You mean there are degrees of Catholic foolishness?

The Catholic Church seems to be experiencing a few rifts of their own. The current pope has apparently been sending down decrees to bust up the practice of the old Latin Mass, which is rather interesting. Back when I was a kid I had Catholic friends who talked about how their church was changing, which, as a lackadaisical Lutheran, I didn’t get at all. Wasn’t Protestantism a bigger upheaval? My Sunday school teacher said so. But now I guess the Pope is tightening the rules even more.

The members of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church have been on edge for weeks, worried that their way of worship is under threat, and what makes their fears especially agonizing is the identity of the person leading the crackdown: Pope Francis.

The congregants — belonging to one of hundreds of U.S. churches devoted to the old Latin Mass — say they can’t understand the pope’s thinking on limiting its practice. Some say they are praying that Francis’s better judgment still might prevail. One influential church member, theologian Peter Kwasniewski, has spent day after day publishing fiery opinion pieces, calling Francis’s decree contemptuous, vindictive toward Catholic traditionalists, an atomic bomb against the faith.

“Let’s not mince words,” Kwasniewski wrote at one point on Facebook. “This is a declaration of total war.”

Now, as a more worldly atheist who has encountered too many conservative Catholics, I think I understand. I read that and what I thought, again not as a knowledgeable Catholic, that it was obvious what he’s doing: he’s cracking down on the far right Catholics because they’re absolutist, authoritarian assholes who hinder any progress. Not that I think he’s particularly progressive, he just wants to shift the church a few millimeters to the left when what they really need to do is break up and move the rubble a few kilometers, but that’s what I, in my ignorance, figured must be going on, and surprisingly, the article confirmed it for me.

His mid-July decree dramatically tightened the rules on who can celebrate the old Latin Mass, requiring, among other things, new permission from local bishops. Some of the pope’s allies say the goal is to curtail forces antagonistic not specifically toward Francis’s pontificate, but toward Catholicism’s sometimes-lurching effort since the Second Vatican Council to modernize and reform.

The story further confirms my assumption that Catholic conservatives are assholes.

But many congregants speak of an inner turmoil — of feeling at odds with the supreme authority of their religion over something so core. To them, the Latin Mass is not just a form of prayer, but also the central force for like-minded people in their community. For people who take the faith seriously. Who pray the rosary. Who believe the teaching as it was written — that homosexual acts are disordered, that contraception is wrong, that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ. Some of these are minority viewpoints even among American Catholics, and St. Francis congregants say they sometimes feel like outsiders in their own city, uneasy about sharing their convictions, other than at their church.

Again, I’m not arguing that the church hierarchy is not awful, right up to the tippy-top — they have a tremendous amount of guilt for pedophilia and genocide — but that these people who want the Latin Mass are worse. These are the Michael Voris/Church Militant types who want to roll the whole world back into the Middle Ages, like this guy:

For Jacob Bauer, 24, that meant applying the principles of the church to nearly every aspect of his family life. It meant modesty — no trips to the beach, for instance, where revealing clothing would be on display. It meant refraining from gossip. It meant a defining 2017 conversation with his eventual wife, Hannah, now 25, about how the role of women had veered off course during modern times, and how something more traditional would be best for their family. So Hannah decided to reconsider her optometry career goals and stay home to raise a family. They now have one young child and hope to have more. Hannah wants to home-school the children.

“I was given the conviction I could do that from church,” where many women were going the same route, she said.

If that’s really what she wanted, fine. It’s just funny how every time conservatives talk about gender roles they somehow magically end up deciding that the woman who was on the road to a productive career is the one who needs to drop everything and stay home with the kids. Especially when the man’s primary role seems to be hanging out on Twitter telling everyone to go to Mass.

Bauer says he just wants space for his family to follow their own beliefs, without threats, and so his response has been to think of the pope daily: To pray for him, to cite him by name, with the hope that he “sees the love a lot of us have for the Latin Mass.” On Twitter — where Bauer describes himself in his bio as a “12th, 13th, 14th, 15th-century moderate; 21st-century hyper-traditionalist” — he has been similarly civil. He has regularly extolled the virtues of the old Latin Mass but refrained from criticism of Francis.

