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Michael N. Ebertz

What is a Catholic Fundamentalist?


From: Christ in der Gegenwart, 13/2009, P. 137 et sequ.
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


    In a personally touching letter Pope Benedict XVI has admitted mishaps of the Vatican in lifting the excommunication of the traditionalist bishops (see CIG No. 12, p. 130). At the same time he explains his motives for the token of his favour and explains why he wants to stand by rehabilitating the traditionalist movement with its Priestly Society of Saint Pius X and admitting it into the whole Church. As pre-condition now the clear recognition of the Second Vatican Council and of the subsequent papal teaching authority is mentioned. But you have of course also to take into consideration what fundamentally anti-modernist ideology and theology you meet with the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X and its supporters. Will the traditionalists really renounce this attitude, will they become converted, will they change their ways? Or do they make their ideas again acceptable in the bosom of Mother Church? This can certainly not be wanted by the Magisterium of the Church. Statements by leaders of the traditionalists give a frightening picture. It has been investigated by the sociologist of religion Michael N. Ebertz.   Red


"But if God himself descended to the earth, visited his vineyard, died on a cross for us, can then other ways to salvation exist besides Him? Can there be another true prophet, who is to come into this world (cf. Jn 6, 15), for instance Mohammed? Can then Buddha's teachings on wisdom reconcile us with the eternal, uncreated wisdom? Will we then find favour and life by the millions of Hindu gods? Can then today's Talmudic Judaism find salvation outside of the One who has been crucified by his ancestors?" So in December 2007 Franz Schmidberger, the District Superior of the traditionalist Priestly Society of Saint Pius X in Germany rhetorically asked. Here it turns out that an important leader of the Lefebvre Movement ascribes to other religions or their followers an in principle inferior status. The reduction in status of any "foreign religion" belongs to the "creed" of that attitude of mind, which gives every member of the "own religion" a feeling of superiority. Such an attitude expressed in today's society I call in its core fundamentalist.

The criticism of the Catholic fundamentalists is not only directed at Protestantism and Buddhism's and Islam's expansion into Europe but also at Judaism - and this by returning to a "good, Catholic, just anti-Semitism," as the Trier historian Olaf Blaschke describes this traditional church viewpoint which is today outdated. In March 2003 the classical scholar Heinz-Lothar Barth wrote in a newspaper of the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X: Even though these non-Christian religions may contain partial truths, these were nevertheless "included in a system that as a whole was erroneous. For in many places where the divine revelation should be, wrong human inventions have spread instead of it. Indeed, as still the Second Vatican Council in 'Ad Gentes divinitus' (No. 9 and 14) cautiously intimated, all non-Christian religions are more or less infiltrated by elements of evil. They are therefore, ultimately, subjected to the reign of darkness (cf. Acts 26, 18)".


Unity of Politics and Religion

Another basic characteristic of fundamentalism is to refuse other religions the legal recognition in the state and thus to aim at a social order which rejects religious pluralism. Schmidberger: "Since there is only one true religion created by God, it prohibits false religions and cultures or at most tolerates them according to the principles of prudence, without ever conceding them a natural right to exist." Thus he substantially rejects the structural freedom of religion which, contrary to the previous tradition, the Second Vatican Council has recognized and turns down the separation of religion and politics. One calls for an in principle universal entitlement of one's own religion to interpret all areas of existence, even the secular ones. The philosopher Andreas Dorschel has called that "super-code". Even the most trivial mundane event has to be interpreted from one's own religious belief. Unlike some politicians who restrict themselves "to a relatively small part of the existing facts", people who are thinking in a religiously fundamentalist way feel "everywhere responsible". However, not everyone who maintains that it is characteristic of religion that its "super-code is above all profane codes" - including ethics, economics, politics, law, education, science, mass media, traffic - is automatically a fundamentalist. He only becomes it if he recklessly tries to enforce his religious super-code also on society.

The social order wanted by fundamentalists does not know any "autonomy of earthly realities", as it is recognized by the Second Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church "Gaudium et Spes". All social sub-systems are rather directly to be determined by religion, its texts, its tradition, and its institutions. The Catholic fundamentalist is therefore fighting for a Catholic "Christian state" that to the best of its ability promotes, protects and defends the work of its church, since according to Schmidberger's opinion "it is virtually impossible to realize the temporal common good without the faith in God and without the divine grace".


Punishment as Revenge

According to this view religion does therefore not belong, as it is usual in liberal modern states, to the sphere of private decisions. The fundamentalist wants that the school and educational system too is monitored by religion, which for its part also controls the families. Not least even the legal system and the policy of sanctions were then to be subjected to religion as the source of all order. Norm violations created a disorder that had primarily to be brought back into balance through punishment and revenge. The "death penalty for serious offenders" expressed here the "avenging character" of the punitive measure. Schmidberger: "What is good has to be called good, what is evil evil, virtue has to be praised and rewarded, sin and vice have to be punished. The punishment has first a vindictive (avenging) character in order to restore the destroyed order. And furthermore it has a medical point of view: It is to reform, to convert the criminal."



