What one may without exaggeration describe as yet another groundbreaking innovation (so far as I can see, hardly noticed, maybe because it was in Latin) of the present pontificate has just emerged in the Acta Sancta Sedis, the official bulletin of the Holy See.
The latest issue of this monthly publication contains among other things the proceedings of the conclave which elected the present Pope. Most of this was already known. But there was one usually entirely secret part of the proceedings of the conclave, which Acta Sancta Sedis has now published for the first time: the complete text of the meditation delivered to the Cardinal electors immediately before the start of the voting. The cardinal who composed the meditation was the Maltese Augustinian Prosper Grech, who at 87 could not vote, and therefore left the Sistine chapel as soon as had finished speaking. You can read a translation of some of the most important passages of his meditation here.
I want to focus on just one passage, for it spoke to me powerfully. He says first that one difficult task of the new Pope would be to resist the “mysterium iniquitatis”, the evil spirit of the world which, said Cardinal Grech, “constantly strives to infiltrate the Church”.
“No less easy for the future Pontiff”, he continued, “will be the task of keeping unity in the Catholic Church itself. Between ultratraditionalist extremists and ultraprogressive extremists, between priests who rebel against obedience and those who do not recognise the signs of the times, there will always be the danger of minor schisms that not only damage the Church but also go against the will of God: unity at all costs. All are free to express their thoughts on the task of the Church, but they should be proposals in line with that ‘depositum fidei’ which the pontiff together with all of the bishops has the task of guarding.”
Well, we know all about those ultraprogressive extremists, and I have from time to time written about them, though less often in recent years, since the pontficates first of John Paul and then, decisively, that of Benedict, have put that particular brand of extremist into a decline: most Catholics now understand how to put the second Vatican Council into its proper context, not as a disrupter of Catholic tradition but as its continuation: Benedict’s analysis – that we need, in order to understand the Council, a “hermeneutic of continuity”, not one of “rupture” – has definitively put Hans Kung and his pals back in their box. So I am much less worried about those “ultraprogressive extremists” than I was twenty years ago.
Those “ultratraditional extremists”, however, bother me. They are not as dangerous as the progressives were, because there are far fewer of them, and they are simply not as clever as people like Kung and Schillebeekx. They are not to be found in Catholic higher education at all: they may be voluble, but they are often not very bright. There are, however, enough of them to foment what Cardinal Grech called “minor schisms that not only damage the Church but also go against the will of God”. I sense that damage being inflicted every time I post a blog: for these “ultratraditional extremists” have made the discussion which follows most Catholic blogposts their happy hunting ground; and my own blog is, I fear, no exception. They are obsessive and they are voluminous— they go on and on and on, usually in the end at much greater length than the blog on which they are supposed to be commenting.
It is by their obsessions that you may know them. One invariable topic is their virtually protestant refusal to accept that the Pope, any pope, has been elected with the guidance of the Holy Spirit: the idea that the Pope is the vicar of Christ in any real sense is to them simply laughable. They like some Popes: they don’t like others: again, just like many Protestants. They hate Pope Francis. Above all, they constantly project an ultra quasi-Protestant refusal to accept the authority of the Magisterium of the one Holy Roman Catholic Church (except as it is defined by their own private judgement).
I have said that it is by their obsessions that you may know them: and particularly, sooner or later, by the invariable and compulsive appearance in their lengthy utterances of one word: “Fatima” — the very mention of which now makes my heart sink (and not, as once it did, lift itself up at the thought of a shrine it used to be my hope to visit).
Begin from the dogmatic assumption behind their trademark declarations: that everything that has been said on the subject of the “secrets” of Fatima by Pope John Paul and by the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (speaking on his behalf as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) is based on deliberately concocted lies and on the attempted fraudulent deception of the Faithful.
Those who believe that the third “secret” of Fatima has actually now been fully revealed and that, in the words of the then Cardinal Ratzinger, in the CDF document publishing it, “a careful reading of the text of the so-called third ‘secret’ of Fatima, published here in its entirety long after the fact and by decision of the Holy Father, will probably prove disappointing or surprising after all the speculation it has stirred. No great mystery is revealed; nor is the future unveiled. We see the Church of the martyrs of the century which has just passed represented in a scene described in a language which is symbolic and not easy to decipher” – those who believe that, the ultratraditionalists insist, are “Catholic-lite”, just too naïve to be considered as being real Catholics at all, since the future Benedict XVI was in fact lying, and what was published as the “third secret” was fraudulently redacted or even fabricated entirely. Not only that: Pope John Paul’s consecration of the entire world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary was done not in fulfilment of Our Lady of Fatima’s instruction that the Pope should consecrate Russia, since he didn’t actually specifically mention Russia, just the world (of which I always thought Russia was a part): so he was defying Our Lady, not obeying her.
The result of this fanatically anti-Magisterial vision of Catholic history is the constant evocation of a vision of Catholicism which is simply not remotely believable. Go to my penultimate post and you will see the following at the top of the discussion beneath it (most of which had, of course, nothing to do with what I had been writing about): “Why can’t my brother Catholics get into their thick skulls that the Holy Father needs to consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart in union with all the Catholic bishops of the world. Otherwise, we are all going to die and the world will be destroyed. Sorry, that’s the Truth.” I think that’s just weird: but then, according to one of the approving responses to what I have just quoted that’s because I am a “Catholic-lite”: and THAT is because “in the post-Council Church the Catholic sense of intimacy with the divine has been wholly destroyed”.
Well, I became a Catholic precisely because, though I now prefer the Usus Antiquior, MY experience of attending Mass (Novus Ordo, of course) in my local Catholic Church was a consistent sense precisely of intimacy with the divine. I don’t particularly smart at being called “Catholic-lite” when I reflect on the source of the insult: to have that effect, it would have to be delivered by someone I took seriously. But all this, I have to say, fills me with an infinite weariness.
I shan’t be reading the discussion that follows this: it’s all too drearily predictable; also, I have my sanity to take care of. And I would like, one day, to be able once more to hear the word “Fatima” not as a curse but as a blessing. So now, I shall just log off and chill out. Perhaps a nice, cool glass of white wine…