A little religious liberty goes a long way…

Harvard serpent Mom No[NB: I added a somewhat lighter reflection on this topic in this post.]

Hooray, the Satanic Black Mass did not take place at Harvard–but only because religious liberty, as understood by most expositors of the “post-Conciliar” understanding of the term, failed at Harvard

I have given Cdl. O’Malley a drubbing before because he publicly pandered to smarmy indifferentism, so it might be expected that I see him as a hero, a staunch culture warrior, for opposing the Black Mass.

Well, yes and no.

Obviously, I’m glad he didn’t simply roll over on the issue.

But I’m also bemused by his approach, primarily because he embodies the approach the Church has, logically enough, been taking on religious liberty since Vatican II. In the video embedded in this Boston Globe article, notice what basis O’Malley presents for his objection: a Black Mass is “offensive” (even “repugnant”) to many in the community. It’s not wrong per se, just “offensive”. As one protester put it, “I find [the black mass] offensive as a Catholic…. I find it goes directly against the faith of my church, the faith of the church of my choice.”


Given the post-Conciliar assumption that religious liberty is a nearly unqualified good, the only basis for objecting to the Black Mass is not truth, but popular sentiment. Will it sell? How will it play? Does it foster harmony and warmth? Unfortunately, if rudeness were a sound guideline for religious truth–and recall that truth is the true basis of libertySt. Boniface would have never molested Odin’s tree, and, thus, we can imagine, the stock that produced the previous pope might have never enjoyed the Christian life.

While the failure of Black Mass is being touted by many as a ringing victory for Christendom, what too few are acknowledging is that Christendom itself was given a sell-by date after the Second Vatican Council. If religious liberty is a supreme good, and if plurality is an integral component of religious liberty “in the modern world”, then it follows that religious plurality is a supreme good. From this it further follows that there is no coherent, rational basis for opposing a Black Mass, or much else in the postmodern religious ecosystem. The cultural reenactment wasn’t ‘hurting’ anyone; it just wrinkled some ‘feelings’ in the community.

We may not have witnessed a Black Mass at Harvard, thank God, but we did have to face a fresh case of what’s wrong with ecumenical indifferentism, wherein the only dogma is respect, the only heresy is being offensive, and the only binding magisterium is The Community. Indeed, it’s not too hard to fathom that the reason O’Malley performed the spectacle of being anointed by a Protestant ministress is because not to have done so would have been “offensive”, and we certainly can’t have that. Anything less would be Pharisaical and neo-Pelagian, donchaknow.

Lest I seem to be all frowns and harrumphs, let me repeat that, warts and all, this clash was a good sign. A very good sign. As Steve Skojec argues, it may, in retrospect, even be a Vendée moment. And what is a striking note of that moment? I wouldn’t want to sully my reputation by consorting with such folk, but the whole procession-protest had an awfully traditionalist feel. Is it a fluke or a sign of a true springtime? A mere reflex or a return to sanity on a broader scale? Time will tell.

About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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32 Responses to A little religious liberty goes a long way…

  1. Branch says:

    My present dilemma is that, on the one hand, Vatican II seems to have been an unprecedented disaster, the effects of which linger to this day as you note, though on the other hand, Pope John XXIII has been canonized and Paul VI is awaiting an immanent beatification. I try not to approach these matters with a ‘political’ mind, nor with cynicism, interpreting the canonization and beatification, say, as essentially ‘canonizing’ Vatican II. I try to take the approach that the powers that be would not allow these profound decisions to be reduced to message-sending, agenda-driven spectacles.

    But I do not honestly know what to make of it all. I suppose the canonization, for instance, and as argued elsewhere, is just about one’s personal holiness, except how can that “personal holiness’ be extracted from something as monumental as the calling of an Ecumenical Council of such disastrous proportions? I am not trying to be flippant. I seriously do not know which end is up anymore.

  2. Tony Jokin says:

    Very good point. A post sometime back in a blog I read highlighted the problem with trying to use “religious liberty” or simply trying to use a system infested with Liberalism to the advantage of Catholicism.


