Regarding the Letter “Striking Contrast” (Part II):
Response to an Anonymous Defender of Fr. Laisney
by Sean Johnson
A few days after my rebuttal to Fr. Laisney’s letter “Striking Contrast” appeared on my original blog platform (Athanasius Contra Mundum), my stalker of 2 years made his first appearance attempting to run anonymous damage control in favor of the SSPX.
Known variously as “Gregory,” “Patric,” Henry4,” “St. Gertrude,” et al, this response of his is contained below, followed by my response.
Readers who would like to read Parts I & II in proper sequence should read the previous blog post first. I apologize for the inconvenience.
The Anonymous Response:
Seán Johnson’s seven page rebuttal against Rev. Fr. Laisney’s one page analysis, is seven long pages of “missing the point”.
The canonical is a reflection of the theological. And while the theological governs the canonical, in essence, the two are one and the same (a marriage). Mr. Johnson makes the mistake – which negates his whole line of reasoning – of insisting on a distinction being made between them.
To make this point clearer let us take a look at Archbishop Lefebrve’s approach in contrast to Bishop Williamson’s approach:
Archbishop Lefebrve: Canon Law “A” is followed until he is forced, by grave necessity, to draw upon Canon Law “B”. Result: Canon Law respected at all times in both spirit and action.
Bishop Williamson: Canon Law “A” is not followed, never-the-less, he draws upon Canon Law “B” even though grave necessity can only exist if Canon Law “A” had been followed first.
Result: Canon Law is not respected, both in spirit and action.
This is the difference that Fr. Laisney is drawing to our attention.
In defence, Mr. Johnson argues that it is “pointless” for Bishop Williamson to follow Canon Law procedure because it is obvious that a grave necessity exists. Fr. Laisney, in contrast, argues that regardless of our subjective feelings on the matter, legally there is no grave necessity until the fact has been canonically tested.
Remember, to pick and choose bits of Canon Law while ignoring their relationship with each other, is to dismiss Canon Law altogether. Therefore, Fr. Laisney’s assessment, that Bishop Williamson’s respect for Canon Law is “nowhere to be seen”, is a fair and correct one in this case.
Furthermore, Fr. Laisney is merely pointing out that you cannot act on what “may” happen. In justice, you can only act upon what “has” happened and it must be an established fact in accordance to Canon Law; not an individual’s opinion or fear.
But we are in a time of crisis; you ask the impossible, maintains Mr. Johnson.
If it is now impossible to begin a priestly union within the structures of Canon Law, then perhaps one should accept that it is not God’s will. It is very clear to all of us, that God provided Archbishop Lefrbvre with manoeuvring room within Canon Law and blessed his work as proof. In contrast, if His Lordship Bishop Williamson has to dispense with following any Church Law in order to consecrate and start a priestly union, then a red flag is waving…
With regards to Bishop Fellay, Bishop de Galerretta and Bishop Tissier de Maleris: all three are members of Archbishop Lefebrvre’s priestly Society and therefore a canonical continuation of what he instituted. The consecration of Bishop Rangel in 1991 was also a continuation of this same “operation Survival”.
Bishop Williamson, on the other hand, is now working outside of this canonical continuation. And although he admits himself he has no mandate and no authority to do so, it hasn’t stopped him from acting as if he has. There lies Fr. Laisney’s concern.
“But it’s a question of the faith!” echo’s Mr. Johnson’s one last cry.
Be careful. That’s what Luther said too. God does not work outside His own law.
This is what Sean John doesn’t get. He’s passing comments on a subject on which he is entirely ignorant.
Simply put it is only an act of necessity once everything else has been tries and failed. Bp. Williamson hasn’t even tried. He uses ‘salvation of souls’ to dispsense himself for all other law; its a trump card he rolls out on a whim.
He gets to decide which laws to follow and which to ignore. He is his own pope. He is schismatic.
