August 2008 Print

Questions & Answers

Fr. Peter R. Scott

Ought traditional Catholic chapels to have "cry rooms"? 

It is certainly true that before the Second Vatican Council Catholic churches did not have a specially constructed, sealed-off and sound-proof room in which it was possible for mothers with crying children to assist at Holy Mass. However, there was no need, and the situation at the time was radically different to the situation in which most traditional Catholics find themselves. Each parish had several Masses on a Sunday, and the church was close to home, so that in case of need the parents could each assist at a different Mass while the other parent minded the little children at home. 

However, this is not the case for many traditional Catholics, who often have to travel long distances to assist at Mass, and have little or no choice as to which Mass to attend. It is to provide for this real need, and to prevent the disturbance of the sacred action of the most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, that the custom has been introduced of constructing a separate cry room at the back of the chapel, from which mothers with upset babies can assist at Mass. 

Some people object to them, saying that babies should not be at Mass in the first place, or that the children and mothers who are present are so distracted and removed from the altar that they are not really assisting at Mass anyway. They object that these rooms encourage laziness of parents in disciplining their children, and that children ought to be in the church proper, learning to be respectful and attentive from a very young age. 

It seems to me that the objections come from the abuse of cry rooms rather than from their existence. It is certainly very true that they encourage laziness on the part of parents, who bring young children of all ages into the cry room so that they can make noises, play, be distracted and act in a generally undisciplined manner. This certainly does not teach them how to assist at Mass correctly, as they will be obliged to do after the age of seven years. They ought, rather, to be disciplined to sit still, be quiet, and pay attention according to their age. 

However, there are many cases of mothers with babies whom they are obliged to bring to Mass with them, and who cannot be stopped from fussing, or even crying. In the absence of a cry room, they are obliged by consideration for others to leave the church. The end result is that they do not assist at Mass. For such mothers, under limited circumstances with their babies (not toddlers), the cry room within sight of the altar and with a speaker to hear what is going on, is a valuable asset, both for the mother and for the rest of the congregation. It is because experience has demonstrated this that cry rooms have been built. However, it remains for parents to pay attention that they not abuse them. 

Are there two different kinds of Secularism? 

The idea that there might be two different kinds of Secularism is one promoted by Pope Benedict XVI himself. It was, in fact, on the airplane on the way to the US on April 15, 2008, that he presented the long-standing US practice of Secularism as "a positive concept," a great improvement on the European practice of union of Church and State, to be contrasted with "a new, completely different, Secularism" that undermines the rights of the human person, and in particular religious liberty. 

The Pope had this to say about the American experience:

What I find fascinating in the USA is that it began with a positive concept of Secularism. Because this new people was made up of communities and persons who had escaped the State religions and wished to have a lay, secular State, which opens the doors to all confessions, to all forms of religious exercise. It was thus a willingly secular State, but secular truly for love of religion, of its authenticity, which can be lived only freely. And thus we find this fusion of a willingly and honestly secular State, but really for a religious will, to grant authenticity to religion....This seems to me a fundamental and positive model to be considered also in Europe....Now there is even in the US an attack of a new Secularism, a new, completely different Secularism, and therefore, new problems.

To see whether or not such a distinction is justifiable, we need to have a precise idea of what Secularism really is. This is clearly given in the 1925 encyclical of Pope Pius XI instituting the Feast of Christ the King as "an excellent remedy for the plague which now infects society" (Quas Primas). This "plague," which he also calls an "evil spirit" is precisely Secularism. "We refer to the plague of Secularism, its errors and impious activities." The Pope then goes on to explain in what it consists:

It has long lurked beneath the surface. The empire of Christ over all nations was rejected. The right which the Church has from Christ Himself to teach mankind, to make laws, to govern peoples in all that pertains to their eternal salvation, that right was denied. Then gradually the religion of Christ came to be likened to false religions, and to be placed ignominiously on the same level with them. It was then put under the power of the State and tolerated more or less at the whim of princes and rulers....There were even some nations who thought they could dispense with God, and that their religion should consist in impiety and the neglect of God.  

