Last week, the traditionalist blog Rorate Caeli posted a four-part response by Dr. John Lamont to a review of Peter Kwasniewski’s book, True Obedience in the Church: A Guide to Discernment in Challenging Times (Sophia Institute Press, Kindle Edition, $9.99) by the French priest Henry Donneaud, OP, in the Dominican journal Revue thomiste. [1] Kwasniewski’s book, an expansion of a lecture he delivered at the November 2021 Catholic Identity Conference, is his attempt to define and explain the principle of obedience in the Church, and to provide Catholics with guidance on how he believes “it is to be properly and prudently understood and lived.” The text of the lecture was also published on LifeSiteNews.

The book is very short; the Kindle version of True Obedience is listed as equivalent to 81 printed pages in length, but the table of contents starts at page 8 and the text concludes on page 54, followed by “Further Reading,” “Endnotes,” and “About the Author.” Kwasniewski’s argument is essentially a 45-page essay, and most of its substance will be familiar to those well-acquainted with his articles, talks, and interviews.

By comparison, Fr. Donneaud’s review is a tidy 2,500 words on four A4 pages. Dr. Lamont’s response to Donneaud’s review, which was compiled into a single PDF document, is over 23,000 words on 32 single-spaced, letter-sized pages — nearly ten times the length of the article it critiques and approaches the length of the book it defends. Lamont apologizes for his article’s length, writing, “Refuting accusations is more complicated than making them, so this consideration must be of some length—for which the author begs the reader’s indulgence. The truths that furnish this refutation are important ones.”

My hope was that, given its length, I would find serious (or at least interesting) responses to Fr. Donneaud’s most important points somewhere in Lamont’s essay, but unfortunately it was not to be. Over four installments, Lamont spent a great deal of time articulating the 11 principal “theses” of the traditionalist ideology (which, although unrelated to Donneaud’s review, might be a topic worth analyzing in a future article), criticizing Donneaud’s word choices and definitions, and accusing him of doctrinal error. In his fourth and final installment, rather than addressing the substance of Donneaud’s review, Lamont resorts to ad hominem attacks, essentially accusing Fr. Donneaud of doing evil in service to a tyrannical pope. Lamont spends many paragraphs arguing in favor of the liturgical views he shares with Kwasniewski, such as the idea that the “Novus Ordo” cannot be considered “a version of the Roman Rite at all.” But when he finally reaches the central point of Donneaud’s review (and ostensibly the thesis of Kwasniewski’s book) — the matter of obedience and authority in the Church — he sidesteps the issue altogether, writing, “Fr. Donneaud’s positions cannot be taken seriously theologically.” He also asserts that “Fr. Donneaud would have had to make different moral and religious choices much earlier on in order to appreciate the force of Dr. Kwasniewski’s case.”

Kwasniewski’s argument

The overall purpose of True Obedience is perhaps best summarized in the endorsement provided by Kazakh auxiliary Bishop Athanasius Schneider, who writes, “the present book of Dr. Peter Kwasniewski offers a valuable and timely theological clarification on the authentic meaning of obedience. This tract will bring peace of conscience to many perplexed souls and confirm their fidelity to the perennial doctrinal and liturgical tradition of Holy Mother Church” (p. 1. Kindle Edition).

The promulgation of Traditionis Custodes, the July 2021 apostolic letter of Pope Francis that placed restrictions on the use of the older form of the Roman Rite celebrated prior to the Second Vatican Council has put many Catholic traditionalists into a dilemma. They are being forced to choose whether they will obey the disciplinary decrees of the pope or if they will defy his authority and worship independently in the way they prefer. On the surface — and in accord with both history and with the plain reading of canon law and magisterial teachings on papal primacy — the principle is clear: Catholics are bound to set aside their personal preferences and submit intellect and will to the authority of the Church. But for the past half-century, members of what is known as the traditionalist movement have advanced the argument that in extraordinary situations true obedience to Christ and to the perennial traditions of the Church means defying the decisions of the pope and the bishops in communion with him for the sake of a higher truth.

In his book, Kwasniewski attempts to establish an understanding of obedience along these lines that will allow traditionalists to have their cake and eat it too. His solution? To appeal to an even higher authority than the pope, and to equate the rejection of liturgical reforms promulgated by popes with obedience to God. He provides a graphic of a pyramid illustrating seven levels of authority and the level of obedience that must be granted to each. Kwasniewski argues that we owe absolute obedience to the first three levels: God’s eternal law, Revealed Divine Law, and Natural Law. He places “liturgical providence” in the second category. Fourth comes “Human Ecclesiastical Law: Church Hierarchy/Religious Superiors (given by a divinely established authority),” to which is owed “Conditional obedience based on trust, rightful subordination, preservation of ecclesiastical common good.” It is at this point in the hierarchy that he notes, “In order to be binding, this and each subsequent sphere of law must be in harmony with those above it.” The last three “spheres” are civil government, family, and voluntary associations.