I’m not so civil. That’s an asshole hiding behind his civility. I can see why the Pope would want to distance himself from these wackaloons.

By the way, it’s not just Catholics. The worst members of every religion are the absolute authoritarian assholes, who always seem to muscle their way into loud leadership positions.


  1. call me mark says

    St. Francis congregants say they sometimes feel […] uneasy about sharing their convictions, other than at their church.


  2. Akira MacKenzie says


    blockquote>If that’s really what she wanted, fine.

    Is it? In a misogynistic, sexist, male chauvinist culture like that, does any woman want to be a perpetual house-maid/incubator, or is it what they are coerced into.

  3. birgerjohansson says

    As I have said earlier, the father of f*cking Mel Gibson was a leader of one of those conservative Catholic splinter groups. Hmm….I wonder where Mel got his anti-semitic world view?

  4. kathleenzielinski says

    The church has an institutional problem in that liberal religion doesn’t “work,” in the sense that if your foundation is ignorance and superstition, it can only be maintained by perpetuating ignorance and superstition. Which is the reason the only churches in the West that are experiencing any growth are the ones at the radical right end of the spectrum. More moderate and liberal churches are dying out. Which at some point leaves the radical right as the only people still standing, and puts the church more and more out of the mainstream with less and less popular support. Evangelical support for Trump has badly hurt their numbers.

    I’m of two minds on this. On the one hand, I think having a church that is less misogynistic and homophobic and anti-science is a good thing since it means there’s that much less misogyny, homophobia and anti-science out there. On the other hand, at some point I’d be happy to see religion die out altogether, and the strategy to make that happen is for the church to stay in the Middle Ages.

    The other thing to remember is that like all other organisms, the church is subject to natural selection and survival of the fittest, which is why almost no church looks like it did 500 years ago.

  5. submoron says

    I’ve met a couple of Protestants, one of them American, who automatically added ‘King’ when I mentioned Martin Luther and looked very dubious when I pointed out that he was ‘The Protestant’.
    Ironically he permitted the use of liturgical Latin on special occasions. See Bach’s short Masses and Magnificat but not the Credo of course. As a classical music lover it saddens me to think of their abandoning a musical heritage running all the way from plainchant to the twentieth century. As an unbeliever I can still enjoy it of course.

  6. raven says

    Who believe the teaching as it was written — that homosexual acts are disordered, that contraception is wrong, that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ.

    The use of contraception by Catholic women in relevant cohorts is 98%.

    The Catholic ban on birth control is just flat out wrong and everyone knows it. That is why it is almost universally ignored. Responsible adults plan their families and only have as many children as they want and can afford to raise.
    This is especially true in a world of 7.8 billion people with a biosphere, i.e. the life support system for our space ship under stress.

    It isn’t even that old, some Pope made it up in 1930 and it was reinforced by another one in 1968.

  7. whheydt says

    The “old Latin Mass”, aka the “Tridentine Mass” has a serious problem in that it has some virulent anti-semitic passages in it. If those wanting to use a Latin mass want to succeed, they need to translate the modern mass text into Latin. The alternative is to be branded as racists and anti-semites.

  8. raven says

    I’ll take PZ’s word for it that Pope Francis is trying to downsize the right wingnut Catholics by limiting the use of the Latin mass.
    I don’t see how this is going to do anything whatsoever to further that goal though. The Latin mass is a symptom, not a cause. I doubt it is going to convince a single hyper reactionary Catholic to act like a normal person.
    There are already a lot of Catholic schismatic splinter groups that don’t recognize or pay much attention to the Pope anyway.

    PS: One of those Catholic fundies is Amy Barrett, the latest US Supreme court judge. She is about to join with the other 4 or 5 and wreck a nation of 333 million people.

  9. stroppy says

    @9 Catholic fundie Amy Barrett.

