Peter Kwasniewski

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It is time for civil disobedience in the name of fidelity to Christ

To all clergy, mainstream and traditionalist, the challenge has been sounded: your continued compliance is not going to be a tactful investment in tomorrow after 'things blow over'
Tue Jan 5, 2021 - 1:03 pm EST
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January 4, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – Catholics around the world admire Archbishop Sample for many things he has said and done. For example, he is one of a select few bishops in the world who regularly offers traditional Pontifical Masses, at a time when that is definitely a way to ostracize oneself from the halls of power. He was also placed by Benedict XVI in one of the USA’s most liberal dioceses, Portland, and has managed to keep a steady hand on the tiller. The same holds true for Archbishop Cordileone in San Francisco.

However, back in November when Governor Kate Brown imposed heavily restrictive measures in Oregon, limiting attendance in ANY church to 25 people at a time—even if the building can hold 300 or 1,000—the reaction of Archbishop Sample was deeply disappointing. After freely admitting that the restrictions are unconstitutional, unjust, and wrong from a Catholic point of view, all he does is verbally protest it. There will be no civil disobedience. 

Similarly, Archbishop Cordileone pushed a movement he called “Free the Mass,” but the underlying premise is that we should assume good will on the part of civil authorities and always try to accommodate the health dictatorship, until they can be persuaded to relax their unjust limitations. Matthew Archbold insightfully commented:

I applaud Archbishop Cordileone’s efforts. He has done so much more than countless priests, bishops, and Cardinals. But I plead with all of them right now. Catholics need a hero. The faithful are calling out to the clergy for one perhaps ridiculous and fruitless effort to show how important the Eucharist truly is. The American Church is desperate for some action. Catholicism must be heroic, brave, and countercultural. Or it is nothing. There’s a time for lawyers and press conferences and petitions. This is not that time. Now is the time Catholics must be willing to draw a line in the sand and say here, and no further. Open the Churches. Don’t allow them to be closed. Let’s be willing to go to jail. Let’s be fools for Christ. Take a stand. Imagine the impact of seeing a priest put in jail for celebrating Mass. Yes, the media would ridicule that priest. Perhaps many in the Church would as well. But it would inspire millions to understand that ours is not a passive faith. We are different because we believe. Think of all the young men who might see that and be inspired. Force the secularists to put a priest, bishop, or cardinal in jail or rescind their anti-Catholic mandates. Force them to unmask themselves. Show the world who they really are. And let’s show the world who we are.

It has been no different in Ireland, where the bishops instantly caved in; and in many other parts of the world. With this kind of “playing dead,” pretty soon the Church will move past playing dead—it will just be dead. And thus does Christian faith go out... not with a bang, but with a whimper. We witness the spectacle of Successors of the Apostles folding under lady governors’ sanitarian diktats.

The rejoinder quickly comes: “We are supposed to overcome evil with good. That means abiding by all the civil laws and regulations.” But laws and regulations must be proportioned to the common good and not be—or appear to be—radically opposed to it. Categorizing religious gatherings as “unnecessary” or “inessential” is manifestly contrary to the common good of society, which includes the public recognition of God’s right to receive due worship, and the priority of our spiritual obligations and needs, as Leo XIII, Pius XI, and other popes taught with one voice. In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. memorably recalled the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas: an unjust law is no law at all (and the same holds for regulations, policies, and other government initiatives, whether officially passed in a legislature or not). To such “laws” we must give not obedience but civil disobedience, which, indeed, is obedience to a higher law, indeed the highest law.

Among the sad lessons learned in 2020, perhaps the saddest was that we cannot rely on most of our bishops to look out for our spiritual good, or even to exhibit a basic understanding of the non-negotiable and non-erasable priority of divine worship. We enter 2021 with a gritty awareness that we are more or less left on our own to find whatever resources we can, where and when we can. It is our good and holy priests who will need to carry the holy water, so to speak, and do the heavy lifting when push comes to shove. That will include—and here we come to the crux of the matter—a willingness to suffer suspension or other disciplinary measures for doing so.

