Rome’s New Secret Weapon

Rome’s New Secret Weapon

(Steering a course between Scylla and Charybdis)


Sean Johnson




More and more, SSPXers are found lamenting the “missed opportunity” 2012 represented for a practical accord with modernist Rome.  Like a young man reminiscing about his childhood sweetheart, and wondering what might have been, these sentimental “traditionalists” still feel the pangs of heart for having come so close to “normalcy” with Benedict XVI.  And now under Francis the Destroyer, they remember Benedict all the more fondly, almost as another Pius IX or St. Pius X it sometimes seems:

In their memories, he becomes more and more traditional with the passage of time.  For such as these, he represents missed opportunity, and “the one that got away.”

But was it really ever true? 

Was the Pope of Summorum Pontificum, and the lifting of the “excommunications” really a friend of Tradition?  Were his gestures towards the SSPX really motivated by goodwill, a desire to promote Tradition, and use the SSPX as the vanguard in a counterattack against modernism?  Did Archbishop Lefebvre -who had worked with and known Cardinal Ratzinger for 20+ years- have him all wrong?

Or, was Benedict XVI simply a more cunning, less overt modernist; one who knew how to entice his enemies with offers and promises; one who knew all traditionalists who entered modernist Rome would soon enough show signs of infection, and on this basis only, evince a general willingness to “be practical” and try to “work something out” with the more pliable offspring of his great enemy?

To aid in coming to a decision, perhaps taking a look at one of Benedict XVI’s legislative activities (which for several years seems to have flown under the radar, without raising alarm bells as it ought to have), may offer some insight on the matter:

The 2009 expedited and simplified process for the laicization of priests. 


The Letter:

In April/2009, Benedict XVI delivered to Cardinal Hummes (then Prefect for the Congregation of Clergy in Rome) a letter which gave him powers to expedite the process of priestly laicization in certain instances.  Among other provisions, this CNS article noted that until this time, there was really no way for a diocesan bishop (or religious superior) to initiate action to laicize priests who had abandoned their public ministry.  The rationale was simple: If priests left the priesthood in favor of marriage, even raising families, the scandal to the faithful could be immense, and these priestly defectors needed to be reduced to the lay state as soon as possible.  But there was no provision in the 1983 CIC for doing so.

The new legislation specifically considers the laicization of priests who abandon their public ministry for “a period of more than five consecutive years.”

Of course, the letter flew under the radar, because most of the world was unaware of the legislation, and many of those who became aware of it simply considered that the priests in question were all moral degenerates anyway, so good riddance.

And of course, in many instances, this off the cuff reaction was perfectly correct.

Still others perceived this legislation as a sign of greater accountability by the Catholic Church in the wake of the sex abuse scandal (without ever noticing, apparently, that the overwhelming majority of sex abuse is not perpetrated by priests who have abandoned their ministry, but by those still exercising it).

Ostensibly then, the legislation had a benign, even charitable purpose.


The Problem:

What the whole traditional Catholic world seemed to miss, however, was that according to the new legislation, any priest who converted from conciliarism to traditional Catholicism, and desired to join a traditional community (e.g., SSPX) now faced eventual and inevitable laicization from his diocesan bishop, since in every instance (barring death), all such priests would eventually be considered to have abandoned their public ministry for “a period of more than five consecutive years,” thereby triggering the application of the censure.


Consequently, since 2009, a double-edged sword has dangled precariously over the head of any priest considering converting to Tradition: If he leaves, he will eventually become subject to laicization after 5 years in Tradition.  More than this, the unthinking public will naturally presume the laicization to have been for grave moral crimes (sex abuse, etc), rather than a conversion to Tradition.

Conversely, real and true degenerates can make the opposite argument: They are falsely accused of grave moral misdemeanors as persecution for their conversion to Tradition!

But now the plot thickens:

Consider what happens once the SSPX is regularized by modernist Rome: 

How can an SSPX priest ever leave the “regularized” SSPX for the Resistance, without himself becoming subject to the same threat of laicization?  After 5 years outside the conciliar SSPX, he too will stand in danger of laicization…even if he is as holy as the Cure d’Ars!  Conversely, it is equally conceivable that degenerate priests will leave for the Resistance under the pretext of conversion, when in fact they were degraded for cause.



As a chess player, I always admire a well-played move, even when it comes from the hand of an adversary:  In 2009, nobody thought this legislation had any implications for the SSPX or Resistance, and for that reason, it passed largely without comment in the traditional Catholic media.

Hat tip to Benedict XVI.

He has now placed the Resistance bishops in the position of having to be exceedingly diligent in investigating the backgrounds of any priests coming to Tradition: A laicization may no longer necessarily be a fail safe sign of moral degeneracy…though it could be!  And even if it can be ascertained that a particular priest was certainly degraded only for his conversion to Tradition, how should the faithful respond?

Is it OK for traditional Catholics to frequent the ministry of unjustly laicized priests?  Can the  answer be divined from observing Rome’s will to require a laicized priest (even  a degenerate one) to come to the aid of those in danger of death or extreme physical necessity (recalling that spiritual death and necessity are analogous to physical death) in both the 1917 and 1983 Codes?  And if so, how many will lack the doctrine to be at peace with such a decision?

We leave that issue alone for the moment.

What should be retained is that Benedict XVI has played a masterstroke in orchestrating this situation: He has effectively checkmated both conciliar defections to Tradition, and SSPX defections to the Resistance (and placed in doubt -rightly or wrongly- the moral caliber of any that should make it out).

A deft move, but hardly the benevolent act of a friend.

May God grant our Resistance bishops the skill and diligence to navigate between Scylla and Charbydis when investigating those priests who eventually come knocking, precluding the degenerates, and admitting the saints.

Much hangs in the balance for the Resistance in rendering correct decisions.