A Late-Night Counsel to the Bold and the Beautiful

In the past 24 hours a previous post here, Vale Vatican II from last September, has received some attention on two very worthwhile, tradition-minded websites: Liturgy Guy and 1 Peter 5. I am grateful and gratified because these are sites which hold clear views directly expressed but season them with intelligent commentary and coherent argument.

As so often on a wide range of websites, religious or otherwise, the comments’ section—the combox for short—reveals a less attractive side to debate and argument. No doubt most of these commenters are decent people of faith, capable of high emotion in defence of the Church and its faith and worship, and brave enough to stand up and be counted for it. However, some of them, invariably laity, while so bold and beautiful in the profession of their faith, sometimes fall into the trap that the internet lays for us: indiscretion.

So to those who perhaps express their opinions with more heat than light, and to those who are merely unable to comprehend the perseverance of those who remain in the heart of the mainstream Church, for want of a better expression, I dare to offer a word of counsel. The counsel comes from one who does not look down on them but stands among them—having been indiscreet in the expression of my arguments once or twice I am loath to cast stones. Instead I cast some context.

Converts and the young are privileged to have entered into the full run of the Church’s life in a period of fruitfulness after the rugged and demanding pontificate of St John Paul II and during the consolidation of common sense under Benedict XVI. Older, cradle-Catholics grew up enduring, and some even enjoying, the conciliar and immediately post-conciliar Church. In many ways the 80s were worse than the 70s. These were days when seminaries were regularly purged of the orthodox, liturgies “pastorally” and creatively re-fashioned to suit the taste of the loudest, and when catechesis was comatose. There is a generation of Catholics who grew up knowing almost nothing other than vernacular, often ad hoc, liturgy and the emotive mush of the muzak of the St Louis Jesuits.

I am one of this generation. After years of experience and education—programming, if you want—it takes even longer to undo the damage, for it is not merely a matter of the intellect but of the heart. We are formed by more than ideas, but also the influence of friends, family and authority figures. What they told us was good and right, so often repeated and so rarely contradicted in public, strikes deep roots especially in the young and those who are disposed to respect the magisterium of those who hold our trust. Even when we found our minds and hearts troubled by the cracks we began to notice in their arguments, and sometimes even the counter-witness of their behaviour, we had not the tools nor the encouragement to search out other points of view. This was the before the internet age, without the oceans of free information and many forums for free speech and unrestricted listening. There was no support group for those who began to doubt and knew not quite what to do.

It is an easy thing to preach to the converted, but it is the unconverted we need to reach. Most clergy know this need, and this knowledge as well as their office constrains them to a certain temperance and charity of expression. Yet charity is the duty of us all. More than a mere duty, it is the indispensable tool for evangelization. Name-calling and vitriol win no converts, only gratify zealots. Some of us live among those with whom we disagree and who disagree with us. For us the law of charity is the one thing necessary for maintaining community life.

If we view those who do not agree with us with contempt, or even hatred, we will never win them. If we love them, even if only because Christ has commanded us to, then we will treat them with charity. Remember that they may well have been formed at a time when only the voice of post-conciliar excess was audible, its propaganda omnipresent and ceaseless. Years and years of that require a lot of undoing. And those who are older spent their youth in the bright glow of pre-conciliar optimism, that the Council would mark a wonderful moment of grace in the Church. Read Louis Bouyer’s memoirs to see how hard it was for a Council peritus to come to grips with the reality of the Council’s reforms as they were implemented. He had the advantage of greater first-hand knowledge and monumental learning; how hard indeed must it be for the more humbly gifted to unhitch their wagon from the conciliar train. Look also, if you will, at a certain Joseph Ratzinger. Even a man of his towering intellect and theological common sense needed time to break free from the web cast by the zealous conciliarists.

We must not bludgeon those who cannot see what we see; we must gently guide to them the truth we see, and win them over not only by clarity of argument but also by force of charity. Truth without charity becomes ideology in the eye of those looking on from outside. We have had enough of ideology, surely.