It follows from this text that the essential element in all Secularism is the refusal of the State to acknowledge the rights of Christ and the Church to teach and govern on moral and religious matters. It also indicates that there are degrees in the application of this same error. A first degree is the separation of Church and State, the refusal of the State to acknowledge Christ and the Church's authority in all that pertains to eternal salvation. A second degree is the equality of all religions before the State (= Religious Liberty as promoted by Vatican II and the First Amendment). A third degree is the radically anti-religious regime of atheistic Communism, or of radical modern Liberalism that reduces religion to an interior, psychological experience, and that consequently denies all morality, all duties before Almighty God and hence all rights. 

However, whatever the degree of Secularism, the error is the same, and it falls under the same condemnation of Pope Pius XI:

The rebellion of individuals and of nations against the authority of Christ has produced deplorable effects. We lamented these in the Encyclical Ubi Arcano. We lament them today: the seeds of discord sown far and wide; those bitter enmities and rivalries between nations, which still hinder so much the cause of peace; that insatiable greed...a blind and immoderate selfishness...society, in a word shaken to its foundations and on the way to ruin. (Ibid.) 

If Pope Benedict XVI rightly deplores and fears the attack of the new Secularism, the third degree of Secularism, it is nevertheless a great error to consider the first and second degrees as in some way positive. The principle of removing God from public life is the same, and it is the very principle that ultimately produces the third degree of Secularism. There are not two Secularisms. There is one Secularism that is evil and destructive, that is anti-God because opposed to Catholic teaching, and it proceeds advancing in different degrees. Even if the Church is freer with the first two degrees of Secularism than with the third, they manifestly cannot be treated as a good thing. There is only one answer, and it is the "remedy for this great evil" that St. Pius X gave in his inaugural encyclical, defining so well the goal of his Papacy: "To restore all things in Christ" (§4). These are his words:

Who can fail to see that society is at the present time, more than in any past age, suffering from a terrible and deep-rooted malady which, developing every day and eating into its inmost being, is dragging it to destruction? You understand, Venerable Brethren, what this disease is–apostasy from God.

Are there two different kinds of Pluralism? 

Pluralism is the acceptation of others' teachings, doctrines and opinions, even though they may be in contradiction with one's own. It is a characteristic of modern society that it is pluralistic, meaning that, embracing the principle of liberty of speech and religion, it allows the expression of all beliefs, convictions, philosophies and ideas on an equal level, provided that they do not harm the common good. Pluralism entered into the Catholic Church as a consequence of the embracing of the principle of Dialogue between the different religions. It is the practical expression of Religious Liberty as taught by Dignitatis Humanae and of Ecumenism as taught by Unitatis Redintegratio (Vatican II documents). This new kind of dialogue is specifically required to be pluralistic, that is, accepting of all opinions and ideas. In fact, it was already stated in 1968 that it is not considered permissible to refute errors or to convert one's interlocutor in such dialogue ("Instruction for Dialogue" of the Secretariat for Non-Believers quoted in Romano Amerio, Iota Unum, p. 352). 

The danger of subjectivism and relativism escapes no-one. If everybody's ideas have equal rights of expression, then they must be equally true. This means that truth is purely in the eye of the beholder, and not founded on any objective reality. This is subjectivism. The other consequence is that everybody can have his own convictions, and consider that they are true for him, regardless of what others think. Truth is, then, by nature relative to the individual, and not the same for different persons. This is relativism. This in turn leads to agnosticism, the belief that we cannot know in fact if God exists outside of ourselves. All that we can know is our inner feeling about him. These ideas are all major features of Modernism, as condemned by St. Pius X in his Encyclical Pascendi of 1907. 

In his 1998 encyclical on Faith and Reason, Pope John Paul II admitted this danger, when speaking of modern philosophy that abandons "the investigation of being" (§5). He explains the consequence: "This has given rise to different forms of agnosticism and relativism, which have led philosophical research to lose its way in the shifting sands of widespread skepticism" (Ibid.).

