themselves to condemning moral errors, but without realizing it, in fact, sometimes they are hostile, in good faith or in fear, towards those theologians who bring to light the theoretical roots of error.
But, the tragicomical thing that reveals the refined hypocrisy of these modernist Pharisees – is the “scandal” – pure pharisaical scandal – when their snow-white souls are disturbed in seeing or knowing about courageous Catholics who dare to resist or oppose prelates, teachers, educators, superiors or bishops who would like to shut them up or convince them that they are mistaken; they then give orders, or impart invalid prohibitions thus making them inapplicable, forgetting that peremptory order of Scripture: “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out thy corn on the floor.”, similar to criminal health-care officials who would want to impede doctors in taking care of the sick.
They are the first to disobey the truth and directives of the Gospel as well as the Supreme Pontiff, and they dare to dish out orders which clash with the sound doctrine or moral and judicial principles of the Church. These are the same ones that in 1968 or in its wake, who wailed against “the barons” and “authoritarianism”; they felt authorized to contest the Pope and bishops, and to enlighten them with expressions of such dogmatic rigor as: “the Church of the rich” of despotism and medieval theocracy from the “age of Constantine”, “Baroque triumphalism “, pharisaical legalism, the Inquisition, sex phobia, and so forth. Now, instead, they ask for absolute obedience and whoever contradicts them is compared to one that disobeys a divine precept. That is, if they still believe in the true God and do not make a god of themselves, along the lines of the sublime intuition of a certain Gnostic pantheist.
So we have entered the second period, in which we witness more and more frequently, disconcerting and scandalous deeds, where bishops and superiors are especially involved: some forbid the celebration of the Tridentine Mass, others run seminaries in which St. Thomas is replaced by Rahner. Some block the entrance of well-intentioned young men into the seminary or oblige them to adapt if they want to further themselves, while they open wide the door to aspiring modernists, encouraging them in their ambitions. Some are open sustainers of heresies and promote those who agree with them while, in various ways, others persecute Catholics who want nothing other than to be Catholic. Some protect modernist teachers and repress the orthodox ones. We have arrived at the point of favouring the cause of beatification from some absolutely improbable prospects, such as Monsignor Tonino Bello, merely because he reflects a model for the modernist, but other causes are disgracefully obstructed merely because they vex the modernists.
What happens to obedience in these situations? Has not perhaps the meaning been perverted? What good is it to obey superiors who, in their turn, disobey the Church and the Pope? Is it possible that nothing ever happens to the one who disobeys the Pope, while disobeying a modernist superior is [considered] such a terrible thing? Since Modernism is so widespread and prestigious, the seminarian, the priest, the theologian who resist the abuses of the modernist superior end up looking like the disobedient ones.
The power of the modernists today is so strong and the seduction that they exercise is so insidious, that a large dose of courage is needed to resist their arrogance and [one must have] very refined discernment in order to recognize the dangers.
In any case, before deciding whether to continue or not fulfilling one’s duty in fidelity to the Church, against the will or the abuse of power by some superior, it is necessary, above all, to evaluate with prudence and certainty the entity and the quality of the said abuse, and to calculate in advance, with a margin of probability, if the resistance to the unjust measures might cause greater or lesser damage with respect to the sufferings that the faithful might experience.
Resistance to the tyrant is justified from the standpoint of protecting or safeguarding the common good even at the risk of great personal loss. St. Thomas More and St. Thomas Becket accepted death when they realized that their obedience to the king would have caused greater damage to the English Church compared to what would have happened to them in renouncing their own lives.
The salvation of souls, especially if they are many, is a greater good than one’s own personal interests, even if life itself is at risk. It is not possible, nonetheless, to establish a rule that fits every case or situation. In principle, for example, an esteemed and noted theologian, victim of the abuse of power on the part of superiors, can give a good example adapting himself, rather than refusing to submit; it all depends on the circumstances which must be evaluated well.
We have examples in the saints of both these cases. Some suffer patiently, accepting all of the humiliations and even arrive at martyrdom; others availing themselves of their rights, conscious of their innocence and proud in their service to the Church, repulse the unjust treatment with firmness. We have in this regard the example of St. John of the Cross, who escaped from the prison of his superiors, rebels against the Pope.
If on the other hand we are talking about minor penalties, such as exile or defamation or the loss of one’s personal goods, isolation or prison and things of that sort, it might be convenient to accept them, in the hope, that in time, one might be rehabilitated and take up one’s mission once again in freedom. We have many examples of this in the lives of the saints, heroic pastors and other witnesses for Christ.
There could be, in fact, situations that are not so dramatic or because obeying would not cause great harm to the faithful or to the one who is a witness to the faith. In certain cases it is prudent and not cowardly to resign oneself to violence, if this would not cause too much scandal to good people and not too much prejudice to the one persecuted.
Indeed, it might happen, in the case of resistance regarding a successful exercise of his apostolate, that the persecuted may find himself in worse conditions compared to that which he might have conserved by obeying his superior. For this, as we see from history, saintly theologians, bishops and preachers adapted themselves without rebelling against unjust measures, not for the sake of obedience, but for reasons of convenience and in the end to avoid greater vexations.
So, it happens that the truly obedient, i.e. the one who first obeys God and the Church ends up looking like the disobedient one in this climate of such confusion, where it is difficult to distinguish who belongs and does not belong to the Church, since the modernists have diffused such a false concept of Church on account of what they have been able to do by deceit and cunning in imposing their power, giving the impression that they themselves are the renovators of Christianity and the avant-garde in the Church.
Their present arrogance and the impious audacity which guides them in their contempt for true obedience to the Church, under the illusion that they are the winners, will be instead, the weakening factors of their power, because Divine Providence, yes tolerates the wicked, but not beyond a certain limit. God tolerates them because they generate saints: “If there were no persecutors, says St. Thomas, there would be no martyrs.”
But, since God wants to save everyone, while the modernists seriously risk damning themselves, God will certainly not permit this state of affairs to continue much longer and His mighty power of justice and mercy will act in a way that the future of the Church will be brighter, so that She, without being exempt from the cross, may nonetheless walk less afflicted along the path of history.
[Father Giovanni Cavalcoli, O.P., Th. D., is an Italian theologian currently residing in the Convent of Saint Dominic, in Bologna, where the holy relics of the Founder of the Friars Preachers are held and venerated. Source: Riscossa Cristiana, January 21, 2013. Text and translation: Contributor Francesca Romana.]