Let’s try to do as this guy did.

I honour these counsels more in the breach than the observance myself but it makes them no less true. If Our Lord can see sinners as sick people in need of a doctor, then surely we can those of our fellow Catholics who cannot see what we see as the unseeing in need of enlightening not stoning.

Not all are victims of course, and some are most definitely contumacious in their errors and actions. To pour vitriol upon them will only given them reason to stop listening. Argue the point not the person.

Time for bed, and a prayer to be able to practise what I preach. Let’s pray for each other.


Join the Conversation

  1. Your original article was wonderfully stated Dom Hugh. With reason and charity you tackled a very difficult (and delicate) topic. I was glad to read your original piece and to introduce it to my readers at Liturgy Guy. I also thank you for this follow up post. Reading it I am reminded of the Lesson from a few weeks back (the Third Sunday After the Epiphany) when St. Paul counsels the Romans, “Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” -Romans 12:21. Indeed, that is the only course for both temporal & eternal victory.

    1. Salve! You picked a good bit of St Paul to recall. You will remember that for the first monks the passions were the field of spiritual combat, anger most of all. Righteous anger can so easily become the devil’s tool, his Trojan horse in our weakly fortified cities. Alas I usually remember this after the other horse has bolted! Pax et bonum.

  2. Fr Hugh, thank-you for your insights and for having the courage to defend the true faith. If I may I would like to invite you and your readers to read this excellent and eye opening article:


    which explains what really happened at the Vatican II Council. Essentially there was a coup d’ etat at the Council, by a rebellious faction, known as the “Rhine group,” who resorted to boorish methods to force-install a number of their own members onto the drafting commissions, so that overnight nearly sixty percent of the commissions were now chaired by “suspect theologians” that previously had been restricted under Pius XII. Their control of the commissions would continue to strengthen, thus paving the way for the various documents of Vatican II that we know today.

    However, the true documents of Vatican II were the 72 schemata which John XXIII had approved before the Council. The 72 schemas were held in high esteem by the true thinkers of the Faith including Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who had been appointed to the Central Preparatory Committee to check the documents for doctrinal purity before presentation at the Council. According to Lefebvre, the schemas were worthy and orthodox, and should have been used, but to his great dismay the Council, under the direction of these conciliar pirates, rejected John XXIII’s outline…..Pope John, seeing what had happened, finally cried out in June 1963 to “Stop the Council,” but it was too late. The enemies of the Faith had captured the key positions of the Council, thus enabling them to draft perfidious documents for the misguiding of the Church, i.e. the 16 documents of Vatican II.

    You can read the rest of article at the link provided above.
    Another must read article totally relevant to this matter is the “Ottaviani Intervention” which can be read at this link:


    It’s worth doing a bit of research to find out what has really happened in our Holy Catholic Church

    1. Thank you Ignacio for your links. As it is, I have done a lot of reading about the Council and the dynamics that prevailed there. In fact they were identified immediately after the Council in a popular mainstream book written by a middle-of-the-road priest who worked in the media office. He was writing without any polemic other than the general and common excitement in the wake of the Council Fr Wiltgen’s The Rhine Flows into the Tiber identified publicly the Rhine Group and their efficient organisation and strategising. Very few at the time, perhaps even the author himself, realised the significance of what he revealed. That book is required reading for any student of the Council.

  3. Dom Hugh, Thank you so much for this beautiful article. I actually just read your piece on Vatican II yesterday after being directed there by OnePeterFive. I am at this very moment in the midst of a letter to our priest who most definitely falls into the “contumacious” category and am in continual prayer as to remaining in the will of Our Lord in everything I say. Your article is a powerful and timely reminder to remain in charity as much as is possible. God bless you and I remembered you in my prayers this morning along with all the other faithful. You give me hope.

    1. Thank you for your prayers—I need them! As far as you can, be patient in dealing with your priest. He may well have the best of intentions, but overlaid with years of malformation. Preach by your example. Pax!

