Matt C. Abbott
April 16, 2005
A 'Centrist' Pope?
By Matt C. Abbott

Conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt made a good observation in recent days. He said that "most of the American media is simply ignorant of the pope's critics on the right," namely those who reject the doctrinal developments and disciplinary reforms of the Second Vatican Council, particularly in regard to ecumenism, inter-religious dialogue and the vernacular Mass.

I agree.

The media often quotes Catholic liberals when covering events in the Church. Usually, it's done to show that some, or many, Catholics really don't agree with traditional Church teachings on abortion, contraception, euthanasia, homosexual activity and the male-only priesthood. The picture painted is one of dissent, of how the average Catholic in the pew believes the Church is "out of touch" with the rest of modern society. The Catholic left likes to assert that the "spirit of Vatican II" should always be followed, which, in their minds, means that freedom of (ill-formed) conscience always trumps Church doctrine, or, for that matter, the natural law. Also, the Catholic left believes the laity not the Magisterium, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit knows what's best for the Church.

But it's different for the pope's critics on the right. Hewitt mentioned the prime example of the Society of St. Pius X. Founded by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who was excommunicated in 1988 for consecrating four bishops without the required papal permission, the Society has a number of churches and chapels worldwide. Its adherents not only reject Vatican II and the so-called New Mass (they attend only the Traditional Latin Mass); they also ridiculed Pope John Paul II for reaching out to other religions something they regard as scandalous. This was perhaps most evident in 1986, when, upon learning of the pope's announced peace conference at which representatives of other religions would participate, Lefebvre asserted that the pope was an instrument of a Masonic mafia and that the "conciliar church is no longer Catholic."

Also of note is what Catholic journalist Thomas W. Case wrote about in a 1992 expose on the Society in the (now-defunct) Catholic magazine called Fidelity. One of the four bishops whom Lefebvre consecrated, Richard Williamson, made a speech in Sherbrooke, Quebec in 1989 saying, "There was not one Jew killed in the gas chambers. It was all lies, lies, lies. The Jews created the Holocaust so we would prostrate ourselves on our knees before them and approve of their new state of Israel.... Jews made up the Holocaust, Protestants get their orders from the devil, and the Vatican has sold its soul to liberalism."

To my knowledge, the Society has never publicly disavowed Williamson's statements. And my guess is that not a few die-hard Society adherents would want Williamson to do so, though I suppose could be wrong about that. In fact, I hope I am. (Though I seem to recall one fellow ranting about how John Paul II committed a mortal sin by visiting the synagogue.)

There are Catholic splinter groups that are even farther to the right than the Society. They are known as sedevacantists, a Latin term for those who believe the Chair of St. Peter has been vacant not just for the past several days, but for the past few decades. Basically, the sedevacantists assert that Vatican II contradicted Catholic Tradition and thus promulgated heresy. So, according to them, Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II have been imposter popes antipopes as a true pope would not promulgate heresy. (It's not entirely clear what they believe about John Paul I, who died only after about a month of being elected pope. Some believe he was actually killed by Masons inside the Vatican.) And I sincerely doubt they will recognize the next pope, primarily because he will be elected by cardinals whom, to sedevacantists, aren't really cardinals. Some sedevacantists have even elected their own "popes," at least two of which currently reside in the U.S. Granted, each seemingly has far fewer followers than, say, a Jim Jones or David Koresh. But they're out there.

Do these Catholic splinter groups on the right outnumber those on the left, who desire to see women priests (or perhaps no priesthood whatsoever), the allowance of contraception, abortion, homosexual activity and a more democratic church? Probably not, although I submit the numbers are closer than what some may think.

One thing is all but certain: John Paul the Great's successor will be another "centrist." By that I mean it is highly unlikely he will repudiate Vatican II, which is what Catholics on the right would love to see occur. Nor can he simply change the traditional teachings of the Church on abortion, contraception, homosexual activity, euthanasia and the male-only priesthood changes Catholics on the left would love to see occur. Thus, whoever the next pope will be, he will still have to contend with opposition from the left and from the right. All the while I will still be labeled "right-wing" (or worse) by the former and a "modernist" (or worse) by the latter.

© Matt C. Abbott


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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He's been interviewed on MSNBC, NPR, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) in Madison, Wis., and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at

(Note: I welcome thoughtful feedback from readers. If you want our correspondence to remain confidential, please specify as such in your initial email to me. However, I reserve the right to forward and/or publish emails – complete with email addresses – that are accusatory, insulting or threatening in nature, even if those emails are marked confidential. Also, please be aware that RenewAmerica is not my website; RA's president and editor is Stephen Stone, who can be reached here. I'm just one of RA's columnists, for which I'm very grateful. I don't speak for the other RA columnists, so please don't email me to complain about what someone else has written. Thank you and God bless!)


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