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Why rad trads and reformers need to start talking to one another



In recent weeks rumours have abounded that Pope Francis is considering resigning. At the same time, the Australian Church is on the precipice of its second Assembly of the Plenary Council, which kicked off on Sunday. According to Vatican watchers, it’s unlikely that Pope Francis will step down. However, if he does not complete some of the reforms that have been so key to his papacy, we could be left with a church bordering on schism. 

Debate between more traditionalist Catholics and those who want to see reforms more fully implemented has become increasingly heated in the lead-up to the Plenary Council. One thing that could prevent a serious split from happening is the simple act of talking — and listening — to one another. 

Recently, the America Media podcast Jesuitical published an interview with French priest Fr Pierre Amar reflective of one such debate, titled ‘Our conversations about the Latin Mass don’t have to be so toxic’. Fr Amar was both reasonable and jovial as he bantered with the hosts about the appealing ‘vibe’ and ‘atmosphere’ of the Latin Mass, and explained why the toxic dialogue around the Latin Mass is less prevalent in France than in the United States and increasingly Australia.

Traditionalists in Australia seem to be moving in the direction of a hybrid Catholicism. Many young people I know who demonstrate a genuine faith commitment are increasingly drawn to the Latin Mass, and the young women can often be seen wearing lace mantillas at liturgical celebrations.

These same people will participate in youth ministry initiatives, which usually include modern music from Hillsong, Bethel and other similar churches. It’s not a stretch to say some will happily participate in a novus ordo mass with worship music and then drive many kilometres to attend the Latin rite. Often they have little awareness of the culture wars that accompany their liturgical choices. Instead of criticising these young faithful, we need to listen to them and try to understand them.


"Those who seek change, derisively referred to as ‘Woke Boomer Reformers’, and the ‘Radical Traditionalists’ or ‘Rad Trads’ who seek a return to a remnant church often never actually meet. Both groups remain mystified and develop negative impressions of one another." 


Australia’s Plenary Council process, while an innovative and creative invitation to all Catholics to participate in the building of a better church, has its share of flaws and omissions. And the voting members of the Plenary Council are still all bishops. 

The COVID-19 pandemic prevented the first Plenary Council assembly from being a face-to-face gathering. Since the pandemic, it is estimated that thousands have never returned to regular practice at church, and many don’t see a need to. Many of those who have returned are still experiencing poor liturgies, bad preaching, mediocre experiences of welcome and no sense of a spiritual home.

It’s no wonder that so many young people respond to the atmosphere of the Latin Mass or the high production values of music from Pentecostal and Evangelical churches — both things that frequently elude them in Catholic parishes. 

These are not unreasonable things to want; similarly, the transparency, accountability and inclusion that characterise the reform movements are also essential to our parishes. What is deeply problematic are the culture wars that pit Catholics against one another. Those who seek change, derisively referred to as ‘Woke Boomer Reformers’, and the ‘Radical Traditionalists’ or ‘Rad Trads’ who seek a return to a remnant church often never actually meet. Both groups remain mystified and develop negative impressions of one another. 

Another group, the middle-of-the-road Catholic faithful, perhaps have no idea of the politics and ideology that are so prevalent in our dioceses, and yet they may hold the key to bridging the gap. 

Perhaps instead of resorting to extreme, fundamentalist positions, we all should be seeking to build Catholic parishes and a universal church where radical welcome, inclusion and transparency are givens — a church with a pastor who will wash the feet of anyone who enters through the door. And it shouldn’t be too much to ask for people to experience good preaching, welcoming community, moving liturgy and transcendent music.

The fences that are being built between the old and the young mean we are losing generations of Catholics through simple misunderstandings.

Throughout his papacy Pope Francis has exemplified how to dismantle these barriers of discord. He has visited the Grand Ayatollah in Iraq; he has kissed the feet of rival South Sudanese leaders in an appeal to stop the ongoing warfare. And on his first Holy Thursday as Pope, he washed the feet of Muslim women at a correctional centre in Rome. He demonstrates his faith in both word and action.

In our little microcosm of Australia, we get stuck on the words, tying ourselves in knots over the wording of the Plenary Council frameworks and themes. Groups with vested interests focus on the problems of the Plenary Council rather than approaching it as a grace-filled opportunity. They clutch at straws and minutiae, decrying small heresies but ignoring the logs in their own eyes. 

Sadly, timely conversations — around women’s participation, the inclusion of and care for the LGBTIQ community, lack of priests, the tragic findings of the Royal Commission — end up taking a back seat to the culture wars in much of the commentary.

Ultimately, we are a church that needs to find its way, and this can only be done by really listening. By simply talking to one another and applying what 2021 Senior Australian of the Year Miriam Rose Ungunmerr Baumann calls ‘dadirri’ — deep listening and discernment — we might truly be able to create a church free from ideological warfare. 