  3. Crude says:

    I think this situation was better than you cast it. What was of key importance here was Christian anger and a willingness to express it, rather than ‘respecting the faith-choices of others’.

  4. Tony Jokin says:

    I don’t know if you have already read this but if you haven’t, I think it will put matters in perspective.


    On another note, I am curious to know if there is any Church teaching that Councils are called infallibly / by the Holy Spirit. Is it not possible that Councils are merely human decisions and that the Holy Spirit only prevents a council from erring on doctrinal matters?

    So for an example, the human part of the Church can convene a council to take up discussions on a heresy prevailing at the time. When the convened write down a final decision on the teachings with respect to the heresy, the Holy Spirit has ensured that it has no errors. But the Holy Spirit gives no guarantee that the teaching is communicated in the writings in a crystal clear fashion (we see that even with some Scripture passages). In other words, a Council document dealing with a heresy may not end up doing much against it due to the incompetence of the human element at communicating teaching. It can even lead to more confusion (some say that St.Paul’s letter to Romans caused some confusion and was specifically why St. James wrote his epistle to clarify).

    I think therefore there is nothing to worry about with respect to the Catholic faith and Church being true and protected. We only have to lament and pray regarding the crisis today caused by our prelates not willing to use the gift and power given by God to the Church to end the confusion. I personally think that we should pray for the prelates asking that they start to use the Grace and Power given to the Church by God to end confusion.

  5. Tony Jokin says:

    I would like to add that the absence of a guarantee by the Holy Spirit that the Church will be crystal clear in her communications (and allowing human beings some freedom in this matter) is good reason to adopt the old style of simply decreeing what is right and wrong concisely. That seems like what human reason would tell us is the way to go to keep confusion to a minimum.

    The Vatican II documents on the other hand are lengthy compared to such older documents but are much difficult to filter out the filler material and extract the new teachings, if any. Also in the attempt of Vatican II to restate the old teachings in a different way, it sounds more like an abandonment of the older teachings themselves.

  6. Tony Jokin says:

    Only a matter of time before that goes away. Once upon a time, there used to be this same “Christian anger and a willingness to express it” regarding things like gay marriage. That has certainly changed.

    Given enough social conditioning through media to accept the Liberalist interpretation and concept of “religious freedom” and a few years from now, we might see worse things tolerated.

  7. Crude says:

    Once upon a time, there used to be this same “Christian anger and a willingness to express it” regarding things like gay marriage. That has certainly changed.

    One problem there is that it was often poorly expressed. The media played a tremendous role there, but mistakes were also made by Christians themselves. Misplaced or miscommunicated anger is a problem itself.

    Yes, the fight is far from over, but this certainly helped.

  8. Well, I can say I was pleasantly surprised this past Easter vigil mass.
    It was extraordinary form and one of the petitions was actually to pray for “conversion of schismatics, jews, and heretics”. Oh, the horror when those new to the TLM read along with the English language translation from Latin!

    Imagine, the church used to pray for conversion of all to the one true faith

  9. I’m afraid I’m going to have to report you to CATHINFORM, on the grounds of inculcating a semi-Lefebvrist drift. 😉

  10. Branch says:

    “On another note, I am curious to know if there is any Church teaching that Councils are called infallibly / by the Holy Spirit. Is it not possible that Councils are merely human decisions and that the Holy Spirit only prevents a council from erring on doctrinal matters?”

    Tony, I’m not sure if there is Church teaching on it either, one way or another. From what I have gathered, Councils of this kind seem to me to be prudential decisions, especially as they establish that they intend to define nothing new doctrinally.

    However, as I read St. John XXIII’s remarks which opened the Council, as much as that prudential sense is clearly established (“The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously.”), the calling of the Council is rooted in a mystical experience, according to John XXIII:

    “As regards the initiative for the great event which gathers us here, it will suffice to repeat as historical documentation our personal account of the first sudden bringing up in our heart and lips of the simple words, “Ecumenical Council.” We uttered those words in the presence of the Sacred College of Cardinals on that memorable January 25, 1959, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, in the basilica dedicated to him. It was completely unexpected, like a flash of heavenly light, shedding sweetness in eyes and hearts. And at the same time it gave rise to a great fervor throughout the world in expectation of the holding of the Council.”