The same poster subsequently adds this:
“I think fairness would have been to leave the rebuttal rather than delete it. You could apace always have moved it later. A word of advice. If you have to write seven pages in an attempt to rebut Fr. Laisney this, in itself, shows you have no argument. The fact you couldn’t provide a couple of sentences or bullet points in response – like Fr, Laisney or the one posted by me, amply demonstrates you you clueless in what you write. If you can’t respond in a couple of succinct sentences or shoot it down with a few bullet points, but need 2-3 pages of waffle, you simply have no response.”
We have, therefore, a series of 12 bare assertions in the space of a single page. I cannot call them arguments, as that term supposes some sort of rationale offered in support of the assertion being made. But let me respond to each, that I not be accused of evading them:
The first and last comments of the anonymous poster assert that, since the length of my response exceeds the length of the original letter, it indicates that I “have no argument.” The idea implicit in this assertion is that length has been supplied as a cover and substitute for want of substance.
In making this assertion, the anonymous poster shows he is no logician, since the conclusion simply does not follow, and is easily refuted. If an author makes a series of errors in the space of a single page (as both Fr. Laisney and his apologist here do), it will obviously require more effort to unwind and expose the errors, that it took to simply state them. For example, if I make the statement, “There is no God, there is no soul, and original sin does not exist,” could you refute those three errors in less than the 14 words it took me to make them? Obviously not. So much for the assertion that the length of the rebuttal demonstrates my “errors.”
The second incredible assertion contends that there is no distinction between theological and canonical causes excusing from obedience to superiors in a state of necessity. This manifestly false assertion arises from my response to Fr. Laisney’s Letter, in which I disproved the latter’s assertion that Archbishop Lefebvre never thought theology could dispense one from obedience to Canon Law (i.e., that theological considerations like the doctrine of necessity could dispense one from the strictures of the law).
Were this true, that there were really no distinction to be made between theological and canonical causes excusing from obedience to superiors, and that there was no difference between canon law and theology, then the anonymous poster will be at pains to explain why the SSPX itself authored not only a 2-part theological study justifying the 1988 episcopal consecrations, but also a 5-part canonical study of the same. If there is no distinction, why the two studies (which make remarkably different arguments)? The truth of the matter is that moral theology is one of the sources of the Canon Law, but remains quite distinct from it.
Having eliminated the distinction between theology (i.e., the doctrine of necessity) and canon law, the anonymous poster then goes on to claim that, unlike Archbishop Lefebvre (who, it is claimed, went from canon to canon is seeking justification for his episcopal consecrations), Bishop Williamson “skipped steps” and unjustifiably went right to “canon law B.”
In making this assertion, the writer demonstrates that delusion is the consequence of his having previously eliminated the distinction between the theological and canonical justifications for the 1988 and 2015 episcopal consecrations: He pretends that Bishop Williamson has relied upon a canonical justification (i.e., “canon law B”). The reality is that Bishop Williamson has made no attempt whatsoever at canonical justification, but rather, as was the case with Archbishop Lefebvre, has relied entirely upon the higher principles of theology (i.e., the doctrine of necessity) to justify his consecration of Bishop Faure. Nowhere will the anonymous poster be able to discover a canonical defense being offered by Bishop Williamson, which proves the point.
With Fr. Laisney, the anonymous poster then attempts to “emotionalize and subjectivize” Bishop Williamson’s perceptions of the existence of a state of grave general spiritual necessity (i.e., as though necessity was just in Bishop Williamson’s imagination), so as to pre-empt recourse to episcopal consecrations to supply for the need of the faithful trapped therein. He is wrong to do so. The criteria for determining the presence of grave general spiritual necessity are objectively verifiable:
Grave general spiritual necessity exists whenever:
A) Several souls
B) Find themselves threatened in spiritual goods
C) Of great importance (e.g., faith or morals)
D) And are without hope of help
E) From their lawful pastors
With the SSPX (in the same article), I would ask the anonymous poster, who can deny that today a state of grave general spiritual necessity exists? Him, apparently! But along these lines, it is interesting to note the parallels between Rome and the accordists, who seem to take the strategy of denying the existence of a state of necessity as a statement of fact, rather than contesting it at the doctrinal level (except with this falacious distinction in Menzingen, that necessity can be relied upon by them, but nobody else; we will return to this theme based on a subsequent assertion by the anonymous poster later in my response).
