Yes, I confess it. Before all the readers of New Oxford Review, I stand accused. My vice is shocking because the National Catholic Reporter has been the paper of record for the ‘spirit of Vatican II’ faux Catholicism for the past 50 years. It has been the Congressional Record of the Catholic Left, chronicling the steamrolling of the Faith with breathless ardor. Of course, ‘spirit of Vatican II’ Catholicism has as much to do with Catholicism as a firefly has to do with fire. Resemblances in names are only skin deep. The National Catholic Reporter (hereafter, NCR) bears as much truthfulness in their name as the People’s Republic of North Korea has in theirs. It boasts for half a century of being the cutting edge of a “reimagined Catholicism”, – that project which seeks going further even than the condemned Modernism of 1907. For these avatars of All Things New, the trailblazers Fathers Loisy, Tyrrell and Sullivan did not blaze far enough. NCR has been compulsory reading for many of the pace setting episcopal nomenklatura and the regnant bien pensant who have held a death grip on most Catholic institutions of learning and chancery offices for too many decades to count.
How could any faithful Catholic love such a thing? How can I? You see, NCR is the canary in the mineshaft: disclosing sure signs that something is coming hitherto unnoticed by others. Their keenly developed sense of heterodoxy’s dominance make them perfect predictors to emerging and credible threats to their long-held hegemony. NCR’s reportage of cracks in its supremacy become causes for glee amongst faithful Catholics; any alarms on NCR’s part, approaching triumph for us. I suppose one’s man’s poison is another man’s food. For these reasons this writer combs through the pages of NCR in the hope of discovering rumblings of NCR’s discontent.
Its issue of Feb. 5-18, 2021 delivered a bonanza. The front-page headline screeched: “Charlotte’s rad-trad pastors.” Caption underneath: “In came Latin, incense and burned books, out went half the parishioners.”. The byline: Peter Feuerherd. Factoring in journalistic hyperbole (the Catholic Left’s penchant for hurling the slur ‘book burning’, is the equivalent of the Secular Left’s calling someone ‘racist’: A conversation stopper, with another notch in the victory belt of the Left). A certain hermeneutic is required here. NCR’s operating assumption, as well as a majority of the reigning apparatchiks in the Church, is that the successful understanding and transmission of the Gospel has been impeded by two thousand years of the Church’s cadaverous ‘tradition’ and ‘scholastic theology’. It deems these things ‘accretions’. For them, devotion to eternal truths has mutated into a devotion to the zeitgeist.
NCR’s real terror was disclosed in the image atop the panicked headlines. It was of Bishop Peter Jugis, the exceptional Ordinary of the Diocese of Charlotte, North Carolina. He is flanked by some 30 seminarians. That bears repeating: 30 seminarians. Numbers that large for a relatively small Diocese like Charlotte is startling. The top ten Archdioceses in the country, indeed of North America, cannot report such numbers. Some have no seminarians at all, leaving them with the grim task of shuttering their seminaries, or merging them. St. Joseph’s seminary sings Te Deum: most others intone the Dies Irae. But back to the photograph. Behind them the façade of the spanking new St. Joseph’s College Seminary built at a cost of $19,000,oo0.00, sitting there like a medieval building just floating down from the campus Oxford University. All of this striking accomplishment the brainchild of one of the most gifted priests in America, Fr. Matthew Kauth. His achievement cannot be overstated. He is not only responsible for raising all the monies for the construction of the seminary, but also the inspiration for the 30 young men now studying for the priesthood for the Diocese of Charlotte. Each of his seminarians look like they were pulled from a seminary brochure of 1956 or the graduation photo of the latest class of Navy Seals: ebullient, hale and clothed in the Roman cassock, bespeaking their passion for the Church’s tradition, her immemorial teaching and an admirable awareness of the Church’s millennial understanding of the ‘romance of the symbol’. If you think this too good to be true, go to the many videos on YouTube. There you will not only see and hear the seminarians, but also their gifted rector, Fr. Kauth.
All of this sits quite uneasily for NCR. Seems as though these signs of the Church’s approaching springtime are too much to take, like sunlight on a vampire. So, Mr. Feuerherd went hunting for Franciscan Sr. Katarina Smith, professor emerita of the Seminaries of St. Paul Minnesota for an interpretive coda. This had to be quite a labor for him, for this unregenerate band of dissenting theologians have become curious fossils for today’s forward-looking generation of seminarians. Her rich comments bespeak a coming apocalypse. Most revealing was about the Charlotte seminarians and all the many like them, “They want certainty. They want answers.” Mind you, for Sr. Katrina this is an indictment, not a recognition of the nature of the human person which has marked man’s nature for as long as there was man. It is as much a trait of man qua man as air is for breathing. It is the longing that summoned forth the genius of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Her and her kind are not only chasing after a ‘reimagined Church’ but a ‘reimagined man.’ Sr. Katrina’s grievance is against nothing less than truth in general and dogma in particular. This kind of nihilism we expect of Michel Foucault and Nietzsche, not a professed religious, and seminary professor to boot. She laments further, “these seminarians gloss over complicated issues in moral theology.” May I translate? Objective good and evil are too constricting for the ever-expanding self. Sounds like Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, you say. And you would be right. Then the good sister goes in for the kill: “(they) latch onto traditional modes and symbols like the wearing of elaborate cassocks (cassocks we know; ‘elaborate cassocks’ escape us)”. O my! You can almost hear Voltaire screaming: “écrasez l’infâme!” After these fulminating warnings, Sr. Katrina delivers this bone chilling prediction: “Their small numbers are not insignificant because they tend to be active” (Like a mutant strain of the Covid virus, I suppose). Then, “They will exert influence on the Church as more are ordained.” Bravo, Bishop Jugis!
Mr. Feuerherd remarks that these New Seminarians labor beneath the opprobrium of Pope Francis barb of being ‘little monsters”. There must be some mistake. The Roman Pontiff would never malign an emerging group of young, robust, immovably orthodox and virtuous seminarians as ‘little monsters.” More journalistic hyperbole, to be sure. But there was no hyperbole in the comments of Fr. Tim Kelly, pastor in the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, and former professor of homiletics and patristics at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston. The former professor whines that these New Seminarians are advancing “an alternate magisterium.” Hmm. What magisterium can that be, esteemed professor? Perhaps, the two-thousand-year young Magisterium of the Catholic Church with clearly demarcated lines of truth and error? He concludes, “these men have been coming out of the cult of John Paul II.” Now the good professor has shown his hand. Not necessarily to include Fr. Kelly, but this kind of language usually comes from priests who have not bowed a moment to the Church’s Magisterium, yet suddenly drag the term out now for their own purposes. Similarly, those who now piously invoke obedience to authority. For fifty years these Keepers of the Modernist Flame made it their vocation to dismiss both authority and obedience. A curious reversal is at play here, and faithful Catholics should stand warned.
No, I shall not apologize. I do love the National Catholic Reporter, and I do thank Mr. Feuerherd. Where else could we find the reliable signs of our coming triumph.
Fr. John A. Perricone, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor of philosophy at Iona College in New Rochelle, New York. His articles have appeared in St. John’s Law Review, The Latin Mass, New Oxford Review and The Journal of Catholic Legal Studies.