Provocative (?) Thoughts on Radical Catholic Reactionaries

Provocative (?) Thoughts on Radical Catholic Reactionaries August 31, 2015


Bishops at Vatican II (photo by Lothar Wolleh) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]

. . . including reflections on traditionalist objections to the term, “Radtrad.”

(23 August 2013)

As in all such discussions, I always have to clarify that I draw a very sharp distinction between mainstream, legitimate Catholic traditionalists (whom I often agree with) and radical Catholic reactionaries (my own coined term), with whom I rarely agree when they get into preaching / reforming mode. I wrote at length elsewhere  about this.

* * * * *

Some traditionalists claim that many Catholic converts would not have become Catholics, if traditional Catholicism were the cultural norm. I ain’t one of them. I converted for completely different reasons: moral theology (especially contraception), development of doctrine (Cardinal Newman), and a study of the 16th century from both sides. Humanly, the main influence was Servant of God, Fr. John A. Hardon, S. J.

It has been said that converts to Catholicism have a “need” for Protestant-friendly stuff like Vatican II, ecumenism, apologists like Kreeft and Hahn, “Bible Catholicism” and so forth. I “need” any ecumenical council that Holy Mother Church holds. As for ecumenism, whatever was good enough for St. Paul (Mars Hill; “I have become all things to all people”) and Jesus (Roman centurion, Samaritans) is good enough for me.  If I “need” all this stuff then to me it is a wonderful sign that I am on the right track.

What in the world is deficient about “Bible Catholicism”? St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Athanasius, St. John Chrysostom, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis de Sales, and many others were quite the “Bible Catholics.” I’m extremely honored to try to follow in that tradition in my miniscule “Biblical Defense” way.

Even the “biblical evidence” thing was strictly after my conversion: in order to explain my move to my Protestant friends. It developed into my first book and the theme of my work. Yet I still get accused by anti-Catholics and radical Catholic reactionaries and some traditionalists, of being a hybrid of Protestantism and Catholicism, because I argue from the Bible, as all the Church fathers habitually did, etc. Protestants don’t own the Bible, and if traditionalists and other regular old (devout, obedient, orthodox) Catholics don’t know much about it, they sure as Hades better start soon, because that is Catholicism too.

Traditionalists try to bring radical Catholic reactionaries back into “full” accord or communion with the Church. I have somewhat different goals. I don’t even try to dialogue with quasi-schismatics; they wouldn’t listen to me anyway. My goal is to prevent mainstream traditionalists from ceasing to be in “full” accord. I’m screaming from the rooftops about the danger of schism and quasi-schism. And seemingly successfully, as I have received many letters from folks thanking me for helping them not to go off the deep end.

Souls are at stake, and I’m doing something about it: however many shortcomings or imperfections are present in my effort. When people are out there drowning (going into schism) you do what you can to rescue as many as possible. Traditionalists try to rescue these people over tea and crumpets (or beer) after Mass. I do it, as a writer and apologist, by writing papers and books about it.

It’s often observed (almost always by cradle Catholics) that apologetics today is dominated by converts, and that has certain downsides, with Protestant “baggage” brought into the Church by the converts. This is not totally the case. Karl Keating is the “father” of the modern apologetics movement, and he is a cradle Catholic. So is Patrick Madrid: one of the most important apologists today. There are others such as Fr. Stravinskas and Fr. Pacwa. Many others are reverts, who once were Catholic, left, and came back (e.g., Kresta, Michuta, Grodi). So yes, a lot of converts do apologetics, but of course that was the case before Vatican II also (Newman, Knox, Chesterton, Benson, Lunn, Waugh, many others) so nothing’s really changed there.

Pat Madrid attends the TLM, as do several of the folks who work at Catholic Answers, as Karl Keating verified on the radio last week. Terrye Newkirk, a traditionalist, used to be the editor of This Rock (now Catholic Answers Magazine).

If someone wants to play the tired polemical game of “cradles vs. converts” they’ll be in just as much logical trouble regarding the period before Vatican II as after. Converts tend to do more apologetics because we are forced by circumstances to explain ourselves: since we’re usually so attacked from many quarters (including our honesty and motivations). To see a prime example of that, read Blessed Cardinal Newman’s letters.

His famous Apologia pro vita Sua came about because he was widely considered a liar or one who talks out of both sides of his mouth, and who cared little about truth and honesty. So he defended himself and wound up gaining the admiration of even English Protestants. The entire attack came about precisely because he was a convert, and so his honesty and personal integrity were savaged. After 19 years of that he had had it, and so he wrote that book, in great agony and many tears, by the way, as he noted in many letters.