  4. The internet and its (often false) sense of anonymity certainly does not bring the best of behaviour to the fore. However, the article is one-sided council, unlike the gospel. The Lord certainly admonishes us many times to forgive, to not extinguish weak faith, to respond with love to enmity, etc. But he also has many choice words to say concerning lukewarm and false faith, and slams in particular the “higher ups” of faith (both lay and ordained) in terms that undoubtedly were seriously insulting at the time. He even resorts to physical violence and destruction of property to clean out the temple. The real question is, as always, one of discernment: when to do what? And it seems to me that if we are unsure, then we should follow the basic features of Christ’s quite relentless attacks on the “system” back then – namely, our wrath be reserved first and foremost for those who style themselves “superior” in a seriously misguided faith, and for those who are officially “in charge” of the true faith but preach it falsely, or do not follow themselves what they preach.

    I think one of the reasons why internet discussions turn so nasty is that actual face-to-face conflict is generally avoided by all sides. When they finally feel that they can voice their suppressed concerns, under the cover of some internet persona, people let loose. A while ago, one of the leaders of the catechist programme my son is in, during a parents’ meeting, assured a lady worried about her salvation that “the Church guarantees that she will go to heaven”. I bit my tongue, and that was largely due to the social pressure of “not making a scene”. But I did not give witness to the faith there (to say the least), and I would have never let this one slip by in written form on an internet forum. And I’m sure that my tone now would be sharper due to my prior failure to speak up. I think it is like that for many people…

    1. Previous silence is not atoned for by aggressive volume, just as one excess is not balanced by another. Moderation of tone is not lukewarmness, as Our Lord proved time and time again in the gospels. Anyone who reads this blog will know it does not advocate silence in the face of error; but it is no good shouting for it persuades no one. Maybe some are called to be “hammers of heretics” but we must all beware appointing ourselves to that position.

      1. I do not see a general “moderation of tone” in the gospels. At all. I see a lot of *variation* of tone, depending on context and the people involved. But Jesus Christ is calling a spade a spade – or even a shitty digging implement – way too often to please polite English company.

        There is a real problem with this ideal of the soft-spoken, well-behaved, highly intelligent, knowledgable defenders of the faith. And that’s simply their lack of existence… The Lord made do with a decidedly suboptimal crew. Perhaps we can, too?

  5. Thank you for this article. I needed this since I was losing hope a bit.

    I grew up in the “post-conciliar Church”. I did have the privilege of having two practising Catholic parents. My mother told me about our Catholic traditions, and my parents took me to Church every Sunday. However beneficial this formation and education was, it was seriously lacking. My parents were not well grounded in the faith, they didn’t/don’t many essential things. No one was there who would teach us about the faith. I grew up among and was educated by liberal people. Hippie priests with their ugly thick albs and ugly broad stoles, would comment on the daily political proceedings, but they would not speak of our faith.

    When I was a teenager, our pastor left our parish, and went to another, bigger parish. We were left without a priest, then some different priests came to our parish, always leaving after some months. One priest who stayed a bit longer would play games during homily (he went down into the nave where he would perform dances, and play party games). I was quite indifferent to that, but I became indifferent to the faith as well. Only when I started my studies in theology back then, I heard a lady professor who would tell us the craziest heretical ideas, that I just had to do research on my own. My whole world had come to an end. I did not know much of my faith, but something inside me told me that what this lady said was pure nonsense.

    Reclaiming my Catholic identity (or even working to have one) was extremely difficult for me. At some point I came to the conclusion that, if what this lady told us was true, the Church had fallen inti heresy, and that I no longer could be a member of her. I thought about going to SSPX parishes, because their website supported ideas which I was very fond of and thought to be true. The conflict within me was pretty strong, but eventually I read some of the Saints, the Church Fathers, the Church Doctors (especially S Roberto Bellarmino), and I read the actual documents of Vatican II. What I found there was joy and faith.

