It’s no secret that infighting flourishes among traditional Catholics. Of course, infighting is common in many ideological groups (in my pro-life activist days, I would joke, “If you put 10 pro-lifers in a room, you’ll have 11 different views on how to end abortion”). But infighting seems to be more prevalent among traditional Catholics, even becoming institutionalized at times (see: SSPX vs. FSSP).
Now infighting isn’t always bad, and in fact a healthy group always has at least a bit of it. Internal debate allows members of the group to prune bad ideas and focus on the overall objective. If someone within a group has a really bad idea, then you want infighting in order to purge that bad idea before it becomes associated with the group.
But more often than not, infighting is the result of ego and pride rather than a virtuous effort to remain true to a group’s goals. It’s a ridiculous purity test, in which all who don’t toe the party line 100% are attacked and shunned. Unfortunately, infighting harms a group’s ability to achieve its goals. This has certainly been true of infighting among traditional Catholics.
Because of the adverse effects of infighting, in early 2019 Remnant Editor Michael Matt made an impassioned plea for traditional Catholics to “United the Clans” while a guest on Taylor Marshall’s YouTube show. This phrase “Unite the Clans,” a reference to a scene in the Mel Gibson movie Braveheart, became a shorthand way to urge traditional Catholics to stop infighting and join forces in the struggle to restore Tradition in the Church.
Personally, I wholeheartedly embrace Matt’s call to Unite the Clans. It’s essential to unite at a time when there is a spike in interest in traditional Catholicism, as well as a hardening of opposition within the halls of many chanceries and parish offices. Yet I think it’s important that we move beyond the slogan and be clear as to what we mean when we say “Unite the Clans.” Most importantly, who exactly is included in “the Clans?” I can’t speak for Mr. Matt or any other traditional Catholic, but I can speak on who I think is included. What are my criteria for who is part of the traditional Catholic movement and therefore part of the Clans? Three criteria for inclusion present themselves.
(1) Want to Make the TLM Normative Again
The first criteria is a desire to see the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) become the normative Roman Rite again. Every traditional Catholic is thankful that Pope Benedict XVI liberalized the use of the Traditional Latin Mass back in 2007. But Benedict’s action was also an innovation that created a liturgical environment never before seen in Church history: a bifurcated Roman Rite. There have always been multiple rites within the Church, yet never before had one rite had two “forms” allowed concurrently. Such a situation isn’t tenable long term; there should be only one Roman Rite, and it should be the TLM.
So making the TLM normative again is the shared goal, but how this is achieved is a matter for prudential discussions and arguments. Some traditional Catholics argue that the Novus Ordo should be abolished tomorrow, whereas others believe such a move is not pragmatically possible right now. Likewise, some traditional Catholics never step foot in a Novus Ordo Mass, while others attend either out of necessity or other considerations. Regardless of these issues, all that matters for inclusion in the Clans is a desire to see the TLM become the sole Roman Rite again.
(2) Be Willing to Criticize Vatican II
The second criteria is a willingness to criticize Vatican II itself and not just its implementation. A common belief among traditional Catholics is a distrust of the Vatican II-based reforms. Some argue that Vatican II should be scrapped and denounced by the Church; others would like a more surgical approach. But one of the main things that distinguishes a traditional Catholic from a “conservative” Catholic is a willingness to criticize Vatican II itself, not just how it was implemented (or “hijacked,” as many conservative Catholics say).
To be part of the Clans, at least as I see it, one must be willing to admit that perhaps parts of Vatican II are the cause of many of our modern problems in the Church, or at the very least Vatican II exacerbated those problems. There can be legitimate debate as to what parts are most problematic and how to handle those issues, but one must admit the possibility of problems with Vatican II itself.
(3) Recognize Francis as the Legitimate Pope
My first two criteria are likely non-controversial with most traditional Catholics. But my final criteria might ruffle some feathers. To be part of the Clans, one must recognize that Francis is the legitimate pope—one cannot be a sedevacantist (believe that there is no pope) or a beneplenist (believe that Benedict XVI is still the pope).
Why is this a criteria for me? After all, most of those who reject Francis as pope easily fit the first two criteria. This criteria, however, touches directly the end-goal for traditional Catholics as I see it: a restoration of the TLM and Tradition within the Catholic Church. By rejecting the papacy of Francis, a sedevacantist/beneplenist creates a parallel Church with no way to reform the Catholic Church. I don’t want a parallel Church, I want the Catholic Church to re-embrace tradition. This is why I’d put the SSPX squarely within the Clans, because it recognizes Francis as pope (and it obviously fits the other two criteria as well).
Keeping Our Eyes on the Prize
For me, these are the only three criteria one must meet to be considered part of the traditional Catholic “Clans.” I don’t care if someone prays the Luminous mysteries, or thinks distributism is the only truly Catholic economic policy; as long as he fits the three criteria above, he’s part of the Clans. But it’s also important to note that those who do not meet my three criteria are not thereby automatically my “enemy.” For example, on many issues, I would willingly work together with conservative or charismatic Catholics. We hold many common objectives. And of course I agree with sedevacantists/beneplenists on many issues. But I would not include any of them in the traditional Catholic Clans, because I do not believe that they share the same end-goal as traditional Catholics.
There’s no question that the quest to “Unite the Clans” is a difficult one. After all, those who embrace traditional Catholicism usually have strongly-held opinions and are willing to contradict popular narratives. So they also don’t mind arguing with other traditional Catholics. But that arguing cannot denigrate into pointless fights that take us away from our common objective: the restoration of the TLM and Tradition in the Catholic Church. We must be more willing to join forces, rather than treat prudential/practical matters as reasons to separate. In a time when more and more Catholics are looking to tradition, we must…
Unite the Clans!