    Thank the Federalist Society which selects and green lights conservative judges for nomination and is part of the Catholic legal movement. This kind of packing has long been on the active agenda of religious conservatives of all stripes, and is partly responsible for why we’re in the mess we’re in.

    (Pet peeve. Calling adding additional seats to SCOTUS “packing,” for better or worse, is a stretch at best, IMO, and I wish bobble-headed pundits would stop parroting it.)

  10. stroppy says

    Religion. I get how people could be attracted to rituals, and stories, and fellowship, however the idea of filling your head with volumes of useless, arcane vocabulary and verbiage makes my brain weep. And that’s aside from all the mind numbing, superstitious dogma.

  11. raven says

    Religion. How about arbitrary rules that make no sense and in many cases, are extremely destructive to the well being of society in general and individuals in particular.

    Some rules are just silly. The Mormon church has one that women can’t expose their shoulders, probably because they also have the magic undergarments rule.
    Exorcisms of imaginary demons.

    The Catholic church’s ban on birth control has to be one of the most destructive rules any religion has ever made up.

    Then there is faith healing, which doesn’t even work.

  12. cartomancer says

    One thing that gets me about these right-wing Catholic authoritarians is their veneer of respect for tradition but complete lack of awareness that the specific traditions they cling to are entirely arbitrary.

    When they say “Latin Mass” they don’t mean just the use of the Latin language in their Eucharist celebrations. Indeed, the modern post Vatican II mass exists in an original Latin version and the vernacular texts used in Catholic churches are translations of that. The Catholic Church doesn’t have any issue with the use of Latin as a liturgical language, despite the modern tendency to consider it best to conduct rites in a language the congregation will understand.

    No, what they mean is the Tridentine Mass, conceived and issued in 1570 by Pius V following the Council of Trent. The Tridentine Mass was an attempt to standardise and codify mass celebrations throughout Catholic Christendom in the wake of the Reformation and the changed religious landscape of early modern Europe. Thanks to the arrival of the printing press it was the first time such standardisation was really possible. But it also reflected very Sixteenth Century assumptions about what Catholic Christianity should be.

    But 1570 wasn’t the beginning of Catholic masses. Before Trent there were many, many local variations and traditions, some more standardised and widespread than others. Successive popes and secular Christian rulers tried to standardise and change the rite for the first millennium and a half it existed, and there was fierce academic debate at all stages over what should be included and what left out. Indeed, in the earliest Christian centuries the language of the rite was usually Greek, not Latin.

    So why the 1570 Tridentine version? Why not Emperor Henry II’s version, or Charlemagne’s, or the Galician Rite, or the Greek Rite of the second century AD? Why that entirely arbitrary 16th Century version? You can’t claim to be a fan of tradition because it is traditional and then discard hundreds of equally traditional forms for no reason.

  13. cartomancer says

    And, actually, they don’t want to roll back society to the Middle Ages – they want to roll it back to the early modern period. The kinds of social ideas these people have are far more 16th-17th Century than Medieval, especially when it comes to the role of women in society and the place of an established church.

    Far from being “12th, 13th, 14th, 15th Century moderate”, many of the ideas of these people would have seemed downright bizarre to actual Medieval people. They are Counter-Reformation ideas. The notion of women being passive, outside the workforce, lacking power and authority and only good for breeding would have horrified and baffled Medieval luminaries.

  14. garnetstar says

    I preferred Latin masses to English, which we did after they made the switch, because 1) saying Latin was fun, and 2) I didn’t understand what I was saying, and no one else did either. (Which, as whheydt @8 says, was a good thing.) That made it easier to just recite and not be involved in the words, you could be thinking of other things.

  15. Mark Dowd says

    Is it? In a misogynistic, sexist, male chauvinist culture like that, does any woman want to be a perpetual house-maid/incubator, or is it what they are coerced into.

    I can imagine that some might.

    If you go too far in analyzing if someone really wants what they say they want, you run the risk of becoming the monster you demonized: that you think you know what’s best for someone better than they do.