    And there seems no lack of confidence that it was God’s will: “Mother Church rejoices that, by the singular gift of Divine Providence, the longed-for day has finally dawned when — under the auspices of the virgin Mother of God, whose maternal dignity is commemorated on this feast — the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council is being solemnly opened here beside St. Peter’s tomb.”

    I think it’s possible that a Council is willed by God to be called, though what comes of it, both in its formal expression and implementation, is not of God.

  11. c matt says:

    It is a good sign of sorts, but I think the problem Codg points out is that the pushback addressed the symptoms (holding a Black Mass- even a faux one), whilst ignoring the disease (religious liberty as presently understood – which, boiled down, is simply relativism).

  12. Indeed. A skewed spirit of religious liberty seems to assume that it doesn’t behoove Catholic shepherds to denounce the private practice of Satanism, as if only public obscenities were immoral. The Black Mass would have been “offensive” to “the community,” we grant this, but at what point can we add that it would have been offensive only because it is also evil in an of itself, no matter where it happens?

  13. Crude says:


    I think the greater worry would be that, all told, things being merely ‘offensive to the community’ may eventually swing against Catholicism itself.

    That said, I also think that what is determined to be ‘offensive to the community’ is in part determined by how, uh… offended they get. Large part, even. And how justly and skillfully they declare that offense. We could probably learn from this episode. Let’s ask why things went down the way they went down, as opposed to other situations. What did we do right?

    I’m waking up over here, so I’m not at my sharpest. Perhaps I have made an error, or have a blind spot.

  14. Tony Jokin says:

    I don’t know. I think the anger was right and even natural. You must hate what is despicable.

    What I think is important to note though is that one doesn’t lose that anger through miscommunications. If anything it should grow more and more. But instead we saw a change because the social engineering took charge.

    So yes, even if we grant that many mistakes were made by Christians, it still doesn’t imply that this current victory is special because there were no mistakes. Whether there be mistakes or not, the tides will turn as long as the underlying philosophy accommodates Liberalism. The Christians who spoke often against gay marriage were liberalist when it came to pre/extra-marital sex, divorce, remarriage, contraception etc. That is why the tide eventually changed as they came to a good understanding of their own philosophy.

    Similarly, the tide will change here because the people are fed the “religious liberty” concept by both the secular world and our own prelates.

  15. Crude says:

    That is why the tide eventually changed as they came to a good understanding of their own philosophy.

    See, this sort of talk is something I’m highly skeptical of. ‘Understanding of their own philosophy’? I don’t think modern cultural sea changes take place principally owing to fleshed out philosophies taking root in the populace. It’s something more primitive.

  16. Tony Jokin says:

    Hmm, I am not sure still. Because Divine Providence as we know arranges everything. Even World War II was allowed and planned by Divine Providence to take place at that moment in time. God of course does not cause World War II but he simply allows it to exist because he lets creatures be free and will bring about some good from it in the long term.

    In this way, I think any Council, even Council of Trent, would be a free decision made by men to convene one. So I guess the way I see it is that the Church has the promise that the Holy Spirit will keep her free from error when she teaches. When a Council is called by the Church, it is the Church deciding to try and use that power. But one can do a bad job at using that particular power too by not trying to be very precise in ones teaching.

    Council of Trent for an example would be one where the teachings were very clearly expressed because the participants wanted to do so. They were aided by God in doing so as well. Vatican II on the other hand is confusing because the participants themselves wanted to move away from the style of precision and condemnation of errors. So you could say, Vatican II is the by product of the type of people who got involved in it. The Holy Spirit prevented the council from teaching error but the participants weren’t that interested in utilizing the power given to the Church to end confusion anyway.