It’s easy to see what Kwasniewski is attempting with his pyramid. By putting the liturgy on par with divine law (which is owed absolute obedience) and placing ecclesiastical, including Petrine, authority on the fourth tier (where obedience is conditional), he is rigging the system so that attempts by Church authority to reform or regulate the Roman liturgy in any way must be seen as violations of divine authority and the common good.

From there, his reasoning is straightforward. With Kwasniewski’s view that the Roman liturgy became “perfected” in the sixteenth century as a matter of divine authority, we simply apply the principle that “an unjust law is no law at all” to any ecclesiastical authority who dares touch it. He writes, “An authority’s power to morally bind resides in the common good, so if the authority deploys his office overtly against the common good, then that command inherently lacks moral binding power” (p. 22).

Kwasniewski’s argument hinges on two controversial hypotheses. The first is that the Roman Rite, as celebrated prior to the reforms following the Second Vatican Council, is unchangeable and of divine provenance: “In the splendor of its monumental immutability, perfected ecclesial worship seems to come down to us not only from our ancestors but from the very court of heaven” (p. 26). The second hypothesis — which is presented in a matter-of-fact way despite its lack of precedent in Catholic doctrine or tradition — is Kwasniewski’s theory that allows individual Catholics to judge the legitimacy of the teachings and laws promulgated by ecclesiastical authorities.

Additionally, in order to apply these novel hypotheses, one must also agree with Kwasniewski that Pope Francis (and, to some extent, every pope since Pius XII) have embraced and acted upon an erroneous understanding of the pope’s authority when reforming the liturgy. Accordingly, one must also accept Kwasniewski’s rejection of the plain reading of virtually everything the Church has taught about papal primacy since the First Vatican Council.

How does he justify this? Quite simply, Kwasniewski believes that his views are those of the sensus fidelium, which he defines as “the capacity, enjoyed by the baptized members of the Church, to discern the truth of Christ if they have been formed properly by it and are striving to live according to it” (p. 37). Kwasniewski argues that in ordinary times, “ecclesiastical laws create a structure within which the Church’s mission may unfold in an orderly and peaceful way. But there can be situations of anarchy or breakdown, corruption or apostasy, where the ordinary structures become impediments to, not facilitators of, the Church’s mission” (p. 46). He seems to believe that it is self-evident that today we are in an such an era.

Kwasniewski is apparently untroubled by the fact that his views are quite novel. His thesis not only flatly contradicts the concept of authority taught by countless papal documents and many conciliar decrees, but they are not even widely accepted by traditionalists. Remarkably, he nevertheless has no difficulty imagining that all the baptized faithful should reach his conclusions — if they have been formed “properly,” that is.

Certainly there is an audience for his position, but it is dramatically out of step with the laws of the Church, and the understanding of the office of the papacy that has been taught clearly and unanimously by popes and councils since the nineteenth century.

Fr Donneaud’s Review

Fr. Donneaud does not waste much time before addressing both hypotheses in his review. In his third paragraph, he writes:

The most glaring flaw affects the minor part of the reasoning. The author bases it on a completely innovative theological thesis, unknown to tradition, without any support in the magisterium, and which quite simply borders on heterodoxy. The “traditional liturgy” — as the author calls the Tridentine Mass — is said to enjoy an almost divine authority, deriving from direct inspiration by the Holy Spirit, almost on a par with Scripture, so that the missal of St Pius V, which is its vehicle, is itself immutable and unalterable, and no Roman pontiff can decide to replace it until Christ returns.

Donneaud, perhaps not as familiar with Kwasniewski’s views as the author’s American critics, seems astounded by Kwasniewski’s near-total dismissal of the massive body of authoritative teachings that affirms the Church’s authority to change and reform liturgical rites. He writes, “Either out of ignorance or embarrassment, the author completely ignores the solid magisterial determinations which, on the contrary, guarantee the Church’s sovereign right to modify certain rites, even in important ways, and to invent new ones.” Fr. Donneaud then provides concrete examples that contradict Kwasniewski’s assertions.

More generally, Fr Donneaud points out that “the spirit of free examination and doctrinal innovation that seems to inhabit the author allows him to ignore or even to challenge de facto the authority of the Church’s magisterium in its highest expressions, a Catholic ear will suspect here remarks that are, to say the least, unwholesome.” Fr. Donneaud is very generous in using phrases like “borders on heterodoxy” and “unwholesome” to describe Kwasniewski’s extremely novel positions, which can very convincingly be described as “heretical” or even “schismatic.” Still, his specific criticisms of Kwasniewski’s distorted ecclesiology and warped theology are clear and difficult to refute.