It is time to show forth in broad daylight the two kingdoms that currently occupy the same physical, liturgical, and juridical space. The servants of these respective kingdoms do not work for the same ends, and the gods of the new religion are hungrier by the day. It will continue to compel a choice. The traditional Latin Mass is part of it, but clearly not all. The priests of so-called “Ecclesia Dei” institutes (e.g., the Institute of Christ the King, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter) will need to figure out ASAP their “bridge too far”—and perhaps die to their own fears of the marauding indy chapel life. The whole canonically-regular edifice is going under; it is falling in line for state subservience. COVID continues to show that we are already living in a state church, just without the visible bloodshedding of China.

To all clergy, mainstream and traditionalist, the challenge has been sounded: your continued compliance is not going to be a tactful investment in tomorrow after “things blow over.” What will then be left to defend—a set of “services” that can be canceled at the whim of a heathen governor? Yet laity are simultaneously supposed to teach our children about the heroism of martyrs and how good it is to stand in the stream of sacred Tradition? Things haven’t even begun to get really rough, and the fort’s already been betrayed.

Dear Priests: If and when you decide to start offering underground Masses, here are some points of advice that have been shared with me by those who are experienced in such matters.

1. Do not communicate about anything via emails. This is a major mistake. Those emails are likely to end up in the chancery office.

2. In general, do not put things into writing. In-person communication is best, even traveling by car to tell people something. A phone is the next best thing, in spite of the fact that Apple or Google or someone will own your voice.

3. Be careful about who is taken into confidentiality. This is good advice for laity as well as clergy. It may sound harsh to say it, but we should not let our excitement about having a Mass blind us to the malice that exists, or the poorly-formed consciences that might believe they have a “duty” to rat on people like us. We are in a time of spiritual warfare, so we must know well who our allies are, and assume nothing about those whom we do not know well. If you are going to invite someone to a Mass, let it be someone that you know agrees with the reason why the Mass is being held and is capable of maintaining silence, rather than inviting someone who “might be interested in coming” but whose allegiance you’re not certain of. Yes, this might mean that certain deserving souls will be excluded for a time, but it is better thus, than to put the entire endeavor at risk.

4. Be wise about how to gather, if you are using a church or chapel. A friend of mine in Eastern Europe described her experience this past All Saints and All Souls: “My visit to my family passed undisturbed. There was a beautiful All Saints Mass, and three Masses for All Souls, in a church locked with a key. The organizers opened the church fifteen minutes before the Mass, and then again one minute before the beginning for possible latecomers. It was prohibited to gather near the door; we were told to walk about nonchalantly in the park, in case we came and the church was still closed. After the Mass, we left one by one, at random. It resembles the years of Communism all too much.”

On the other hand, there may be situations where the most appropriate course of action is to seize hold of an unused or shut-down church and to claim it for one’s community, as occurred among the Port Marly traditionalists in 1987. As Christian Marquant says: “Piety and fortitude are not opposed.” 

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I think the challenge is making that first giant step of saying “I’m full in, no matter what.” It seems to me that the comforts and conveniences of our modern Western life make that step nearly impossible for most people. Let it not be so for us. What a glorious opportunity Our Lord is giving us to show us that He is first in our lives, first in our hearts!

It is only fair to say that some bishops, especially in France, have stood up to the civil authorities in a more forceful way. Gladden Pappin relates:

Mgr. Marc Aillet, bishop of Bayonne, was one of five initial bishops to request that the Conseil d’État lift restrictions. In an interview with Le Figaro, Aillet suggested that in some circumstances, the common good of the Church outweighs obedience to civil mandates. “If Saint Paul exhorts us to obey the civil authorities,” he said, “it is with respect to the common good—that of society, but also the superior common good of the Church, whose supreme law is the salvation of souls.”

Jane Stannus narrates:

Bishop Ginoux of Montauban has also spoken out loudly against the ban, tweeting on October 29, “It’s easy to ask bishops to take the lead if no one stands behind them. Invade the churches at Mass times, ask for the Mass and bishops and priests will come to celebrate it… Actions, not words!” He said Mass himself on Sunday, November 15, in the presence of ten or so faithful, and publicly congratulated pro-Mass protestors.

Here are Successors of the Apostles who are not afraid to encourage the faithful to act openly against unjust or irreligious laws and regulations, and who promise their support every step of the way. This is a lesson all the bishops need to internalize, if they are ever to recover the sheep who, no longer recognizing the voice of the divine Shepherd, have walked far away from them.


  catholic, civil disobedience, coronavirus restrictions, lockdown orders

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