4. The Era of the Indult (Part II) 1993-2007
In 1992 Roger McCaffrey launched a new magazine, The Latin Mass. In 1996 the same publisher launched Sursum Corda. The Latin Mass, aimed at traditionalists, concentrated on liturgy and aired broad issues of policy dominated by a pessimistic, critical view of Church and society. Sursum Corda, addressed to Catholic conservatives, emphasized the bright side, devoted much space to concrete initiatives like homeschooling and featured the real or imaginary successes of the contemporary Church. Two publications with the same publisher and editor – what could illustrate better the vast gap that had developed between the worldview of traditionalism and that of conservative Catholicism?
Yet The Latin Mass had much greater significance. It marked the first attempt since the demise of Triumph to create a national forum on a high intellectual level for traditionalism. After the years in “internal exile” and the initial exclusive concentration on resurrecting the liturgy, traditionalists now sought both to consolidate their achievements and return to the “public square.” (using the favorite metaphor of conservative Catholics.)
The locations where traditional indult masses were celebrated continued to steadily increase. Traditional Catholics, however, were no longer satisfied merely with the mass. They wanted all the sacraments now. The drive for all the sacraments actually dates to the first years of the traditionalist revival under the indult. For example, in 1989 the chapel of a well-known university on the East Coast saw the celebration of (supposedly) the first “officially authorized” traditional nuptial mass in the United States since the 1960’s. In a very haphazard manner celebration of the other sacraments in the traditional rite also became available.
This all required increased dialogue with the institutional church. In many places a more harmonious relationship with the local diocese developed. Sitting bishops even celebrated the traditional mass. As time went on, indult traditional Catholicism became in many areas of the United States a part of normal Catholic life: limited in scale but real and accepted.
Further, the Traditional Catholics wanted to establish fully functioning communities and parishes. In this period of consolidation that objective was achieved in a surprising number of locations. In this endeavor the recognized religious congregations – such as those recognized by the Ecclesia Dei commission – began to show their real value. It was one thing for the bishop to disregard the request of some group of laity – it was another matter to disregard the request of an order or community of priests recognized by Rome. In Chicago, for example, the clergy of the parish of St. John Cantius, site of an indult mass, evolved in 1998 into an independent order, the Canons Regular of St John Cantius. The Canons have as their mission “to help Catholics rediscover a profound sense of the sacred through solemn liturgies, devotions, sacred art and sacred music, as well as instruction in Church heritage, catechesis and Catholic culture in the context of parish ministry.” 1) This alone shows the broadening horizons of the traditionalist movement. Ecclesia Dei congregations such as the FSSP, soon joined by the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest by 1995 and then by others, although unable to provide overall direction to the traditionalist movement, were instrumental in establishing what were in reality traditionalist parishes, whatever their technical status in canon law.
This outward turn was manifested in many activities. We have mentioned The Latin Mass magazine. Books of traditionalist authors also found an audience outside the narrow circles of traditionalism itself. American traditionalists ventured out of their country in the early 1990s to join the Chartres pilgrimage in France. Building on this, they created their own pilgrimage to the shrine of the North American martyrs in Auriesville, New York. Several thousand participants witnessed the first solemn mass at the shrine, celebrated at he conclusion of the pilgrimage.
And there were even more spectacular examples of success. On May 12, 1996, a traditional mass was held for the first time in many decades in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City – celebrated by Cardinal Alfons Maria Stickler before a standing-room-only congregation of over 4000. In 2004, The Passion of the Christ, directed by Mel Gibson of the “Trotskyite” (sedevacantist) wing of traditionalism, achieved the greatest national and international success of any religious film in decades.
Towards the end of this period the relationship of traditionalists with conservative Catholics steadily worsened despite (or because of?) this growing institutional and societal recognition. In the course of years and after innumerable reverses and disappointments – we need cite only the hierarchy’s treatment of the founders of EWTN and Ignatius Press – a significant faction among the conservatives adopted a much more conciliatory tone with the Establishment. The sexual abuse crisis would seem to only confirm the dire predictions of conservative Catholics over the years, and some conservatives indeed understood it as such. Others, however, now rallied to the episcopal Establishment, minimizing the extent of the crisis or damning the news media. Conservative Catholic works (like George Weigel’s biography of John Paul II) began to be mentioned with favor in the Vatican at least to the extent they seemed to support the institution. The Legion of Christ was now attempting to organize conservative Catholics particularly in the homeschooling movement, through Regnum Christi. And this developing reconciliation with the Establishment and its policies also lead to some interesting interactions with the conservatives’ mortal enemy, the progressives. (consider the 2005 book on Opus Dei commissioned by them from John Allen of the NCR)
It was in this context that the internet appeared on the scene. It would have revolutionary consequences for the ability of Catholics to communicate with each other outside of the progressive news media or what purported to be the official Catholic press. As could be expected, conservative Catholics were initially more active in utilizing the new medium. Partly as a consequence of the arrival of the internet and the unrestrained discourse of of some of the conservative “players,” however, the dislike of leading conservatives for traditional Catholics grew to something that could only be called hatred.
There were other concerns for traditionalists in what otherwise could be taken as an era of maturity and consolidation. Traditionalists remained very much a tolerated minority in most dioceses, subject to close supervision. In certain places – including the chapels of several conservative Catholic colleges – the traditional mass continued to be barred altogether; in others the Ecclesia Dei congregations remained excluded. The Establishment saw to it that the 1996 mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral was never repeated. The Latin Mass magazine eventually merged with Sursum Corda. After coming under new management it remained a solid publication but no longer aspired to provide any overall leadership.
The growing “normality” of traditionalism also regrettably meant that some of the worst ills of the contemporary Church made their appearance in the traditionalist world. If we consider the “Society of St. John” traditionalist (organized in 1998 – they used the 1965 missal) we see how the abuse scandals could intrude into traditionalism and have the same devastating impact as in the “conciliar Church.”
In view of all this, is it surprising that towards the end of the era under consideration, certain traditionalists started to waver? Several traditionalist spokesmen moved over to sedevacantism – a temptation perhaps stronger in the United States than elsewhere in the world. In a sense, sedevacantism was a return to the pre-indult “ghetto” to preserve an imaginary purity. Paradoxically it also reveals, though, the underlying traditionalist dissatisfaction with entire indult regime of “tolerance,” however great the accomplishments under it had been. The Latin Mass magazine had described itself as a “chronicle of a catholic reform.” Perhaps most American traditionalists were still unable to articulate their principles and aims that clearly. But traditionalism, consciously or not, was on the point of awakening to serve as a potential influence for change for the entire Church.