Is the Traditional Catholic Movement Catholic?

by Br. Alexis Bugnolo

The Catholic Faith and Religion, indeed, the Holy Catholic Church Herself, has always been traditional.

“Tradition” is an English word borrowed from the Latin, traditio, tradere: the handing down of teaching. The use of the term in regard to the Catholic Faith regards the handing down of eternally true teaching: eternally true, because it is of God through Christ, the Apostles and the Prophets of old, and through the constant and universal testimony of the Fathers of the Church, the Saints of the Church, the Doctors of the Church, and the authentic ordinary and extraordinary magisterium of the Church.

Part of this deposit is testified to in the Code of Canon Law of 1983, promulgated by Pope John Paul II, in canon 1364, which reads in the official Latin, thus:

Canon 1364 § 1.  Apostata a fide, haereticus vel schismaticus in excommunicationem latae sententiae incurrit, firmo praescripto canon. 194, § 1, n. 2; clericus praeterea potest poenis, de quibus in can. 1336 § 1, nn. 1, 2, et 3, puniri.

§ 2. Si diuturna contumacia vel scandali gravitas postulet, aliae poenae addi possunt, non excepta dimissione e statu clericali.

My English translation, verbatim:

Canon 1364 § 1.  An apostate from the Faith, a heretic and/or a schismatic incurs an excommunication latae sententiae, with the prescription of canon 194 § 1, n. 2 remaining firm; moreover, a cleric can be punished with the punishments, which are mentioned in canon 1336, § 1, nn. 1, 2, and 3.

§ 2. If long-lasting contumacy and/or the gravity of the scandal require, other punishments can be added, not excepting dismissal from the clerical state.

Canon 1364 shows the Traditional and Catholic way of acting

Catholics have always regarded these three sins: apostasy, heresy, and schism as so grave that they deprive one entirely of membership in the Catholic Church. That means that they who commit these sins by external actions lose ipso facto all office, authority, power and jurisdiction in the Church, though, if they are Bishops, priests or other members of the clergy, they retain the sacramental character or charism of their ordination. And if they are religious they retain their consecration to God, in some sense.

This is the Catholic position. And all who deny it are themselves heretics and rebels against the Church.

Those who deny this are many. Today, they are chiefly Modernists, who deny that there is objective truth other than religious sentiment, and thus, no objective standard to judge the faith of anyone. Or they are Neo-Modernists, who believe truth is life and thus as persons change, truth changes. For Neo-Modernists, the only heresy is holding fast to unchanging truth. Or they are simply corrupt clergy, who want to do what they want and do not want to be penalized for it, and thus, likewise do not want anyone in the Church penalized either. Of these some are formally Anomean, that is they deny the moral obligation of law, and that is a heresy. Others are just crooks.

The Traditional Catholic Movement, what is it?

The term, “Traditional Catholic Movement” is not well defined. In general it refers to all those individuals and groups which recognized that the spirit and documents of the Second Vatican Council deviated from the Deposit of the Faith in some manner, and in particularly, as regards the Catholic Faith on the sacred liturgy.

That some group or person is called a Traditional Catholic, therefore, does not really guarantee anything but some sort of disagreement.  In English, it has become the usage to call those who belong to this movement, “trads”, for short. However, not all trads are traditional Catholics. A good number of them are modernists or what the Freemasons means by the term “conservative”, that is, controlled opposition.

A short history of the Traditional Catholic Movement

The first to resist the errors of the Council were individuals who were priests and laymen. One of the first and most heroic was a priest who was a professor of theology here in the U.S.A. I do not remember his name, right now, but he inaugurated the movement on doctrinal grounds. He remained faithful to his principles and was subsequently ignored or ostracized by those who came after. He ended his days serving the faithful from an independent Chapel up the river from New York City.

Priests around the world soon followed suit, and laity too. But in the 60’s it was very difficult for Catholics to know of these things, since all media was controlled by those in favor of the Second Vatican Council. I was born in the 60s, in a devout Catholic family and did not hear of these things for another 20 years. That is how slow the news moved.

Much later, one of the signers of the Second Vatican Councils documents, Archbishop Marcel François Marie Joseph Lefebvre decided to take a similar position. I say similar, because his position was that to preserve the Roman Rite as it had been handed down in the Church, he held he had a right to resist the innovations. Elected in 1962 to the office of Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers (Cssp) he opposed these innovations as much as he could, until 1968 when he resigned, recognizing that the members of the Holy Ghost Fathers would not suffer his government further.  Approached by French Seminarians from the French Seminary at Rome, in 1969, he began a course of action which followed Canon Law but resisted the reforms. He received permission to open a Seminary at Econe , but before receiving final formal approval, had that permission taken away. He continued to run the Seminary and formed priests together in what is now called the Society of Saint Pius X, popularly, or the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X, more correctly. I believe the original title referred to Jesus and Mary, however.