For example, Kwasniewski writes, “I am assuming that the reader already understands that the classical Roman Rite and the modern rite of Paul VI are two different liturgical rites — so different in their content, which includes texts, music, rubrics, ceremonies, and appurtenances, that the latter cannot by any stretch of the imagination be seen as merely a ‘revision’ or ‘new version’ of the former” (p. 36). This, of course, is not an obvious assumption for an ordinary Catholic to make, especially because it rejects both the common understanding and the official position of the Church. Unless one is deeply saturated in the thinking of Kwasniewski’s traditionalist clique or happens to be a committed adherent of Klaus Gamber’s edgier theories, most liturgically-minded Catholics accept that the post-Vatican II Missal is the reformed Roman Rite. Donneaud points this out directly, quoting from Pope Benedict — who, despite being an admirer of Gamber — repeatedly stated in official documents that they are different forms of the same rite. He writes, “Faithful to his definition of a ‘hermeneutic of reform’ as opposed to an unfortunate and sickly ‘hermeneutic of rupture’, Benedict XVI was careful to affirm that ‘there is no contradiction between one edition of the Missale Romanum and another.’”

Responding to Kwasniewski’s assertion that the older form of the Roman liturgy belongs to “divine providence” and can thus be considered part of divine revelation (and is therefore irreformable), Donneaud expresses bewilderment at the confidence with which Kwasniewski puts forward this unheard-of and unprecedented hypothesis. He writes, “We are stunned by the enormity of such a statement, which does nothing less than extend the fulfilment phase of constitutive Revelation, with its divine authority, far beyond Christ and the Apostles, for centuries, until an event of which nothing is said with any precision by the author, marks the end of this full revelation of the liturgy and ushers in a purely conservatory phase, in which nothing more can be changed by the Church in its rites, except in an accessory and minor way (addition of new feasts, new saints).” Donneaud points out that many popes, including Pius X and XII, explicitly confirm the idea that the pope has the authority to reform the liturgy (a fact that Kwasniewski freely acknowledges but nevertheless dismisses). Donneaud also suggests that in proposing this idea, Kwasniewski seems to have committed a fundamental doctrinal error, writing, “To suggest that revelation was not ‘completed with the apostles’ and would have continued, in liturgical matters, many centuries after them, is to incur the censure of no. 21 of Pius X’s Decree Lamentabili against a typically modernist error (DzH 2021).”

Lamont’s response

I read Lamont’s lengthy response several times, trying in vain to find any nugget of substance that might help lend credence to Kwasniewski’s arguments or provide a solid rebuttal to Donneaud’s magisterially-grounded critique. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, Lamont spends most of his time floating theories about traditionalism, quibbling over terminology (e.g. “TLM” vs “Mass of Pius V” vs “Tridentine Mass”), and rehashing just how awful the Novus Ordo is. He offers paragraph after paragraph of reasons why he believes the liturgical books promulgated after Vatican II are corrupt and non-Catholic, but — like Kwasniewski — he fails to link his position to any legitimate authority figure in the Church or to any authoritative Magisterial teaching.

When Lamont reaches a place in his response where it appears that he might finally begin to address Fr. Donneaud’s central point — the groundlessness of Kwasniewski’s controversial assertions about authority in the Church — he opts for ridicule and accusation. He writes, “The absurd character of many of his statements is a help in conveying this message. This absurdity makes it clear at the outset that truth or reason are not going to play a role here, that it does not matter how good your arguments are if you disagree. Compelling people to agree to absurd statements that they know to be false is also a standard and effective tool for humiliating them and breaking their will.”

In the final part of his response, Dr. Lamont’s rhetoric devolves into an unhinged, apocalyptic rant:

The Novus Ordo is part of this anti-civilizational project; this leaps to the eye when the ritual of Paul VI is examined in the setting of the architecture and music produced for it. This process of course had a religious goal—realization of the modernist urge to reject and destroy Catholicism. But since Catholicism is a civilized religion, destruction of Catholicism and destruction of civilization went together. We may add that opposition to civilization was to some extent a distinct motivation for this orgy of destruction. Some people are barbarians. They hate civilization as such, because it makes them feel inferior, presents them with standards they are unwilling and unable to meet, excludes them from status and importance. Such barbarians were important auxiliaries in the modernist war against the Faith.

Blignières’s review

In his response, Dr. Lamont has no scruples about describing Fr. Donneaud as a “barbarian” and saying Donneaud is “outraging the worship of God by attempting to suppress a legal and holy form of it.” Even though he says in his review, “Only a pusillanimous and fearful mind would take offence at the sincere attachment of faithful Catholics to the old form of the Roman rite,” Fr. Donneaud is apparently automatically an enemy of traditionalism and cannot be taken seriously because he is a priest who accepts the liturgical reform and celebrates the Roman Rite according to the current edition of the Missal.

