Writings by Dr. John C. Rao

Una Voce and the Interregnum

(Una Voce America, Winter, 2003)

An interregnum, which I would define very broadly as the time between two periods of effective rule, is a horrible thing. The reason for this is quite simple. Interregna, historically, have all too frequently been moments of terrible doubt regarding the true possessor of real authority in a given country, causing its inhabitants to trudge along a political, social, and moral path which seems dreadfully uncertain. Place an intelligent individual in the midst of an interregnum and he will sooner or later realize that events around him are not necessarily being shaped by the officially recognized regent or ineffective ruler. Rather, he will see that, more often than not, policies are being dictated by the clash of self-serving, politically shrewd, and often hidden cabals, feeding on that widespread confusion which generally paralyzes the good as well as the weak. A well-intentioned person, demoralized by his helplessness under such conditions, is bound to understand what others in analogous situations before him have grasped: that only the accession of a firm, clear authority will put the dangerous manipulators who thrive in an interregnum back in their appropriate place.

We faithful of the international monarchy of the Roman Catholic Church are, unfortunately, living in an interregnum of a sort that we could not charitably wish upon the worst of our enemies. This interregnum, like all others, has created a playground for the manipulative to enjoy their destructive games. Unlike the average interregnum, however, the one affecting Catholic Christendom is much more complex in nature, involving three layers of confusion of authority. All of these have cooperated in opening the door to a twisting of the Christian message by parochial interest groups of heretical or morally dubious intent in a way that is unparalleled in Church History.

One cause of the Catholic Interregnum directly concerns John Paul II. Although the Pope’s immediate, poignant medical condition certainly has contributed to the problem of anarchy within the Church, I would nevertheless argue that the entirety of the present pontificate has, in many respects, been one long, extremely perilous interregnum. For, despite media and liberal Catholic insistence upon a supposedly oppressive centralization of power encouraged by John Paul II, the past quarter of a century has actually seen the progressive slippage of effective authority from the hands of the legitimate Pope, and that both in Rome as well as away from the Eternal City.

Not the least of the factors responsible for this abandonment of control has been what Michael Davies has labeled the "Opiate of the Popes"; that endless physical movement that has made of the household of the Papacy an enormous and continuously active Travel Agency, always preparing, entering upon, or assessing the results of a voyage. Constant excitement over the tour business has had the unfortunate side effect of blinding the highest authorities to the manifold set of more humdrum, down to earth disasters caused by Church Renewal. It has also led to the serious neglect of the day-to-day administration of the Church, a fact recognized by the scholarly world as well as by those of us who might seem to have a special axe to grind. And failure to administer firmly has meant that all of the specific subordinate organs of Church authority, from Roman dicasteries to local bishoprics and parishes, have had the opportunity to become little makeshift "Papacies in their own countries". The pope who has been seen the most in Church History has actually reigned considerably less than most of his predecessors over the course of the last century.

This practical incentive to the creation of an interregnum has been exacerbated by a forty year theoretical stimulus stemming from the call for collegiality emerging out of the decrees and "spirit" of the Second Vatican Council. I must confess that the idea of collegiality, in and of itself, does seem to me to have a certain merit to it. The exaggerated Ultramontanism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries may indeed have worked to create in many places an episcopacy that was often incapable of acting with an energy suitable to confronting new or peculiar local situations and temptations. Nevertheless, collegiality, as a working principle, has not generally yielded positive results. Far from engendering a cooperative hierarchy harmoniously laboring together for the common good, it has presented to the world the spectacle of a Church apparatus whose various parts interpret, and then follow or thwart, both the central authority and one another at whim. Moreover, collegiality has fatally weakened all local defense against the third and most important force responsible for fomenting an interregnum in Catholic Christendom: those Enlightenment-inspired conceptions of freedom and democracy which now thoroughly dominate all western rhetoric and public life.