    Like it or not, for better and for worse, we are all a product of some part of the surrounding culture. And that includes our desires and aspirations.

  16. consciousness razor says

    cartomancer, #14:

    So why the 1570 Tridentine version? Why not Emperor Henry II’s version, or Charlemagne’s, or the Galician Rite, or the Greek Rite of the second century AD? Why that entirely arbitrary 16th Century version? You can’t claim to be a fan of tradition because it is traditional and then discard hundreds of equally traditional forms for no reason.

    Well, at least in terms of how they handled the liturgy, the Council of Trent was aimed at fixing perceived problems, in reaction to the Reformation. It’s not so much moving the clock back or getting more old school, just because you like it extra super-duper traditional.

    That’s the TLDR version, and admittedly I’m not an expert on the topic. But I don’t have the impression that there was a bunch of interest in reviving much earlier forms of the mass. The concerns mainly had to do with more immediate stuff that was happening around that time, and trying to find suitable corrections. (But without totally blowing the whole thing up and going back to something from a thousand years earlier…. That’s hardly ever what conservatives really want, even if they say so.)

    I can tell you that in terms of the music (which is very closely tied to the liturgy as a whole), they wanted to have even more standardization and less regional variety, to root out secular influences, to simplify polyphony and chromaticism so texts are easier to understand, to end the use of tons of different Sequences (a specific chant in the mass) and keep only four…. I don’t recall which, but I think certain instruments were banned, more or less because the sound wasn’t agreeable to this or that jackass in the church hierarchy. Various changes like that.

    Basically, the goal was to give it a more solemn and consistent flavor which satisfied their conservative sensibilities. Because previously, in their opinions, all hell had broken loose — it had become too chaotic, too secular, cats and dogs were living together, etc. (And that’s why there were Lutherans.)

    This sort of thing wasn’t unique though. There were a lot of different periods when various people/groups wanted to clean up the corrupting influences they imagined had taken hold of the church. So if you’re wondering about the people today, you could ask why this particular set of “reforms” are still so salient or important to them. I have no idea. They’re weird.

  17. unclefrogy says

    this controversy illustrates for me that a large part of religion is centered and involved with people and their politics and not a way to become closer to the god they purport to worship and who the say they believe is the reason for existence. It is certainly not focused on the christ they say is the reason for their church.
    Controversy is the only reason their are so many christian churches.
    power and judgement the soul of religion

  18. stroppy says

    “…involved with people and their politics…”

    For certain people in particular anyway. When humans first began to settle and farm, and civilizations began to grow, those in authority needed to expand and reinforce their control, so for instance, you might see gods’ eyes being painted on walls reminding people that they were being watched by the gods from above and their divine enforcers on earth.

    Of course these days we have server farms and cameras that watch and analyze you 24/7 — much more efficient than pigment on a wall.

  19. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    I both love and hate trying to figure out the psychology of someone who thinks that saying, about himself, that he’s a 15th century moderate (read: against democracy, women’s suffrage, the end of slavery, the Scientific Revolution, the end of de jure segregation and anti-Semitism) is a good look.

    @9: The fact that they’re flipping out about it strengthens Francis’ argument.

  20. birgerjohansson says

    The Polish pope killed off the efforts to reform the church with “liberation theology”. Now they are discovering people are no longer attracted to their theological dumpster fire.
    Going off on a tangent again… FYI somebody* worked out that the number of pedophiles among French Catholic clergy exceeded the number of said clergy that were willing to marry gay couples.
    This crap cannot be reformed from within.
    *Noah Lugeons at God Awful Movies. These guys are polymaths.

  21. John Morales says


    FYI somebody* worked out that the number of pedophiles among French Catholic clergy exceeded the number of said clergy that were willing to marry gay couples.


    I mean, that number should literally be zero.
    According to Catholic theology, marriage is a sacrament, and quite specifically between man and woman.

    *Noah Lugeons at God Awful Movies. These guys are polymaths.

    Those guys are bullshitters. I don’t for one second believe that an actual Catholic priest has performed an actual gay marriage.