Archbishop Lefebvre’s course of action would set the standard for a large part of the traditional movement in decades to come. Resistence of the innnovations, operation of chapels and centers of formation without canonical approval, but absence of any formal condemnations of anyone for heresy, schism or apostasy. The Archbishop did not want to consummate a schism. He ordained no Bishop for any diocese, nor clergy for any diocese per se., though his society would take up operation in many dioceses round the world, and ultimately claim authority to conduce marriage tribunals for cases of possible nullity, a thing which formally requires jurisdiction, though materially only requires right knowledge of the law.

Most other traditional Catholics, however, took another approach. They sought to keep the Latin Mass intact and celebrated by requesting permission or simply stubbornly refusing to change. Some priests did this for decades without any censure. Others were censured immediately or after a time, or had their faculties taken away. After such punishments some of these priests continued to act as priests, recognizing rightly that punishments for virtuous actions are both unjust and invalid, before the law.

Other traditional Catholics, who were part of one or more of the above mentioned three groups, eventually discerned however, that the Council was being promoted by heretics and apostates and they made public declarations of this kind. Some of these accused Pope Paul VI and after a time began to hold that he was a heretic and had lost his office. Others sought consecration as priests or bishops from Cardinals who opposed the changes of the Council or from schismatic bishops in Mexico, Spain, the USA etc.. As far as I know, a good number of these now form the sedevacantist movement. But not all are Sedevacantists formally, that is, not all hold that the Popes since Pius XII are all invalid, on account of heresy.

Finally, many groups broke off from each of the above. Thus there are the Society of Saint Pius V and those who believe that the Apostolic See is formally vacant but materially filled. There is the Fraternity of Saint Peter which broke off from the SSPX and there are many communities of priests and religious which were founded by each of the above groups or were founded by those friendly to them, which remained friendly and which went their own ways.

Subsequently, however, especially since the Papal decision expressed in Summorum Pontificum, by Pope Benedict XVI, which reaffirmed the perennial validity of the ancient Roman Rite and implied that the Bull of his predecessor Saint Pius V, Missale Romanum, was still in force, many Catholics began to call themselves traditional, whether they were or not. The term “traditional Catholic” became watered down to mean someone who went to the Latin Mass. A lot of these, however, are just smell and bell Catholics, that is, they just like the aestetics of the Traditional Mass, but doctrinally or morally, they are Modernists of one color or another.

But is the Traditional Catholic Movement Catholic?

Obviously, as you can see, since there is no definite meaning to the term, “Traditional Catholic Movement”, this question cannot be answered simply with one answer for all these groups.

But if we were to ask one simply question, I think we can sort these groups out. That question is, do they recognize that they must act in accord with the norm of Church Law?

Yes, some of these in not recognizing Pope John Paul II as the Pope, do not accept the new Code of Canon Law. But for them, I would ask, do they even accept the 1917 Code of Canon Law.

This is an important question, because a lot of those who claim to be traditional Catholics are merely addicted to their own private judgement — like protestants — or their own self-righteousness, like the Jansenists, or to a desire to be free of every law, like Anomeans, condemned by Saint Paul in his Letters to the Church of Corinth. Indeed, a number of these groups have been just as plagued with pedophilia, sodomy and fornication as the clergy who accept Vatican II. So one has real and objective basis to doubt whether they are sincere in their claim to be traditional Catholics, since that implies first of all, acceptance of the moral law, and hence of Church law.

The sad truth, however, is that most of these groups do not accept Church Law, and reject the faith of the Church which is expressed in the New Code of Canon Law in canon 1364.

That rejection makes them, formally, Modernists, or Neo-Modernists, depending upon why they do it, though I suppose some may merely be pragmatists, and only morally corrupt, not doctrinally aberrant.

The reason they reject the faith expressed in Canon 1364, is that they fear being called Schismatics, and because they do not have the intention, if they ever had it, of saving the Church. They only have the intention of self preservation and enjoyment of the Sacraments they way they were always celebrated.

As the years passed, this strange and uncatholic position caused them to be more and more alienated, and in deed, according to some hearsay testimony, I reckon that for every 1 Catholic who goes to the traditional Latin Mass today with any of these groups, 9 have left and returned to the Vernacular Mass, not because they do not prefer or love the old Mass, but because these groups do not want to save the Church.

