Further Thoughts on ‘Prodigal Trads’

In a couple of months, the good people at Regnery will bring out my first book, The Reactionary Mind.  It contains (in my humble opinion) rather a stirring defense of the Spanish Inquisition, Savonarola’s “bonfire of the vanities,” and Cardinal Bellarmine’s prosecution of Galileo. 

A few months ago, I was criticized by the E.U.’s “Commissioner for Cohesion” for casting the Portuguese strongman António de Oliveira Salazar in a too-favorable light. 

Last year was the 100th anniversary of the Fourteenth Amendment. I marked the occasion by writing a column arguing that we should take away women’s right to vote.

I’ve been called a fascist, a theocrat, an anti-intellectual, a misogynist, and every manner of –phobe (Islamo, homo, trans, etc.).  That’s all nonsense, of course, though it’s predictable. 

The one thing I never expected to be called was a progressive. Yet that was the response by many fellow Latin-Massers to my latest article for The American Conservative

If you haven’t read it, basically my thesis was this:

(A) Most Catholics have not attended a Mass in the Extraordinary Form.  Their experience of the Latin Mass community comes via the internet. 
(B) Very Online traditionalists tend to be quite nasty, as Very Online people always do.  And, yes, that includes me.
(C) We, the Very Online trads, have therefore contributed to the marginalization of the Latin Mass community.

For the record, I’ve been saying this for years.  In March 2020, for instance, I wrote in Crisis Magazine: “The very worst thing we can do… is give the Deep Church fodder for their dossiers saying that conservative Catholics are spiteful, disloyal, and uncharitable.” Which isn’t me humble-bragging.  I’d much rather be wrong than right in times such as these.  But I’ve been mentally preparing for this scenario for a while now.

Anyway, my piece wound up causing a bit of a stir.  I earned rebukes from trad heavyweights like Taylor Marshall, Rorate Caeli, and Joseph Shaw.  Another trad blogger, Stuart Chessman, asked: “Is Michael Warren Davis seeking employment with Bishop Barron’s organization?”

You might be surprised how often I get comments like that.  (Then again, you might not be.) A few months ago, after publishing an article critical of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, I received an email from the editor of a well-known traditionalist publication.  He’d meant to send it to the Archbishop himself, but apparently punched in my address by mistake.  In his email (which was addressed “Your Excellency…”) this colleague accused me of being a Vatican spy, working to undermine the traditionalist movement from within.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Really, just let it sink in.  I think it’s fair to say that I’m one of the most right-wing individuals contributing to “mainstream” conservative publications.  Unlike the gentlemen at Rorate Caeli or the legions of Twitter trolls, I’ve written everything under my own name.  Bishop Barron wouldn’t touch me with a ten-foot pole.  And the Vatican? I couldn’t get a job mopping floors at St. Peter’s.

This isn’t a woe-is-me sort of thing.  It’s just a fact.  While obviously I hope to change people’s minds with the things I write, I don’t care what folks think about me personally.  And I take responsibility for everything I’ve written.

So, as I hope most objective onlookers would see, the idea that I’m somehow working to undermine the Catholic Right from within is ludicrous. 

Now, disagree with me all you like.  Be my guest. But if you’re going to dismiss me (of all people!) as a Modernist for saying we’re too hostile to Pope Francis—the Holy Father, the Vicar of Christ, the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church—you’re not going to listen to anyone.

I’m not looking for pity.  I’m not even looking for support.  I’m only hoping my fellow Latin-Massers to ask themselves this question: Do you really think there’s nothing to what Pope Francis said about the “ideologization” of the Latin Mass?  Nothing at all? 

Do you think there’s nothing to what I said—that, for certain Very Online trads, hating Francis is as integral to their “traditionalism” as loving the Latin Mass?

If they can’t have a good-faith disagreement with me, do you think they’re capable of having a good-faith disagreement with anyone?

And, so, is my thesis so insane? Is the idea that some trads contribute to our own marginalization really that bonkers? Not all trads, mind you! Not even most trads. But the Very Online trads.

Of course, you can say that all Very Online people are nasty. I agree, and said so myself in the offending article. You can say that the Extraordinary Form oughtn’t to be a reward for good behavior. Again, I agree.

But life isn’t fair, folks. The reality is that Francis holds all the cards. That’s how the Catholic Church works. It’s not a democracy: it’s an absolute monarchy. We can stamp our feet and cry, “It’s not fair!” until we’re blue in the face, but it won’t do us a lick of good.

The only thing I care about is preserving the Church’s traditions for our posterity. And if that means being a little kinder to Papa Frank, I’ll be a little kinder to Papa Frank.

I can see why some folks might disagree. But I can’t for the life of me see how that makes me a Modernist.

Let me state for the record that I respect those “influencers” who criticized my article.  I follow and admire Drs. Marshall and Shaw.  I read Rorate Caeli regularly.  I appreciate the work that Mr. Chessman’s Society of St. Hugh Victor is doing to strengthen the Latin Mass community here in New England. 

As a rule, I try to criticize ideas, attitudes, etc.—not individuals. If someone loves God and Holy Church, I figure we’re on the same team, even if we can’t agree which play to run. So, I don’t have any beef with these gentlemen.  I just think they’re wrong on this issue.

If that’s enough to disqualify me as a trad, very well!  As I said in my article, I don’t call myself a traditionalist anyway.  “Catholic” suits me just fine—as it did Sts. Peter and Paul, Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Augustine of Hippo, Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas, Edmund Campion, John Henry Newman, and all the great saints of history.  (I think Cardinal Newman sometimes called himself a conservative.  Correct me if I’m wrong.)

Please, dear reader, just bear all of this in mind as you peruse the tradosphere.  And keep an eye out for comments like those addressed to my article—comments like this one:

And this one:

And this one:

Victim. Violence. Gaslighting.

This weak, worldly language suits the Left just fine, but it’s unworthy of Christians.  Think of St. Lawrence who, as the Romans roasted him on a giant grill, laughed and said: “Turn me over.  This side’s done.”  Think of St. Thomas More, who tripped on his way to the gallows and, when the hangman helped him to his feet, joked: “See me safe up.  In my coming down, I can shift for myself.”

We’re a Church of joyful martyrs, not whiny victims.  And when we encounter some trial, we sing with Fr. Faber,

Our fathers, chained in prisons dark,
Were still in heart and conscience free;
And blest would be their children’s fate,
If they, like them, should die for thee:
Faith of our fathers! holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death!

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