The interlocutor then accuses me (in Paragraph 8) of “picking and choosing” between canons, which is tantamount to dismissing canon law altogether…therefore Fr. Laisney is correct to observe Bishop Williamson’s disrespect of canon law.
The only thing impressive about that assertion, is that the author manages to compress so many errors into just a couple sentences. First of all, my rebuttal to Fr. Laisney doesn’t include a single canonical argument (i.e., It relied entirely on proving the existence and justified application of the doctrine of necesity). Secondly, the author cannot accept that, since he has previously eliminated the distinction between theology and canon law (apparently without realizing that, were he correct in doing so, he would effectively make canon law irreformable, since canon law would be identifiable not merely with its doctrinal foundation, but with doctrine itself, in which there can be no change!). Thirdly, having demonstrated nothing, he concludes (despite my evidence to the contrary, in the rebuttal to Fr. Laisney) Bishop Williamson’s disrespect for canon law to be manifest, without, however, even addressing the evidence I have given in support of Bishop Williamson’s respect for canon law. Perhaps this is mere oversight, but it seems more likely to represent a spirit of partisanship and dishonesty.
Echoing Fr. Laisney’s Letter, the anonymous poster maintains that Bishop Williamson has “jumped the gun” in consecrating for fear of what “might” happen between Rome and Menzingen.
Let us pretend, for the sake of making a point, that in fact there really were no compromises already consumated (such as those listed in my rebuttal to Fr. Laisney), and that, as he and his apologist assert, all the apprehensions of danger truly existed only as possible future contingencies (a point I do not at all concede). Even in such case, Bishop Williamson would have been justified according to Catholic doctrine in providing for the needs of the faithful caught in necessity, for as the SSPX (and the Church) always taught:
“The common good must be considered in danger not only when 1) many effectively suffer harm, but also 2) when they are able to suffer it. In the first application to our case, people lose the faith; in the second, they are able to lose it if, in fact, only one objective cause exists which renders this damage possible.14 The spread of errors and heresies already condemned by the Church is sufficient for judging the danger to the common good. These expose the old generations to the loss of faith and deprive the new generations of the integral transmission of doctrine. Both old and young are robbed of the goods due to them by the hierarchy according to the norms of divine law, natural and positive…”
Is this clause applicable to the case of Menzingen? Has it really placed the common good of the faithful at risk, rendering this line of action defensible? Menzingen flatly admits in its response to the Letter of the Three Bishops that it recognizes the threat to the common good in pursuing its goal of a practical accord, and announces it is moving forward anyway:
“We have not refused a priori to consider, as you ask, the Pope’s offer. For the common good of the Society, we would prefer by far the current solution of an intermediary status quo, but clearly, Rome is not going to tolerate it any longer.”
What is this but an admission of an intention to proceed along a path in which the danger to the common good is practically certain, thereby meeting the standard of taking action to prevent harm to the common good?
Of course, all of this is neither here nor there: My rebuttal to Fr. Laisney listed 10 compromises already consumated, and the anonymous poster somehow manages to completely ignore all 10 of them. This is either a problem of honesty or solipsism. A more scholarly approach would have been to attempt to show why the examples of compromise I provided are really no compromise at all. In my opinion, that would have been practically impossible, but it would at least have been honest. Instead, the approach is to ignore them, and stick to the party line.
Then in paragraph 10, the anonymous poster evinces an incredible blind spot, contending that if the situation left Bishop Williamson no wiggle room to consecrate, it indicates that God has not willed he should proceed. What is lost on the author is that Archbishop Lefebvre did not rely upon canonical “wiggle room” in proceeding with the 1988 consecrations, but rather on the theological justification of necessity (and even in the face of the Pope’s “no”)! That the author can neither see nor admit this follows again from his previous elimination of the distinction between theology/doctrine and canon law. Until he readmits the validity of that distinction, as the SSPX and all sane theologians always have, he will be trapped in this blindness.
