On Traditionalist Use of “Conservative Catholic”

On Traditionalist Use of “Conservative Catholic” September 15, 2016


A fictional social network diagram: created by “DarwinPeacock” (12-22-14) [Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license]



“Conservative Catholic” becomes common nomenclature in practice because Catholic traditionalists insist on splitting the category of “orthodox Catholics”: which includes them and also non-traditionalists. So they have to have a name for the Other Guys. They call themselves “traditionalists” and so we also do so out of respect for their wishes.

We simply call ourselves “Catholics” and if pressed as to type, “orthodox Catholics.” If pressed further on that, we say, “we accept all that the Church teaches as binding.”

But now we have the curious practice of the folks who protested so loudly at “radtrads” as supposedly necessarily implicating or including all traditionalists (which the term never did, properly used), calling non-traditionalist orthodox Catholics “conservatives”: which itself always in practice (at least in less rigorous minds) seems to carry the connotation of “political conservative.”

I think it’s little different from using the terms “Novus Ordo Catholics” or “Vatican II Catholics” or “Neo-Catholics.” “Conservative Catholic” is slightly better, insofar as it sensibly contrasts with “liberal Catholic” (which is a real and detestable category indeed), but not by much, and it should be scrapped as well, on basically the same grounds as we were strongly urged by traditionalists to scrap “radtrad” (and I did so, even revising two of my books; adopting my own coined term, radical Catholic reactionaries; over against legitimate traditionalists).

“Radtrad” always implied a strong disagreement, whereas traditionalist use of “conservative Catholic” implies relatively more mild disagreement, such as is always the case between traditionalists and non-traditionalists (else there should be no felt necessity of having to describe oneself as “traditionalist”). We’re regarded as sort of “half-brothers” who have a curious deficiency of not being able to see what the traditionalist assumes is patently obvious (regarding problems in the Church and their solutions).

The argument over “radtrad” (and I was in the middle of it and know what I’m talking about) was whether the term implied inclusion of folks who merely preferred the TLM / EF (i.e., “traditionalists”). I argued that it clearly did not include all traditionalists; only a fringe group of them, insofar as they could be considered part of the group at all.

Catholic Answers (i.e., mostly Patrick Coffin) made this very clear in that big stink about one of their radio shows. Most good thinkers who used the term also made this clear, I think. But because “trad” was part of it, they could never overcome the objection, which I grant, had some force and reason, but not without some internal inconsistency, in my opinion.

In my fully developed position, I have attempted to conceptually and sociologically separate what I now call “radical Catholic reactionaries” from traditionalists altogether, as two distinct groups. I deliberately included “Catholic” so that no one would think I was denying they were Catholic (i.e., were schismatics). And I did not include “traditionalist” in it, so no one would think I was including traditionalists in the category.

But at no time did I ever argue that a “radtrad” should like being called that. They ain’t gonna like it, just as virtually all anti-Catholics hate that term and bigots hate that term. It doesn’t follow that these terms are not accurate in their purpose. “Radtrad” was always intended (in the usage of most who used it) as a negative, highly critical title for a negative, highly erroneous, rigorist, legalist, quasi-schismatic position. There was no pretense of making out that we liked the position or the (usually) highly uncharitable manner in which it is propagated, or that those properly called should be giddy with glee over the title.

I agree with what traditionalist “Boniface” at the Unam Santam site has argued: “traditionalist” is no longer necessary to use as a self-title. If that were agreed-upon, “conservative Catholic” would also fall by the wayside as a non sequitur, and we could all simply call ourselves “Catholics” (wouldn’t that be nice?) and “orthodox Catholics” if pressed (literally, “correct doctrine Catholics”).

The former use of “radtrad” was neither misleading nor dishonest, nor duplicitous. It was simply misunderstood as to whom it was being applied (its scope and object). That was made clear times without number, but if people don’t want to hear it, they won’t. Some people *want* to be engaged in unnecessary conflict. They get a charge out of it.

It was well-known traditionalist Kevin Tierney who wrote the following on 8 April 2013:

Finally, internet traddies of the urine and vinegar wing, wondering why nobody outside of your little enclaves takes you seriously? You guys are arguing over whether or not one can(or should) deny the Holocaust and still be Catholic. The rest of us are too busy working on promoting the Latin Mass, actually teaching the Catholic Faith, and evangelizing.

Note that Kevin included these fanatic Holocaust deniers within the traditionalist category, not outside of it, as I am always careful to clarify.

Thus in so doing, he showed that his own position is far more objectionable in the sense that he later objected to, than my “radical Catholic reactionary” term or former use of “radtrad” ever was. He made these clowns a wing of traditionalism, whereas I categorically exclude them from it.

Ironies abound in these sorts of discussions . . .

I’ve actually traced the origin of the term “radtrad”. It meant from the beginning precisely what I am saying it meant (though stray individuals can, of course, always be sloppy in using terms).

There are always those who use terms wrongly. But we have to trace them back. I did so, and in my observation, thoughtful folks who used it (such as the guys at Catholic Answers) generally understood it in the same way that I did.

Many people still object to “radical Catholic reactionary” (as I fully knew they would). In any event, I have to have a way of identifying categories in the course of my apologetic work.

To summarize the linguistic dispute over “radtrads”, I think traditionalists had a legitimate gripe insofar as people (however many actually did this) were wrongly using radtrad and applying it to them. I did not do so myself, but thought at the time, “fair enough,” and stopped using it out of charitable concern for their expressed concerns. If a term is being widely misunderstood, it is prudent to stop using it, as counter-productive.

I did not fully agree with the reasoning they gave, which was sometimes grossly inaccurate, as in the portrayals of what happened in the “controversial” Catholic Answers thread.

I explained this at the time, that my act was not a complete reversal, nor a complete agreement with traditionalist complaints. It was partial agreement, and accepting their concerns, which we all ought to do to one another in the Body of Christ.


Meta Description: The issue of terminology / titles is always important; all the more so within the Catholic Church.

Meta Keywords: Catholics, Catholicism, Orthodox Catholics, Traditionalists, Traditionalist Catholics, radical Catholic reactionaries, conservative Catholics

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