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None Dare Call It Treason

June 20, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


(Editor’s Note: Deacon James H. Toner, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Leadership and Ethics at the U.S. Air War College, and author of Morals Under the Gun and other books. He has also taught at Notre Dame, Norwich, Auburn, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and Holy Apostles College & Seminary. He serves in the Diocese of Charlotte, N.C.)

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Treason is the only crime defined in and by the U.S. Constitution (article III, section 3). It is referred to, also, in the Holy Gospel (Matt. 26:20-25, Mark 14:17, Luke 22:21, John 13:21). The crime of treachery is so abominable, so heinous, that, often, none dare call it treason, preferring almost any euphemism to the distressing noun treason.
“High treason” usually means the crime of betraying one’s country. Let me suggest, then, “supreme treason” as the betrayal of God and of “the faith of our fathers.” Benedict Arnold committed high treason. Judas committed supreme treason.
One fears that supreme treason is part of our time and part, too, of what we have come to see, hear, and read from many who ought to know better, but who, for reasons unknown to man, have become “fierce wolves [who] will invade you and will have no mercy on the flock. Even from your own ranks there will be men coming forward with a travesty of the truth on their lips to induce [you] to follow them” (Acts 20:29-30 Jerusalem Bible). Is this not “supreme treason”? Must we not call it so (cf. Isaiah 5:20)?


How can the Catholic Church, which has the divine promise of never finally and fully failing — known as indefectibility (Matt. 16:18, 28:20) — suffer so terribly from the moral depredations of false shepherds? Our Lord promises that His Holy Bride, the Church, will endure as the means of our salvation to the end of time, but there is no divine warrantee against evil, against depravity, or against ignorance; nor is there assurance about the size of the flock, which may increase or decrease dramatically (Gal. 1:6-9, 1 Tim. 1:3).
That which is holy cannot abide evil; and that which is profane cannot long coexist with the sacred. How can that which is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” tolerate the false teachers (2 Peter 2:1-2, Jude), the heterodox doctrine, the sacrilegious liturgy, the abominable preaching, the jejune catechesis, the faithless colleges, and the apathy and ignorance of (so many of) the baptized which are today the hallmarks of a Catholic Church which, only sixty years ago, would not have been thought possible.
Pope Pius XII died on October 9, 1958, leaving a Church which, although troubled (as the Barque of Peter always will be, for it sails on the roiling seas of a sinful humanity), nonetheless testified to:
The reality of sin, evil, and the diabolical, and our need for repentance, conversion, and fear of the Lord;
The beauty, grace, and divine power of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass;
The conviction that the Catholic Church was the one true Church of our Lord, the instrument of our salvation;
The healing agency of the seven sacraments and our deep need for their reception with grateful hearts and firm purposes of amendment;
The critical importance of faith-filled and faithful Catholic education, and our enduring responsibility to examine our lives in its light (cf. 1 Peter 2:9) and then our duty to conform ourselves to that sacred teaching (Romans 12:2);
The formation of conscience on the basis of objective natural law, known to us in inchoate form (Romans 2:15) and developed by wide and virtuous teaching and Tradition;
The obligation of bishops, priests, and nuns to teach the Truth by their ways and their words;
The significance of pious practice — doing all the “little things” — which commonly marked us as Catholics and served as reminders of our Catholic identity (e.g., bowing our heads when passing a Catholic Church, not eating meat on Friday, wearing blessed medals, memorizing the Catechism, genuflecting, remembering Ember and Rogation days, and so many others).
Sixty years later, Catholics — far too often led by the uninformed or the poorly formed — seem to believe such heterodox things as these:
Evil is either bad luck or the result of inadequate governmental funding.
The liturgy is the property of whatever church committee deals with such “mundane” things.
Modern faith communities are meant for “social justice” activities, “community and friendship,” and “spiritual sharing”; and ecumenical/democratic camaraderie rules out a “triumphalism” which exalts one religion over another (this is syncretism on steroids).
There are only two sacraments — Baptism and “the wafer.” Confirmation is outdated; marriage is a human construct; orders can’t really be holy until women are ordained; Confession is simply silly, because there is no such thing as sin; and Extreme Unction or the “Sacrament of the Sick” scares people. The “wafer” can be taken in the hand, of course, without any previous Sacrament of Confession, period of fasting, or worry about the “state of grace.”
“Catholic education” is an oxymoron, and the real purposes of education are (a) governmentally subsidized delays in kids getting jobs; (b) governmentally subsidized kids “having fun”; and (c) governmentally subsidized kids learning enough computer skills to get entry-level jobs in the “real world” — with plenty of hooking up and sports along the way.
Conscience is a matter only of subjective concern, and references to objective moral law moral are rigid, legalistic, and paternalistic.
The obligation of bishops, priests, and nuns is to be “true to themselves” (remember Polonius in Hamlet?) and to be innovative, creative, and modern in the liturgy, in moral theology, and in teaching and counseling (just ask “Fr. Tommy” and “Sr. Suzy”). Priests exist, basically, to bless whatever makes us happy — and certainly not to warn us about our imperiled immortal souls (cf. Ezek. 33:7-9; Lam. 2:14).
The quaint and hopelessly outdated pious practices of the 1940s and 1950s died with Fr. Chuck O’Malley (of Going My Way), and only a few reactionaries want to restore such things as the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM), or Eucharistic adoration, or benediction, or the Prayer to St. Michael — and we can certainly update the sanguinary, old “stations of the cross” by making them all about current political and social matters.