Whether likely or not, if Pope Francis were to resign in coming months, it seems that the church as a whole could be in a precarious position. And this will quickly flow down to Australia. Perhaps now, more than ever, people of faith need to start really heeding Francis’s words and actions. Indeed, we could all make an effort to talk to someone at the other end of the ideological spectrum and see if those conversations bear fruit.





Beth Doherty is Diocesan Director for Caritas Australia in the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn and author of the 2020 book All the beautiful things: finding truth, beauty and goodness in a fractured church.

Main image: Two family members isolate in different rooms. (Justin Paget / Getty Images)

Topic tags: Beth Doherty, Plenary



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Existing comments

It is an enormously difficult and troubled world we live in at this time. Many people, not just Catholics, are looking for certainty and a real sheet anchor. The Catholic Church has been this for intellectuals of the calibre of G K Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene: all converts. You can still get liturgy and music, with meaningful hymns, at most of the great Catholic cathedrals in Australia. There are outposts of good, solid preaching there and at places such as the Brisbane Oratory in Formation. The Latin Mass, properly said, has a numinous quality and connects you with the Church of Very Early Times. I think what most Catholics want, in their deepest selves, is to connect with the numinous and be transformed: that is the essence of the genuine religious experience. Talkfests and contention don't do much towards that. The Plenary Council has limited aims, but already seems to be overladen with people's wishes.

Edward Fido | 05 July 2022  

To riff upon the cinema Henry Higgins, "Oh, why can't a reformer be more like a Trad?"

roy chen yee | 06 July 2022  

Beth's call for conversation as a counter to growing factionalism is supported by the timely advice of another. On Monday, Catholics committed to the Prayer of the Church were exposed to salient words from Pope St Clement I – one of the earliest successors to the Petrine Ministry. Clement asks “...Why must there be all this quarrelling and bad blood, these feuds and dissensions among you?...Have we not all the same God, and the same Christ?”
Clement's extract concludes with particular reference to those in positions of influence and/or authority: “...the higher his reputation stands, so much the more humble minded he ought to be; and further more his eyes should be fixed on the good of the whole community rather than on his own personal advantage.”

Bill Burke | 06 July 2022  

I’ve only attended one Latin Mass in the last 50 years. But is Pope Francis really trying to dismantle “barriers of discord?”

In 2021, he severely restricted celebrations of the Latin Mass, repealing inclusive measures by his predecessors JPII and Benedict XVI. The suppression was hailed by progressives and condemned by traditionalists. Cardinal Zen labelled the measures unreasonably harsh that hurt “the hearts of many good people [and reflects wishes] for the death of the [traditional] groups.”

When Zen expressed concerns about the Vatican’s 2018 secret deal with Communist China, Francis failed to respond to his letter, and refused him an audience in 2020. Zen has written of “the murder of the Church in China” and how the Vatican is compelling the faithful in China “to enter a schismatic church.”

Most people fail to grasp the real nature of the century-old culture wars that now “pit Catholics against one another.” The former communist spy, Whittaker Chambers, wrote that True Believers like himself, saw espionage and treason as “a moral act” which does not bother their conscience. For there are “two irreconcilable viewpoints and standards of judgment, two irreconcilable moralities, proceeding from two irreconcilable readings of man’s fate and future.” (“Witness”)

Ross Howard | 06 July 2022  

A starting point might be to make sure young people are equipped with the knowledge of what sacrilege and scandal are. Then encourage them to reflect on the liturgy in their parish. So many places worship in a way that can only be described as sacrilegious and scandalous. There is nothing wrong with the mass of Vatican 2 celebrated according to its rubrics, and without the glosses of modernists and philo (crypto?) protestants.

I am a post Vatican 2 baby and I have at different times felt robbed of my faith heritage by what has occurred since Vatican 2. But I have come to realise a return to 1962 is not the answer. A return to faithful and reverent worship according to the current missal would be a good start to the real answer.

Bob | 07 July 2022  

'‘dadirri’ — deep listening and discernment'

I suppose one would have to say that, by definition as a perfect human, Jesus of Nazareth always practised 'dadirri' even when in dialogue with the Sadducees, scribes and Pharisees. Well, we know where that got him.

'Dadirri' does not do away with the fact that the other side can be plainly and simply wrong and that if they practised 'dadirri' they would come to know that.

At the end of the day, if an argument can't be supported from Scripture and Tradition, it's alien to the Church. The purpose of 'dadirri' is to hone in on the connection to or disconnection from Scripture and Tradition of a claim (and the claimant).

roy chen yee | 13 July 2022  

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