The same cannot be said, however, of another French priest who has offered a serious critique of Kwasniewski’s book. Father Louis-Marie de Blignières, the founder and current prior of the Fraternité Saint-Vincent-Ferrier, a traditionalist community in Chémeré-le-Roi, an outspoken advocate of the older liturgy who has openly criticized Amoris Laetitia and Traditionis Custodes, and whose academic work has been praised by Peter Kwasniewski in the past, wrote an incisive critique of True Obedience in the most recent issue of Sedes Sapientiae, a magazine published by his religious community.[2]

Although Fr. Blignières is certainly supportive of Kwasniewski’s love for the Tridentine liturgy and praises his efforts to defend and protect it, he notes the same fundamental errors identified by Fr. Donneaud. On Kwasniewski’s placement of “liturgical providence” on the level of “revealed divine law,” Fr. Blignières comments, “Important distinctions need to be made as to the nature of this divine assistance granted to the development of the liturgy.” He explains that “Theologians have developed this delicate point for liturgy and liturgical laws. In our opinion, the author exaggerates this liturgical providence.” Fr. Blignières points out that without making careful distinctions, Kwasniewski opens himself up for obvious criticisms: “How can this liturgical providence, which according to you belongs to the revealed divine law, have disappeared for nearly 70 years?”

Blignières describes Kwasniewski’s as “a truly maximalist stance: the Holy Spirit’s assistance to the liturgy ended with the 1570 missal, so that even Pius XII’s Holy Week was ‘a sin against God’s liturgical Providence.’” Kwasniewski really did say this. In endnote 52, he writes, “The inclusion of the new Holy Week of Pius XII in the 1962 editio typica of the Missale Romanum causes that missal to be in contradiction with its prefatory Quo Primum, which the Pacellian Holy Week implicitly defies, inasmuch as it is a rupture from Catholic Tradition and therefore a sin against God’s liturgical Providence” (p. 68).

In his conclusion, Blignières suggests that Kwasniewski’s work ultimately harms the traditionalist cause, writing that the author “does not seem to us to be up to speed on the question of the theology of obedience. As far as the liturgical aspect is concerned, the author’s central thesis on divine providence in liturgical laws is excessive*; and in our opinion, it gives arguments to those who forbid any criticism of the post-conciliar reforms.”


Ultimately, Lamont and Kwasniewski fail to support their theses on both obedience and the liturgy because they lack the backing of the very thing they are trying to circumvent: magisterial authority. Instead, they take us through a somewhat more fantastical version of the same traditionalist narrative that has been advanced for over half a century. Furthermore, they present this argument under the assumption that their audience already accepts half their thesis. It seems that their purpose is not meant to convince ordinary Catholics that the traditionalist narrative is reasonable, but rather to persuade traditionalists that disobeying the Church is actually a good thing.

Kwasniewski bristles and objects strongly when he is accused of engaging in Protestant-style “private judgement.” Yet True Obedience offers little more than that. Other than his notion that “well-formed” and intelligent Catholics should be able to “sense” what is true and good and beautiful (meaning that they should be able to agree with his opinions on these matters and therefore have his permission to disobey the Church), the foundation of Peter Kwasniewski’s ecclesiology seems to be little more than Peter Kwasniewski.

After reading Kwasniewski’s book and Lamont’s response, curious readers will be left secure in their knowledge that Kwasniewski and Lamont think their case is rock-solid and indisputable, but they will never receive an answer to a much more important question: “Says who?”

* Update: An earlier version of this article translated “outrée” as “outrageous.” The original French passage is, “Mais son opuscule, qui contient certes de précieux rappels, ne nous semble pas au point sur la question de la théologie de l’obéis- sance. Pour l’aspect liturgique, la thèse centrale de l’auteur sur la providence divine sur les lois liturgiques est outrée ; et elle donne à notre avis des arguments à ceux qui interdisent toute critique des réformes postconciliaires.


[1] Donnead, Henry, O.P. Book review, in Revue thomiste 123 (2023), p. 203-208: Peter KWASNIEWSKI, La véritable obéissance dans l’Église, Un guide de discernment pour des temps difficiles, Poitiers, Dominique Martin Morin, 2022, 1 vol. de 138 p. [English translation from French original].

[2] L.-M. de Blignières, “Peter Kwasniewski, La véritable obéissance dans l’Église. Un guide de discernement pour temps difficiles”, Sedes Sapientiae, no. 164, June 2023, pp. 104-111.

Photo by Shalone Cason on Unsplash

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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.

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