Generations of Catholic thinkers before Second Vatican Council, from the eighteenth century down to the 1950’s, had cogently argued that such conceptions were self-destructive as well as wrong; that they led precisely to the opposite of what they claimed that they provided. The fathers of Catholic Social Doctrine repeatedly warned that Christian acceptance of a definition of freedom and democracy which denied man’s limitations, his dependence upon God, and the reality of human sinfulness, would quickly cause the Church herself to be twisted to the purposes of individuals and self-interest groups motivated by the strongest and most insane ideas and passions. This is exactly what has happened in our Catholic Age of Aquarius, and especially to bishops. "Liberated" from the discipline of a centrally-unified and anti-revolutionary phalanx, subjected to the same daily dosage of "enlightened" propaganda on the local level as the flocks that they were supposed to lead, and regularly flattered for their courageous kowtowing before the spirit of the age, bishops have allowed their own power and dignity to crumble along with that of their papal "taskmaster". As predicted and feared by many anti-revolutionary writers, the statements and policies of local prelates have thus become, in practice, whatever those most passionately breathing down their necks and claiming to represent the vanguard of freedom and democracy in their dioceses wish to make of them. Such figures include Church bureaucrats, journalists, politicians, investment and advertising consultants, and purveyors of all types of vicious utopias and utopian vices.

Any intelligent man or woman coming to grips with these three layers of interregnum-producing obfuscation, must, therefore, continuously ask himself the question "who" and "what" he is really obeying when he follows the endless contradictory commands of a crippled Church at cross purposes with herself. Is he truly submitting to pope and bishop and legitimate ecclesiastical decree? Or is he, ultimately, cringing before the whims of some General Secretary or master propagandist, Stalin or Trotsky-like in his hunt for power, whom the weakness of the official authorities has permitted to rule and pontificate erroneously in their name?

One does not make a pope or a bishop an effective power by repeating and intensifying the number of panegyrics sung in his name. If this were the case, the Emperor Valentinian III, increasingly incensed as he more and more lost control of the Empire in the West in the Fifth Century, A.D., would have been an infinitely more successful ruler than an Augustus or a Trajan. It is usually the case historically that a greater frequency of praise and exultation indicates a closer approach to an abyss. And this is why the unending chorus of hosannas to Church Renewal, maturation, freedom, and democracy which has provided the background music for our troubled era actually points to the death, on a human level, of Catholic Christendom.

The next Pope, were he to be a truly reigning pontiff, would have to direct his attention to one major task: the end of this three-fold cause of interregnum. To do so, he would have to commit himself to a more permanent stay in Rome, working diligently to clean up the administrative Stalinism and rhetorical Trotskyism that have devastated the Church; to a cultivation of an honestly cooperative spirit of collegiality, one which allows for local initiative while not permitting defiant insubordination; and to a concerted effort to critique the reign of Enlightenment ideals which have turned the Church Militant into a discotheque filled with shrieking, willful adolescents, with villains at the sound controls, madly cranking up the decibel level.

Will he do so? Could he be successful even if he did? On the rational, natural level, it seems that one should doubt it. All of the illicit secular groups that have benefited from the interregnum—and, again, they are the dominant forces in contemporary Western Civilization—are united in standing guard against the election of a man who would finally see the modern world of freedom and democracy for what it actually is: an enormous fraud. Frightened or opportunist prelates have grown too used to the "powers" that have enabled them to serve whatever their secular masters demand of them to remember what real Catholic dignity and courage are. Well-intentioned members of the hierarchy , backed by conservative lay Catholics who are convinced that they must see genius in every action of the hierarchy, are still themselves too steeped in a routine round of praise for the current leadership to be expected to abandon, consistently, the forward march to the destruction of all remnants of Church authority.

But what, exactly, should Una Voce’s role be in this terrible period of interregnum? Is there anything positive that we can do in the midst of a recognition of our basic weakness? Allow me to reiterate a policy composed of three parts, all of which I think that I have called attention to in earlier articles; all of which, as recent discussions on the Internet have indicated, many chapters have already thought through and adopted on their own.

To begin with, Una Voce must always keep in mind that our ultimate goal in an interregnum is the restoration of the effective authority of the pope and the bishops over Christ’s Church, so that that Church can once again become the light of the world. Therefore, let us constantly praise and encourage whatever hopeful words and deeds emerge from official sources that work towards that end. There have been a great number of these recently, as all of you well know. I say this because the history of so many Catholic movements which began with a concern for a reestablishment of rigor and discipline in the Church--that of Jansenism and the Ultramontanism of the Abbé de Lamennais being primary among them--ended with the promotion of a theology of the superior prerogatives of the outraged laity destructive to the true structure of the Mystical Body of Christ. Good news tending towards the rebuilding of solid authority should get from us the positive press that it deserves.

