These days the term “gaslighting,” meaning the emotional manipulation of someone that causes them to question their sense of reality, is frequently used in the context of the news media and interpersonal and organizational dynamics. The word comes from the title of a 1944 movie called Gaslight, which was based on a 1938 play, Gas Light by British playwright Patrick Hamilton. In the film, a husband manipulates his wife to make her think she’s losing her sense of reality so he can have her committed to a mental hospital and claim her inheritance.
As our society has become increasingly polarized, our culture has begun to develop divergent perceptions of reality, and groups at different points along the spectrum have increasingly insisted that their ideological opponents are attempting to gaslight others. The Catholic Church hasn’t been exempt from the polarization and gaslighting, and recent examples of this have come from the traditionalist movement in response to Pope Francis’s statements about Catholics who are attached to the Tridentine rite of the Mass.
In his letter accompanying the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes, Pope Francis argues that an important reason why his decision to curtail the older form of the Roman Rite was necessary is the attitude of many of its devotees, which he said is “often characterized by a rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Vatican Council II itself, claiming, with unfounded and unsustainable assertions, that it betrayed the Tradition and the ‘true Church.’”
Many leaders and defenders of the traditionalist movement vehemently denied this allegation. Cardinal Raymond Burke, an outspoken critic of Pope Francis, released a 19-point statement decrying the decision and the pontiff’s claims about those in the traditionalist community. “Neither have I found them out of communion with the Church or divisive within the Church. On the contrary, they love the Roman Pontiff, their Bishops and priests, and, when others have made the choice of schism,” he wrote. In their official response, the leadership of the Fraternal Society of St. Peter (a canonically-recognized group of priests who celebrate the older form), stated, “The Fraternity in no way recognizes itself in the criticisms made.”
Others disagree. On August 4, Where Peter Is reported on a message sent by a US bishop to papal biographer Austen Ivereigh that said, “Frankly, these folks, or more importantly, their real and social media leaders, have brought this on themselves.” The bishop explained that over the years “the vitriolic attacks on Francis caused growing concern. The last straw for many center-right bishops was the attack on Vatican II.”
Because it is difficult to deny that these “vitriolic attacks” on pope and council exist, some traditionalists acknowledge the extremism of online personalities within the traditionalist movement (presumably bombastic figures such as Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, Taylor Marshall, or Fr. James Altman), but insist that this is nowhere to be found in the authentic leadership of the community or in the lived experience of most Catholics who are devoted to the Tridentine rite.
One figure making this claim is Joseph Shaw, chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales and secretary of Una Voce International, who wrote a response to this notion arguing that the extreme traditionalists singled out by Pope Francis may be figures with prominent social media accounts, “but their claim to represent the ordinary faithful who attend the Traditional Mass is not based on anything but notoriety,” and insisted that they do not at all represent traditionalist lay leadership. He argues instead that the true lay leaders of the movement are found in the Una Voce movement, which “is absolutely not guilty of saying the kinds of things which Pope Francis suggests.” Yet is this really the case?
When you trace the tangled web of prominent leaders, past and present, in this community, a different picture emerges. Rather than finding wounded but loyal sons and daughters of the Church who have suffered persecution at the hands of the hierarchy, the web reveals people who openly espouse the sorts of ideas the pope describes in his letter. Yet like Casablanca’s Captain Renault, they are “shocked, shocked” to find extremism within the Latin Mass movement.
This web of extremism is found across a wide scope of traditionalist publications and outlets. The organizations go by many names and the distributed nature allows them to deflect criticism. Yet, it is clear that these groups work together, if not always in concert, then at least in uneasy alliance. When the key leaders of this movement pretend to have no idea who the pope means when he says among them there are people who reject “the Church and her institutions in the name of what is called the ‘true Church,’” the extent of their deception must be revealed.
Joseph Shaw is the leader of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales, an affiliate of the larger, international organization Una Voce. Shaw is an intellectual giant among the Tridentine rite communities. His work is widely disseminated across multiple publications popular with traditionalists.
His connections with these publications, in fact, suggest that Shaw has not been forthright about the extent to which extremism permeates the traditionalist movement. In his article, he claims that the radicals the pope refers to in his letter are just social media cranks, but apparently he forgets that he was writing his article for LifeSiteNews, an extremist website known for its championing of the ranting and conspiracism of the disgraced Archbishop Viganò, attacking Pope Francis, and being banned from YouTube for disseminating Covid vaccine disinformation. Shaw’s contributions to LifeSite are not simply apologias for the older form of the liturgy, either. His writing on the site includes defending the so-called “filial correction” of Pope Francis by a group of Catholics opposed to his teachings, describing Viganò’s now-discredited testimony as “obviously true,” offering his thanks to a group who accused Pope Francis of heresy, charging indigenous Catholics from the Amazon with “syncretism” and “paganism,” arguing that disobedience to one’s bishop is really obedience, and insisting that Catholics cannot grant assent to Amoris Laetitia.
Additionally, Shaw has also contributed to the Rorate Caeli blog—which marked the election of Pope Francis with the reaction of an Argentine Holocaust denier that began, “The Horror!”—where he recently argued against the infallibility of the canonizations of Catholic saints and defended Michael Brendan Dougherty’s embarrassing New York Times attack on the pope. Shaw is also a member of the editorial board of the radical traditionalist site One Peter Five, a frequent contributor to the New Liturgical Movement blog, and has appeared frequently in the Vatican II-rejecting Remnant Newspaper, which has described Shaw as “our friend and ally in London.” Additionally Shaw also openly endorsed the position of the four “dubia Cardinals” against the pope in First Things. These are outlets that regularly espouse extreme views, advocate disobedience to the pope and bishops, and regularly launch personal and theological attacks against them. Nor are Shaw’s contributions to these outlets benign, but he is a full participant in these outlets’ opposition to the pope and the Magisterium. Likewise, these are not the blogs and video channels of mere social media cranks, but widely-read media sources among conservative Catholic intellectuals and influential members of Tridentine rite communities.
We must also keep in mind the extremist roots of the organizations of which Shaw is a leader. The former president of Una Voce and Shaw’s predecessor with the Latin Mass Society was Michael Davies. Davies, who passed away in 2004, was a leading figure and author in the traditionalist movement with such works as Liturgical Time Bombs in Vatican II: The Destruction of Catholic Faith Through Changes in Catholic Worship and Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre. In the latter title, he asserted of the excommunicated founder of the quasi-schismatic Society of St. Pius X, “Unlike many conservative Catholics he saw that it was impossible to wage an effective battle for orthodoxy within the context of the official reforms as these reforms were themselves oriented towards the cult of man.”
Was Davies an aberration or an outlier in the Una Voce movement?
That does not seem to be the case. It would be imprudent to ignore that members of today’s Una Voce leadership openly hold many of the extreme views that Shaw denies exist in the movement. On July 15, 2020, LifeSiteNews published an open letter to Archbishop Viganò and Bishop Athanasius Schneider, thanking them for their statements on the problems in the Vatican II documents.
Three men associated with Una Voce are listed as signatories: Jack P. Oostveen, former acting president of the Federation Una Voce; Jacques Dhaussy, current honorary president of the International Federation Una Voce; and Edgardo J. Cruz-Ramos, President of Una Voce Puerto Rico. The letter reads, in part: “The continuity of Vatican II with Tradition is a hypothesis to be tested and debated, not an incontrovertible fact.” While Shaw himself is not a signatory, the fact that prominent leaders of the Una Voce movement did sign the letter suggests that the claim that Una Voce “is absolutely not guilty of saying the kinds of things which Pope Francis suggests” is not entirely truthful.
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