    Just to try and clarify what I am trying to say

    1) The Holy Spirit keeps the Church free from teaching error
    2) But the Holy Spirit allows full freedom to the leaders of the Church to use the wisdom and understanding they have to make governing decisions (whether or not to hold a council, change the mass, etc)
    3) This freedom given by the Holy Spirit allows for the leaders of the Church to make illogical decisions motivated by emotions or worldly trends that might lead to loss of souls.

    So my emphasis is on (3) above. I think the reason why we look at Council of Trent as a great council is because we can see it was the logical thing to call the council at the time. We can see that the council also ended the confusion regarding the topics that there were questions. We can also see that the pastoral approaches stemming from the Council were well reasoned and took in to account how to preserve the Catholic faith among the faithful from heresy as well as how reaching out to heretics through missionaries trained to handle being amidst heresy without endangering their own faith.

    Then we look at Vatican II and we see the problems because it is not clear for what purpose the Council was called and what confusion it was suppossed to end. If anything, the Council took confusion to a whole new level that most people have differing views as to what some documents mean. We also see the pastoral approach stemming from the Council as somewhat ignorant. There is nothing in it to keep the faith untainted from the heresies raging in our times. We also see that this lack of defense is not merely a perceived one but a real one as many of the faithful start sliding down to heresy.

    I hope that clarified what I am trying to say.

  17. Tony Jokin says:

    Oh this might be more clearer.

    What I am trying to say is that while the Holy Spirit gives a promise to keep the Church free from error, the Holy Spirit allows full freedom for the Church to decide whether she wants to use that power from the promise and to what extent. So the Church with bad prelates can decide to not use that power and let confusion continue where some people will lose the faith. Or the prelates can end the confusion by answering questions precisely on the matters that are confusing. Or the prelates can do a bad job by answering questions not so precisely and keeping the confusion going too.

    I think Vatican II and the subsequent time period in the Church is one where our prelates are doing a bad job by not ending confusion and abandoning precision for the most part.

  18. Branch says:

    Thank you for the clarification, Tony. And just to be clear on what I’m saying, I actually agree with you for the most part. In pointing to Divine Providence and the experience recounted by John XXIII, I was trying to explain what I understood to be the justification given. I also was trying to make the distinction between something being divinely inspired and that something being perverted or distorted.

    I don’t know how Vatican II, in its formulation and implementation, can be considered anything but a monumental disaster, especially as I learn more about it:


    And, truly, the only reason I cling to the idea that the need for reform may have been at all of God is because John XXIII called the Council, and he is now a saint, and I submit to the Church on that point with obedience.

  19. Tony Jokin says:

    Oh I see. But why does it have to be true that “God intended that the Council be called”? What is incompatible with saying John XXIII called a council without really any need for it out of a misunderstanding he had for it’s purpose?

  20. Tony Jokin says:

    Like the reasons he give in his opening address seem, with respect, emotional rather than doctrinal?

  21. Branch says:

    It’s not really that I think it has to be true that God wanted the Council called. It’s rather the fact that a saint is relating to his listeners a mystical experience which prompted the calling of the Council that compels me to give him the benefit of the doubt. It’s for that reason only that I even entertain the idea that I could have been God’s authentic prompting. But I am not necessarily saying it was – I don’t know that, of course.

  22. Tony Jokin says:

    Oh, hmm. I don’t know honestly. Does the statement of St. John XXIII even count as a mystical experience? I mean, people get those sort of “experiences” everyday, no? Why can’t it be that the particular experience was simply a false one but he is still a Saint?

    I guess what I am asking is, why do we have to give him the benefit of the doubt in the sense that his experience was authentic? Why can’t we simply say he was probably mistaken but didn’t say it out of some evil intent anyway?