The following is my analysis of why many traditionalists felt included when terms like “radtrad” were used (which was deliberately intended / coined to describe only the far right fringe extremists, as I have documented):


The problem is that every time radical Catholic reactionaries are critiqued, a person who attends the TLM is critiqued. Thus, traditionalists (I hear this all the time) may think the TLM is being blasted when it is not: it’s kooky, fringe, extreme views held by folks who happen to attend it. But that is a small minority. Note the following:

1. Radical Catholic reactionaries almost always attend the TLM.

2. Mainstream traditionalists also attend the TLM.

3. Therefore, if you attack the views of radical Catholic reactionaries, you are at the same time falsely perceived as attacking the TLM.

4. Therefore, if you attack the views of radical Catholic reactionaries, you are at the same time falsely perceived as attacking the views of mainstream traditionalists (a sort of guilt by association, because of the common denominator: the TLM).

#3 and #4 do not follow logically at all. To illustrate that, let’s use a political analogy:

1b. Far-left liberal kooks are members of the US Congress.

2b. Conservatives are members of the US Congress.

3b. Therefore, if you attack the views of far-left liberal kooks, you are at the same time attacking the US Congress.

4b. Therefore, if you attack the views of far-left liberal kooks, you are at the same time attacking the views of conservatives (a sort of guilt by association, because of the common denominator: the Congress).

3b and 4b are obviously false. Therefore, by analogy, so are 3 and 4. Conclusion: there is no necessary, intrinsic association (logical or otherwise) between attacking goofy quasi-schismatic ideas of radical Catholic reactionaries and attacking either the TLM or the positions of mainstream traditionalists. Yet this is the presupposition, pretty much, that lies behind the objection to the description of “radtrad.”

They may “feel” this is the case, but that’s not logic; it is mushy, postmodernist subjective mush. I got rid of “radtrad” not because it was completely unwarranted or had no justification at all, or because of the faulty “reasoning” refuted above, but rather, because it was misunderstood, leading to more difficulties than already exist.

Folks were thinking illogically and I couldn’t overcome that by reason. I ditched it out of charity and conciliation, not because I was “conceding” that I had completely erred in using it (and in my case, only for five years). I would have been happy to apologize and concede the point if I felt it were necessary. But it simply wasn’t my own reason for changing my terms.


Most times I agree with traditionalists about liturgical matters (at least in broad principles if not in every particular). Many traditionalist folks still say that I “hate” the TLM and traditional liturgy. Why is that? What is it about the English language and logic and personal report that they don’t get? I have to keep saying it because folks don’t get it.

Perhaps it is because many people (of any view) don’t take the time to examine the fine points or crucial distinctions or to treat a person as an individual thinker who works through issues (i.e., when they meet one). My views often can’t be pigeonholed, and I find myself taking a position different from two major disputing parties in a given controversy: sometimes holding elements from both sides.

And that is because all truth is truth, whomever holds it or wherever it is found (this is how the Church approached paganism, and a key premise of ecumenism). If we operate solely on strict “party lines” with the usual boilerplate and talking points and “groupthink” mentality that always go with that, we’ll miss some truth, more likely than not. We have to carefully ponder and think through issues, and use our critical faculties. Simply following some group where everyone seems to be a clone who thinks exactly like every other person in the group (with all the usual “rah-rah”-ing and backslapping feel-good cliquishness), won’t accomplish that.


One particular traditionalist was arguing that since many converts he knows don’t seem to care for traditionalist emphases and “culture” and ethos or whatever, he wonders whether they would have become Catholics at all if the traditionalist dominated Catholicism instead of being a small party.

Whether the analysis can be made in a converse sense, I’m not sure. I know that many traditionalist don’t take much interest in apologetics or evangelism because they’re too busy being so worried about the Church all the time, that they don’t have time to try to persuade others to be part of it. 

And what would the appeal be anyway (I have often noted)? “Hey, why don’t you join our church that is in a state of collapse and ‘auto-demolition’ and is only a pathetic, loathsome shell of what it used to be?”  That certainly wouldn’t have appealed to me. I probably would have gone Orthodox. Fortunately, I met Fr. Hardon and had a friend who has a wonderful “long view” of the glory of the Church, continuing to our time. Both reached out to me (Fr. Hardon liked me when I was a Protestant; he wasn’t condemnatory at all).

Doubtless, the Mass in the vernacular is more “familiar” and appealing to a potential convert, but that can change quickly. Look at me!: I went from a completely informal, non-sacramental “Jesus Freak”: contemporary music at church; hardly any structure, to attending Latin Mass (OF) just five months after my conversion in 1990, and ever since. 

What did definitely appeal to me was the wonderful German Gothic Revival building, and the great music sung by the choir from the back. That came from a prior appreciation for architecture and music. Of course I had played in an orchestra and loved classical music already . . . God uses many things to draw us.

But anyway, it was a sense of history (as with development of doctrine and my study of the 1500s) that largely drew me in to the Church and my particular church building and Mass.

For related reading on this general topic, see my related web page, and my older and newer books on the subject.

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