As regards politics, the fundamentalists cannot understand himself as a democrat but only as a theocrat. For according to the German superior of the Lefebvre-people "the authority in state and society ... does not come from the people, from the basis, but from God; 'non est enim potestas nisi a Deo - there is no power but from God' (Rom 13, 1). In elections people consequently only indicate those who are to govern them but do not give them the authority, nor can they arbitrarily dismiss governments. In addition, there are legitimate governments which do not originate in elections, for example, a hereditary monarchy."



According to this anti-liberal attitude which declares itself in favour of a theocracy also the institutionalized conflict between government and opposition and the competition of the parties are refused. The Pius-brother asks for instance, "whether the parties were really for people's benefit or rather contribute to their division? Could they not be replaced by those Christian men who distinguish themselves by moral maturity and experience of life, by sense of justice and concern for the common good?"


God's Economy

The economic system too is in an integralistic way to be put under religious conditions, for "the entrepreneurs were ... still fathers of their workers. They have not only to pay fair wages to them but are also mentally and even spiritually responsible for them. They have therefore to take care of their families and to set an example as regards attending mass and receiving the sacrament." Schmidberger suggests, "Would it not, in addition to that, make sense if a Christian entrepreneur in the morning before starting the work stood with his employees before the sculpture of the crucified Lord or of Jesus' sacred heart in order to sacrifice the work and effort of the day to God and to ask Him to bless the work?"


God's Body

The fundamentalist stands for a total religion, for a society as a totally religious institution. He is thus not simply a conservative but a declared opponent of the modern age. The fundamentalist does not only claim the prerogative of interpreting society, culture and cosmos. He also wants to regain it via man's body and to discipline the body according to his intentions. The theocracy wanted there "declares war on concubinage and on pre-marital and extra-marital relationships" and "stops the distribution of contraceptive means."

After they had been deprived of their claim to be the sole authority in interpreting cosmos, society and culture the Christian churches did actually try, "via their moral preaching, to exert still an influence on the body, on its practices and techniques", as the Graz pastoral theologian Rainer Bucher says. But in the 20th century these attempts fell on deaf ears. This is proved by the practical life of the believers who refuse to follow the doctrine of the encyclical "Humanae vitae", according to which the so-called artificial contraception is forbidden. Still in the first half of last century the Catholic Church here in this country wanted to regulate bathing, without success. The same applies to certain ideas of a moral code governing dress, especially for women. One also wanted to dictate to the faithful what movies they were not to watch. But the "Catholic men's associations" to which the German episcopacy in a pastoral letter dated 1 November 1920 "above all imparted the task as reliable and voluntary vice squad to take action against the worst excesses of public immorality" do today just as little allow to be used to monitor the dealing with one's body as to be the guardians of a patriarchal gender order.

But a Catholic fundamentalist feels obliged just to that matter, and exactly in the same way to a supremacy and subordination between the generations determined by one's age. For this followed from the natural order, resp. the will of God Creator, which is the source of this order. Schmidberger asks for instance, "Does today's principle 'every voter has one the same voice' (one man, one vote) really correspond to the natural order?" His answer reads, "The father of a family has more responsibility and normally also a deeper insight into the welfare of society than his son who has just become an adult. An entrepreneur with a thousand employees bears more responsibility than his youngest apprentice. Would the family as the cell of society not get a very different position, if the right to vote was considerably based on the heads of the family?"


Hero of God and Sacrifice for God

In fundamentalist language the order of man's social existence is defended especially by using militaristic metaphors. Words like fight, battle, quarrel, weapons, victims, victory are used there. The fundamentalist likes it to style himself as "hero" or "martyr", though admittedly he does not necessarily become violent himself. He has mostly just "foam at the mouth" as Fulbert Steffensky observes. But the honour of the fundamentalist is not necessarily owed to prominent achievements, brilliant deeds and glorious victories but to his loyalty to the unique, all-encompassing truth which can also provide him the role of the victim.


God Cleaner

Also a high sensitivity is therefore typical of the fundamentalist, if his religious tradition is observed from a non-religious point of view and is thus relativized. With it the religious life is distorted for him like in a hall of mirrors. What might be fun at the fair and makes people laugh the fundamentalist associates with blasphemy. The accusation of blasphemy passes quickly his lips.

