The great Fr Zed has published on his Blog information about a new appeal which has been launched, calling for justice for the Franciscans of the Immaculate. I have decided to publish a piece I drafted quite a time ago, but left unpublished in the hope that the New Year would being us news which rendered it superfluous.
Indeed, there is some good news. It was hard to suppress a nagging suspicion that the measures taken against the FI might have had, in some minds, the intention of driving part of the FI into uncanonical action, which could then have been represented as proving that they did have a schismatic mentality and were rightly subjected to extraordinary discipline. This elegant strategy, if it did exist, has failed. The Friars have conducted themselves with exemplary submission and humility. They are an example to the dissident movements which are running riot, unchecked, in some European countries. (In Britain, there is still in post a diocesan Director of Liturgy who, exactly like writers belonging to the SSPX, has publicly and formally called the lawfully imposed liturgical forms in this country "illegitimate". Sauce, geese, ganders?)
Here is my earlier draft.
Witch hunts are commonly associated with what happened in Stalinist Russia and in Maoist China and in Germany after the 1944 coup attempt; and, we are told, Senator McCarthy ran a pretty competent witch hunt in the U S of A. I do hope that we are not moving into a period in which the Catholic Church revives the ignoble art of the Witch Hunt. I am moved to say this because of the tone in which the Commissioner of the Franciscans of the Immaculate expresses himself. His correspondence contrives to insinuate a suggestion that his dealings with the Institute became necessary because of 'Cryptolefebvrianism' in the management of the Order by its Founder ... which reminds me of the habits of the Marxist tyrannies and has a certain flavour of George Orwell's 1984 about it. And he refers to the Superior of the SSPX purely by his surname ... another rather nasty totalitarian habit, in which one attempts to strip a disapproved person of all dignity. This is contrary to the practice of the Holy See, which has invariably addressed H E Mgr Fellay with proper respect for his episcopal office.
The antidote to witch hunts can, I suspect, be found in the pontificate of S Pius X, the Pontiff who put in place the anti-Modernist oath. Surely, as in every other age of the Church's history, heresy was thus and therein defined, caught in words. Si quis dixerit ... ... Anathema sit. Her dogma, too, was caught in words, in definitions, which expressed the minimum, the broadest formulation compatible with orthodoxy. So ... if you avoided an anathema, if you subscribed a definition, you were in the clear. You were thus protected from the malevolence of the tale-teller and of the Little Bully Up The Road who had it in for you. The precise definition of Orthodoxy and Heresy is a right that every Catholic has; a right that protects him, or ought to protect him, from random abuse of power. By a bewildering, Diabolical, paradox, Vatican II, a Council which desired to threaten nobody and so defined no dogmas, issued no anathemas, has been twisted into a pretext for the issuing of unjusticiable arbitrary condemnations.
The heart, I might even say the essence, of Arbitrary Power, of totalitarian tyranny, is the name-calling; the opprobrious epithet which is never properly defined; which, conveniently, is always left vague; vague enough to provide an effort-free charge on which to get somebody. It cannot have been easy, under Mao-tse-tung, to prove that one was not a lackey or a running-dog of reactionary Capitalism. Ergo ... off to the Re-education centre. More recently, it was reported that the Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, referring to the execution of his uncle, has said that his country is much stronger following the elimination of "factionalist filfth". No wonder the legal proceedings had been so satisfactorily brief. What possible defence can there be against such a crushing indictment? And I do not see that to deploy an innuendo about 'Cryptolefebvrianism' (particularly at a time when one Roman dicastery appears to be manoeuvring the terms 'schism' and 'excommunication' closer to the SSPX) is so much better. What does it mean?
If the Church were to define what such a term meant in a formal, precise, anathema, one could prove ones innocence (or be compelled to adjust ones position vis-a-vis the Magisterium). Undefined, it is unrebuttable. Those in the FI who have leadership roles or a munus docendi have already (or else can reasonably be asked to do this) subscribed the oath prescribed in Ad Fidem tuendam and embodied in Canon Law. More than this is a McCarthyite outrage.
The safeguard against witch hunts and abusive innuendo is Law and Dogma. This is what the FI, like every other Catholic in the world, have a right to.