The Catholic Church known to Pius XII and his Predecessors was frequently reviled as “the Enemy” by secular, progressive, modern, and hedonistic opponents intent upon its destruction. It was Cato the Elder (234-149 B.C.) who used to conclude all his speeches to the Roman Senate with “Carthago delenda est!” — “Carthage must be destroyed!” Thus have anti-Catholics implicitly called for the destruction of the Church: “Ecclesia delenda est!” (Consider Hillary Clinton’s peroration: “[D]eep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed.”)
To be Catholic meant that one’s first allegiance was to God and His Holy Church; that one knew that politics always played out against the moral horizon of God’s Will and Way; that the purpose of life lay in knowing, loving, and serving God; that the premier purpose of the Holy Church and its sacraments was the saving of souls seared by original and actual sin and in danger of the fires of Hell; that this is a vale of tears (see Douay-Rheims Psalm 83:7) in which we work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12; cf. 3:18-19); and that we should pray ceaselessly for the living and dead, symbolized by black vestments at requiem Masses.
To be Catholic means today that one knows the significance and methods of political agitation for more government programs; that the purpose of life lies in “non-judgmentally” accommodating our and others’ visceral appetites and urges; that the premier purpose of the “faith community” is the enlargement of freedom to be whatever we choose to be and to do whatever we choose to do (unless that being or deed is “offensive”).
And that “fire and brimstone” went out, or should have gone out, with Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758); that earthly existence means “to eat, drink, and be merry” (the New American Bible makes no mention of any “vale of tears” in the verse [Psalm 84:7] parallel to the DRB verse quoted above); that it only scares people to tell them to work out their salvation with fear and trembling — and Hell, after all, was theologically discarded, it seems, in 2018; and that, as symbolized by ubiquitous modern white vestments, there is no need to pray ceaselessly for the living and dead.
Our Lord taught us that the world will hate us and make us suffer (John 15:18, 16:33). G.K. Chesterton is supposed to have written that we are not hated enough by the world. Why should the modern world hate us Catholics? After all, it is only too often true, as Pogo prophetically put it, that “we have met the enemy and he is us.” We couldn’t defeat the world, so we have often joined it. One need look only at many self-styled “Catholic” politicians, professors, pundits, and playwrights.
The worst enemies of Catholics today are in our own Catholic faith and family (Matt. 10:36; cf. Psalm 55:12-14). It was the English writer Sir John Harington (1561-1612) who wrote that “Treason doth never prosper? What’s the Reason? For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.”
If we understand treason to mean betrayal, can we not justly apply that noun to the legions of Church leaders — ordained, consecrated, and lay — who have “played false” with established Church teaching, who prefer the moral ease of novelty to the moral rigors of settled doctrine, who choose the way of the world over the revealed Word of God (cf. Rev. 21:8)? In leading us from Christ’s truth to the lies of hedonism, nihilism, and subjectivism, they commit “supreme treason.”
There must be ways around the “hard teachings” against abortion — ah! The “seamless garment of life”! There must be ways around the “hard teaching” against contraception — ah! Merely ignore it as the old-fashioned musings of elderly and misogynous men. There must be ways around the “hard teaching” about marriage — ah! Moral teaching is merely an ideal with little or no application in the real world, and annulments can be made routine.
There must be ways around the hopelessly outdated Traditional Latin Mass — ah! Innovative liturgy and the modern music of Marty Haugen. There must be ways around having to learn all that ancient philosophy and theology — ah! We’ll create “Religious Studies” departments and populate them with tolerant and modern teachers who bring “queer theory” to biblical exegesis. No worries there: None dare call it treason.
Not for nothing has Bishop Philip Egan of the Diocese of Portsmouth (in England) warned us that Britain (and other countries) face a “frightening new Dark Age” brought on by the technological advance coupled with religious decline (LifeSiteNews, April 19, 2018).
The Church faces profound questions about artificial intelligence and robotics; about human “enhancement” through technology; about the rise of a militant Islam; about eugenics and “designer children”; about revivified sorcery, magic, and pantheism; about a rampant and socially de rigueur moral relativism; and about numerous other fateful concepts unimaginable sixty years ago.
The Church of Christ and her preachers too often stand mute and supine before these momentous issues, too uninformed, unable, or unwilling to serve as the witnesses for Christ whose ambassadors they are supposed to be (2 Cor. 5:20, Matt. 28:20, Acts 1:8). But speaking up boldly (the term is parrhesia [see Acts 4:13]) has a “social cost” — such orthodox Catholic speakers may forfeit the popularity craved by “socially enlightened,” progressive, and bon vivant priests (cf. John 3:19, 5:44; 12:43; Gal. 1:10, and 1 Thess. 2:4).
Because of myriad and malicious acts of infidelity to truth, the Church has morally neutered itself.
And none dare call it treason.


