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Say Goodnight, Al

by Christopher A. Ferrara

In the May 23, 2002 issue of The Wanderer, editor Alphonse Matt completes that once-venerable publication’s decline into irrelevancy with an attack upon  —  of all things  —  The Latin Mass magazine.

The Latin Mass, edited by Father James McLucas and published by Keep the Faith, Inc., has acquired a well-deserved reputation as one of the most reputable "traditionalist" publications in America, if not the world. The magazine has drawn praise from people as diverse as Cardinal Alfons Stickler in Rome and the first United States Ambassador to the Holy See, William A. Wilson. I myself have been privileged to write more than one article for this flagship publication.

In recent months, sad to say, Alphonse Matt has embarked on a bizarre campaign of attacking traditionalist Catholics in his newspaper. First, he accused his own cousin, Michael Matt (editor of The Remnant, another redoubtable "trad" journal) of "schism." Next it was a series of articles denouncing Father Nicholas Gruner  —  in the course of which The Wanderer ran a piece by Farley Clinton suggesting that Sister Lucy may well have invented the consecration of Russia. And now this attack on Latin Mass. All of these attacks, I might add, were unprovoked by the targets, who never had an unkind word to say about The Wanderer before its recent ventures into traditionalist-bashing.

The pretext for the attack on The Latin Mass was a symposium on Humanae Vitae in which John Galvin (father of eleven children and a Yale graduate) offered comments on the oft-remarked deficiencies of the encyclical. Essentially, Galvin makes the case that Humanae Vitae did not go far enough, or deeply enough into Catholic tradition, in denouncing the evil of contraception, and that Pope Paul VI undermined his own teaching by allowing his papal contraception commission to deliberate for years and ultimately recommend approval of the birth control pill, and by accepting (at the very beginning of the encyclical) the false notion that there is a "problem" of "overpopulation" which requires "regulation of births" by proper means. The symposium included two articles opposing the views of Galvin, so that both sides of the issue were aired. Al Matt, however, pretended that Galvin’s was the only article The Latin Mass had run on the subject, and denounced TLM for airing what Matt suggested was "presumptuous" and unbalanced criticism of Humanae Vitae.

That was dishonest enough. But consider the shifty manner in which Matt treated a quotation from a promotional letter by Father McLucas. Here is what Father McLucas wrote:

The post-conciliar Church has not turned away from our Lord. But they have reshaped Him into an image that its proponents demand at the moment. We’ve gotten God wrong, not because we have formally disavowed Him, but because for 40 years we have wandered aimlessly articulating only partial truths about the Faith. Our traditional heritage has been ignored or occluded. We are in crisis because we don’t have God right. A Catholic’s perception of God has always been formed primarily by the Mass. The ancient Mass has been discarded. The New Mass is not invalid. That would be too easy and unbecoming the cunning genius of the evil one. There is nothing heretical about the New Mass; it is simply deficient....Let me illustrate one deficiency. The constant changing liturgical form does not convey the central attribute of God: His unchangeableness. Catholics worship Him in novel ways from week to week, from parish to parish, and from nation to nation.... They soon begin to think of God and His moral law in different ways. Catholics may even begin to think that God can change His mind about right and wrong. Artificial contraception, homosexuality, cohabitation before marriage, and divorce: all heretofore unambiguously labeled as evil are reassessed in the light of the new way we think about God.

Lots of people, including Cardinal Ratzinger, have expressed similar sentiments. But based on this quotation, Matt asserted in his editorial denouncing TLM that "This writer (Al Matt) is led to understand from these words of Fr. McLucas that the editor of TLM believes that not only the teachings of Vatican II, but everything since  —  whether written by Popes or issued by the Vatican offices under papal jurisdiction  —  may be suspect  —  perhaps even be inspired by ‘the cunning genius of the evil one’  —  and therefore subject to critical analysis  —  or even rejection  —  by ‘loyal, traditionalist’ Catholics."

The reader will notice that the quoted words of Father McLucas bear no resemblance to what Matt claims he is "led to believe" by what the words say. This is an old shyster tactic: quote someone, draw an utterly false conclusion from the quotation, then attack the false conclusion instead of what the person actually said.

Here, as in so many other recent examples from his declining newspaper, Al Matt exhibits the perplexing tendency of those who are rightly called neo-Catholics. For years Al Matt and The Wanderer have doggedly defended the disastrous innovations spawned by Vatican II  —  from the new liturgy to altar girls, and even the new version of the "consecration of Russia" fobbed off by Cardinal Sodano. As the disastrous results of these novelties are becoming manifest to everyone  —  collapse, chaos and corruption in the Church, moral decline, temporal ruin and persecution of the Church in Russia  —  The Wanderer’s position becomes more untenable by the day. At the same time, the traditionalist cause for a restoration of what has been overthrown is seen increasingly to be vindicated.

Al Matt’s response to these developments has been to refuse to admit that he could have been wrong in defending the post-conciliar debacle, including the Fatima revisionism of Sodano, et al. Instead, Matt now lashes out with depressing regularity at his fellow Catholics, who rightly opposed the changes approved by the Vatican while he and his collaborators did nothing.

In short, The Wanderer no longer has anything useful to say. For a long time it has been reduced to bewailing the symptoms of the post-conciliar revolution  —  information we can get anywhere  —  while steadfastly ignoring the cause: a conscious decision, taken by the Vatican itself, to open the Church to the world at Vatican II. It was that momentous and unprecedented Vatican decision which would lead Paul VI himself to lament within a few years that "the opening to the world has become a veritable invasion of the Church by worldly thinking. We have perhaps been too weak and imprudent."

There is no longer any reason to subscribe to a Catholic newspaper that persistently ignores the root cause of the crisis in the Church, while dishonestly attacking loyal Catholics who acknowledge reality. The Wanderer has had its day. Say goodnight, Al.