For the reason that the religious sphere is to control the secular one and not vice versa, the fundamentalist has a tendency to protest against the findings of the historical-critical interpretation of sacred texts, as e.g. of the Bible or of religious institutions which developed in the course of history. The scholar of ecclesiastical law Georg May for instance emphasizes that a certain "variety of progressive exegesis" described the papal primacy, i.e. the universal legal position of prime importance of the bishop of Rome, as a "historic phenomenon without divine origin and without obligatory nature" and turned "by its so-called results the whole constitution of the Church upside down". The "foundations of the Catholic Church were thus undermined" and "our church was at its end". One refuses to subject the knowledge of faith, which is regarded as holy, i.e. as sacrosanct and inviolable, to the interpretation of the profane sciences. For science is a secular thing; and everything that is secular is seen under a negative sign and classified as belonging to the reign of Satan and sin. According to Franz Schmidberger "the world got under Satan's rule". The original sin caused "the blindness of human reason, the perversion of human will and the unleashing of human passions".

One has to keep one's distance from other religions in order to maintain the purity and absolute superiority of one's religion. The Catholic fundamentalists have therefore vehemently criticized the interreligious prayer meetings of Assisi in 1986 and 2002 brought about by Pope John Paul II. On the occasion of a corresponding regional interreligious meeting in Bayern in 2008 on the website of the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X the reader finds the following. "On the occasion of the 850th anniversary of the capital the archdiocese invites for a 'prayer' for Munich for 26 October on the Marienplatz. At first glance, so far, so good. But already the second glance shows that it is not about honouring the Patron Saint of Bavaria in the shadow of the Pillar of Saint Mary and about asking the Mother of God for her special protection of the proto-Catholic city on the Isar but about something quite different. The event is to become a meeting of the representatives of major world religions, who want to pray together 'for dialogue, integration and peace in the city'. Participants are, apart from the Protestants and the Greek-Orthodox also Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus - hence a local edition of the multireligious meetings in 1986 and 2002 in Assisi which have been vehemently criticized by the faithful Catholics." "The advocates of the 'One World - One Religion' ideology," it says further, "will certainly be pleased with it, for by this event many believers can get the false impression that all religions were equal and that the stupid assertion was right: 'We all pray to the same God and come anyway into heaven, no matter whether we are at home in the Catholic Church, in the temple, in the synagogue or the mosque. The fact that Christ instructed his disciples to 'go and to teach all nations!' (Matthew 28, 19), i.e. to convert the members of other religions and not to blur the contrasts, and that Pope Benedict XVI several times spoke of the need for a new evangelization - about that will be no talk on the Marienplatz".


Saviour of God

But the Catholic fundamentalist keeps also his distance from the representatives of the "post-conciliar" Church, in order to keep himself clean. "We avoid those people just like people who have AIDS. One does not feel like infecting oneself with it ... the intellectual AIDS, an infectious disease." These were the words of the excommunicated founder of the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X Bishop Marcel Lefebvre three years before his death in 1991. Meanwhile this so-called "work of Archbishop Lefebvre" is according to the words of his former German District Superior Niklaus Pfluger compared with a lifeboat "that has still many lifebelts, while in the background the Titanic is sinking. We throw these lifebelts to those who want them".

If the worst comes the Catholic-fundamentalist protest can suspect of heresy the holders of papal teaching authority in recent decades since John XXIII and refuse them further obedience. Then one maintains that the Holy See was vacant. The Holy See and the Curia in Rome were occupied by antichristians, while oneself in the final apocalyptic time formed the holy rest that has preserved the true Catholic tradition. In the Catechism of the "Oratory of Divine Truth" (No. 731), another fundamentalist group that regards itself as "gathering of Catholics who are loyal believers", it says for example, "The church in the last days of the world is small. It is without state protection. It is - at least temporarily - without a hierarchy. Christ is on intimate terms with it. It struggles against the Roman Whore." Not a few fundamentalists have this apocalyptical view and suck out of the crises of the modern age the honey of their interpretations of the last days of the world.


Authority over Truth

On closer inspection it becomes evident that the fundamentalist actually wants to regain a monopoly, so that he alone determines what truth is. Among the opinion-makers and followers concerned there is also a relatively high proportion of the Catholic aristocracy and of converts who before the last council converted to the Catholic Church. Many of them fear that they are swamped by "Protestant" elements in Catholicism, which would also endanger the Catholic claim to truth.


Opposition to the Modern Age

However, the unity in the opposition to the modern age creates in the various Catholic-fundamentalist groups still no agreement about the question how an alternative should look like. Fundamentalism in Christianity is all in all highly fragmented, and thus also at the mercy of the law of pluralization against which it crusades as a phenomenon of the modern age. But what is the modern age? It is clear - not only with fundamentalists - that it means: lack of clarity, ambiguity, if not disorientation. "The modern age" means the prerogative of continued change, the praise of the permanent latest. This applies especially to "religion", which is in principle also turned 'backward', not so little is therefore at stake. It is therefore no accident that the protest against the modern age is fed by religious sources. For us Catholics of the modern age "the modern age" admittedly also means positively: renewal of the tradition by reforms, loyalty to the Gospel by inculturation pointing the way forward, by aggiornamento. "Aggiornamento" in Italian simply means "further education". It too is fundamental for Christians who believe in the God who became man in history - though everything else but fundamentalist.


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