2019 was a turbulent year in the Church, but amid all the controversy, much was revealed. Some prominent critics of the pope, spurred on by the example of the now-discredited Archbishop Viganò, expressed themselves with rare frankness, allowing us to further discern the contours of the anti-Francis resistance, the depths of which we have still not fathomed. There is much lurking in the darkness that will come to light in the months and years to come. But we have to remain critical and aware.
As Catholics we can rely upon the living Magisterium as a guide to understanding the world, but our reliance upon it comes at a cost. When we believe we have all the answers, our critical faculties can atrophy, leaving us at risk of being manipulated. It is distressing to see Catholics swayed so easily by the latest charismatic personality to hit Catholic media, or by muckraking media outlets that thrive on distortions of the truth. And there are other manipulative forces out there that are far less obvious in their methods. With that in mind, it is important that we be aware of the lineage of the rhetoric we are hearing from all camps. What sounds like an inspiring call to defend the faith, fight secularism, or support good and faithful priests may often signify much more than that.
In recent months Where Peter Is has helped to trace the lineage of some of the rhetoric we’ve been hearing by delving into the activities and the ideology of the movement known as Tradition, Family and Property—not because we are leftist Modernists (we aren’t) who hate traditionalist Catholics (we don’t), but because we are concerned about factions within the Church that seek to undermine the confidence of ordinary Catholics in the living Magisterium and the pope. TFP, in its various forms, has occupied the fringes of the Catholic world for a long time, but during the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region it stepped into the spotlight and we can now better see the marks it is leaving on the Church in the United States and elsewhere.
During the Amazon synod, Daniele Palmer published two articles on TFP’s activities in relation to that event: “The Bolsonaro influencer seeking to sway the synod” (October 26) and National populist org behind traditionalist opposition to Pope Francis (November 7). After that, I published a three-part series on TFP ideology, looking at their ideas of the Revolution, the Counter-Revolution, and the Bagarre and the Reign of Mary. Most recently, Daniele published a piece that addresses the influence of TFP in the United States and calls for US bishops to push back.
Those who take the time to learn about TFP through these pieces and other sources will hopefully become more aware of the influence of TFP in what sometimes seem like innocuous events and initiatives. Let me provide an example of one such event.
Dawn Eden Goldstein, in a series of tweets on the influence of TFP, brought to my attention an event that took place at the end of October, in Denver, Colorado: the 2019 Catholic Action Priest conference, “A Faithful Echo.” Here is a graphic advertising the summit:
The summit was co-hosted by Catholic Action for Faith and Family and the Napa Institute, in partnership with the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy and the Archdiocese of Denver. It was billed as the beginning of a Faithful Echo ‘movement,’ and laypeople were encouraged to sponsor priests to attend. Featured speakers included prominent Francis critics Cardinal Raymond Burke and Cardinal Gerhard Müller.
As Dawn noted, the summit had TFP connections. The President of Catholic Action for Faith and Family, Thomas McKenna, is the former Vice-President of The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP). McKenna is also the Executive Director of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy. The President of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy (to be distinguished from the Association of United States Catholic Priests) is the well-known EWTN personality Father John Trigilio, who was a vocal supporter of a number of the initiatives of the American TFP in the 2000s.
But the TFP influence is discernible from the title of the summit itself. Dawn points out that the “faithful echo” metaphor was used in 1964 by Cardinal Giuseppe Pizzardo in a letter to Bishop António de Castro Mayer regarding Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira’s book The Freedom of the Church in the Communist State (you can see the original letter which has been preserved for posterity on the American TFP site).
It was only after researching some of the sources of TFP ideology that I realized the “faithful echo” language goes beyond the Cardinal Pizzardo quote—though this quote may have served as the impetus for later elaborations of the idea by Corrêa de Oliveira. Look again at the image of the bell on the “Faithful Echo” advertisement. Consider this image along with the title of the conference in relation to the 1970 speech by Corrêa de Oliveira, “The Echo of Fidelity and the TFP Mission,” that I covered in the third part of my series on TFP. The bell, which represents Catholic tradition, is the central metaphor around which Corrêa de Oliveira centres his dualistic vision of the world and the idea of the faithful echo.
The term “faithful echo” appears three times in the English translation of the speech. The first appearance comes as he is describing the “Reign of Mary,” or future triumph of the TFP-led counter-revolution:
She scatters the evil ones and establishes her glory and when her glory begins and her kingdom starts to shine forth among men, a bell continues to ring on. It is the same bell that rung at the beginning of the reaction, whose timbre is the same in times of glory and peace. It is a most faithful echo of the previous voices. It is the bell of tradition, which, as the Reign of Mary dawns, rings out all the lessons of the Holy, Roman, Catholic and Apostolic Church. (emphasis mine)
The second appearance occurs in a simple exhortation to members of TFP:
Be faithful! Be valorous! Be faithful echoes of Tradition and you will return with joy, singing the victories that you won for Our Lady. (emphasis mine)
The third and final appearance of the term comes when Corrêa de Oliveira reflects on his own mission as the leader of TFP and his opposition to what he considered the disastrous results of the Second Vatican Council:
I am not, and have no intention of being, anything but a bell—no, even less than a bell—I am an echo of the great bell that is the Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I want to prolong this echo, those teachings that are no longer being taught from so many pulpits and confessionals, not as a minister or master but as a faithful disciple filled with joy at the glory of being a disciple. We are precisely the echo that prolongs the voice of the bell amid the battle; the echo that carries that voice far off and makes it heard everywhere; a faithful echo. O sorrow! Even when the bell goes silent the echo continues to be faithful, even when the bell appears to toll in a crazy fashion seemingly betraying its vocation as a bell. (emphasis mine)
After reading this speech by Corrêa de Oliveira, and after recognizing the TFP associations of the co-host of the Catholic Action summit, one can see the advertisement for the summit from a new perspective. The Faithful Echo movement that Cardinal Burke and Archbishop Aquila support is not really new; it has a lineage that long predates Pope Francis. And Cardinal Burke’s words, quoted here in Denver Catholic, sound less his own and more of a “faithful echo” of those of Corrêa de Oliveira:
The Faithful Echo movement […] is directed to drawing clergy and the lay faithful in ever closer unity to combat the darkness of the present confusion, error and division in the Church. […] All of us […] are called to be a faithful echo. A faithful witness of Our Lord in the world.
Yet without this background knowledge it is so easy to accept these pious-sounding words at face value.
We have a responsibility as Catholics to both defend and seek the truth. There are too many secrets, and too many hidden factions, within the Church. Too many narcissists with grandiose visions who are eager to tell people what to do and what to think. As we move into the New Year, we should resolve to think with the Church and to think for ourselves—to be faithful and critical. We can do both.
Photo: Bell from Catholic church of Laibarös, Germany, from Wikimedia Commons