The author, sensing a weakness in Fr. Laisney’s Letter with regard to the example of the 1991 consecration of Bishop Licinio Rangel, contends that this manifests no disrespect of canon law, because it merely evinces a continuation of “Operation Survival.” And here lies the pretext Menzingen hopes will save them from the obvious hypocrisy of condemning an episcopal consecration based on exactly the same reason (i.e., the doctrine of necessity) adduced by Archbishop Lefebvre, namely, that only that resistance stemming from “Operation Survival,” and within the confines of the SSPX, is justifiable.
The error in such a line of argumentation is demonstrated by observing the historical cooperation of the SSPX with various independent clergy and religious having no organic connection to Operation Survival. On the contrary, Archbishop Lefebvre’s support of the work of priests such as Fr. Omler, Fr. Urban Snyder, Fr. Ringrose, etc is all very well known. Therefore, that Archbishop Lefebvre can be shown (both before and after 1988) to be supporting these clergy having no basis or relation proximate to Operation Survival demonstrates that he viewed their resistance as being justified by the doctrine of necessity, and not some fictitious organic connection to Operation Survival.
This being the case, two conclusions are unavoidable: Firstly, that Bishop Fellay is arrogating to himself a monopoly on “justifiable” resistance to Roman modernism to which he has no right, in stark contradiction to the example, pastoral practice, and historical evidence surrounding the life and positions of Archbishop Lefebvre. And secondly, that if it was the doctrine of necessity which legitimated the ministries of the various independent clergy and religious groups having no organic link to Operation Suicide, then the same most certainly applies to the case of Bishop Williamson. Any other conclusion is arbitrary and unjust.
The anonymous author next proceeds to levy the same accusation against Bishop Williamson that the Ecclesia Dei and modernists hurled at Archbishop Lefebvre: That Martin Luther also appealed to the faith to justify his actions. Unwittingly, the adversary, in attempting to distinguish between the two bishops, has ended up drawing out yet another parallel between the two, vindicating my claim made in the article “Is Menzingen Unifying the Resistance?,” in which I observed that all the continued inept attempts at contriving fictitious distinctions between the bishops only serve in the end to illustrate an incredible unity between the two. This present attempt is but one more example of this phenomena.
The author then proceeds to the ad hominem argument, claiming I am ignorant of the subject matter I am discussing. Quite an ironic statement, in light of all the foregoing! What can one do in the face of such a comment except chuckle? Normally, the one making such an allegation would at least attempt to establish his own competence or authority on the subject matter. Instead, this character chimes in anonymously, makes no attempt to establish his own credibility, makes a series of “drive-by” comments, and moves on. All I will say in response to this contention is that I have been writing publicly on these matters for the last 3.5 years, and in my own name for the last two years. I therefore leave it to the readers to form their own opinions of my competence (while observing, conversely, that the anonymous poster has failed to demonstrate his own).
Demonstrating this incompetence, the anonymous poster makes the fallacious claim that “necessity only exists once all other recourse has been exhausted.” What does necessity have to do with recourse? When necessity is present, the duties of clergy are engaged regardless of recourse to competent authority, and quite independent of it:
“St. Thomas Aquinas explains: In virtue of the power of order, any priest has power indifferently over all [men] and for all sins. The fact that he is not able to absolve all from all sins depends on the jurisdiction imposed by the ecclesiastical law. But since necessity is not subject to law [cf. Consilium de Observ. Ieiun., De Reg. Iur. (V Decretal.) c. 4], in case of necessity, he is not impeded by the discipline of the Church from being able to absolve even sacramentally provided that he has the power of order [Supplement, Q. 8, A. 6].”
