'Where there is no shepherd, the people will be scattered ...'
When I blogged about Bishop Williamson's explusion from the SSPX nearly two weeks ago, I wrote the following:
It is possible of course he could launch his own roving ministry, not aligned with any group in particular, but available to those groups he considers faithful to the Catholic cause, much as he did when, without permission, he recently visited the traditionalist Benedictines in Brazil to give confirmations. There could emerge in the near future a kind of Williamson Federation, loosely tied together, all mutually sympathetic, willing to have his ministry, but not especially willing to tie themselves to any fixed structure.
Now, in his first post-expulsion move, a webpage appears with the following message taken from his latest Eleison Comments:
It seems that, today, God wants a loose network of independent pockets of Catholic Resistance, gathered around the Mass, freely contacting one another, but with no structure of false obedience, which served to sink the mainstream Church in the 1960’s and is now sinking the Society of St. Pius X. If you agree, make contributions to the St. Marcel Initiative; they will certainly come in useful. For myself, once my situation stabilizes, I am ready to put my bishop’s powers at the disposal of whoever can make wise use of them.
I say these comments are taken from his latest Eleison Comments; they are not quite the same. His letter on Saturday actually read:
For myself, as soon as my situation stabilizes in England, I am ready to put my bishop’s powers at the disposal of whoever can make wise use of them.
Interesting that. I note the website and the Saint Marcel Initiative appear to be based in the USA. The funding buttons you can click on at the bottom clearly favour US-based donations. My friend Dom Hugh has given this all the once over here.
Still, returning to the proposition which Bishop Williamson makes above, I am struck by a number of things. We can pass over his parsing of 'what God wants'; I'm more interested in what comes next. He is evoking the possibility of a loose federation of traditionalist groups who are united in the faith, united in the sacraments, but - so much for St Robert Bellarmine's definition of the Church! - not exactly united under a hierarchy. The benefit of this kind of organisation, he argues, is that it suffers from 'no structure of false obedience'.
I have been reflecting for some time on how the SSPX's own cause suffers unwittingly from the implications of living in a state of exception, which implications can be briefly stated thus: those who decide on the exceptions constitute thereby an authority. If I break one law for the sake of a higher law, I must subsequently agree for my exception to be sanctioned by the authority under which I live. If I refuse to accept its judgment about the exception I have made, I become a law (an authority) unto myself. Bishop Williamson's position is that since there is no higher law than the Faith, then whatever order is contrary to that Faith can be rejected in favour of the higher law. I say is contrary; I should probably say I consider contrary. Because the implication always contained in this argument seems to be that if I consider something contrary to the Faith, then it must be so.
The organisational consequence of this position, however, is now becoming clear. It is better not to have a '(false) structure of obedience' in place so as to avoid any dilemma. The problem for Bishop Williamson is then the 'structure' in which my faith risks coming under hierarchical command. It's a simple calculation: avoid the structure and you avoid the dilemma. Job's a good'un, as they say in the north of England.
But there is a problem here. God gifted the Church with the note of infallibility. But there is no corresponding note of impeccability in governance. Working out of a Thomist logic, Bishop Williamson essentially holds that all laws not for the common good do not have the force of law. But his error is to believe that from the point of view of jurisprudence, every man's mind is apt to judge what is and what is not in favour of the common good. This is a similar error in the field of law to that made by the SSPX in the field of theology: that in matters of the faith, every man's mind is apt to judge what is and what is not compatible with the faith.
I am accused of holding a sceptical position on this issue; nothing is further from the truth. It is one thing to say the human mind can attain truth. It is quite another proposition to say that the human mind infallibly arrives at the truth because it can cite an infallible premiss in its reasoning. But the very fact that in the contemporary Church we have disagrement about what exactly is compatible with the faith - or what is in fact for the common good - urges not that we abandon or temporarily suspend the providential structure of the Church, but that we back it up! False structure of poppycock, say I! It was ever thus!
Bishop Williamson will defend all this by saying that it is in defence of the Faith and, therefore, justified. Surely he should reflect on the fact that all those traditionalist groups out there - those with whom he mostly disagrees on whether there is even a pope now - justify their own position as a defence of the Faith!
So, to whom shall we go, my masters? Which one is actually defending the faith for real? Is it Bishop Williamson or is it Bishop Williamson's old colleague Bishop Sanborn? Is it Pope Pius XIII? And if not, why not? They all defend their position on the grounds of holding to the Faith! My old friend Bishop Terence Fulham calls his chapel a continuing Catholic church - what, like the continuity IRA? Is my old seminary colleague Bishop Robert Neville actually defending the faith? Crikey, could it even be Pope Michael in Kansas who is the real deal? And if not, why not? He's only defending the Faith!
Please, please stop this silliness now, my Lord, before you break something irreparable!