More Catholic Than the Pope

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:53

    For the people in the pews, the most important change involved the Mass, the center of Catholic worship. The Mass is not a communion service, a reenactment, a commemoration or a symbolic performance. To believers, it is literally the sacrifice of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the World: perhaps the most important thing in this life. In the 16th century, Pius V and later the Council of Trent confirmed the traditional Roman rite, popularly called the Tridentine Rite, and commanded that it endure for all time. It lasted four centuries, followed without variation throughout Catholicism: celebrated in Latin, with the priest facing God at the head of the people, and its focus the sacrifice itself. One might attend Mass anywhere in the world and be at home.

    In April 1969, Paul VI authorized the Novus Ordo to replace the Tridentine Mass as the universal liturgy of the church. The old rite was never abolished, although the elite favored doing so. Often those who spoke most of opening the church to the people forced the new rites on those who preferred the old one. The American media vulgarized the changes as no more than celebration of the Mass in the vernacular. This was untrue. Important things were changed. The emphasis shifted from the sacrifice to the congregation. The rhetoric was different, and the new language often ambiguous, bureaucratic and unsatisfying. The priest now faced the congregation rather than God.

    Many Catholics still resent the modernized vernacular liturgy. By contrast with the rampant supernaturalism of the old rite, as Michael W. Cuneo observed, contemporary Catholic worship in America is sanitized and culturally respectable. But it is bourgeois: bloodless, unimpassioned and decorous. In the suburban parish where I grew up, the Mass became a matter of enveloping us in hazy good will, "Kumbaya," forced handshakes and a middle-class phony coziness. It often leaves a sense that the people of God "think of the Church as a spiritual pharmacy to which one may send for a bottle of grace whenever one happens to want it; they have no sense of belonging to an unseen Kingdom with a loyalty to an unseen King," as Hugh Cecil said.

    Thus, some traditionalist Catholics went their own ways. Desiring the unified, triumphalist church of half a century ago, they seek it through schism. Some flirt with the unauthorized Tridentine Masses of Father Gommer de Pauw's Catholic Traditionalist Movement or of the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre's Society of St. Pius X.

    Beyond Lefebvre lie the fever swamps. Sedevacantists (literally, "the chair is vacant") hold that as Catholic doctrine is eternally valid and unchanging and the papacy exists to preserve it as such, any so-called pope who would alter these teachings is illegitimate. For example, the Second Vatican Council's declaration on religious freedom, Dignitatus Humanae, affirms the spiritual value of other religions and calls for interreligious cooperation. At first glance, this apparently contradicts encyclicals of Popes Gregory XVI, Pius IX, Leo XIII, Pius XI and Pius XII, published from 1832 to 1943. Each affirmed that the Catholic Church alone possessed fullness of truth and the certain means of salvation. A pope speaks with infallibility on matters of faith and morals. To traditionalists, the principle of noncontradiction means either these popes were right or the Council was right. Both cannot be right at the same time.

    Sedevacantists hold that by calling the Council and enunciating its teachings, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I and now John Paul II are heretics and not popes. (Some also hold John XXIII was a Freemason and the tool of a Judeo-Masonic conspiracy, and as such ineligible to be the Vicar of Christ.) Some sedevacantists go from proclaiming the seat vacant to filling it themselves. At one time, being an antipope meant something. Once during the Great Schism of the West (1378-1417), Pope Gregory XII and two antipopes, Benedict XIII and John XXIII (not to be confused with the modern John XXIII) disputed pontificality. The latter was particularly controversial: Edward Gibbon wrote that when John XXIII was indicted by the Council of Constance in 1417, "The most scandalous charges were suppressed; the Vicar of Christ was only accused of piracy, murder, rape, sodomy and incest."