    However, when talking about the confusion within the Church, some people, especially on traditional-minded websites, tend to think of themselves as defensores fidei. This self-righteous preaching, and simultaneously spewing of hatred towards anyone and anything that is not favorable to their opinion, is really off-putting. When I read malicious attacks on our Holy Father (not well-grounded criticism, but calling him very obscene names or wishing for his death), I feel disgusted, and I question whether the modernist heretics are that much worse than those self-proclaimed Popes (I call them Popes because they intend to fulfill the Magisterium themselves).

    I always wonder where the charity is. Exemplary in regard to homosexual people. It is good to have faithful people hold up the faith and the teaching about homosexuality. But calling homosexual people really bad names, does not show a lot of charity – and also not the respect the Church calls for when dealing with said people. How will anyone be converted if fury, anger, and hatred is all we show them?

    1. I just remembered someone who I used to know. Whenever we would talk, he was angry and filled with hate. Although he was not educated in theology (and knew next to nothing about it), he was very dismissive of those “dirty heretics which we should burn at the stake” along with Muslims, political Liberals, and witches. I thought it was so sad to see how a person could be so toxic. On the other hand, he was also a self-proclaimed Saint. The most pious Catholic you could possibly imagine. Lone Defender of the Faith. Also a very active homosexual and rapist. But still a Saint, and surely one day Pope (if it were for him).

      1. I’m afraid your friend is a very troubled man, and since his living gives the lie to his profession you would do well not to listen to him. However, since you said “used to know” I suspect that you do not have to hear him now anyway. But do still pray for him—something has gone wrong in him and he needs a hefty dose of the Holy Spirit before it is too late.

        In Christo.

    2. Thank you for what Protestants might call your testimony. Our experience intersects at many points in our growing up in the faith, or what shreds of it were passed on to us. It must be said that my Jesuit school did a good job on the whole, and I was there before any real silliness set in. While I cast no stones at the SSPX, and indeed those I have met in the flesh have been unfailingly kind to me, I do not think that their path is one that could be trod unless in the most extreme of situations. That said, I expect the majority of them to be reconciled before I die (as long as I do not die too young!)

      Sometimes I wonder if we need to frame the mission of the Church at present in terms of making truth attractive again: the splendour of truth and the beauty of holiness. Please do your bit in that, as I feel sure you are.

      In the meantime read good solid charitable works to nurture your spirit and if you have found a place offering congenial, authentic Catholic worship then make a happy home there.


      1. Thank you very much for your reply, dear Dom Hugh!

        I went to a public school with RE classes. However, our teacher was a modernist, always quoting Hans Küng. He caused confusion in me, but fortunately, those days are gone. Getting a “liberal education” while growing up has inevitably left its marks on me. And I am kind of thankful for that. I can understand how liberals think, or why they would deny the Christian truth, or why they would follow a certain theological school. In my teenage years, I used to parrot everything my teacher told me. It made sense to me, although I did not fully understand it. When I was confronted with the true faith, those prejudices faded away. My childhood and youth, as I like to imagine, help me to be more balanced. To not become an erratic Traditionalist à la SSPX, but also to be careful with modern ideas, since modernists did have me fooled more than once already.

        With all my heart I hope that the SSPX will be reconciled with the Church. I do not think their way is an acceptable one, but they have my deepest sympathies. It would be a great blessing for all of us if they would come home.

        I am convinced that unless we take our liturgy serious again, we won’t succeed in the conversion of hearts. The liturgy is our most visible form of our faith. And when we make it to be a cozy brunch with some socio-political commentary, no one is going to stay. People have better options for that. They don’t need a “Church” and a “set system of beliefs” for that. But when we show them that we actually practice what we believe, and that “Christ is our King” is not just some motivational phrase, but becomes visible in how we treat the Most August Sacrament of the Altar, and along with that how we celebrate the Sacrifice of the New Covenant, then people will be convinced that this is reality, not just some kind of solemn theater or entertainment show.

        Thank you for your advice, I will take that to my heart!


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