One would have expected the Pope to draw the conclusion that one ought to avoid all kinds of dialogue with false philosophies and false religions. Not so. His conclusion was to make a distinction between two kinds of pluralism, one that is legitimate, supposedly avoiding relativism, and one that is not legitimate, which he called "undifferentiated," meaning that it treated all opinions as equal: "A legitimate plurality of positions has yielded to an undifferentiated pluralism based upon the assumption that all positions are equally valid, which is one of today's most widespread symptoms of the lack of confidence in truth...assuming that truth reveals itself in different doctrines, even if they contradict one another" (Ibid.).

On December 14, 2007, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization, attempting to reconcile the novelties of religious liberty, ecumenism and dialogue with the Church's mission to teach all nations. It quotes the above-mentioned text of Pope John Paul II, applying it to all forms of dialogue, and claiming to find there the key to the resolution of the contradiction between dialogue and the mission to teach. The contradiction is said to exist only when pluralism is "undifferentiated," that is, when it admits that all religions are equally true. Otherwise the principle of pluralism in society and pluralism in contacts with other religions is still to be retained. In other words, there is a mitigated form of pluralism, and there is a real dialogue that is not subjectivist, and that these can both be consequently called Catholic.  

However, the difference between these two kinds of pluralism is really only in the mind of the Catholic, not in reality. In the mitigated or "legitimate" form of pluralism and dialogue, the Catholic does not personally, subjectively admit that all positions are equally valid. However, he must act as if he does if there is to be any true dialogue and any real pluralism. In the "undifferentiated" form, he actually personally believes according to his outward words and actions, namely that all religions are equal. There is this in favor of the "undifferentiated" form of dialogue and pluralism, that it is not a lie, that thus a man acts outwardly as he believes inwardly. The man who engages in dialogue and allows equal expression and rights to opinions that he believes to be erroneous (as is essential to dialogue), is dissimulating what he really thinks. Is this a way for dialogue to become "Catholic"? Hardly. 

If you pardon the length of this passage, I would like to quote from Romano Amerio's conclusion on whether or not dialogue can be Catholic in Iota Unum (p. 356): 

We may conclude by saying that the new sort of dialogue (i.e. not for conversion of the interlocuteur) is not Catholic. Firstly, because it has a purely heuristic (= each person in the dialogue seeking truth by his own trial and error) function, as if the Church in dialogue did not possess the truth and were looking for it.... Secondly, because it does not recognize the superior authority of revealed truth.... Thirdly, because it imagines the parties to dialogue are on an equal footing, albeit a merely methodological equality, as if it were not a sin to waive the advantages that comes from divine truth, even as a dialectical ploy. Fourthly, because it postulates that every human philosophical position is unendingly debatable, as if there were not fundamental points of contradiction sufficient to stop a dialogue and leave room only for refutation. Fifthly, because it supposes that dialogue is always fruitful and that "nobody has to sacrifice anything," as if dialogue could never be corrupting and lead to the uprooting of truth and the implanting of error.

These objections apply to all dialogue, whether mitigated or undifferentiated, whether the person personally believes in the equality of opinions that his discussion expresses or not. You might wonder why a person would want to indulge in dialogue in which he dissimulates the fact that he does not believe that all religions and all opinions are equally valid (so-called "legitimate" dialogue). There is a very simple theological principle, and it is contained in the texts of Vatican II. Here it is: "Truth can impose itself on the mind of man only in virtue of its own truth" (Dignitatis Humanae, §§1 & 3). It is the word "only" which is the problem in this statement, for it denies that religious truth is known by divine revelation, taught to us on the authority of the Church. It is the Church that obliges us to believe revealed truth, and not the truth itself. The Faith is adhering to the teachings of the Church on the authority of God, who can neither deceive nor be deceived. Faith consequently excludes dialogue on all things that concern the Faith, that are divinely revealed; that is unless one has a modernist and subjectivist notion of faith. The very concept of a "legitimate," mitigated dialogue is consequently a part of Modernism.  missing image file

Fr. Peter Scott was ordained by Archbishop Lefebvre in 1988. After assignments as seminary professor and the US District Superior, he is currently the rector of Holy Cross Seminary in Goulburn, Australia. Those wishing answers may please send their questions to Q & A in care of Angelus Press, 2915 Forest Ave., Kansas City, MO 64109.