    Today's antipopes command neither armies, nor territories, nor much of a following. One doubts the Vatican is much concerned with Gregory XVII of Troyar la Palma, Spain; Gregory XVII of St. Jovite, Quebec; Michael I of Kansas; Peter II of Pennsylvania; Peter II of France; or Peter II of Germany. Happily, some maintain Web pages, like the website of the Apostolic Roman Catholic Church. Its bishop, James H. Hess, part-time cleric and full-time certified public accountant, also sells "a board game which I created and copyrighted." A persistent salesman, Hess writes, " of the clergy, accept the truth of apostolic Roman Catholicism, work to establish a true papacy...and then, if in your ministry, you find you need good vestments and altarware at good prices, write to Pax House, Apdo. Postal 39-181, Guadalajara, Jalisco 44171, Mexico."

    Clemente Dominguez Gomez of Troyar la Palma claimed the Virgin had revealed to him Paul VI's secret imprisonment and replacement by "an exact impostor." As if Marian apparition were insufficient, Dominguez said Paul VI had confirmed this through "bilocation." On these credentials, the Spaniard persuaded Pierre Martin Ngo-Dinh-Thuc, an exiled Vietnamese bishop, to ordain him a priest on Jan. 1, 1976. Eleven days later, Thuc consecrated Dominguez a bishop. When Paul VI died in 1978, Dominguez proclaimed himself Pope Gregory XVII.

    In 1968, Father John Gregory of the Trinity, founder of the Apostles of Infinite Love at St. Jovite, Quebec, announced he had been mystically crowned Pope, also under the name of Gregory XVII. Thirty-one years later, he was arrested on charges of child sexual abuse going back as far as 1965.

    Now John Paul II has another rival. According to the True Catholic website , Earl Pulvermacher was elected Pope Pius XIII on Oct. 24, 1998. Pulvermacher states that he was born in Wisconsin in 1918 and ordained in 1946. Thirty years later, he rejected the Novus Ordo and became a freelance priest. Pulvermacher's "conclave movement" holds the entire hierarchy of the church?pope, cardinals, bishops and priests?having fallen into heresy, ipso facto vacated their offices. Thus, under natural law, the true Catholics have the right to fill the vacancy by electing a pope.

    He claims the organizers of the 1998 conclave took three years to plan and organize the election. They approached "all known true Catholics," requiring would-be electors to sign documents relating to their baptism, age, beliefs with respect to the Second Vatican Council and nonassociation with any individuals connected with the "Novus Ordo Church." On Oct. 23, 1998, three scrutinizers at a telephone began taking votes from electors. They worked until the next day, recording each vote on a separate paper ballot. Then they communicated the result to Pulvermacher by speakerphone. Presumably, they asked something resembling the old question, "Reverend Lord, the Sacred College has elected thee to be the successor of St. Peter. Wilt thou accept pontificality?" Pulvermacher accepted, and, claims the website, "at that very moment, the papacy was restored." The site shows a picture of the "White Smoke" rising from the eaves of a prefabricated log cabin.

    The site also claims "Catholics world-wide rejoice and offer their thanks to Almighty God for restoring the papacy to the Catholic Church." Supposedly, "the youth of the world...are getting the answers they seek, answers from traditional Catholic their 'Profession of Faith' and joining the true Catholic Church, outside of which there is no salvation." The documents accessible through the website provide no quotes from the secular or religious press, blurbs from distinguished laymen or anything that might not have come from a few fertile imaginations and a decent catechetical library. The photographs show only Pulvermacher, his henchman Gordon Cardinal Bateman, two other persons in ecclesiastical robes and, of course, a couple of altar boys. There are no Swiss Guards, no Chamberlains, no papal knights, no throngs of millions pressing against the rail to cheer the Holy Father. Indeed, Pulvermacher's site only once refers to a concrete number of participants in any of his ceremonies: 28, who attended his consecration as a bishop in a rented hotel ballroom in Kalispell, MT. Each shared a piece cut from a cake frosted to read, "Long Live Pope Pius XIII."

    "At present," the website states, "there is one parish in the world, with the Pope as head of that parish." Indeed, Pulvermacher sees himself as the last Roman Catholic priest in the world. This would be news to John Paul II.