    I should also probably clarify, I am not saying St. John XXIII was wrong to convene a council. Convening a council is a morally neutral act after all. What I am saying is that the action was probably unwise and the way he wanted the council to approach matters with some naive sounding optimism was probably even more unwise. To add to that, those who were participants in the Council were also just waiting for an opening to swing the change in their direction. So no one was really interested in resolving any confusion by making a decision on a doctrinal matter. Rather, they were all interested in just changing existing doctrine or getting some breath room for their actions and desires contrary to Church tradition. The Holy Spirit kept the promise and kept the council from teaching error anyway i.e. no clear statements of Council of Trent style that contradict doctrine.

    So St. John XXIII can certainly be a saint. But I don’t see why he must have had an authentic mystical experience or why we must assume so. Even his words say “it was like a flash of heavenly light” which seems to say it actually wasn’t. I think it could just be a classic case of groupthink 😀

    Groupthing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groupthink

  23. I agree that the risk comes from buying into the rhetoric of communal sensitivity. Look at the rhetoric the UN is trying to levy against the Church. Anti-abortion qua torture. Give me a break. That level of douchebaggery may be sui generis, but, in that case, why would the Church apparently so glibly tag along with it? Know what I mean?

  24. Flambeaux says:

    Always has been. Always will be. Poetry > Philosophy and poetry successfully leads the soul in a way that philosophy cannot.

  25. Flambeaux says:

    WAAAY off-topic: What an awesome premise for a game of Paranoia! 😀

  26. Crude says:

    I’m not sure what you mean by tagging along with it, Codg. With the UN? With the ‘sensitivity’?

    I think there’s nothing particularly new with the Church’s response to the black mass – blasphemy and insult is for the church now what it has always been, and for once they had an appropriate response. With the UN? I get the impression your problem with the Church’s relationship with the UN is largely one of perceived praise and endorsement of its idealized mission, ignoring the rot that comes with that organization. Rot that may accompany it quite possibly by necessity.

    That I’m confused by, and by that I mean I’m not sure what approach the UN should have. I remember Mother Teresa visiting China and saying the chinese were children of God. Was that a mistake? Should she have stayed out of the state atheist country?

  27. Dear B.C. Whatever Religious Liberty was intended to mean by V2, it acted like an injection of steroids into the body of Americanism which is the USCCB assembled.

  28. Dear B.C. For years, David Wemhoff has been putting Americanism on the rack in “Culture Wars,” and he has been besting the quite capable orthodox Priest, Fr Brian Harrison in debates about Americanism/Religious Liberty/Duty to work for A Catholic Confessional State.

    I am anxious to buy Mr. Wemhoff’s soon-to-be-released book about these matters

  29. Branch says:


    Again, I am not saying “he must have had an authentic mystical experience” nor that we must assume as much. I am saying that when a man of great sanctity, which we must assume he is because of his canonization, relates an experience (it doesn’t need to be mystical, but it can be), I think he is owed the benefit of the doubt such that I cannot be so quick to dismiss it or second guess him. He is owed that respect at least. He could be mistaken, or he could have even had such an experience but run with it without ill will in the wrong direction.

    But I must struggle to try to understand what he meant before I so quickly come to judgment on its authenticity.

    Let me put it another way: when I heard of the “prophecy of the Popes” for the first time, it was in the context of much eye rolling and snobbish flippancy from its detractors who, I would be willing to bet, have a bit of a vested interest in that prophecy not being about you know who, if you know what I mean.

    I didn’t know anything about the prophecy one way or another. But as I read more about it and even considered the phenomenon from a more abstract perspective (http://unamsanctamcatholicam.blogspot.com/2013/03/st-malachy-case-for-authenticity.html), it seemed to me that the prophecy was due a certain reverence simply because of its origin, at least until I could come to a greater insight about its truthfulness.

    So when John XXIII says that he believes the Council was a divine inspiration, I am inclined to believe him, at least to some degree. Perhaps it can be safely said that the Church was in need of some kind of reform and to that extent, the inspiration to bring about some reform was authentically of God.

  30. Tony Jokin says:

    Thanks Elliot for that link. The info in it certainly seems suggest that St. John XXIII might have taken some poetical license in how he described the origins of the Council. I think I have to agree with that article and even without that evidence, the whole “experience” described by the Pope seems prone to error.

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