The Psychopathy of “Traditionalist” Catholicism

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Alternative title:

The Moral Bankruptcy of the SSPX

This is part of a longer SSPX and COVID series: Index – The SSPX and COVID – The Index of Lessons Learnt

I have had a revelation. Not the supernatural type where one has a vision, but a natural but shocking realisation about an evil in the world. I finally understand how the sort of moral theology some on the “traditionalist” end of Catholicism espouse matches up with their behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic. And thus I also finally understand why such ideas allow the Society of St Pius X (SSPX) to be the way they are.

Priest giving Communion to werewolves
Priest giving Communion to werewolves

Over the years, while reading traditionalist stuff, I’ve come across some really bizarre assessments of situations that require a moral examination. There are real moral dilemmas in life. And false ones. Several stuck with me as being strange. I’ll summarise two here. Note that they are real life examples I’ve come across, not examples that are standard textbook fare. As individual examples, many traditionalists will not agree with their logic; as demonstrations of the weird and bizarre thought processes amongst some traditionalists, they serve their purpose. I am using them because a) they demonstrate a real problem, and b) they shocked me.

Example 1: Take a neighbour whose house is on fire. Humans and pets are all outside. Do you get your hosepipe and turn on your tap and assist with putting out the fire? The brand of moral theology I am talking about says that it’s not morally necessary, because nobody is morally obliged to perform heroic measures to save someone else’s life and/or property. BUT, they will tell you, it may be PRUDENT to assist, because if you don’t, the fire may spread to YOUR house.

Example 2: Is torturing or abusing animals morally wrong? The same sort of moral logician will tell you that it’s not wrong. However, it is PRUDENT not to abuse animals, because that behaviour may lead you to do the same to humans, and THAT is morally wrong and could result in jail time.

In the past, I just dismissed this sort of thing as stupid theology. Poorly trained priests spouting drivel, which is then lapped up by laity who also don’t know better and who think this is such great wisdom coming from Father’s holy mouth or pen. Much like the accuracy of the “facts” included in sermons by the SSPX cleric at the church I used to attend – his own “facts” made up to suit the sermon, at times. It’s always fun to make up nonsense to inspire the audience, no? It happens all the time.

Then came COVID-19

But then came COVID-19, and I actually saw the church I attended (prior to the pandemic) begin to act out this warped sense of morality. Their own facts to fit their own idea of morality; their own (per)version of morality at odds with Catholic teaching. This was the SSPX in Cape Town, about which I have written more here.

Lefebvre and McCarrick - moral equivalence
Lefebvre and McCarrick – moral equivalence

Psychopath training

The two examples above of bizarre reasoning are more suitable for training psychopaths to act selfishly in such a way that those around them actually benefit. The psychopath will help his neighbour because doing so may benefit him. The psychopath will not torture animals because maybe down the chain of events it may lead to exposure and denial of freedom.

At a very young age, children can be taught this way. But, dear “traditionalist” moralists, children are supposed to grow up. Instead of teaching moral formulae designed for children or psychopaths, the Church should be showing us how to love our neighbour. (She does; certain “traditionalists” do not.) Adults should not be coming to priests to ask questions such as the above … unless they have no moral education at all. Teaching adults moral theology designed for psychopaths and children is going to create a moral vacuum in people’s lives … unless they already have that moral vacuum, and then such a primitive style of teaching would actually be suitable.

Psychopath infiltration

A side question: do we have a psychopath problem in the Catholic Church? Do we have an excess of psychopaths in our clergy? Given the appearance of sanctity that the Church provides for psychopaths merely by calling them clergy, I wouldn’t be surprised if many psychopaths embraced that appearance of holiness as a way to hide their inner evil from outsiders, while simultaneously giving them access to vulnerable people. That isn’t to say that all priests who spout that sort of moral theological nonsense are psychopaths; but somewhere up the line there was a psychopathic influence that everyone down the line subsequently thought to be wisdom. And so we got stuck with their limitations.

What Jesus said

John 13:34 (KJV) – A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

Healing of the Blind Man
Healing of the Blind Man

The words of Jesus himself. (New, not old.) Love one another.

Matthew 25:35 (KJV) – For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in.

The words of Jesus himself. Read all the way to verse 46.

Hebrews 5:12-14 (KJV) – For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. [13] For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. [14] But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

The psychopaths have infiltrated the Church, and one of the results is a perverse form of “traditionalism” that has not only lost sight of the true nature of tradition, but also of how to love one’s neighbour. While we are still picking out those who have abused the vulnerable sexually, we are still stuck with primitive ideas meant either as milk for babies or as control measures for psychopaths. This, dear SSPX, is part of your problem – not the Freemasons, not the Jews, not whoever else you fear.

Inadequate understanding of tradition

Pope John Paul II
Pope St John Paul II

Pope St John Paul II stated that some modern “traditionalists” lack a full understanding of tradition (Ecclesia Dei 3, 4, 5c, 1988). Pope Francis has called out many “traditionalist” misunderstandings. He considers their SSPX-like response to the COVID-19 pandemic to be puerile.

Not all Catholic traditionalists are stuck in the same primitive rut I describe above. One can’t generalise on the one hand, but one can’t ignore the problem on the other. That sort of primitive understanding of morality is a problem that seems to originate within their ranks, spreading outwards like a cancer. The FSSP has fallen for it. The ICKSP has fallen for it. The SSPX has drunk their fill on the blood of the martyrs they wish they could be.

Not all Catholic traditionalists are that way. Nearly 20% of US Catholics are QAnon believers. Not all Catholics are like them. But they are prominent, and embarrassing.

Wearing a mask to help save the lives of others – an unnecessary inconvenience that goes beyond our minimalist moral obligations … or love of one’s neighbour? Social distancing to prevent spread of the coronavirus – unnatural, a perversion of all that is good in the world … or love of one’s neighbour? You choose. The SSPX has chosen.

A revelation

As for that being a revelation. It was. I now understand. I understand why some corners of the Catholic Church have bizarre ideas about what is right and what is wrong. I understand how a group of apparently normal Catholics could have heard and believed such moral drivel. I can understand – sort of – how they can internalise it and make it their own moral code. I realise that people are stuck with what their clergy provide, but that bad formation goes on to produce priests who were never taught better. Most of all, I can understand – but not empathise with – the ability of people to think that they are morally well-informed when they think that wearing masks and social distancing is morally unnecessary even when it will save lives in the community. Sad. But I’ve figured it out.

That is where the SSPX is. Bad theological formation – primitive ideas, quaint when they are harmless, but a poor grasp of what tradition really is, as Pope St John Paul said. Bad moral formation – primitive moral ideas, mostly harmless if they argue about moral irrelevancies as they sometimes do. The inability to look outwards and see others – the neighbours they must love – due to decades of self-inflicted spiritual isolation and navel-gazing. It’s sad, but I really do now think that the SSPX very much, and “traditionalism” to a lesser extent, has suffered from this sort of decay. It is no longer as fully alive as the main body of the Church is.

Of course, they can’t, and won’t, see that. I hope, though, that I can help make the SSPX the eye-opener for others as it was for me.

Why you should wear face masks
Why you should wear face masks

SSPX, Pinelands, Cape Town, 36 Central Avenue, 33 Central Square, 19 St Stephens Road, Latin Mass

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