“It is certain that God binds nobody in a state of necessity, but the human legislator “can say ‘no’ without reason and in violation of natural and eternal law”6 and therefore they can in fact forbid an action required by the state of necessity. But, since the pope’s “No” is powerless to do away with the grave general necessity of souls and hence the associated duty sub gravito go to their help, the subject, especially if he is a bishop or priest, then finds himself in the moral and absolute impossibility of obeying, because he could not obey without himself sinning and harming others. Hence, it is the character of the state of necessity “to create a sort of impotency whereby it is impossible to do something commanded or not do some- thing forbidden.”7”
“St. Thomas says that whoever acts in a state of necessity “is not setting himself up as a judge of law” or of the legislator, nor is he even claiming that his point of view is better than that of authority, but he is merely “judging the particular case in which he sees that the words of the law [and/or the command of the legislator – Ed.] must not be observed,” because their observance in this particular case would be gravely harmful. Hence, the state of necessity frees the subject from the accusation of arrogating to himself a power that does not belong to him (ST, I-II, Q.96, A.6, ad. 1,2). G. Gerson, for his part, reminds us that “contempt of the keys must be evaluated on the basis of legitimate power and the legitimate use of power.”14
Hence, a priest who does not obey the pope forbidding him to absolve in a state of necessity, or a bishop who does not obey the pope forbidding him to consecrate bishops required by the grave spiritual necessity of many souls threatened in their faith and morals and without hope of help from their lawful pastors, cannot be accused of “contempt of the keys.” This is so because the pope’s action against divine law (natural and positive) is not making “lawful use” of his authority.”
This is sufficient to demonstrate that, not only is the poster ignorant as to the constituent and objective elements which comprise grave general spiritual necessity per se (as was shown further above, against his claim that Bishop Williamson was subjectively imagining a non-existent state of necessity), but also that -per the study of the SSPX and teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, quoted immediately above- there is absolutely no duty to have recourse to the superior in case of necessity, because the duty (sub gravi) to come to assistance of the faithful cannot be opposed by these authorities.
In fact, directly contradicting the anonymous poster’s claim that recourse must be had to the superior in a state of necessity, Suarez observes:
“Hence, by his own initiative, he refuses submission “without recourse to the superior,” that is to say, without any dispensation or approval on the part of the said superior. The reason, writes Suarez, is: ‘that in such a case the authority of the superior cannot have any effect; indeed, even if he were to will that the subject, after having had recourse to him, should observe the law, the latter would not be able to obey him because he must obey God rather than man and hence in such a case its is out of place (“impertinens”) to ask for permission.‘”
These last several quote are also sufficient to dispense with the anonymous poster’s final contention that, by not having recourse to the superior, Bishop Williamson is arbitrary in the laws he chooses to follow, and is in fact (because of this) schismatic.
To make the claims the anonymous poster has made are impious and calumnious. The quotes provided (citing saints, doctors, and eminent theologians, and written and published by no less by the SSPX itself!) demonstrate the anonymous poster to be animated by a spirit of partisanship and hypocrisy contradicted by the teaching of the Catholic Church, and opposed to arguments formerly defended by Menzingen itself.
It is to be hoped that the General Counsel will recognize that it’s credibility is being greatly diminished by now offering apologetics which contradict 25 years of former consistency. In this regard, one is reminded of the words of Bishop de Galarreta at the 2011 meeting of superiors (sans +Williamson) in Albano, Italy regarding the suicidal nature of proceeding towards a practical accord in the wake of the failed doctrinal discussions:
“Such an approach would show a serious diplomatic weakness on the part of the Fraternity, and indeed more than diplomatic. It would be a lack of consistency, honesty, and firmness, which would have effects like loss of credibility and [the] moral authority we enjoy. The mere fact of going down this path will lead us to mistrust and division. Many superiors and priests have a problem of conscience and will oppose it. Authority and the very principle of authority will be questioned and undermined…Accordingly, this is not the time to change the decision of the Chapter of 2006 (no practical agreement without resolving the doctrinal issues), and it is neither right nor prudent to embark on preparing minds otherwise…
For the good of the Society and Tradition, this ‘Pandora’s Box’ must be closed as quickly as possible, to avoid the discredit and demolition of authority, the disputes, dissensions and divisions, perhaps with no return.”
(Fr. Rioult, “The Impossible Reconciliation.” English language edition, p. 32.)
Obviously, that advice was ignored, and the results were as predicted.