Editor’s note: This is a response to the angry backlash by online traditionalists and other critics of Trad Recovery, written by member (and former traditionalist) Andy M. It was originally posted to the Trad Recovery blog, and is reproduced here with his permission. In this article, Andy explains why Trad Recovery was founded and the wounds it seeks to heal. —ML   

The wave of recent activity on the Catholic internet in response to the upcoming “Catholics in Communion” conference organized by the Trad Recovery group has made it very clear that some clarifications need to be made.

The first clarification pertains to how certain terms are used. In watching or reading various reactions to the group and the upcoming conference, I am reminded of the relentless accusations from Protestants that “Catholics worship Mary.” No evidence that you present to them can convince them otherwise. The issue is that the word “worship” means something fundamentally different to Catholics and Protestants. For Catholics, worship necessarily involves sacrifice. We obviously do not sacrifice to Mary, and to do so would be blasphemous. But to Protestants, worship simply involves prayer and praise, and so what they see Catholics doing is more or less the same way in which they worship God. Unless they understand what the term means to Catholics, they can only see veneration of Mary as blasphemy and idolatry.

In like manner, many self-identified traditionalists today understand “traditionalism” to mean a preference for older forms of the liturgy and a culmination of their Catholic identity. They associate traditionalism with tradition, and therefore see any accusations that traditionalism is harmful as suggesting that the older form of the Mass or other traditional practices and devotions are somehow also harmful. Nothing could be further from the truth. But at Trad Recovery, as we have clarified and as our site members have repeatedly tried to explain, we do not have the same definition of “traditionalism.”

We understand “traditionalism” as an ideology that is born from distrust, suspicion, and rejection of the Church. This is an ideology that pervades all traditionalist communities, even those that are canonically approved. Even within communities like the FSSP and ICKSP, there is an “other”-ness, a rejection of the fruits of the Second Vatican Council (the new Catechism, the teachings of the recent popes, openness to new approaches to theology, etc.), isolation from other Catholic communities, and a sense that to depart from such traditionalist communities would mean endangerment of one’s soul or compromising important values. This mentality breeds fear and anxiety. It leads to scrupulosity, anger, cold-heartedness, and other negative side effects. Our members’ testimonies and personal experiences confirm that these tendencies are common across generations and traditionalist groups. These problems extend beyond questions of canonical regularity; they affect the movement as a whole.

This is what we are trying to help people “recover” from. We are trying to help former traditionalists build their trust in Holy Mother Church, to reassure them that it is perfectly acceptable for Catholics to attend Mass at their local diocesan churches, and to help them understand that submitting to the Church’s Magisterium — allowing themselves to be led by the Bride of Christ — does not and cannot endanger their souls. It is necessary to exercise prudence and discernment in each situation, but the “traditionalism” we are trying to assist people in healing from is the spiritually harmful ideology found in the movement, not a certain form of worship.

It is risible in the extreme to think this makes us modernists, Marxists, communists, schismatics, heretics, or any of the other absurd accusations that have been leveled. It is truly unfortunate that the worst of these accusations come from those who see themselves as “traditional Catholics.” This is decidedly un-Catholic behavior.

One sees the “other”-ness of traditionalism on full display in the barrage of messages, posts, video responses, and other reactions that followed the announcement of our conference. Apparently if one is not a full-blown “traditionalist,” they are on the other side of the aisle by default, and more or less a “Catholic in name only.” Our online critics are obviously unaware that many of our site members still attend the Latin Mass and we share resources to help them find reverent Masses near them. They are apparently also unaware that we decry liturgical abuses and share many of their concerns and frustrations about problems in the Church today. But we do not believe the ideology of traditionalism as the remedy to these problems.

The second clarification that must be stated is that most of critics of Trad Recovery do not understand what it is like to have grown up in one of these communities. They have no idea what that environment does to one’s mental and spiritual formation, especially to young children. Most of the prominent online supporters of “traditionalist” communities have only discovered them within the last 10 to 15 years. I would imagine that the few who did grow up in these communities have most likely have never experienced what happens to those who try to raise concerns or doubts about their group’s ideologies, and the inevitable backlash, rejection, ostracizing, and shunning that comes as a result.

Those who haven’t lived through this are in no place to be criticizing the experiences of those who have suffered through mental, spiritual, and emotional trauma that comes from these groups. They do not know the social dynamics at play within families and circles of friends, and what happens to those who challenge these dynamics. And to leave this way of life behind after being formed in it is to anathematize yourself from friends and family. This requires a huge effort to “rebuild.” (One might ask these online figures what they would think or do if their children left traditionalism and began attending their local diocesan church.)

These negative effects are indeed directly correlated to the traditionalist ideology. This ideology breeds spiritual elitism, constant criticism of anything and everything that is not “traditional,” isolation from the rest of the Church, relentless threats of hellfire and damnation, and many other negative effects. It creates spiritually-stunted minds that have not been shown the love of God or the beauty of the Church in a real, understandable way. Those who are raised in traditionalism grow up in constant spiritual fear, and they feel the weight of the world on their shoulders because they are taught that it is ultimately up to them to stay strong and preserve the faith — since the Church has lost it.

The traditionalist movement creates a superiority complex that raises the bar to an impossible standard — namely, being the “true Catholics” with the “true faith.” These sentiments are constantly expressed in actions and attitudes if not words, and these are sentiments that Pope Francis accurately cited when issuing Traditiones Custodes. This ideology leads people to see themselves as the chosen few, the remnant. And this is what they teach their children. Those children are taught that deserting the movement means letting God down and giving up. It means they didn’t care enough about their faith. If they leave and become a part of the wider Church, it means they “compromised” — when what they really did was just submit to the Church and put their trust in the Lord.

Those who have not grown up under the “traditionalist” umbrella do not know what it does to young minds, but one day, their children will, and perhaps then they will see that the faith has to be more about an appealing liturgy or about certain devotions. It must come from the heart; it does not reside in a certain set of rubrics. And the reactionary, divisive, uncharitable, and downright insidious responses that have come from some people are an exhibit of what this traditionalist mentality does to people. Pride has eroded their charity away. If one finds it somehow reprehensible to recommend books about Vatican II and its true intentions, to offer theological and canonical research on traditionalist errors, to provide resources for scrupulosity and anxiety, and to build a community of people who have experienced similar hardships, they may want to re-evaluate what this mentality is really doing to them. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel good—above all, that we are better than someone else—I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil.” We all ought to keep these words in mind.

Image: Adobe Stock. By PikePicture.

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