Secondly, however, Una Voce must never lose sight of the sad fact that the forces promoting the Catholic Interregnum are enormously strong. Our outright opponents have regularly shown themselves capable of circumventing the most favorable initiatives coming from above, even to the point of audaciously and illogically using them against us. Many of those prelates kindly disposed to the traditional liturgy do not themselves generally understand the full nature of the modern fraud underlying Church Renewal, and can easily become confused in following up their more constructive actions, quickly backtrack and become lost in contradictions. What we would really like is for King Richard to come, exile Prince John from the realm, and tell Errol Flynn that he can go, marry Maid Marion, and live happily ever after, all in one fell swoop. But our Prince Johns, Guys of Guisbourne, and Sheriffs of Nottingham are still too vigorous for the film in which we unhappily star to finish all that neatly.

Under these circumstances, Una Voce chapters must become even wiser than serpents. What this means, in practice, is a much more conscious policy of trying to ignore or circumvent the interregnum manipulators in prelates clothing; perhaps a doing of what Rome has indicated we have a right to do, and a reacting to what happens only afterwards. Efforts to ask the assent of the legitimate local authority when that authority actually is exercised by illegitimate spokesmen of the Age of Aquarius is generally an enormous waste of time. When the late Dr. William Marra wanted a traditional Requiem Mass for the funeral of Fr. Vincent Micelli, S.J., he let the hostile chancery popelets know that he was aware that they were making decisions on their own steam, and gave them to understand that he was going to have the service he was insisting upon barring direct, authoritative intervention from the Ordinary. He had his Mass. Like minded traditionalists with clerical fellow-travelers working in parish churches ceased worrying about asking permission to bury their dead decently thereafter. When Cardinal O’Connor gave his personal approval for a traditional mass for my wedding, countermanding the initial negative Diktat of his own bureaucracy, a number of priests of my acquaintance stopped asking approval for a similar privilege for other couples. After all, the chancery "authorities" would have definitely refused them, and they might not have had the opportunity that I had had to reach the archbishop who would undoubtedly welcome their request.

I do not mean to be flippant about this, since I am fully aware that the situation in New York is much, much better than the torturous circumstances faced by many chapters elsewhere on a day to day basis. Our opponents do indeed have fangs that they like to keep in shape by using regularly, and problems will arise from a policy of leaping first and looking second. Nevertheless, it is important to bear in mind that the opposition expects a certain type of reaction from us which we have to ascertain and then avoid, turning to new and inventive ones instead. Adopting unique strategies, attacking on different fronts, seeking help from unexpected sources, appealing to be placed under more favorable jurisdictions, all can throw the Aquarians off balance, and even provide a little humor in our basically humorless task. It would be difficult to specify exactly what might work under each peculiar circumstance, especially because of the varied personalities involved, diocese to diocese, and parish to parish. The main point is simply this: our enemies, while strong, are not as wise as they think they are, and the conscientious options open to us are frequently greater than we are wont to contemplate. We cannot afford to indulge in scrupulosity. I would myself be happy to offer specific groups suggestions on how to develop a looser conscience in this regard.

A policy both of thankful encouragement of hopeful signs from above, as well as thoughtful risk-taking from below is, I think, one that is in line with the spirit of the XVI International Una Voce General Assembly which took place at the Domus Pacis in Rome on October 11th and 12th. This meeting, attendance at which was wider than usual, saw the entrance into the Federation of three groups: Una Voce Nigeria, Pro Miss Tridentina, a German association which has been a long-term friend and fellow-traveler of our international organization, and Inter Multiplices Una Vox, the Italian group responsible for the Solemn Mass at Santa Maria Maggiore on May 24th. It also led to the election of our new Federation president, Ralf Siebenbürger, the head of Una Voce Austria. After formal business was completed on Saturday, and Sunday Mass was sung to a packed congregation at the Church of Gesù and Maria, accompanied by the magnificent Una Voce choir of Rome, an Open Forum informed the membership of the activities of a variety of specific societies and indivduals during the last two years.