This position of self interest is really the only thing left in their organizations, that is why they insist with force and demagoguery, sometimes, that Bergoglio is the pope no matter what, or that Benedict is not the pope, no matter what. They cannot listen to an argument which establishes that Benedict is the pope and that Bergoglio never was, because to even want to listen to that argument, you have to be a person who accepts both the moral law and Church law as an objectively valid external rule of action and judgement. And if you are in a group which rejects that, even if they call themselves traditional, that is ideologically impossible.


CREDITS: The Featured Image is of a photo by Marcel Antonisse of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1981, and is used here in accord with a Creative Commons Share-Alike 3.0 Netherlands license, as described here.

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19 thoughts on “Is the Traditional Catholic Movement Catholic?”

  1. Br. Alexis. Please give us a statement of what a true Catholic should believe today about the Church? Questions as follows:
    —Who is the legitimate Pope now? Benedict XVI, of course. Bergoglio is a usurper.
    —Is the Novus Ordo Mass valid? My guess is yes.
    —Should Vatican II remain part of Church teaching or should it be abrogated? I say it should be abrogated as it is not doctrinal but misleading and confusing.
    —Were all the Popes elected after Pius XII legitimate? I would yes but some made heretical statements.
    etc. etc.

    1. Michael,

      It is not for me to tell you what to believe, that is the job of the Church. I can only give you my view.

      According to the norm of canon law in the code of 1983, B16 is the true pope, Begoglio is a usurper.

      The Novus Order contains a formula capable of a valid consecration, but as a ritual it does not predispose or instruct the faithful rightly to approach or celebrate the Sacraments, containing as it does grave errors and ambiguities.

      Vatican II did not claim to be a dogmatic or disciplinary council, therefore, it need not be rejected or accepted, since it was never binding. It should simply be ignored and corrected.

      The Popes up to B16 are legitimate, I see no evidence that they were pertinacious in heresy, though they were misled by many errors because they though Vatican II was more authoritative than it was and because they were elected to implement the Council, and thus were never men who thought for themselves.

      1. “It is not for me to tell you what to believe, that is the job of the Church. I can only give you my view.”

        Brother your entire reason for being is because we can’t believe all that the Church is proclaiming at the present time. Prime example the legitimacy of “Pope” Francis and his heretical statements. Our Bishops tell us to believe him and his published documents.

        You are telling us to believe you, i.e., your interpretation of Canon law regarding Bergoglio. Most Catholics believe what they think is the Church teaching regarding him. I follow you, not the Church in this case. Overall, many ministers of the Church are leading their flocks into error. Some of us are seeking the Truth of Church teaching and its application, so we rely on folks like you.

      2. Michael,

        When I say, the Church, I do not mean the Pope or Bishops as men, but the Pope or Bishops when they make official decisions. And of course I mean the real Pope and the real Bishops, not the St Gallen Mafia and allies.

      3. Michael, do not follow me, I am neither a priest nor a saint. Follow Jesus in everything, the Saints in nearly everything, and your legitimate superiors in legitimate things

  2. St Ludger
    26th March MMXX A. D.

    Any conflict among your readership as expressed by Mr. Dowd is apparent only.

    What the good Mr. Dowd means, I suggest, is that you dear Brother Bugnolo are authoritative to the extent you follow, and present, the truth. Just as ‘favts are stubborn things,’ and against which there is no argument.

    It’s your love of truth–Who we all know is Truth Himself–that is your greatest appeal and why we are all here.


  3. Excellent summary of the question. What does a serious, dedicated, modern-day ‘trad’ like Michael Matt say about the Traditional Catholic Movement and what it actually is? He says the TCM is comprised of a bunch of divided “clans” that must be united (like pachamama tribes dispersed throughout the amazon or whatever is left of it).

    Then, Ann Barnhardt clarified Mr. Matt’s defintion and made some sense out of it when she posted: “untie the clams!” (ROFL). So, taking what Mr Matt says at face value, that the TCM are just a bunch of “clans”, sums it up pretty well.

  4. Brother Alexis,

    I don’t know if you’ve answered this question yet, but what’s to stop you from being ordered? Do you believe that there is no call from God to the priesthood?

  5. I think (and I don’t think I would be the only one) it would do even greater good to souls.

  6. I would like to take this opportunity to say that this text was of great importance. God pay you!

  7. I understand you, Br. Alexis. It’s no less your job, just like St. Francis’ diaconate before most priests of his time.
    Thank you for your answer and, once again, for your work.

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