During his in-flight press conference on the return flight from Mongolia to Rome, Pope Francis answered a question from Antonio Pelayo of Vida Nueva, regarding a recent book for which Cardinal Raymond Burke wrote the Foreword, The Synodal Process Is a Pandora’s Box. Pelayo asked,
“Holy Father, you have just spoken about the Synod and we all agree with you that this Synod has generated much curiosity and much interest. Unfortunately, it has also brought forth much criticism from Catholic realities. I refer (now) to a book with a prologue by Cardinal Burke who says that the Synod is a pandora’s box from which all calamities for the Church will come. What do you think of this position? Do you think it will be overcome by reality or could (this view) influence the Synod?”
Although Pope Francis didn’t directly mention Cardinal Burke or the book in his response — instead he spoke about a recent conversation with a Carmelite nun, who said that the sisters were worried about potential changes in doctrine that were rumored to come about as a result of the synod — he did identify the danger that ideological thinking (the type of mindset exemplified by Cardinal Burke and many traditionalists) poses for the Church. Francis explained:
“Always, when one wants to detach from the path of communion in the Church, what always pulls it apart is ideology. And they accuse the Church of this or that, but they never make an accusation of what is true: (it is made up of) sinners. They never speak of sin … They defend a “doctrine”, a doctrine like distilled water that has no taste and is not true Catholic doctrine, that is, in the Creed. And that very often scandalizes. How scandalous is the idea that God became flesh, that God became Man, that Our Lady kept her virginity? This scandalizes.”
Two points in this response are noteworthy. The first is his description of the ideologue as one who “wants to detach from the path of communion in the Church.” It seems that even Pope Francis has resigned himself to the fact that certain members of the US Church are pulling away from communion and are marching toward schism. Perhaps steps could have been taken earlier in this pontificate to “shore up” the American Church in order to avoid this mess. Recent discussions with traditionalists and other reactionary opponents of the pope, however, suggest it would take a miracle for many of them to reverse course and heal the rift in the Church. And as I’ve noted before, the contempt that many of them have for Pope Francis is a long-term problem.
The pope’s second important point is that he notes the “doctrines” defended by these ideologues are like “distilled water that has no taste.” What comes to mind are the petty battles in the Church’s culture wars — the ferocity with which LifeSiteNews or Crisis Magazine or certain popular apologists will attack the pope for not being strict or severe enough in his dealings with people whose lives and beliefs aren’t in perfect conformity with Catholic doctrine.
Cardinal Burke has become almost a caricature of this approach, such as when he recently wrote that the “secular” terms accompaniment and integration “are used without grounding them in the truth of the faith or in the objective reality of our life in the Church.” The cardinal opined that the use of these words suggests that “The perspective of eternal life is eclipsed in favor of a kind of popular view of the Church in which all should feel ‘at home,’ even if their daily living is an open contradiction to the truth and love of Christ.” Never mind that we are all sinners, and that each of us is missing the mark when it comes to living the truth and love of Christ; Cardinal Burke apparently believes that for some sinners, the Church should not be a home.
It’s hard to see much overlap between this rules-first approach to the Christian life and Pope Francis’s call to welcome and accompany those on the margins. The joyful chants of “Todos, todos, todos!” (“Everyone, everyone, everyone!”) at World Youth Day are the Church’s response to Burke’s grumbling.
Many priests I know, and many more on social media, have received copies of The Synodal Process Is a Pandora’s Box:100 Questions & Answers by José Antonio Ureta and Julio Loredo de Izcue, with Cardinal Burke’s Foreword. Apparently a well-funded campaign to send free copies to as many priests as possible is underway, in an attempt to influence the synod. Although it’s likely that most of these books will wind up in recycling bins or lining bird cages, it’s an impressive undertaking being carried out by a radical organization that has long been at odds with the pope and bishops of the Catholic Church.
The authors of the book are affiliated with the Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) movement, a loose confederation of hardline reactionary Catholic organizations, founded in Brazil by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira in 1960. The English edition of the book is published by the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania.
The influence of Corrêa de Oliveira permeates the book, as he is cited repeatedly throughout the text and explicitly invoked in the book’s conclusion, which notes its publication on the 80th anniversary of the publication of Corrêa de Oliveira’s 1943 book, In Defense of Catholic Action.
TFP was condemned by the Brazilian bishops decades ago for fanaticism and its cult-like devotion to its founder (and his mother). They issued the following note in 1985:
TRADITION – FAMILY – PROPERTY
The lack of communion between the T.F.P. (Brazilian Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property) and the Church in Brazil, its hierarchy and the Holy Father is notorious.
Its esoteric character, its religious fanaticism, the cult of personality of its head and his mother, the abusive use of the name of Mary Most Holy, as reported in the press, can in no way merit the approval of the Church.
We regret the inconvenience caused by a civil association that presents itself as a Catholic religious entity with no connection to its legitimate pastors.
The Bishops of Brazil therefore urge Catholics not to join the T.F.P. and not to collaborate with it.
Itaici, April 19, 1985
Despite this condemnation by the Brazilian bishops, TFP continued to operate in Brazil, and has an international presence (including the aforementioned American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, TFP Student Action, and America Needs Fatima in the US). Many of the international iterations of this group include the words “Needs Fatima” (Australia needs Fatima, The Philippines needs Fatima, Ireland needs Fatima) in their names. Another offshoot is “Canada Needs Our Lady.” In the United States, TFP remains a fixture at annual March For Life in Washington, DC, with their red sashes, banners, bagpipes, drummers, and brass band.
Following the 1995 death of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, the TFP movement splintered into a variety of groups committed to carrying out his teachings and legacy.
For those interested in learning more about TFP, we’ve published a few articles about them, beginning in late 2019, when Daniele Palmer reported on a popular Brazilian social media influencer affiliated with the group who attempted to undermine and disrupt the Amazon Synod.
Palmer later wrote on the role TFP-affiliated groups and individuals have played in the reactionary/traditionalist resistance to Pope Francis.
For more insights into the paranoid and apocalyptic worldview of the organization, see DW Lafferty’s 3 part series on their ideology and worldview:
- TFP Ideology, Part One: The Revolution
- TFP Ideology, Part Two: The Counter-Revolution
- TFP Ideology, Part Three: The Bagarre and the Reign of Mary
There are a couple more interesting connections between TFP and the opposition to Pope Francis. The first is the affiliation of Alexander Tschugguel with the group. That’s right, the Austrian vandal who stole the Amazonian statues from the Roman Church of Santa Maria in Traspontina and threw them into the Tiber, has a longstanding affiliation with the group. Multiple reports say he began “working” with TFP at the age of 16. They also sponsored his 2019 US speaking tour.
A second connection, although not official,* has to do with the group “Texas Needs Fatima,” which lists America Needs Fatima and The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property among its supporters, and which features images of members with TFP banners. This organization describes itself as a ministry that “has been blessed by Bishop Joseph Strickland to go throughout the Diocese of Tyler to hold Rosary Rallies to honor Our Blessed Mother’s request to pray the Rosary, make reparation to her Immaculate Heart, and to do Penance.”
* Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Texas Needs Fatima is affiliated with TFP. They are not, although TFP and related groups are listed as “supporters” of the organization on their website.
Image: Cover detail from The Synodal Process Is a Pandora’s Box:100 Questions & Answers.