For me, what stood out most clearly was the positive contrast of this meeting with our last, much more gloomy gathering. Two years ago, we were, in effect, lectured regarding limitations on the traditional movement by the representatives of a Commission that was supposed to be assisting us, but was itself hoping that we would stop being unpleasant and go away quietly. This October, the serious limitations that we feared might cripple us two years ago, were seen to have been to a large degree illusory. Proof after proof of a changed and much more enlightened attitude of Rome on our behalf was adduced or even visibly apparent to our own eyes. That evidence included numerous public statements of Cardinals and Roman Congregations, the recounting of all the events leading up to and accompanying the liturgy at Santa Maria Maggiore, our own Mass at the Hungarian Chapel in St. Peter’s, and the very presence of Fr. Josef Bisig as its celebrant as well. Dr. Eric de Saventhem summarized the new situation perfectly in noting that Rome has given us a golden opportunity for proselytizing our cause anew. In fact, one could perhaps say that Rome has admitted practically all of our theoretical arguments in defense of the Traditional Liturgy, even to the point of arguing that the statements of Vatican Council guaranteeing "citizenship" to the "other rites" in the Church could be used not simply by Eastern Catholics, but by the defenders of the ancient Roman Rite itself. There are many new tunes on the old piano that are worth learning and blasting to the skies so that everyone can join in and sing them.

On the other hand, the continued existence of the kind of interregnal obstructionism that I addressed above, was obvious in the tales told by some of the representatives of various countries and groups at the Open Forum on Sunday. It was even clear at the Mass in St. Peter’s itself, whose time and duration were the object of the kinds of petty persecution one might hope to encounter not from fellow Catholics, but in a satirical novel about the foibles of a civil service gone bonkers. Inventive strategies and positive interventions from unexpected sources also were recounted at the Open Forum, including one involving a Russian Orthodox appeal on behalf of "real Catholics" that traditionalists would find helpful.

But I mentioned three components of the Una Voce role in this dreadful period of interregnum. What is the third? Forgive me for beating what might seem to be a dead horse of mine, but is remains, now as always, that of a good humored patience. Malcolm Muggeridge said that humor lies in recognizing the difference between aspiration on the one side and performance on the other. Certainly few groups could have higher aspirations than we do—nothing less than the restoration of Christendom. Fewer still could be going about their activity with smaller numbers and means at their disposal. Perhaps God has recognized that we need this drilled into our self-willed heads just a tiny bit longer, so that we can emerge, like Gideon, as victors against impossibly greater odds; victors with a good-humored awareness of their own flaws and dependency upon higher authority.

Numbers, for one thing, do not count for overly much in a revolutionary environment. Revolutions are made with limited adherents and they are undone with limited adherents. Our international treasurer, Fred Haehnel, and our secretary, Leo Darroch, have alone done the work of battalions. So has our first President d’Honneur, Dr. Eric de Saventhem, whose faith-filled patience carried us through many years in a wilderness of seemingly endless horizons. And so has Michael Davies, our second President d’Honneur, named as such at Dr. de Saventhem’s initiative at the October Assembly, at the end of his seven years of remarkable service as leader of our Federation.

I do not think that there is a man or woman among us—and small in number as we are, we still represent a sizeable crew—whose life has not been shaped, and his vocation as a lay activist awakened and clarified, through Michael’s work. His influence on me began thirty one years ago, in London, at a meeting to discuss the situation of the Church in England for the purposes of a paper that I was writing. That influence has not yet ended today, whether it be through his books and articles, his advice regarding ways to make my writing style more readable, or his stimulation of my eight year old son’s appreciation of whisky, which has, thankfully, been kept as of now to the intellectual level alone. All of us have been shown the incredibly positive snowball effect that one eccentric Welshman can have. As we salute him for his years bearing the yoke of the International Federation’s presidency, let us assure him that we won’t grumble too much about being so alone in our own activities; that we will move forward as a merrier and more patient little band, even as we engage in a bit of honest and productive mischief. Besides. Maybe King Richard will come along and end our miseries swiftly after all.

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