What, then, is to be done? Ten Recommendations:
First, pray for the shepherds.
Second, pray and work for our own holiness (1 Peter 1:15), especially in the Sacrament of Confession.
Third, in that spirit, joyfully welcome home all those wishing to return to the ancient faith.
Fourth, support, by prayer, presence, and contributions, Catholic parishes whose priests’ orthodox Masses and preaching are well known.
Fifth, offer words of appreciation and gratitude to our orthodox bishops and priests.
Sixth, support solid Catholic schools, colleges, and seminaries, and support Catholic home-schooling.
Seventh, by the same token, do not support heterodox teaching or allied capital campaigns.
Eighth, read good Catholic books, the first of which is the Holy Bible.
Ninth, from orthodox sources (such as The Wanderer) and speakers, learn the faith better every day.
Tenth, “Put all things to the test: keep what is good and avoid every kind of evil” (1 Thess. 5:21-22).
We err badly when we despair. We pray and work (ora et labora) for a restoration of the faith (see Romans 8:28, Eph. 1:9-10) we know and love, and that is as it should be. It is not ours, however, to supply that victory, as we are called upon to trust in God, who will, in His good time, set all things right (1 Cor. 15:28; Pope St. Pius X, E Supremi, October 4, 1903; Rev. 21:3-4):
“And I will pour upon you clean water, and you shall be cleansed from all your filthiness, and I will cleanse you from all your idols. And I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit in the midst of you: and I will cause you to walk in my commandments, and to keep my judgments, and do them” (Ezek. 36:25-27 DRB).
Our response must be that of the woman at the well: “Sir, give me this water” (John 4:15). It awaits. We have only to know that we thirst (cf. Psalm 63:1 JB) — and that what the secular world offers us is not the water of life but the toxin of death. Knowing the difference between the two comes from having His spirit in the midst of us.
And knowing and unapologetically teaching the distinction between virtue and vice is the paramount work of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church — and of the faith which comes to us from the apostles.
And so we pray in the Roman Canon (TLM) that God may grant His Church “peace, to preserve, unite, and govern her throughout the world; as also for…our Pope,…our Bishop, and for all orthodox believers and all who profess the Catholic and Apostolic faith.”
In such happy cases of orthodox teaching and practice, there will be no need for anyone to fear the moral malignancy of supreme treason, which has led us much too often into error, sorrow, sin, and the jeopardy of “the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell.”
In such happy cases of proper clerical formation, prelates and priests will teach the truth (Romans 10:14, 2 Tim. 4:2; Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 875), even — perhaps especially — if it’s unpopular or unconventional. In such happy cases of sound doctrine (Titus 2:1; CCC n. 407 and n. 2342), there will be what the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus prayed for — “fidelity, fidelity, fidelity.”

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